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Birth of a Dancing Star, Part Two

Title: Birth of a Dancing Star
Author: asecretchord
Artists: andreanna and tripperfunster
Other pairings: Arthur/Molly, Bill/Fleur, Ron/Hermione, Neville/Luna/Draco, Ginny/Michael Corner
Fic Rating: NC-17
Art Rating: PG
Word count: 237,633
Content/Warning(s): (highlight for spoilers) *Mpreg, violence, references to 7th year violence and sexual assault (not Severus or Harry), facial (once), Severus bottoms (once). I’ve also distorted history, made up the deterioration of wizard/Church relations, and institutionalised some homophobia.* Plot-specific spoilers: *Eugenics, state-sponsored violence, infanticide, and forced sterilization, and attempted murder*
Summary: After the fall of Voldemort, Harry Potter fell in love with Severus Snape—and that is where our story begins. All Harry wanted was a quiet year to finish his education, but when the Sorting Hat raises the spectre of Voldemort reborn and Luna is telling him he’s going to change the world, a quiet year becomes impossible.

Back to Part One

Ch 13: Why Don’t You Try For a Little Remorse?

After Harry had a light breakfast down in the dungeons, a house-elf gave him the message that his presence was required in the Great Hall. “Thanks,” he said and made his way slowly upstairs, pausing just inside the doors to blink in bewilderment. Instead of the familiar House tables, Seamus and the students who’d infiltrated the Slytherin common room were seated in a long row along the front of the Staff Table. Immediately behind them sat the students who had skirmished in the Library; Harry was sorry to see Parvati and a handful of other Gryffindors amongst them.

The House tables had been moved, and it looked to Harry as though they’d been Transfigured into bleacher seats. He started towards them with a wave to Ron, but turned when he heard his name called. “Over here, P—Harry,” called Draco, gesturing with his arm towards a block of seats set perpendicular to the others. “This is bigger than House points or detentions,” explained Draco as they walked through the Great Hall. Harry glanced over his shoulder at Ron and shrugged. “We’re having a trial of sorts. I think Prince—Professor Prince—is that ever not going to sound strange?—convinced McGonagall that it’s because of the war, so she wants to hear from everybody who was involved.”

Harry rubbed his back and looked in despair at the hard benches he would have to spend the better part of the day sitting on. His ribs still ached, and he knew he was going to have to get up a few times if only to stretch. “Everybody?” He glanced around and saw most of the Slytherins heading towards them. “What about the guardians? Are they going to be up here, too?”

Draco shook his head. “They can watch if they want to, though. Ron told McGonagall that they were just doing what the Sorting Hat wanted them to do, and that he thought the vigilantes might not feel quite so defensive if the entire school weren’t trying to get them expelled. Hermione, Hannah and Terry will be sitting at the Staff Table with the teachers, but since I’m Slytherin, they let me choose.”

“Why am I up here?” asked Harry as he removed his school tie and Transfigured it into a softer chair with a back. He moved it to the far corner of what he supposed was a jury box of sorts and sat down.

Draco arched a brow as he took the seat next to Harry. “You were a target, as much as Slytherin House.”

“I’m a Gryffindor,” said Harry. “And Seamus’ beef with me is personal.”

Draco gave him a quizzical look. “Who said anything about Finnigan?”

“Severus didn’t tell you what happened?”

“No,” said Draco slowly, “but Neville and Luna did. They helped Severus dig you out.” His eyes darkened as his fair skin went a few shades paler. “I’ve never seen Severus in a rage before, not like that. If Seamus is the one who did that to you, he’s damned lucky Severus didn’t know it at the time.”

A chime sounded three times, deeper and more ominous than the school bell that announced the beginning of each class. The students who had been milling about took their seats, and in a very few minutes the Hall was silent. Harry scanned the seats in the back and found his friends in a tight cluster, all of them wearing grim expressions. The atmosphere was as tense as Harry had ever seen it.

A door near the front of the Great Hall opened and the teachers, accompanied by the Head Boys and Girls, filed out in a long line, taking seats at the Staff Table. McGonagall brought up the rear, taking her place at the podium set before the centre of the dais. Severus occupied his customary place at the end of the table nearest the Slytherin House table, his expression formidable.

“All of you have been informed why we are here today,” McGonagall announced crisply, her firm voice filling the Great Hall. “Never in all my years at Hogwarts have I seen such a callous disregard for the rules, the war notwithstanding. One might hold a grievance against Slytherin House for any number of reasons,” Harry was pleased to note that McGonagall did not turn to look at Severus, “but we do not settle scores, real or imagined, by fighting.”

“You will each be given the opportunity to explain yourself,” she continued. “Draco Malfoy, Head Boy for Slytherin House, is appointed spokesman. He will be given the chance to provide a rebuttal, but I remind you all that the students of Slytherin House are not their parents. They are not the Death Eaters. They are not,” she paused and steeled herself, “Lord Voldemort.”

A low murmur broke out as students shifted uneasily, shuddering at the mention of his name. Harry watched the faces of those who had taken part in the attack, feeling equal parts betrayal and regret. He would not take back anything he had done, but thought if perhaps he’d spent more time with them, he might have been able to abate their fury somehow. They wanted a scapegoat, someone to point to and blame for all their ills, but he would not give them Severus, nor the House he embodied.

“Now, who amongst you would like to go first?” McGonagall’s wintry eyes swept over the two rows of students seated before her, lingering on Seamus, on Parvati, on a fourth year girl Harry knew by sight but whose name he couldn’t recall.

“I’ll go first,” a Ravenclaw declared hotly as he sprang to his feet, and Harry recognised him as the one who had referred to him as a fucktoy. He gritted his teeth and steeled himself against further insults. He leaned over and whispered in Draco’s ear. “Did anyone think to collect wands?”

Draco closed his eyes and shook his head.

“Keep yours at the ready and be prepared to cast a lot of stunning spells,” whispered Harry as Andrew Stretton began to speak.

“We’ve no use for Slytherins,” said Stretton. “It’s all their fault there was a war, and now my uncle’s dead because of them. He worked at the Ministry on the Muggle-Worthy Excuse Committee. Thicknesse had him killed and the rest of them as well. Then we had to put up with the fucking Death Eaters—”

“Language, Mr Stretton,” barked McGonagall.

“No.” To Harry’s great surprise, Severus came to his feet. “I suggest we allow them to speak their minds,” he said. “This is not a time for reasoned discourse. They are understandably angry, though,” his expression hardened and his eyes glittered ominously as they swung back towards Stretton, “gratuitous insults will not be tolerated.”

Stretton blinked as though startled and swallowed heavily. “I will mind what I say,” he said simply. “But no one has come forward. No one has apologised. Seamus was right: it was hell being here, with the Carrows and the Slytherins torturing us every chance they had. Who was telling them to behave themselves?” he demanded, his voice rising. “Who was taking points from them for cursing and hexing us? Who was escorting us from place to place to ensure we weren’t set upon? I’ll tell you who. No one!” He crossed his arms and glared heatedly at McGonagall.

Thus began a long day of airing old grievances, and Harry’s heart ached at the stories he heard. Even now, nearly nine months after the war had ended, there were students who avoided certain corridors that had been favourites of the more aggressive Slytherins, almost all children of Death Eaters. There were students who could not sleep, who startled at loud noises, who broke down completely at the mere thought of serving detention.

Harry heard about friends and family members crushed by giants and partially eaten by acromantulas. He glanced over to where Ron was sitting, his freckles standing out in stark relief at hearing his worst nightmare come true. Harry listened as those accused shouted and cried about the people in their lives who had been murdered for being half-bloods or Muggle-born, of people who vanished in the night, never to be heard from again, about how some of them wished they’d never been magical at all.

To someone who loved magic as much as Harry did, the thought of leaving it to return to the Muggle world was very nearly incomprehensible. No matter how hard his life had been, he wouldn’t trade many moments of it to grow up under his uncle’s thumb instead. He found himself wondering if Voldemort would have been able to steal the Philosopher’s Stone if Harry’d remained on Privet Drive. Would Ginny have succumbed to the diary? Would Wormtail have returned to Voldemort sooner? To which side would Severus have been loyal if he hadn’t had Harry to protect?

He returned to the present with a jolt when Parvati stood up and pointed her finger at him. “It’s all Harry’s fault,” she cried, tears streaming down her cheeks. “You should never have returned to Hogwarts. You brought them here, You-Know-Who and the Death Eaters and that horrible Fenrir Greyback. Lavender would still be alive if you’d just stayed away! It’s all your fault!” She turned away and wept noisily.

The Hall fell silent, except for Parvati and the person trying to comfort her, and as it lengthened, Harry wondered if he should stand up and say something in his own defence. He hadn’t wanted to bring the war to Hogwarts, but it had ended up here all the same and he couldn’t think of anything he could have done to change that. He gazed questioningly up at Hermione, but McGonagall spoke before he’d finished reading her expression.

“We’ve not yet heard from you, Mr Finnigan,” prompted McGonagall. “Though I dare say we’ve heard quite a bit about you over the course of the morning. I would like to know why you believed it to be a good idea to attack Slytherin House.”

Seamus’ eyes flashed towards Harry for a split second before he stared back at McGonagall. “It’s because of him,” he snarled after an oppressive silence, pointing to Harry as he raged at McGonagall. “Harry. Bending over for Slytherins, wanting everyone to think they’re like everybody else, but they’re not. They’re evil, every single one of them. They’re not normal, any more than Potter is.

“He’s a freak. A bloody freak. He’s disgusting, and we’re supposed to pretend he’s normal, but he’s not. He gets shagged by a fuckin’ Slytherin, and now we have to look at him, have his bleedin’ sex life shoved in our faces every single day.” Seamus went quiet for a moment, his pale, sweaty face twisting in revulsion. “The Carrows…the Carr—” he said in horror, and then he vomited all over the floor.

Heads swivelled, no one quite certain where to look, though an uncomfortable number of them were turned in Harry’s direction. A few students near Seamus gagged and even Harry’s stomach turned over. McGonagall dashed over to Seamus and Vanished the sick before speaking quietly with him, his head down and cheeks burning. She gestured to Sprout, who bustled over to wrap an arm around him as she led him from the Great Hall. Seamus threw her arm off and strode angrily in front of her, leaving McGonagall to sigh and shake her head.

A low buzz of conversation filled the Great Hall and, as Harry met Hermione’s eyes, he saw something that appeared suspiciously like pity in them. She shook her head slightly and glanced pointedly at where Seamus had been standing just moments before, and Harry understood her to mean that she was just as worried about their friend as he was.

“Mr Malfoy,” said McGonagall as she resumed her place behind the podium. “Having heard the grievances lodged against Slytherin House, have you a rebuttal?”

Draco came to his feet, his chin up, and his cool, silvery eyes swept over everyone assembled there. “I do, Professor, but might I suggest we break for lunch?” He turned and gave Harry an enquiring look before turning back to respectfully await McGonagall’s decision. If Draco was in need of career advice, Harry hoped that someone would steer him towards becoming a barrister.

A bell chimed, and McGonagall’s face softened. “Excellent suggestion, Mr Malfoy.” She tapped her wand against the podium and urged the students to their feet. Within a very few minutes, she, Flitwick and Wimple had the Great Hall set to rights, with another table placed very near the Staff Table for the students in disgrace.

While the teachers were busy, Harry spotted Severus across the Hall and nodded to him, waiting until Ron, Neville and Luna surrounded him before making his way through the crowd to stand next to him. “Where did Professor Sprout take Seamus?” he asked as Hermione pushed her way through to join them.

“To the Hospital Wing,” said Severus, his brow furrowed in thought. “He did not appear well.” He tipped his head as Draco joined them. “I see the family is all here. Draco, do you have your remarks prepared?”

Draco shook his head. “Somewhat, but I had intended to work them out during lunch. I heard a few things that were new. To me, at least.” He glanced inquiringly in turn at Ron, Neville and Harry.

Ron shrugged. “I’ve not heard anything that wasn’t said in the common room for years, except for the bits about Harry and the stuff about last year. It’s not his fault the battle ended up being fought here. Believe me, he’d have chosen anywhere else.”

“I think you should let Harry speak,” suggested Neville, to Harry’s dismay.

“No. They’ll not listen to me,” said Harry. “They blame me enough already. I can’t do anything about being pregnant; that’s me being a freak of nature—”

“Harry!” A chorus of voices broke out, and Severus’ eyes flashed.

“Look, I said I’m okay with it, and I am, but let’s not pretend this is normal,” Harry explained. “It’s not. Maybe it was five hundred years ago, but it should have died out by now. I wasn’t supposed to survive the Killing Curse either, but I did, so I’ve already figured out I’m not like everybody else.” He wasn’t worried about his self-image, though he could do quite happily without the constant harassment, and he couldn’t decide if he liked being pregnant or not. It was rather peculiar, all things considered. But Severus loved him and that was all that mattered.

“Anyway,” continued Harry, “I didn’t want the war to be fought at Hogwarts any more than anyone else did, but Voldemort chose the place. Not me.” He’d done everything that was required of him, not that it made him sleep any better at night. It was a bit surprising that the castle wasn’t awash in Sleeping Draught after all he’d heard.

“It would have been loads different if it had happened while we were breaking into the Lestrange vault,” Ron remarked. “At least it wasn’t at the Ministry.”

“Or in Godric’s Hollow,” said Hermione a bit sharply. “Where we were nearly killed by the snake, not to mention You-Know-Who showing up in the flesh. What a wonderful Christmas that was.” She flushed as four pairs of eyes turned to stare at her. “Never mind.”

“You know,” said Neville, “no one really has the whole story. Not you three. Not us. Maybe Professor Prince does,” Severus quickly shook his head, his dark eyes inquisitive. “Okay, guess not. But if we don’t know it, we can be certain they don’t, either.”

Luna stepped up to Draco, her pale blue eyes filled with understanding. “You’ll need all of us. Don’t mind the Wrackspurts, they’re only trying to distract you.” She reached up and took his face in her hands. “You’re better than that, Draco Malfoy.” She withdrew her hands and plopped down at the Slytherin table, seeming quite at home there. “I’m hungry. Will we have a long wait for lunch, do you think?”

~*~

An hour later, Draco stood before his classmates, his finely tailored robes open to reveal charcoal grey trousers, a pristine white shirt and his Slytherin tie, properly knotted and tucked neatly into his waistcoat. He looked every inch the Slytherin prince he was once thought to be, the trademark Malfoy sneer firmly in place.

Seeing Draco like that brought out all the old hostility Harry had thought long buried. Memories surfaced: Draco hurling curses at him in the Room of Requirement whilst Fiendfyre crackled and roared around them, Draco skulking around corridors with Crabbe and Goyle at his side, Draco strutting around with his Inquisitorial Squad badge pinned to his chest. He couldn’t guess the game Draco was playing, and he did not see how this would improve their situation any.

Draco paced in front of the group of students, his boots tapping out a sharp tattoo against the stone floor as precise as drummers escorting a prisoner to the gallows. He came to a halt in front of Megan Jones, a Hufflepuff from his year, whose brother had had an arm torn off by one of the giants who attacked the castle. He stared down his nose at her, his eyes moving slowly over her as though deciding if she was in the same league as the dirt he wiped off his shoes.

“What do you want, Malfoy?” she spat. “Come to gloat, have you?”

They watched in amazement as Malfoy’s arrogance melted away, leaving someone akin to the pale, frightened, uncertain boy Harry had seen at the Welcoming Feast. “I’m Draco,” he said quietly and held out his hand to her. “It’s my pleasure to meet you.”

Megan stared up at him in wide-eyed confusion, her eyes shifting from his face to his outstretched hand and back. “What are you doing?” she growled suspiciously.

“Making your acquaintance,” he replied in the same respectful tone. “I do not believe we’ve ever been properly introduced, even after all these years. You are Miriam Jones, yes?”

Whether she was embarrassed, angry or simply refused to stoop to Draco’s level, Harry couldn’t say, but the girl came to her feet and took his hand, removing it quickly and somehow managing not to wipe it on her robes. “Megan Jones. Megan. Not Miriam,” she said coldly.

“Forgive me,” replied Draco with a respectful nod of his head. “I knew it began with an ‘M’, but that was all I could remember.” He took a step back and wrung his hands a bit, appearing uncertain. “Slytherin House is in disgrace. We all know it, and we accept that our House harboured the worst Dark wizard to arise in the past fifty years. But when you think of Slytherin, what comes to mind?”

He waited and when no one said anything, he offered a few ideas. “Evil? Self-serving? Conniving?”

“Arrogant,” offered someone. “Petty,” shouted another. “Cruel.” “Manipulative.” “Dark.” “Pure-bloods.”

“Who said that?” said Draco, his head snapping around, his eyes narrowing. A couple of hands went up in the back. “I would like to introduce you to some members of Slytherin House.” He walked over to the area where Harry was sitting, studiously keeping his eyes off him. “Evan, Naima, Scott, Heather, would you stand, please?” Two of them came to their feet, but the others refused, despite whispered pleas to the contrary. “It’s alright, you don’t have to.”

“We hear a lot about how Slytherin cling to the old ways, that we’re the ones who insist that custom and tradition be followed. That we all believe that the only decent wizard is a pure-blood one. Yes, it’s true that Salazar Slytherin chose pure-blood witches and wizards for his House, but the Sorting Hat places everybody in the best House for that person. The ones I named are Muggle-borns, and when the Dark Lord was in power they were afraid for their lives, but what seems to have been forgotten is that Slytherins are loyal, just as loyal as Hufflepuffs.

“Tracey. Graham. Nickie. Rachel.” He rattled off another few names. “Would you stand, please?” The Slytherins he’d called by name came to their feet and gazed steadily at Draco.

“Meet Slytherin House’s half-bloods.” A look of pride came across Draco’s face. “Stay there for a moment.” He walked purposefully across the Hall and came to where Severus was sitting. “Severus Prince, would you do us the honour of standing, please?”

All eyes turned to watch Severus come to his feet, his expression neutral, impassive, and if he was the least bit resentful about becoming the centre of attention, Harry couldn’t tell. “Professor Prince is our Head of House, and he is a half-blood. He is married to another half-blood, Harry Potter.” At hearing his name, Harry came awkwardly to his feet, a tiny nervous smile playing around the corner of his lips. “Sorry,” Draco said with a sly smile. “Harry Prince. There’s some doubt I’ll ever get that right. Not terribly self-serving, I know,” he added wryly, then gestured for everyone to take their seats again.

He moved back to the centre of the room, and every trace of good humour fled from his eyes. “There is another half-blood associated with Slytherin House. His name was Tom Riddle. Harry and Professor Dumbledore called him…” He swallowed and his jaw worked. A vein in his temple pulsed. “Voldemort.” For a moment, Draco froze and his attention was fixed on the doors to the Great Hall. He inhaled deeply and drew a shaky hand across his forehead. “One learnt quickly to refer to him as My Lord, or the Dark Lord, especially if he was living in your home.”

The Hall went silent and everyone leaned forward a bit to hear what Draco had to say. “When I was young…” He paused and a distant expression came into his eyes, one with which Harry was all too familiar. “I was raised to believe that my father, Lucius Malfoy, could do no wrong. He’d been accused of being a Death Eater when Potter defeated the Dark Lord for the first time, but the halls of power were not unknown to him, and he was able to persuade those in charge of our world that he’d been under the Dark Lord’s thrall.

“It wasn’t entirely untrue, but it was entirely self-serving. Conniving. Ambitious. Maybe a bit cunning. My friends were the children of my father’s friends. I grew up knowing all the right people, and I was assured that when the Dark Lord rose again, we would be the most powerful family in Britain.” He smiled grimly. “Pretty heady stuff and it was true, for the most part.

“When Potter was kidnapped at the end of the Tournament and the Dark Lord resurrected, we celebrated, believing all our loyalty had paid off. But the Dark Lord was obsessed with destroying Potter, not with bringing back a sense of order, not with restoring the customs and traditions I was assured all proper witches and wizards followed.

“We didn’t understand this bizarre fixation with a skinny, myopic, Gryffindor orphan. I mean, I knew Potter. Why was the Dark Lord paying attention to him and not to us, those who followed him? Greg, Vincent, Pansy, Theo, all children of Death Eaters. Our fathers and our mothers worshipped the ground the Dark Lord walked on, and they taught us to do the same.

“We started to win, we thought, when Umbridge was here, and there we were, a bunch of power-hungry teenagers running around, currying favour with those who held the upper hand. Umbridge allowed us to do anything that furthered her own ambitions. Snape was one of us, and we learnt quickly how easy it is to be cruel when no one stands up to you. But we weren’t cruel because we were Slytherins. We were cruel because that’s what the Dark Lord did best.

“Then my father was given an assignment at the Department of Mysteries. I knew very little about it, but it was the key to destroying Potter and winning the war. When he succeeded, I knew my family would become the Dark Lord’s most trusted servants, above Bellatrix Lestrange. Above Severus Snape. The Malfoys would serve at the right hand of the Dark Lord as he took his rightful place as the ruler of Wizarding Britain.”

Draco walked slowly back to the area where Harry and the Slytherins were sitting. “I played Quidditch against Potter for four years, and I should have learnt not to bet against him. The prophecy he’d been sent to collect was destroyed. My father failed and worse, was captured and sent to Azkaban. There was no denying that he bore the Dark Mark, that he was a Death Eater. And with my father in prison, I was tapped to take his place.”

Draco paced slowly through the Great Hall, his eyes fixed on the flagstones in front of him. Despite knowing the tale, Harry’s heart was pounding and his mouth was dry as he watched the solitary figure walking in isolation through a crowded space. “My task was simple,” he said, his expression troubled. “Find a way to get Death Eaters into the castle and murder the headmaster. Simple, as I said. Right?” He smiled briefly, but it faded fast. “If I failed, though, my punishment wouldn’t be anything as easy as Azkaban. No, if I failed my father and mother would be murdered in front of me. Merlin alone knows how long I’d be allowed to live after that.”

“With my father gone, the Dark Lord claimed Malfoy Manor as his own. I was Marked,” he rolled back his sleeves and displayed the pale scar where the skull and snake had been burned into his forearm. “It faded when he died, but it’s there,” he said, his voice tinged with anger. “I will carry that with me until the day I die. I was his, and as the year went by and I was no closer to figuring out how to carry out my orders, I thought I would go mental.

“Imagine your father in Azkaban, your mother at wandpoint and being here, not knowing from one minute to the next what was happening to her. Not so hard to do, is it?” he asked. “The half-bloods and Muggle-borns from Slytherin wondered every day if this was the day someone from their own House would betray them to the Carrows. To Parkinson. To me.

“My house, the house in which I grew up, was used as a prison. As a torture chamber. As a place of execution. ‘You’ve got to mean it, Draco.’ My crazy aunt Bellatrix used to say that whilst she taught me the Cruciatus curse under the Dark Lord’s watchful eye.”

At his words, a soft snarl broke from Harry’s lips, attracting Draco’s attention. He walked over to where Harry sat, and Harry inhaled sharply at the agony in Draco’s eyes. “Hurts like hell, doesn’t it?” said Draco quietly. “Even now. My mother used to sit and watch as Aunt Bellatrix used it on me so I’d grow angry enough to use it on someone the Death Eaters had brought home. What else could she do? In case you’re wondering, you can’t cast Unforgivables on yourself. I should know. I tried it often enough.”

Harry blanched and shook his head in despair. Draco turned away and walked over to where the small army was sitting. “It wasn’t much better to be in Slytherin last year than any other House, at least not from what I could see. We all knew Snape was the Dark Lord’s man, and to a person we were all afraid that if we didn’t do exactly what the Carrows wanted, our families would be murdered and Snape would turn us over to the Dark Lord.

“Every time one of you got detention, the Carrows would pull a few of us out to curse you or hex you or jinx you, and you all fought back. Every one of you fought back. We were terrified that if you won, our families would be killed, but you all fought back.”

“But your families didn’t die,” shouted a Hufflepuff. “Ours did!”

A half a dozen Slytherins sprang to their feet. “My dad’s dead,” one shouted back. “The Dark Lord killed him himself because I let a Hufflepuff get away. The Carrows snitched on me and now he’s dead. He wasn’t even a Death Eater. He just wrote books about wands.”

Harry thought he was going to be sick. Ginny had not said anything about any of this. Nor had Severus, but judging from the horrified look on Severus’ face, he hadn’t known about it either. Harry thought it highly unlikely that the bloke’s father had been murdered because of a Hufflepuff, but judging by his own experiences with the Carrows, he found it believable that they’d cast blame on the boy for his father’s death.

Draco wetted his lips and stepped forward. “Look at us. Last year there were well over a hundred of us here. This year we’re nearly half that. We’re the smallest House at Hogwarts. Some of us have parents in Azkaban—and yes, they deserve to be there. Some of us lost parents to the war. But some of us are Slytherin because that’s where the Sorting Hat put us, and we had nothing to do with it. My House was sent off to Hogsmeade, not even given a chance to choose a side. Some of us chose poorly and we will carry our mistakes with us to the grave, knowing that no matter how remorseful we may be, we cannot ever atone.

“If you want someone to punish for the wrongs committed by Slytherin House,” Draco swallowed and squared his shoulders, “I stand for all of them. I offer my life,” a chorus of ‘no’s broke out, and several students came out of the gallery at a run, “but in exchange, the war ends. Slytherin House becomes part of Hogwarts again.”

Harry came to his feet, as did Severus and Hermione, and they started to move towards the centre of the room. Ron, Ginny, Neville and Luna were already surrounding Draco, speaking to him in low urgent tones. McGonagall was shocked and alarm registered in her eyes. “Though I have no doubt your gesture was heartfelt, Mr Malfoy, Hogwarts will never demand the blood of its students in atonement for anything.”

“I was at Malfoy Manor,” said Luna in a soft voice that nevertheless seemed to reach everyone in the Great Hall. “I was captured by Death Eaters so my father wouldn’t publish stories in The Quibbler about Harry anymore. I was there with Mr Ollivander and Dean Thomas. There were others, but the Death Eaters killed them. The Sorting Hat made me Draco’s guardian, and it made Draco Neville’s guardian. Odd, isn’t it, that the Sorting Hat would give a Gryffindor to a Slytherin for safe keeping?

“The Sorting Hat gave another Gryffindor to a Slytherin, too. That’s why Harry Potter and Severus Snape got married.” Harry didn’t know what possessed Luna to say that; it was likely the only thing he would leave off any list of reasons to get married. “And now they’re the Princes,” she said in her usual dreamy voice.

“Draco didn’t capture me. He didn’t torture me. He fed me when his aunt would let him. He gave us water sometimes. I think he was more scared than I was. I was in the dungeons where it was easy to forget about me, but when he was home for holidays, he had to try to keep Lord Voldemort happy, and he was never happy about anything, but then, he didn’t have a nose.” A nervous titter swept through the Hall.

“Draco Malfoy is a good man,” she declared. “Professor Dumbledore used to tell us that it is our choices that define us. Sometimes Draco chose wrong, but most of the time he didn’t have a choice at all, except to let his family be murdered and maybe himself, too. I know you might be thinking ‘good riddance’, but could you do it? Could you trade your family for what you believe?”

Luna turned and faced Draco. “I love you, and I will take your place.” She smiled. “I am your guardian, after all.” She gave Draco a brief hug before wandering off to stand with Neville, who wrapped his arms around her and shook his head.

“I don’t think that’s what the Sorting Hat had in mind,” said Neville as he released his hold on her. “But I’ve got something to say,” he announced as he stepped forward. “Some of you wanted to know who was protecting you when Professor Prince was Headmaster here. I’ll tell you who—Dumbledore’s Army.

“There were loads of us working to keep Hogwarts safe from the Carrows. People like Ginny Weasley, Seamus Finnigan, Padma and Parvati Patil, Terry Boot, Ernie Macmillan. There were dozens of us living in the Room of Requirement to keep from being ‘arrested’ by the Carrows, but we did what we could to make life impossible for the Headmaster and the other Death Eaters Voldemort put here.

“Every time you thought you made a lucky escape, it was one of us causing a bigger headache for someone. We took your detentions and we took your punishments because that what Harry would have wanted us to do. He believes in Hogwarts. He believes in magic, but mostly he believes in love and forgiveness.

“It’s no secret that he hated Snape and Snape hated him. It’s no secret that they love each other now, even if they don’t say it much. Harry lectured me at the Welcoming Feast, did you know that? He already knew Slytherin House was going to bear the brunt of our anger, and he was right. Of all of us, Harry is a child of war. My parents are in St Mungo’s, have been since I was a baby, but at least I have them. His died to save him.

“He told me that we have to forgive them if we want peace, and he’s right. I hated the Slytherins when school started, and I was angry they were allowed back, but then the Sorting Hat gave me Draco.” Neville paused and a light flush spread over his cheeks. “I guess it’s not really a secret that I love him the same way I love Luna. Most of us who became guardians, especially those of us who were in Dumbledore’s Army, got to see the Slytherins as people, and they’re just like us. We didn’t want the war to come here, but are we going to be the ones who carry it from here? Or are we going to be the ones who carry peace? Who tell our families and our friends that we will get another Dark Lord in return for our hate?”

Wishing he’d stayed in his seat, Harry moved stealthily to the Staff Table and sat down next to Hermione. “Are you going to say anything?” he murmured.

“Do you want me to?” she asked. “The others are managing rather well, I thought. At least they’re not making a hash of it. Oh, quiet. Ron’s speaking.” Her body went tense and Harry wondered if Ron would be able to complete a thought before she berated him for something.

“Harry didn’t bring the war here, and I’ll have words with anyone who says he did,” said Ron bluntly. “He was given a task by Dumbledore that had to be done so he could defeat You-Know-Who. That’s what we were doing last year.”

“You expect us to believe that Professor Dumbledore told Harry Potter to break into the Ministry? To steal something from Gringotts?” snarled Parvati, tears still glistening in her lashes.

Ron stood over her and from his posture, Harry knew he was fuming. “Ever heard of a Horcrux?” he snapped. “You-Know-Who split his soul into seven pieces so he couldn’t be killed.

“Remember second year and all those people getting petrified? Hermione was one of ’em. So was Justin. And Colin. Remember that, Parvati? That happened because You-Know-Who stored part of his soul in a diary that Malfoy—” He looked appraisingly at Draco. “Lucius Malfoy gave to my sister. She nearly died and so did Harry when that basilisk bit him.” He sighed. “It’s a long story.

“Anyway, we knew we had to find a locket, a cup, something of Ravenclaw’s, and kill his snake. That’s all we knew. The diary was destroyed in the Chamber of Secrets and Dumbledore destroyed the ring, but we didn’t know how to destroy the rest of them. We didn’t even know where they were.” He looked up and his eyes swept over the crowd.

“I’ve been best mates with Harry since our first trip on the Hogwarts Express, and it’s been a rough slog, mostly for him. He’s the hero, but he never wanted to be one. I’ve been a right git to him over and over. I was hacked off because I thought he’d found a way to sneak into the Triwizard Tournament, but it turns out it was a trap to kidnap him. I left him when we were searching for Horcruxes, and Hermione too, because I was tired and scared and done with not having the first clue what we were doing, but I couldn’t find them again when I wanted to go back.”

Ron began to pace nervously and his words started to tumble over themselves. “He avoided me—me and my family—because he thought I wouldn’t like him anymore for being gay. He was right,” he admitted in a choked voice. “About me, anyway. How could Harry Potter be bent? He’s got everything, right? Fame, fortune, glory.

“He’s famous because his mum stepped in front of a Killing Curse. He’s got a fortune because Bellatrix Lestrange killed his godfather. He’s earned glory, but he had to be killed by Voldemort in order to defeat him. I don’t know anyone else who could have done that. And he didn’t even tell me he was going to do it, the prat.” Ron’s eyes glistened strangely as he glared at Harry.

“Don’t even ask me why he fell in love with Snape, but he did. And I told him he was mental. Every horrible thing you’ve ever thought about Harry Potter, I’ve said to him. I told him we should have gone into hiding, kept our heads down, but he had a job to do and he was going to do it, even if it killed him.

“Harry couldn’t have come here last year. Neither could Hermione. There was a price on their heads, and there were too many people willing to give him up, thinking it would mean an easier time for them. But Draco’s told you what it was like living with You-Know-Who. Luna’s told you what it was like to be captured by Death Eaters. We only came here in the end because You-Know-Who hid a part of his soul here. If you want to blame someone for the battle being fought here, blame the right person, not the person who gave up his life so You-Know-Who couldn’t come back again.”

Harry was scarlet by the time Ron had finished, not wanting any of this to be about him. He didn’t want a rehashing of his deeds and misdeeds. All he wanted was for everyone to find their own way to forgiveness, to feel remorse so that redemption might take the place of rage and hate. He rose from his chair and spoke. “This is not about me. This is about knowing we all make bad choices sometimes; I mean, I got my godfather killed, but we’ve got to forgive ourselves and each other and move forward.”

He took a moment and gathered his thoughts. “We’re taught that Hufflepuff are an ordinary lot, but they gave us Cedric Diggory, who was anything but. Ravenclaw are bookish and brilliant, but then we have Luna.” He shrugged his shoulders and she grinned. “Gryffindor are brave or reckless, depending on who’s doing the telling, but Peter Pettigrew was the most cowardly man I knew and betrayed his best friends to Voldemort. And we’ve all said Slytherin look out for themselves, but the most courageous, selfless person I know is Severus. He’s why we have a school to return to, and no one has ever thought him anything but a Slytherin.” He sat back down and gazed out into the distance, wondering if any of this had helped or if they’d just managed to make things worse.

McGonagall stepped back behind the podium, her countenance stern. “You’ve been fortunate enough to hear from a number of people, many of whom have understandable reasons for holding Slytherin accountable for the horrors they’ve been forced to endure, but have chosen, chosen not to. Who have come to understand that revenge is not the way. It is our choices that define us.”

“Ask him what choices he made,” demanded a Ravenclaw who stood and pointed at Severus. “He murdered Dumbledore. He had Burbage sacked for teaching about Muggles—”

“She was murdered,” interrupted Severus, setting off a low, angry buzz of conversation. “Draco witnessed it, as did I. My choices were thus: to save her and, in so doing, provoke the Dark Lord’s wrath, thus ensuring he would triumph, or do nothing and survive to fulfil the mission Albus Dumbledore had entrusted to me. Which would you have had me do?” He stepped off the dais and approached the girl, a fifth year from the look of it.

“Severus,” said Harry urgently in a low voice. “You don’t have to do this. You don’t have to explain anything.”

Severus gave Harry a long, searching look. “No. It is time they learnt the truth.” He stepped behind the podium and gripped it tightly, surveying the wide-eyed students sitting before him. “Only three people alive know the full truth of the past seven years: Harry, Minister of Magic Kingsley Shacklebolt and me. But those of you who feel wronged by my choices, who have decided that some deeds can never be forgiven: I will tell you my story and let you decide for yourselves what sort of man I am.”

Harry’s heart clenched. He had no desire to see Severus stripped of his dignity, all his innate pride laid bare for the judgement of people who could never fill his shoes. But he could not look away, nor would he. Even if he, Harry, was the last one standing, he would remain by Severus’ side, steadfast in his support.

“If you believe that the actions you take here will not define you later in life, I assure you that you are wrong,” Severus began, his rich, sonorous voice easily filling the Hall. Harry couldn’t help but contrast it with the day they restored the ceiling, and he was inordinately pleased by how far Severus had come in the last six months. “When I was only slightly older than Mr Malfoy,” he nodded toward Draco, “I took the Dark Mark of my own accord. My best friend, my only friend, had cut me out of her life when I called her a mudblood.” For a moment Severus appeared haunted. “I could not earn her forgiveness, so I sought instead the approval of my housemates.

“Slytherin earned its reputation as a ‘Dark’ House,” he continued. “Tom Riddle, Bellatrix Lestrange, Lucius Malfoy, Crabbe, Goyle, Nott, the Carrows. Regulus Black.” There was a pronounced silence. “Me. We have not covered ourselves in glory. We have not chosen well.

“I was hounded all throughout my days as a schoolboy here by a small gang of Gryffindors and wanted nothing more than revenge upon them for the pain they had caused me. What better way than to join up with a group who promised glory to its followers?” Severus spared no one, not even himself, as he spoke plainly about his days as a student, how the decisions he made then resonated years later.

“I loathed Harry P—,” he sighed as the contract prevented him from saying the name, “despised the idea of him, hated him on first sight, but I had made a promise to Dumbledore, and to myself, to keep him safe. I had no idea, none, how onerous a task that would be.” He then proceeded to explain in rising tones every instance where he had rescued Harry from danger or lent his talents to the effort, and how such incidents had ultimately led to the resurrection of Lord Voldemort.

If Harry had thought Severus capable of a good diatribe, he was of two minds by the time it was over. It was either a brilliant rant or the most thorough condemnation of his character he had ever witnessed, and he felt in his bones Severus’ constant frustration with his impetuousness and callous disregard for his own safety. That they’d been able to find some common ground was nothing short of astonishing. Against all reason, he felt loved by the time all his wrongs had been elucidated, listening with his elbow on the table, his chin propped in his hand, his eyes warm.

Those inside the Great Hall were spellbound. Most of them had heard by word of mouth about Harry’s (mis)deeds during his years at Hogwarts, but never had they been privy to such a concise dissection by one who knew every detail of his life.

“Presumably, you can comprehend the tightrope upon which I walked,” said Severus, Summoning a glass of water and taking a sip. “My duty was understood—become the right hand of the Dark Lord whilst disseminating pertinent information to the Order of the Phoenix. Then Draco Malfoy received his orders.”

Severus stepped back, his body tense, his eyes hooded. “Mr Weasley spoke to you about Horcruxes, created from the Darkest magic known. There was a ring upon which the Dark Lord had laid a powerful curse, a ring which housed a portion of his soul. Merlin alone knows what possessed the headmaster to pick the ring up without investigating it first. Those of you who were students here two years ago will remember his withered hand, black from above the wrist to the tips of his fingers. There was nothing to be done. The curse would kill him.”

For the first time since he began his narration, Severus’ voice grew tight, the velvety smoothness scraped down to the nap. “Professor Albus Dumbledore, my mentor and friend, asked me to take his life in order to preserve the soul of Draco Malfoy, upon whom had been laid a most onerous charge, and to further my own standing with the Dark Lord.

“You have heard from Draco himself, who spoke without knowing I would follow, that he was required to murder the Headmaster or see his family slain. Most of you know that Harry was on the Astronomy Tower that night and witnessed what he believed—what he was meant to believe—was the execution of Albus Dumbledore by my hand.” His dark eyes swept over the assemblage. “What would you have done?”

No one said a word, but tears glistened in the eyes of a few students. Harry couldn’t move an inch, couldn’t turn his head to catch a glance of Hermione out of the corner of his eye. Draco was white. Even his silvery eyes appeared drained of colour, and Ron seemed to have aged a decade in the last few minutes.

“Before he died,” said Severus, his voice suddenly hoarse, his sallow skin faded, “before I killed him, Albus gave me some last instructions: to give Harry the Sword of Gryffindor, and to relay a final message.” Severus gripped the podium with whitened knuckles and heaved a breath more sob than sigh. “That, at the proper moment, Harry must die, and that it must be by the Dark Lord’s hand.” He coughed suddenly, an explosive sound in the silence of the Hall, and he dropped his head for a moment. “That was the charge laid upon me.” His lips paled as he pressed them together.

“Imagine standing in Draco Malfoy’s shoes. His mission is a success, though he failed to accomplish it himself. Death Eaters have invaded the school he loves, but to what end? The castle remained impregnable, Harry Potter still lived, the Order proved to be more capable a foe than first believed. I returned Draco to his parents, unable to mourn the one man who had stood between me and utter annihilation. In exchange for my loyalty to the Dark Lord,” he spat, “I was given Hogwarts.”

“Charity Burbage,” he continued, “our Professor of Muggle Studies, submitted an ill-timed editorial about Wizard/Muggle relations and was taken into custody by Death Eaters. At a meeting to plot Harry’s capture and demise, she was tortured and murdered whilst begging me to spare her life. A friend and colleague of fifteen years, and there was nothing I could do, unless I wished to see the Dark Lord prevail. What would you have done?”

Severus waited for someone to fill the silence, but no one spoke. “The Dark Lord appointed the Carrows to the Defence and Muggle Studies positions and I knew them for what they were—the eyes and ears of the Dark Lord. But amongst Dumbledore’s staunchest allies were Professors McGonagall, Flitwick and Sprout, and I knew that they would act covertly to keep as many of you from harm’s way as possible.

“It was inevitable that detentions would be assigned. It was inevitable that, once unfettered, Slytherin House would unleash the very worst of its nature after believing itself oppressed for so long. It was inevitable therefore, that Slytherin House would become the arm of justice. So I permitted those who had committed one infraction or another to defend themselves during their detentions. In short, I continued the training Dumbledore’s Army had begun. What would you have done?”

Again, no one said a word. “Harry was not alone during his year on the run. He brought with him his two closest friends, Ronald Weasley and Hermione Granger. This is common knowledge. But there was another, one who has largely been forgotten, and whilst it may seem his role was negligible, his contribution was not.”

Harry and Hermione exchanged puzzled glances. “I speak of course,” continued Severus, “of former headmaster Phineas Nigellus of Slytherin House, who kept me apprised of their progress, and who sent me to the Forest of Dean so that I might fulfil the first part of my mission, delivering the Sword of Gryffindor to Harry.”

Severus stepped out from behind the podium and stood before his jury. “I carry with me many regrets,” he said quietly. “I regret calling my friend, Lily Evans, a mudblood. I regret taking the Dark Mark. I regret delivering to the Dark Lord the information that led to her death and that of her husband, to the orphaning of their only child. I regret that Charity Burbage died believing I had betrayed her. I regret that all of you found yourselves pawns on a chessboard and were thought to be expendable. You are not.

“I do not regret the lessons you learnt last year, only the manner in which you were forced to learn them. I do not regret having caused Albus Dumbledore’s death, only that it had to happen at all. I accept responsibility for the ills you suffered under my watch, and I will take my remorse to the grave, but I beg you all to remember that, at the end, Tom Riddle felt no remorse for anything.”

Severus turned, walked back to the far end of the table and sat down, his face pale, his expression grim, his eyes focussed on the table in front of him. At the back of the room, Ginny Weasley came to her feet and swept her wand through the air before bringing it to her chest and bowing formally. Beside her Michael Corner rose and did the same, then Neville and Ernie Macmillan. In the Slytherin box, Demelza saw Ron make the same gesture and copied it and before long, nearly every head was bowed in silent tribute to a man who had taken so much upon his shoulders and expected nothing in return but to die at the end, unloved.

Harry sat quietly, his shining eyes widening slightly as he saw Severus receive the tribute he was due, his thoughts tangled, his emotions too many and too varied to fit in an ordinary teaspoon. “Ron?” he said in a voice just loud enough to be heard. “That’s why.”

~*~

Harry woke hours later from a refreshing nap that went a long way to curing the ache in his back and the soreness in his ribs. He padded barefoot out from the bedroom to see if Severus had returned from the deliberations after today’s meeting, only to find the door to the laboratory slightly ajar, a clear sign of puttering. That was Harry’s word for it; Severus called it “engaged in research.”

He pushed the door open and remained carefully behind the threshold, waiting for Severus to look up. “Hungry?” he asked when Severus paused from measuring out some yellowish goo that smelled revolting.

“No, but you should request something from the house-elves,” he replied as he added two more drops to the cylinder.

Harry was silent as he watched Severus work, curious, but not enough to ask. “You should eat something before you go to bed. Just…” He shrugged. “I know you’ve been skipping meals.”

“Harry…” But whatever Severus was about to say died when he met Harry’s eyes. “I will.”

Severus went back to work and Harry turned away, looking back after a couple of steps even though he knew he couldn’t see Severus from where he was. Just knowing he was there was enough. He brought his eyes forward and yelped when he nearly crashed head-on into Draco Malfoy.

“What are you doing here?” gasped Harry, his heart hammering. “And how did you get in?” He stared at the door to their quarters, as though trying to spot the magic that protected them.

“Password,” remarked Draco casually, “and the enchantments are down.” He strolled over to one of the overstuffed chairs and flopped down into it. “Severus was called away before everything was decided, and I reckoned you’d want to know before the story became something unrecognisable. Where is he?”

“Brewing,” said Harry as he claimed his usual corner of the couch. “Don’t ask me what he’s working on, though. I’ve no idea.”

“It doesn’t matter what he’s working on. You’re not allowed in there at any rate,” Draco pointed out. “And for good reason. You’re a disaster at Potions.” A light, teasing smile danced around the corners of his lips.

Harry scowled. “I don’t know why everyone thinks that. I got an Exceeds Expectations on my O.W.L. I did really well in Slughorn’s class, and I’d be fine in Severus’ class if he’d let me anywhere near a cauldron.”

“Something that will not happen until after the child is born,” interjected Severus. “Hello, Draco. What brings you here?”

Some of Draco’s good humour fled and he gazed soberly at Severus. “We finished, and I believe the outcome was as good as we could have expected. No one’s wand will be snapped, the Ministry is not being notified, and St Mungo’s is receiving three patients—”

“Four,” interrupted Severus as he sat down at the far end of Harry’s sofa. “Seamus Finnigan is being moved to the Janus Thickey Ward tonight, unless your count included him?”

Draco shook his head. “No. Andrew Stretton, Parvati Patil and Rebecca Alperton. She’s in Ravenclaw, too.”

“Which one is Rebecca?” asked Harry, eyeing the cushion next to Severus as he tried to decide whether it was worth shifting positions to curl up with him.

“She’s in fifth year. Dark hair, dark eyes, about your height,” said Severus. “Rather extraordinary at Astronomy. Aurora Sinistra was recommending she sit her N.E.W.T. this year, and then begin an apprenticeship next year.”

“Do you reckon she and the others will be there long?” asked Harry worriedly. “What’s wrong with them, anyway? Were they cursed?”

“No, nothing like that,” said Severus. “They’re—” His head snapped around as the door opened and Hermione stepped through. Harry glared at Draco, who gave him a smug smile back.

“Oh, Harry, have you heard? They’re taking Parvati to St Mungo’s,” said Hermione in a burst. “Hello, Professor,” she added before Harry had a chance to respond. She sat down in the comfy chair next to Severus, tucking her feet up under her. “I was looking for you afterwards,” she said to Draco. “If I’d known you were here I’d have come straight away.”

Draco looked quizzically at her. “Was there something you needed me for? I thought we’d finished.”

“Oh, no,” Hermione assured him. “I knew you’d want to tell Severus what had been decided, and I’ve been dying to speak with Harry, especially since we’ve not had any time and I still don’t know about the Room of Requirement. I’m so far behind on everything,” she said unhappily.

Harry started guiltily. “I’d nearly forgotten about that,” he admitted. “But as you’re both here, I’ll tell you what I remember after you’ve told me what’s going to happen with those Ravenclaws.”

“They weren’t all Ravenclaws,” said Hermione sharply. “Don’t you start thinking that way or we’ll be right back in the same fix.”

Harry stared at her, aghast, a low flush rising in his cheeks. After months spent trying to eliminate inter-House tensions and reduce the rivalries between them, to be thought biased against any House was beyond the pale. “I’m not,” he protested. “But more than half of them were Ravenclaws, Hermione, and I can’t really ignore that. I don’t want them to have a name or an identity,” he added sharply. “That gives them power, and they don’t deserve that.”

Three sets of eyes stared back at him. “I keep forgetting you’re actually intelligent,” said Draco, earning for himself a two-fingered salute from Harry, accompanied by a not-insignificant roll of the eyes.

“So what happened?” asked Harry. “The short version.”

“The short version,” huffed Hermione, “is that three are going to St Mungo’s, Slytherin will be getting six new students, ten are on permanent detention, and the rest are losing a hundred points apiece. They didn’t do much harm, rather got caught up in something a bit more exciting than Herbology.”

“A hundred points?” exclaimed Harry. “Since when does anyone care about House points?”

“Those who lost points were second and third years, Harry,” replied Severus. “They’re old enough to remember the competition for the House Cup and having their banners up for the Leaving Feast. They’re old enough to care about which House wins the Quidditch Cup. This is still a school, and whilst too many of the students have suffered adult experiences, they are still children. I would attempt to return some small part of their childhood to them.”

“Ravenclaw is losing two hundred points, and Gryffindor and Hufflepuff one hundred points each,” added Draco. “Nothing that can’t be earned back by the end of term.” His silvery eyes clouded. “They pretty much fell apart at that, though. Pomfrey had to give two of them Calming Draught.”

The door burst open with a sharp bang and before Harry had finished leaping off the couch, wand in hand, Ron was climbing to his feet in the corridor outside their rooms and rubbing the back of his head. “What sort of charms have you put on the door?” he asked in a daze as he walked, peering at his fingers to see if there was any blood on them. Hermione dashed over and started combing through Ron’s hair to see how badly he might have been hurt.

“As you can see,” replied Severus, “the charms are not up or you would not have been able to enter, with or without the password.”

Harry gave Ron an apologetic smile as he rubbed his rounded stomach. “Sorry, but maybe you should have knocked?” He sat back down, next to Severus this time, and reclined against him. “Have you heard already about …?” He gestured vaguely with his hand in the direction of the Great Hall.

Ron sat down in Hermione’s chair, wincing as her fingers pressed against a lump forming on the back of his head. “Oi! That hurts. No,” he continued, trying to answer Harry’s question as he gave Hermione a sharp look. “Not yet. Leave off, Hermione. I’m fine. I was looking for Hermione to tell her that Seamus was taken to St Mungo’s. That’s why I’m here.”

“St Mungo’s? For sicking up in the Great Hall?” asked Hermione, perplexed. She rattled off half a dozen potions that could settle Seamus’ stomach. “Surely Madam Pomfrey wouldn’t need to send him to St Mungo’s for that.” She drew her wand and cast a mild Healing charm at Ron’s head before claiming the chair next to him for herself.

“That is not why Seamus was transferred to St Mungo’s,” said Severus. “But I cannot reveal more than that.” He would, though, to Harry. Harry knew that much.

“He’s been an utter shite to Harry,” growled Ron. “Best place for him, really. Maybe they can pull his head out from his arse.”

“Wish I’d known about that department last summer,” remarked Harry, amusement peering out from behind his eyes. “I’d have sent you there for the same treatment.”

Hermione glared back as Draco laughed. But Ron merely nodded thoughtfully. “Might have saved you some grief if you had. You’re still Harry, even if you are a Prince now. I used to hope that you and Ginny would get married so you’d really be part of the family, but I reckon Mum and Dad would kill me for thinking anything as daft as that. I get it now,” he added quietly.

“Do you, Mr Weasley?” Severus’ voice was hard as steel, and just as cold. “I heard what you said about forgiveness. Mine is much harder to earn.”

“Leave off, you two,” said Harry wearily, suspecting strongly that Severus had somehow managed to turn Ron’s remark about Ginny into a critique about their marriage. Or perhaps it had something to do with the remark about family. Harry neither knew nor cared. “I’d rather you work it out without me, if it’s all the same to you.”

“As you wish,” murmured Severus with a nod to Ron.

“The ones with permanent detention,” said Harry, wanting to get the conversation back on track, “what does that mean? Not every single night and weekend?”

“It means they can’t play Quidditch for one thing,” said Draco. “No gobstones teams, no chess clubs or duelling clubs. No Hogsmeade weekends. Nights in the library or their common room. Saturdays spent in detention with Filch, Pomfrey or their Head of House.”

“And lines,” added Hermione. “Thousands and thousands of lines. McGonagall is working out what they’ll be required to write.”

The door opened again and Harry exchanged a long look with Severus. “And we didn’t put up the charms, why?”

“Because I suspected our friends would wish to speak with us when everything had been decided.” Severus waved Luna and Neville into the lounge, a pointless gesture as they were already commandeering the sofa opposite Harry and him. Draco moved out of his chair to sit on Luna’s other side, his cheek stained with just enough colour to make Harry think of pale roses.

“Congratulations,” said Harry, his tone heartfelt.

Draco’s blush intensified. Neville tilted his head as Luna switched her earrings from one ear to the other, humming quietly to herself. There were times Luna was present in body only; this was one of them. “For what, Harry?” asked Neville.

Harry shifted and prodded his stomach. Why was it as soon as he was comfortable, the baby decided to shift positions so that he wasn’t anymore? “I dunno. Being in love, maybe?”

“For giving them something else to talk about?” asked Luna cagily. She rested her head in the hollow of Draco’s shoulder as she rested a hand on Neville’s thigh. “If they’d just listen to the Heliopaths—”

“No such thing,” muttered Hermione under her breath.

“They’d understand how important this is,” continued Luna, undeterred.

“How important what is?” asked Severus, his brow arched in expectation. Anyone who had ever taken a class with Severus, and that was all of them, knew that he despised incomplete answers.

“You and Harry, of course. And the baby. You’re going to change the world, you know.” Luna then whispered something to Draco, who nodded and pulled a length of blue string from his pocket. He handed it to her without comment. Luna wrapped it around her finger and began to tie knots in it. For some reason, it made Harry smile to see it.

No one seemed to know what to say to that. Finally, Harry spoke. “I’ve done my bit, and when this one is born, I’ll be done writing entries in the history books. It’s time for someone else to step up. Is Ginny coming down, do you know?”

Neville shook his head. “She and Michael are sitting with Dean. He’s a bit shaken by the whole thing. He knew Seamus was heading ’round the twist, but none of us knew it had gone as far as it had. We thought he didn’t like queers.” He reddened slightly. “Sorry, Harry, Severus, but you’ve heard Seamus all year. I know he’s said loads about Slytherin, but it’s always been about you fancying each other.”

“It always felt personal,” said Harry slowly, “but almost everything he’s said has been about how vile Slytherin are, and how I’m not a true Gryffindor if I can like any of them. I don’t think he cares I’m gay. He asked about that straight away and never mentioned it again. He doesn’t like that I’m pregnant, though. He’s made no secret of that.” Harry’s face shuttered as he fought off the doubts that still plagued him. “Mostly, though, he blames Severus for everything.”

“He will not speak with me,” said Severus as a knock sounded at the door. He rose to answer it.

“Imagine that,” said Harry as his eyes fell on Draco. “Someone with manners.”

“There you are,” cried a dark blur that flung itself at Ron. “I’ve been looking all over the castle for you,” huffed Demelza, plopping down next to Ron and giving him a baleful look. “I even went to the Library,” she said, dragging out the last word, making it sound like a second Azkaban. She said a cheery hello to Hermione and gazed at Severus, her eyes dancing.

“Did you see me bow?” she asked excitedly. She hopped up and recreated it with a flourish, very nearly hitting her head on the coffee table as she swept into a low bow. “Wasn’t it fab?” she bubbled as she straightened. “I thought it was brilliant, and I got to do it, too!”

Draco buried his face in his hand as the others tried very hard not to giggle. Severus was as nonplussed as Harry had ever seen him. “I must admit to having missed your tribute,” said Severus solemnly. “But I do thank you for demonstrating so capably.” He returned the bow as elegantly as he could with Harry half-sprawled across him, and Harry loved him all the more for it.

“Why are we getting new Slytherins?” asked Demelza as she scooted back up against Ron with practised ease. “No one wants them there. They already don’t like us any, and we don’t like them, either.”

“Will you be calling a House meeting?” asked Draco. “I can’t say I’m terribly pleased about having them be a part of Slytherin House.”

“Shall I appoint Slytherin guardians for them? Guarantors against their safety? I will, Draco, if I must. I am hopeful that the Prefects and the Head Boy will make that unnecessary.”

“Remember all that stuff you said?” added Harry quietly. “It starts with you. And you, Demelza. You have to be the bigger person. Find out what they’re good at, what they like and find them someone who likes the same thing. I mean, who would have thought you lot would fall in love? And look at Ron and Demelza.” He smiled. “I keep expecting to hear Ron’s adopting her and making her another Weasley. And Hermione has Astoria leading loads of study groups. Even Blaise and Ginny are getting along. There were only two guardians in that whole mess and one of them is at St Mungo’s.”

“I’ve rather enjoyed being a guardian,” said Hermione. “I will admit I wasn’t pleased when the Sorting Hat assigned Astoria to me, but she’s quite nice. And I’ve gotten to know Daphne, too. She’s in our year and she’s not the stuck-up bi—snob I made her out to be.”

“That’s because Pansy and Millicent aren’t here,” replied Draco flatly. “Theo, Blaise and Daphne were smart enough to keep to the shadows, Theo especially. He didn’t want to take the Mark, not after that debacle at the Ministry. He discovered what it meant to serve the Dark Lord and ran away. He wasn’t here last year, either.”

Draco dropped his eyes for a moment before continuing. “I won’t deny we’re a proud lot,” his eyes cut over to Demelza, “most of us, at any rate, and we’ve learnt not to show weakness in front of others. We were supposed to have been defeated, but really, we’re bloody well pleased you won.”

“Most of us have got the message, Draco,” said Neville. “The Sorting Hat made a difference. You made a difference. You let us get to know you, not as the Prince of Slytherin, but as Draco Malfoy. You’re not who I thought you were.”

“Your dungeon smells really horrible, though,” said Luna. “The one here is ever so much better.”

“That’s because they don’t keep people prisoner here anymore,” said Hermione sharply.

“You mean they did?” asked Demelza, her eyes wide. “Is that why Filch has chains in his office? Did he chain you up when you were here?” she asked Severus. “I shouldn’t think you’d have liked it much, but it must be loads better than polishing things until he can see his face. One would think he doesn’t he have a mirror. I’ll bet it says wretched things—”

Ron clapped his hand over her mouth. “I’ve told you a million times to give us a chance to answer before you ask the next ten questions.” He removed it, and she glared at him. “First, a word of advice, never mention to Hermione anything that can be found in Hogwarts: A History or she’ll make you read it. Second, when did you have detention with Filch?”

Demelza’s face went florid. “Last week. I called Professor Sprout a daft old cow,” she said in a hush. “And she took ten points for not saying ‘Professor’ and gave me detention for the daft bit. I asked Amanda to walk with me so I wouldn’t have to tell you.” Harry could not look at Severus; he was afraid he would start laughing if he did.

“Who is Amanda?” demanded Ron, whilst beside him Hermione was biting her lip and fighting to keep a straight face. Only Luna appeared genuinely interested and without any outward signs of distress.

“She’s a Ravenclaw in my year. She’s really nice,” explained Demelza in a wheedling tone, turning big pleading eyes on Ron.

“You know the rules, Demelza,” said Ron sternly. “I’m your guardian. You don’t go wandering around outside the dungeons without me.”

“Did I just hear you mention ‘rules’?” asked Severus in amazement. “Weasleys and rules go together like stinksap and emrumpent horn.”

“Percy never met a rule he didn’t like,” Harry pointed out. “You should have heard him go on and on about the thickness of cauldron bottoms. A man after your own heart, Percy is, or would have been if I hadn’t gotten there first.”

“Ugh. Too brown by half, Potter,” said Draco as he rolled his eyes. “We’ll never make a Slytherin out of you at this rate.”

“Harry’s all Gryffindor, mate,” said Ron, then his eyes widened. “Bloody hell, I just called Malfoy ‘mate’.”

“Ronald!” scolded Hermione, whilst Draco moaned theatrically about his life being over now that he was considered the friend of a Muggle-born and a blood traitor, which then became a discussion about whether there was such a thing any longer.

“Did you ever write that analysis of the Wizengamot for Kingsley?” Harry asked Draco once he could work a question in edgewise.

“It was brilliant,” answered Hermione before Draco could so much as get a syllable out. “The Wizengamot was formed in 1517, shortly after the May Day riots, which started when a Flemish witch foolishly threw a cauldron of potion at her married paramour. It flew through a window and it nearly landed on Cardinal Wolsey instead. They tried burning her at the stake, but you know how that went. The Council of Churches thought us a bit lawless, so the Council of Wizards became a law-making assembly organised much like the House of Lords.”

Even Severus’ eyebrows rose, though Harry and Ron both wore slightly glazed expressions. Hermione huffed. “It was part of History of Magic in fourth year.”

“I didn’t get an O.W.L. in History of Magic,” said Harry, thinking to himself that a goblin insurrection would have made that story loads more interesting.

“It wasn’t a Flemish witch; she was French. And it wasn’t Cardinal Wolsey, it was Cardinal Warham,” said Draco, “I did get an O.W.L. in History of Magic. I’m taking a N.E.W.T. in it as well.”

“It was Sir Thomas More,” said Severus. “Though Wolsey demanded that the Council of Wizards select its own leader, or he would give the pleasure of doing so to Thomas Boleyn, a warlock of dubious integrity. Be that as it may, what did you tell Minister Shacklebolt?”

Draco lectured for almost twenty solid minutes on the convoluted histories of the Great Houses of Magical Great Britain. House Malfoy, it seemed, was not the only family capable of smiling into one’s eyes whilst stabbing one in the back. “Bear in mind that the original allegiances were geographical. Dynastic marriages over the course of the next three hundred years changed that. When the International Statute of Secrecy was enacted and our kind went into hiding, the magical communities were already fractured, politically speaking.

“Now, there are roughly ten to twelve parties, for lack of a better word, to which the members of the Wizengamot belong. By himself, Severus will command roughly seven percent of the votes. With the Peverell and Black Houses in alignment with Prince, he will hold fifteen, almost sixteen percent of the bloc. That fifteen percent comes largely from the Malfoy/Lestrange/Yaxley bloc, as well as Bones, Prewitt and Hopkirk.”

Harry’s eyes glazed over about halfway through Draco’s speech and he didn’t start to pay attention again until he heard Severus’ name. “That doesn’t make any sense. Why will the other members of the Wizengamot vote with Severus?”

“Weren’t you listening at all?” moaned Draco with what seemed like new appreciation for what Severus dealt with on a daily basis. “Look, there are one hundred and fifteen members of the Wizengamot. When it was created almost five hundred years ago, the heads of the established houses were given proportional votes. The Malfoys, Princes, Selwyns, Wilkeses, and Urquarts were regarded as dukes in their day and possessed the greatest amount of influence, so they each commanded…” Draco thought for a moment and tapped on his fingertips whilst performing calculations in his head, “roughly two hundred votes per person. Something like that. But members weren’t added to the Wizengamot as the Wizarding population grew, though votes were.”

Draco sighed when Harry continued to look blankly at him. “Severus commands four thousand one hundred and twenty-five votes in his own right. If we add in the Black, Potter, and Peverell votes, he holds over twelve thousand votes and that’s before any are reallocated when the affiliations change. By the time this entire mess has sorted itself out, Severus could control a full quarter of the Wizengamot, and that’s without saying a word. This is how it all works when they’re in legislative session, by the way. When the Wizengamot is sitting as a tribunal, each member has one vote,” he added.

“A tribunal?” Harry’s head was spinning and he wondered how the Wizengamot was able to accomplish anything at all. He would have been unsurprised to know that they hadn’t written a single new law in decades. Instead, they had become a rubber stamp for the Ministry.

“Like at your hearing,” said Ron, who’d understood far more of Draco’s lecture than Harry had done. “When they were trying to decide whether or not to expel you.”

“There weren’t anywhere near one hundred and fifteen witches and wizards there,” said Harry. “Maybe half that, at best.”

“That,” said Severus, “is because less than half of the members of the Wizengamot take their seats and fulfil their responsibilities to the Wizarding world.”

“How many votes does the Wizengamot exercise altogether?” asked Neville, clearly attempting to work out the sums in his head.

“Nearly seventy-one thousand,” replied Draco. “That will change after the next census, and the allocation blocs will be realigned after the election, provided Fudge doesn’t win. If he does, nothing will change except for the number of available votes. Naturally, the Malfoy delegation will go to Severus.” He gave Severus a long, steady look. “With Potter at your side, you could name yourself king,” he said quietly, to Harry’s dismay.

“There will be no talk of that here,” said Severus sharply. “I have no designs on power and do not want thoughts of that nature ever spoken aloud in my presence again. I am a schoolteacher and Potions Master. That is all I aspire to be.”

“Then why do you even want a seat on the Wizengamot?” blurted Harry, awkwardly shifting around to sit up straight. “Why are you doing this at all?”

“Because,” said Severus as his eyes bored into Harry, “I will hold nearly a quarter of the votes and have a very narrow window of opportunity to affect a real and lasting change, such that the Wizengamot is no longer a dynastic body, but a representational one. Such that Muggle-borns and half-bloods have a chance to be heard. So that our child,” he laid his hand on Harry’s belly, “will never fear being sent to Azkaban because his father was once a very foolish seventeen-year-old boy.”

“This would make a good article for The Quibbler,” mused Luna, earning a horrified look from Severus. Harry’s stomach gurgled, and Severus took that opportunity to remind him to eat. The next thing Harry knew, he was requesting food for a small army.

“We will eat at the table,” said Severus when the house-elf asked where the food should be sent, and he ushered everyone to the dining area. He conjured two more chairs and took his place at the head of the table. Harry sat next to him.

No sooner had Ron’s bottom made contact with the chair than he was on his feet again. He stepped aside and frowned as he pulled a worn copy of A Guide to Advanced Transfiguration off the seat. “You’ll want this for class tomorrow,” he said to Harry. “Where should I put it?”

“That’s not mine,” said Harry, gazing at it quizzically. “My book is in the study.” He extended his hand and Ron started towards the head of the table when Luna shouted at him to stop. Ron froze.

“Don’t touch it, Harry,” she said loudly. “It’s brimming with magic and I can’t tell what sort of magic it is.” For once, her eyes appeared sharply focussed and she clutched her necklace of mismatched quartz, worrying at the bits of rock threaded onto it. Even Neville was staring at her peculiarly.

“Do you mean to say, Ms Lovegood, that you can see magic?” asked Severus slowly, and Luna gave him a slow, owlish blink in reply. “Hand me the book, Ron,” he said.

“Don’t do it, Ron,” ordered Harry as he glared hotly at Severus. “Set it down on the table and let Severus examine it before he touches it.” He came swiftly to his feet and moved as far away from the table as he could, urging everyone else to do the same.

While Severus was casting charms to detect Dark magic, overflowing platters of steaming food started to appear on the table. A blink of an eye later, plates and silverware popped into being, though a goblet ended up perched on the edge of the book and tumbled off with a loud clatter. Harry must have looked a bit peaky, since Draco filled the goblet with pumpkin juice and thrust it into his hand with a terse order to drink.

“Sit down, everyone,” said Severus after a few short minutes of spell work that revealed next to nothing. “There is no danger with the book.” He resumed his place at the head of the table and began filling Harry’s plate with a healthy assortment of food.

Draco sat on Severus’ left and flipped through the book as the platters and serving dishes began floating around the table. “Are you certain this is cursed?” he asked Luna as she speared a sausage and put it on her plate.

“I didn’t say it was cursed,” said Luna. “I said that it’s filled with magic.” She plopped a spoonful of mashed potato next to the sausage and covered it all with brown gravy as she leaned over to peer into the book as Draco continued to leaf through it.

“It’s nothing more than a Transfiguration book,” said Draco, bewildered. He set it back by Severus’ plate and began to eat as conversation began to swirl around the table. Half an hour later, after the events of the day had been thoroughly dissected, Severus picked up the book and began to turn the pages, eyeing them with curiosity. Suddenly, he slammed the book shut and dropped it on the table as he leapt to his feet, his wand out and his lips curled back in a snarl.

“Draco, open the book and turn to page 74,” he ordered as he stretched his arm across Harry to keep him well away from the mysterious source of danger.

“Why page 74?” asked Draco, his hand trembling as he stretched his fingers out towards the book.

“It doesn’t have to be page 74. Turn to a page in the middle and make note of the number,” snapped Severus as Harry tried bat his arm away in order to get a closer look.

“Severus…” started Harry, only to be pulled from his seat by Hermione. “Hey!”

“Stay away from it, Harry,” she ordered as Demelza, Ron and Neville backed away from the table as well. Only Luna remained unperturbed. She pulled the book over the smooth surface of gleaming wood and opened it at random. She held the book aloft, displaying a pair of pages filled with tiny writing and an illustration of a spell matrix. “Page one hundred and sixty-seven,” said Luna as she stared at the others as if trying to understand why they were eyeing the book as though Neville had tried to brew a potion inside it. She closed the book and set it down.

Severus approached the book slowly and picked it up, cradling it in his left hand while turning to the page Luna had opened it to. His face was carefully blank as he turned the book and displayed for everyone a phial of potion embedded in the pages. “Luna, what page number is this book opened to?”

“Page one hundred and sixty-seven,” she said in a hush. Draco and Harry exchanged a long look as Hermione craned forward to see.

“There’s something written on the page,” said Hermione, “but I can’t make it out.” She stood on tiptoes, still clinging to Harry’s arm as she tried to read it from several feet away. Harry knew she was trembling, could feel her hand shaking as her fingers tightened on his arm, but whether it was from fear or excitement he couldn’t say.

Severus turned the book around, his eyes sweeping over all of them as he began to read. “Severus, I read the article in the Prophet. Potter’s pregnancy is no accident. The answer lies within.” He extracted the phial of potion from the book and held it up to the light where it shone dark red. “It is signed Achilles Becker.” His brow furrowed for a moment. “I know that name.”

He set the book aside and examined the phial carefully. “Draco, Hermione, come with me.” He turned and headed towards the laboratory without looking back.

“He’s a bit single-minded,” explained Harry apologetically, though if they hadn’t learnt that about Severus by now, they never would. He tapped the table twice with his wand and said, “Finished.” The dishes vanished instantly.

Ron stood and wrapped his arms around Hermione. “I’m going to take Demelza back to her common room and help her with her Herbology essay. Why don’t you speak with Harry before you start on that potion? He’s been trying to talk to you for ages.”

“I can walk Demelza there,” said Neville. “Why don’t you stay with Harry while Severus is working on figuring out what that potion is? Besides, I’m better at Herbology than you are.” He draped his arm around Luna’s shoulders as she smiled up at him.

Harry smiled. “Thanks, but I just need a few minutes with Hermione, then I’m going to bed. Severus is worse than Pomfrey ever dreamt of being, and I’m supposed to be resting.”

“Don’t I get to say who helps me with Herbology?” demanded Demelza, her hands on her hips, her chin up. Her indignation was somewhat undermined, however, by the fact that she was quite happy with her tiny group of guardians, and they all knew it.

While Demelza was employing her rudimentary skills at manipulating events until she was happy with the outcome, Ron and Hermione were saying their farewells. Ron’s hands rested at the top of Hermione’s hips, her arms were looped around his neck. “I’ll come to the common room before I go up to the Tower,” she said before giving him a goodbye kiss.

Draco, Luna, and Neville were saying their goodbyes as well. Draco had his arms wrapped around Luna and nearly lifted her off the ground as he hugged her, nuzzling her hair as he held her close. He lifted his head and, as Harry looked on, Draco kissed Neville goodbye.

It was strange and weird and wonderful and wrong, and yet so very, very right. Harry stared despite himself, and he found himself looking anywhere but at Neville and Draco—except he couldn’t look away, either. He felt his cheeks burn, and when his eyes met Ron’s he felt ashamed, though he couldn’t work out why.

Ron shifted uncomfortably and gave Harry a sickly, half-hearted grin as he released his hold on Hermione, who had missed the cause of Harry’s unease. His hand dropped to Demelza’s shoulder, and he gave her a light push toward the door as Draco disentangled himself from Neville and Luna to head towards the laboratory. “We’ve only a couple of hours until curfew, so let’s get going.”

Harry tolerated a pat on his stomach from Demelza and brushed a light kiss on Luna’s cheek before showing the four of them to the door and saying his goodnights. As he closed the door he saw Severus cross the hall from the laboratory to the kitchen and quickly followed him in without a word to Hermione.

“Kiss me,” he said without preamble as Severus filled the kettle for tea.

Severus shut off the water and looked at Harry in some confusion. “Pardon?” Harry was flushed and clearly uncomfortable, but Severus couldn’t imagine what might have happened to upset him.

“Kiss me,” repeated Harry with some desperation. “Please?”

After setting the kettle down on the fire, Severus complied, giving Harry a sweet, gentle kiss that was as loving as it was tender. “Better?” he asked, evaluating Harry’s reaction carefully.

Harry nodded as he stared at his feet—or what he could see of them. “I saw Draco snog Neville,” he volunteered after a moment where he couldn’t look at Severus. “I’d never seen that before, two blokes kissing, and it was odd.” He looked up and met Severus’ eyes. “I think I owe Ron an apology.”

“Perhaps,” said Severus as he pulled Harry close. “But that is a subject for another day.” He tilted Harry’s face up and kissed him again. “Have your conversation with Hermione, and then send her to me. I do not want you anywhere near the laboratory until I understand more about that potion. Do I have your word?”

“I didn’t take any potion. Severus, I really don’t know what—”

“Shh. Shh. I am not assigning any blame, nor would I,” soothed Severus. “I will say this again, but only because it appears you need to hear it. I want this child, Harry, and no matter how it happened, I am pleased it did.”

Ch 14: It’s Right Here on Page 394

Harry skived off classes the next day, though he had no real reason to do so other than feeling listless and out of sorts. As it was a Tuesday, he was expected for his regular appointment with Madam Pomfrey, and whilst he was tempted to skive off that as well, he knew Severus would hear of it and there would be sixteen kinds of hell to pay.

After a long, if unsatisfying, nap, Harry shuffled into the study and flopped down into the chair at his desk, thinking long and hard about his conversation the previous night with Hermione. She had, as he had anticipated, interrogated him about his conversation in the Room of Requirement to the point where he was willing to write a letter to Kingsley recommending her to the hit wizard branch of the Auror Corps. Everything he knew had not been enough, and he offered to Pensieve his memory of the event if it would satisfy her.

For reasons that escaped him, she had found that suggestion insulting. He would never understand girls.

At least he hadn’t been the only one to bear the brunt of her intellectual inquisitiveness. Once Hermione had finished carving Harry up into bite-sized bits of knowledge, she turned on Severus. From what Harry was given to understand, they had all demonstrated an appalling lack of curiosity at the manner in which the unknown potion had been delivered, and she had sorely tried his patience trying to piece together the charms that must have been used to conceal the potion within the book.

Still, Severus admitted that Hermione had a point. It had been an impressive piece of magic, spelling a book to reveal a potion only at his hands. For his part, Harry still wondered how it appeared in their quarters; that, to him, was far more important than the intricate spellwork that had kept its contents from falling into the wrong hands.

That thought stopped him cold. The wrong hands? Who would be at risk from learning of the book’s contents? He shivered and rose from his desk to fix a pot of tea, his brain whirling with possibilities. Severus, obviously. The sender? Possibly, but why? Did this have anything to do with the Wizengamot? The politics of the situation were so far beyond him that Harry could not begin to sort the strands into their respective categories. It felt too much like the war against Voldemort, when he had had little more than instinct to guide him and never enough information to see the entire picture clearly, but this time he didn’t know the identity of their enemy—or if they even had one at all.

Harry stood in the small kitchen, steaming cup of tea in one hand and the other moving in small circles against the underside of his rounded stomach as he wondered who could possibly feel threatened by a baby. Seconds later, he snorted. Voldemort had been; and in that instant, he understood much better his parents’ sacrifice. He could do no less for this child.

Shortly after lunch, Harry wandered up to the infirmary for his weekly examination, still wearing little more than his sleep pants, a long-sleeved pullover shirt and a pair of house shoes on his feet. The corridors were empty; most of the students were in class, and Harry treasured the silence that descended on the castle. There were no snide comments, no searching hands, no attempts to make him feel less than he was by virtue of being pregnant, and as he neared the doors to the Hospital Wing, he wished fervently that Severus could be there to help him sort out his muddled thoughts.

“On the table, Harry,” Pomfrey instructed as she reviewed his chart and Harry obeyed, well accustomed to the routine. She poked and prodded, measured and waved her wand, and once she had completed her usual battery of tests, frowned at him. “I thought we agreed you were not going to take any potions,” she said.

“I haven’t done,” he replied, mystified by the censure in her tone. “Severus spread some Bruise Paste on the worst of it, but that’s all.” And then threw it against the wall in a spectacular fit of pique. “I’m feeling a bit off, but I’m not sore or anything.”

Madam Pomfrey pulled her wand again and ran a different set of charms, her enchanted quill jotting everything down. “You’re still a bit anaemic, but that is to be expected after being crushed the way you were. Your magical stores are depleted and you’re a bit constipated. I’ll have Severus adjust the recipe for your nutrient, perhaps more borage. That should help with elimination. Your concussion should not have healed yet, though, nor your ribs.”

Harry’s cheeks were florid, despite having been most thoroughly examined once a week since October. “I’ve not taken anything other than the nutrient.” Though he tried, he could not meet her eyes. “You know Severus at least as well as I do. He has a bit of a thing about following rules.”

“Have the baby’s movements changed any since you were injured?” she asked. Had Harry glanced in her direction, he would not have seen the amusement he feared. Madam Pomfrey was too experienced a practitioner to be disconcerted by gastric upsets.

“It’s been resting more,” said Harry, “but Ron was thrown against a wall last night by a burst of magic. It’s all right, though, yes?” he asked, his eyebrows arching high over worried eyes.

A genuine smile appeared on Pomfrey’s face. “The baby is doing very well, growing like a weed. It’s about half the length now that it will be when it’s born, so you can expect to grow quite a bit bigger than you are now. I’d like to see you start gaining about a pound a week, perhaps a bit more.”

The high colour fled Harry’s cheeks. “This is going to double in size? But I already look like I’ve swallowed a Quaffle,” he said, unable to imagine where all the extra space would be found. He’d seen the pictures in the book Hermione had given him at Christmas, but they were so unnerving that he hadn’t had the heart to open it again. Perhaps he should have done.

“Double in length,” said Pomfrey, “triple in weight, or more. Harry, we’ve been through this.”

“I know we have.” Harry struggled to sit, but once upright he stared at his stomach. “But I didn’t think it would get this big. I thought it would stop growing and just develop or something. I dunno.” The thought of his bulge being twice its present size was alarming.

“You’ll be fine. Just exercise some caution on the stairs.” Pomfrey closed his chart and wrote out a note. “Give this to Severus,” she said as she handed it to him. “He’ll know what to do.” She left him to get dressed, her expression telling him she was certain that he’d be his usual self by next week.

Upon reaching the rooms he shared with Severus, Harry found the book Hermione had given him for Christmas and curled up with it on the couch. He was still reading, making notes in the margins and writing down questions for Madam Pomfrey, when Severus walked in hours later.

“Did you know the baby can see? And it knows your voice? Mine too, most likely. And it has its own magical signature already?” Harry set the book aside and came to his feet to greet Severus more properly, with a hug and a kiss and a set of enthusiastic somersaults from their exuberant child.

Severus cupped Harry’s face, his thumbs resting along Harry’s cheekbones, and kissed him again before wrapping his arms tight around Harry and holding him close. “You saw Poppy today, I trust?”

There was a deep sigh, and Harry tightened his arms around Severus. “She wants me to gain a pound a week. That’s fifteen pounds! I’m going to be the size of a hippogriff,” he said mournfully. He stepped out of Severus’ arms and moved away from him, his keenness evaporating in a cloud of nagging self-doubt. “I don’t think I can do this.” He was twenty-six weeks pregnant and it felt like it had been forever. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t imagine three more months of this.

“Idiot child.” Severus stepped behind Harry and wrapped strong arms around him. “You’re allowed doubts, Harry. Just know that I am savouring this experience, both the good and the bad.” He kissed the side of Harry’s neck and murmured softly, “I will do whatever you require to make this easier for you.”

Harry leaned back and folded his arms over Severus’, confused by the display of affection, but happy to receive it nonetheless. Such moments were all too rare. “I don’t mean to whinge, but it feels like there’s still so far to go. Oh, I’m supposed to give you this.” He broke the embrace and fished through his pockets for the note Pomfrey had given him.

He watched as Severus read the note, knowing that once he had finished, Severus would likely spend the rest of the night in the laboratory, but to his surprise, Severus merely folded the note and nodded. “I will have the new potion for you by the weekend.” He kissed Harry on the forehead and headed into the small kitchen, removing his teaching robes as he went, tossing them onto a chair next to the fire as he passed by. “I understand you did not attend classes today,” he said as he disappeared within.

For a moment Harry said nothing. Then he collected Severus’ robes and folded them over his arm. “Is it Professor Prince saying that or the guy I’m married to?” he asked, leaning against the doorway.

Severus turned away from the sink and set the kettle on the stove. “In here you are speaking to your husband. I thought we had come to an understanding about that.” He pointed his wand at the grate, and seconds later a warm flame was licking the bottom of the copper kettle.

“Just making certain. I skived off. Just…” He lifted his hand and waved it uncertainly. “I’m not sure why.” Harry vanished for a moment, hanging Severus’ teaching robes in his wardrobe before pulling a light dressing gown out and tossing it on, leaving it open and unbelted. It was one of Severus’, and the slightly acrid medicinal odour that clung to it made Harry feel warm and protected.

“Do you have any marking that needs to be done?” asked Harry upon his return. He stepped around Severus to pull milk from the cold cabinet and set up the tea service as they waited for the water to boil. “I’m caught up with everything,” he said, a statement that wasn’t entirely true. He’d not reread chapter fourteen for Williamson, nor had he finished Flitwick’s essay, neither of which concerned him overmuch.

“None until the weekend. The…” Severus frowned for a moment, “trial necessitated a change in plans for the week. I gave everyone until Friday to hand in their assignments.” He reached past Harry for the sugar, brushing a kiss against his hair as he rested a hand on Harry’s shoulder. “Will you be dining in the Great Hall tonight or having dinner here?”

“I thought I’d eat in the Great Hall,” replied Harry, wearing both a look of confusion and a sappy grin. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but you’ve not been hit with a Cheering Charm or anything like that, have you?”

Severus chuckled, a low, rich sound that wrapped itself neatly around Harry’s heart. “No, nothing of the sort. But, something extraordinary happened today,” he added, turning to face his very young spouse. “I have been forgiven.” A note of wonder crept into his voice. “Minerva, Filius, Pomona, even the castle itself. I have been judged, and I withstood the test. You cannot know,” he whispered. “Even the students…”

The thing of it was, Harry did know, though he was loath to bring up the name of his godfather and ruin the moment between them. He knew the release that came with absolution, with finally accepting that some things were not entirely his fault, despite abhorrent choices he had made that seemed so right at the time. “Even the students?” Harry prompted gently.

“They thanked me,” whispered Severus, as though it was the most astonishing thing that had ever happened. “Gryffindor and Ravenclaw. Hufflepuff. Even that obnoxious Smith. Susan Bones…” His voice trailed off as a fierce humility entered his eyes. “She is nearly the last of her family, yet she forgave me the decisions I was forced to make.” He turned away from Harry then. In that moment, Harry understood that some wounds cut deeper than others, that the regrets his husband carried would remain with him for the rest of his life—as would Harry’s.

“Draco and Hermione will be joining us, which means we will likely be playing host to the others as well,” said Severus thickly as he poured boiling water over the tea leaves. “Do not permit them to exhaust you,” he added sharply.

Harry took a step closer to Severus and laid his hand in the centre of Severus’ back and quickly found himself in another embrace. There was no desperation in it; it was comfortable, and Harry felt like they finally fit together, despite the mound of baby between them. “No one could have done better, Severus. I wish…” Harry exhaled through his nose. “It doesn’t matter. It all worked out in the end.”

“You wish what, Harry?” Severus gazed down at him, his eyes soft, the lines on his face not nearly as prominent as they had been the day before. Contentment was a good look for Severus, and Harry thought he wore it well.

“I wish I hadn’t spent so many years hating you,” said Harry in a burst of frustration. “I wish Dumbledore hadn’t respected you enough to keep your secrets.” He shook his head. “But it was all necessary, I know that, and I wouldn’t trade what I have now for what I didn’t have then.” Giving Severus a light kiss, he added, “I’ve no regrets about us, except for maybe Occlumency. You were…well, it doesn’t matter.”

Severus pulled away and finished up making tea. “The task should never have fallen to me. Anyone would have been better suited, except Bellatrix, perhaps. Should you wish to learn the discipline—properly this time—I would be pleased to teach you.”

“The only person I know who is skilled in Legilimency is you,” said Harry with a bit of a come-hither grin. “And you are welcome to penetrate my mind any time you wish.” He hoped that might be sufficient inducement to entice Severus out of his laboratory at a reasonable hour. “Or other parts if you’d rather. I mean, as long as you’re doling out hugs and kisses.”

He squeezed between Severus and the counter before looping his arms around Severus’ neck. “Why is that? Not that I am complaining, mind you.”

Colour stained Severus’ cheeks, and he moved Harry aside to snatch his mug of tea off the counter and beat a hasty retreat to his favourite chair in front of the fire.

Undaunted, Harry followed in his wake, tucking one leg up under himself as he sat in the adjoining chair. “I told you once before that I would give you as much affection as you could manage,” he said quietly as he stared into the flames Severus had just conjured. “I don’t think I realised until now how little that’s been. The bit with Seamus…” He blew out a breath. “I didn’t mean to push you away.”

“The world does not revolve around you, P—Harry,” replied Snape, though the warmth in his voice painted his words as a lie. He reclined and rested an ankle on his knee as he, too, gazed into the fire. “I was stopped numerous times in the corridors today by students offering words of gratitude. Many of them spoke to me of you and congratulated us on our marriage, on your pregnancy, though several of them expressed a degree of scepticism about it.

“I am feared and always will be. You are rightfully adored. But together, we are appreciated and I remained woefully ignorant of that until yesterday. It was heartening to at last feel as though I belong here.” He looked at Harry over the rim of his cup. “I wanted to give you that. You deserve that same sense of belonging, of belonging here. With me.”

Harry studied Severus’ profile, the hooked nose, the thin lips, the deep-set eyes, and loved every line. As Severus raised his cup to his mouth, the yellow flames of the fire flickered, danced and whirled within the slender gold band encircling his ring finger and Harry ran the pad of his thumb against his own wedding ring. “I meant every word of my vows, to love you completely until my death.”

“Mmm. That’s not what this is about. The lesson Albus tried so hard to impart to me was that help comes in many forms. ‘Help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it.’ It was one of his favourite sayings, but I did not truly understand what it meant until I chose to make a clean breast of things.” Severus sipped his tea, resting a long finger on the brim as he held the cup with his fingertips.

“He spoke of your endless capacity to love, and in my obstinacy, I never understood why he would feel compelled to impart to me such worthless information. I have been too quick to judge and too blind to see what you truly need to thrive.” He turned his head and Harry could not remember seeing such an open expression on Severus’ face. “I am ready to be the husband you deserve,” he said quietly.

Harry set his tea down and leaned over Severus, his hands curling around the arms of the chair in which Severus was now engulfed. “You already are.” He reached forward and turned Severus’ face to gaze directly into his husband’s eyes. “You already are,” he repeated. “You’re the best man I know and the only man I want. You love me, and I’ll never forget that.”

Severus reached up and pulled Harry’s head close, pressing his lips against Harry’s and exploring his mouth with tender delicacy, as though mapping out a future and finding sweet spun promises within. Harry moaned softly, moving with Severus as he stood, the kiss deepening as Harry opened to him. The dressing gown slipped from his shoulders, and he pressed up close as Severus’ fingers trailed over his shirt and down his spine.

The door opened with a bang and Harry groaned, his heart thudding a lonely beat in his chest as Severus whipped around to face the intruder. His body ached with need and he didn’t care who had interrupted them—he loathed the person as much as he ever loathed Voldemort. “Once upon a time we had protective enchantments that Kept. People. Out. Hello, Draco. Goodbye, Draco.”

“Interrupted, have I?” Draco smiled, a familiarly smug grin that Harry wanted to smack right off his face, though he accepted that there could possibly have been other reasons for wanting to punch him. “The Ministry is here,” he said, the smile fading. “At least twenty or so. They appear to be from the Department of Magical Education. I recognised several of them from when we sat O.W.L.s.

“Anyway, since you were in the middle of something, I’ll leave you to it,” he added as he headed back to the doorway. “Charms, Severus. Charms. Keeps the riff-raff out.”

It was hard to say who reached out first, but whilst Harry would later decide they walked sedately to the bedroom, he and Severus nearly raced each other through the doorway. Once inside their sanctuary, Harry fumbled with the endless buttons dotting Severus’ waistcoat whilst Severus peeled Harry’s shirt off, marvelling at the lovely rounded belly it had been hiding.

“Why must you wear so many layers?” growled Harry as he started in on the long line of buttons travelling from neck to groin. He pulled the shirt tails free of Severus’ trousers, sorely tempted to yank firmly and send the buttons flying. They could be collected with a simple Summoning charm, though Severus might require some Calming Draught whilst Harry repaired the shirt.

“I often find myself wondering why you bother with clothing at all.” Severus licked and bit at Harry’s neck as Harry danced out of his sleep pants, clinging to Severus’ shoulders to maintain his balance. He cast the charms, sending a tingling sensation through Harry’s body, and buried a hand in Harry’s messy black hair when Harry moaned. He pulled back Harry’s head and plundered his mouth whilst Harry’s fingers forgot all they ever knew about buckles and fastenings.

Dazed, Harry pressed his fingers to his kiss-bruised lips whilst Severus disrobed, his eyes darkening further as each article of clothing came off. Whether Severus was attractive or not was immaterial. Harry loved the whippet-thin body, the dark hair that covered his breastbone, the slight paunch his years had given him. Severus was not a lovely man, but Harry found him in him the same beauty one would see in a forest made desolate by winter. There was something pure, almost stark, in the clean lines of Severus’ body, and Harry’s craving for it went far beyond the physical.

“Please,” whispered Harry with a slight catch in his voice. “Oh, Merlin, please,” and when Severus bent him over the foot of their bed and entered him in one swift, smooth stroke, Harry nearly sobbed with pleasure.

~*~

Seated at the Ravenclaw table and surrounded by members of Dumbledore’s Army, Ron glanced over at the doors to the Great Hall as he waited for Harry to come up from the dungeons. The day had been strange, even for Hogwarts, and Harry’s absence had contributed significantly to Ron’s unease. Then the Ministry had appeared in force, and no one knew quite what to make of it.

It was with a sense of relief that Ron waved his arm in the air when Harry finally appeared, though this time Harry was not alone. Severus was with him, and they were holding hands as they walked through the doors, their heads together in conversation.

Severus spotted Ron first, and his footsteps paused as he pointed Ron out to Harry. Time hung suspended and a hush settled over the Great Hall as Severus kissed Harry before ascending the dais to take his seat at the Staff Table. It was nothing special as kisses go, a brief brush of lips, but Harry’s gaze followed Severus the length of the Hall before he turned towards the Ravenclaw table, and all Ron could do was stare along with everyone else.

Once Severus had taken his customary seat, Harry wandered up the aisle to greet Ron and the others. “I was going to eat with the new Slytherins,” he said, looking past the Hufflepuff table to the students clustered at the far end of the Slytherin House table. “Severus thought they might need encouragement.”

Ron waited impatiently as Harry sat down next to Michael Corner, and he kept his expression blank when Harry gave Severus a sappy look, but Harry’s expression changed swiftly when he noticed the second table set at floor level in front of the dais. Judging from the wagging fingers, several older witches and wizards were busy chastising McGonagall, though for what was anybody’s guess. Harry turned to Ron for explanation. “Are they all from the Ministry?” he asked in astonishment, turning wide eyes on Ron.

“You picked a hell of a day to skive off, mate,” said Ron darkly, managing not to shudder at the memory of Harry being snogged by Severus. In public. He still couldn’t fathom why it bothered him, but it did. “It’s been bloody awful.”

“Don’t listen to him, Harry,” advised Ginny. “A lot of things were said yesterday that have everyone thinking. They’re all starting to figure out how much worse it could have been had Professor Prince given Hogwarts to the Death Eaters, but mostly they can’t believe what an awful place he found himself in. He was strong and so very brave, and only the Slytherins are accustomed to thinking of him as anything other than a git.”

“He told me people have been thanking him all day,” said Harry, his eyes sliding back to meet Severus’ gaze. He smiled softly before turning his attention back to Ron. “I’m a bit sorry I missed that, actually.”

Ron looked up as Hermione slid into place next to him and smiled at her before turning back to Harry with a sigh. “They all want to know why I said you died,” he said as he hung his head. “I know you wanted to keep that private. Reckon I’ve stepped in it again.” Guilt pressed in on him from all sides and, at feeling Hermione’s soft touch on his shoulder, he gave her a weak smile.

Harry frowned as he shook his head. “No, it’s okay, Ron. I sort of told them all that during the duel, didn’t I? It seems like such a long time ago. Other than the Ministry showing up and people finally seeing Severus for who he is, did anything else happen?”

“Williamson is furious you missed Defence,” said Hermione, her concern for him evident.

“It was a disaster,” added Ron. “Not so much you being gone, but the entire class was a nightmare. Since Seamus and Parvati are in St Mungo’s, we had to be re-sorted. You know, matched up with our bonding partners again. Why he couldn’t have put their partners together is beyond me, but he parcelled out the potion again.”

Hermione leaned forward. “If I were to guess, I would say that Professor Williamson brewed that potion himself. It didn’t look anything like it did the last time. Neville could have done better.” She glanced at Neville and blushed as he laughed.

“It’s all right,” Neville assured her. “Severus and I have an agreement: he’ll stay out of the greenhouses if I keep away from the cauldrons.”

“But he harvests ingredients from the greenhouses regularly,” said Harry.

“And now he’ll provide me a list of what he needs,” replied Neville.

“Anyway,” interrupted Hermione, “the potion didn’t work the way it did last time. I got paired with Justin Finch-Fletchley and Draco got Zacharias Smith. You can imagine how well that went over.”

“Went down like warm sick,” said Ron and Harry grimaced. “I ended up partnered with Padma instead of Hermione.” He and Padma had barely spoken after the disastrous Yule Ball back in fourth year, and Ron knew then that the potion could not possibly have worked right. “So, we, well most of us, asked Williamson if we could have our old partners back, since these were just plain barking. What magic would ever pair up Draco with a berk like Smith? Not even Dark magic would make a blunder like that.”

Hermione continued the story. “Then Draco said the potion was bad and wanted to know who brewed it. It all went a bit off at that point. Williamson has it in his head that you’re the reason Severus won’t brew for Defence.”

“He reckons you have a delicate constitution.” Ron rolled his eyes. “But he’s pretty much decided to blame you for it going pear-shaped. ‘If Mr Potter hadn’t managed to get himself injured, we would not be repeating this exercise. If Mr Potter were made of sterner stuff, then perhaps Professor Prince would have been willing to assist with making the necessary potions.’ Hermione reminded him that it’s Prince, same as Severus, and he took twenty-five points.”

Even Neville appeared grim for a moment. “I thought the class was about to hex him. After everything that happened yesterday, he’s still finding reasons to take the piss out of you.” His eyes hardened, and he exchanged a glance with Ron before speaking again. “The DA has your back, Harry.”

“That’s just bollocks,” snarled Ginny, her eyes flashing. “I’ve half a mind to use Williamson’s head as a Bludger. Maybe our Beaters can knock a bit of sense into him. You’re the only married student at Hogwarts. Surely it’s not impossible to remember that.”

“Not many others who are pregnant, either,” added Ron.

“Though not from lack of practise, right Ron?” said Ginny, far too innocently, laughing when Ron’s blush threatened to overtake his freckles. Even Hermione was pink.

“Speaking of practise, when are we starting up with Quidditch?” asked Harry, earning a look of gratitude from Ron.

“Not until the beginning—” But Ginny never finished her statement as McGonagall rose to take her place at the podium. Ron was about to whisper across the table, but he sat up straight when he caught a glimpse of her hardened expression. His brow furrowed and, for one of the few times in his life, he listened to what she had to say.

“It is my pleasure,” something in the way McGonagall pronounced the word made it very clear it wasn’t, “to introduce to you Madam Charlotte Snaresbrook, the new head of the Department of Magical Education. She and the members of the Department, as well as the Wizarding Examinations Authority, are paying us a visit to ensure that Hogwarts remains up to scratch.” The tone in her voice left Ron and the others with little doubt that the visitors were as welcome as Umbridge had been.

“I am also advised that it is against departmental regulations to allow the Houses to intermingle at mealtimes, so I am to instruct you to return to your proper tables at once.”

A stunned silence filled the Hall until benches scraped against the floor in deafening cacophony of half-hearted compliance as students started coming to their feet. A strong voice rang out over the din. “Everyone sit back down and stay where you are.”

“Everybody sit back down and stay where you are,” repeated Neville as he stood and was joined quickly by Terry Boot and Hannah Abbott. Draco came to his feet a second later. “With all due respect, Madam Snaresbrook, we’ve worked hard to reach the point where everybody feels welcome at Hogwarts no matter which House they’re in, so if it’s all the same to you, we’ll eat with our friends.” Neville lifted his chin and arched a brow.

A proud gleam entered McGonagall’s eye, and she straightened her shoulders. “Well said, Mr Longbottom. Let the meal begin.” She tapped her wand against the podium, and within the blink of an eye the long tables were filled with steaming platters of food. Goblets and plates appeared alongside serviettes and silverware, and if Madam Snaresbrook voiced a protest, it was lost amidst the clatter of serving spoons digging into bowls.

Ron said very little through dinner, preferring to listen as Hermione and the others debated the true purpose behind the Ministry’s visit. It struck him as peculiar that there was a new head of the Department this close to the election, but it occurred to him that Kingsley might be staffing some of the departments that tended to be overlooked with his own people.

Still, as he considered everything that had happened since the Daily Prophet ran their article about Harry’s marriage and pregnancy, he had the sense that a trap was being laid, bit by painstaking bit. He couldn’t yet see their endgame, though, and that frustrated him. The last time the Ministry interfered at Hogwarts, they’d been saddled with Dolores Umbridge, who had turned out to be every bit as cruel and sadistic as Bellatrix Lestrange, only without the wide streak of insanity.

“Hermione,” he said, as conversation began to veer back to Williamson and the disaster that was Defence Against the Dark Arts, “do any of the Ministry officials seem familiar?”

Both Harry and Hermione’s eyes swept along the long line of witches and wizards sitting below the Staff Table, studying each face for a moment. “Yes, of course,” she replied. “Those three nearest the centre. The older wizard in the light blue robes, he proctored our Charms O.W.L. And the witch two down from him gave us our Transfiguration O.W.L. The one in the middle did Ancient Runes.”

Harry nodded his head, but even as he did he stared at the wizard third from the end on the opposite wing of the table. Quiet and nondescript, he melted quite easily into the background, and Harry pointed him out to Ron. “The one in the black robes.” He bit his lip as he squinted. “Are they black or grey? I can’t tell. Isn’t he the bloke who showed up with that witch from the Wizengamot?”

Ron took a harder look as Hermione said, “But why would a wizard from the Wizengamot show up here with the Department of Magical Education?”

“Maybe he’s not with them,” said Ron. “I think I’ll owl Dad tomorrow. He might know something about that Wizengamot bloke. He knows loads of people who work for the Ministry, and the ones he doesn’t know Percy does.” He sopped up the gravy on his plate with a roll and popped it into his mouth.

Pudding appeared on the table and was quickly consumed, and Ron resigned himself to a night of nothing much to do. Draco and Hermione would be going to Harry’s to help Severus analyse that potion. He supposed he could coerce Harry into a few games of chess, or actually start work on the Transfiguration homework that was due on Monday. Really, though, he just wished winter would come to a close so that Quidditch would start up again.

He was just about to ask Neville what he’d be doing after supper when Severus came down from the dais. He stood behind Harry and rested a hand on Harry’s shoulder. “I regret we will be unable to begin work tonight. Snaresbrook ‘suggested’ to Minerva that the Heads of House meet informally with the Ministry officials before they begin their inspection tomorrow.”

Ron noticed Severus’ fingers tighten briefly on Harry’s shoulder, and Harry craned his head back to look at Severus. “I would like you to attend the gathering as well.”

“Me?” asked Harry, his eyes widening behind his spectacles. “Whatever for?”

Severus’ smile was grim. “You are a teaching assistant, and you taught Defence Against the Dark Arts for a year. I believe you indicated an interest in taking that post after completing your studies, so it would serve you well to be there.”

Ron’s mind spun out a dozen different strategies and he gave Harry a sharp look. “He’s right. You should go. And pay attention,” he hissed in a whisper. He met Severus’ eyes and knew they understood each other. Harry was Severus’ teaching assistant only by virtue of being too stubborn (and too besotted) to leave off.

“Lovely. When do we have to be there?” Harry’s shoulders drew in as he eyed their “guests” with distrust, and Ron was certain that spending an evening entertaining people puffed up with their own self-importance was the very last thing Harry wanted. He could only hope Harry saw the possibilities and acted accordingly.

“Minerva suggested half seven and it is nearly that now,” replied Severus. “And the house-elves are preparing the Rear Hall as we speak. I am not expecting a late night, but I have been disappointed before.”

“Just stay away from Williamson,” Ron advised and then blew out a sigh. “I’ve got nothing to do now. I was going to see if you wanted to play some chess.”

While they were speaking, Hermione consulted her diary, and her eyes lit up in a way that made Ron’s insides twist in a hideous fashion. “You really should follow your revision schedule, Ron. Tonight is second year Herbology.”

“We spent the entire year on mandrakes, Hermione. What could there be left to learn about them now?” groaned Ron.

“The fifteen most common diseases, diagnosing leaf drop, root causes of mandrake migration,” Neville ticked off on his fingers, “no pun intended. Twenty uses other than Restorative Draught. Optimal soil conditions, feeding schedule and harvesting.” He smiled in a way that made Ron feel like he’d never seen a mandrake before, much less raised one.

“That reception is sounding better all the time,” said Harry with a grin. “If you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll change into something a bit nicer than school robes.”

~*~

“What do you reckon is going on?” Ron placed his arm around Hermione’s shoulder and scooted over a bit to make room for her on the couch in front of the large fireplace in the Gryffindor common room. He’d reviewed mandrakes with Neville, trounced Jimmy Peakes at chess, but declined a game of Exploding Snap with Gillian Mathews and a few other fourth years.

“How do you mean?” asked Hermione as she pulled out Spellman’s Syllabary and opened to a marked page. She pulled her feet up and nestled in against Ron, turning the book over and setting it down over her thigh so she wouldn’t lose her place.

“The Wizengamot, the Ministry, Williamson.” Ron paused before adding softly. “Seamus. It can’t be coincidence that all these things are happening right when Harry manages to get pregnant.” His fingers tapped out an uneasy tattoo on Hermione’s shoulder. “If ever a bloke was going to get himself knocked up, you know it’d have to be him.”

“He seems to be coping with it,” ventured Hermione. “Poor Harry. All he’s ever wanted is to be normal, but it never works out for him, does it? I wonder if he’s going to have a girl or a boy. Do you expect they’ve started working out names for it?”

Ron snorted. “Harry? No, I reckon he and Severus won’t work that out ’til after it’s been born. I expect he tries not to think about it much, actually. Do you suppose Madam Pomfrey has worked out how it will be born?” He was willing to admit to himself a morbid curiosity about it, but wasn’t ready to discuss the subject yet, not even with Hermione. He wasn’t sure he’d be able to talk about the birth of his own kids, assuming he and Hermione had any. Even now, he had no idea if she wanted to have children someday.

“I think he knows,” she said in a hush. “When he told me about speaking with Sendigovius, he started to say something, but then he just stopped. He had the strangest expression on his face, but wouldn’t tell me why. He said it wasn’t important.”

“It’s the Forest all over again. He shuts us out of everything important.”

“But he’s married now. It’s really none of our business, especially if it involves Severus.” Hermione gazed earnestly at him. “Besides, it’s different now. Your mum and dad are watching over them, even if they’ve not figured that out yet. And Severus loves Harry beyond measure, though I’m not certain he’s aware of it.”

“Who? Harry? Or Severus?”

“Either. Both.” Hermione offered up a wry smile. “It does get a bit confusing; all those ‘he’s without a ‘she’ to balance them all out.”

“I wouldn’t let Harry hear you say that,” grumbled Ron. “He gets a bit tetchy about things like that.”

“No, he doesn’t. Not at all,” she replied sharply. “He gets tetchy about people finding his relationship with Severus odd or peculiar or wrong, especially as it’s not. Harry adores Severus, and he fought almost as hard to be seen in Severus’ eyes as just Harry as he did to defeat Voldemort, and it hurts him when you try to pretend that he’s still Harry Potter and not Harry Prince. He would laugh about the pronouns if you’d let him.”

Ron glowered at the fire roaring softly on the grate, knowing better than to glare at Hermione since she felt no compunction against smacking him upside the head. “Even Harry got weird when he saw Draco and Neville snog. Went off to find Severus, didn’t he?”

Hermione sat up and thwacked Ron on the arm. “Do you even try to see things from Harry’s perspective? Of course he was going to react oddly. Who else would Harry have seen? He has no role models, no one other than Severus to go to. I doubt he even knows another gay couple. And then he has you.” Her eyes narrowed, and she huffed out a breath that expressed her disapprobation.

Ron hunkered down, his shoulders up around his ears, wishing fervently that the women in his life—Hermione, Ginny, his mum—weren’t so determined to knock some sense into him with their hands. “I’m doing better,” he said in his own defence. “Even Harry said so, so can we please talk about something important, like what Sendigovius had to say? Harry never told me.”

That was how things worked: Harry told the complicated bits to Hermione, who would raise all the important questions, then present her theories to both Ron and Harry. Now that Harry was no longer living in Gryffindor Tower, he and Hermione were left to sort things out as best they could without the benefit of Harry’s thoughts on the matter. It never occurred to them to include Severus in their discussions. He wasn’t part of their past efforts.

A thoughtful expression came over Hermione’s face and she curled up once again with Ron. “It was more what he didn’t say. Harry said it was almost as if Sendigovius was under some sort of Fidelius charm, or the Room was. He couldn’t tell Harry about other wizards like himself. He and Finnoc adopted a new family name, but he couldn’t say what that was. He gave the names of their children, but we found that already.

“Why, though? Why wouldn’t Sendigovius be allowed to tell Harry about other wizards?” Hermione bit her lip as her brow furrowed. “Why has that bit of history been erased?

“There was something about their children, too. ‘They were all so…’ something. Do you suppose their children have something to do with it?” she mused.

Ron’s brain slotted that bit of information into the puzzle of Harry’s pregnancy and didn’t like the picture that was forming. “You know, it might be part of Hogwarts’ enchantments. Hang on,” he said before Hermione could object. “Have you ever heard of a student getting pregnant while they were here? The girls’ dormitory has those spells on it to keep us out, so maybe it’s a Hogwarts thing.”

“If it were a Hogwarts thing,” replied Hermione disdainfully, “then it would be in Hogwarts: A History, but there’s nothing in there about students having babies, though it does mention that Headmistress Sakndenberg is the one who placed the spells on the dormitories. Of course, the students of that era were frequently married…” Her voice trailed off and Ron was positive he saw her make a mental note.

“And?” prompted Ron.

“You could be right,” she admitted slowly. “Perhaps there is something at Hogwarts that prevents conception, only Harry didn’t have it because he wasn’t here last year.”

“Except he was here all summer.”

“I mean, something that’s slipped into our pumpkin juice or our tea,” said Hermione. “The house-elves could do it and no one would ever know. Maybe that’s why Severus was sent that potion. We still don’t know how it got into their rooms, but a house-elf would have no trouble placing it there. Maybe they think it’s just vitamins or something.”

“That would make it a Ministry thing,” said Ron, “which might explain why they’re here and what it has to do with Harry. But I don’t know how the Wizengamot is involved and we can’t forget about them. I didn’t think the Wizengamot had anything to do with Hogwarts, but they showed up at Harry’s hearing for breaking the restriction on underage magic.

“Do you reckon the Wizengamot’s interest is just political, like Draco says?” he asked slowly as he considered different angles. “It was Fudge who arranged that hearing, but that was to make out that Harry was a nutter.”

“What else could it be?” asked Hermione. “That’s what the Wizengamot is. They make laws and rule on them when trials come up. And Harry’s hearing was political. It was easier to get everyone to believe that Harry was making things up than to prepare us for war, so that’s what Fudge did. But now, Draco thinks the factions are going to be stirred up by Severus taking his seat, mostly because no one knows his position on anything.”

“What sort of issues could have anything to do with Harry being pregnant?” asked Ron. He paid little attention to the matters the Wizengamot took up and found himself wondering if he ought to start reading the Daily Prophet with the same sort of zeal Hermione did. It might help him understand the bigger picture.

The scathing look Hermione gave him was as familiar to Ron as air. “Blood issues for one. Creature rights for another. Anything that affects women’s rights. If men can have babies as easily as women, what will they need us for?”

Ron squirmed uncomfortably as he imagined himself getting pregnant. “Trust me, Hermione, there’s a lot more to it than that.” He wasn’t about to get into an argument with her over sexuality, though. He already knew how that would end. “The Wizengamot showed up the same day the article came out. That witch was right hacked off that Harry got married.”

“No, that wasn’t it,” said Hermione. “She was angry that Harry and Severus married. I don’t know that it would have made any difference to her if he’d married, oh, let’s say Draco or Neville. They’re both pure-bloods.”

“Snape isn’t,” Ron pointed out. “He’s a half-blood, same as Harry.”

“True, but his House was once as powerful as the Malfoys, if not more so. Otherwise, why would anyone care who Harry married? It doesn’t make sense, unless the Wizengamot know there is something coming up for vote that Severus will upset.” Hermione reached into her schoolbag, never far from her side, and pulled out a notebook and quill. “I need to see what measures are on their agenda for this year, though with the election next week, it could all change.” She growled. “I loathe politics. How Draco can enjoy this…this…” She sputtered for a moment whilst searching for the perfect word and took refuge by scribbling out some notes to herself. “It’s blood sport.”

“I suppose there’s always a chance that Severus will keep Fudge in check,” said Ron. “Everyone seems to think that Fudge will win. I guess they’re happiest with someone who keeps his head up his arse whenever anything important happens.” He would never forgive the man for spending a year branding Harry as a liar, an entire year they could have spent preparing for war instead of being blindsided by Voldemort and his Death Eaters.

“Do you reckon that’s why the Ministry’s here now? Because of the election?” It made a certain amount of sense that the Ministry would want to see how Hogwarts was faring, now the Ministry itself had been rebuilt and restructured under Kingsley Shacklebolt.

Hermione blinked and then gave a small laugh. “Perhaps it has nothing to do with Harry at all. Wouldn’t it be something if all they were doing is their jobs? Horses, not zebras. Do you suppose we’ll ever stop being suspicious?” she said with a sigh.

“I hope not!” The thought burst out of Ron like an explosion from a Blast-Ended Skrewt. “I mean, I want to be an Auror someday. It’s a bit helpful to be able to figure out what the motive is. Take Williamson, for example. He was really good last term, but this term he’s completely different. Why is that? The only thing that’s different is Harry. But we can’t say the same thing about the Ministry, can we?”

“I certainly hope the Ministry do something about the unauthorised potions Williamson is using,” said Hermione tightly. “I’m surprised McGonagall is permitting it, especially since Severus refused to brew it.”

“I’m not drinking anything that looks like Goyle brewed it,” declared Ron.

“You ought to be more concerned about which potion Williamson plans to use and less about the quality of it. I did some checking in Most Potente Potions. There are dozens of potions that create bonds between wizards and most of them are permanent.”

Ron gaped at her. “He wouldn’t dare. Williamson wants Harry to be his partner and—”

“And Harry’s the first pregnant wizard in five hundred years.”

“But, Hermione,” argued Ron, “Harry has a partner already. I can’t see Williamson standing up to Snape, can you? Besides, what’s in it for him? I reckon he’s just curious like the rest of us. Maybe he just wants to figure out how it happened, same as everyone else, and thinks that if he can form some sort of bond with Harry, he’ll get the answer.”

Hermione’s brow furrowed as she worked that out. “I don’t know, Ron. Yes, everybody wants to know how Harry wound up pregnant—or if he’s pregnant at all—but why go to such effort to find out? I can’t imagine there’s a reward; we’d have heard. Besides, it’s not like Harry knows. He’s been saying all along that he has no idea how it happened, and I believe him.”

Another hour of conversation brought them no further along than they’d been at the start, and rather than have the time go to waste, they spent it on more…leisurely pursuits.

~*~

The Ministry officials were far less obtrusive than Severus had feared. Since the moment of their arrival, he had suffered visions of Umbridge’s pink, mewling kittens, and that godforsaken clipboard she had always carried with her. He half expected to step out of the archway from the dungeons to find Filch nailing another Educational Decree to the castle walls.

Such had not been the case. A witch by the name of Magdalena McCourt, who was a member in good standing in the Potions Guild, had been assigned to observe and evaluate his curriculum, lesson plans and teaching methods. She oozed competence from every pore and, after answering a few of her questions, he found himself respecting her wisdom.

In light of the review by the Department of Magical Education, Severus had banned Harry from assisting with the lower forms, and although he had been prepared to do battle over Harry’s temporary absence from his classes, Harry agreed so readily that Severus grew suspicious.

“The less contact I have with the Ministry, the happier I am,” said Harry flatly, then pulled out his Charms text and began to outline the essay he needed to submit to Flitwick by week’s end. Severus could have kissed Harry in relief, then acted on the impulse and earned a heart-warming smile for his efforts.

With that problem solved, Severus turned his undivided attention to the most immediate problem facing him: Harry’s Defence Against the Dark Arts class. From the bits of conversation he’d overheard, it appeared that Williamson was still planning to use a bonding potion on his N.E.W.T. students, despite Minerva’s admonition against it. Knowing this, he leafed through his copy of Most Potente Potions whilst Harry did his homework, using it, as he so often did, as a launching point for further inquiry.

Severus reached for his journal as his left index finger trailed down the page of the book, the fingers of his right hand seeking automatically for the old quill that served as a bookmark. He opened his journal and dipped a fresh quill into a pot of ink and began jotting down notes as he read. Twenty minutes later, he came to his feet and pulled several more volumes off the shelves. He turned to the index of Potency Redux: A Guide to Petals and Pistils in Potions and started adjusting the recipe.

Thanks to some judiciously selected lessons, by Thursday night Severus had everything he needed to brew enough Induciae Paciscor for thirty people. Not only that, McCourt had put enough of the picture together to offer to cover for him should his presence be required elsewhere.

“It wasn’t complicated, Severus,” said McCourt after a brief meeting with Minerva to lay the ghosts of his suspicions to rest. “Your Professor Williamson has been dropping broad hints for two days now. I’ve no idea what this is about, nor will I speculate. My concern is that the Potions instruction at Hogwarts adequately prepares students for O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s and that the potions used in the Hospital Wing are brewed to Ministry specifications.” She raised a hand before he could snarl a proper protest. “It does, and they are.”

~*~

Rather than head to the dungeons after lunch on Friday, Severus moved from shadow to shadow to follow the seventh years to their Defence lesson. It was child’s play to place a listening charm within the classroom, which would allow him to hear every word said within. Despite Minerva’s scathing lecture, Severus had a hunch that Williamson was bound and determined to go forward with his plan to use a bonding potion on his students. If Williamson thought to use a potion on Harry, he was in for a rude awakening.

“I’m so pleased you decided to join us today, Mr Potter.” Williamson’s voice oozed through the solid oak door, and Severus snarled under his breath. “As you know, we will spend this afternoon exploring the bond created with the assistance of the Cohors Fratres potion.

Severus’ heart stopped for a moment.

“We will spend today’s lesson acclimating you to its effects. Yes, Ms Granger?” Poised to interrupt, Severus paused for a moment to listen to Hermione’s question.

“I’ve done some research on bonding potions,” said Hermione hesitantly, “and isn’t it true the bond created by the ‘Band of Brothers’ potion can only be dissolved by duelling?”

“Not quite, Ms Granger,” replied Williamson. “You will find that this potion—”

“Is unsuitable for the task at hand,” interrupted Severus as he burst through the door. The students jumped, but he ignored it as he strode up the centre aisle to the head of the class, a large flask of clear, ruby red potion clutched firmly in his hand. “Professor Williamson,” he said in a silky smooth voice. “I believe you requested a potion to explore the capabilities of bonded pairs in defensive situations.” He did not look at Harry, keeping his eyes focussed instead on the wide-eyed professor in front of him.

“Ah, Severus,” said Williamson nervously. “I…thank you, but I have managed to secure a potion for use today.” He gestured towards a sweating carafe filled with some neon yellow brew that wanted desperately to appear green, but didn’t have the wherewithal to fully shift to that colour. Unlike Severus’ potion, the contents of the container were gelatinous, and Severus wondered if they’d be drinking it or eating it with a spoon.

“That,” replied Severus, “isn’t worth feeding to swine. This,” he said to the class, “is Induciae Paciscor, a potion commonly used before the Statute of Secrecy went into effect. As you are undoubtedly waiting for me to ask a question, Ms Granger, please share with your classmates your inexhaustible knowledge of all things discoverable within five minutes of setting foot in the Library, so I need not waste everyone’s time.”

Hermione started to speak as Harry buried his face in his hands. Unlike in years past, this time she flashed him a knowing grin. “Induciae Paciscor, or Flag of Truce, is a potion that was used to facilitate the negotiation of truces or treaties. The potion allowed each side to know if the other was dealing in good faith. It fell out of favour when it was discovered that stronger wizards could manipulate the emotional states of Muggles and Squibs, thus negotiating terms strongly in their favour.”

“Very good, Ms Granger,” said Severus. “How would a potion such as this serve in a defensive situation?”

To his surprise, Neville raised his hand and Severus called on him. “Well, sir,” said Neville uncertainly, “when we broke into the Department of Mysteries, it would have been helpful to know if someone was in trouble. You see, we got separated a lot. Same thing when we were fighting here. I would have been able to concentrate better on what I had to do if I had known where the fighting was worst.”

“It extends your reach,” said Harry. “If you’re linked up with someone, you can almost be in two places at once.” His clear green eyes focussed keenly on Severus. “But you have to trust your partner. It won’t work if you don’t know how they’ll react.” His gaze shifted to the liquid in the flask Severus was holding. “How do you confine it?”

“What do you mean?” asked Severus, knowing the answer, but wondering if anyone else had come to the same conclusion as Harry.

“Well,” replied Harry slowly, “if we all have some potion, what’s to keep all of us from bonding? Or what will allow any of us to bond? Is it charmed? Or is it blood?”

“Harry raises an important point about bonding potions,” said Severus, whilst Williamson stood in the corner glowering, clearly unhappy about having his class taken over. “What is to prevent the class from bonding as a whole?”

“Now see here,” said Williamson angrily as he stepped forward. “We have the Cohors Fratres all ready to be administered. Mr Macmillan, please distribute the phials and we’ll get started. That will be all, Professor Snape.”

Severus ignored him and took one step towards Ernie, his hawk-like eyes boring into him. Ernie sat back down without comment. “Cohors Fratres” said Severus, “should be a uniform, deep chartreuse. It should have the consistency of syrup and should smell of gentian. This is swill.” He sniffed deeply. “Nor is it prepared as necessary. After being decocted, Cohors Fratres requires three full days in a dark, cool place. I would not be surprised to learn this was blended this morning.”

“This is my Defence class, Severus, not yours,” snarled Williamson, though his chin was quivering and a line of sweat had broken out across his forehead. “It for me to decide what potion we’ll be using.”

“I am Potions Master here, Wendell,” replied Severus, taking one step closer to Williamson. “It is for me to determine whether any potion is both safe and appropriate to use. You have a student in your class whose condition requires certain precautions be taken—”

“You can’t pull rank in my classroom because you’re buggering one of them,” hissed Williamson, heedless of the danger he was in until he met Severus’ eyes. His face grew pale.

The room fell silent as Severus closed the small distance between them. “Tread lightly, Wendell.” Severus’ rage was cold and dark, a tangible thing with long, terrible claws, and Severus took rare pleasure in the shiver that wracked Williamson’s frame. He whipped around, his robes slapping against Williamson and reducing the former Auror to the significance of a housefly.

“Pair up,” ordered Severus. “Choose someone you know well and would trust with your innermost secrets.” Knowing full well he had his back to Williamson, Severus nevertheless stood with arms folded, watching as the class began to organise itself. He was unsurprised when Ron suddenly leapt to his feet, wand in hand, at the same time Susan Bones’ hand went up. Williamson must be behaving stupidly.

“Yes, Ms Bones?” he asked, his gaze flickering to his right when Terry Boot rose as well.

Susan shifted nervously, her eyes darting from Ron to Terry before she looked back up at Severus. “Professor Williamson put us in pairs twice, but I’ve no idea which one I’m supposed to work with. I had Seamus first, and then the potion matched me with Anthony Goldstein, but you said to choose someone we trust and I barely know him.”

Williamson moved out from behind Severus and stood along the wall nearest Harry, his remaining hand obviously empty. “Pair up with the person you were most recently—”

“With the person you trust most,” said Severus over Williamson’s instructions to the contrary. “All of you. Would you rather trust your instincts or a potion about which you know nothing?” He drew himself up to his full height. “I have instructed you all in the preparation and use of potions. Have you learnt nothing?” His gaze settled on Neville, who was struggling not to grin. Severus knew a glare would be wasted on him; Neville, it seemed, had grown up.

As the students paired themselves up, Severus began divvying the potion into the small dram glasses set on a circular tray on Williamson’s desk. “Harry,” he said without diverting his attention away from his task. “Come up here.” He finished pouring out the ruby red liquid, and then looked up to find Williamson standing at Harry’s side. “I wish to demonstrate with you,” he said quietly. “It works on the same principle as Polyjuice Potion, therefore blood is not necessary, though it will result in the most effective bond.”

“Hair’s easiest,” said Harry. “Nothing to transfigure. Will it dissolve in the potion, though? I don’t want to leave any bits of myself lying about.” He gave Williamson a contemptuous glance, making no secret of his reason for not wanting to leave a trace of himself behind.

“You’ve nothing to worry about, Potter,” snapped Williamson. “You will be working with me for this exercise, or have you forgotten?”

Harry lanced Williamson with a cold look and Severus speared him with one as well. “I’m afraid that’s out of the question,” said Harry dismissively before turning his attention back to Severus.

Williamson plucked out one of his remaining strands of hair, shouldered past Harry and dropped it into one of the tiny glasses filled with potion. It frothed and bubbled, turned purple and hiccupped out a wisp of steam. He thrust the glass at Harry. “Drink,” he snapped.

Before Harry could take so much as a step back, before Severus could string Williamson up by his entrails, the glass exploded in Williamson’s hand, and the man flew to the back of the room tumbling arse over tit. A small crowd of students rushed over, hands outstretched to help the professor to his feet. Severus exchanged a telling glance with Harry.

“Sorry,” offered Harry in a strong voice, though he didn’t appear in the least bit repentant.

Severus gave the class a moment to come to order, and after assuring himself that Williamson had suffered no lasting damage, he called them back to attention. “Determine with your partner whether you wish to use blood or hair to activate the potion. If you choose to use blood, transfigure something into a needle if you do not have a knife with you.” He had a number of these students in Potions, where such tools were used regularly. “After Harry and I have taken it, please come up in pairs so that I might administer the draught to you.”

He removed a small silver knife from an interior pocket and opened it. A muttered charm later and it was clean enough to suit him. “Blood or hair?” he asked Harry again.

“Blood,” replied Harry. He extended his hand and watched Severus’ face as the point of the blade pricked the pad of his middle finger. “How much?”

“Three drops is sufficient,” replied Severus as he nicked his own finger with the fine edge. “There is an incantation.” It took three repetitions before he was satisfied with Harry’s pronunciation. “We hold hands,” he said, extending his own. Harry placed his hand within it, as a lover would. “We add the blood, we say the words together, and we drink.”

They added their drops of blood and, like Williamson’s had, the potion bubbled and frothed, but turned clear lilac rather than the darker purple of Williamson’s, their colours matching almost exactly. “Meum scis cor,” they said as their eyes locked. Know my heart. They drank.

Severus staggered. He reached out blindly and clutched the desk as he struggled to pull himself upright. His eyes were wet and his breath came in short gasps. Harry’s emotions, raw and unfiltered, were agonising, and he thought for one frantic moment that he was drowning. For the first time, he understood why the Dark Lord could not long withstand his possession of Harry’s body.

Harry did not appear to be faring much better. Like Severus, his breathing was laboured and his skin was blanched, almost colourless. He clutched Severus’ hand so hard it was a wonder bones didn’t break under the strain. That Severus was a man of strong emotions should have come as a surprise to no one, but Harry appeared blindsided all the same.

“This, Williamson,” said Severus harshly as he wrapped a protective arm around Harry and pulled him close, “is why you cannot teach this course and bond with a student. There would be no one left in charge.” His judgement was clouded, his fierce love for Harry, for their child, bringing his most protective instincts to bear.

He dimly recalled the purpose for which the potion was created and nearly erupted in a mirthless laugh. It was devised for those who did not trust; those who did…. Suffice it to say, the afternoon was about to become very interesting.

Several long minutes later, Severus had unwoven the tangle of Harry’s emotions enough to make sense of them and understand which required his attention and which he could safely ignore. Questions were filling his mind even as blood was racing to his cock; Harry’s healthy libido was, at best, a mixed blessing. Still, in this state he knew he would never be able to prevaricate. He dared not make eye contact with Harry, which Harry repaid by nibbling lightly on his neck.

“I need you to not do that,” Severus murmured. “I have students to oversee.” To his amazement, and profound disappointment, Harry stopped at once. His heart twisted as Harry stepped out of his embrace, and for one terrifying moment he was afraid Harry was going to release his hold on his hand.

His panic must have communicated itself to Harry, who whispered an urgent, “Are you okay?” to him. Severus nodded, but tightened his grip on Harry’s hand.

“This potion,” he announced thickly, “will create a bond that permits you to sense the emotions of your partner. For some of you, this might prove to be a distraction.” He couldn’t help it; his eyes drifted toward Harry. “The purpose of today’s exercise is to allow you to become accustomed to this. I am told that next week you will begin duelling whilst bonded to your partner. Draco, Neville, to the front.”

Nearly an hour later, everyone except Williamson was under the influence of Induciae Paciscor and, rather than the chaos he had been expecting, Severus noticed that all the couples had found a place somewhere within the large Defence classroom to call their own. Many had transfigured desks and chairs into couches and pillows, as Hermione had done, and were curled up, engaging in conversation with their partner.

Several couples—Ron and Hermione, Draco and Neville, Terry Boot and Lisa Turpin—were snogging, but that, Severus determined, was Williamson’s problem. Nearer the centre, Hannah Abbott was speaking in low, soothing tones to Justin Finch-Fletchley, who appeared on the verge of tears. Susan Bones was staring at Zacharias Smith in bewilderment and Stephen Cornfoot appeared to be talking Quidditch with Michael Corner if his hand gestures were to be believed.

Severus guided Harry to a spot at the front of the room, satisfied that no one appeared to be on the verge of inciting a riot or starting another battle in the endless war between Slytherin House and everyone else. He conjured a fainting couch for Harry and settled him on it before Summoning Williamson’s chair for himself. “Thank you,” he said as he sat down next to Harry.

“I wish you’d believe me when I tell you I’m fine,” grumbled Harry, stretching out. He flopped around for a bit before finding a comfortable position, but once he did, he guided their linked hands to his rounded stomach.

“I was thanking you for assisting me, but that is of no consequence. Today’s lesson is an exploration of the bond created by the potion.” Severus sat up and surveyed the students before gazing pointedly at Williamson, who appeared more concerned that Severus had taken his chair than with the few amorous couples displaying a bit too much affection.

“So, what are we supposed to do?” asked Harry, gazing at Severus through lowered lashes.

The sudden spike of desire had to be coming from Harry, Severus thought as he felt himself respond to the unvoiced invitation. He arched a brow and was met with a wry grin. “That will have to wait,” he said as Williamson circled around them. “It would seem to me that we discuss the impressions we are receiving from each other to ensure we are interpreting them correctly. Do you wish to start? Or would you rather I go first?”

“I will,” said Harry. He closed his eyes and exhaled slowly. “Merlin, you’re complicated.” It was the last thing Harry said for the rest of the class. Their eyes met and words were no longer necessary. They communicated entirely with soft touches, a brush of a thumb on bare skin. Fingertips sliding through dark hair. Pupils expanding as the connection grew deeper.

Severus’ inner demons were silenced, his intellectual curiosity stilled. Never before had he experienced such peace, such intimacy with another person. Even extended sessions of Legilimency with Albus had never led to the sense of completion he was experiencing with Harry. He moved closer, tracing over Harry’s hand, his palm, the sensitive skin on inside of his wrist, gazing steadily into eyes green as glass, darker than Lily’s emerald green had been.

Harry’s touch was as delicate as his own, and he barely breathed as Harry slid a finger down the slope of his nose, exploring the shape of it. For one of the few times in his life he was not ashamed of it, not embarrassed by his crooked teeth or the sallowness of his skin. He was not an attractive man, but in that moment he felt beautiful. His heart sang with unaccustomed joy and he caught a glimmer of why Harry’s capacity to love was his greatest strength. Though they had married weeks before, Severus felt their vows take hold and bind them fully together. He leaned forward, his lips barely brushing against Harry’s.

“A bit of decorum, if you please,” hissed Williamson in his ear.

It was like being plunged into the icy Black Lake and Severus acted on instinct as he and Harry nearly jumped out of their skins. His wand was out and the curse flying before he’d had time to form the words. Williamson’s body slid the length of the room. Several students shrieked. His heart pounding, Severus took a couple of deep breaths as Harry gazed around wildly.

Severus stalked the length of the room, gazing coldly at the still form of the Defence Against the Dark Arts professor lying in a crumpled heap near the door. “Rennervate,” he said crisply as a jet of pale spell light shot forth, feeling keenly the sharp pang of separation from his bondmate.

“How dare you—” Williamson struggled awkwardly to his feet, humiliation painting his cheeks fiery red.

“How dare you?” snapped Severus. His heart was still racing and Harry’s panic was just beginning to abate. “Have you any notion of the danger you were in?” He shook his head as Williamson’s jaw dropped. “No, of course not,” he answered with a sneer. “This is a game to you.” He whirled and strode back to Harry, unsurprised to see his husband pale and trembling.

“I want twelve inches on your bonding experience for Tuesday.” Williamson pushed past Severus on his way to the front of the room as he made the announcement. “I expect you to decide for yourselves the advantages and disadvantages of having a bonded partner in a duelling situation and enumerate them as well as discussing how today’s experience differed from your expectations of it.” His eyes hardened as they met Severus’. “Mr Pott—Prince may submit yours with his.

“Next Friday, we will use the potion I plan to prepare and engage in limited duels. You will be expected to pair up with the same person until we have finished this unit. I will, of course, substitute for anyone unable to attend.” His smile was an ugly thing, but Severus nodded.

Williamson, he decided, was delusional. He helped Harry to his feet as his mind kicked into high gear. Once the Ministry left Hogwarts, he would pull together a third Order of the Phoenix and charge them with keeping Harry safe once again. This time, though, Harry would be in the thick of things. He wouldn’t risk having Harry rush off on a wild goose chase, heedless of the danger to life and limb.

They would begin tomorrow night.

Ch 15: If We Add Four Measures of Powdered Lionfish Spine…

“I think we ought to remain Dumbledore’s Army,” said Harry thoughtfully, idly stirring his tea as he stared into the milky liquid. Whilst he appreciated Severus’ concern, he believed it misplaced. He was the only one who did, though, and he was finding himself out-shouted and outvoted at every turn.

It wasn’t anything like the meetings of the past, no life-or-death sense of urgency. No keeping Sirius and Severus from killing each other in the parlour of Grimmauld Place. Molly wasn’t screeching about him being too young to know what the Order were up to. This was a (mostly) quiet conversation in their overcrowded lounge, though Harry considered it all to be much ado about nothing.

“Hermione and Severus are right, Harry,” said George. “Let the Order remain and do their job. Potions don’t appear in the middle of Transfiguration books without a reason, fine bit of magic though it was.” His eyes sparkled a bit and for a moment, he looked like the George of old; then the sadness returned. “I reckon Lee will have some ideas about how we can improve on it.”

“I think we ought to leave the Wizengamot out of our calculations for the time being,” Draco interjected. “Severus will be sworn in after the election, and we can see how it all fits together once we’ve learnt more about the Ministry’s objective.”

“Severus, you should divide up your forces,” said Kingsley, his deep voice adding a touch of gravitas to his statement. “Arthur, Percy, and I will make inquiries at the Ministry. I am about to commence my farewell tour before I take over as chief of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, so I will have the chance to speak with most of the division heads before the new Minister is installed.”

“But what will you be asking, Minister?” Harry enquired. “You can’t very well ask them what they think about the baby.” The revelation that Wizarding Britain was still chattering on about it unnerved him. So had the knowledge that Hogwarts was still receiving up to a dozen Howlers a day demanding that Minerva do something to separate him from Severus.

“Kingsley, Harry. Kingsley.”

“Honestly, Harry, Kingsley’s not as naive as that,” said Hermione over Kingsley’s weary plea, as Draco groaned in dismay.

“Even Fudge would work his way out of that one,” said Draco. “I thank you for your support and efforts in rebuilding after the war,” he continued in a poor imitation of Kingsley’s baritone as he pantomimed shaking an invisible hand. “‘Thank Merlin for Potter, eh?’ The next thing you know, you’re being considered for Witch Weekly’s Wizard of the Century award as the Minister brings up your blighted past, which leads quite naturally to the Tragic State of Affairs that Is Your Life.”

“I don’t think Witch Weekly has a Wizard of the Century Award,” mused Luna as Kingsley chuckled. “But Harry does have a lovely smile.” She beamed at him, and he coloured.

There were moments Harry thought his life was too much like a Saturday morning cartoon programme, constantly being chased by a gang of characters who couldn’t shoot straight whilst he ran in place as fast as he could, with only the scenery changing behind him. “It’s duck season,” he muttered under his breath, earning a puzzled glance from Severus.

Molly frowned at Severus. “I know you’re worried about Harry, but is all this truly necessary? That Finnigan boy is in St Mungo’s, and from what everyone has said, he was half out of his head with grief. It’s nothing short of a miracle that this hasn’t happened more, to be honest, but what would the Ministry want with Harry now? It appears to me that you’re seeing danger where none exists. It’s curiosity, Severus. Nothing more.”

Harry’s eyes met Severus’ for a moment, and he fervently wished he didn’t know why Seamus was in St Mungo’s. It seemed that the Carrows had been more perverse than anyone had suspected, and they had taken an inappropriate liking to Seamus. Seamus was suffering from trauma, and it would be months before he would be able to resume his place in Wizarding society.

“How can you say that, Mum? Remember that witch the day after the wedding?” Ron raked his hands through his hair and took a swig from his bottle of Butterbeer. “Dad, Percy, and Kingsley need to investigate the Ministry, like Kingsley said. They’ll know who to talk to and who to avoid. Draco, Hermione, and Severus need to find out what’s in that potion. Bill should see if the goblins have any information on Sendigovius. Luna and Neville should owl Auntie Muriel, Luna’s dad, and Neville’s grandmother to see if they know anything about how Harry ended up in this state. I’ll go to Grimmauld Place and see what I can find in Sirius’ library.”

“Someone needs to watch this Williamson fellow,” said Arthur. “There’s no point in turning the Ministry inside out if the worst danger is right under your noses. Ron, it seems to me that your time would be better spent learning what you can about him.”

“How’m I to do that?” asked Ron. “I can’t very well follow him about the castle.”

“No,” said Severus, “but there are seven years’ worth of Gryffindors who can. Not to mention Ravenclaws and Slytherins. We’re lacking in Hufflepuffs, though it is likely that Hannah Abbott might be willing to assist in this endeavour. She appears to be no more impressed with him than do the rest of us.”

Harry rolled his eyes as Ron and Severus plotted and schemed. He exchanged a long-suffering look with Hermione and dove into the conversation the moment an opening presented itself. “Kreacher,” he said. “Or Winky, if she’s willing. Or one of the other house-elves. I had Kreacher and Dobby follow Draco for months, and I don’t think he noticed.”

Draco’s jaw dropped, and Neville took Draco’s hand in a manner Harry thought to be mildly constraining. “You set my own house-elf on me?” His silver eyes narrowed even as they signalled his indignation. “How you weren’t Sorted into Slytherin surpasses my comprehension.”

Harry smiled.

“You can’t just order house-elves to follow professors around,” said Hermione.

“I said if they’re willing,” Harry pointed out. “But it wouldn’t hurt to ask them. Just remind them to sleep. Dobby was dead on his feet. I miss him,” he added glumly.

“He was a good friend,” said Luna into the silence.

It was a signal to end the meeting. Severus brought out a bottle of Firewhisky, and though Molly’s disapprobation spoke volumes, it didn’t keep Minerva, Kingsley, Arthur, and George from partaking.

Harry was a bit distressed to find himself cocooned by women, especially since Molly had no compunction about asking the sorts of questions everyone else tended to shy away from. He unequivocally refused to discuss haemorrhoids with anyone, regardless of whether he had any or not, and he let his weight gain remain a secret between himself and Madam Pomfrey. Ron bailed him out, though, with a well-timed invitation to play chess. Neville suggested Exploding Snap, and since there were four of them, Harry disappeared into the study to find a deck of cards, leaving Luna, Hermione and Molly to dissect and discuss the minutiae of his pregnancy.

~*~

Ron put “Operation: Quaffle” in place the next day.

“Your mum is a nightmare,” said Harry as Ron tickled the pear to gain access to the kitchens. “She actually asked me if my nipples are getting tender.”

Ron gave a low, long whistle. “I swear if Hermione ever turns up pregnant, I’m going into hiding. I did not need to know that, mate. What did you tell her?”

“Nothing. I was too busy trying to scrub the question out of my head. Another conversation like that one and I’m going to ask Hermione to Obliviate me. Can you believe she actually said she’d ask Severus? I do not want to think about her asking about my sex life.” Some thoughts were simply too awful for words.

“Eww.” Ron shuddered and for once, Harry didn’t blame him. “You don’t suppose this is what women talk about all the time, is it?”

“No idea. I reckon I’m just going to have to tell her I’d really rather not talk about it.”

Ron snorted. “Better you than me, mate. She might listen to you, but the rest of us don’t stand a chance in hell.”

They were swarmed upon their arrival in the kitchens. The house-elves dropped their spoons and knives with a loud clatter and surrounded Harry and Ron, chirping their hellos and offering to bring them all the food and drink they could possibly consume. Everywhere Harry looked was evidence of an enormous feast being prepared. Meats were being minced and vegetables cleaned. Clouds of flour and sugar wafted from huge sacks, whilst sifters of spices floated through the air.

Upon learning that Harry was asking for him, Kreacher brought plates piled high with cakes and biscuits and ushered him and Ron to a small wooden table set with four ladder-backed chairs. He returned a moment later with two mugs brimming with hot chocolate and bowed low to Harry after setting them on the table.

“What is my Master wanting from his poor, neglected Kreacher?” said the house-elf in his bullfrog voice. “Never comes to the kitchens now, oh no. Kreacher hears from the other house-elves that his Master is expecting, but does Master come to tell Kreacher? No, he does not.” Kreacher gazed up at Harry with naked longing. “Will Master being returning to the house of Black to bear his young?”

Harry selected a wedge of shortbread and dunked it into his hot chocolate as Kreacher’s guilt-tinged barbs burrowed under his skin. “No, Kreacher. I’m staying at Hogwarts with Severus.” He took a bite of shortbread and watched as Ron gulped down half of his hot chocolate and dragged the back of his hand across his mouth.

“Kreacher, we were wondering if you might help us out with something,” said Harry.

Kreacher eyed him suspiciously. “What is Master wanting from Kreacher? Is Master moving back to Gryffindor Tower? Or rearranging the furniture in the dungeons?”

Harry and Ron both shook their heads. “Nothing like that,” assured Harry. “I need to know what Professor Williamson is doing when he’s not in class. Find out who he’s talking to, what he’s reading, if he’s leaving Hogwarts. You’ll need to have another house-elf or two—Winky possibly, and another one you trust—to help you.” He smiled at the wizened old elf. “You will need to rest sometime, Kreacher. I don’t want you to go without sleep or anything.”

“You are wanting Kreacher to spy on a professor like he did with the Malfoy boy,” said the house-elf uneasily. “It will not be easy, Master, no, it will not, but Kreacher will find a way. When does Master wish Kreacher to make his reports?”

“You should tell me what you find out,” said Ron. “Not Harry. There’ll be others watching Williamson as well, and we don’t want him to know we’re spying on him. I can come to the kitchens, if you like, say on Saturdays. But if you hear him mention Harry’s name, come and tell me straight away.”

“But find out what he’s talking about first,” said Harry. “He’s trying to get inside my head, Kreacher, but we don’t know why.”

Kreacher drew himself to his full height, and all two and a half feet of him glared at Harry in dogged determination. “No one is harming my Master,” he declared. “Kreacher was beside himself when Master didn’t come back. That is how Kreacher ended up at Hogwarts. If Master is wanting to know about the professor, Kreacher will find out everything.”

Harry and Ron started to leave, but Ron came to an abrupt halt and turned back. “Do you know anything about Williamson?” he asked suddenly. “We know he’s been acting strangely since the term began. What we don’t know is why.”

Kreacher wiped his palms on his messy tea towel. “Professor Williamson is sending many owls, but Kreacher does not know where the owls is going. The others say he is receiving many parcels, but Kreacher does not know what is inside of them.”

Harry and Ron exchanged a long look. “Potions ingredients, most likely.”

“Kreacher will find out and…” He gave Ron a long searching look before turning to Harry with questions in his eyes.

“Yes, let Ron know what you find out.” Ron was good at seeing the details emerge from the bigger picture, better than Harry, who was far more likely to make intuitive leaps of logic and then act on the results before he could start second-guessing himself. “I really do appreciate this,” Harry added. He grabbed a couple of crème cakes for later and followed Ron up the stairs.

“So Williamson is sending off loads of owls, is he?” asked Ron, once they were safely away from the kitchens. “Maybe I should speak with Severus about him. He’s Deputy Head. Maybe he knows if Williamson has family tucked away somewhere.”

“Wouldn’t he just bring them here though?” asked Harry. “Odd how none of the other professors are married or have kids of their own. Do you think there’s a reason for that or if it just worked out that way?”

“Never really thought about it, to be honest,” said Ron. “It is kind of strange, though. It’s not like there’s no room here and the Floos can’t be secured.” He flashed a grin at Harry. “Bet Hermione’d know.”

“Yeah, but she wouldn’t tell us ’til after she finished lecturing to us about not reading Hogwarts: A History,” they finished together. “She’s a bit predictable that way,” said Harry with a laugh. “I’ll bet it has something to do with not being able to Apparate in or out of Hogwarts.”

“Who knows?” Ron’s smile faded, and he slowed his steps. “Harry, what’s it like?” he asked, his brow furrowing.

Harry stopped and blinked, not expecting the question. “What’s what like?” He had a feeling he knew and was a bit surprised Ron had waited until now to ask.

“You know,” said Ron a bit uncomfortably. “Being pregnant. I figure it’s got to be a bit strange, having this thing moving around inside you.” He glanced at Harry out of the corner of his eye as they started towards the Grand Staircase. “And it keeps getting bigger, too.”

“Don’t remind me,” moaned Harry. “Pomfrey reckons it’ll be twice this size by the time it’s due.” He ran his hand over his abdomen and shook his head as he glanced down. “Most days it feels normal, though it’s sort of hard to forget it’s there, especially when it kicks, and I miss being able to lie on my stomach. But when I go to bed and it’s just Severus and me, he’ll rest his hand there and it’ll move, and I’m really, really happy it happened, even if it wasn’t supposed to.

“I guess I don’t care as much why or how any more. I know it’s making Hermione crazy to have something happen that she can’t explain, though you’d think she’d be used to it by now. And Severus is jumping at shadows. He doesn’t say much, but I know he’s a bit worried about the Wizengamot, though I’ve not worked out yet why he thinks it has anything to do with the baby.”

“You’d have to ask Draco about the Wizengamot,” said Ron as they reached the landing. He turned to go up to the common room, but paused when Harry started down towards the dungeons. “Which way?”

“Let’s go to my place. Draco and Hermione should be there, and there are too many people in the common room anymore.” Harry grimaced. “It gets a bit quiet down in the dungeons, but I’m done with being gawked at.” He took the stairs at a clip, Ron right beside him. It was heartening to know that Ron accepted it as a given that Harry’s life was an exception to nearly every rule ever written. Ron was even getting better about seeing Harry and Severus exhibit a bit of affection now and then, which relieved Harry no end. Ron was bound to grow up sometime.

Once inside, Harry flopped down on the couch and put his feet up on the low table in front of him. “Is it my imagination, or has this been the longest week ever?”

“Your imagination, mate. That week we camped outside Little Peebleston was pure hell. Rained for a solid week, it did, and there wasn’t a market for miles. Hermione thought we should make ourselves useful and forage, and all we managed to do was wade around in mud up to our knees.” Ron wandered off to the kitchen for a couple of bottles of Butterbeer and poked his head inside the laboratory on his way back to let Hermione know he was there.

Draco emerged from the laboratory a few minutes later, his platinum hair lank and sweaty. He pulled off his dragonhide gloves and swiped at his forehead. “This potion is really weird stuff. We’ve identified most of the ingredients, but Sev has never heard of a single potion that contains everything we’ve found. You should come look at this.”

“Severus doesn’t like me anywhere near the laboratory,” said Harry as his eyes swept over Draco, trying to remember the last time he’d seen him so dishevelled. “But I’ll stand in the doorway if you’ll explain what you’ve found.”

He and Ron crowded into the doorway and Harry lit up at seeing Severus hard at work. Glass cylinders rose from a tangle of supports, and most of them had fires dancing under them. Bright, shiny jewels of liquid dripped slowly through a maze of tubing, whilst Severus measured out grains of some silvery powder Harry thought might be lionfish and sprinkled them into a bubbling cauldron.

“Turn the middle flame down and let it simmer until it’s been reduced by half,” instructed Severus. He glanced up and met Harry’s eyes. “Not one step further, P—Harry.”

“I won’t,” promised Harry. It amused him that, in moments of duress, Severus still defaulted to calling him “Potter,” but he recognised it as a sign of the seriousness of the situation. “Draco says you’re making progress.”

“That is not what I said at all,” scoffed Draco. “I said it’s weird. Doesn’t make sense.”

“You really shouldn’t be in here, Harry,” said Hermione without looking up. She was adding white chips of something to the centre column and jotting notes. Her bushy hair was tied back, though a few strands straggled out of the clip and fell in her eyes. Her arm came up and she tried without success to push the strands back.

“What have you found out?” asked Harry as he took a step back, bumping into Ron. They spent a few seconds rearranging themselves so that Harry could see into the laboratory without having to jostle Ron out of the way and still remain behind Severus’ invisible line.

“I am beginning to believe that we need to add St Mungo’s to the list of organisations under suspicion. I have discovered that this potion contains quantities of pennyroyal, blue cohosh, ergot and rue, all of which are inconsistent with the baseline ingredients.”

Harry hoped he didn’t appear as stupid as he felt, but he couldn’t remember ever using any of those ingredients before. “What do you mean, baseline ingredients?”

“Most potions have bases, Potter, depending on which class they belong to,” said Draco. “If Severus said we were going to brew for the Hospital Wing, what would you grab from the storeroom?”

“Nettles, bicorn horn, scarab shells, and either essence of Dittany or murtlap depending what it was supposed to do. Why?”

“It’s like baking a cake,” added Hermione. “They’ll almost always have flour, sugar and eggs. It’s everything else that makes them different from each other.” She puffed out a breath of air, but the lock of hair remained stubbornly in place.

“So, what’s the base?” asked Ron. “And what does any of this have to do with St Mungo’s?”

Severus held up a hand for a moment whilst he sprinkled and stirred. “Harry, please put on the kettle. I would like a cup of tea. Draco, reduce your flame, and add some boiling chips to the cylinder. Hermione, cast a stasis charm, and then join me in the lounge.”

Ten minutes later, Harry had a tea tray assembled and levitated it out, proud of himself for actually remembering to use magic. He poured out and passed around a plate of tiny savoury pies before settling himself on the sofa with a tall glass of pumpkin juice.

They busied themselves with eating and drinking. Ron quaffed down a tumbler of pumpkin juice and chomped his way through three of the little pies, though he had consumed his weight in biscuits not thirty minutes earlier.

“You asked why I believe we need to investigate St Mungo’s,” began Severus, after everyone had blunted their hunger. “The potion is a vaccine of some sort, though I do not yet know which of the dozen or so it could be. But, as I mentioned, there exists a number of elements which have no place in a potion of that sort. I can’t explain their presence, nor how it fits with what we’ve already learnt.”

“You mean the pennyroyal and the rest of it,” said Harry. His eyes cut over to Hermione, but she was frowning thoughtfully into her teacup instead of leaping into the void to display her prodigious knowledge of all things arcane and mysterious. Even Draco scowled, and that was not like him in the least, insofar as potions were concerned.

“So I’m not the only one who hasn’t a clue about those things?” asked Harry, astonished.

“There is a potion,” Severus began slowly, his expression troubled, “that is part of the Hospital Wing’s stores, but is never brewed here at Hogwarts. I do not maintain the several necessary ingredients, either in the student storeroom or in my private inventory. It is unsurprising you are not familiar with them, Harry. They are not part of the approved curriculum, nor will I lecture about them. I am speaking, of course, of contraceptives.”

Harry stared, as did the others. “But there are charms,” said Hermione. “We had to learn them in sixth year. Both sets.”

“And yet there are sixth year students who cannot manage a simple Disarming charm,” replied Severus. “The Ministry thought it best not to leave the matters of procreation completely in the hands of hormonal adolescents—one of the few intelligent decisions they have ever made. The potions kept on hand act as a contraceptive and, if tincture of pennyroyal is added, can be used as an abortifacient. One of the benefits of the potion is that it need not be ingested more than once a month. Female students who find it necessary are required to report to Poppy on a regularly scheduled basis.”

“There’s a potion?” exclaimed Hermione. “Why has this been kept a secret?” she demanded. “I’ve half a mind to go up to the Hospital Wing right now and ask for some. It would be so much better than fumbling around trying to remember where I set my wand and hoping I’ve pointed it at the right bits.”

Ron’s face turned florid, and Harry wished he were anywhere else as Hermione continued her tirade.

“Ms Granger,” said Severus. “This is a society that uses parchment and quills. We wear robes and use candles for lighting. We rely on fireplaces for warmth when magic will not suffice, and our most reliable method of communication is a message sent by owl. Is it so surprising that the Wizarding world continues to have a Victorian attitude about sexual relations?”

“No, of course not,” Hermione replied, abashed. “Though I find a bit odd that it’s so accepting of relationships like yours and Harry’s, and so backwards on so many other things.”

“Backwards?” scoffed Draco. “Muggles will never be better at things than wizards.”

“The Wizarding world could take a lesson from Arthur Weasley,” Hermione shot back. “We might then have the use of fountain pens and lined paper. Gas lamps where electricity can’t be used. I love being able to use magic, but we’ve fallen behind on all sorts of things, not least of which is practical clothes. I suspect even you would be comfortable in a pair of decent trousers and a dinner jacket.”

Harry snickered as Ron eyed Draco with a certain amount of caution, but Severus was frowning and Harry had no idea why. There were loads of things Muggles did better than wizards and he wasn’t too proud to admit it. Surely Severus, who had grown up in the Muggle world the same way he and Hermione had done, must know that.

“Why do you find it odd?” asked Severus before Draco could enquire about dinner jackets.

“Well, for one thing, you and Harry wouldn’t be allowed to marry,” said Hermione gently. “There is no Muggle government on earth that recognises a marriage between two men, and given how out of step we appear to be, it seems peculiar that the Ministry is so far ahead of Parliament on this.”

“I am well aware of the Muggle world’s discrimination against homosexuality. I am asking why you find it odd.” Severus’ expression softened. “I am not angry with you, Hermione, nor do I particularly care. I am married, and my husband carries my child. I am more fortunate than the Fates should have allowed.”

“I think I’m going to sick up,” muttered Draco.

Hermione’s eyes narrowed and, as Harry turned expectant eyes on her, he wondered how she managed to appear both distant and focussed. He recognised the expression; the gears were turning as she weighed and evaluated what she knew whilst discarding anything that didn’t fit. “The Victorian era is regarded as one in which propriety mattered more than substance,” she said, “where men were sent to prison for daring to form liaisons with other men. That those same cultural norms are not present in the Wizarding world indicates that other forces were at work.

“Hagrid is a half-giant,” she continued. “Fleur is part Veela. That vampire, Sanguini, was accompanied by his donor-partner, Wimple.”

“Worple,” corrected Severus. “Though I do not believe their relationship is sexual.”

“But he’s a vampire,” exclaimed Hermione.

“Yes, he is,” agreed Severus. “But despite what you might have heard in the common room, there is seldom a sexual component to donation. But we’ll save that for another time.

“The International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy was signed into law during the reign of William and Mary. Wizarding kind were marginalised then, and steps were taken to ensure that relationships between equals would always be seen as valid in the eyes of the Ministry. Without the Church to impose its own set of morals, those of us inclined towards our own gender were never seen as a scourge. Only those of us with the misfortune of growing up Muggle thought we had anything to be ashamed of.”

Harry couldn’t help it. His eyes met Ron’s, but for the first time ever, Ron didn’t drop his gaze. It had taken nearly seven months, but Harry finally felt fully human in the eyes of his best friend. He gave a slight nod of acknowledgement and kept his relief to himself. “I’m sure this is fascinating stuff for those of you taking a N.E.W.T. in History of Magic,” said Harry as he glanced at Severus, “or for those of you who have one, but can we talk about the potion instead? Why would anyone send a contraceptive to someone who’s already pregnant?”

“Maybe it’s the potions equivalent of a Howler,” suggested Draco. “I’ll admit it’s a bit like closing the stable doors after the thestrals have flown off, but I can’t come up with anything else.”

Ron frowned. “I dunno,” he said thoughtfully. “Someone went to a lot of trouble smuggling that potion in here. The book was charmed so that Severus was the only one who would find the potion, and the book itself was slipped past a dozen protective spells.”

“The ones that let every one of you inside without so much as a knock on the door?” said Harry. “Those enchantments?”

“It’s not our fault if you can’t be bothered to take the simplest of precautions,” said Draco. “You’ve grown complacent. But if it’s not a Howler, what’s the message?”

“Has everyone forgotten there was a note?” asked Hermione in exasperation. “It was with the potion. It said that Harry’s pregnancy was no accident, remember?”

“We have a contraceptive element in a vaccine,” said Severus. “We have a note, as Hermione has reminded us. We need to determine what the vaccine is supposed to prevent before we can draw any conclusions.”

Harry scrunched up his nose as he pushed his spectacles up. “Can we back up a bit? What are wizards vaccinated against? And when? I mean, you all know I grew up with the Dursleys. I don’t imagine I was given any of those things, so I can’t understand why we were sent that potion.”

Severus’ expression changed, his eyes sharpening, becoming hawk-like even as Harry looked on. “You were fifteen months old when you were left with your aunt and uncle,” he said intently. “Ask Poppy for a schedule of inoculations when you see her next.”

“Of course,” said Harry in confusion. “But why?”

“There’s no need to wait, Severus,” said Hermione. “It’s in the book I gave Harry for Christmas.”

Harry took a moment to fetch the book, flipping through the pages and appearing a bit panicked as he returned. “I’d no idea babies were this complicated,” he said as he resumed his place next to Severus. “There are loads of things that need minding. ‘Is it too hot or too cold? Is it eating enough? Is it growing fast enough? Is it crying too much or not enough?’ There’s such a thing as not crying enough?” He handed the open book to Severus and tipped his head against the back of the sofa.

Severus skimmed over the page. “If your parents were as diligent about your care as I suspect they were, you would have been inoculated against Banshee Breath, Transylvanian Measles and Gobliniasis. You would have received a series of potions to safeguard you against Mesopotamian Mumps, Harpy Throat and Ptolemy’s Disease starting when you were two. There exists now a vaccine to prevent Dragon Pox, but it hadn’t been introduced yet when you were a toddler.”

“Why aren’t Muggle-borns—?”

“I think we should assume—”

Hermione and Draco began speaking simultaneously, but as if realising her question had little to do with the matter at hand, Hermione deferred to him. “I think we should assume,” he repeated, “that Potter’s not had any, rather than assume he has and miss something.”

Harry’s head came up sharply, and Draco lifted a conciliatory hand. “I’m not trying to infer your parents were neglectful, but they were being hunted—and they knew it. They might have chosen to wait until the Dark Lord had been defeated before risking a trip here or to St Mungo’s.”

“They wouldn’t have brought Harry to Hogwarts,” said Severus, shaking his head. “We do not use vaccinations here unless there is an outbreak of something contagious, such as a particularly virulent strain of wizard flu. I can’t even brew them. They have to be done in the laboratories at St Mungo’s.”

“Why can’t you brew them?” asked Harry, wide-eyed. The thought there was a potion in the world Severus couldn’t make was anathema to him. “You’re a Potions Master. You can do anything.”

Severus’ eyes lost their piercing intensity, and his entire demeanour softened. “Thank you for your vote of confidence, Harry. Yes, I am capable of brewing any potion in use at St Mungo’s, but I cannot acquire the live strains of the disease necessary for the vaccines. They are controlled more strictly than even dragon’s blood.”

Ron looked blankly at Severus. “I’ve no idea what you’ve just said.”

“He’s talking about germs, Ron,” said Hermione crisply, and then her expression changed. “You do know what germs are, right?”

Surprisingly, it was Draco who leapt to Ron’s defence. “I know you think that most pure-bloods are ignorant of how the world works, but we’re not. If you’ll recall, the full name of St Mungo’s is St Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries. The Department of Magical Bugs and Diseases is on the second floor. So, yes, we do know what germs are.”

He turned to Ron and continued. “Live strains of germs are held under a confinement spell at St Mungo’s and the charms are keyed to only a handful of witches or wizards to keep them safe.” His face grew troubled. “Imagine if the Dark Lord had been able to infect Gryffindor with spattergroit. Or introduce Vanishing Sickness into, I dunno, Fortescue’s ice cream.”

Ron frowned. “How do you know all this?”

“My father,” replied Draco with a weary sigh. “He used to donate huge sums of money to St Mungo’s to maintain his image. We were given tours on a regular basis. When I was little, I wanted to be a Healer when I grew up, but I was a Malfoy,” he continued bitterly.

“What are you going to do after you finish school?” asked Harry.

Draco’s expression grew wintery. “I have no idea.” He came quickly to his feet. “I’m going to work on that potion some more,” he said abruptly and stalked back to the laboratory, closing the door quietly behind him.

Harry exchanged worried glances with the others. “I’ll go,” said Severus after a long moment’s silence. “He may be willing to talk to me. I’ll send him to Neville after he’s had a bit of time. I’ll see the rest of you at dinner.”

~*~

After dinner, Harry and Severus spent several quiet hours preparing for the week ahead. Severus wrote out lesson plans and marked up the essays he had assigned. Harry completed his reading for the week and wrote out his essay for Williamson, twelve inches about bonding with Severus.

His first attempt was vulgar: a pointed narrative filled to the brim with lurid descriptions of sexual acts Harry had wished he’d had the courage to perform in class whilst under the potion’s influence. Perhaps Williamson would be a bit less inclined to want to pair up with him if he knew Harry’s mind was filled with thoughts of sodomy and fellatio.

Once finished, Harry tore it to bits and then burnt the pieces, not wholly trusting to luck that Williamson would never see it. He pulled out a fresh sheet of parchment and wrote out a dry treatise on the advantages and disadvantages of having an emotional connection to someone who was engaged in battle at the same time one was facing enemies of his own. He fully expected to receive a ‘Dreadful’ once he got it back, but only because it said by Harry Prince at the top.

“Please be certain to give this to Wendell when you submit your own essay,” said Severus, placing a roll of parchment on Harry’s desk.

Harry paused from packing his schoolbag to look up. “You did the assignment?”

“Naturally,” said Severus, and if his voice was a touch smug, Harry couldn’t blame him. “It’s worth it, don’t you think, to keep him off-balance?”

“Definitely,” replied Harry with a grin. “Can I read it?”

“May I, and yes, you may.”

Harry rolled his eyes at Severus before unrolling the parchment. As he read, he glanced repeatedly at Severus, his smile fading more and more with every word. When he finished, he sat quietly, seemingly lost in thought. “I had no idea,” he said finally. “Even after everything that happened in class.”

“Truly?” asked Severus, his voice gently. “You truly did not know?”

“That you trust me that much?” Harry shook his head. “No. I wish I could say otherwise. Perhaps if I’d thought about it more…” His voice trailed off, and he blew out a sigh.

Severus walked around their desks and extended his hand. “Come to bed, Harry. It’s late and you’re tired.”

“Not too tired.” Harry placed Severus’ essay carefully in his satchel and then took Severus’ hand as he came to his feet. Standing on tiptoes, he brushed a kiss over Severus’ lips before following him out of their study, whispering a quiet, “Nox,” as he left the room.

Their rooms were quiet, filled with the hush that comes at the end of a long day. The embers in the fireplace glowed a peaceful red as they, too, prepared for slumber. Once in their bedroom, Severus closed the door with a gentle snick and murmured the spell that unfastened his buttons whilst Harry looked on with hunger. Severus met his gaze and sparks flew.

“Give me a moment,” said Harry, his voice husky. He trailed his fingers over bare skin before disappearing into the bathroom. He emerged a scant few minutes later, his fringe damp, his robes unbuttoned. As Severus vanished to perform his own ablutions, Harry undressed, kneeling down to untie his boots. To his chagrin, it was getting more difficult to reach his feet—not because he was particularly big, but because he simply didn’t bend in the middle.

Once naked, he crawled to the centre of their bed and stretched out on his back, his fingers sliding over his bare skin, exploring the curves of his body as if they were brand new. In a way, they were. There were days when Harry was convinced he could see the baby growing, and other times when he was certain it had managed to shrink a bit.

As usual, as soon as Harry had settled down, the baby decided it was time to play, or whatever it was that foetuses did to amuse themselves in there. He groaned softly as it rolled from one side to the other and rubbed until the elbow (or knee) was no longer jabbing him in the side.

“It still fascinates me,” said Severus as he curled around Harry. He replaced Harry’s hand with his own and moved it slowly over Harry’s stomach, following the ever-shifting contours. Whether by magical means or because a bond had already formed between them, the baby seemed to follow in its wake, turning and shifting as the hand skated over Harry’s skin.

“I’m surprised you don’t talk to it,” said Harry as he tucked his hand under his head. “Pomfrey says it can hear us.”

“I wouldn’t know what to say,” Severus admitted. He toyed with the dark trail of fine hair that led from Harry’s navel to the thick thatch of wiry hair below, threading his fingers through it, yet never quite touching Harry’s cock. “It’s easier to speak to you. Besides, it only knows the sound of my voice, not the words I’m saying.”

It was anybody’s guess whether Harry knew the words coming out of Severus’ mouth either. He moaned softly, splaying his legs apart and searching for Severus’ head with his free hand. Goosebumps rose as Severus dotted his stomach with wet, open mouthed kisses and Harry fought to keep from tangling his fist in Severus’ hair.

Severus’ tongue laved over Harry’s nipples and Harry caught a quizzical look from him before Severus went back to kissing a line from his sternum to the base of his throat. Harry arched, dragging the sole of his foot over the duvet, the soft skritch of the fabric a perfect counterpoint to the tingles jetting from head to toe. Whimpering softly, he tilted his hips up as Severus’ hand once again raked through the nest of his pubic hair, craving Severus’ touch on his prick.

Harry rolled his head to the side as Severus’ lips latched onto the skin on his neck, shivering as Severus’ tongue dragged over the stubble there. He should have used a depilatory charm, but the sensation made his cock twitch with delight. He threaded his fingers through Severus’ dark hair and dragged his fingernails lightly over his scalp, earning a velvety soft moan in response.

Their mouths met in a wet, hungry kiss, and Harry’s lips parted automatically at the gentle press of Severus’ tongue. It explored his mouth with delicacy, brushing lightly over his palate and stroking against his tongue before retreating to the silken boundary of sweet lips. It traced along the peaks and curves of Harry’s upper lip before delving in for another honeyed tasted of Harry’s mouth.

Harry shivered again as a frisson of pleasure raced along his spine, and he draped a leg over Severus’ thighs, seeking friction to allay some of the sweet tension pooling between his legs. The baby moved and he moaned again, the fullness of his belly enhancing somehow his desperate need. “Oh, god, please,” he breathed against Severus’ lips.

Severus kissed him hungrily, one hand skating over Harry’s body as the other came up to hold Harry’s chin. “I want you inside me,” Severus murmured in between kisses—and Harry’s heart stopped.

“I…what?” Harry took Severus’ face between his hands and gazed up at him, barely able to hear when his heart started pounding in his chest. “You what?” His erection began to flag, but a single touch from Severus revived it almost instantly.

“I would prefer to bottom tonight.” Severus gave Harry a light kiss. “You know what to do. We might need to experiment with positions, but we’ll find a way.” He drew back and kissed his way down Harry’s body, lingering over his nipples, flicking his tongue against the small rise of Harry’s navel, drawing the head of Harry’s cock into his mouth and sucking lightly until Harry cried out.

Severus rolled off, pulled a pillow from the head of the bed, shoved it under his hips and lay back, watching through hooded eyes as Harry knelt on the bed beside him. “Do you remember the first time?” he asked softly. “Do to me whatever you wish and if you need my guidance, all you need do is ask.”

Harry would never forget, and he reached for Severus with hands that trembled. He loved Severus’ body. He loved the long, clean lines, his strong arms and well-muscled legs. He loved the hair that lay in loose curls over his chest. He loved the slight paunch the years had brought. He loved the scars and imperfections that told of a hard life well-lived. He loved the feel of it under his fingers and the taste of it on his tongue.

Harry loved Severus, his quicksilver moods and quicker intelligence. Above all, he loved the heart of the man, how he could be so giving to those he deemed worthy. As always, Harry approached as an impoverished man at a banquet, uncertain where to start, but determined to sample everything.

He lifted Severus’ hand to his mouth and kissed each fingertip before drawing one into his mouth and sucking lightly on it. He nipped lightly at it before pressing a kiss to Severus’ palm, then another to the delicate skin on the inside of Severus’ wrist. Turning Severus’ hand over, he held it for a moment before pressing solemn lips to Severus’ wedding ring.

The pads of Harry’s fingers ghosted lightly over Severus’ hand, as if trying to feel each tiny scar left by countless knives, each pale mark left by scalding potion. He dragged his tongue over a patch of skin and blew lightly on it, watching as the tiny hairs on Severus’ forearm rose. Straddling Severus’ leg, he leaned forward, resting his weight on carefully positioned elbows, and frotted gently against the corded muscle underneath.

Harry dipped his head and drew up a mark at the hollow of Severus’ shoulder, purring softly as Severus’ hand skated along the smooth skin of his back. His cock throbbed; a strand of silver spilt from the tip and pooled on Severus’ thigh. “You are so beautiful,” he murmured in an awestruck voice, and to Harry it was absolutely true.

He moved back towards the foot of the bed and knelt between Severus’ parted legs. “Thank you for not debating the point,” he added gravely as he reached out to grasp the base of Severus’ cock with his hand.

“I wouldn’t,” replied Severus, and then he inhaled sharply as Harry’s mouth closed around his prick. Harry moaned as he hollowed his cheeks, sucking hard as he drew in as much of Severus’ length as he could comfortably handle. Severus had told him once that any was enough and, having nothing to prove, Harry discovered quickly that he enjoyed a mouthful, but no more than that.

He licked and nibbled up and down the shaft as Severus snarled and moaned and threatened him with disembodiment if he didn’t get on with it. Whispering the spells, Harry touched a finger to Severus’ opening, circling it lightly as he swirled his tongue over the head of Severus’ cock. He had used fingers on Severus before, but never with the intention of opening him, and he found that he was nervous.

He pulled off as Severus spoke. “Press your fingers together. Yes, like that. Slowly. I will help you.” Harry pressed gently as he watched Severus’ face and discovered that his fingers slipped inside with ease. He twisted them slightly as he pushed them deeper inside and crooked them slightly, feeling his way.

He found within the tight heat a small nub and stroked it, earning a sharp cry from Severus and a shiver that swept outwards and curled Severus’ feet. Harry knew how that felt, as though a St Catherine’s wheel had exploded inside of him and sent sparks zinging along every nerve. Severus gazed heatedly at him through heavy-lidded eyes, looking at him as though, given half a chance, he would devour Harry bit by bit.

Harry froze. ‘He wants me. Me.’ The thought burst into his head with the power of a blasting spell and he drew in a shaky breath as his heart started tripping out a strange, syncopated rhythm. He removed his hand and renewed the lubrication spell. As he grasped his cock and moved into position, he realised that he couldn’t see past his belly to know what he was doing. “You’ll have to help me,” he whispered urgently.

“Did I not say I would?” replied Severus in a breathless, needy voice Harry couldn’t recall having heard before. “Just move forward, Harry.”

That Severus’ hips were elevated helped immensely. Closing his eyes, Harry reached out and found Severus’ passage and guided his cock to it. He fumbled around a bit, missing the hole on his first two attempts.

“A bit lower. To the right.” Severus’ voice was gentle, patient, and when Harry finally found the spot, they both sighed. He sank slowly into the sultry heat, his breath catching as he penetrated Severus’ body for the very first time.

“Okay?” Harry asked in a high, tight voice, the sensation unlike anything he’d ever known. He shifted his weight, supporting himself on his forearms as his shoulders pressed against the back of Severus’ thighs. “Can you breathe?”

“I’m fine, Harry,” Severus assured him. “Though it would be better if you’d bloody well get on with it.” He drew Harry’s head down and kissed him slowly, thoroughly, not stopping until Harry moaned and rocked his hips, pushing quite unconsciously deeper inside.

Harry moved experimentally, the hair on his arms and legs rising as Severus tightened around him, and his cock twitched when Severus thumbed a nipple. Yes, they were incredibly sensitive, to the point where a loose shirt moving against him would make him hard. His hips pumped slowly and he rolled his head back, his eyes darkening with pleasure.

He stilled his hips, his breath coming in sharp pants, so close, so very close. He wasn’t ready to spill, not yet. He wanted provide Severus with as much pleasure as Severus gave him, wanted to know this incredible man intimately, but when Severus rolled his hips and drew him fully inside he nearly screamed.

“Just stay still,” murmured Severus, fucking himself on Harry’s cock. Harry watched breathlessly as Severus’ hand came up to toy with his own nipples, and the coil of pleasure rose a few more degrees. It only took a moment for the rhythm to penetrate Harry’s brain, but when it did, he came up to meet every thrust. They began moving faster and faster, their dance as old as time.

Seconds later, Harry’s hips stuttered. “Severus!” he cried as the world flew apart. Sparks danced wildly behind eyes whose pupils were so wide barely any iris showed. His cock pulsed endless streams of fluid that felt as though they were being pulled from the heart of him. And still Severus rocked against him, squeezing rhythmically, milking, draining him completely.

Blindly, he reached for Severus’ cock only to have his hand gently swatted away, and when Severus spilled between them with a loud shout he swore the stars shattered again.

It felt like days passed before Harry finally slipped from Severus’ body and crawled wearily to his side before collapsing. His damp hair clung to his scalp, the ends curling against his neck. Bone-deep tremors seized him, and as he drew in a deep breath, an unexpected flash of jealousy blindsided him for a moment before it vanished as quickly as it arose.

Severus pulled the duvet over the two of them and curled around him, kissing Harry’s neck as he splayed his fingers over Harry’s belly. “Are you alright?” he asked softly into the quiet.

Harry sighed, a thick wet sound. “I don’t know. I feel a bit all over the place, actually.” He turned over in place so he could pretend he could see Severus’ eyes in the darkness. The bed shook as he moved, making him feel about the size of a thestral. “It was incredible, beyond anything I ever imagined.”

Severus reached over and laid a hand against Harry’s cheek. “But?” he asked softly.

“But…” Harry took a deep breath. “I’m doing it all wrong and I know you’ve been with loads of other blokes and I shouldn’t feel this way, but I can’t believe I’m actually jealous of who’ve you been with. It’s stupid, I know, but I just know they’re loads better in bed than me,” he concluded unhappily.

Severus was quiet for a long time and Harry regretted having said anything. He started to turn back over when Severus stopped him. “Sex is sex,” said Severus quietly. “But, like riding a broom, it’s possible to improve one’s technique. I only want to know why you wish to learn. Are you dissatisfied?”

“No. Not at all.” Harry moved into Severus’ touch. “I just want to make you feel as good as you made me feel. It was amazing,” he said in a hush, still sounding a bit awed. “I want to be able to see you lose control, just once.”

“Idiot child. Have you so little understanding of me?” Severus kissed him. “One day, after the baby is born, we will spend a day in here under the influence of Induciae Paciscor. Then you’ll see for yourself how you make me feel. Trust me, you’ve nothing to worry about.”

Severus’ words managed to allay some of Harry’s concerns, and he snuggled in as he prepared to go to sleep. He felt the tingle of cleaning charms and sighed. “I forgot,” he murmured.

“I do know the spells. Go to sleep, lo…Harry.”

For a moment, Harry thought Severus was going to say something else, but wrote it off to wishful dreaming. He felt Severus’ hand move to his stomach, and he covered it with his own, falling asleep at the brush of lips against his hair.

~*~

The shadowy man from the Department of Magical Education put in an appearance in Harry’s Herbology class, along with a little dumpling of a man who was very nearly a replica of Professor Sprout. Harry didn’t catch the name, but as he didn’t seem the least bit interested in Harry’s doings, it was easy to ignore him. The Ministry wizard spent a great deal of time chatting with Neville and writing little notes on his clipboard, and he seemed delighted with the progress they were making with their beds of Semaphorical Nightshade.

It was disturbingly simple to ignore the colourless wizard who flitted around the edges of Greenhouse number four, and whilst Harry tried to keep an eye on him, the wizard kept vanishing into shadows to the point where Harry wondered if he had an Invisibility Cloak of some sort.

Why, though? Why would a wizard on a fact-finding mission with the Department of Magical Education feel the need to hide in plain sight? But before Harry could complete that train of thought, the leaves of his Nightshade plant developed a blue and white checkerboard pattern. He turned the pages of his textbook and sighed as he realised it was signalling distress of some sort.

The frustratingly elusive wizard appeared again in Transfiguration, and when he appeared in Charms as well, Harry turned to Draco. “That bloke hiding in the corner near Flitwick’s desk. Has he been in any of your other classes?” he whispered as Flitwick began his lecture on the most common Healing Charms to appear on the N.E.W.T.

“Yeah. He was in Arithmancy Friday morning. I’ve been meaning to ask you about him,” Draco whispered back as several skeletons began wandering through the classroom and breaking off bones to set on the desks before the students.

“You know,” remarked Harry as he watched one skeleton remove a rib and place it on the desk in front of Justin. “There are times this school can be really creepy.”

Draco chuckled. “I reckoned you were going to say something about Lockhart missing this lesson in Charms. I admit I nearly puked when I heard that Bludger hit your arm. I should have realised then you were indestructible. I wouldn’t have bothered to try to curse you back in sixth year if I had.”

Harry winced. “Not my best moment. I thought Severus was going to kill me, not that I blame him. It was a stupid thing to do, using a curse I’d no idea about how it worked. Are the scars very bad?” It was entirely appropriate that his guilt was written across his face when Flitwick requested he kindly pay attention.

“Place the bone you’ve been given on the desk in front of you and say the incantation. The pattern is what, Ms Granger?”

“Right caret, loop anti-clockwise, sinister slash,” said Hermione, “though tightly. This charm requires focus and attention to detail.” She demonstrated on the clavicle she’d been given and it broke cleanly into three pieces.

As always when they attempted something new, some of the students mastered the charm more quickly than others. Harry bit back a laugh when he looked up in time to see a chunk of bone smack Ron in the middle of his forehead and heard a softly muttered “Sorry” from Anthony.

“Mother says the scars give me character,” said Draco as he split the scapula that had clattered onto his desk into several pieces. “But enough about the bad old days. I asked Vector about him.” Draco looked up, his silvery eyes shining sharp as the edge of a knife, but the man was gone.

“He’s like trying to catch smoke,” continued Draco. He paused whilst Flitwick explained the underlying theory of the Healing Charm they were about to cast and committed the wand movements to memory. Pointing his wand, he cast the spell and two pieces merged together, but when he tried to fit the third, he discovered that the edges wouldn’t align properly. He blew out a breath and raised his hand.

Harry examined the pieces of the ulna he had been given and scratched his head as he thought. He’d put a bit too much power into the spell, or so it appeared, since he had two large pieces and several chunk-sized fragments. “I don’t even know where to start with this.” He, too, raised his hand as he glanced at Hermione. Having broken her bone cleanly, she was now charming it back together again, rather smugly Harry thought.

“What did Vector say?” he asked as they waited for help from Flitwick.

“She said his name is Elias Steggle,” replied Draco, “and he’s been with the Ministry for years. Funny thing, though. She attended school with him and thought he was with the Department of Mysteries. I’m still not convinced he’s not the same wizard who was with that witch from the Wizengamot.”

“I reckoned it was the same bloke, but that wasn’t his name.” Harry searched his memory for a moment. “Didn’t he say his name was Simon Undersomething?” He poked around the shards of bone with the tip of his wand, wondering if he’d missed some essential part of the lecture, but with Hermione several rows in front of him and Draco likewise struggling, he had no one to ask.

“Underwood, I think,” said Draco. “No, Undermarsh. I remember thinking I’d never heard the name before.”

“Boys, those bones will go back together much better with a little less talk and a bit more wandwork,” said Flitwick, though he seemed more amused than anything. “What seems to be the trouble?”

Draco showed him the problem with the scapula, and Flitwick taught him how to undo the repair. “It’s a slightly different charm than the one used to break it.” He watched as Draco broke the bone along the original fault line. “And what can I do for you, Mr Prince?”

“What do you know of Elias Steggle?” asked Harry, gazing directly into Flitwick’s widening eyes.

Flitwick blinked several times. “The wizard from the Ministry? As I understand it, he is taking over as head of the Wizarding Examinations Authority next year. I’m afraid I don’t quite see the connection between him and your ulna, though. What can I help you with?”

Harry gave it up as a lost cause. “I don’t know whether to start with the little pieces or the big ones,” he said, picking up the two larger pieces and swirling his finger through the smaller ones.

“Hmmm.” Flitwick clucked his tongue and with a flick of his short wand had the pieces reassembled. “Break it again, Mr Prince, and this time attempt to break the bone in two.” The professor turned. “How many of you have fragments?”

Nearly everyone raised their hands. Terry and Hermione were the only two who didn’t, so with a wave of his stubby arms, Flitwick reassembled the broken bones and began the lecture anew. This time, Harry paid attention.

~*~

The Ministry officials left Hogwarts after supper on Tuesday night, and Harry learnt that Steggle had visited every O.W.L and N.E.W.T.-level course except Potions. The omission confused him, and he began to doubt whether Steggle was Undermarsh after all. Still, for a wizard about to take charge of the Examinations programme, Steggle appeared to have very little interest in what took place within the classrooms of Hogwarts. As an eighth-year student, Harry had a number of free periods, and he was certain he had seen Steggle skulking around the corridors when he was supposed to be observing.

Friday rolled around and for the first time in months, Harry was looking forward to his Defence Against the Dark Arts class. He walked in with Ron and the others and tossed his schoolbag onto his desk as he sat down. He grinned as Draco sat next to him and exchanged a look with Hermione. She appeared as eager for today’s lesson as he was.

“Take your seats, everyone,” said Williamson as he marched up the centre aisle. “We have a quite a bit to do and time is of the essence. It will be a long afternoon and unless we start promptly, we will not finish by the time class finishes for the day.” He waved his wand and unlocked a compartment in his desk, inside of which sat a flask of some lacklustre yellow potion that vaguely resembled the stuff from the week before.

“Pair up with the person you worked with last week and line up here to be linked up with your partner.” Williamson ignored Harry’s raised hand and busied himself with knives and dram glasses. “Quickly.”

Hermione raised her hand as well. “Professor Williamson,” she said, “bonding potions are required to be fresh. Cohors Fratres, when properly brewed, should be chartreuse and have the consistency of heavy cream. I’m afraid this isn’t—”

The door flew open and Severus strode up the aisle with a carafe of sparkling ruby red liquid in his hand.

Williamson flew to his feet, his face a mask of fury, and thundered, “Get out, Snape! Get out! This is my classroom and my lesson, and I refuse to be interrupted by a murderer and a Death Eater.” Spittle flew as he ranted and raved at the top of his lungs and he charged forward, his wand out.

Severus laughed, a low rich sound that travelled up Harry’s spine and spread outward like a shield charm. “Am I supposed to be frightened, Wendell?” A sneer replaced the smile, and Harry watched as Severus continued towards the front in measured strides. “I have warned you repeatedly I will not permit any harm to come to my family, nor to any student under my care. Mr Boot, Vanish that mess.”

“Gladly, sir.” Terry started towards the desk, but Williamson spun suddenly and with a snarl he threw an Impediment Jinx in Terry’s direction. Terry deflected it automatically, his eyes wide with surprise, but before he could do anything more than pull his wand back to cast a spell of his own, Williamson’s wand flew out of his hand and clattered to the floor.

Accio Williamson’s wand,” shouted Harry, and with the precision of a Seeker, he snatched it out of the air as it flew to him. His expression was grim as he pushed to his feet and gave the wand to Severus whilst Williamson sank into his chair and clutched his flask. “What do we do now?”

Severus looked past Harry to where Terry was standing, flummoxed. “Are you injured, Mr Boot?” he asked. Terry snorted and shook his head. “In distress? Unable to continue with the lesson?”

“He really didn’t do anything, Professor,” replied Terry. “It wasn’t much of a jinx on the whole. I’ve seen third years do better.”

“Take a page from Professor McGonagall’s book, sir,” Draco called out. “She took Moody to task when he turned me into a ferret.” A nervous chuckle swept around the room, but Draco waved it off with a shrug of his shoulders.

Severus must have thought it a worthy suggestion as he walked over to Williamson, braced an arm on the man’s desk and leaned over to speak to him. Harry was too far away to hear what was said, but given the way Williamson blanched and nodded, Severus must have implied his job was on the line if he failed to cooperate. Or worse.

“Class,” said Williamson in a voice that suggested abject surrender, “Professor Sn—Prince,” he corrected swiftly at a harsh glare from the two Princes in the room, “will be administering the Induciae Paciscor potion. Once that is done, I will line you up for duelling practice. You will not be duelling with your partner. A list of the spells you may cast is on the board.” He flicked his hand and then looked reproachfully at Severus.

“My wand, if you please?”

Severus regarded him for a moment. “No. Name the spells.”

Williamson rattled off a dozen spells Harry remembered from his first year at Hogwarts, and his eyebrows climbed as he shook his head. There wasn’t a person in the room who couldn’t repel those charms blindfolded, and he wondered again what game Williamson was playing.

Twenty minutes later Harry knew it was no game at all.

Ch 16: We Require That Form in Triplicate

“It was a disaster,” declared McGonagall, her nostrils quivering with anger. “Do you recall the Daisy-chain?”

It was Saturday night and the Order were meeting for the second time since Severus had reconvened them. Kingsley looked sharply at McGonagall and whistled under his breath. He poured a measure of Firewhisky into a second glass and carried both to the table, pushing one across to the headmistress. “As bad as that?”

McGonagall took a sip and nodded sharply as Molly said, “Oh dear.” The Daisy-chain, as it had come to be known, was one of the most storied lessons in living Hogwarts memory. An enterprising Ravenclaw two years behind Kingsley had researched the properties of sticky sandspur pods and discovered that, when charmed, they would replicate the contents of one cauldron into another. If the lad had read the warnings, he would have discovered that they also replicate themselves and the clones hop to the next nearest cauldron to repeat the process.

It was an unfortunate coincidence that the potion they were brewing that day had, well, explosive tendencies if not handled properly, and the addition of sandspur rendered it extraordinarily acidic. He added the pod, it replicated and hopped into the next cauldron as the first exploded, causing that potion to become unstable as well. Two more pods replicated, hopped, and exploded. Then four, then eight, then sixteen until every cauldron in the class had exploded boiling acid everywhere in a daisy-chain of disaster.

Forty Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs occupied the Hospital Wing for various parts of a month as they grew fresh skin to replace that which had been eaten away, and the Potions classroom had been rendered unusable for the rest of the term. It had not been Slughorn’s finest hour.

“It was not as bad as the Daisy-chain,” growled Severus. “The Defence classroom will be repaired by Monday, and no one other than Wendell is still in the infirmary.”

“If Draco weren’t so stubborn he’d be there as well,” said Harry. “And don’t look at me like that. I never needed to go in the first place. Pomfrey just worries.” Draco glared from his place curled up at Neville’s side.

“So, what did happen?” asked Arthur hastily, before Molly could get herself in a state over Harry, “and what does it have to do with the Order?”

“I think I told you Williamson’s been having us work as bonded pairs,” said Ron. “It was a bit of a bother getting matched properly. It would have been better had he allowed us to choose our own partners, but he’d been trying to work it so that he’d bond with Harry.”

“Bond how?” asked Molly sharply, her eyes narrowing.

“By using the Cohors Fratres,” said Hermione. “It’s a potion used to bond partners in brotherhood so that they’ll fight better as a team.”

“You and Hermione are bonded now?” interrupted George with a mischievous gleam in his eyes. “Sweet.”

Bill thwacked his brother on the arm. “They’re not bonded and it’s a crap potion. Williamson should have known better.”

“Indeed,” said Severus. “Unfortunately for Williamson, I do know it’s an inferior potion and used another. I am Potions Master here, and I am responsible for all potions administered outside of the infirmary. Additionally, I brew everything that is used here, so I selected Induciae Paciscor instead.”

“Flag of Truce,” murmured Kingsley. “Interesting. Shorter duration, fewer risks.” He took a sip of Firewhisky and settled back in his chair. “And yet, Williamson still managed to get hit with, how many curses? Twenty some-odd?”

“Something like that,” replied McGonagall. “His boils had boils, and the poor man was passing slugs from both ends.” She shuddered and took a quick swig of her whisky.

“How, though, did the walls catch fire?” continued Kingsley. “They’re stone, but they appear to have melted.”

Harry coloured slightly and squirmed as the other five who’d been there exchanged glances. “We think it was the baby,” he volunteered after a moment’s silence. “It really didn’t like the Petrificus spell, but I’d already fallen by then so I can’t be certain.”

There was a moment’s silence before Molly’s impressive temper blew like a volcano. “You were put under a full body-bind? Have you any idea, any at all, how dangerous that is? Have you forgotten you’re expecting? Do you have the least idea what a spell like that could do to the baby?” Harry winced and tried to speak, but she had already rounded on Severus.

“And where were you, Severus? What on earth were you thinking, allowing Harry to bond with someone else when he’s married to you? Have you no sense at all? He shouldn’t have been anywhere near that classroom.”

Severus’ face darkened with rage, but before his tongue could slice Molly to ribbons, George sprang to his feet and stood between them, whilst the others protested vehemently. “It’s not like that, Mum,” he explained when the din died down. “I took Severus’ afternoon class yesterday so he could keep that Williamson bloke away from Harry.”

“Severus administered the potion, Mrs Weasley,” said Neville in his quiet, calm way. “He was under it as well, with Harry. Williamson was the only one not under it. Severus said someone with a clear head had to be in charge, and he’s not teaching Defence this year. Williamson spread us out, you see, so we wouldn’t be next to our bond partner. We were supposed to trade first year curses so we could see how the bond worked. That’s all we were doing.”

“I was duelling, I guess,” said Ron, taking over from Neville, “with Zacharias Smith. Hermione had Ernie Macmillan. Harry had Hannah Abbott, and he told her straight away not to use Petrificus because of the baby, so she knew. Severus was assigned to Justin Finch-Fletchley—”

“I thought he was going to piss himself,” interrupted Draco. “He was scared shitless.”

“So, anyway,” said Ron before anyone could scold Draco for his language. They were all adults. “Anthony hit Padma with an Expelliarmus whilst the rest of us were throwing light spells at our opponent. We were supposed to be hit with them, no shield charms, yeah? So we’d know what to expect through the bond when our partners got hit.”

He shook his head, his brow furrowed. “It’s a bit odd to feel Hermione’s reactions to getting hit with spells. You can’t feel the spell, but you can sense the anger or the fear or the pain of it. It’s a bit distracting, which was the point, I suppose. Williamson was behind Padma and picked up her wand, but instead of giving it back to her, he threw a Petrificus at Michael.”

“He was next to me, Michael was,” chimed Harry. “Severus had Williamson’s wand, and I reckon Williamson wanted to spring a few surprises on us. We’re all battle tested, so tossing a Jelly Legs back and forth isn’t going to do much. It was a bit boring, really, especially with Justin afraid to hit Severus with anything. But I wasn’t expecting a full body bind, especially from the other end of the room.”

“It appeared that Hannah panicked at seeing Harry struck with a spell she hadn’t cast,” said Hermione, “and she was paired with Ernie, who was across from me. He hit me with a Stinging Hex, full strength, then followed it with an Incarcerous, which wasn’t on the list. By then, Severus was throwing spells at Williamson, who was using us as shields, and Ron was defending me against Ernie.”

“That’s when someone hit me with a bone-breaking hex,” said Draco, “since Severus had missed Williamson and got Blaise Zabini instead. Neville pulled me back and held off Zacharias, but by then, it had pretty much turned to chaos. Someone ran past Potter, though, and toppled him.”

“Yeah, I hit my head on something and passed out thinking my aunt was right and I had gone to hell,” said Harry. “Flames everywhere.”

“Right about then was when the class pretty much turned on Williamson,” continued Draco. “It was almost like we’d all been Imperiused at the same time.”

McGonagall and Kingsley both shot hard glances at Severus. He lifted his chin and narrowed his eyes. “I did not cast an Unforgivable on anyone. Nor would I. It appears to have been an effect of the potion, though not one that I’ve found in any of my journals. We united in the face of a common enemy.”

“Do I have this right?” asked Kingsley. “Thirty N.E.W.T. Defence Against the Dark Arts students turned on their professor and set a classroom on fire and the professor is under suspicion?”

“We didn’t turn on our professor,” said Hermione. “Rather, we had two professors duelling, and the class supported the one under Induciae Paciscor. And no one set the classroom on fire. Wild magic did that.”

Kingsley’s eyes widened. “Wild magic set stone on fire?”

“Wild magic nearly brought the Burrow down upon our heads,” said Arthur, “and that was months ago.”

“It’s not unheard of,” said Molly quickly. “A number of expectant mothers experience bouts of wild magic, though it’s more on the order of having a glass shatter or accidentally sending a plate through a window. Having robes suddenly shift colour. That sort of thing.”

Harry would have been grateful for small things like having his quill catch fire instead of burning down classrooms and sending teachers flying, but it would be too much to hope for to have a normal pregnancy when the mere fact he was pregnant wasn’t normal at all. He met Kingsley’s eyes and shrugged. “Like I said, we’re assuming it was the baby, but I was unconscious, and no one’s been able to come up with a better explanation.”

“A fitting segue into my report,” said Kingsley with a frown. “Unless you’ve anything to add, Minerva?”

“Only that I’ve persuaded Wendell to abandon this subject and begin his review for N.E.W.T.s. Severus will undertake repairs to the classroom tomorrow. Think of it as a form of detention for teachers,” she said, her lips a tight line of displeasure. “And no, Harry, you may not assist him.”

Harry’s jaws closed with an audible clack. Knowing McGonagall as he did, he wouldn’t put it past her to stand outside the classroom to ensure he wasn’t able to come within fifty yards of it. “Fine,” he muttered, though it wasn’t. Not at all. Severus brushed a kiss against his temple, which mollified him a bit.

At a nod from Kingsley, Arthur launched into a report of what he’d been able to learn. “I stopped by the Administrative Affairs department a few days ago. No one has discovered that you have a Contract of Marriage. The charms I placed on it are still intact, and there is no trace of any signatures on it other than the four of us.”

“Wouldn’t there be traces of my magic? And Luna’s?” asked Draco. “We wrote the fu—bloody thing,” he added, censoring himself at a sharp glance from Severus.

“Don’t mind Draco,” said Neville quickly. “Madam Pomfrey can’t get one of his ribs to heal properly, and it’s making him a bit tetchy.”

Harry’s eyes snapped wide open and he stared between the two of them. Madam Pomfrey couldn’t heal a rib? It was baffling, especially given the number of times she’d put him back together again. He’d begun to think there was nothing she couldn’t do.

Draco glared back. “Leave it, Potter,” he snapped and burrowed deeper into Neville’s side.

“To answer your question, Draco,” said Arthur, “unless you and Luna used magic to draft the contract, there shouldn’t be any of your magic in it at all.” In his eyes were traces of sympathy and curiosity, but not so much that Draco’s pride was pricked. “Kingsley and I are confident that the existence of the contract is known only to those who knew of it before it was signed. That’s the good news.”

“And the bad?” asked Severus in a chilly tone. “It is clear that there is bad to go with the good, or Arthur would not have made that remark.”

“The mood of the Ministry is unchanged,” replied Kingsley. “The prevailing sentiment is that Harry must have been Confunded or Imperiused—and yes, Harry, I am well aware than neither of those happened. Fewer people are willing to discuss your, ahh, condition, and there are some who are convinced that You-Know-Who is somehow involved, coming so quickly as it did following the final battle.”

Harry paled as his worst fears again surfaced. “But the Sorting Hat…” he began weakly.

“That, too, has been discussed,” snarled Severus. “And I will thank you not to put thoughts of that nature in his head. Harry is carrying my child, and should it come to pass that it is tainted by the Dark Lord, Harry has my assurance that I will take whatever steps are necessary to ensure his safety. Damn you, Kingsley.” With that, Severus flung himself off the sofa and stormed into his laboratory, sealing the door closed behind him.

Wide-eyed, Kingsley started after him, but Harry said in a firm, quiet voice, “Leave him be. He needs a moment to himself.” He gazed around and sighed at the uncertainty in their faces. Severus was a man of deep feelings and, though highly skilled at Occlumency, had developed a few small chinks in his armour. “He’s fine. What else did you find out?” he asked, determined to keep the conversation out of areas he refused to discuss with anyone other than his husband.

“There are some,” Kingsley began cautiously, “who feel that Fudge—should he win the election—will be best equipped to deal with this new ‘threat’ to the Wizarding world. I do not believe there is a threat and have said as much. The best I have been able to do is keep the Prophet away, but once the election is over, I am afraid you will have them camping on your doorstep.”

“The press is not allowed on Hogwarts grounds,” announced Severus as he stepped out of the laboratory, phial in hand. “It was a measure Albus put in place immediately following the Tournament. He suspected that Harry would be the target of ‘investigative reporting’,” he spat the phrase as though it tasted foul, “and believed it to be one less thing the boy needed to cope with. It was blindingly optimistic, as it turned out.”

Harry exchanged a look with Ron and Hermione. As he remembered it, the Prophet hadn’t engaged in any sort of investigation, preferring instead to assassinate his character from behind the Ministry’s skirts. Fudge had assisted in their endeavours, and the price had been dear. “Fudge can say whatever he wants,” said Harry dismissively. “I’ve no reason to leave Hogwarts, and he can’t touch me here.”

“But that would all but make you a prisoner here,” protested McGonagall. “And while help will always be given at Hogwarts, especially to you, Harry, you should be able to come and go as you please. Your friends will move on and you will want to visit them now and then.”

“We will leave Britain before it comes to that,” said Severus. He leaned back and rested his ankle on his knee, a casual gesture for such a formal man, and Harry smiled inwardly to see it. The layers were starting to dissolve one by one as Severus slowly grew more comfortable in his skin. “I doubt Fudge would be pleased to lose his precious Saviour. I know the rest of the country wouldn’t be.”

“Maybe Fudge won’t win,” said Hermione.

Draco snorted. “Fudge is one of four candidates, true, but look at the other three. We have Jocunda Sykes, who’s in her nineties and lost her mind trying to set the world record for altitude on a broom; Wilda Griffiths, who used to be a Chaser for Puddlemere before she jumped ship and signed with the Harpies, and then was discovered in negotiations with one of the French teams. She’s universally loathed. Tiberius Ogden has a shot, I suppose, but the Prophet says he’s in bed with the goblins, literally in bed with the goblins. With photos and everything, so there’s that.”

Kingsley arched a brow and smiled at Draco, and for the first time there was some warmth to it. “I do hope you intend a career at the Ministry.”

To Harry’s surprise, Draco coloured and shook his head. “Thank you, Minister, but no. I’ve other plans after I leave Hogwarts.” He refused to speak on it or answer questions, though, before saying crossly, “Haven’t we something more important to talk about? Like that potion Severus is holding?”

While Severus launched into an all too thorough explanation about the potion, Harry excused himself to use the toilet and put the kettle on for more tea. The revelation that Draco was not going to work for the Ministry came as no surprise to Harry, knowing that Draco intended to take the Malfoy seat on the Wizengamot as soon as he was able, but that Draco refused to discuss his plans did. Why not just admit he was still undecided? A lot of their classmates were still uncertain.

As he assembled a tray of pudding, Harry wondered what his friends would do when they left Hogwarts. Ron still wanted to be an Auror, and he suspected that Hermione would either become a solicitor or work for the Ministry. Neville would likely run a commercial greenhouse. Ginny, he knew, wanted to play professional Quidditch, and he had no idea what was in store for Luna. As for himself, he just wanted to make it to the end of the year with his sanity intact. And it was only the end of January.

He returned to the meeting a short time later, the tea and the tray of sweets floating through the air before him. Severus had reached the point in his explanation about the potion being a vaccine of some sort, but Harry tuned it out, having heard it all before. Still, as Severus’ voice washed over him, he heard within it the tremendous fear and deep wellspring of love Severus had for him.

It occurred to him, as he freshened cups and served out plates of delicacies, that he enjoyed having a houseful of people around him, filling the space that seemed so empty when it was just Severus and him. Would it be such a bad thing, he wondered, if his pregnancy wasn’t a fluke? If he could have more children, possibly as many as the Weasleys? He stole a quick glance at Severus, so fiercely protective of the tiny being growing inside him, and tried to picture him taking a son to the zoo or a daughter to Fortescue’s. Yeah, that was about as likely, he thought, as Hagrid giving up dragons.

“Some sort of vaccine, eh?” asked George, once Severus had laid out everything he’d learnt thus far. George had been following the conversation with keen interest, and Harry wondered if George had ever harboured an interest of being a potioneer, though in a way he’d been one for awhile now. “What do you reckon you need to find out what it is?”

“There is no way to be certain without the recipe itself,” said Severus, “but St Mungo’s guards those things as highly as the Unspeakables do the Department of Mysteries.”

Harry’s head shot up and he blinked. “So, not all that well, then,” he concluded. “Maybe we should round up a few thestrals and take a flight to London,” he grinned. He selected for himself his favourite treacle tart and curled up next to a glaring Severus. “You do know I wasn’t serious about that,” he said in a low voice, feeling a slight pang at his choice of words.

“But you do have some contacts at St Mungo’s, do you not?” asked Arthur. “They do have a well-regarded Potions department, and you’ve quite a reputation in that field. Would it hurt to send them an owl and request it?”

“Request what, precisely? A recipe for a potion I cannot identify? Do you not suppose an enquiry such as that would lead to questions?” asked Severus, though his tone was lacking in venom. “Word has a way of spreading, and I do not wish to direct any further attention our way. No, Arthur. We will continue to do as we have done. Hermione is an exceptional researcher, and Draco has a talent for abstract thinking. Between the three of us we will be able to determine what it is and why it was sent here.”

“Ahh. I see the dilemma,” said Arthur, his brow furrowed. He reached forward for a pastry and started a small rush as Ron, George and Bill followed his lead, diving into the plate of treats as though it had been weeks since they’d last eaten. Neville heaped nearly as much on a plate for himself and Draco, and Kingsley made short work of the rest.

Shaking his head in disbelief, though he’d seen it a thousand times before, Harry Summoned Kreacher from the kitchens and asked for more of everything. “We’ll want your report when you’re back,” he cautioned.

“As young Master wishes,” grumbled Kreacher, popping back out with a sharp crack.

“I don’t understand something, Severus,” ventured Molly, as she dribbled some milk into her cup before topping it off with more tea. “What would pennyroyal be doing in a children’s potion?”

“We don’t know it’s a children’s potion at all,” said Severus. “We know it is a vaccine. We suspect it is administered during the early years of childhood, but there exist adult diseases as well. Those playing Quidditch for England are routinely inoculated against Veelaryea before International matches.”

A slow flush rose in Bill’s face and he glared heatedly at Severus. “Not all Veela are disease-riddled whores, you know.”

“Nor did I so much as imply they were,” replied Severus. “I was not intending to cast any aspersions, especially not toward your wife. The fact does remain, however, that International Quidditch players are required to undergo a series of vaccinations before going abroad, whether necessary or not. I merely made the point that not all vaccines are intended for children, though the vast majority are.”

“But, Severus, you said the potion contained sorghum,” Molly interjected before Bill’s formidable temper could take hold completely. That, more than anything, was the worst thing left over from Fenrir’s attack.

“It’s a stabiliser,” said Severus with a frown.

Molly blinked. “Really? I was taught it was a sweetener for children’s remedies. They use pressed grapefruit seed in adult potions. Very bitter stuff. But then, Slughorn was always concerned about taste.” She smiled at Severus’ sneer. “I imagine it’s a personal thing.”

The lines on Severus’ forehead deepened, and Harry could nearly see him extrapolating the information, fitting it into his carefully constructed matrices and seeing where it led. “It is an angle I had not considered,” he admitted stiffly.

Kreacher popped back in, nearly staggering under the weight of two huge trays filled with every sort of sweet imaginable. There were two large pots of steaming hot chocolate and a dusty bottle of port that Harry strongly suspected came from the wine cellar at Grimmauld Place, though he would never ask, and Kreacher would find a way not to tell.

“Master Harry wanted food for his guests so Kreacher brought everything young Master enjoys.” The house-elf gingerly slid the trays on the table, nearly sending them all the way across it to crash to the floor at Bill’s feet. Four wands came out and managed to save everything except a dish of custard that couldn’t handle the stress. Kreacher Vanished it instantly and tottered over to stand before Harry.

“Kreacher found four other house-elves to help with Master’s task,” he rasped in his throaty voice. “Professor Williamson is writing six letters to someone named Robards. He is receiving three packages from Slug & Jiggers, but Kreacher did not open them.”

“Did any of the other house-elves show less restraint?” asked Severus as McGonagall gasped.

“You have house-elves spying on a professor?” she exclaimed, her grey-green eyes growing as stormy as the North Sea. “I don’t suppose I need remind you how inappropriate that is?”

The temperature seemed to drop a dozen degrees as Severus turned his icy gaze on McGonagall. “And don’t we wish we had given some thought to doing that when Moody was teaching Defence? Imagine the lives that could have been saved had we known earlier that he was Barty Crouch, Jr.”

“There is no evidence that Williamson means Harry any harm,” said McGonagall, her eyes flashing dangerously. “I cannot believe you would stoop to this level, Severus. I have put an end to the use of potions in the Defence lessons. You will have to satisfy yourself with that.”

“This is not over, Minerva,” said Severus in a low, dangerous voice. “If I find a single shred of evidence that Williamson is acting in conjunction with the Ministry to discredit Harry or harm my child, hearing ‘I told you so’ will be the least of your concerns.”

“Kreacher also found a letter to Prudence Bagby,” croaked the house-elf as though the conversation between McGonagall and Severus weren’t happening. “The letter is wanting to know whether Mrs Bagby still has the baby clothes and the cot from when there were young Bagbys.”

The room fell silent, the whispered conversations ended. There was no expression of triumph in Severus’ eyes; indeed he appeared to be troubled. “Kingsley, you worked with the man. Have you any idea who Prudence Bagby might be?”

Kingsley stared into his glass of whisky, the crease in his forehead deepening. “Wendell has a sister somewhere around Durham. I’m afraid I can’t recall her name, or if I ever knew it.” He turned dark eyes on McGonagall. “As a former Auror, I am comfortable saying that this appears suspicious. Minerva, allow the house-elves to monitor Williamson. They’re unlikely to be caught, and if they are, there’s no cost other than a bit of embarrassment. I will even tell Williamson it was a direct order from the Minister of Magic.”

For a moment, McGonagall appeared old, careworn. “There is no need, Kingsley. We will continue as we mean to go on. The house-elves will continue to report to Ron once a week.”

Harry’s blood ran cold at hearing Kreacher’s report, but despite his suspicion there was more to the story, he dismissed the house-elf, promising to visit the kitchens soon. It would be no hard thing to accompany Ron, especially since food was involved, and Ron was better at figuring out the strategic angles than he was. Harry’s style was more straightforward, and he acknowledged that there was a large part of him that wanted nothing more than to storm into Williamson’s office and confront him head-on.

“Minister,” he ventured hesitantly, “how likely is it that a trained Auror would miss the person he was aiming at and hit somebody else three feet away from his target?”

Kingsley sighed. “Harry…”

“I’m sorry. Kingsley. Is it likely?”

Kingsley’s face softened and his eyes filled with understanding. “I will be blunt, Harry. It is the least you deserve. It is highly unlikely that a trained Auror would miss by so wide a margin, but consider this: Williamson lost his left forearm when the Ministry fell, and from what I understand, he was already dodging spells. Not only that, he was using an unfamiliar wand. I ask that you take those points into consideration when reaching your conclusion.

“Is there anything else?” he asked, draining his tumbler of Firewhisky and leaning back in his chair with a satisfied sigh.

“Only Bill’s report,” said Ron. “Did you find out anything more about Sendigovius from the goblins?” He brought his fist up to his mouth and belched quietly, then pounded the centre of his chest lightly whilst Molly and Hermione both scolded him.

“How I wish I could claim you were raised by wolves,” said Bill with a sigh. “But Sendigovius. Interesting character, really. Alchemist, but you knew that. The Ministry hadn’t been formed yet when he and his partner were alive, but whilst they were, the Wizengamot was cosying up to the Church of England to avoid the witch hunts unleashed by the devout. It was a tumultuous period for our kind, and there was some effort on the part of the Wizarding communities to conform.

“When it became apparent that Sendigovius had conceived by Finnoc, they left Hogsmeade and moved to Bristol, changed their family name to Wyndham and lived happily ever after, more or less. They had three children—”

“Yeah, that’s what he said,” interrupted Harry. “Two boys and a girl. Magnus, Rosalind and I can’t remember the third one.”

Bill’s eyebrows rose a bit and he regarded Harry steadily for a moment. “Interesting that he’s the one you’ve forgotten. His name was Forseti. His partner was a wizard named Rouen York. They moved to a small village near Umberleigh when Forseti became pregnant.” He turned to Hermione. “You researched the family tree. Did it mention Forseti’s children?”

Hermione flipped through her notes until she found the page she was searching for. “It says that Finnoc is assumed to have sired three or more children, though the line is broken and the boxes have question marks. There were nine grandchildren: four from Magnus and five from Rosalind.”

“There were eleven grandchildren. Forseti and Rouen had two of their own.”

~*~

The next few days passed in a blur. Whilst the staff concerned themselves with the election, and the students started to exhibit signs of having been confined indoors for too long, Harry found his thoughts returning over and over to Bill’s news. He stopped paying attention in Transfiguration and once, to his surprise, found he had changed his school bag into a puddle that spread out under several desks. Not even Williamson’s constructive comments on his essay had broken through the wall of concentration Harry had built around himself.

Forseti had been gay, same as his parents, and Harry didn’t know how he felt about that. Would he care if his child was gay, same as he and Severus were? Or was this some vestigial fear, left over from the days of growing up under the Dursleys’ roof where voicing such an admission would have been more dangerous than standing before Voldemort without a wand?

It was on a Tuesday after classes when he found himself wandering down a deserted corridor, the weak light of winter lingering at the tall, narrow windows and working up the courage to come inside. Harry paused beside one and gazed out over the snow-covered lawn to the Quidditch pitch beyond, barely noticing the rolling expanse of white that covered the grounds like a thick blanket.

Gay, straight or somewhere in between, Harry mused, did it really matter? He’d barely given the future much thought, but he realised that he would be a father—or mother, he still hadn’t decided which—to this being for the rest of his life. All he wanted was a happy, well-adjusted child, though he recognised that the odds weren’t exactly in his favour. Not with two parents as screwed up as he and Severus were.

A ghost walked through a wall a few feet in front of him and floated absently through the corridor much as Harry had done, but as soon as it spotted him, it turned and disappeared back through the wall from which it had come. Roused momentarily from his thoughts, Harry gave the pitch a last look and wandered the rest of the way down the hallway. Brow furrowed, he stepped through an archway that hadn’t been there a moment ago. No, he really didn’t care about the sexuality of their offspring. It was what it was. He knew that.

The passageway twisted sharply to the left and began to rise. Harry followed along, one hand trailing along the smooth stones as if laying a trail of magic like breadcrumbs so he could find his way back. A few minutes later, he realised he was climbing in a slow and steady spiral and his pace quickened, curious to see where the path led.

A climb that left him breathless and with a stitch in his side deposited him at an old wooden door, the planks of which were fastened to rails of wrought iron. In the middle of the door was a large ring iron ring. Harry grasped it firmly and pulled. The door swung easily, silently, on well-oiled barrel hinges, and he stepped inside a circular room with windows all around.

It was one of the low towers near the south end of the castle, and Harry walked around admiring the view from his vantage point. A line of grey clouds heavy with snow was building in the west. A bench, more like a window seat, hugged the curve of the wall and was topped with a thick cushion covered in the same blue as Ravenclaw House’s. He cast a warming charm and sat, tucking a foot under himself and leaning back against the column of stones that sectioned off the series of seats.

The baby woke, if that’s what they did, and began to move and he rested a hand against it. “Do you care what you are?” he asked aloud into the silence. “Or do you just want to be?” A few flakes drifted past the window opposite, but Harry didn’t know if it had started to snow again, or if it had just been picked up by the wind. “Have your name appear on the family tree and not blotted out like Sirius’ was? It’s not your fault your parents are a couple of blokes. We didn’t even know we could make you.”

As he spoke, Harry realised that was at the heart of what was bothering him—the systematic erasure of the past. Forseti’s children had been erased. Sendigovius had been largely erased, but his contributions to magic had been too significant to eradicate him completely. Who else was numbered among the missing? Harry knew that his place in history was assured, as was Severus’, but what of their children? Would they cease to exist a few generations later, lined out by somebody’s quill because someone found the idea of him bearing children repugnant?

“D’you reckon that’s what Luna meant when she said I’d change the world? That all the erased babies would come back?” Harry snorted. “She should have given you more credit. All I did was make love with your dad. You’ve done everything else.” A wistful smile appeared on his face. “Severus loves you so much. You’ve no idea how lucky you are.” He turned, pulling his legs up onto the cushion, and leaned against the wall, much as he had done his very first night at Hogwarts when he was but eleven and still ignorant about what awaited him.

“I just hope you’re ordinary,” he whispered. “Though I expect that’s too much to ask.” From time to time he focussed his magic inward, trying to sense whether the baby carried the taint of Voldemort in hopes of allaying the fears that Kingsley had awoken. Images of the horrible thing under the bench floated before his eyes, and he drew a shuddering breath. He’d been afraid for so long, but he had to believe a child conceived in love could not be evil. He’d go mad otherwise.

He sat quietly until it grew too dark to see, and then sat for a little while longer, allowing himself to imagine for the first time in his life the future he wanted. It was only when his stomach gave a loud growl in protest that he thought about going to the Great Hall for dinner.

Harry was silent throughout the meal, begging off conversation with a feeble wave, and he said nothing on the way down to the dungeons with Ron, Hermione and Draco. Severus was already at work on the potion, though Harry had no idea what more progress they could make. He declined the offer of chess and vanished into the study to mark the quizzes Severus had given his third years. Ron was gone by the time Harry emerged to go to bed, though from all appearances, Severus was still hard at work.

“You’re quiet tonight,” murmured Severus as he wrapped himself around Harry late that night. He kissed the nape of Harry’s neck, tasting the sweat there. The pungent aroma of sex filled the room, and he inhaled deeply.

“Just thinking,” said Harry in a low voice, moving Severus’ hand so he could feel the baby move. He ghosted his fingertips over the back of the hand resting so comfortably on his belly, his head on the pillow, eyes wide open and staring into the dark.

“What’s on your mind?” asked Severus in that same gentle tone, rearranging himself as Harry moved nearer the foot of the bed. Harry slept best with his head tucked under Severus’ chin and found a way to keep it there no matter how much they tossed and turned.

“If it turns out this isn’t some weird thing, a strange fluke—”

“Is there another kind?”

“Shut it,” replied Harry, though his voice was sleepy and sated. “I’m being serious. If I were a girl, let’s say—”

“God forbid.”

“Would you—?”

“Yes, I will try to imagine the unthinkable and picture you with breasts and no prick, an image which is destroying my libido, I’ll have you know, but please do continue,” said Severus dryly. “I assume this has something to do with future progeny?”

“How many do you want?” asked Harry bluntly. “If we could have more.”

“I believe the contract has four names in it.”

“Sev,” Harry said warningly.

“As many as you would be pleased to give me,” replied Severus, and there was a note of honesty under his words that Harry couldn’t remember hearing before. Not about their family, at any rate. “I leave the matter to you, not because I am uninterested, but because you are the one taking the risk.”

Harry fell silent again, though his fingers continued to move slowly over Severus’ skin. “I hope we’re not crap parents.” It was the last thing he said for the rest of the night.

~*~

Morning arrived too early to suit Harry, and he grumbled under his breath as he padded naked and barefoot into the bathroom. Severus was still sleeping, though he knew that wouldn’t last long. He started the shower, set a pair of towels on the rack, peed, and once finished, stepped under the heated spray, the hot water sluicing over his body.

He lifted his face into the steady stream, eyes closed as his blood began to stir. He smiled at hearing Severus join him. “Mmm, yes, please,” he moaned softly when soapy hands moved slowly over his back. “G’morning. Did you sleep alright?” He stepped out of the spray, pressing his back against Severus’ front and leaned his head back against his husband’s shoulder.

“You’re little more than a satyr, you realise?” replied Severus over the sound of running water as he wrapped his arms around Harry. “Yes, I slept fine.” He filled his hands with more soap and moved them slowly over the curve of Harry’s belly, his chest, over his shoulders. Between his legs. “Fortunately, dreams do not come true and this,” he gave Harry’s hard cock a firm squeeze, “is where it should be.”

“I wish I were taller,” replied Harry with a low, rumbling purr as he felt Severus’ rigid cock pressed against the small of his back. He reached back and pulled Severus’ head down for a deep, slow kiss as his hips did a slow roll, his cock thrusting lightly into the tunnel of Severus’ hand.

He leaned back against Severus and spread his legs apart, fingering his entrance as Severus thrust against him. Ripples of pleasure coursed through him as they each moved against the other, with the other and sought release through each other. His knees trembled, and he was grateful for the strong arm that supported him. He came without fanfare, a rolling release rather than an explosion of heat and light. Slow, steady, strong, much like his Severus.

Harry felt the splash of Severus’ seed a moment later and gazed up at him. “I don’t know that I’d survive without you,” he said, far too soberly for the moment. He kissed Severus lightly before stepping out of his arms to reach for the shampoo. An air of melancholy settled around him as he finished washing up, leaving Severus to gaze pensively at him.

“I’ll be all right,” said Harry. “I just have to work a few things out in my mind.”

Severus frowned. “Kingsley?” he asked as he washed his hair. He’d been religious about keeping it clean ever since Harry had complained about the smell.

“Amongst other things,” admitted Harry. “I promise to come talk to you if it gets too tangled up in there.” He rinsed off and stepped out to begin drying off, handing Severus a towel when he finished up.

Half an hour later, Harry and Severus entered the Great Hall together, going their separate ways when Harry turned to join the Gryffindor table. It felt like it had been months since he’d been here last, though he did make an effort to divide his time between Slytherin and here, with occasional forays into Ravenclaw territory.

The owls made their customary appearance, delivering mail, parcels and that day’s edition of the Daily Prophet as Harry stepped over the bench to sit next to Hermione. He barely glanced up anymore, knowing Hedwig wouldn’t be there. He gave no thought to acquiring another owl; Hogwarts’ barn owls would suffice.

“Where’s Ron?” he asked as he filled a goblet with pumpkin juice and waited for the food to appear. He poured a cup of tea for Hermione, knowing she needed it to become fully functional.

“Gone to the dungeons get Demelza,” she said sleepily. “It’s February now. You know what that means.”

Harry groaned. “It means we’re changing the spells on the door to keep you out. I’ve seen the revision timetable, remember? You gave me three whole days,” he said balefully.

“‘Nastily Exhausting’. That’s what the N.E. stands for,” retorted Hermione. “And you’ll have less time than the rest of us to prepare. I still don’t know how you and Ron managed to scrape out a handful of O.W.L.s each.” One of the Daily Prophet owls swooped down and delivered the news, waiting patiently for Hermione to tuck a Knut into the pouch on its leg.

“Because we were more afraid of you than we were of Ron’s mum?” asked Harry, his eyes dancing over the rim of his goblet.

Hermione rolled her eyes and gulped at her tea, giving an appreciative sigh as she set the cup back on the saucer. “As well you should be.” She picked up the paper and opened it. FUDGE WINS RE-ELECTION read the headline. The photograph stopped waving and glared at her as she tossed it aside. “Well, it’s not as if we weren’t expecting it,” she said glumly.

Harry picked up the paper and his eyes narrowed when the photograph of Fudge smirked at him. It did not give him a feeling of security. A chart near the bottom of the page listed the number of votes each candidate had received:

Cornelius Fudge: 86,297
Tiberius Ogden: 34,806
Jocunda Sykes: 21,223
Wilda Griffiths: 18

Draco was right; the Wizarding world truly did loathe Wilda. He opened the paper, his eye sliding over “Fountain Pens: Too Muggle for Ministry?” and “Creature Registration Act Amended” to fall on “Harry Potter Day Unanimously Approved.” The paper went up in a burst of flame.

“Don’t suppose you checked the Quidditch table before you blew up the Prophet?” asked Ron as he sat down on the other side of Hermione.

“It wasn’t me.” Harry waved his hand before his nose, blowing away smoke and ash. “Did either of you vote?” he growled, his eyes blazing with fury. Neville paused as he started to sit down opposite Harry and gazed questioningly at Hermione.

“Yes,” replied Hermione. “I voted for Ogden. I also voted in favour of a temporary tax to offset the cost of rebuilding Diagon Alley and in favour of the Reparations Act. I know Draco won’t be happy with me about that.”

“I voted for it as well,” said Neville as he sat cautiously. “I think he did too, but I’ve not asked him about it.”

“Who decided there should be a Harry Potter Day?” demanded Harry. “I don’t care if people want to remember the day Voldemort was defeated, but I don’t want my name on it.”

“That’s not really your name anymore, Harry,” said Hermione gently.

Breakfast finally appeared on the table, and Harry wondered if something had gone wrong in the kitchens given how late it was. “That’s not the point, Hermione,” he said as he dug a spoon savagely into the tureen of scrambled eggs and flung them on his plate. “It should be called something else, anything else. Phoenix Day, for instance.”

Ron and Hermione exchanged a look. “I don’t think that’s really what you’re aiming for, mate. The last thing anyone wants is to have Vol-Voldemort resurrected from the grave.”

“Call it The Day of Sacrifice then,” snarled Harry. “Just leave me out of it.” He bit through a rasher of bacon so hard it was a bit of a marvel that he hadn’t shattered any teeth. A hand reached down and snatched a mushroom off his plate, causing Neville to look up and whistle before saying, “You’re a braver man than me.”

Harry leaned back and looked straight up into the silvery eyes of Draco Malfoy. “Do that again, and I’ll remove your arm.”

Draco chuckled and then walked around the end of the table to sit with Neville. “Did you see the list of people due to be sworn in next month before you decided to burn Fudge in effigy?”

“I’m surprised you know that word,” said Harry dryly. “But no, I didn’t know there was a list. Why are you telling me?”

“Oh, because Severus’ name is on it,” said Draco smugly. “Along with another seven or eight people who are taking seats on the Wizengamot. Replacements for the houses who lost their representative because they’re in Azkaban. Or dead.” His face went carefully blank for a moment, and Harry knew Draco was thinking about his father. He arched a pale eyebrow. “Might I suggest new dress robes for the occasion?”

“I have dress robes,” said Harry. He ate steadily for a few minutes before shoving his plate away. At least he had Potions this morning. If nothing else, he could sit at Severus’ desk whilst he watched his classmates brew.

A blood-curdling scream suddenly filled the Great Hall, and Harry nearly leapt from his skin. A hundred wands came out. The sharp, ear-piercing cry was repeated, and Harry’s eyes shot up towards the ceiling roiling with dark grey clouds. A screech owl swooped through the wide open space, dropping a heavy cream coloured envelope that landed with unerring accuracy right in front of Harry’s plate.

“That’s a Ministry summons,” whispered Draco, his light grey eyes wide in his pale face.

“A what?” asked Harry as he reached for it, his hand trembling visibly from the jolt of adrenaline he had just received. The last time his presence had been required at the Ministry had been nothing like this.

“A summons,” repeated Draco a bit more slowly, as though Harry was somewhat impaired and hadn’t understood the first time. “Your presence is demanded at the Ministry of Magic.”

“Demanded?” asked Ron hotly as he craned around Hermione to watch Harry open the letter. “Since when do the Ministry demand someone come there in person? We’d have been flooded with owls last year if that’s all it took.”

Draco gave Ron a disgusted look. “Do you honestly believe they didn’t try? Lucky for you Granger knows her spells.” The arrogance left his face as quickly as it appeared. “So fucking lucky. They tried, Weasley. They tried everything they knew. Why do you think that tracing spell was put on the Dark Lord’s name? The only people who ever said it aloud were Dumbledore and you lot. The Death Eaters knew they’d find you sooner or later, because you never learnt to be properly afraid.”

Never properly afraid? Harry had no idea how to respond to that. He’d spent nearly a year in a state of terror so profound that he truly believed he’d have nightmares about it until the day he died. Severus, too, was held hostage to nightmares on a regular basis. He turned his attention to the envelope instead.

Mr Potter, it began, and already Harry’s teeth were on edge. Why was it so fucking difficult for people to remember his surname was now Prince?

We regret to inform you that the Department of Administrative Affairs is unable to certify your marriage to Severus Tobias Snape as valid. According to the Regulation Governing Family and Domestic Affairs, Section 497, Subsection D, letter c, number vii, paragraph four “A marriage is valid and recognised upon submission of an affidavit signed by both parties to the marriage, their respective witnesses and the officiant.” As of this writing, we have not received the required affidavit, and therefore all rights and privileges arising from this marriage are null and void.

Your marriage will be recorded upon personal presentation of the proper documentation and a receipt showing payment of the required seventeen Galleon fee. Applications for Affidavits of Marriage are valid for thirty days. I remind you that self-performed bonding spells are not considered official.

I remain,
Duncan Jarman
Processing Clerk III-b

Harry crumpled the parchment in his fist and swore before looking at Ron. “The Ministry say my marriage isn’t valid.” He turned to look up at the Staff Table and found Severus gazing back at him, his brow furrowed so deeply Harry could see the lines in his forehead from where he sat.

“Give it over,” said Ron, extending his hand. Harry passed it to Ron, intercepting an intense look of curiosity from Hermione. Ron read through the note quickly before handing it to Hermione. “Dad filed your contract a few days after the wedding,” he said blankly. “Was there something we missed?”

“May I?” asked Draco, his elbow on the table, his hand waiting expectantly to have something put in it. Harry wondered if he took lessons in the affectation of boredom when school was not in session. He handed the summons over to Draco.

“What I don’t understand is why I’m expected to appear in person,” said Harry, watching Draco’s face intently as the Slytherin read through the short note. “Can’t I just send them the money and a note from that wizard?”

Draco appeared horrified. “Galswell?” He blew out a breath. “I can’t believe you forgot the name of the wizard who conducted your wedding. I’d ask if you were raised by werewolves, but the entire world knows you were Muggle raised, which is practically the same thing.”

Harry glared. “Is this another of those pure-blood things I’m supposed to know?”

“Don’t let him get under your skin, Harry,” said Neville calmly. “There aren’t many Masters of Rites any more, and the major houses attend a lot of rituals, so after awhile they become like that aunt or uncle who puts in an appearance at Christmas and you forget about for the rest of the year.”

“Ahh,” said Harry, “like Aunt Marge. Really wish I could forget about her. Seeing her once a year was about ten times too many.”

“I thought your aunt’s name was…” Ron scrunched up his face as he sifted through his memory for a piece of information he was sorry he ever knew.

“Petunia,” Hermione filled in as she scowled at Ron. “You know full well what her name is. Did you ever learn what became of them in the end, Harry?” Her dark eyes were troubled for a moment. “I wish Mum and Dad wanted to return to England, but they like the weather better in Australia. Ron won’t go there because of the spiders,” she added in a stage whisper.

“They’re the size of Crookshanks, Hermione,” said Ron. “And you know if we went to Aus, Hagrid would want us to bring him back a few, as well as a Tasmanian Devil, and that’s just not on.”

“There are regulations prohibiting the import of dangerous creatures into the country, Ron. Hagrid is not about to get in trouble with the Ministry over a weta,” said Hermione.

“Yeah, I remember how concerned he was about the Department of Magical Creatures when he was trying to raise Norbert,” scoffed Ron.

While Ron and Hermione bickered about spiders and debated Hagrid’s habit of collecting the weird and not-so-wonderful, Harry tried to figure out whether or not he should be worried that he felt no guilt about the Dursleys. He had no idea where they’d gone or if they had returned to Privet Drive. He didn’t even know if their house was still standing, nor did he care. Still, there was a small part of him that would love to see the look on their faces if he happened across their path sometime between now and the end of April.

He took the letter back from Draco and read through it again, feeling a leaden ball of gloom settle into the pit of stomach. “Does anyone have any idea what I should do about this?” he asked over Ron and Hermione’s raised voices as he twisted his wedding ring around on his finger. Was he married or wasn’t he? He had no idea, and he stared up at the Staff Table with fearful eyes.

“It must be a clerical error of some sort,” said Hermione as she plucked the note out of his fingers and read through it again. “You’ve a contract. Don’t worry, Harry. It will be fine.”

“Don’t worry?” replied Harry in astonishment. “Don’t worry? I have N.E.W.T.s in four months, a baby due in three. Strange potions are appearing in Transfiguration books, Fudge has been elected Minister of Magic, yet another Defence Against the Dark Arts professor has gone completely mental, some Ministry twat decided to give my name to a fucking holiday and I’ve just discovered I’m not really married. If I’m not supposed to worry about all that, what am I supposed to worry about, Hermione? Nothing?” Harry was shouting by the time he finished. He crammed the letter from the Ministry into his pocket, snatched up his schoolbag and stormed out of the Great Hall, leaving a shocked silence in his wake.

The Grand Staircase beckoned, and Harry started the long climb alone with little more than his anger and frustration to accompany him. It was no coincidence that the letter arrived the day Fudge’s election had been announced, and whilst Harry knew better than to trust the Ministry, he had no idea what they wanted from him. “Can’t I just have a life?” he raged at the stone arches that soared miles over his head.

“Only if it is with me,” replied Severus.

Harry turned swiftly, nearly losing his balance as his bulging schoolbag continued to travel in a wide arc, and Severus sprinted up the last few steps that separated them, releasing his hold on Harry once he’d stopped wobbling. “I reckon you heard all that,” said Harry with a dejected sigh. He started up the stairs again, this time with Severus at his side.

“Not all of it. Just enough to know that you and the Ministry are at odds again. You did cause a bit of an uproar at the Staff Table, though. Wendell is demanding you receive detention with him for besmirching his good name.”

“I didn’t even use his name,” muttered Harry. He handed the letter to Severus before adding, “I’ll take a detention with Williamson if someone else is there to supervise. I won’t be alone with him.”

“I said as much to Minerva.” Severus read through the letter and folded it back up. “May I keep this?”

Harry nodded. “I’ve no idea what I’m supposed to do. They’re barking if they think I’m going to show up in person.”

“I will ask Arthur to file the necessary paperwork.” Severus’ brow furrowed. “Why did you think that a simple letter from the Department of Administrative Affairs would be sufficient to void our marriage?”

“Well, it says right there that it’s not valid,” replied Harry, confused. “What else was I supposed to think?”

“There’s a contract, Harry.” Severus arched a brow and waited at the second landing for Harry’s reaction. “One that we both signed and had witnessed by Arthur and Minerva. As I recall, you were rather eager to have the matter concluded.”

Blood thundered in Harry’s ears as the full import of Severus’ statement registered. Even Hermione had said as much. How could he have been so stupid? The contract would supersede any directive from the Ministry, governed as it was by magic. “As I remember it, you weren’t exactly putting up a fuss, Severus.” A soft smile appeared on Harry’s face and he walked back down the few steps that separated them until he was eye to eye with Severus. “I love you,” he said. “You’d best hurry down to the dungeons or you’ll be late, and you know how your fifth years are.”

“I’m still recovering from the trauma that was Longbottom,” said Severus with a shudder. “I’ve yet to meet his equal. Apologise to Hermione when you see her, and tell her she was right. You’ve nothing to worry about, at least not on that score. I will see you tonight.”

~*~

Though February was the shortest month of the year, it dragged by with all the cheer of a grindylow with a toothache. A persistent wind drove chill air through every crack and crevice in the castle, whipping up snow that had barely had a chance to settle on the turrets and crenelations of the castle. The evergreens in the Forbidden Forest sagged under the weight of the ice that clung to their needles and the bare deciduous trees lifted frosty fingers skyward as if pleading for relief.

Professors had begun to review their subjects, going all the way back to the spells, theories, and techniques the students were supposed to have mastered during their earliest days at Hogwarts, and Harry was grateful that Hermione had insisted they keep the notes, essays and examinations they had completed back when Quidditch was the most important thing in their lives.

For the first time since the school year began, Harry settled into a routine that didn’t leave him spent and exhausted at the end of the day. If he wasn’t in class, he was in the Potions laboratory behind a ridiculous number of protective spells designed to keep him well away from noxious ingredients and fumes, his books and scrolls spread out before him.

He spent evenings in review with Ron, Hermione, Neville, Draco, Luna, and Demelza, who had finally learnt that N.E.W.T. students could grow snappish when asked too many times to help with homework. Severus divided his time between his brewing duties and marking, joining Harry and his friends at their spacious dining room table most nights and retreating to the study only when he required time away from people.

The only dark spots in Harry’s days were the regular missives from the Ministry of Magic and Williamson’s Defence Against the Dark Arts class. Arthur had done as Severus requested, submitting a copy of the marriage certificate Galswell had completed after the contract had been signed and paying the fee the Ministry required.

“It’s the first I’ve heard of such a thing,” Arthur declared at one of the Saturday night meetings of the Order of the Phoenix. “Bill and Fleur didn’t have to file any special paperwork with the Ministry when they got married.”

“The Ministry fell that day, Dad,” said Bill. “We couldn’t very well take the certificate to the Department ourselves, not after being named blood traitors. But we both signed it before the reception. Of course, the fee was only ten Galleons then.”

“Everything is more expensive these days,” said Molly with a sigh before turning her sharp gaze on Harry. “I don’t mind telling you I’m not pleased you’re going to the Ministry, Harry, not with all the fuss they’ve been making lately. I know you want to see Severus inducted into the Wizengamot, but I do worry about you.”

Harry shot Kingsley a quick smile before answering. “We’ve already worked it out that I’ll have a Portkey with me, just in case. Severus and I reckon someone is going to try to drag me off to one level or another, so there are going to be extra Aurors stationed around the lifts and Floos as well. Most people recognise me, so if I’m somewhere other than level nine, they’ll know to take me to Severus straight away.”

“I suppose we should be grateful the Ministry is staffed with unimaginative drones,” said Severus. “Anyone who knows Harry well would never ask him to serve on the Reparations Committee, unless England’s Quidditch team is requiring new brooms.”

“Very funny, though I am ready for Quidditch to start up again. Worst part of winter, really. I haven’t flown in so long.” Harry made it sound like it had been years since he’d been on a broomstick, when his last flight had been that reckless foray into the skies a few short months ago.

A chorus of angry voices erupted, though none matched Severus’ tone for savagery. “I will burn every broomstick at the castle first,” he snarled. “You will not fly until Poppy permits it.”

“We’ve had this conversation before,” replied Harry, his eyes glacial. “I’m not thick, I’m not reckless, and if you’ve not figured it out by now, I’m not keen on visits to the Hospital Wing, either.” He set his jaw and decided then and there that he’d fly tomorrow, one way or another.

“Don’t do it, Harry,” cautioned Ron, all too familiar with Harry’s stubborn streak. “I hate to say I’m with Severus on this, but seriously, mate, it’s not worth it. Wait ’til after, when it’s safer.”

“It’s his neck,” said Draco dismissively. “Harry says he’s not reckless, though I’m certain I can find at least a dozen people who might think otherwise. Let’s see: Neville, Luna, Ginny, Ron, Hermione, my father, Kingsley, Professor McGonagall, Severus naturally. Hmm, how many is that?” He ticked them off on his fingers. “Only eight.”

“You can put me on the list,” chirped George, his eyes glinting merrily.

“I believe I speak for Molly when I say that you can include the two of us,” added Arthur as Molly voiced her agreement.

“I’ve heard stories…” said Bill. “Stay off your broom, Harry. Otherwise, if Severus wants to let you feel the sharp side of his tongue, I’ll keep you there so you have to listen. Where’s his broom, Severus? I’ll take it with me for safekeeping.”

“I trust you, Potter,” said Draco unexpectedly, his expression shrewd. “I know you wouldn’t do anything intentionally to provoke Severus’ anger, especially since you know first-hand how wicked his temper can be.”

Harry couldn’t remember the last time he had so many people arrayed against him, but angry as he was, he was still perceptive enough to recognise Draco’s ploy for what it was—a plea to let his better angels prevail. “Fine. I’ll stay off my broom,” he heard himself say. He sat stonily through the rest of the meeting, saying nothing beyond good night to the Order.

For the next few days, the Firebolt loomed large in Harry’s thoughts. He thought about flying during breakfast. He thought about flying whilst moving through the corridors between classes. He thought about flying when he was marking Potions essays. Especially whilst he was marking essays. And when Ginny started talking about resuming Quidditch practice, flying was all he could think about.

“Just a short flight,” he mused one day, reaching out for the smooth handle of his racing broom. But Harry remembered Severus’ face the last time he’d flown and stepped away, gazing forlornly at it. There was little he liked better than soaring weightless through the air, feeling the sharp bite of the wind in his face, the burn in his thighs during tight turns and the heart-stopping exhilaration of plummeting to the earth as fast as a hawk.

“Why do you want to fly so much when you know how dangerous it is?” asked Severus in a quiet voice, coming to stand beside Harry and looking with him at the Firebolt.

“Could you stay away from your potions?” replied Harry, his eyes still fixed on his broom. “Or would you find a way to keep brewing anyway?” He took his broom down, feeling the thrum of its magic coursing through his hand, and stepped in front of Severus to meet his eyes. “I know how to fly, Severus, and I know how to take care of myself. Will you come down to the pitch with me and watch? Just for ten minutes, please?”

A war raged across Severus’ face as he weighed common sense against Harry’s quiet entreaty, but the outcome was written in the regret that appeared in his dark eyes. “I cannot,” he said quietly. “I understand, Harry, I do, but while I can take steps to keep myself safe whilst brewing, I cannot say the same for flying.”

“Then lock it up somewhere,” said Harry raggedly as he thrust his broom at Severus. He dragged his hand through his hair, exhaling explosively and stormed off, barricading himself inside the study and pulling out his Defence notes to review everything he knew about kappas. He needed to fly. Why couldn’t Severus understand that?

A knock sounded at the door. Harry ignored it. The doorknob rattled a few minutes later. Harry ignored that as well. The door shook under the force of Severus’ magic, but it remained shut. He knew that his charms wouldn’t last very long if Severus was determined enough, but it was the soft, “Harry, please?” that brought him to his feet.

“Come with me,” said Severus after Harry had opened the door. “I believe there is a way we can both be satisfied. I make you no promises, but ask that you try. Will you?”

Minutes later they were in McGonagall’s office. Harry gazed around, seeing traces of Dumbledore, of Severus, but mostly seeing the headmistress he’d known for over seven years. Most of the gadgets were gone, replaced with ancient grimoires and an assortment of cat toys. The ever-present tin of sherbert lemons had been replaced with a plate of shortbread, and Harry suspected the house-elves made a fresh batch daily. He picked up a biscuit and nibbled around the edge.

“Harry, my boy. It is good to see you looking so well.”

Harry turned to smile up at Dumbledore’s portrait. “Thank you, sir. I’m sorry I’ve not been up to visit much lately. N.E.W.T.s, you know.”

“Already? I have no doubt you will perform splendidly on them. Minerva has kept me abreast of the goings-on, both here and at the Ministry.” Some of the twinkle left Dumbledore’s eyes. “I do regret you have Fudge to serve as a thorn in your side, but I have no doubt he will be the worse for wear by the time all is said and done.”

The portrait gazed past Harry to Severus. “The Pensieve is in the cabinet. You need not ask, Severus. It is available to you whenever you wish to use it. It belongs to Hogwarts, not to Minerva, and not to me.”

“Thank you, Albus.” Severus retrieved the Pensieve and floated it to the desk. “This might assuage some of your need for flight. I regret I cannot conceive of another way short of flying itself, but I can’t, in all good conscience, give my approval to something that strikes me as being foolhardy.”

“I shouldn’t need your approval for anything,” said Harry sharply. “You are not my keeper, Severus. I am not your ward, but I know what you’re trying to say, so we’ll do it your way.” He thought about flying and placed his wand at his temple to siphon out a thick ribbon of memory. “Watch with me, okay? So you can see what I’m capable of doing?” He waited for Severus to join him, then they plunged their faces in together.

Harry leapt into the sky. He sailed through the centre of the clock just as the chime sounded, his broom pointed right at the middle hoop at the far end of the pitch. He sailed through it, pulled hard to the left and started to fly at top speed. He swooped and soared, corkscrewing down one section, entering another in a slow sloth roll to set up for the series of gates set in sharp chicanes. Half of those who had washed out had missed two or more gates in this section, but Harry flew through them with reckless abandon, the wind roaring in his ears.

Once out of that section, he pulled up sharply, flying almost straight up to sail through the next gate, and then diving right after that with a hard turn to the left to catch the one after that. It was flying at its purest, just him and the broom with no Snitch or Bludgers to worry about. He executed a sharp U-turn, arced over the gate and aimed for the last one, set obliquely to the turn he’d just exited. He rolled onto his back and dove backwards toward the ground, sailing cleanly through the last gate. Righting himself, he crouched low over his broomstick and sailed through the left hand hoop next to where he’d started, cheering and pumping his fist as he burst through it.

Severus was green when he lifted his face, but Harry’s face was wreathed in smiles. He plunged his face back in and watched it several more times, his body swaying as he rode with his memory self through the course he’d set up for Quidditch try-outs. He watched the faces of his teammates on his fourth time through the memory, grinning as he saw their eyes grow wider and wider. He loved to fly.

“I can fly, Severus,” he said quietly when he’d finally had enough. “But I promise I’ll keep both feet on the ground until June. Come the first, though, I’m flying.”

Severus scrubbed a hand over his face and looked blearily at Harry. “I regret I cannot offer you more than that, but thank you. I will take you at your word.” He gazed around the office as if surprised to find himself sitting at McGonagall’s desk. “I have never liked flying, though I appreciate that you have a gift for it. I’m quite certain Minerva will give you access to the Pensieve any time the mood strikes you.”

Harry collected the memory with the tip of his wand and placed the shimmering strand against his temple, shivering when it slid back into place. If removing a memory felt odd, it was nothing compared to having a few of his thoughts slam back into place. That and travelling by Floo were two things he never thought he’d grow accustomed to. “I appreciate that you did this for me. It helped a bit, really.” He glanced at Severus out of the corner of his eye. “About the same way watching someone brew would take the edge off for you.”

A look of distress flashed across Severus’ face, but Harry placated him almost instantly. “I’m teasing. It was a great idea, really.” They rode the spiral staircase down to the seventh floor in silence, Harry feeling more at peace, about flying at any rate.

Almost as soon as that need was laid to rest, however, came the realisation that Severus’ investiture was mere days away. Severus’ ceremonial robes had been delivered by an enormous eagle owl. With them had come an intimidating book entitled Regulations, Rules of Order, and Parliamentary Procedures of the Wizengamot of Britain, Scotland, Wales and the Northern Isles, and Severus was expected to read up on the order of service before he was inducted into the Wizengamot. The book was thicker by far than One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi, and given that there was a page per plant, it came as a surprise to Harry that the Wizengamot got anything done at all.

There was a Chain of Office that Harry was to lay over Severus’ shoulders, and though Severus had tried to describe it to him, it took a trip to the library before Harry understood what it was. Enormous was a good word for it. Distinguished. Official. Severus called it a bloody pain in the arse, but Harry knew that Severus was nearly giddy with excitement and demonstrated it by snarling and snapping at everybody more often than usual.

The first Saturday in March dawned in a wash of rosy pink and crisp mauve edged in bright gold, with beads of robin’s egg blue scattered through the sky like a necklace undone. The hard edges of the wind off the Black Lake had softened, and on the air was a whisper of the coming spring.

Now that Harry was in his third trimester, he was permitted to travel by Floo as well as Portkey. Given the baby’s propensity to react with magic when startled, no one thought Apparition was a particularly good idea. When Harry voiced his concerns about being squeezed through space and time by the Portkey, Poppy explained that he was carried by the Portkey’s charm, and not even the baby could overcome that. Harry had his doubts. He wasn’t supposed to be able to Apparate inside Hogwarts either, but that hadn’t stopped him. Them. It.

They stepped out of the Portkey and into the Burrow as Molly was setting out plates of fresh pancakes and links of sausages, whilst eggs chirped and squeaked on the stove. She flicked her wand and they flipped over. “There’s tea on the table. Harry, please set out the syrup and milk. You can use Percy’s room to change for the ceremony. Arthur? Arthur! The boys are here!” she called, in her element now that she had two more mouths to feed.

Harry chatted easily with Arthur and Molly through breakfast. Severus brooded until it was time to get ready. “A bloody nuisance,” he grumbled as he pulled on a plum coloured surplice over a cassock of jet black. “Positively medieval.” He bore the heavy black hose with equanimity and breathed a sigh of relief as he laced up his boots. He fastened his cloak around his shoulders and risked a glance in the mirror.

“You know, if you found a time turner that took you back a few centuries, you’d fit right in,” said Harry. “But you’ve only got to wear these for a couple of hours. Too bad you couldn’t have worn the robes you wore at the wedding. You looked amazing.”

“Whereas I am partial to the robes you’re wearing now.” Severus’ gaze travelled slowly over Harry’s body and by the time he met Harry’s eyes, Harry was slightly pink.

“Thanks, I think.” Harry gazed down at himself and his lip curled in distaste. “With any luck, I’ll never have to wear these again.” The robes were heavy brocade with the Prince crest woven in black threads against the dark green silk, and they swung gracefully as he moved. It was the cut Harry took issue with: fitted through the shoulders and chest, but gathered under his breastbone to accommodate the swell of his stomach. To his eye, it focussed attention on the pronounced bulge, and he knew he would be the subject of pointed whispers on a day when attention should be paid to Severus.

“You are beautiful,” whispered Severus then, as if shaking himself out of a stupor, offered his arm to Harry. “We must go.” He brushed a kiss over Harry’s lips before escorting him down the stairs, seeming to take succour from the small gesture. Harry glowed with happiness.

“Kingsley opened the Floo in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement to us,” said Arthur. “He thought you might want to avoid the queue at the Wand Registration Desk, Harry, and his Aurors will be waiting to take us down to the chambers of the Wizengamot. Molly and I will be there as his guests.” Arthur’s eyes shone with pride, and Harry knew it was for Severus.

One at a time they threw in a handful of Floo powder and said, “Kingsley Shacklebolt’s office,” in clear tones. Harry felt the tug and spin of the Floo Network and watched as fireplaces flew past. He was spat out onto a worn carpet in a small office and stumbled a bit on exiting. He moved quickly out of the way and caught Severus’ arm so he, too, wouldn’t fall.

“Wizards must have been considerably smaller when that fireplace was built,” said Kingsley in his deep, dark voice. “I hit my head on it every time I use it.” He kissed Molly on both cheeks before greeting the rest of them with a firm handshake.

“It’s been over a hundred years since the Weasleys have had a family member on the Wizengamot,” gushed Molly. “And in just a few short hours, we’ll have Severus amongst them. Oh, Severus, I am just so pleased they accepted your application and that the House of Prince will be restored to its rightful place. You must be so proud.”

“Thank you, Molly,” replied Severus before finding himself in an unexpected embrace. He returned the hug, gazing over Molly’s head to find Harry’s eyes on him, and he smiled back at his husband.

“We’ll be up in the gallery, Severus,” said Arthur, “and Minerva has invited us to Hogwarts for a celebratory dinner.”

“You were coming anyway, weren’t you?” asked Harry. “It’s Saturday, after all, and we’re still meeting, right?” No one had had anything new to contribute for a couple of weeks now, but the meetings had given everyone an excuse to socialise and Harry had to admit he looked forward to them almost as much as Severus did. In his heart of hearts, Harry suspected Severus enjoyed having the opportunity to interact with people closer to his age than Harry and his friends.

“We’re celebrating tonight, Harry,” said Molly gently. “Though it wouldn’t come as a surprise if a meeting breaks out. We do tend to chatter a bit, don’t we?” Ever the mum, she started ushering everyone towards the door, giving Kingsley such a profound look of gratitude that Harry felt guilty for being there.

They were flanked by two Aurors the moment they were through the door, and as they walked down the narrow corridor, Harry felt lost amongst the sea of people. He inched closer to Severus, lacing his fingers through his husband’s as memories of his last visit to the Ministry threatened to overwhelm him. In that moment, he knew he could never be an Auror, could never stand coming here day after day and remembering all the indignities he had witnessed. It would be hard enough to return to the tenth level; nothing good had ever happened to him there.

The lift door opened and the Aurors escorted Harry inside, allowing the others to follow once they were satisfied he was safe. It was irritating to be the centre of their attention, but he accepted it as part and parcel of being the Boy-Who-Lived.

They rode down in silence. Kingsley, Molly, and Arthur exited the lift at level nine and Molly gave them each a kiss before trotting off to find a seat within the gallery. The lift travelled down another level and Harry’s flesh crawled as he stepped out. The narrow corridors were tall and dim with heavy, imposing doors lining both sides, and Harry imagined he heard screams coming from behind one of them. Frost whispered out from the crack under a door, and he prayed that there were no Dementors nearby. He squared his shoulders and walked with confidence he did not feel towards the small group of people at the end of the hall.

A handful of people garbed like Severus waited patiently in line to be checked in by an officious witch with a clipboard, and Harry wondered as they joined the queue if he would ever see a clipboard and not think of Umbridge. It didn’t help that this had been the last place he’d seen her, and he found himself thinking of Mary and Reg Cattermole. He hoped they’d come through the war safely.

They inched their way forward, and in a few short minutes, Harry found himself face to face with Amanda Pendergast, the scrawny witch who had come to Hogwarts the day after he and Severus were married. She glanced down at her list and gave them an ugly smile.

“Severus Prince and spouse,” she cooed. “It is a pity you failed to read the sections of the Regulations, Rules of Order, and Parliamentary Procedures of the Wizengamot as requested, Mr Prince. So much unpleasantness could have been avoided.”

“Unpleasantness?” replied Severus, pulling himself up to his full height in a gesture Harry recognised as Severus steeling himself for battle. “I brought my spouse to lay the Chain of Office upon me as permitted in the Rules. I am wearing the regalia as required and my husband is properly attired. I fail to see the problem.”

“Oh dear,” said Pendergast. “Perhaps if you had read the section carefully, you would have noticed the rule states, ‘a man might be accompanied by his lady wife; a gentlewoman by her lord and husband.’ It is the rule, Mr Prince. Your wife might lay the Chain of Office upon you, but there is no provision in the rules for…” She looked at Harry as though he was something putrid she had just stepped in, “the likes of him.”

“Professor Prince, if you please, and for all intents and purposes, Harry is my wife.” The contempt Severus gave the word was beyond anything Harry had ever heard, but Harry’s face hardened and he laid a hand purposefully on the top of his rounded belly. “Harry carries my child and bears my name. The paperwork,” and again, Severus spat out the word, “has been filed in triplicate with the Administrative Registration Department. We are lawfully married and we will not be denied our rights.”

“Nevertheless,” replied Pendergast, “the rules state you may be accompanied by your wife. It says nothing about a man and his husband, so I’m afraid Mr Potter—”

“Prince,” said Harry coldly. “My name is Harry James Prince, and you will address me as such.”

Pendergast’s eyes narrowed. “You may watch from the gallery, one level up. Good luck finding space, Mr Prince.” Her contemptuous gaze dropped to Harry’s rounded belly before she met his eyes again.

He could stay and make a scene or leave with some small measure of dignity. Harry made his choice and reached out to touch Severus’ arm. “I’ll be up with the Weasleys,” he said grimly. “Don’t…” But he couldn’t think of anything else to say. “I’m so proud of you, Severus. Never forget that, okay?” He turned, flanked by the two Aurors charged with his safety, and made his way back to the lift, grinding his teeth the entire way.

It didn’t take Harry long to find Arthur and Molly. Their red hair stood out against the browns, blacks and blonds of the other witches and wizards who had assembled to see the newest members of the Wizengamot sworn. He slid into the seat next to Molly without a word, but it didn’t take long before she glanced over to see him sitting there.

“Harry! Why on earth aren’t you with Severus?” she exclaimed as the members were being led in.

“I’m not a girl,” he growled. Fortunately, Arthur and Molly had found seats in the front row, and Harry leaned forward, his arms folded on the railing and his chin resting on top of them. He listened with half an ear as an elderly wizard whose name he had already forgotten droned on and on. He started paying attention again when the new members were declared and claimed their house affiliations.

How he wished he could be down there to give Severus the houses of Peverell, Potter, and Black. More than anything, Harry wanted to lay the Chain of Office on Severus’ shoulders, and he growled as the witch in line before Severus knelt to take the oath. Her husband beamed with pride as he laid the jewelled chain over her shoulders and the House of Stump took its place in the Wizengamot.

“It’s not fair,” he whispered as Severus stepped up. He dropped his head and closed his eyes—then stumbled as he found himself down in the well with Severus. “I didn’t…I don’t know…” he stammered awkwardly as a collective gasp rose from the assembly. He took a step closer to Severus as Pendergast reached for him, but some sort of shield kept her from touching him.

“Arrest him,” she shrieked, but the elderly wizard conducting the ceremony tilted his head and gazed at her with keen, bird-like eyes.

“Why would we do that?” he asked. “It seems magic has decided that the young man’s place is at Master Prince’s side, and who are we to argue with the imponderable mysteries magic provides?” He smiled warmly at Harry and bade him welcome. “I am Lorcan McLaird IV, and we have an induction to complete.” He gazed at Severus as the two Aurors charged with Harry’s safety burst through the door. “Are you ready to take the oath?” he asked as though the disruption had never taken place.

Severus released his hold on Harry’s arms, finished with his cursory examination. “I am,” he said. He dropped to one knee before McLaird as Harry moved to the spot he had seen the other spouses occupy. “I, Severus Prince, do solemnly, sincerely, and truly declare and affirm that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to the principles of the Wizengamot, shall represent, to the best of my abilities, the ideals of the Houses Prince, Black, Potter and Peverell, and to further the interests of the magical beings of Great Britain.”

As Harry lifted the heavy chain to lay it over Severus’ shoulders, he saw the filigree settings change. Instead of squares of gold set with topaz, there were squares, circles, triangles and diamonds set with jet, topaz, emerald and what he supposed was diamond. The pattern repeated, interspersed with a blood red stone that was said to represent justice.

“Severus Prince, you are charged with upholding the virtues of Houses Prince, Black, Potter and Peverell,” said McLaird over the excited buzz that filled the chamber. He touched his wand to Severus’ shoulder and a pulse of light shrouded him before sinking into his skin. “The might of Merlin go with you,” he added quietly.

Harry blinked. That was odd. He walked off the dais with Severus and exchanged a puzzled glance with him. None of the other members had received an invocation like that, and Harry had no idea what it meant. It sounded to him as though the celebratory dinner would turn into a meeting after all, and he knew they would discuss McLaird’s final words until they’d turned them inside out.

Ch 17: We’re From the Government. We’re Here to Help

The excitement didn’t end with the ceremony. After Miraphora Meridew was inducted and the newest members were ratified by the rest of the Wizengamot, Amanda Pendergast stormed up to Harry and Severus accompanied by a pair of bailiffs in soot grey robes. “Seize him,” she demanded, pointing at Harry. “For unauthorised disruption of official proceedings.” Her face was hard; any trace of amiability had vanished.

Harry took a step back and Severus swore as he fumbled for his wand, tucked away somewhere within his unfamiliar robes. Harry heard his name shouted from somewhere in the gallery and looked up to see Molly waving frantically at him. Kingsley was bolting up the stairs with Arthur hard on his heels.

“Do you mean to say there is a provision within the Rules for an authorised disruption?” asked McLaird as he stepped calmly between Harry and Pendergast. His grey eyes twinkled much like Dumbledore’s, and Harry relaxed a bit at seeing the elderly wizard so amused.

The door to the well crashed open, and Kingsley strode in, flanked by the Aurors who had been charged with guarding Harry. He stood before the Wizengamot in his deep ochre robes and spread his arms in entreaty. “Members of the Wizengamot, you’ve heard the charges. You’ve witnessed the event in question. All those in favour of acquittal?” boomed Kingsley as Arthur huffed and puffed his way to Harry’s side.

“Aye,” the Wizengamot chorused as the gallery buzzed with excited murmurs.

“All those finding Mr Harry Prince guilty as charged, please signify by saying ‘nay,'” continued Kingsley over Pendergast’s strenuous objections. One or two voices were heard over the din of members and guests filing out of the gallery, but by then it no longer mattered. “And your vote, Severus?” said Kingsley as he clasped Severus’ hand in greeting.

“I believe I am required to recuse myself on matters personally related to me,” said Severus, his brow deeply furrowed. “But I would vote any way necessary to take Harry home with me. What made you think you would get away with bringing the matter up now? This wasn’t an official session, was it?”

“Did you not hear McLaird call the Wizengamot to order?” asked Kingsley. His dark eyes danced mischievously, and a smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. “As they were assembled, they were free to resolve any matter brought before them, and as Harry’s, err, rather unconventional entrance was witnessed by all of them, there was no need to investigate the matter, locate witnesses to testify and bring them here for a trial.”

Molly rushed in and gathered Harry up in a hug before seizing him above the elbows and giving him a firm shake. “Have you any idea how dangerous it is to Apparate in a place as heavily charmed as this? Goodness! You could have been Splinched into so many pieces we’d still be looking for them!” She hugged him again before giving him a little push toward Severus.

Harry had given up explaining he wasn’t the one performing extraordinary magic. “I should have been with Severus all along. That witch had no reason to keep me out and, well, I guess I wanted it a little bit too much.”

Unless Harry missed his guess, relief lurked behind Kingsley’s gaze, and Harry was unsurprised that Kingsley didn’t pursue the matter any further. There was a chance that Kingsley’s ploy could have backfired had any of the Wizengamot put any questions to him, but Harry figured they were more eager to gorge themselves on food and drink than work out for themselves how he’d managed to Apparate into the lower chamber without a sound.

Word of Harry’s unusual entrance spread throughout the Ministry like Fiendfyre, and by the time Harry and Severus reached the reception it was all anyone was talking about. They mingled and made polite conversation, and Harry endured endless pats to his stomach, hoping each time he was touched that this wouldn’t be the time the baby sent the well-wisher flying across the room.

They circulated once through the room, Harry with his goblet of pumpkin juice and Severus with a tall flute of champagne he pronounced insipid, and met the other new members of the Wizengamot along with their families. To his chagrin, he discovered that nearly everyone wanted a moment with the Boy-Who-Lived; worse, no one appeared to be speaking with the newly elected Cornelius Fudge.

“I need to confer with one or two people before we leave,” whispered Severus as Harry consoled a widower who had lost his wife and son to Voldemort’s Death Eaters. “Stay near the Aurors and Kingsley until I return. I will be back within a quarter hour.”

“Where…?” Harry started to ask, but he understood from the look of caution in Severus’ eye that this was a matter best not discussed within the Ministry. He nodded and made his way to the buffet table at the rear of the room, selecting a pastry puff of some sort filled with a seasoned meat that Harry couldn’t identify.

Fudge started speaking behind Harry the moment he popped a second pastry in his mouth, and he turned quickly, chewing frantically and trying to swallow. “Mrupghr,” was the best he could manage, and he took a quick gulp of pumpkin juice to wash the remaining crumbs down. “Minister,” he repeated clearly, extending his hand politely.

“Well, if it isn’t Harry Potter,” said Fudge in a tone so ruthlessly cordial that Harry wondered if he had once taken elocution lessons from Lucius Malfoy. The handshake was as brief as it could be without being insulting.

Harry sighed. “Prince. My name is Harry Prince.” He dropped Fudge’s hand and resisted the urge to wipe his palm on his robes. “Congratulations on your re-election,” he offered, figuring it would not serve Severus well if he insulted the new Minister of Magic on the same day he had assumed his seat.

Fudge lifted his chin and looked down his nose at Harry. “The people have chosen me to keep them safe, Potter, err Prince, and I intend to do it. I saw that article in the Prophet that claims you’re expecting a baby, and I’ve had nothing but Howlers and letters ever since. It just goes to show you that people will believe anything they read. We’ll have no more of that Dark Lord nonsense from you, young man, do you hear me? If I need to lock you up in Azkaban to keep the peace, I’ll do it. Mark my words.”

Harry glanced down at his rounded stomach before turning disbelieving eyes on Fudge. “I’m not all that keen for any more Dark Lord nonsense either, Minister,” he said coolly. “I’ve done my part, no thanks to you, and I’m looking forward to a quiet life at Hogwarts. I trust you won’t be sending any more Undersecretaries our way?”

For a moment, Fudge appeared flustered. “The Department of Magical Education will be making its report in the next few weeks, Potter, and we’ll see then how firm a hand Minerva McGonagall has on the wheel.” It was not a ringing endorsement, and Harry felt his stomach plummet. Perhaps they needed a Potions Master at Beauxbatons. “Oh, there’s Stump. I require a word with her.” With that, the Minister dashed off in a cloud of pinstripes and bad cologne.

Great. Just great. Harry now knew for a certainty that Fudge counted Harry in the Dark Lord camp, and worse, was intending to interfere once again at Hogwarts. He wondered if Williamson and the Minister had been friendly once and vowed to ask Kingsley at the meeting that night.

Harry met Severus near the ornate doors and, social obligations fulfilled, returned to Kingsley’s office to Floo directly back to Hogwarts. “You’ll be there tonight, yes?” Harry asked, his hand filled with Floo powder.

“Yes, of course,” replied Kingsley. His eyes darted over to Severus, but Severus knew nothing more than Kingsley did. Whatever was on Harry’s mind would have to wait until that evening.

“Thank you, sir, for your help today. I appreciated it,” said Harry, and before Kingsley could correct him or otherwise say a word, tossed the powder onto the fire and stepped into the bright emerald flames. “Minerva McGonagall’s Office, Hogwarts,” he declared firmly, as though intending never to leave the castle again.

“Harry,” exclaimed McGonagall as Harry stepped out of the fireplace. “Let me look at you, child,” she said as she rose from behind her desk. “Very smart, Mr Prince,” she said warmly as he spun in the circle women seemed to demand of him every time he wore formal robes. “I imagine Molly was impressed.”

The flames leapt skyward, their green tongues lapping at the cornice as Severus stepped through looking like a medieval prince of the realm. Here, back in familiar surroundings, Severus was gorgeous. The severe cut of the cassock and surplice suited his slender frame, and the Chain of Office lent dignity to his plain features. Harry must have made some small sound, for suddenly he found himself the recipient of Severus’ penetrating gaze. His breath caught and his heart hammered.

McGonagall looked from one to the other and back again. “You can tell me all about it tonight. Take Harry home, Severus. He looks done in.”

‘Done in’ was not how Harry was feeling, but he gave McGonagall a weak smile and followed Severus down the spiral stair and, by the shortest passages possible, down to their quarters in the dungeon. The moment the door closed, he found himself in Severus’ arms being kissed within an inch of his life. His lips parted and he moaned softly as Severus’ tongue explored his mouth slowly, thoroughly. “Bedroom,” he murmured against Severus’ lips.

“Any particular reason?” murmured Severus as he kissed along the line of Harry’s jaw. He opened the top buttons of Harry’s robes to expose more pale skin and kissed the base of his throat.

Harry’s cock throbbed, and he straddled Severus’ leg to gain some much needed friction. He no longer fit snugly against the hard planes of Severus’ body and suspected it would be some months before he would again. “Please, Severus?” he whispered as his mouth sought Severus’, kissing him hungrily.

Severus cupped Harry’s face and peered intently into Harry’s eyes, his long fingers buried in Harry’s perpetually messy black hair. “Are you well?”

“Well enough,” replied Harry softly, though his lower back ached. He’d been on his feet for most of the day and he was feeling the effects of it. He lowered his eyes and peered up at Severus through his lashes. “I just want to, you know, suck you, then maybe have a bit of a sleep,” he continued, his cheeks blooming with colour.

There was an audible sound from Severus, and Harry’s cheeks heated a little more hearing it. He walked with Severus to their room, the hand at the small of his back possessive. If he could just get the world to leave him alone, he’d be the happiest man alive.

“No, wait,” he said as Severus began to remove the heavy Chain of Office. “Let me.” Harry lifted it over Severus’ head and kissed him gently before surveying the chain, the crests of their houses joined by links of solid gold. “I hate to hide it away, but I don’t want to chance anything happening to it, either.” He charmed it and set it in the wardrobe until he could decide what he wanted to do with it.

“It is unlikely I will wear it again for quite some time,” said Severus. “But it is the first heirloom of our house. It should be kept at Gringotts.” He removed the surplice and unbuttoned the cassock clear to the waist before toeing off his shoes.

Harry was already out of his shoes and socks and was scrunching his toes in the thick rug that adorned their room, closing his eyes in bliss. They snapped open when his own buttons flew apart, and he met Severus’ gaze with a wolfish smile. “I love magic,” he said as he approached Severus slowly. He dropped awkwardly to his knees and worked the rest of the cassock open, nosing over Severus’ groin as his robes opened.

The heavy cassock slipped off Severus’ shoulders and pooled at his feet, black as tar, and Harry began to roll the thick hose down Severus’ hips. Before he could finish the task, though, Severus Vanished them with a flick of his wand. “Never again,” he vowed. “They itch.”

Severus pulled Harry to his feet and helped him undress. “Begin as you mean to go on,” he said softly once Harry was standing naked before him. “And as you wished to nap once you’d seen to your base desires, it would be best to begin and end in bed.”

Smiling, Harry removed his glasses and tossed them on the bedside table before climbing onto the bed, his green eyes intent on Severus. “It’s comfortable here. Plenty of room, and we won’t have anyone walk in on us.” He stretched out on his side, his feet on his pillow, and propped his head with his hand.

The mattress dipped as Severus lay down and, having no desire to be kicked, was careful to keep his head away from Harry’s feet. “Where do you want me?” he asked as he rested a hand on Harry’s knee and traced circles on the sensitive skin of Harry’s inner thigh with his thumb.

“Just relax,” said Harry. “I like doing this. You know that.” He ran his fingers lightly over Severus’ cock, the skin soft under his fingertips, and watched eagerly as it hardened in his hand. He’d been so nervous the first time, but now he knew much better what they both enjoyed. He bent his head over Severus’ prick and inhaled, pulling the sharp tang of Severus’ musk into his nose. It was sex and love and comfort and home. It was belonging to and belonging with, and his heart leapt as his cock hardened, falling in love all over again.

He curled around Severus, wrapping his hand around the base of Severus’ cock, and licked along the vein. He swirled his tongue over the head and under the foreskin, hearing the sharp intake of breath through clenched teeth. A thrill rushed through him at the sound, and he pulled off to blow a stream of air onto the crown.

“I am old. Do try to remember that,” growled Severus as Harry dragged his tongue slowly along the shaft again. Harry gazed up through gleaming eyes and sucked as much of Severus’ prick into his mouth as he could manage. He hollowed his cheeks as he flicked at the notch, feeling long fingers settle into his hair. He closed his eyes and inhaled through his nose, bending his knee and resting his foot on the mattress as Severus’ other hand began its quest.

Harry settled down, licking, tasting, teasing and tormenting Severus, listening as Severus cursed softly. His head bobbed up and down, and his own cock throbbed at the feel of Severus’ prick on his tongue. Severus’ hips came up and Harry sucked harder, his tongue swirling over the head every chance he got. At hearing Severus gasp his name, he pulled off, gave three sharp tugs and closed his eyes as a stream of pearly fluid hit him squarely in the face.

Splash after splash spread warm and wet across Harry’s face, and he tilted his head back as a low moan of pleasure rumbled through his chest. He scrubbed a hand over his face and wiped the viscous fluid onto his chest as he blinked it out of his eyes.

Severus stared as a bead of come welled on Harry’s jaw before dripping onto his hip. “Bloody hell,” he breathed. “That’s a fucking wet dream.”

Harry blushed furiously and blinked in stunned surprise. Severus was many things, but vulgar was not one of them. Cutting, yes. Sarcastic, always, but Harry couldn’t remember the last time he heard Severus swear. “It seemed like a good idea at the time,” he ventured cautiously. He looked at his hand and licked it without thought, looking up when Severus laughed.

“We are limited only by your imagination,” said Severus. “You’ll find I am open to new experiences, but that,” he continued as he sat up, reaching out and dragging a finger over Harry’s cheekbone, “is not something I’d ever have thought to ask about.” He Summoned a flannel and carefully wiped Harry’s face clean. “A cleaning charm for the rest?”

“Might as well,” replied Harry with a bit of a wry grin, feeling the tingle of magic course over his skin. It never felt quite the same as washing up, but it would suffice. Once clean, he turned himself and rested his head on the pillow.

“What about you?” asked Severus. “Do you…?” He gestured towards Harry’s groin, but blinked when Harry shook his head.

“No, I’m good. A bit aroused but not really hard, you know? It’s nice.” Harry hoped that there would be a day when he could talk with Severus about sex without blushing. He yawned. “Don’t let me sleep too long, all right? An hour or so should do.”

“As you wish,” replied Severus, bending to give Harry a kiss. He rose from the bed and covered Harry with the duvet before heading into the bath, dimming the lights as he left the room.

Harry was asleep in minutes.

~*~

It was more celebration than meeting that night, and most of Harry’s friends put in an appearance. Even Demelza stopped by, though she was uncharacteristically quiet, and Harry considered that she might feel a bit intimidated by the presence of so many adults in a social setting. Kingsley Shacklebolt was enough to take the wind out of most sails, and the presence of the headmistress could be quite daunting to any first year. McGonagall did not resemble a kindly grandparent nearly as much as Dumbledore had done.

He and Severus had rearranged the furniture in anticipation of many more guests than usual. Small tables dotted the spacious room surrounded by clusters of chairs. A sideboard groaned under platters of food, and pitchers were filled with all manner of drink. By seven o’clock, most of the Order had arrived and by eight o’clock the teaching staff had joined them.

After excusing himself from a conversation with Bill, Harry wandered over to the sideboard where Demelza was selecting a tart and was met with a cool reception. “Hang on,” he said. “What’s this about?”

“I never get to see you anymore,” said Demelza. “Nor Ron, either. Every time I ask him for help he tells me he’s too busy. Same with Draco and Neville. Luna helps me, though. And Ginny sometimes, but you never do.”

“It’s N.E.W.T.s, Demelza,” explained Harry. “Honestly. All we’re doing is studying, I promise.”

“But you aren’t,” she protested. “Draco’s been working on some dumb potion, and Ron’s been following the house-elves about. Hermione’s doing lessons with the fifth years and the O.W.L. people, and no one has any time for me.”

“Is that why you’ve been so quiet tonight?” asked Harry, feeling a sharp pang of guilt. He hadn’t made any time for Demelza, and he’d been so busy with everything else that he’d allowed himself to forget about her. “Because you’re angry with me? You’ve every right, you know.” He knew all too well what it felt like to be excluded.

Demelza shook her head. “No, though I am a bit cross.” She took a step closer, her eyes sparkling. “I’ve been doing as Draco says. Listening to everybody. Did you know Severus has been writing letters to the Potions Guild? Has it anything to do with Draco’s project?”

Harry started, his head snapping around to give Severus a quick glance. His husband was deep in conversation with Kingsley, and Harry frowned. “No,” he said as he turned his attention back to Demelza. “I had no idea. What do you know of the letters?”

The smile Demelza gave him was very Slytherin. “Not much. I heard him tell Ron’s dad that the Potions Guild has no idea, either. Is the baby moving yet?” she asked in a lightning-quick change of subject, her eyes dropping to his stomach. “Can I feel it? I’ll bet it’s really big now.”

“It’s not very big yet,” said Harry absently, his curiosity about the Potions Guild piqued. “But it moves a lot. It’s about this big.” He laced his fingers about halfway, forming a small basket with his hands. “Pomfrey thinks it weighs about four pounds now. Have you studied mandrakes in Herbology yet?” Demelza shook her head. “Ask Neville to show you.”

“But is it moving?” she persisted, deciding for herself to see if it was. She laid her hand on Harry’s stomach, moving it from place to place.

“It sleeps when I’m up and moving about, but I reckon it will wake soon,” he replied. Harry had come to the conclusion that the baby tended to move when strangers to it touched him. Or when Severus did. The baby always seemed to wake for him. Harry hoped it wasn’t a sign that the child would do nothing but cry when Severus held it. “Come. Sit down with me.”

Harry and Demelza found space on a couch, and Harry sank down with a sigh of relief. Madam Pomfrey had warned him this might happen and, given how easy his pregnancy had been (or so Molly said), he figured he was due for a few aches and pains. “Rest your hand here,” he said, guiding it to a spot where the baby inevitably rested an elbow or knee. “And wait a few minutes. Tell me about your lessons. Are you finding any of them hard?”

Demelza did as instructed, placing her hand firmly on Harry’s side. She glanced around the room and noted where both Severus and Professor Sprout were located. “I hate Herbology. Don’t tell Neville, okay?” she pleaded. “He’s lovely, but I can’t tell the bloody plants apart. And Professor Prince is hard.”

Harry’s mind made a flying leap into the gutter, wallowing in the innuendo, and he very nearly choked at the flash of desire that the image provoked. Other than closing his eyes, though, he managed to keep his expression fairly bland. The baby reacted accordingly, kicking out with arms and legs to Demelza’s delight. “Did you feel that?!” she exclaimed, and Harry nodded.

“What are you going to name it? Do you know yet? Do you think it’ll be a boy or a girl? I think it’s going to be a boy and you should name it something strong, like Ulysses. Or Merlin. No one is ever named that any more. Have you any idea why? Is the name cursed or something?” She squealed as the baby gave a particularly hard kick, drawing the attention of every woman within hearing range. Harry’s eyes widened in horror as they all seemed to descend on him at once.

From that point on, their nice little party took on a surreal quality. As if suddenly and collectively Imperiused, every woman in attendance was compelled to touch his bulging abdomen, cooing as it stretched and rolled. They quickly began speculating on its gender based on how he was carrying it, and Molly began telling everyone who would listen about how she had known Ginny would be a girl because she was so unlike her brothers in utero.

That Harry, and by extension Severus, had categorically refused to find out if it was a boy or girl was not to be borne. Fleur, Hermione, Molly, and Minerva pleaded with him to change his mind and ask Madam Pomfrey at his next visit to perform the spell.

“You need to start preparing the nursery, Harry,” said Molly sternly. “You’ve not much time left, young man, and it’s not the sort of thing you can leave until the last minute. You will need more than clothes for the baby.”

“It’s all in the book I gave you, Harry,” said Hermione. “We should go to Diagon Alley. Hmmm,” she laid a finger on her chin and thought. “Let’s see. Oh, we should go next weekend.”

“Gryffindor are playing Hufflepuff then,” exclaimed Ginny and Harry together. They shared a look and shook their heads. Hermione would never understand about Quidditch.

“Harry can’t go to Diagon Alley during a match,” said Ron as he absented himself from a conversation with his father and Bill. “We need him on the pitch. He’s still Reserve Seeker, even if he can’t suit up.” Ron tickled Demelza and walked behind the sofa to stand behind Hermione. “Falconner still needs loads of work, mate. Any chance of you coming to practice tomorrow? We could really use you.”

Harry was torn. On the one hand, he had promised not to fly, and watching his team go through their paces without him would hurt in the worst way. On the other hand, since he had been captain of the Quidditch team before, he knew how useful another set of eyes could be. He could sit in the stands and suggest areas the team needed to work on to beat Hufflepuff.

“I’ll be there,” he said finally. “I won’t be flying, though. I promised Severus I’d stay off my broom until June.” Harry saw Ginny’s eyes narrow, and she set her jaw the same way Molly did when she was biting her tongue. Hermione glared at him, and Fleur was eyeing him with suspicion. He felt very nervous.

“Severus had no right grounding you,” snarled Ginny. “You’re a brilliant flyer.”

“Ginevra Weasley, I’ll thank you not to put ideas like that in Harry’s head,” snapped Molly. “He made a promise to his husband, and he will respect it.”

Harry sank into the sofa as Ginny’s expression grew mulish, wishing he wasn’t in between them when they started to argue. “I’ll be in the stands,” he said quickly, “with my Potions notes. I’m revising from first year,” he said to Demelza, “so how about coming with me? I can help with your homework.”

“Harry should be able to decide for himself whether to fly or not,” said Ginny in a low voice throbbing with anger. “It’s not for Severus to decide.”

“Actually, it is, Gin,” said Harry quietly, ignoring the questions Demelza was throwing at him like confetti. “If I was going it alone, maybe not, but I’m married and I won’t set that aside. Not even for Quidditch.”

“I should think not,” declared Hermione. “You have a responsibility to Severus and, well, I shouldn’t think flying would be very safe for someone in your condition.”

Harry looked at her askance, stopping just short of rolling his eyes.

“I asked Harry to watch practice,” said Ron. “Maybe you lot should give him a bit of credit for not being entirely thick.”

“Gee, thanks, Ron,” said Harry with a wry grin, craning his head around to meet Ron’s gaze. He knew Ron was thinking of the argument they’d had when Harry had been mad at the world, Severus in particular, and Ron had pushed him hard to fix things between the two of them. He’d been a right git then.

Harry turned his attention back to Demelza, who was still barraging him with questions. “Yes, I will tell you tomorrow when it moves. No, we’ve not talked about names, but I’m not calling it Ulysses so put that thought right out of your head.” What a horrible idea.

“Not a name I would have considered,” said Severus, and Harry’s head came up, his smile painted with relief. “I have asked the Order members to meet with us in the laboratory in a few minutes. I have already spoken to Arthur and Kingsley.” He gazed in turn at Molly, Luna, Ron, and Hermione to ensure they knew he was including them. “I have yet to tell Draco and Neville.”

“They’re in your study,” said Luna. “I asked Neville for a pair of crystals, and Draco said he thought he’d seen some back there. Neville went to help him look, but they’ve been gone for awhile.”

There were no crystals in the study. Harry and Severus’ eyes met, and a silent question passed between them. “Right, then,” said Harry after a moment. “I’ll go.”

“Do you know where the crystals are?” asked Luna. “I need them for you, but they need to be matched. I’ll go look for them instead.”

“Why do you—? Never mind,” said Severus, and Harry knew he was unwilling to be drawn into a long conversation with Luna that would only lead to a state of profound confusion. “Please bring Draco and Neville to the laboratory when you’ve finished.”

Harry took the hand Severus extended to him and promised to tell Demelza what he could. “I needed rescuing,” he said softly as they stepped away, the others just a few steps behind. He rubbed a spot on his side that felt bruised from the inside. “I don’t think it likes the attention,” he said with a frown. “It’s like it knows there are people around who aren’t us. It’s odd, like that prickle one gets just before a spell hits.”

“Do me a favour and ask Poppy about that,” replied Severus with a frown. “I have no idea if that sort of reaction is considered normal.” He pushed open the door and ushered everyone inside.

Harry stepped through the doorway, surprised that he was being allowed, even encouraged, to come into the laboratory. A moment later he understood. Everything, including the vast workbenches, shimmered with protective magic. The cupboards were sealed, the equipment covered, and the shelves of ingredients were barricaded against all but the most determined wizard. Severus had even conjured enough stools for everyone and managed to find a way to anchor them to the floor so Harry couldn’t accidentally topple one. If Harry got hurt in here, it would be his own fault.

Severus wasted no time, launching into his report the moment Kingsley closed the door. “I expect most of you remember—” He paused as the door opened and his eyebrow arched when Neville, Draco, and Luna slipped inside appearing somewhat dishevelled. He went very still when Luna set two crystals in the centre of the workbench. “Remove those,” he commanded as the crystals started to vibrate.

Luna snatched them up quickly and put them in her pocket, drawing curious eyes to her as she did so. She gave Severus a vacant smile and slipped her hand inside Neville’s.

“As I was saying,” continued Severus, not waiting for the three tardy members to find seats or conjure their own, “I expect most of you remember Achilles Becker. I spoke with him briefly today to plead for his assistance. As he was the one who sent the potion originally, it followed that he would know what it is. The Potions Guild knew of nothing that contains all of the ingredients we discovered.”

“Oh, I wish I’d brought my notebook,” groaned Hermione.

Severus glanced at her. “I doubt there is cause for extensive notes. Becker informed me that he sent the vaccine for Harpy’s Throat. It is routinely administered to children at age two, and again when they’re four.”

“Harpy’s Throat? I will never forget how sick you boys were when you had the vaccination,” said Molly as her sympathetic gaze settled on each of her sons in turn. “Charlie especially. Poor lamb didn’t sleep for two days. Fred cried and cried, and Percy couldn’t keep anything down.”

“I remember,” said Bill grimly. “Ron screamed every time he was touched, and George spent the next three days curled up in a tight ball and moaning.” He looked directly at Harry. “It feels like someone has just tied your guts into knots before soaking them in acid. I don’t know which is worse, to be honest, living through it or watching someone else, knowing they feel like they’re being ripped apart from the inside out.”

Harry turned green. The knowledge he would have to put his own child through that was doing peculiar things to his heart. “Wouldn’t it be better just to skip it? I never had the stuff, and I’m fine.”

“Harpy Throat is a dreadful disease, Harry,” said Arthur. “As bad as the prevention is, the disease is worse.”

“We will have you immunised as soon as it is safe to do so,” interjected Severus. His eyes cut over to Hermione. “Muggle-borns are naturally immune.”

“It’s a death sentence,” intoned Kingsley. “It starts with the victim unable speak except by shrieking, which shreds the vocal cords. When they start healing, the disease seals off the airway, and at the first full moon, the lungs turn to stone. There is no cure for it.” His face became a mask. “Early in my career I had to take a woman to Azkaban for using the Killing Curse on her son. She couldn’t bear to see him suffer from it. He was dying.”

“She went to Azkaban?” said Harry in a hushed whisper. He hunched over protectively, turning his head when he felt a comforting hand on his shoulder. It was Arthur’s.

“They’re Unforgivables, Harry,” said Kingsley, his voice gentle. “I had no choice.” Molly and Hermione’s eyes glistened. Fleur appeared stricken and she moved closer to Bill.

Draco cleared his throat. “I remember taking that potion, and it was every bit as horrible as everyone has made it out to be, but did Becker tell you why the vaccine has blue cohosh, pennyroyal and rue in it? And why wouldn’t the Potions Guild know what it was if those ingredients are supposed to be in there?”

“Remind me what the note said?” asked Bill.

“All it said was, ‘Severus, I read the article in the Prophet. Potter’s pregnancy is no accident. The answer lies within.’ The note was in a Transfiguration book, along with a small phial of potion,” said Ron. “The book was charmed so that only Severus would find the potion. Slick bit of magic, that.”

“Severus, Draco, and Hermione have been working on decoding the potion for weeks,” said Neville. “They got as far as learning it was a vaccine, but we thought it must be one of the ones for adults because of the rue and stuff.”

Silence fell over the group as they tried to make some sense of what they knew. “Did you ask Becker where he acquired the potion?” asked Kingsley.

“I did,” replied Severus. “I was told it was from the inventory at St Mungo’s. Becker made it sound as though he’d taken it directly from their stores and sent it to me. I cannot imagine why a contraceptive element would be placed in a potion clearly intended for children, but I come back to the phrase, ‘Potter’s pregnancy is no accident,’ which suggests it is deliberate.”

“Or,” said Arthur, “it was not an accident that it happened at all. What are we missing, Severus?”

Severus shook his head. It was apparent that he’d not found a way over, under or through the wall that prevented his understanding. “It would be helpful to have the recipe for the potion as brewed at St Mungo’s. The formulary would provide us with a more comprehensive understanding than we have gleaned thus far.”

“What are you planning to do next?” asked Harry, his manner deceptively calm, though there was a certain hardness to the set of his features that hadn’t been present a moment ago. He wasn’t pleased to know that Severus was courting danger again, and as the months had passed, Harry found he was less and less concerned with how he’d conceived a child, and much more concerned with rearing it. He had no desire to undertake that obligation alone.

“Nothing more than write a letter,” replied Severus. “I intend to ask Dominic Janda—he’s the Potions Master for the hospital—to send me a fresh phial of Harpy Throat vaccine, that I might compare it to the sample Becker sent. I will also request the ingredients list and compare it to what I find in the potion.”

There was something Harry found assuring in the depths of Severus’ eyes and he nodded. “I worry,” he admitted. He coloured at finding himself at the centre of attention and wished he’d not said anything at all.

“Is there anything else?” asked Kingsley. “I promised a game of chess to Filius.”

Bill whistled, and Arthur laughed. “I wager he’ll have you in checkmate in less than a dozen moves.”

The group started to disperse, but Harry said, “Just one thing.” He told them quickly about his encounter with Fudge. “He doesn’t believe I’m pregnant, thought the Prophet was making it up out of whole cloth.”

A shocked silence filled the room. “He said that?” Draco shook his head. “My father always thought Cornelius was a bit of an idiot, but there’s no mistaking that shape for anything else.”

Arthur, Molly, and Kingsley frowned. “It will come as no surprise that Fudge blames you for his ouster,” said Kingsley. “I’ll keep an eye on him. As former acting Minister, it is my unfortunate task to meet with him on a regular basis. He’s not listened to a word I’ve said in the twenty years I’ve known him, though, so I’m not certain what he expects to gain.”

“Your loyalty,” said Arthur. “As you well know.”

“He liked me well enough back when he thought Sirius Black wanted to murder me,” remarked Harry. “Once he learnt that Sirius was my godfather, he stopped believing anything I said.” He shot Severus a quick look. “You weren’t best pleased with me, either.”

“I was rendered unconscious, nearly eaten by a werewolf, made to relive my worst memories in a desperate attempt to rescue you from about a hundred Dementors, and was made a fool of in front of the Minister of Magic. What part of that was meant to endear yourself to me?”

“None of it,” Harry replied cheerily. “I loathed you then, and you hated me right back. I reckon we were rather evenly matched.”

“Zey are so cute togezzer,” gushed Fleur with a sickeningly sweet smile on her face. Bill barked out a laugh, and Neville choked. Ron turned red as a beet as Severus scowled.

“You have ruined me,” he said, though a note of amusement escaped from his defeated tone. He helped Harry off the stool and pulled him into his arms. “My reputation is in tatters, and it’s all your doing.”

That Severus would embrace him in front of their friends demonstrated how far they had travelled together, and Harry smiled. “I’ll make it up to you later,” he promised, his voice pitched so only Severus would hear.

To Harry’s surprise, Severus’ countenance sobered. “We’ll see.” They returned to the party to find it still going strong, and by the time they finally went to bed many hours later, Harry had forgotten about it in favour of getting some much needed rest.

~*~

Whether due to their trip to the Ministry or his encounter with Fudge, Harry’s sleep was plagued with nightmares. At one point, he was back in Courtroom Ten, secured in place by a pair of Dementors clutching his arms. Over the sound of his mother’s screams, Dolores Umbridge was interrogating him about the Elder Wand whilst Cornelius Fudge was lifting the cover off a silver salver to reveal a roast baby with an orange in its mouth.

Harry must have started to scream at one point, since he woke to Severus trying to calm him, but he was so horrified by his nightmare that he rolled over and vomited over the edge of the mattress. “I’m sorry,” he said weakly, too distraught to be embarrassed by it.

Severus Vanished the sick and disappeared for a few minutes, returning with a glass of water and a wet cloth that he used to cool Harry’s forehead. “Drink this. There’s Calming Draught in it and a touch of ginger as well. It will settle your stomach.”

By the time Harry finished drinking it, he was wracked with shivers and felt like he’d never get warm again. Severus brought him a heavy nightshirt that felt tight across his middle, but he was so grateful for the additional warmth that he didn’t care. He burrowed under the covers and snuggled up against Severus, but his teeth continued to chatter no matter how many blankets Severus piled on top of him.

When he woke for the second time, every muscle in Harry’s body ached and his head felt like it weighed a thousand pounds. He cracked open a bloodshot eye and, after shoving his glasses onto his face, discovered that the dark blob was Severus. “What time is it?” he asked thickly.

“Time for you to see Poppy,” replied Severus, his brow furrowed. He laid his hand on Harry’s forehead, but Harry flinched and drew away almost immediately. The lines on Severus’ face deepened.

“Your hand is cold,” Harry complained and pulled the covers up under his chin. He pulled off his spectacles and tossed them carelessly back onto the nightstand. It hurt to wear them, and he had no intention of leaving the bed until nature or circumstances forced him to do so.

“No, you’re burning up.” Severus stood and surveyed Harry for a moment. “On second thought, I will ask her to come here.” He picked up his wand and sent a Patronus requesting Madam Pomfrey come down to the dungeons. Once that was done, he spent a few minutes making Harry comfortable and himself presentable.

“He has flu, Severus,” said Poppy fifteen minutes later. “Give him half a dose of Pepper-Up, it won’t hurt the baby, but absolutely nothing with willow bark. I want to see him again before dinner, and try to get him to eat something.” She patted Harry lightly on the shoulder. “It’s normal to catch cold around this stage, but I won’t bore you with the details. Get some rest.”

Wizard’s flu proved to be the high point of Harry’s day. He walked on shaky legs to the Great Hall at lunchtime, mostly to beg off Quidditch practice, though he hated to let Ginny down, and to have a bite of something hot to eat. He was sorry to note steam coming from the ears of several people who had been at the party the day before.

“It’s March,” said Hermione as she dabbed a tissue to her nose. “The entire castle seems to come down with a cold the moment the snow starts to melt. How are you feeling? You look dreadful.” She picked up her cup of tea and inhaled the steam.

“You’re one to talk,” observed Harry, turning his head to avoid coughing in her face. “Tired. Bad dreams.” He filled a goblet with his usual pumpkin juice and ladled some stew into a bowl. A copy of the Sunday Prophet was lying a short distance away, and he pulled it towards himself to see if there were any photographs of Severus he could cut out and save.

He flipped through the newspaper as he ate, his eye skimming down each page. In addition to the usual columns providing housekeeping tips and relationship advice, there was an entire section devoted to yesterday’s reception at the Ministry. A low growl rumbled through his chest at seeing photograph after photograph of himself scowling from the pages of the Prophet. His growl became a yelp, though, when he came across a shot taken from some distance away. “I’m huge,” he said in dismay.

Hermione sneezed and wiped her nose before peering over her shoulder to have a look for herself. “You look the same as you always do. Well, except for the robes, of course. Those are much nicer than your school robes.”

“That’s how I look?” he said, aghast. Draco was right; there was no mistaking his shape for anything else. His cheeks burned, and he wished he was back in the dungeons.

Ron joined them at the table and frowned as he gazed at Harry. “Bloody hell, mate. You look awful,” he said as he slapped together a sandwich. “Have Hermione’s cold, do you?”

“It’s going around,” said Harry glumly, as his photograph self sidled behind a plump wizard nearly as round as he was tall. He continued to glance at the pages, cheering slightly when he found a lovely picture of Severus speaking with one of the current members of the Wizengamot. He started to tear the page, when Ron stopped him.

“Hold on,” said Ron. “What’s this?” He tapped an article on the reverse side, and Harry turned the page and read the headline, Unspeakable Found Dead. Murder in Department of Mysteries?

“The body of Unspeakable Achilles Becker, 55, was discovered in the rotunda of the Department of Mysteries yesterday afternoon, following a reception for new members of the Wizengamot, the Prophet learned last night.” Harry read aloud. “‘The gentleman’s tongue and eyeballs were savagely removed,’ stated Investigator Farlow Findlater, ‘and there was a great deal of blood. The Department of Magical Law Enforcement has not ruled out foul play.'” Harry grimaced, relieved the article hadn’t gone into more detail. “Anyone with further information is requested to owl the Ministry, Mail Stop DMLE #7925.”

“Not ruled out foul play?” said Ron incredulously. “Good to know they’re on top of things. Kingsley’s got his work cut out for him if that’s what passes for investigation.”

“That’s the person Severus spoke with yesterday,” Hermione said in a whisper. “I wonder if he knows.”

Harry shook his head and then coughed for a bit. “I’ve got to tell him he may have been followed yesterday. Dammit! I was afraid of something like this.” He ate another bite of stew, chewing as he came to his feet and headed towards the exit, newspaper in hand. He was no more than halfway through the Great Hall when two Aurors in red robes walked in.

Harry froze, his hand dropping automatically to his wand. He glanced back, heartened to see Ron and Hermione hurrying toward him. The Great Hall was sparsely populated, nearly everybody outside enjoying the first hint of spring; those still indoors were waiting for the effects of Pepper-up to wear off. McGonagall and Wimple, the Transfiguration professor, were at the Staff Table, though, and that fact alone eased some of Harry’s tension.

“Harry Potter?” demanded the taller of the two as he came to a halt no more than an arm’s length away.

“No,” replied Harry honestly. If they couldn’t be bothered to address him by his proper name, he wouldn’t bother to assist them. “Excuse me, please.” He started to push past them, his heart hammering in his chest, but he was stopped before he could take more than a couple of steps.

“I know you’re Harry Potter,” repeated the Auror suspiciously. “I’ve seen your picture in all the papers. You look just like him.”

“Sorry,” replied Harry as Ron and Hermione stood shoulder to shoulder with him. “C’mon. Let’s go,” he said to his friends and took another step forward.

“We’ve an arrest warrant for Harry Potter,” said the other. “We’re taking you into custody and accompanying you to the Ministry of Magic, where you will be questioned and imprisoned until we know what we’re to do with you.”

“On what charge?” demanded Hermione.

“Who are you?” snapped McGonagall. Harry turned and saw the headmistress storming down the aisle between the Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff tables. “And what are you doing here at Hogwarts?” She flicked her wand and a silvery cat flew off towards the dungeons.

The Aurors exchanged a look; this was supposed to have been a straightforward mission. Go to Hogwarts. Arrest Harry Potter. Bring him to the Ministry. “It’s like this, Professor,” said the first. “We’ve got this warrant, and we mean to bring Mr Potter back with us.”

“Let me see your warrant,” barked McGonagall. She held out her hand, and then unfurled the parchment when it was reluctantly handed over. “It says you are to arrest Harry Potter for improper use of magic in a restricted area.” She gazed over the top of her spectacles, her eyes flinty. “There is no Harry Potter at Hogwarts, so I suggest you return to the Ministry at once.”

The shorter of the two Aurors crumpled to the floor and Harry leapt back in astonishment. Before the other Auror could turn, he too, was falling, glancing off Ron’s shoulder as he spun to the ground. “Severus!” He stepped over the smaller of the two, his face draining of colour as the shock set in.

“Contact Kingsley before you Rennervate these two,” snarled Severus. “I doubt it’s his signature at the bottom of that warrant. It’s a good thing Fudge is more of a dunderhead than we imagined, or we would have had no leg to stand on. Harry, request sanctuary from Minerva. Do it now.”

“Do what?” Although confused about what Severus was requiring, Harry nevertheless stood before McGonagall. He gave Severus an uncertain glance, coughed again, and then said, “I request sanctuary.”

McGonagall slashed downward with her wand. “I, Minerva McGonagall, headmistress of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, grant thee sanctuary,” and Harry was momentarily encased in shimmering silver light. “Go to the dungeons, Harry, and remain there until Severus says otherwise.” Her expression softened, and she widened her gaze to encompass Ron and Hermione. “You may go with him if you wish.”

“What was that all about?” asked Harry when they reached the doorway to his rooms. Neither Severus nor McGonagall said another word to him, busying themselves instead with floating the two unconscious Aurors to the headmistress’ office.

“Sanctuary,” said Hermione. “It’s an old custom dating back to the days of Arthur and Merlin. Persons in danger of unlawful arrest due to political differences could seek asylum in castles and churches. Hogwarts has always been a place of sanctuary, even from the Ministry. Fudge can’t touch you here, though it doesn’t mean he won’t try to lure you away.”

“Puts a bit of a crimp in your shopping plans,” said Ron with a grin. “But, on the other hand, there’s Quidditch.”

Harry collapsed onto the sofa and curled up. His head was throbbing, his chest felt tight and now he was confined to Hogwarts for who knew how long? “This is almost enough to make me regret shagging Severus that first time. Almost. How long do you reckon this will last?”

Hermione bit her lip and her brow creased. “I imagine until Fudge pardons you.”

“I’ve not done anything,” protested Harry. “It was a bit of wild magic, and it wasn’t even mine. Surely there must be something in the law that protects me from things like that.”

“I honestly don’t know,” said Hermione, her dark eyes gleaming suddenly in a manner that made Ron groan aloud. “But I’ll bet I can find something in the library.” She headed to the door, sneezed and muttered something about the infirmary before leaving. “I’ll let you know—”

“What you find out,” interrupted Ron. “Yeah, we know. I suppose I’ll see you at dinner.”

Hermione rolled her eyes and left. “Don’t you have practice in a bit?” Harry asked once the door closed.

“Yeah, I do. Are you coming?” asked Ron with a frown. “Don’t take this the wrong way mate, but I’m kind of hoping you don’t. I know Quidditch is more important than life, but I reckon Mum would go off her nut if she found out you were mucking about with it when you’ve taken ill, and since she and Dad are here every bloody weekend, it would be a bit of a miracle, really, if she didn’t.”

“If your mum didn’t kill me, Madam Pomfrey would,” said Harry. “And then Severus would kill me all over again. I figure I’d be out of lives by then. Besides, I need to tell Severus about Becker. He might need to claim sanctuary as well.” He sighed. “Is it too much to hope Fudge gets run down by a rampaging hippogriff? Eaten by a Blast-Ended Skrewt? Maybe Grawp can sit on him.”

“Good to know you’re looking on the bright side of things,” grinned Ron. “I’ve got to run. You know how Ginny is.”

“Thanks, Ron,” said Harry, his demeanour so serious that Ron stopped in his tracks. “You’ve been really good about things lately, and, well, thanks.”

To his credit, Ron said nothing more than, “You’re welcome,” before giving Harry a brilliant smile and heading off to the pitch. Having a friend around who no longer pulled faces at any sign of affection between himself and Severus, who no longer rolled his eyes when he mentioned his relationship, who no longer blinked at seeing him curled up at Severus’ side, meant everything to Harry. Ron’s grin only confirmed he’d done the right thing.

~*~

Harry awoke hours later from a nap he hadn’t intended to take to find Severus settled in the chair opposite the couch, his long legs stretched out and propped on a low table, fingers laced across his abdomen. A cup of tea sat near at hand, a Potions journal lay face down in his lap. Harry realised that Severus must have been watching him sleep. He knew from his anxiety-riddled summer how soothing that could be, to sit quietly and just be for a little while.

“I didn’t mean to fall asleep,” said Harry groggily. He sat up and rubbed his eyes before looking around for his glasses.

Severus waved off his apology. “You required it.” He was still gazing at him strangely, and Harry ran his hands through his hair and wondered if he had drool crusted on his cheek or something else equally unattractive. “I don’t think I’ve ever told you how utterly beautiful I find you,” he continued in that same quiet voice.

Harry didn’t know what to make of that. Severus wasn’t given to compliments of any sort, though he had surprised Harry with one as recently as the day before. Remembering the photograph he’d seen earlier, he ran his hand over his distended body, wishing he felt worthy of the sentiment. There was nothing remotely attractive about him.

“Pay it no mind,” said Severus as the openness faded. He picked up his journal and started to read.

“No. No, I like hearing it,” said Harry earnestly, hoping he hadn’t trampled on Severus’ feelings. “It’s just…I saw a photo in the Prophet, and, Merlin, Severus, I’d no idea I look like that. I mean, I should have known, I guess, but I only look down at it.”

Severus set his journal aside. “I never understood why men found their wives so attractive when they were pregnant, but then, I never understood their attraction to women in the first place. I’ve been telling you all along I find it fascinating, but I never expected to find it so beautiful. There is no other word for it.”

“I’ve no idea what I’d do if you found this repulsive.” Harry yawned and stretched. “What happened with the Aurors?”

Severus moved to the sofa and pulled Harry back down, using his thigh as a pillow for Harry’s head. “Minerva firecalled Kingsley. After a little Veritaserum, we learnt the Department never swore out a warrant for your arrest. We sent the pair of Aurors to him through the Floo, along with the warrant they tried to serve. It came directly from Fudge.” He paused for a moment, his expression grave. “Harry, Becker’s dead. He was—”

“I know,” interrupted Harry. “It was in the Prophet. I meant to tell you when you came in, but I sort of slept through that.”

“It’s my fault,” said Severus grimly. “If I hadn’t consulted with him yesterday, he’d still be alive. I should have realised I’d be watched.”

“What is worth killing him for?” asked Harry. “This can’t all be because of the baby, can it? Is it time to start looking at the Wizengamot again? Oh, Hermione’s looking to see if there’s really a law about the use of magic in restricted areas, or whatever it is they wanted to arrest me for doing. And to see if there are any rules I might hide behind.” Severus’ mouth dropped open. “Don’t say it, alright?” said Harry. “I do know how to work my way around the rules.”

“Yes, it’s quite Slytherin of you,” said Severus dryly. “I’ll be interested to see what Hermione uncovers. I do not think the Wizengamot is necessarily behind anything, but I see Fudge’s hand in it, whatever it might turn out to be. He has all the stealth of a wounded Minotaur. I’ve also contacted Dominic at St Mungo’s. We should hear back from them within the next few days.”

But a few days passed and there was no word from the hospital’s Potions Master, so Severus sent more owls to St Mungo’s and to the Potions Guild as well. In the meantime, Aurors were appearing at Hogwarts daily to attempt to question Harry about his accidental use of magic and to interrogate Severus about his whereabouts during the reception.

The only bright spot in the month was the Quidditch match against Hufflepuff. Harry and Severus bundled up and headed toward the pitch with the rest of the school, then argued about where to sit. Severus categorically refused to sit in the Gryffindor stands and Harry was equally adamant against sitting in the Teachers’ Box.

“Why don’t we all sit in Slytherin?” said Demelza. “We can cheer for whomever we want in there.” She was looking forward to watching Ron play, and as an unofficial Gryffindor, felt no compunction about rooting for them. She shoved her hands in her cloak and drew up her shoulders.

“I can sit with Astoria,” said Hermione. “And everybody expects Harry to sit in Slytherin anyway.”

“They do?” This was news to Harry, but in retrospect wasn’t that much of a surprise. He wrapped his Gryffindor scarf more tightly around his neck and cast a Warming Charm over Demelza. “Then we’d best hurry if we want to see the start of the match.”

“Well done, Ms Montague,” said Severus as he wrapped an arm around Harry’s shoulders. “Ten points to Slytherin.” Demelza beamed. They scurried up as high as they could go and found seats near the top, but Harry stood for a moment, gazing around for a pair of blond heads offsetting a tall, dark and increasingly handsome man.

“Has anyone seen Neville?”

“The silver trio?” asked Severus as he, too, scanned the crowds for sign of them. “Not since breakfast.” He frowned. “It’s not like Draco to miss a Quidditch match.”

“If you believe that,” said Harry as he sat down next to Severus, “then you weren’t paying attention. He didn’t even play in sixth year. He was too busy trying to find a way to let Death Eaters into the castle.” There was no censure in Harry’s voice, no judgement in his tone. It was the simple truth, and that he’d spoken it without rancour was an affirmation that he’d put his past behind him.

“I will admit I had more pressing issues to contend with,” replied Severus. He pressed a kiss against Harry’s temple before shifting about to find a way to sit with his hand resting against Harry’s side. “But I cannot recall an instance when all three were absent.”

Harry frowned. He tapped Demelza on the shoulder and bent down to shout, “Do you know where Draco is?” in her ear. It was unclear whether she heard him though, as the Gryffindor team was being introduced, and she was too busy screaming for Ron and Ginny to answer.

“Do you know where Draco is?” he shouted again, enunciating each word clearly.

The player introductions were winding down, Madam Hooch released the Snitch, and the match was underway to tumultuous applause. It was obvious right off the bat that Falconner was going to have a hard time catching anything, and Harry wished, wished, wished that he could play.

“He’s in London,” shouted Demelza before squealing loudly in his ear. Ron had just made a save.

“London?” Harry asked Severus, his eyes wide. “You don’t suppose Neville and Luna are with him, do you?”

“It’s possible,” said Severus. “If not likely. But there is nothing we can do about it from here.” They settled in and watched as the match dragged on and on and on. Gryffindor did a masterful job of getting the Quaffle through the hoops, but Falconner was too easily driven away from the Snitch to catch it, and Hufflepuff finally managed to defeat Gryffindor 180-140.

As they walked back to the castle, it occurred to Harry that Severus had been very nearly demonstrative that afternoon. He had been thoughtful, considerate and kind, without a trace of his former bitterness or cruelty to mar the day. For a man who had once declared he did not feel comfortable showing affection, he had been free with soft touches and the occasional gentle caress, and Harry was reminded just how deep Severus’ emotions ran.

Harry lingered around the Entrance Hall for a bit, waiting for Ron and the others to return from the pitch. “Tough loss, Gin,” he said when they dragged themselves through the doorway. “I’ll see about working with Falconner before the match against Ravenclaw, but we’re still in this thing. Don’t forget that.”

“I know,” replied Ginny as the Hufflepuff team burst through the door to raucous cheers. They were quickly surrounded and escorted to the basement for what Harry knew would be a wild victory party. “But I do wish you’d not promised to wait ’til after the baby was born to fly again. We need you, Harry,” she said heatedly.

“I can’t have another match like I did against Slytherin,” said Harry. “It’s not fair to anybody, not even me. Ron did a great job as Keeper, though, and the Beaters very nearly kept Summerby from catching the Snitch. You can still win the Cup.”

“Don’t mind Ginny,” said Ron, coming up behind them and slinging an arm around Harry’s shoulder. “She’s still hacked off about your deal with Severus. Rough match, though. Are you coming up to the Tower for the post-match party?”

Harry shook his head. “No, I was hoping you knew where Neville is.”

Ron dropped his arm and gave Harry a hard look. “What do you mean, know where Neville is? Didn’t he watch the match with you?” His eyes narrowed. “Speaking of which, why was everybody in the Slytherin box?”

Harry gave Ron a sheepish grin. “Odd thing, that. We all walked together to the pitch, but we couldn’t figure out where to sit. Severus wanted to sit in the Teachers’ Box, but that just wasn’t on, and he would not sit in the Gryffindor box. But since we had a few Slytherins with us…” He shrugged. “It worked out. But,” he continued, “Demelza said Draco went to London, and we think Neville and Luna might be with him, and I was hoping you knew something.”

“Not a thing, mate,” said Ron, who appeared every bit as perplexed as Harry. “I’ll ask around the common room, though, and let you know if I hear anything. Are you having dinner in your rooms or in the Great Hall?”

“Great Hall, I think,” said Harry. “McGonagall’s been getting a bit starchy with Severus since we’ve been missing so many meals lately. He is the Deputy Head, after all.”

“One big happy family,” said Ron with a broad grin. They went their separate ways, Ron to the Tower, Harry to the dungeons, no longer dark and menacing, but warm and comforting. Home.

It was on his way back to the Great Hall that Harry encountered Neville and Luna coming through the great oak doors that led to the Entrance Hall. Neville was laughing at something Luna had said and gazing at her with such fondness that even Harry felt warmed by it. “Where have you been?” he exclaimed upon seeing them. “We got worried when we didn’t see you at the match today.”

Neville and Luna exchanged a look that spoke volumes. Harry was worried about them? “We were at St Mungo’s,” said Neville, his arm around Luna’s shoulders. “Remember that dust-up in Defence?”

“That bonding exercise? Pretty hard to forget, given that half the class ended up in the Hospital Wing.” A memory danced around the edge of Harry’s brain, but he couldn’t quite catch hold of it. He tilted his head a bit and looked expectantly at Neville, but Luna spoke first.

“I’m going up to the Tower to get those crystals. Harry’s a bit better now but he’s still a bit wonky through the middle,” she said in her usual vague tone. “Don’t eat too much at dinner, Harry. You might get queasy after, but it’ll be all right in the end.”

Neville didn’t bat an eye. Instead, he gave Luna a quick kiss. “We’ll be at the Gryffindor table.” His eyes followed her as she floated up the marble stairs, and he wore a smile Harry seldom saw on his face. He coloured a little at finding Harry watching him and shrugged. “She’s amazing,” he said and headed in for dinner.

The ceiling overhead was a deepening blue with lines of brilliant gold and bright pink gleaming along the west edge, and Harry thought back to the day they’d charmed it, the love he’d poured into his spell, and chuckled at his sentimentality. The candles floated overhead, and for a moment, everything seemed normal. Then the baby kicked and he laughed. Normal was something that happened in books.

“Nothing, nothing,” he said in response to Neville’s odd look.

They joined their group of friends, Neville holding Harry’s upper arm as he stepped over the bench to sit down. “It’s harder when you can’t see your feet,” he explained as he sat down. He was big enough now that moving felt awkward, and it was always the small things that caught him off guard.

Food appeared, and as Harry started to fill his plate, Luna’s warning still in mind, Neville explained where they’d been. “Remember Draco had a sore rib that Madam Pomfrey couldn’t fix?” he said as he dished up more food than Harry could eat in a week. “The Healer at St Mungo’s said he has some Muggle disease.”

“That must not have gone over well,” said Hermione a bit acerbically as she ladled Brussels sprouts onto her plate. “He’s loads better now, but it’s still there. He can’t help it, though. It’s the way he was brought up.” She looked up to find herself the centre of attention. “Go on,” she urged.

“I hated the Malfoys every bit as much as you did,” Neville said quietly, “but they’ve worked hard since the war. You’d have been surprised to see Gran, Lucius and Xenophilius getting on so well, but this is supposed to be about Draco. They Vanished three of his ribs today, the bad one and the ones on either side, just to be safe. He’s taking Skele-Gro today and tonight to re-grow them.”

Harry shuddered, and his sympathy for Draco jumped into the stratosphere. “Vile stuff,” he remarked.

“Will he be alright?” asked Ginny. “He’s a fair Seeker, and there’s a match coming up soon.”

“Why didn’t he tell us?” asked Ron between bites. They’d been at the table for five minutes and already he was halfway through his meal. “We could have visited him after the match.”

Neville seemed surprised, even a bit grateful, to find himself barraged with questions about Draco. “The Healers say he’ll make a full recovery, but he’ll have to go back regularly for scans just in case. He’ll be back on the pitch for the next match.” He looked at each of them in turn. “Don’t say anything about it, though. Let him tell you, or not. He doesn’t like to appear weak.”

“When will he be back?” asked Harry. He smiled as Luna slid in beside Neville, but his smile faltered as she set the crystals down on the table near her plate. He still found it hard to believe she’d found those in his study. It was more likely that she had conjured or transfigured them out of something, but crystals were notoriously tricky to make, and he still had no idea what she intended to do with them or why she thought he needed them.

Luna’s gaze swept over the Great Hall, her expression somewhat vacant. She paid little attention as she helped herself to food, and Harry wondered if she knew what she was eating, or if it even mattered to her. “The Healers expect he’ll be out tomorrow,” she said. “I should have his bracelet finished by then. Neville and I will go to bring him back, and I’ll put it on him then.”

Hermione blinked, and Harry knew she wanted to say something catty, but her intellect had never fared well against Luna’s intuitive grasp of magic. Even worse, Luna’s track record was very nearly perfect. The biggest difference between them was that Luna trusted her instincts completely and Hermione didn’t trust her own at all.

“How was the match?” asked Neville and the conversation turned to Quidditch, something for which Harry was very grateful. If given half a chance Hermione would steer them in the direction of N.E.W.T.s, and that was a subject he would rather avoid talking about.

As Ron and Ginny started to discuss Falconner’s strengths and weaknesses as a Seeker, Neville leaned over and whispered to Harry, “I need to speak with you and Severus after dinner. May we come down?”

“Of course,” replied Harry automatically. “You don’t need to wait to be invited. You know that, right?”

Neville studied Severus for a moment before turning his attention back to Harry. “If you want to talk about someone who has changed…I can’t believe Severus is the same man who taught us Potions. He’s nothing at all like the utter bastard we knew and loathed. You’ve worked a miracle, Harry.”

“Me? I haven’t done anything,” protested Harry. “It’s all him, Neville. It’s who he should have been all along. Who he might have been if Voldemort had never happened. He’s extraordinary in his own right, and I’m thrilled every day that people are starting to see that.”

Harry walked back to the dungeons in the midst of a crowd, happy to hear them chattering and teasing each other, just as they had in the past. Nearly a year later, it was starting to feel as though the war was truly over. He knew there was still a long way to go, but wounds were healing, and people were beginning to look forward instead of remaining mired in the past.

By the time Severus arrived, Harry and his friends were dissecting today’s match over bottles of butterbeer and cups of tea. Harry started to rise, but Severus waved him off. “Is there anything else I can get for anybody?” he asked as he removed his teaching robe and hung it up.

“Sit down, Severus, I’ll get it,” said Hermione as she reached for the teapot. “Harry has news.” She headed towards the kitchen as Harry moved out of the corner of the sofa so Severus could take the spot. He would rather curl up against Severus than pretend to be comfortable where he was.

“It’s not really my news,” said Harry. “It’s more Neville’s, but Draco has something wrong with his ribs and St Mungo’s is fixing them.”

“He’ll be fine, Severus,” said Neville swiftly to counter the alarm that appeared in Severus’ eyes. “But I need to give you this.” Neville reached into a pocket and withdrew a slightly crumpled piece of parchment nearly the size of the Marauder’s Map.

“While the Healers were working on Draco, Lucius took me to the Potions laboratory. I met Master Janda.” Neville gave Severus a long look. “None of your letters reached him, and the department never received the enquiries from the Potions Guild, either. But he and Lucius go way back, and I told him what you needed. He gave me that.”

Neville appeared troubled for a moment. “I read through it. While I don’t really know what a formulary is, the recipe is part of it. There’s no pennyroyal in it, Severus. There’s no rue. There’s no blue cohosh or mugwort or ergot.” Neville’s eyes flashed. “Did you find any evidence of hardwoods?” he asked as he floated it across the table.

Severus took the piece of parchment and began reading, his eyes keen, and after a few minutes it became obvious he had forgotten that Neville had asked him a question. The tea Hermione served him sat cooling on the table, but Severus never looked up.

When Severus failed to answer, Hermione filled in the missing pieces. “We found evidence of cherry. We thought it was for flavouring. Like the sorghum.”

“Will someone tell me what a formulary is?” asked Ron.

Hermione nodded. “You know what a recipe is, of course.” She blushed at Ron’s arch look. “The formulary explains what a potion is used for, to whom it should be given, lists all the known side effects, and provides all the warnings, like not giving it to someone allergic to nuts, for example. Oh, and it tells Healers not to give it to someone taking certain other potions.”

“You mean like not mixing Dreamless Sleep and Babbling Beverage?” asked Harry. Those two potions together had a nasty habit of turning the drinker an entertaining shade of lilac and causing them to sing in their sleep.

“We need another sample,” said Severus, frowning. “Preferably one directly from their stores.”

“Oh! We have one!” Luna fished around in her pockets, emptying them of braids of string, feathers, small pebbles, short spiky leaves and what appeared to be nails from some beast or another. “Here it is.”

Hermione snatched it out of her hand and headed immediately to the laboratory. Severus took a moment to get Harry settled again before dashing off as well. Harry knew he’d be lucky to see Severus again before he fell asleep.

“At least I don’t need to make excuses for him,” he said. “Ron, you want to play some chess? Or would you all like some Exploding Snap instead?”

Ch 18: What’s a Little Breaking and Entering Between Friends?

Draco returned to Hogwarts the next day, just as Neville and Luna said he would, and he was furious to discover that Severus and Hermione had started analysing the new sample Luna had brought back with her without him. “You couldn’t wait a whole day?” he whinged as he started a flame under one of the tall, glass cylinders.

“Time is of the essence, Draco,” replied Severus. “Fudge’s election has altered the board, and there appear to be new pieces in play. Rather than take the time to lay another trap, the Ministry has chosen to engage in a frontal assault. We need to understand the reason behind Becker’s murder and why the Wizengamot is determined to have Harry in custody. Hermione, please get out your notes. We need to repeat each step precisely and note any differences between the two potions.”

Severus had seldom felt as besieged as he did now. In addition to daily intrusions by the Ministry—did the Department of Magical Games and Sport truly need Harry’s opinion on the latest model of the Firebolt?—a midwife had appeared from St Mungo’s that morning uninvited by either Harry or Poppy. Harry had declined the offer of touring the birthing suites at the hospital, making it clear he intended to have the baby at Hogwarts.

The Auror Corps hadn’t been silent, either. Despite their earlier attempt to arrest Harry with an illegal warrant, they had returned to attempt to question him about all the instances of wild magic that had occurred since the beginning of September. Severus was relieved that Minerva had granted Harry sanctuary, which allowed him the right to refuse to speak with the Aurors at all.

Severus, too, was under investigation; as the last person to see Becker alive, he had known he would be. Even after he gave them a Pensieve record of his memories, the investigators on the case still found reasons to journey to Hogwarts to ask him questions. Curiously, the short interrogations always happened at night when he and Harry were ensconced in their rooms.

At least Severus had the new sample to work on and the formulary to analyse. That would keep the Aurors at bay, as he truly was too busy to speak with them. Not only did he need to supervise Draco and Hermione as they worked on the new sample, he had to assemble and prepare the ingredients necessary to brew the base required by the formulary. Though he didn’t have a live strain of the Harpy Throat virus to work with, it would be the work of a moment to acquire a live strain of the virus that caused wizards’ flu. That would yield a potion similar enough to compare to the one St Mungo’s was administering.

Severus sent his two assistants back to their dormitories after a long day spent over bubbling cauldrons and steaming cylinders, with a promise that they would meet every night at eight o’clock to continue their work. Though Hermione fretted about their upcoming examinations, Severus felt confident that she would earn nothing lower than an “E” on every single one of them. If either of them achieved anything less than an Outstanding on their Potions examination, he would tutor them personally until they did.

Draco flew to a Slytherin victory over Ravenclaw on a bright, clear morning at the beginning of April, but within moments of catching the Snitch he was back in the laboratory setting up his equipment.

“I love how our rooms are about as busy as King’s Cross,” grumbled Harry as he followed Ron and Demelza through the doorway. “Make yourselves at home,” he said sharply and winced at his tone. He sighed and massaged away a sharp pang just above his pelvis, holding the wall for support. “I’m just cranky,” he said, waving off Ginny’s offer of assistance. “Seriously, help yourselves to anything. I’ll be in the study.”

Severus followed Harry, worried about the edge he heard in Harry’s voice. “Is there anything I can bring you?” he asked after closing the door behind them. “Is there anything you need?”

“I need to be left alone,” snapped Harry. “Everything hurts today, and I already know I’m horrible to be around. Go play with your potions and solve your little mystery. I need to read for Transfiguration, and I just want to be left alone.” He drew a sharp breath and tensed visibly for a few seconds before blowing out a breath. “I’m sorry, Severus. I’ll try not to bite your head off.”

Severus was torn between assuring himself that Harry was having a bad day and fleeing before he could make it worse, but there was an undercurrent of desperation in Harry’s voice he couldn’t ignore. Approaching warily, Severus opened his arms and left the matter of whether to enter them to his husband.

Harry stepped forward and buried his face in Severus’ shoulder. Trembling, he remained silent for so long that Severus was afraid Harry was weeping. “I’m ready to be done,” he mumbled. “It feels like I’ve been pregnant forever and I just can’t take it anymore,” he said thickly.

“It’s only for another month,” said Severus.

“Yeah, great.” Harry pulled away and sat at his desk. “Go back to your lab. Please? I’m either about to hex you or start throwing things. Oh, and have Ron hide my broom. I know I promised, and I’m well aware I’m likely to break my neck if I try to fly the damned thing, but I want to stop being me for awhile and flying is the best way to do that.”

Severus left without another word. Ron wasn’t in the lounge when he went out to deliver the message, so he left it with Neville before returning to work. Draco and Hermione were finishing their analysis today, and he was checking the third potion he had brewed according to the formulary.

The third attempt was no better than the first two had been. Severus held up the flask and compared it to the referent sample. It was very nearly the same consistency, but the clarity was different and the colour wasn’t even remotely the same. He thought he had eliminated the virus as the reason for the difference in hue, but fresh doubt assailed him. All three of his potions were bright magenta, but the one from St Mungo’s was dark red.

He hurled the flask against the wall, taking savage delight in watching it explode, magenta potion oozing down the wall as though mocking him. He braced his arms on the workbench and hung his head, defeated for the moment. He considered for a moment that the samples had been tampered with, but discarded that theory as being nonsensical. The seals were unbroken and he was too familiar with their brewing processes to entertain the thought with any seriousness.

“It will be alright, Severus,” said Hermione as Draco Vanished the mess without a word. “Despite what Master Janda told Neville, this must not be the formulary St Mungo’s is using. The good news is that the potion Luna gave us matched almost exactly the one Becker sent. The only difference we found was traces of apple instead of cherry, though it might be a question of flavouring, as Molly thought.”

“But what is it?” said Draco. “Becker said it was vaccine for Harpy’s Throat, which is what Janda gave Luna. If he’d give you the actual potion, why wouldn’t he give you the formulary?”

The door to the laboratory opened, and Severus threw up a hasty but powerful charm against intrusion. Neville bounced against it and was tossed back into the kitchen. He reappeared in the doorway a moment later, rubbing the back of his head. Draco glared at Severus.

“I make no apologies,” snarled Severus. “Harry cannot come in here, not with this potion out. I need not tell any of you what ergot or blue cohosh might do to him were he to come in contact with it.”

“We heard a crash and wanted to make certain everyone was okay,” said Neville from his side of the barricade. He surveyed Draco carefully, and Severus felt a twinge of guilt, knowing he would have blasted a hole through the wall to get to Harry had he thought Harry was in danger. He was fortunate that Neville was made of sterner stuff.

“What you heard was my frustration,” said Severus. “I cannot replicate the potion from this recipe. They are nothing alike. They match right up to the point where the stasis charm is set, but at the end of the prescribed time, my potion has not turned dark red, nor is there any evidence of contraceptive ingredients.”

He cancelled the protective spell and allowed Neville inside, raising it again after him. “It must be something inherent in the virus itself. Hermione, did you do any research on the nature of the virus? I will admit I have been remiss in not consulting my journals about the potion.”

Three pairs of eyes stared blankly at him for a moment, and Severus gave a sharp nod of his head. They started cleaning up without a word, and once the laboratory was back in pristine order Severus ventured back into the study whilst the others returned to the lounge.

Harry’s eyes flashed dangerously as Severus stepped inside. “Come to check on me, have you?” he growled, tilting the chair back onto two legs as he looked up. He looked drawn, and he tossed his quill onto his thick stack of notes as the front legs of the chair thumped to the ground. He rested his elbows on the surface of the desk and removed his spectacles to rub his eyes.

Severus risked raising the level of light a few degrees and headed to his bound collection of Potions journals. “I have work to do, Harry,” he said coolly. He turned away before Harry could see the deep concern in his eyes, not wishing to do or say anything that would spark Harry’s temper. He pulled an index off the shelf and began to thumb through it.

He was pulling a fourth volume down when the lights gave a blinding flash and plummeted the study into darkness black as pitch. He heard a soft, “It wasn’t me,” as he fumbled for his wand. “Lumos.” The lamps flickered back on, died, and then managed to eke out enough light that Severus could just make out Harry’s features in the gloom. Perhaps it was just a trick of the meagre light, but Harry’s eyes appeared to be swimming.

“Would you…do you mind talking for a bit?” came a weary voice.

Severus sat at his desk and steepled his fingers. “Is there something in particular you wished to discuss?” he replied quietly.

Harry shook his head. His fingers came up, and he rubbed his temples. “Not really. I just want to hear your voice.” His hand moved to the back of his neck, and he rolled his head as though trying to ease an ache between his shoulders.

“Harry, let me put you to bed. We can talk there.” Harry’s bad day seemed worse than Severus had suspected, and he felt a bone-deep compulsion to take care of him. “We’ll ask the others to leave, and you can relax. Hermione and Draco can conduct the meeting in my stead, and Minerva will be happy to host it.”

“I forgot about the meeting,” groaned Harry.

“The Order will survive a night without you,” replied Severus. He shrank the journals he planned to review, slipped them into his pocket and then came around the desks to help Harry to his feet. “Have you eaten since the match?”

Harry took a step forward, froze and inhaled through clenched teeth. After a moment, he shook his head. “No, I’ve not been hungry.” He staggered back a bit before taking a determined step forward.

“Harry, what is wrong?”

“Nothing,” he replied a bit breathlessly. “Madam Pomfrey said to expect this. It’s normal, and it’s fine. It’s also irritating and a bit painful.” Harry took another deep breath, and Severus felt Harry’s tension ease. He had no idea how either he or Harry was going to survive another month of this.

Severus barely noticed that their rooms were empty when he moved Harry from the study to their bedroom. He didn’t wonder where everyone had gone or concern himself about whether they were coming back. “Would you like a warm bath or would you prefer to lie down?” he asked as he helped Harry off with his shoes. Harry categorically refused to use magic to tie or untie his laces, not after he managed to once meld them together.

“I want to be where you are,” said Harry. “I know I’ve been an utter prat today,” he said hesitantly. “I don’t want to be. I hear the words coming out of my mouth, and they’re enough to make me cringe. I don’t know where it’s coming from, Severus.”

“Poppy has been a veritable fount of information. I don’t take it personally,” said Severus as he removed Harry’s robes. He stripped down to his trousers, parcelled out the laundry and put their shoes away. “Bath or bed?” When Harry stared in confusion between the bed and the bathroom door, Severus took matters in hand. “Bath.” He laid out everything he thought he would need, started the water running, and Summoned a book that he tucked under his arm.

He guided a passive Harry to the tub and helped him into the warm, soothing waters. It was not a scene set for seduction. The water was not steaming. There were no candles hovering nearby casting a romantic light. The bathroom was utterly devoid of flowers. The bathtub was not charmed to become the size of a large pond or a small lake. There was nothing in the water other than Harry.

Severus knelt on the floor behind Harry’s head. His long fingers carded through Harry’s black hair, his nails scratching lightly over his husband’s head. “Close your eyes,” he murmured. “You wished to hear my voice.” He continued to massage Harry’s scalp and temples whilst he told Harry what he, Draco and Hermione had learned in the laboratory. Not in a thousand years could Severus’ words be taken as sweet nothings.

“I have to admit I’m about as interested in that potion as I am in Hermione’s house-elf society,” said Harry lazily. “I know I should be.” He watched as his belly rippled with the baby’s movement. “I know that when you figure it out, we’ll know what happened, but it’s not going to change anything.”

“We don’t know that,” Severus pointed out. “Are you warm enough?”

“Yeah, thanks. This was a good idea.” Harry shifted a bit and hummed out a sound of contentment. “What I mean is that even if you figure it all out, I’ll either still be pregnant or we’ll have a kid we’re trying to work out how to care for.”

Severus moved his hands under Harry’s shoulder blades and worked the knots out of firm muscles. “Have you given any thoughts to names? I wouldn’t ask, but—”

Harry sat up abruptly and turned to look at Severus, splashing water over the side of the tub. “You won’t ask about names? You won’t ask me about names?” His face darkened as a flash of anger arose out of nowhere. “Am I supposed to do this on my own? Is that why we’ve not talked about names, or whether we think it’ll be a girl or a boy, or if we should care what colour the nursery is? Because you somehow got it in your head that this isn’t your business?”

Severus gripped Harry’s arm hard enough to bruise it before Harry could do anything as foolish as attempt to climb out of the bath and storm off. “You are an idiot,” he snapped, his eyes flashing. Stung by Harry’s assessment, he no longer worried about provoking Harry’s mercurial emotions. “We’ve not had those conversations only because neither of us has brought them up.” He leant over the edge of the tub until they were eyeball to angry eyeball. “Why haven’t you asked me?”

Severus sat waiting, an eyebrow arched expectantly, his dark eyes boring into Harry’s until green eyes slid away and Harry lowered his gaze. “Do you remember when we went to the Burrow to tell Arthur and Molly about this? And there was that moment when it became real?” Harry sank back into the tub. “Can you make it a bit warmer?”

A flick of Severus’ wand and it was done. “Better?”

“Yes, much.” Harry tipped his head back, resting it again against the edge of the tub. “Thank you.”

“So, what does that moment have to do with selecting a name?” asked Severus as he tried to make Harry feel more comfortable. His fingers vanished into Harry’s hair again. “Or with actually creating a nursery? You may not have noticed, Harry, but it’s a bit Spartan at the moment. We have a cradle. That’s all. No cot. No clothes. Not even a rug.”

“If you’d let me talk,” grumbled Harry, “I could tell you.” His expression grew distant, and he squinted automatically to bring into focus something that wasn’t even there. “Sometimes it’s easier not to think about how different everything will be. I don’t think about this,” he poked his abdomen, “as much as people might think I do. I’m just me trying to fit into my skin as best as I can and still keep up with everything else going on.

“But everything is going to change when we start getting ready for it. I won’t be able to hide from it anymore.” Harry craned his head and met Severus’ eyes. “It’s coming, I know that, but I keep telling myself there’s time, and there isn’t. A few weeks, maybe. Less than a month now. And there’s so much we need. Bottles and nappies. A cot and a wardrobe. Blankets and prams. Change bags. As soon as we start preparing, it’s real. And that’s when it becomes this great, enormous thing, but if I say out loud that I’m every bit as afraid of having this baby as I was of Voldemort, then they’ll look at me as though I’m barking.”

“No one who knows you will think you’ve gone mad, and the rest don’t matter,” said Severus, slightly irritated with himself to discover that he had inadvertently fostered Harry’s wilful blindness. “But, whether you are ready or not, there are things we must see to. Would you rather be involved in the decisions that, by necessity, need to be made? Or shall I leave the whole affair to Molly?”

Harry’s eyes snapped open. “You wouldn’t,” he breathed.

“All she requires is a sign we have abdicated. If we decide nothing beyond a dominant colour for the room, I will consider the day a success.”

Severus watched with amusement as Harry’s gaze grew speculative, as though he was considering whether to test the limits Severus was prepared to go. “I am,” said Severus, “rather partial to yellow.”

“What?” Harry’s eyes widened comically. “You want the nursery to be yellow? There’s no yellow anywhere in here.”

Aha, thought Severus, somewhat pleased to discover Harry had a preference. “Have you another colour in mind?” He moved to the side of the bathtub so he could better see the changes in Harry’s expression as he thought about it.

Harry appeared lost in thought for a moment. “I don’t want a colour associated with a House. The Sorting Hat already told us it would be in Slytherin, and it will have seven years of green to look forward to. Can we just have the walls done in white?”

“And the rest of it?”

“What about purple? We can do anything from lilac and lavender to that really dark purple.”

It was a relief to know that Harry had an opinion, even if it was on something as mundane as the bits of flotsam that would decorate the baby’s room. “Purple it is.” Severus paused for a moment and licked his lips in a nervous gesture he thought well behind him. “I am told that it is not uncommon to have dreams of the child when one is expecting. Have—”

“Have I dreamed about the baby?” interrupted Harry. He scooped some water into his hands and let it trickle over his stomach. “Yeah, a few times. I’m usually rescuing it.” His eyes met Severus’ gaze. “I reckon I know why you went mental when you had to watch over me. I’m not sure how I’m going to survive raising a child with my sanity intact.”

“It is my profound hope,” said Severus intently, “that our children are not hunted by any Dark Lords or Ministry types. It is my fervent desire that their childhoods are uneventful, and that nothing profound or earth-shattering occurs during their lifetimes. In short, Harry, I wish for them to have the sort of childhood denied to both of us.”

Harry came cautiously to his feet, water sluicing off his naked body and dripping into the bath as he stepped over the edge. “I think I’d like a bit of a sleep after all,” he said quietly. He snatched a towel from the rack and wrapped it around his shoulders, and Severus aimed a drying charm at him before he could take chill. “You’re going to be a fantastic dad,” said Harry.

Severus could only hope Harry was right.

~*~

The first eight months of pregnancy had nothing on the ninth month. Harry began to feel as though he’d been possessed by an alien, and he couldn’t figure out how a real, live baby actually fit inside him. His pelvis ached all the time, and he could barely reach his feet unless he was lying flat on his back with his feet in the air, resembling nothing so much as one of Severus’ scarab beetles ready to be de-shelled. Walking down staircases became an adventure, and he would have loved to be able to sleep all the way through the night without having to pee.

It was impossible to sit all the way through a class without having to get up and walk around a bit, so Harry asked permission to sit in the back row. With the exception of Williamson, his professors allowed him to do take whatever measures were necessary to remain comfortable and focussed.

As the days marched on, Harry became aware that he was never alone. Whether he was between classes or walking to or from his rooms in the dungeon, someone was always with him. “It’s alright,” he said with a knowing grin one morning at breakfast, “you can tell me. Severus put you up to this, right?”

Ginny shook her head. “Mum would have our heads if you went into labour and no one was nearby. She’s about to go off her nut, Harry. Haven’t you noticed the owls?” Three owls swooped down as if waiting for their cue, dropping letters in front of Ginny, Ron and Hermione.

Hermione fished her letter out of the scrambled eggs. “‘Hermione, dear’,” she read aloud. “‘Would you please remind Harry that he is to go to the Hospital Wing when his contractions are five minutes apart and steady? I do hate to be a bother, but I can’t remember whether he mentioned if Poppy had told him or not. Much love, Molly’.”

“‘Ron’,” Ron read aloud in a horrible imitation of his mother’s voice, “‘Watch for a delivery owl with burp cloths. I remembered in the middle of the night that I’d not sent any. Harry has no idea what he needs, but I can’t say I’m surprised. His relatives are dreadful people, and the book Hermione gave him has left out some of the practicalities. He’ll need them, even if they’re not the done thing. We received a note from—’ I reckon you don’t need to hear this.”

Ginny snatched the note from her brother’s hand. “‘We received a note from Professor Williamson, who tells us you are performing below expectations. I don’t care how many Orders of Merlin you’ve been given, young man, you will pass your N.E.W.T.s or you will have me to answer to. Don’t think you’ll have a free pass into the Auror Corps. I’ve known Kingsley Shacklebolt longer than you’ve been alive, so we’ll just see who he listens to. Give my love to Harry’.”

“Well, how do you like that?” exploded Ron. “She gives her love to Harry. What am I? Minced liver?”

Hermione surveyed Ron for a moment. “More like chopped flobberworm I should think,” she said with a toss of her head. Then she smiled, her brown eyes sparkling.

Ginny was not to be upstaged by her sibling, and she read her letter aloud as well. “‘Would you please ask Severus to provide me with an inventory of the nursery? I have four skeins of yarn in various shades of purple, but I’m not sure if they need blankets, mittens, hats, socks or jumpers. I have a lovely duvet for the cradle and I managed to find a set of sheets for the cot decorated with little pygmy puffs. I wish Fred could see them. He’d take the mickey right out of Harry, but I know his heart would be in the right place.’

“‘I do wish I knew whether it was going to be a boy or a girl. It is just like Harry to leave an important detail like that to the last minute. Honestly. If he weren’t under so much strain I’d give him a piece of my mind’.” She looked over the top of the parchment, clearly fighting back a grin.

“‘Harry will be a wonderful father, as will Severus. Oh, Ginny, I do worry about those poor boys. Life has been unspeakably hard for them both, but you must admit they are wonderful together. I know you and Harry would have been content in whatever life you built together, but I must admit that I am unconvinced that you would ever have been happy.’

“‘I am so proud of you for understanding that you were not what Harry needed. I would much rather see you truly happy with someone you love than going through the motions with him because you felt that was what was expected of you. I know it could not have been easy for you, you loved Harry for so long, but I do not believe he was the right man for you. Harry needs Severus the way Severus needs him. Neither of them may know it yet, but I believe that to the bottom of my heart.’

“‘Your Arithmancy marks are terrible. Ask Hermione to tutor you’.”

Ginny folded up the letter and shoved it into her robes. “Blankets, mittens, hats or socks?” She grinned. “If it were me, I’d say blankets. They last forever, and you can’t ever have too many of them.”

Harry flushed and rubbed his side. “I never meant to hurt you, Gin,” he said hollowly.

Ginny’s eyes were fierce. “You didn’t, and don’t ever believe that you did. I’m happy dating Michael and Dean. Or Michael or Dean. And when I sign with a Quidditch team, I’ll date one of the Beaters. Or a Keeper. Or maybe the entire Magical Sports department of the Daily Prophet.

“I’m not ready to settle down, Harry. I don’t know that I’ll ever be ready. But you…you’ve always wanted to be here at Hogwarts and have a family and someone of your own. Severus is perfect for you and that you’re having his baby is…” Her eyes glowed. “Well, it’s magic, isn’t it?”

There was little Harry could say to that. The day he’d arrived at the Burrow to clear the air and make amends seemed a lifetime ago, but even then Ginny had stepped up and taken his side, though her dreams had been the price she’d paid. “Magic works,” he said thickly, with a grateful look in her direction.

“Just do me a favour,” said Ginny, “and don’t name it after me.”

Harry laughed. “I’ll let Severus know.” They’d started talking about names after their conversation on Saturday, and all they’d agreed upon was that family names were off the table. They wouldn’t name their child after anyone they knew personally, which meant no Jameses or Eileens. No Lilys or Albuses. Harry would rather have his eye gouged out than name a child Vernon or Petunia, and he suspected Severus felt the same way about Tobias or Sirius.

Out of habit, Harry looked for Draco on his way to Charms, but he never appeared. He wasn’t in Transfiguration and he didn’t show up for Potions, either. Come to think of it, he hadn’t seen Neville or Luna, and by the time the day had ended, Harry had a crease etched upon his forehead.

Harry didn’t see Draco and Neville until his Defence Against the Dark Arts class on Friday afternoon. “Where have you been?” he hissed under his breath as Williamson organised them for the day’s lesson. It was a review of Boggarts, and Harry half-hoped he’d go into labour just so he could miss it. He’d had too much experience with them this year to feel comfortable with the subject, and he had no desire to discover in front of his classmates what his new worst fear might be. His failure in the Slytherin dorms still rankled.

Neville shuffled past him, his bleary eyes shrouded in deep circles. “Not here,” he whispered back. “Later.” He pulled parchment and quill out of his satchel and kept an eye peeled for Williamson, whilst Draco hovered around Harry’s desk.

“Tonight,” whispered Draco, appearing every bit as dishevelled as Neville. “You, me, Neville and—” The door the classroom opened with a bang, and Williamson strode down the aisle. “Severus,” he hissed as he hurried to his seat. “No one else.” He eased into the seat next to Neville and laid out his materials for the day’s lesson.

It was as dull a class as Harry could remember having. Williamson lectured for two solid hours on everything ever discovered about Boggarts, none of which was new. Harry knew they liked to hide in dark places. He knew the prevalent theory was that Boggarts were easily confused if they encountered more than one person, but he had serious doubts about its validity. He knew that turning his worst fear sideways and uttering the counter-curse was supposed to defeat it, but Williamson never explained how to make death funny.

As Williamson droned on and on, Harry found himself wondering how the Boggart determined a person’s worst fears, especially if, like Harry, he or she was no longer certain what that fear might be. Did they use a form of Legilimency? Or were they distantly related to Dementors, who preyed on fear and feasted on it?

There was a certain amount of fear attached to Harry’s worst memory, but he was no longer certain the presence of a Dementor would trigger the sound of his mother’s murder. Watching the green spell light of Voldemort’s Killing Curse fly at him was pretty horrifying, as was listening to Nagini attack Severus. All he knew for certain was that he was very likely to earn disqualifying marks if the Examining Board gave him a Boggart to defeat. At least he had a reliable corporeal Patronus to summon aid should he encounter one.

Two hours was a long time for Harry to sit, and he got up once or twice to move around a bit. Every time he did, Williamson reached for his wand as though he was about to dock points or hurl a body-bind curse. Harry almost hoped he would, just to see the inevitable confrontation between Williamson, McGonagall and Severus.

Despite his best efforts, Kreacher had not been able to learn anything more about Williamson’s letter writing campaign, other than that his circle of correspondents now included Amanda Pendergast and Cornelius Fudge. Kreacher had informed the Order that Williamson no longer used the school’s owls, preferring to walk into Hogsmeade and pick up his post there.

Williamson received packages from a number of merchants in Diagon Alley, but discreet enquiries by the Order had yielded nothing worthwhile. Two new robes and a set of sheets were not indicative of wrongdoing, despite Harry’s hopes to the contrary. Williamson purchased nothing from any of the shops in Hogsmeade, but Harry thought that had as much to do with Williamson’s missing arm as anything. It was hard to make a case that Williamson was acting suspiciously when the most damning piece of evidence was a letter to a possible sister asking about old baby clothes.

Harry stretched to ease some of the tension in his back, his ears pricking up when Williamson finally mentioned something he had not known. “It is said that You-Know-Who’s Boggart was his own dead body, and I have heard it rumoured that You-Know-Who was the Boggart of Albus Dumbledore—”

Ron and Hermione turned to look at Harry, but Harry shook his head. He wasn’t annoyed enough to correct Williamson, and he really had no interest drawing any more attention to himself than necessary.

“—but there is some speculation that the headmaster’s Boggart was someone falling from a great height.”

At hearing that, Harry collected his belongings and left the classroom without apology or explanation. Rita Skeeter had speculated about Dumbledore’s Boggarts in her unauthorised biography, and there was nothing about heights in there. The comment was just another pointed remark designed to get under his skin.

Harry’s departure signalled the start of the weekend. Friday night was accepted to be date night at Hogwarts, and the House tables were a mosaic of students wearing yellow, red, green and blue, rather than the strictly segregated lines of similarly clad students that had been relegated to the past. Harry found Draco, Luna and Neville at the Slytherin table and sat down with them, but Draco had been quite serious about waiting until the four of them could be alone.

Harry picked at his dinner and listened to the conversation swirling around him. “No, I think we should stay with the plan,” said Neville, and something in Neville’s voice caught Harry’s attention. “It’s only a year, Draco, and I’ll only be part way through my apprenticeship by then. Your programme will take at least five years, and it will be better all around after you’ve done the first year and know what sort of work is required.”

“I know, I know,” said Draco glumly, “but you and I will be done with N.E.W.T.s in a couple of months. We checked all the rules and it’s allowed.”

“What’s allowed?” asked Harry, interested in spite of himself.

Neville gave a crooked smile. “We’ll tell you later. I promise, especially since you’re why we thought of it in the first place. But I still think it’s better to wait until Luna has finished at Hogwarts. It’s only a year.”

Harry met Luna’s eyes with a questioning gaze, and she returned it with a vague smile that could have meant anything. “It will be three years before it’s done,” she explained when his eyebrows arched, “but they like arguing about it, so I just listen whilst they go ’round in circles. I do hope you’ll bring the babies with you. They’ll bring their own magic with them, and it’s considered to be a good omen if one of them cries.”

“Babies?” Harry was nonplussed. Madam Pomfrey had been examining him every week since December, and she had never once hinted there might be more than one. But Luna just smiled and ladled mushrooms over her roast chicken, and Harry knew that she’d spoken her last on the subject for now. He looked across the table in quiet desperation, but Neville was gazing at Luna in adoration whilst Draco appeared shattered.

“Are you all right?” Harry asked Draco quietly. The crease in his forehead was back. He could feel his face fall into familiar lines of worry and figured they’d never go away. It would be tempting to find the Resurrection Stone in a couple of years to see his mum and dad again, if only to see how old he looked in comparison. They’d be the same age then, and Harry would be able to determine if a lifetime of fear and worry had aged him prematurely. He hoped his dad would understand about Severus and that his mum would welcome their child.

“I’ll tell you after,” said Draco. “Finish your dinner, Potter. We have loads to tell you, and you look done in. Worse than me, even, and that’s saying something.”

Twenty minutes later, Harry was back in his rooms with Neville and Draco by his side. To his surprise, Neville poured out three measures of Firewhisky, setting one aside for Severus, whilst Draco rearranged the furniture to his liking. “Just remember to change it back when you’re done,” advised Harry. “Severus likes his chair where it is.”

“I am well aware of that,” scoffed Draco. “But I want to sit by the fire with Neville, and Severus guards you like a dragon does Gringotts—”

“Bad analogy, mate,” said Neville. “Harry freed it, remember? And Severus is about as likely to let Harry go as Fudge is to grow a brain. Do you want anything, Harry? Tea? Pumpkin juice?”

“Butterbeer. Hot if you can,” replied Harry after a moment’s pause. It was the only thing that sounded even remotely appetizing, and the house-elves were prohibited from serving it in the Great Hall, though Harry had no idea why. It was likely that it was kept as far away from house-elves as possible, as they had a propensity to become inebriated on the stuff. Winky did, at any rate.

Severus walked in as Neville disappeared into the kitchen, his face darkening as he spotted the three tumblers of Firewhisky on the small table in front of the fire. He scowled at Harry, his robes snapping against his ankles as he approached.

“Not mine,” Harry hastened to assure him. “It would make me ill to drink it, I think. It’s Neville’s, and one is for you.” He curled against Severus as much as he was able, wincing as the baby turned handsprings at sensing Severus’ presence. At least, that was how Harry interpreted it, since it happened every single time Severus was close enough to touch.

Severus speared Draco with a hard look as he reached forward to take his glass, his expression promising retribution if his time was being wasted. Draco met Severus’ gaze coolly, and not so much as a hint of a smile appeared on his face when Neville returned with a steaming tankard for Harry.

“Thanks,” murmured Harry as he reached for the tankard, watching as Neville and Draco exchanged a speaking glance. A movement in the corner of his eye caught his attention, and he shook his head as he caught the silent enquiry in Severus’ eyes.

“I should probably apologise for nicking this, Harry,” said Neville before he sat down. He reached into his robes and extracted a shimmering item Harry recognized immediately as his Invisibility Cloak. “And I reckon I should apologise to you, Severus, for using the last of your supply of Polyjuice, but Draco said he’d brew more for your stores.” He exchanged an empty flask for his glass of Firewhisky and sat down with Draco.

“It’s like this,” he continued. “It’s not just us who think you’re one of the best Potions Masters in the last hundred years. Draco sent an owl to the head of the Potions Guild, asking about the likelihood that you couldn’t replicate a potion from a formulary, even if it was a vaccine. He said you knew better than St Mungo’s what substitutions could be made and which viruses were similar enough to reproduce it without having access to the Harpy’s Throat virus.”

“We also found out when St Mungo’s was scheduled to brew the next batch,” added Draco, and his eyes were as sombre as Harry had ever seen them. “They brew it on the fifteenth of each month. That was yesterday.”

“So Luna, Draco and I went to St Mungo’s yesterday.” For a minute Neville appeared every bit as exhausted as Harry, and he took a sip of his drink to fortify himself. “Luna knows a lot about brewing. So does Draco. I know other stuff, like how to tell if the ingredients on the formulary are what’s going inside and how good they are.

“We found out that Aurors have been stationed at the hospital,” said Draco. “And I’m one of the people they watch very closely, so I scheduled an appointment with one of the Healers to give us an excuse to be there whilst Neville was in the lab. Luna polyjuiced herself as me at one point so I could watch them brew and still be observed.”

“It got a bit crazy,” said Neville. “We were taking turns watching and being Draco, showing up in various places so the Aurors would stay away from the Potions laboratory and worry more about where Draco was and what he was doing. He visited my parents for a bit, which really confused them, especially since Luna was with him.”

Severus took a long drink as he hung on every word from Neville and Draco’s mouths. “What did you learn?” he asked, keenly interested.

Neville and Draco exchanged another look, and Draco gestured for Neville to continue. “I saw what they had laid out and what was prepared. It matched everything on the formulary we were given, and it was all high-quality stuff. They don’t scrimp, Severus, and they’re methodical in their preparations and very precise in their measurements. I might never be a potioneer, but I know plants as well, if not better, than you do.”

“I agree,” replied Severus, and Harry blinked, though he knew it shouldn’t have been a surprise to him at all. Severus treated his friends more like colleagues than the students they were, and to a person, they had all earned his respect. Even Ron.

“I used my old DA Galleon to let Draco know I was ready to switch with him,” said Neville, “so we met up in the men’s toilets, and he went back in under the Invisibility Cloak. Luna was already Polyjuiced by then, so the Aurors were happy. She said the Wrackspurts distracted the Aurors enough that she could go in without them noticing her.”

“I still can’t tell Nargles and Wrackspurts apart,” said Draco. It was a sign of how fully integrated into their circle Luna was that no one showed the slightest bit of befuddlement. Harry actually agreed out loud, earning a chuckle from Neville. “But I was in to see them brewing.” He leant back and rested his stocking feet on the small table in front of them, resting his glass on his stomach. “I wish you could have seen it, Severus. They had about thirty cauldrons going at once. It was amazing.”

Severus nodded. “It is. I served part of my apprenticeship there, and on busy days it was not unusual for each potioneer to have up to ten cauldrons working at once. It’s just a matter of planning.”

“If you say so.” Draco didn’t sound convinced. “I watched the first half of the brewing, but I had to get back for the Healer’s appointment, so Luna watched the second half. Everything appeared exactly as it did when you brewed it. Textbook. There wasn’t so much as a variation in colour between them.”

“So we spent all day watching them brew and playing cat and mouse with the Aurors,” yawned Neville. “The fun came last night.” He shook his head. “The Potions laboratory only has one person there at night to handle any emergencies that come in. The majority of the brewing is done during the day.” He yawned again. “Sorry, I know this is a bit all over the place.”

“The last step is to add the Harpy Throat, then let it sit for twenty-four hours under a modified stasis spell. You want the temperature to remain consistent, but the germs need to multiply,” said Draco, picking up the narrative from Neville. He understood this part better, and they all knew it. “It’s a live-virus vaccine.

“We all managed to squeeze under the Cloak and hid in a corner, prepared to sleep in the lab so we could get some fresh potion straight from the cauldron. We thought we could nick some out of one of the cauldrons early the next morning before they all came back to work. We knew it wouldn’t have been fully cured, but we thought it might be good enough for us to reason out why we couldn’t reproduce it here.”

“It all fell apart around two o’clock this morning when the night brewer took his dinner break,” said Neville. “That bloke from the Wizengamot, or the Department of Magical Education, or wherever it is he works, came in.”

“Apparated in,” corrected Draco. “Did you know St Mungo’s has about as many anti-Apparition charms as Hogwarts? The only two places you can Apparate into directly are the visitors’ waiting area and the tea shop, but there’s a timed charm on the Potions Lab. Opens a ten minute window.”

“So Undermarsh or Steggle or whoever he is shows up and takes all the stasis charms off, and then starts to sprinkle something into each of the cauldrons,” said Neville.

“We couldn’t let him have all of them, so Luna stunned him whilst I pulled out samples from one cauldron he’d contaminated and one he hadn’t,” said Draco as the conversation began to bounce between the two of them like a Bludger during a Quidditch match. He handed his drink to Neville so he could fish around in his robes for a moment. “I am in dire need of a bath,” he said as he caught a whiff of himself. “Here,” he said as he began to extract something from his pocket. “And before you pull your wand on me, they’re as protected as I know how to make them.” Two stoppered phials were filled with magenta potion whilst the other shimmered dark red. Draco extended them to Severus.

“How many times have I told you these are not allowed anywhere near Harry?” Severus snarled as he hurled himself off the loveseat. He pulled his wand and cast a powerful shield over Harry before snatching the phials out of Draco’s hand and carrying them to the laboratory. His usual enchantments must not have been strong enough, for he added several more spells to the door before stalking back to his seat, glowering at Draco the entire time.

“I told you they’re charmed,” snapped Draco. “Aunt Bella was more than proficient at them, as you well know.” He shuddered, shaking off the taint of his aunt the way a dog sheds water from its coat. “And she made certain I could perform most of them.”

Before things could get out of hand, Neville continued with the story. “The odd part,” he said loudly, “beside the fact he was wearing the same robes the Unspeakables do, was that Undermarsh was behaving like he’d done this a hundred times before. I’m not sure he was even fully awake.”

“Don’t forget the other part,” said Draco, his steely gaze still fixed firmly on Severus, his anger palpable.

“Would the two of you stop acting like a pair of gits?” growled Harry. “Severus, I’m fine. Draco, he’s not going to hex you, not if he’s smart, which he is.” His tolerance for idiocy was at an all-time low, and he’d gladly spend the remainder of the days until he delivered in the Hospital Wing under Madam Pomfrey’s watchful eye, if it meant that his last nerve wouldn’t be shredded to bits. He took a moment’s solace in his butterbeer.

Severus cancelled the protective spell and snatched up his whisky, nursing it whilst Neville spoke. Draco was more deliberate in his actions, coating them with a thin varnish of disdain. “Luna said he was chanting under his breath whilst he was adding stuff to the cauldrons. At first we thought it must be a spell of some sort, but she insists it wasn’t. She thought he sounded remorseful.”

“Remorseful?” Harry sensed a sea change in Severus’ mood. No longer angry and protective, his innate curiosity had resurfaced, which eased Harry’s tension immeasurably. His life was so much easier when Severus was calm. “Does she know what he said?”

“‘I’m so sorry. The children. Have to erase the children.’ Over and over again. We don’t know what it means. But…” Neville paused, and for the first time since they began their story, he appeared deeply troubled. “We stunned Undermarsh and got a hold of whatever he was putting in the cauldrons. I recognized the blue cohosh straight away, and I’m pretty sure there was ground pennyroyal in it as well. Draco ran a couple of tests—”

“I’ve had loads of practice,” interjected Draco.

“He found ash of some sort in there, and he thought it was charmed to bind—” Neville swallowed hard. “Severus, we think that powder affects the reproductive system. That’s why you kept finding all that stuff in the samples you received.”

Severus began to pace through the room, his robes swirling around his knees, and Harry could practically see the gears turning. For his own part, Harry felt vaguely ill as the import of Neville and Draco’s story began to sink in. No Wizarding family dared skip immunizing their children against Harpy’s Throat, since an outbreak of the disease would be so devastating. If he closed his eyes, he’d be able to hear the quaver in Kingsley’s voice as he recounted the tale of the mother who’d murdered her child rather than see him suffer. He kept them open.

“Did you bring any of the powder back with you?” asked Severus, after his third journey around the perimeter of the room.

Draco shook his head. “We thought it was too dangerous. It’s really fine stuff—well, the ash is—and that’s what binds it. It’s pure poison, Sev. Four different contraceptive plants in a potion given to children? Having the potion under the same roof as Harry is bad enough, but we know you’re as paranoid about his safety as it’s possible to get. We didn’t dare risk it.”

“Draco,” said Harry slowly as the chill of incipient horror began to seep through his veins, “what did you do with the Unspeakable?”

“Luna modified his memory and sent him up to the tea shop to have a cuppa,” said Neville, answering for Draco. “We transfigured his robes to match the ones the mediwizards wear. Once Draco had finished with his analysis, we took another sample from an undoctored cauldron. We reckon it had been under stasis for close to twelve hours. That’s the third one. It’s still pink.”

“Then we went to the Department of Mysteries,” said Draco.

“No we didn’t,” said Neville. “We went as far as that first corridor. You know the place, Harry. It was where Mr Weasley got bitten by that snake.”

“I know it,” said Harry grimly. “I can’t say I ever want to go back.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean,” agreed Neville. “Anyway, we found a corner to hole up in and spread the Cloak over us, to keep an eye on who came and who went. Undermarsh showed up for work straight at nine o’clock this morning.

“It took a bit of doing to get out the Ministry without attracting attention to ourselves, but we split up and left Draco under the Cloak. We got to Diagon Alley just before noon and Flooed to the Hog’s Head. We made it to Hogwarts just in time for Defence.”

Severus finally stopped pacing, though the tension in the room remained sky high. “Neville, please ask Minerva to assemble the Order. Draco, please find Hermione. We need to tear apart those three potions as quickly as possible. We know what we’re looking for, so we will sacrifice accuracy for speed. All we require is a rough correlation.”

He walked over to Harry and cupped his cheek with his hand. “In a very short time our home will be filled with people. I know you would much rather be left alone, but it is necessary to enlist their help. Shall I ask Neville to make his report or would you rather do it?”

“What would Neville be doing instead?” asked Harry, steeling himself for the upcoming invasion. A meeting of the Order would try his patience to its limits, but he knew that time was of the essence. If Undermarsh was an Unspeakable, the modifications to his memory would likely be broken at any time. The pressure in the cauldron was increasing exponentially, and Harry knew it wouldn’t be long before it exploded.

Neville gave Harry a shy smile. “To be honest, mate, I’d much rather figure out what that ash does than speak to the Order.”

“You can do that?” blurted Harry, and then felt the slow rise of colour in his cheeks.

To Harry’s relief, Neville nodded understandingly. “Everyone knows I’m good at Herbology, but most people think it’s only about growing things. It’s not. It’s also knowing how plants are used in magic. It’s knowing which woods make the best smoke for preserving things. It’s knowing the yield of pus from a pressing of bubotubers. It’s calculating the ratio of seeds for some of the blends used in potion making. Ash is generally produced from trees, but these are fruit trees. I need to research why they chose that sort of wood to burn and discover its properties.

“I’ve taken as many Arithmancy and Ancient Runes courses as Hermione and Draco, but mostly people think I’m just good with flowers.” Neville smiled, and there was a touch of pride in it. “Behind every decent Potions Master is an unsung Herbologist. You can ask Severus.”

“No,” replied Harry abashedly, seeing Neville in a new light. “I trust you. I’ll speak with the Order. You see what you can find out about that ash. Start with Hermione. She might have found something already.”

“I think I’d rather see what I find on my own, if you don’t mind, Harry?” said Neville placidly. “She’s brilliant, truly, but I have a few ideas I’m going to run with.” He glanced at Severus. “Besides, Severus needs Hermione’s help more than I do.” He rose to his feet and pulled an unwilling Draco to his. “I’ll let you know what I find out the moment it happens.” He dragged Draco to the door and pushed him through it. Before it had closed all the way, he popped his head back inside. “Oh, and have some Pepper-Up ready for Draco. He’s dead on his feet.”

Harry climbed to his feet, feeling as though he’d just scaled Kilimanjaro, and set about re-arranging the furniture for the meeting. The loveseats were converted back to club chairs, the tables rearranged and formed into a coffee table that would be equally at home in a small conference room. Once the room was set up to his liking and the charms on the door reset, he vanished into the kitchen to assemble the varieties of beverages everyone would be expecting.

Severus had already vanished into his laboratory to start on the potions, and Harry had no doubt that he would have something concrete to report before they’d managed to get through the usual hellos. He was arranging shortbread onto a tray when he heard the door open. Moments later, McGonagall poked her head into the kitchen.

“How are you doing, Harry?” she asked, her eyes soft.

“You should really be asking Severus that question,” replied Harry, his tone mildly astringent. “He’s the one putting up with my moods. I just feel guilty because I can’t control them. I managed to get Williamson hacked off at me again, though I don’t know if I’ve been given detention or if he’s just docked points.”

McGonagall gave him a shrewd look. “Points. I believe Wendell is reluctant to assign you detention, knowing you are likely to be accompanied by Severus. I shouldn’t worry about the points though, Harry. I expect I will be able to reward a commensurate amount to Slytherin during tonight’s meeting, assuming Mr Malfoy is in attendance.”

“Draco?” replied Harry. “Yeah, he’ll be here. He’s gone to find Hermione, since Severus needs her help. Ron will be a bit angry about it—I reckon I owe him a six-month honeymoon when he marries Hermione—but he’s been brilliant at making sense of everything, and he’s kept me from going mental.”

“Mr Weasley has been a good friend,” said McGonagall as she pulled down a set of teacups from an overhead cupboard. Harry was amused to see her fill the teakettle with fresh water and set it on the hob. “Magic isn’t always the best way,” she said briskly as she poked her wand into the cooker and started a fire. Harry thought he’d never learn to appreciate the subtleties.

The door opened again and a cloud of red hair streamed through the door. Arthur and Molly, Bill and Fleur, George, and Percy filed in, followed in short order by Kingsley. For once, Harry was grateful to receive a hug and kiss from Molly, as she was the only person who appeared to understand that, as much as he loathed being fussed over, he was in genuine need of a calming influence, and she fit the bill to perfection.

Percy, who hadn’t seen Harry since the beginning of the year, nearly tripped over his feet upon catching sight of him. “The photos in the Prophet didn’t do you justice,” he babbled. “I’d no idea you had become so big. I expect you and Severus are ready for the big event. He’s always been a model of efficiency. You’re quite fortunate to have someone of—”

There was a loud bang, and Percy’s head disappeared under about a hundred layers of wool. Harry’s face turned scarlet. “Sorry,” he mumbled, though he wasn’t really. George and Bill laughed; Arthur tried very hard not to. Fleur cast a quick charm, and the wrappings disappeared. “Gives a ‘ole new meaning to put ze sock in it, non?”

Percy gasped and inhaled deeply as he tried to catch his breath. He gave Harry a wide berth as he found a place to sit that appeared to be far from the lived-in part of the room. He busied himself with a Potions journal and pretended to be interested in it, whilst everyone fetched their favourite beverages and snacks.

Draco and Hermione walked through the door, followed closely by Ron, who appeared none too happy to have his Friday night interrupted. He gave a short nod to Harry and suffered through his mother’s hug and pat on the cheek. “Draco was saying he, Luna and Neville had a bit of fun at St Mungo’s last night. We’ve turned our friends into burglars.”

“All for a good cause,” said Harry mildly. His expression grew solemn, and he gave Hermione a nod as she disappeared into the lab with Draco. “Severus asked that we start without him. Neville is looking into something, and with any luck, we’ll hear from him tonight. If not, we’ll send an owl to you, Kingsley, to keep you informed.”

With that, the meeting got underway. Before beginning his tale, Harry exacted a promise from Kingsley that neither Draco, Luna nor Neville would be in any trouble with the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. “It is a given that, from time to time, lesser laws must fall to practicality in the pursuit of justice,” said Kingsley. “They won’t be in any trouble for trespassing, and we’ll assume that Janda would have been happy to give you more samples of potion. Go ahead, Harry.”

“Thank you, sir,” said Harry. He wanted to knead a knot out of his back, but he knew Molly would be on him like a Niffler on gold so he ignored it. “You know Severus couldn’t reproduce the potion from the recipe, right?” Heads nodded, so Harry explained in detail how his three friends sneaked into St Mungo’s to observe the actual potion being made.

“We’re pretty sure that Undermarsh or Steggle or whatever his name is works at the Department of Mysteries,” Harry continued. “We have no idea what he meant by ‘erasing the children’, but Luna thought he was broken up about what he was doing. Fortunately, the three of them were able to bring back more samples for us. That’s what Severus and the others are working on now. They’re trying to finish quickly, but Severus thinks that whatever Undermarsh was adding is why he couldn’t make it come out right.”

Troubled glances were passed around the room, but Bill grew visibly pale. He cleared his throat and squeezed Fleur’s hand before he spoke. “I think I know what he meant, Harry.” His brown eyes were pained as he glanced at his mother. “You know I’ve been searching the Gringotts records for discrepancies between the genealogies that are listed in the Ministry’s records and what we have at the bank.

“Forseti and Rouen aren’t the only wizards whose children have mysteriously vanished. I’ve found hundreds of others who are listed as heirs in the bank’s records, but the Ministry has no record of them. In other cases, legacies have been paid as directed, but if the Ministry is to be believed, those legacies went to distant relations.” Bill met Harry’s eyes. “I think the Ministry has been changing history. Worse, there is some evidence that it wasn’t just the records that were altered.”

Molly exchanged a horrified glance with her eldest son. “What is it you are trying not to say, William?”

“Mum,” pleaded Bill helplessly. He took a deep breath, and Harry couldn’t recall having ever seen him so distressed, not even after Fenrir Greyback had scarred his face. “Mind you, it would be very hard to prove, but if I were to guess, I would have to say that in the earliest days of the Wizengamot, when it was the sole source of authority in the Wizarding world, they were murdering the children born to two wizards, and sometimes the wizard who gave birth. The erasures didn’t become widespread until just after the formation of the Ministry. They stopped altogether about two hundred years ago, from which point on there is no record of children born to pairs of wizards, either at Gringotts or the Ministry. Unless I miss my guess, Harry and Severus’ baby will be the first since the 1700s.”

For a moment, Harry truly believed Bill was about to cry. Tears glistened in his dark eyes, and he dropped his head and drew a noisy breath. “You must tell zem, Bill,” said Fleur softly.

“What is it, son?” asked Arthur his voice fatherly and gentle, and just that quickly Harry understood. His stomach churned, and he knew Bill’s grief was genuine.

“Charlie,” said Harry thickly. “It’s Charlie. Am I right?” He remembered speaking with Charlie in the orchard at Christmas, how devastated Charlie had been to learn that neither Dark magic nor potion had anything to do with Harry’s pregnancy. If, as Harry suspected, the Ministry had made it impossible for Charlie to have children of his own, he would do everything in his power to bring down Fudge’s government and destroy the system that had fostered and perpetuated a travesty for centuries.

George swore loudly as Bill nodded and Percy gasped. “Oh no,” whispered Molly and tears began to stream down her face. “We made him take the potions. Do you remember how he screamed and cried? He was in so much pain. Oh, Arthur, what have we done?”

Arthur’s face became ashen, and his expression was grim. “I can’t imagine he’ll take it well. Bill, how certain are you of this?”

Bill’s scarred face was strained. “I’ve double-checked everything. Goblins are nothing if not meticulous about the distribution of wealth. They might have some strange notions of ownership, but we didn’t entrust our entire financial system to them for nothing.

“The names are gone, Dad. I’ve gone into the archives myself and compared the physical records. If a will filed at Gringotts says, To my children, Abigail and David, the copy at the Ministry says, To my niece, Abigail and my nephew, David. Or cousins. Or friends. Marriages were altered or the less important spouse erased altogether. In some cases, it looks like the Ministry invented new familial lines and backtracked where they could. It’s a nightmare, but because they’re centuries old, no one cares anymore.”

“What do you mean, marriages were altered?” asked Harry heatedly, his entire body shaking with anger. He clutched his fists, his fingernails digging into his palms.

“Names were changed,” said Bill slowly. He gave Harry a searching look, as though weighing Harry’s need to know against the likelihood of an outburst of wild magic. “Using you and Severus as an example, you’d be listed as Harriet or Henrietta or something, if your children became important enough to warrant inclusion in the history books.”

Harry’s eyes flashed. “I am not a woman,” he snarled.

“Deep breath, mate,” advised Ron darkly, his cheeks burning with anger on his brother’s behalf. “No one is saying you are.” He locked eyes with Bill. “So the Ministry’s been rewriting history, and somehow they made it so Charlie couldn’t have kids of his own, but that doesn’t explain why they’ve been trying so hard to capture Harry. The whole country knows he’s knocked up.”

“Watch your language, young man,” snapped Molly, her dark eyes nearly as sharp as Severus’.

“It’s a bit late to hide that,” continued Ron, “and I can’t see them modifying the memories of all of us.”

“I don’t know,” admitted Bill. “”I’m not even positive it’s a deliberate action by the Ministry, and not just the way they do things. I’m certain St Mungo’s has no idea their potions are being changed.”

“The note said Harry’s pregnancy wasn’t an accident,” said Kingsley, “and Achilles Becker went to some effort to place that potion in Severus’ hands. Becker was an Unspeakable, and that suggests that the highest levels of the Ministry were complicit in the Department’s actions.”

“If that’s the case,” said Percy slowly as he assembled the pieces into a new shape, “and this has been going on for hundreds of years, might it be something so entrenched in the workings of the Ministry that no one has any idea it’s happening?”

“Becker knew,” said McGonagall, “or suspected. And from what Malfoy and Longbottom observed, Undermarsh believes he is engaging in something he ought not to do.”

Kingsley leapt to his feet. “Undermarsh,” he exclaimed. He gazed around wildly and cursed under his breath. “Trust Severus to prefer the dungeons. Minerva, I need access to a Floo. Immediately.” He pulled his wand and conjured a glowing white lynx. He spoke quietly to it for a moment and sent it off, bounding through the wall and out into the night.

“You may use Severus’ fireplace,” said McGonagall.

“But we—” started Harry, but McGonagall had her wand out and was uttering an incantation Harry had never heard before. “But—” She gestured to Kingsley, flicked her wand and the fireplace filled with crackling green flames.

“Headmistress’ prerogative,” she explained with a gleam in her eyes. “The castle will grant favours from time to time, especially when it’s a matter of some urgency. How do you think you were able to speak with your godfather from the Gryffindor common room?”

Kingsley knelt and shouted for someone, and within seconds he was engaged in an intense conversation with a man Harry had never seen before. “Make certain he’s kept safe, and for Merlin’s sake, don’t let Fudge know.”

“Are you certain you can trust that bloke, Kingsley?” asked George. “We’ve no idea who’s in on this.”

“I think we can be pretty certain Pendergast is part of it,” said Harry with a scowl. “The cow,” he muttered under his breath.

“I’ve worked for the Ministry almost as long as your father, George,” said Kingsley. “And I have never been one of Fudge’s men. I’ve always been Dumbledore’s man, and I have my own network that provides me with bits of information from time to time. Constant Vigilance!” His eyes dimmed. “Moody was a good friend.”

The door to the laboratory burst open, and Severus’s head poked out. “Someone summon Poppy. We need her in here.” The door slammed shut, and the protective charms went back up.

Ron launched himself from his chair and bolted across the room. “Hermione!” he shouted through the door as he hammered on it with his fist. “Are you—?”

The door opened as rapidly as it had closed, and Ron took a hasty step back. “No one is injured. There is no emergency,” snapped Severus. “If you wish to render assistance, you will do as I have asked.” The door slammed in Ron’s face, and he turned back to face the astonished group, an embarrassed flush devouring his freckles whole.

“I’ll go,” said Bill. “And I’ll make it clear that everyone is fine.” He glanced at Harry. “I won’t be saying anything that’s not true, right?” Harry arched a brow, and Bill nodded. “Right, then,” he said and hurried through the door.

“I wonder what he’s found?” mused Harry, too filled with nervous apprehension to sit any longer. He paced around the room, digging the heel of one hand into the small of his back to ease the ache there. He wished the baby would shift a little or something, anything that would make it feel better. Were he able, he’d bend over and try to stretch out that set of muscles, but he hadn’t been able to do that for weeks.

Halfway through his second lap, Harry became aware the room had fallen quiet and that all eyes were focussed on him. He stopped, his eyes narrowing suspiciously. “What?”

Molly got up and walked over to Harry. “Is it very bad?” she asked gently, resting a soft hand in the middle of his back. Her eyes were filled with understanding; of all of them, only Molly had any idea how Harry was feeling.

For a moment, Harry was seized by heartache so keen he could scarcely breathe. He’d grown up without a mother, but there were still moments when he was blindsided by the loss, when he wanted nothing more than to be a child, if only for a minute. He swallowed heavily and shook his head. “Not really, no. Just annoying.” He gave her a crooked smile. “You can ask Poppy when she gets here.”

Molly smiled and patted his cheek. “I wouldn’t, Harry. That last month is terribly uncomfortable and seems to drag on forever. Do whatever you need to feel better.”

Bill arrived with Madam Pomfrey in tow a few minutes later, and she made a beeline to Harry the second she walked in the room, her wand out and waving as she drew close. “Are you having trouble sleeping?” she asked as she scowled at the colours swirling around Harry’s middle.

“Only because of the dreams,” said Harry as his ears grew hot. “But, really, I’m fine.” More than anything, he was looking forward to not having to assure everyone that he was well. It was getting old. “Severus needs you for something. Knock first, though. His protective charms have protective charms. Bit of an overkill, if you ask me.”

“He worries about you, Harry.”

With some effort, Harry bit his tongue as his temper began to rise. “Well, he shouldn’t,” he said curtly. He stalked back to the sofa and sat down, squirming around until he found a position that wasn’t unbearable. He glared at their amused smiles and kept his gaze pinned to the laboratory door.

Madam Pomfrey was in and out in less than five minutes, followed by a stone-faced Severus and a very worn-out Hermione. “The vaccine is charmed,” announced Severus flatly. “But the analysis came out exactly as expected. I do not recognise the language of incantation, and Poppy has never known the translation. ”

“We weren’t taught the translation,” interjected Pomfrey. “We learnt it phonetically, the same way we learnt spells like Wingardium Leviosa.” She spoke the incantation, but none of the others recognised it, either.

“Nevertheless,” continued Severus. “I believe I understand how it works. I suspect that the contraceptives and abortifacients are bound in a transpositating structural matrix by the ash. I will know for certain when I have a chance to speak with Neville, provided his research yields any results. It appears the charm facilitates an inversion of the secondary structural matrices, which causes the potion to bind to the reproductive organs of the child whilst simultaneously introducing the live vaccine into the immune system.”

A dozen faces stared blankly at him. Undaunted, Severus continued. “In short, the Ministry is interfering with the fertility of every witch and wizard in Britain. The mechanics do not matter. Kingsley, we must question Undermarsh, and the sooner the better. Tonight, if at all possible. As well-intentioned as our amateur espionage agents were, it is likely that their actions have placed him in grave danger.”

“Do we have anything we can pin on Fudge?” growled Ron. “Anything at all? He was Minister for thirty years. There is no chance in hell he doesn’t know about this, and Charlie deserves an explanation.” Five sets of Weasley eyes blinked, but Ron squared his shoulders and held their gaze. “He’s my brother, too, you know.”

“I’ll go to the Ministry now,” said Kingsley. “As a new Department Head once again, my presence won’t be seen as unusual. If my man did his job, I should have news about Undermarsh waiting for me there. I will keep Minerva informed.” Kingsley grabbed his cloak and started towards the door. “If I can bring in Fudge,” he said, “I would like you there when I question him, Severus. Harry, too, if Poppy will allow it.”

Harry’s face darkened, but before he could spit out a single enraged word, Severus spoke. “Harry is pregnant. He is not ill; neither is he injured. He and I will thank you to bear that in mind.”

“I would like to be present as well,” said Arthur quite unexpectedly. “If what Severus says is true and my son irreparably harmed by this, then I believe, as Charlie’s father, I have that right.”

“Expect my Patronus, Arthur,” said Kingsley. “Harry, I do apologise.” He dipped his head and took his leave.

“I suggest everyone try to get some rest,” said Minerva. “I’ve been around Harry long enough to know that when things begin to happen, they tend to happen rather quickly. I bid you all a good night.”

Ch 19: History is Written by the Victors

Harry awoke the next morning before dawn, feeling more energetic than he had for months. He gazed at Severus for long moments, watching the soft rise and fall of his husband’s chest as he slept. “I love you so much,” he whispered. “You’ve no idea how much you mean to me.” He touched Severus’ hair lightly, and then climbed out of bed.

Harry left the castle a short while later garbed in one of Severus’ oldest robes and a hooded cloak, carrying on his walk around the Black Lake the scent of his husband like a talisman. The sun was fighting its way through the Forbidden Forest’s tangle of branches, slowly painting the sky in a palette of pale colours. Mauve clouds were tipped with gold, and in the west a strip of lavender was fighting off the encroaching streak of blue with little more than a sliver of moon to assist it.

The air was bracing, and Harry breathed deep as his child moved within him. “Before long you’ll be able to stretch properly,” he said as he watched an arrow of ripples disturb the surface of the lake. The Giant Squid was up and searching for inattentive water fowl to call breakfast. Harry made his way to a flat rock and gave some thought to sitting on it, but he wasn’t entirely convinced he’d make it to his feet again.

It was quiet here away from the castle and the complications of his life. He pulled his wand with a sigh and transfigured a haphazard pile of gravel into a tuffet that he could perch upon without fear of being stranded. Across the lake and deep within the kitchens of the castle, the house-elves were preparing breakfast for the hundreds of people who called Hogwarts home—if only temporarily.

His hand moved slowly over the curve of his belly, his head bowed. Bill’s report had sickened him, and part of him mourned the loss of children he had never known, who had never had a chance to be born, grow up, marry, and start their own families. He grieved for Charlie, who ached for children of his own, and for Arthur and Molly, who blamed themselves when they’d had nothing to do with the circumstances in which they found themselves.

Anger gradually replaced grief, and Harry’s eyes glistened with tears of rage as his fury grew. In his heart of hearts, he knew that Fudge was part of whatever it was that had happened, and even if they never found enough evidence to send him to Azkaban, Harry would find a way of ensuring the man never held a position above chief custodian at Eeylops ever again.

Harry summoned Kreacher before the sun had fully cleared the treetops, feeling a bit peckish, but not willing to tolerate the throng in the Great Hall. “Do you reckon you could bring me some hot chocolate and maybe a bit to eat?” asked Harry, once the greetings had been dispensed with.

“Kreacher will bring young Master anything he is able,” replied Kreacher. The house-elf swayed a bit as he gazed up at Harry with bleary eyes. “Is Master wanting some fresh sausages or a stack of pancakes perhaps?”

“Kreacher,” asked Harry in a slow voice, “are you getting enough rest? I told you not to wear yourself out, you know.”

“Kreacher is perhaps a bit tired. But Kreacher is still watching Williamson and wondering, yes, he is. Now, what is Master wanting besides hot chocolate?”

“Is Williamson doing anything different?” asked Harry, ignoring for the time being the rumbling in his stomach.

Kreacher arched a brow and swept into a low bow, though for what reason Harry couldn’t say. “Professor Williamson is putting a cot in his room. Professor Williamson is enquiring about nappies and is writing letters to his female relations about something called midnight feeding.”

Harry’s eyes narrowed. “Is he?” he drawled, adding his Defence Against the Dark Arts professor to the list of those barely qualified to clean rat cages. “I’ll let Severus know. Can I have some porridge, too? I don’t want to be inside right now,” he confessed.

“Is Master unwell?” asked Kreacher, eyeing Harry with deep suspicion.

“Master is fine,” growled Harry, “and he would be loads happier if people would stop asking him that.”

“Master would do well to remember that no one alive is ever seeing a pregnant wizard before,” replied Kreacher reproachfully, and Harry felt instantly cut down to size. “Kreacher will be bringing Master his breakfast,” he continued, and winked out of sight before Harry could say a word.

No one alive? Harry groaned as he realised that, once again, he’d forgotten about the ghosts. Sir Nicholas might have known Sendigovius or even Finnoc. He would have been alive in the days before the Wizengamot and might have been able to shed light on how things were done back in the day. He sighed. Would he never learn?

He pulled Severus’ cloak more tightly around his shoulders and inhaled the sharp, tangy scent, feeling immediately comforted. Then again, he reasoned, Sendigovious hadn’t been able to say anything, so perhaps it stood to reason that Sir Nicholas would be similarly tongue-tied.

To Harry’s chagrin, Kreacher did not return with his breakfast, but sent another house-elf in his stead. He ate steadily and enjoyed the warmth of the hot chocolate trickling through his veins, but as time passed, he realised that Severus was probably going a bit mental; Harry hadn’t even left a note to say where he’d gone or when he might be back. He pulled his wand and sent his Patronus with the message, “I’m at the Lake. It’s quiet here. Peaceful. Come find me if you wish.”

Before long, one of the tall oak doors to the castle opened. Harry waited patiently until a shadow of a figure appeared. It felt like a lifetime ago that they had walked slowly around the castle and kissed in its shadows; so much had changed since then.

He knew in an instant that Severus had spotted him, and he could tell by the change in Severus’ gait that he was none too pleased to have awakened alone. But not even the hard set to Severus’ jaw could bother Harry.

“I should have left a note,” he said. “But it’s perfect out.”

“You’re wearing my cloak,” Severus pointed out. “And are those my robes as well?”

Harry nodded. “I know I have robes that fit,” he said, “but this is comfortable. Should I give it back?” His eyes gleamed mischievously. “I’ll beg if I have to,” he said as he came clumsily to his feet. He strode carefully to the edge of the rock and took Severus’ hand as he stepped down. “Thanks. I can’t see my feet.”

“A fact of which I am well aware,” said Severus as he gripped Harry’s upper arm. “You should know by now that begging will do you little good. I will not succumb to your hedonistic tendencies, especially on a morning when the little cretins will be spilling out onto the lawn any minute now.”

“Spoilsport,” said Harry mildly, though his smile was affectionate. “I do want you, but that’s pretty much a permanent thing.”

Severus’ eyebrow crept up. “Your language last night implied otherwise. I believe the phrases ‘hell freezes’ and ‘live as a eunuch’ were employed at least once.”

Harry turned florid. “Yeah, well,” he muttered. “I was a bit pissy last night.” Severus’ eyebrow climbed a few degrees higher. “Oh, all right. I was in a foul mood. Satisfied?” The other eyebrow joined the first, and Harry scowled.

“Have I mentioned lately that you’re an idiot?” Severus kissed him, hard.

Harry chuckled and smiled up at Severus. “Not in the last day or so, no.” He sobered a bit. “I know I’ve been impossible to live with lately, so thanks for, you know, not petrifying me or anything.”

“I’ve considered it,” admitted Severus. His dark eyes feasted on Harry’s. “But I’ve grown somewhat accustomed to your presence.”

“Ha,” grinned Harry. “You’re just afraid of what Molly might do to you.”

“There is that. Come, whelp. I want to see if Minerva has heard anything from Kingsley yet.” Severus’ arm went around Harry’s shoulders, and together they slowly walked back to the castle.

Breakfast was still underway in the Great Hall, and for the first time ever, Harry joined Severus at the Staff Table, sitting quietly beside him whilst Severus gobbled down a few pieces of toast and hoisted himself up to the lowest levels of civility with the aid of a strong pot of tea. From what Harry surmised, Undermarsh had been smuggled to a safe house not a moment too soon. One of Kingsley’s men, Gary or Garrett or something, had been setting some last-minute charms when an unidentified witch and wizard Apparated in, wands drawn.

“But there’s been no further word from Kingsley?” said Severus between bites.

“As of this morning, no,” said McGonagall archly, “but it was after midnight when I spoke to him last, and I expect the poor man might have wanted a bit of sleep before he spoke with the two who broke into Undermarsh’s house. Be patient, Severus. Go speak with Longbottom if you must annoy someone this early in the day. He’s hardly blinked since you and Harry arrived.”

Harry leaned back to see past Severus and was struck by the urgency in Neville’s eyes. He was halfway out of his seat when Severus motioned him back down. “He can come to you well enough.” Harry sat down heavily, giving the back of Severus’ head a hard stare. He did not enjoy being coddled.

“It’s the ash,” said Neville urgently as he pulled up a chair and sat near the other Order members. “I’ve already told Draco and the others, but we couldn’t find you. It’s the base for whatever part of the potion is used to burn away flesh.” Neville’s skin took on a greenish tinge, and Harry’s gut twisted itself into knots.

“What do you mean, burn away flesh?” he asked uncomfortably.

“Wood ash makes potions go alkaline, and Draco told me the potion is charmed,” explained Neville. “It’s not just binding to reproductive organs; it’s dissolving bits of them. I’ve not figured out which part, but it’s changing something. Hermione and Draco are working out the Arithmancy formulae for the underlying structures. Professor Sprout and I are going to see if the sort of wood they used causes any variation. Draco reminded me that you’ve found both apple and cherry, and we want to make certain we understand the different effects.”

Harry felt like the dumbest person at the table. He didn’t know what Arithmancy had to do with Herbology or Potions and sank down in his chair the way he did when he didn’t want to be called upon during lessons. He had absolutely nothing to contribute to the ensuing conversation about thaumatological theory and the inherent instability of underlying stereotactic motion when a potion was improperly charmed. He groaned aloud when McGonagall wondered aloud if there might have been a Transformation step missed somewhere along the way.

“I’m sorry,” he said when the three of them suddenly stopped talking and turned to gaze enquiringly at him. “I’ve no idea what you’re talking about. I’ll just wait for you back in our rooms.” He waved off Severus’ apology, eased himself from his chair and made his way carefully off the dais.

He was joined at the back of the Hall by Luna, who fell in step with him as he headed towards the huge doors at the back of the enormous room. “Are you ready to change the world?” she asked, staring at him with her great solemn eyes. “It shouldn’t be much longer now, you know.” She smiled at him in her usual vague fashion, which always made Harry wonder just how many voices occupied her head at any one given time.

“It will be a couple of weeks yet,” he said as he pulled the door open and waited for her to step through.

“Oh, I wasn’t talking about the baby,” she replied as they started through the Entrance Hall. “I was talking about—”

The castle doors swung open with a thundering crash, and Cornelius Fudge stumbled through as if given a hard shove. He was wrapped tightly in ropes from shoulders to hips, his hands pinned uselessly to his side. Momentum carried him forward and, unable to stop, he careened off the marble volute that invited people onto the Grand Staircase. Kingsley Shacklebolt was hard on his heels, his wand out and casting Stinging Hexes at Fudge’s feet, a look of fury on his dark face.

“You cannot do this to me!” shouted Fudge as he deflected off Luna’s shoulder, angling himself for the Great Hall. “I am the Minister of Magic! I will have you arrested and thrown in…YOU!” Fudge was so surprised by Harry’s appearance that he no longer paid attention to where his feet were taking him, colliding nose first with the door.

“Where is Severus?” demanded Kingsley as he Petrified Fudge with a casual flick of his wand. “I think he’ll be very interested in what the Minister of Magic has to say.”

“I was talking about that,” said Luna to Harry. She absently rubbed her shoulder as if she’d just realised that Fudge had all but knocked her over on his way to being Petrified. By way of greeting, she waggled her fingers at Kingsley. “Good morning, Minister,” she said.

Kingsley gave her a penetrating look, but Harry shook his head slightly. There was little point in arguing with her. “Severus is in the Great Hall with Professor McGonagall, though I reckon he heard Fudge shouting the roof down.”

“Get him for me, will you, Harry?” growled Kingsley. “Whilst I escort the Minister to Minerva’s office?”

Harry disappeared back into the Great Hall as Kingsley began to float Fudge up the stairs, and found Severus still deep in discussion with Neville and McGonagall.

“Kingsley’s here,” he said urgently when Severus looked up. “With Fudge. He needs us and probably Mr Weasley as well. He’s on his way up to your office, Professor,” he said to McGonagall. “I reckon this can’t be good. Kingsley’s furious.”

The four of them scrambled off at once, hastening up the stairs as though Fluffy the Three-Headed Dog were after them. By the time they reached the fifth floor landing, they could hear Fudge ranting at the top of his lungs. “You will never get away with this, Shacklebolt. The person you want is Severus Snape. He was a Death Eater, for Merlin’s sake! He murdered Ach—.” The Minister was silenced mid-word.

They reached the seventh floor to discover Kingsley waiting for them at the gargoyle, with Fudge propped up beside it like a piece of timber. “I prefer it quiet,” he said dismissively. “Minerva, might we use your office? The Minister is convinced I have the wrong man under arrest, and he insists I take Harry Potter into custody for the safety of the people of Great Britain.”

“Fudge always was a bit of a fool,” declared McGonagall. “Consider my office yours. Good morning, by the way.” She peered at him over the top of her glasses. “You look dreadful, Kingsley. I do hope you were able to get some rest.” She turned to the gargoyle. “Culloden,” she said sharply. The gargoyle obligingly hopped aside to reveal the entrance to the stairs, and Fudge toppled to the floor.

“Not much,” confessed Kingsley. “But this matter is much more important than sleep. I believe you’ll know why once Severus has finished with him.”

“Me?” Severus drew back in surprise. “I am not a part of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, as you well know. The Wizengamot does not participate in investigations. We leave that to you lot.” He waited for Minerva and Harry to step onto the spiral staircase before riding up himself.

Neville’s voice floated up the stairwell. “Is anyone going to bring the Minister?” he called out as Kingsley stepped onto the bottom step.

“Use Mobilicorpus,” Harry called back from the top. He stood by the window nearest Dumbledore’s portrait and murmured hello whilst Minerva and Severus Transfigured the furniture into a worn trestle table like the one at the Burrow and a set of kitchen chairs similar to the ones at Grimmauld Place. At the head of the table, though, was a sturdy wooden chair with shackles and chains attached to the arms and legs that reminded Harry strongly of the one he had seen Mary Cattermole occupy during the hearing that Dolores Umbridge had conducted at the Ministry.

Whilst Severus was busy with McGonagall, Kingsley poked his wand into the fireplace and started a roaring fire. He tossed some Floo powder into the flames, and when they turned bright emerald green, stuck his head in the flames and shouted, “The Burrow.”

Minutes later, Arthur Weasley stepped through, his robes donned so hastily that he’d missed a button in the middle. He took stock as his blue eyes swept over the room, narrowing when they settled on Fudge. “Minister,” he said coolly as Fudge floated past him.

Fudge worked his jaw for a moment as the Silencing Charm fell away. “Arthur Weasley,” he said with a sneer. “I must say I’m surprised to see you here, though I should have remembered you were in Dumbledore’s pocket. I would have thought you had come to your senses after Harry Potter got your son killed.”

Arthur clenched his fists in anger, but he continued to sit quietly, his eyes fixed firmly on Harry’s face. He shook his head slowly, and Harry gave him a brief nod of understanding. He hadn’t killed Fred, any more than he had murdered anyone else who had died.

“Do you need me here?” asked Neville, shifting nervously as Harry and the others took their seats at the table. “Because, really, I’m not certain—”

“Mr Longbottom, find Mr Malfoy and send him to my laboratory. Have him bring back a phial of Veritaserum. He should know by now where it is kept,” said Severus, watching intently as Kingsley wrestled Fudge into the interrogation chair. “I do not trust Fudge to be truthful.” His expression grew fractionally kinder. “Provide Mr Malfoy with the password to this office. Tell him to hurry.”

“I expected better from you, Minerva,” raged Fudge. Kingsley must have cancelled the spells, for the man was fighting the chains that bound him with all the strength he possessed and bellowing like a wounded dragon. “There was no point in trying to get Dumbledore to see reason; the man was half-mad, but you’ve always been the sensible one.”

“It is a pity you think so,” said Dumbledore sadly as McGonagall set out tea and biscuits for everyone except Fudge. Kingsley took his seat and withdrew a thick sheaf of parchment from his robes. “You were always impetuous, Cornelius,” Dumbledore continued whilst Severus went to McGonagall’s desk, returning with parchment and quills for everyone. An inveterate note-taker, Harry knew, Severus thought better with quill in hand. “More concerned with your own power than in doing what needed to be done.”

“Ha!” exploded Fudge. “I’m doing what needs to be done. History will remember me as the one who fulfilled the terms of the Treaty. It will have forgotten you,” he said triumphantly.

Treaty? Harry heard the spiral stairs start to grind. Draco would be through the door any second, and then they could begin. He glanced at Severus, seeing again the qualities that made him so formidable a foe. His eyes were keen, his expression neutral as stone, and it was impossible to tell what thoughts were going on behind Severus’ mask.

“I came as quickly as I could,” said Draco as he burst through the door, his face flushed and breathing heavily. He slapped a phial into Severus’ hand and collapsed into the empty chair next to Harry. It was then that he noticed the man chained to the chair at the end of the table. “Ah. Fudge.” His face fell into its old insolent lines, and he lifted his pointed chin as he turned his head.

Severus walked around the table, his robes billowing as he moved. “Open your mouth, Minister,” said Severus as he reached forward to grab Fudge’s jaw. “Or I’ll open it for you. Three drops. You do remember how it works?” He dangled the bottle in front of Fudge’s eyes, squeezing his fingers hard enough to bleach the skin underneath.

“I won’t forget this, Snape,” snarled Fudge and opened his mouth.

“It’s Prince,” said Severus coldly. He applied three drops to Fudge’s tongue and waited for Fudge’s eyes glaze over. It only took a moment. “Professor Prince to you.” His eyes met Kingsley’s. “He’s ready.”

Kingsley looked up from his place at the foot of the table. “Please state your full name.”

“My name is Cornelius Fudge.”

Kingsley frowned and looked down at the paper in front of him. Harry’s brow furrowed, and he turned in his seat to stare up at Severus. “Your full name, Minister,” repeated Kingsley.

“Cornelius Fudge, Minister of Magic,” said Fudge snidely.

“According to this,” said Kingsley slowly, rattling the pages in front of him, “you have a middle name. Is that true?” He turned troubled eyes on Severus. “Did you brew that potion?”

Severus looked at the phial. It was small and silver and had VERITASERUM printed across the front of it in bold letters. He swore. “I beg your pardon, Kingsley. This is a decoy I brewed whilst Umbridge was pretending to be the headmistress here. I prepared several batches of modified Befuddlement Draught to mimic the effects of Veritaserum, since there were some few students I could not allow to be interrogated whilst under its effects.” His eyes slid over to Harry, and they understood each other.

“That was very well done of you, Severus,” said McGonagall, a note of pride entering her crisp, no-nonsense voice.

Severus blinked before nodding to her. “Draco,” he said, “as quickly as you can, please. Bring back an unlabelled phial identical to this one.”

“I’m sorry, Severus. I didn’t know.” Draco sprinted for the door whilst Harry pushed himself to his feet. He conjured his Patronus and sent it to Hermione with a message. “Severus needs a small silver phial from his stores. Unmarked. Draco will meet you somewhere along the way.” The stag leapt through the wall whilst Fudge stared on in disbelief.

Upon Draco’s return, Severus checked the second phial carefully. He sniffed it and rubbed a drop between his fingers. “I believe we will find this suitable,” said Severus. He prised Fudge’s jaws apart and administered a generous three drops.

Dots of sweat beaded Fudge’s forehead and pooled together to run in rivulets along his temples. Seconds later, his expression melted in resignation as the potion took effect.

“Your name, sir,” snapped Kingsley.

Fudge’s jaw worked frantically as he fought the effects of Veritaserum, but to no avail. He could no more shake it off than he could raise Voldemort from the dead. “Cornelius Commodus Fudge,” he gritted.

The admission assured everyone that the potion was indeed working. “Do you know Achilles Becker?”

“Yes, he was one of the Unspeakables who reported to me. I ordered Melinda Stackpoole to eliminate Becker to keep him from telling Snape what he knew about the Ministry’s eradication scheme.”

Kingsley made a note. “Were you aware that Becker was in communication with Severus Prince prior to that date?”

“I don’t know a Severus Prince,” declared Fudge heatedly. “The only Severus I know is Snape.”

A confused buzz whispered around the table and Harry’s eyes narrowed as his heart began to hammer. Fudge had denied their marriage under Veritaserum, which meant he had somehow managed to have it invalidated after all. “Remember the notice from the Ministry?” he murmured urgently. “Do you reckon they’ve already erased us?”

“Shhh,” cautioned Severus. “Let’s see where this leads. Allow Kingsley to question him. We’ll raise any concerns afterwards.”

“What do you mean, Becker was in communication with Snape?” demanded Fudge. “Stackpoole had her orders. Becker and Undermarsh were under an Unbreakable Vow not to speak about the project to anyone. Then Potter turned out to be bent and pregnant, and we knew we had a problem on our hands. They were told to take all steps necessary to end it.”

“What were the terms of the vow?” asked Kingsley.

“To erase all history of the damned, to prevent the damned from being born in the future, to speak of their work to no one,” spat Fudge, his face turning the colour of old putty.

McGonagall, Kingsley and Arthur shared a confused look. “Who are the damned?” asked Arthur.

Fudge’s shackled hand came up, and he pointed at Harry. “That. That disgusting, unnatural spawn he’s carrying, along with Potter and Snape as well. It’s against all the laws of nature. The worst men in history were born the same way, and we have a sworn duty to keep it from happening again. It must be stopped and Potter taken into custody until the thing comes out, so it can be destroyed.” Spittle flew as Fudge ranted, and Harry’s eyes became glacial.

“You will not,” said Harry coldly, “murder my child.”

“You should have been drowned at birth,” snarled Fudge. “You and Snape and the others like you. The laws of nature must be preserved. I’ve worked for thirty years to rein in your kind, and with the Traditionalist bloc out of the Wizengamot, I finally had a clear road to passing the rest of the laws that would have made you lot illegal. But then Snape applied for the Prince seat, and with Kingsley still running the show, Pendergast couldn’t deny the request.

“Stackpoole should have eliminated Snape when she had the chance. She chose the wrong one, though the Vow should have killed Becker in the end. She chose to send a message to Undermarsh. Foolish woman. I should have done the deed myself.”

A chill settled over the room; the vein in Severus’ temple pulsed with rage and Harry gripped his quill so hard it snapped. Arthur’s face was as red as Fawkes, and McGonagall’s flinty expression became granite. “What is this treaty you mentioned?” asked Kingsley in a slow dark voice.

Fudge fought the effects of the Veritaserum, but the potion won out in the end. “The International Statute of Secrecy,” he said finally. “There are three clauses that do not appear in the history books, but they can be seen in the original document concealed within Westminster Abbey.”

“Westminster Abbey?” exclaimed McGonagall. “What is such an important document doing in a Muggle church, of all places?”

“It was the Church who forced us into hiding,” said Severus, leaning forward, his black eyes glittering dangerously. “It was not enough to live in fear of persecution for our magic. They wanted to forbid us anything they considered unnatural, and what could be more unnatural in the eyes of Muggles than wizards bearing children? Is that not correct?”

“Witch or wizard, your kind cannot be allowed to exist,” shouted Fudge. “The Treaty requires we eliminate the possibility, and I will be the one to do it.”

“How was it accomplished in the past?” demanded Harry. “How did the Ministry ‘eliminate the possibility’ after the Statute went into effect?”

Again, Fudge fought to keep his knowledge secret, but the truth won out. “A society sworn to secrecy,” he sighed. “I suppose they were the original Death Eaters. They eliminated the children where they found them and the birth father as well.”

“The Ministry of Magic murdered children?” interrupted McGonagall, horrified.

Fudge shot her a quelling glance. “The Ministry needed to find a more permanent solution, one that would eliminate the merest possibility of such abominations being born in the first place. It took decades, but the Potions Guild found a way to sterilise the boys without damaging the girls too badly.

“There were new plagues every few years, and potions were the easiest way to cure to everybody. But there was no way of telling who was bent and who was normal, so over the years it was decided to administer it to all children. Harpy’s Throat was one of the earliest disease-preventing potions invented, so the Department of Mysteries settled on that. Our methods were working, too,” crowed Fudge. “We’d not had an accidental birth in centuries. Until you.” He shot Harry a contemptuous glance.

“We are normal,” said Harry darkly, his voice shaking with anger. “I am normal. It’s people like you who aren’t normal, messing about with people when you’ve no idea what you’re doing. Killing people because you don’t like that they’re different from you.”

“So you think the Ministry should simply allow the likes of Ivan the Terrible and Vlad the Impaler to be born in the first place, do you?” roared Fudge, who seemed incapable of saying anything in less than a full-throated shout. “Rasputin and Genghis Khan? They all had two fathers, and they did unspeakable things.”

“Merlin himself was born of two men,” snarled Severus, “as were Marcus Aurelius and Zhuge Liang, if the legends are to be believed. They accomplished much in their lives.”

“That is quite beside the point,” Fudge snarled back. “You’re foul and disgusting, and the whole lot of you should be hanged. Sent to St Mungo’s so your minds can be repaired, or chucked to Azkaban where decent people don’t have to look at you.” A fist crashed into Fudge’s face. Blood poured from his nose in great rivers of red. He stared up into the normally placid face of Arthur Weasley. “You broke by dose!”

“My sons are not foul and disgusting. They are decent, loving people.” Arthur flexed his hand and gave it a brief glance. “You robbed my Charlie of the chance of having children someday. You tried to kidnap Harry so you could murder his child. You had an Unspeakable killed. Who is the monster in the room, Cornelius? Who?”

No one said a word. They all sat back and watched as Fudge attempted to staunch the flow of blood. Finally, Severus lifted his wand. “Episkey,” he said coolly and the blood stopped. Fudge’s nose remained crooked, though, and Harry thought it couldn’t have happened to a better man.

~*~

“So what happened after Dad punched him?” Ron asked after dinner that night. Having had their suspicions confirmed, the Order were meeting for the second night in a row and trying to decide what steps should be taken next.

“Fudge admitted to everything,” said Harry. “He confirmed that the Ministry has been rewriting history, that the Department of Mysteries is tampering with potions, and that he had already taken steps to erase me and Severus. You should have seen his face when your dad said that the contract had been filed properly at the Ministry. Turns out that ‘properly’ means that it’s in a file cabinet somewhere. It’s shoved in with some maintenance reports and logged in as Prince Construction Project.

“Kingsley questioned him some more about Becker and Undermarsh, and Fudge admitted that Stackpoole had been shadowing Severus at the reception. She missed seeing him slip out, but when a few minutes had gone by, she must have figured that he’d gone to the Department of Mysteries. She heard enough to know that Severus knew something about the potion, but hadn’t put all the pieces together yet.

“She reported what she’d heard to Fudge, and he told her to eliminate the problem. He also admitted to sending a pair of hit wizards to Undermarsh’s home to assassinate him. Kingsley charged Fudge with murder and conspiracy to commit murder. He’s still trying to figure out what to do about the tampering, though.”

“Why isn’t Fudge in Azkaban?” asked Hermione.

“Because Fudge pardoned himself,” said Draco in disgust. “The Minister of Magic has the authority to pardon anyone accused of a crime that can result in a sentence at Azkaban. Kingsley was shouting about having a conflict of interest, but Fudge was pretty adamant that his pardon would stick.”

“I think Harry should do what he did before,” said Luna. “It worked that time. I don’t see why it wouldn’t work again.”

“What did Harry do last time?” asked Neville.

Harry blinked. As usual, he had no idea what Luna was on about. He hadn’t done anything to Fudge, though he really wished he’d been the one to punch him. He glanced over at the table where the senior members of the order were gathered and felt warm all over. Severus had been brilliant and Arthur…Harry couldn’t quite believe that Arthur had punched the Minister of Magic. For Charlie, mainly, but for Harry as well.

“Luna, that’s brilliant!” exclaimed Hermione. “Ooh, who should we call? Would he be willing, do you think? I was afraid that everything had been destroyed, but perhaps not.” Her brown eyes danced at the thought of meting out justice once again.

“Hermione, what are you on about?” asked Ron.

“We’re going to bring down Fudge,” she declared. “The same way Harry did last time.”

“We’re going to break into the Department of Mysteries and have a battle?” asked Harry, perplexed. He had done nothing on his own to topple Fudge’s government. Voldemort had chosen the time and place of that particular encounter. Harry had merely shown up and managed not to get himself killed. Sirius hadn’t been as fortunate.

“No, I don’t think that would be a good idea, Harry,” said Luna. “They just got it put back together again, and I don’t think the Ministry would be happy if we wrecked part of it.”

“An article!” shouted Hermione in exasperation. “Like Rita Skeeter wrote for the Quibbler back in fifth year when everybody wanted to know what happened during the Triwizard Tournament, only this time it’s about Harry and the Ministry and how they’ve changed everyone’s lives by giving them a potion they didn’t know they were taking.”

“Absolutely not,” said Harry indignantly. “People know too much about me already.”

“No, Potter,” said Draco slowly, “she’s right. You and Severus are still getting a couple of Howlers a week, but most of your mail is positive. Now that the weirdness has worn off, they’re all excited for you.” He gave Harry a smug grin. “I’m a bit surprised the Daily Prophet‘s not running a contest about the baby. Win a thousand Galleons by guessing the day, time, weight and gender.” The smile turned evil. “I reckon I can fix that.”

Harry was aghast. “You wouldn’t.”

“Pretty little fundraiser for a good cause,” said Draco genially. “I suspect the Prophet could raise thousands. Imagine all those widows and orphans they could assist. But, back to the matter at hand. An article in the Quibbler could be just the thing. Everyone knows someone who’s queer and, pure-blood or not, there are some things the Wizarding world takes quite seriously. Children, for one. Lineage for another. Imagine the hue and cry when the major houses discover their genealogy has been tampered with. That the Ministry has been altering our fertility…”

Draco’s eyes grew hard. “Many of the oldest houses are in danger of dying out, and there aren’t enough girls born to go around.” His cheeks coloured, and he gave Ginny, Luna and Hermione a cautious glance. “You know what I mean. If it weren’t for Fudge perpetuating this travesty, Neville and I could have combined our houses the same way you and Severus did your own.”

The senior members of the Order came over as Draco spoke. Severus perched on the arm of Harry’s chair and brushed a kiss against his hair. Harry smiled up at his husband, in a decent mood for the time being. He turned his attention back to the others. “We got married, Draco. This,” Harry patted his rounded belly, “isn’t why we combined houses. I would have wanted to be a Prince even if this had never happened.” He rested his head against Severus’ side.

“We heard the word ‘article’ and came over to find you discussing our marriage,” said Severus. “No complaints, I trust?”

“We weren’t discussing our marriage,” said Harry. “Luna thinks we should publish what we know and let things go from there.”

Arthur and Molly commandeered a couch. Kingsley and Minerva found seats across from Harry and Severus. “The idea is not without merit,” said Kingsley. “You might be surprised how much weight popular opinion carries.”

Harry snorted. “Not really. I lived that all during fifth year, when every other word printed in the Prophet was about how I’d gone completely mental, and again in sixth year when they decided I was the Chosen One.” His expression grew pensive. “If you think we can bring down Fudge, though, and then make him pay for what he’s done…” He gave Severus a long, searching look. “This can’t be my decision.”

“Make it a story about the baby,” suggested Ginny. “I can write it if you’d like. We can start drafting it now and fill in all the bits we don’t know after it’s born.”

“What’s left to find out?” asked Ron. “We know what the Ministry’s been doing and why. We know it will be at least fifteen years before we start to see any changes come about.”

Hermione thwacked him gently upside the head. “For Merlin’s sake, Ron, you’re such a man,” she sighed. “We need to know whether they have a boy or a girl and what they name it, of course.” She thwacked him again, just for good measure. Molly laughed.

They debated the pros and cons, drank tea, ate pudding and enjoyed one of the most relaxed evenings they’d had in ages. “If it’s alright,” said Harry hesitantly as they bade Arthur and Molly goodnight, “I’d like to tell Charlie what we discovered. It won’t be easy for him to hear from anybody, but I know how he feels, and I think I owe it to him.”

Tears came to Molly’s eyes and she kissed him lightly on the cheek. “That’s sweet of you dear, but Charlie should hear it from us. If we hadn’t…well, it’s done, and there’s nothing for it but to go on.”

“Do write to him though, Harry,” suggested Arthur. “He will appreciate hearing from you, and I suspect there are things he will say to you and Severus that he would much rather not say to us.” His sad blue eyes met Severus’. “We’ll speak again tomorrow. Good night.” He hugged them both and stepped into the corridor with his wife.

~*~

It was strange after all this time to have nothing more pressing to do than attend lessons and study. Even Williamson had backed down, treating Harry as though he had become invisible. Every time Harry caught out Williamson staring at him, though, it was with a calculating gleam that still caused Harry’s skin to crawl. Kreacher hadn’t discovered anything new, however, so Harry was left with nothing more than his suspicions. Even Ron was advising him to drop it as a lost cause, and Harry was inclined to agree with him.

Whether motivated by guilt or other forces that were in play, Harry finally sat down with Severus and outfitted the nursery, purchasing almost everything listed in the book Hermione had given him, whether he knew what it was used for or not. Nightgowns with drawstring bottoms, cute little one-piece sleepers with zippers (Arthur loved zippers) in every colour of the rainbow. Blankets and nappies. Packets of bottles and nipples, which embarrassed Harry no end.

Minerva assigned them a house-elf to assist with laundry, which caused Kreacher to iron his ears and hammer his fingers until Harry entrusted his house-elf with the responsibility of keeping all the feeding supplies scrupulously clean and formula always on hand. Molly was over every other day or so, sitting happily with her knitting or rearranging the nursery to her satisfaction. To Harry’s surprise, she and Severus never so much as raised their voices at each other, even though every time Molly moved things around, Severus put them back.

The baby dropped, and Harry’s body started changing. Everything from arsehole to scrotum burned and ached, and Harry found sitting on the hard benches and chairs to be a form of torture worse than anything the Death Eaters had ever devised. He resorted to standing during his classes, but by the end of the day his feet were so sore that crawling seemed like a much better idea than walking.

His moods were so mercurial that he was nearly positive he was experiencing the full range of human emotion simultaneously. “I don’t know how anyone can stand being around me,” Harry said morosely as he buttered a slice of toast he had no intention of eating. Though the table was filled with food, nothing looked appetising. He took a sip of pumpkin juice and grimaced, finding it tasted sour. He didn’t like the sausage, the porridge was bland, the toast was underdone and the eggs were runny.

“Pick one thing, close your eyes and eat it,” said Hermione sternly. “Anything will be loads better than what we had to eat last year. Picture the tree bark stew, and have some ham.”

“Or you could go out to the Forbidden Forest and find a good sized branch to gnaw on,” suggested Ron. “Have an oatcake. They’re good today.” Harry threw the piece of toast at Ron and scowled as it bounced off his nose. “Here, have a tomato,” said Ron, spearing one with his fork and shaking it off onto Harry’s plate.

Harry ate it and a mushroom and half an oatcake. By lunchtime he was both ravenous and restless. He grabbed a leg of chicken and paced around the end of the Slytherin table as he tore off hunks of meat with his teeth. He couldn’t manage to stay still for more than a few minutes and was thankful he had double Herbology that afternoon. At least he would be busy doing something, even if it was little more than clipping the wings off the Red Butterfly Bloodflowers to keep them from flapping their pollen onto the Dragon Wing Begonias. Some of the begonias had allergies.

The clouds led each other on a merry chase, creating swiftly moving shadows that leap-frogged over Harry as he and his classmates made their way to the greenhouses. The Slytherin/Hufflepuff Quidditch match was coming up that weekend, and Draco was in excellent form. For the first time in his life, Harry was hoping for a Slytherin win. He listened idly to the chatter and lifted his chin as a soft breeze wafted around him.

As they entered the greenhouse, Sprout handed them each a small burlap sack. “Spread these evenly throughout the greenhouse, and try not to take any of them into the castle with you.” Harry opened the sack to discover it was teeming with ladybugs and other small beetles. He dug his fingers into the sack and quickly found that the insects had no desire to be sprinkled onto the plants, so he instead placed them bug by bug onto nearby leaves.

As he worked, he felt an odd twinge ripple across his abdomen, then another twinge a few minutes later, but Harry said nothing and continued to distribute the ladybugs whilst he teased Draco about his flying. It soon reached the point, though, where he could predict with certainty when the next odd squeezing sensation would strike. It was not painful, per se, but as time passed and the compressions came closer together, he set his bag of bugs under the broad leaves of a fern and slipped quietly out of the greenhouse, unnoticed by anyone.

It was cool in the castle, and though he walked slowly and took his time, Harry found he had to pause a couple of times until his muscles relaxed enough for him to walk easily. He made his way through the Hospital Wing, which was unoccupied for the moment, a small mercy for which Harry was grateful. There would be people at the doors soon enough, but Harry hoped they would understand that the only person he wanted near him right now was Severus.

Harry found Madam Pomfrey in her office and leaned against the door, watching her work. He smiled as she looked up and said, “I think it’s time.”

Madam Pomfrey nodded and closed the chart she was annotating. “Well? Don’t just stand there, Mr Prince. Go get changed. I assume you’ll want your usual bed?” She pulled the latest chapter of Harry’s chart off the shelf over her desk and made a shooing motion with her hand.

“I should have just changed and waited for you there,” said Harry with a snort. He disappeared behind the examination room curtain and changed into the deplorable gown that opened in the back. He had Kreacher take his belongings to the dungeons and settled himself in the same bed in which he’d awakened a few days after Quirrell had died at his hands.

Pomfrey arrived at his bed a few moments later, carrying a basket of potions, her ever-present quill and parchment trailing along behind. She cast her charms and tutted about the readings. “When did the contractions start?” she asked.

“Contractions? Oh, not long after Herbology started.” Harry turned his head and looked away when she folded back the blankets and peered between his legs. It wasn’t the first time, but things were strange down there right now, and he found it challenging to accept the changes as part of the process. Another contraction rippled across his stomach whilst her fingers explored.

“No, Harry, you need to keep breathing. Holding your breath will make them feel worse.” She withdrew her hand and covered his legs back up. “What would you like me to tell Severus?”

Harry noticed that there seemed to be no question of whether or not to notify Severus right away. “Tell him I’m here and that it will be awhile. He doesn’t have to hurry.”

“I think that’s for him to decide,” said Pomfrey. “If you feel up to walking around a bit, then you should. There’s no right way to do this, Harry, so pay attention to your body. You are not confined to bed, but I don’t want you leaving the Hospital Wing. Agreed?”

The matter was taken out of their hands almost instantly. The door to the infirmary opened and Severus stepped through. Harry could read nothing in Severus’ face, and his carefully measured footsteps were equally unhelpful. “Four Patronuses…” His brow furrowed. “Patroni? Invaded my classroom to inform me you had walked out of Herbology without a word to anybody.” He buried his hand in Harry’s hair. “What do you need?”

Harry leaned his head against Severus’ hand. “It’s going to be a long time yet, Severus. Right now, I’m going to rest for a bit, maybe walk around some, so you’re likely to become really bored.” Another pain seized him, and he tried to remember what Madam Pomfrey had said, but breathing seemed pointless. The contractions weren’t that bad and didn’t last that long, so it seemed easier to hold his breath.

Four hours later, Harry was rethinking his plan. For some reason, he truly had believed that the contractions would merely become closer together, not that they’d get proportionally stronger as well. They were anywhere from three to ten minutes apart, but any regularity had been thrown out the window about the time the sun began to set. Harry rolled onto his side whilst Severus dug his thumbs hard into the small of his back, moaned and turned onto his back again, trapping Severus’ hand underneath him. “How much longer is going to be?” he whinged when the pain had stopped.

“Two or three more hours. Poppy estimates you’ll deliver somewhere between nine and ten o’clock.”

“What time is it now?” asked Harry plaintively. It wasn’t that he was tired; he wasn’t. He was restless and frustrated. He couldn’t find a comfortable position and felt cooped up.

“Not quite half seven. Do you wish to walk some more?”

Harry shook his head. “No, I think I’m done with that.”

Madam Pomfrey came in to check on him, but since she’d been in every twenty minutes or so, the novelty had long since worn off. His abdominal muscles began to tense again, and he panted softly as it went on and on. “You’re making excellent progress, Harry,” she said.

“Like I have a choice,” muttered Harry. It occurred to him that he was as much a spectator as Severus, only he couldn’t get up and walk away. His was a front row seat, and the show would move right along with him.

“Remember to breathe and rest as much as you can between contractions. They should start to settle down, but they’re going to last a lot longer now.” Madam Pomfrey covered him back up and patted his thigh. “Severus, you can use a Warming Charm if he says he feels cold. It’s not unusual, and it won’t hurt anything. In the meantime, you might want to read to him or something to keep his mind off it.”

“Sev? Will you make it so I can sit up? I need to be up,” said Harry as Madam Pomfrey left. “And if you could talk a bit? About anything.”

Severus adjusted the bed and allowed Harry a sip of water. He smoothed away the damp hair clinging to Harry’s forehead, his eyes so soft and loving that Harry felt certain everything would be fine. “Tell me, what would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?”

Harry’s jaw dropped, and he chuckled as a contraction took hold. “I…can’t believe…you’re…asking me…that,” he panted as he struggled to stay relaxed, to not fight the waves of pain coursing through him. “Draught…of Living…Death. Next?”

Severus gazed at him with immeasurable pride. “Where, Mr Prince, would you look if I asked you to find me a bezoar?”

“I love you, you know,” gasped Harry, a smile shining somewhere in the depths of pain-filled green eyes. “Stomach…of a goat.” He clung to Severus’ wrist for a moment, a high pitched keening sound breaking loose. He took as deep a breath as he could manage. “Sorry. Hurts.” The contraction ended and Harry relaxed. “I reckon Aberforth must have quite the collection of bezoars. Do you know if anyone ever asked him for one?”

“You owe no one an apology, Harry, least of all me,” said Severus. “Do not hold back a sound if you wish to make one. I will not think less of you, nor will anyone else.”

“I’d rather save my cries for the situation that got us into this,” said Harry wearily. “You have another question coming, you know.”

“I thought I’d save it for the next one,” said Severus. “Do you want more water?”

Harry shook his head. “I’ve no idea how I’m going to pass my Potions N.E.W.T. I’ve not brewed since November.”

“Harry, you’re married to a…what is the difference between monkshood and wolfsbane?” Severus grasped Harry’s hand. “Breathe, Harry. Short breaths.”

“Same thing,” replied Harry in a high tight voice. He tried to concentrate on his breathing, but if he had to compare this to the pain he had felt upon being possessed by Voldemort, he’d choose Voldemort every time. No wonder Molly was so damned fierce! Even Narcissa deserved an honourable mention. “They’re the…same thing.”

Severus spoke to him throughout the contraction, but all Harry heard was the sound of Severus’ voice, the rich, velvety tones that assured him that he would be alright. He knew he could cope with the crushing pain if he had Severus with him, was willing to take one more step…and another…and another after that. He would, because Severus loved him and wanted nothing more than to take care of him.

When it ended, Harry released a deep breath he hadn’t meant to hold. “What’s on page three hundred and ninety-four?” he asked, his voice roughened by hours of hard work.

Severus’ brow furrowed. “What’s on page three hundred and ninety-four? I don’t understand.”

Harry chuckled. “Third year.” He clenched Severus’ hand. “You took…one of…Lupin’s…Defence…classes.” He panted for a bit, focussed his attention on a spot across the room and counted the seconds inside his head. “Turn to…page…three hundred and ninety-four,” he said. No one would ever mistake his voice for Severus’.

“Ahhh, werewolves. Hermione got the lesson,” replied Severus. “I do regret that,” he said softly.

“No,” said Harry sharply. “No…regrets.” He bent his attention to the task at hand and didn’t say another word. Madam Pomfrey came by a few more times, but when she started laying out towels and scissors and a basin of warm water, he knew that he was very nearly through.

“Everything will change when you’re ready to deliver,” Madam Pomfrey said calmly, as though she’d done this a thousand times before. They had discussed having Healers from St Mungo’s come to Hogwarts for the birth, but Harry was adamant that no one other than Severus and she be nearby. “You’ll know, Harry, and we’ll do it together. Severus, you can stay by Harry’s side or come watch if you wish.”

Harry was far too intent on what he had to do to pay much attention to what Severus and Madam Pomfrey were engaged in, and he was mid-contraction when his muscles suddenly changed their minds about the task at hand. He sat up and the edge of the bed fell away. For a moment, he worried that he was going to fall off, but either magic or Madam Pomfrey had matters well in hand. He pushed and tuned out the excited chatter. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, pushed down and felt his body catch fire. Inhaling sharply through gritted teeth, he kept steady pressure, his bones and sinews joining in the battle, and he felt something ease from his body.

His eyes rolled and he took a deep breath, but another urge to push came over him and he tilted his head back, uncertain about what was happening. Were there two of them?

“Let me clamp that. Just a moment…” Harry pushed again. “Very good, Harry. Very good. Yes, cut right there. Oh, she’s beautiful.”

All sorts of things seemed to be happening, but Harry hadn’t heard a cry and started to panic. His heart raced, and he looked around frantically, but all he could see was Severus’ back and the top of Madam Pomfrey’s cap. “Is she okay?” he heard himself ask in a very frightened voice, when a cry like the sound of a bleating lamb filled the room.

Severus lowered the head of the bed and placed their daughter across Harry’s chest. Madam Pomfrey was casting spells, and Harry felt his nethers go numb. He rested his hand on the baby’s back; his palm was nearly as wide as she was. She had tufts of black hair and had already stopped crying. Her skin was warm and soft. Though what little blood there had been had been washed off, it appeared to Harry’s eyes that she was lightly coated in lard, though it wasn’t as slippery as it should have been.

She had ten fingers and ten toes, and Harry had no idea who she resembled, but when she opened her dark, solemn eyes he recognised them instantly as being Severus’. “Look at her, Severus,” breathed Harry, reaching out with a finger and stroking her tiny fist.

“She’s exquisite,” whispered Severus, his eyes locked on the tiny creature. Just as he reached for her, Madam Pomfrey whisked her away. Severus snarled.

“I am cleaning her up and putting a nappy on her. I will give her back in just a few moments,” she scolded. “In the meantime, why don’t you try to decide what you want to name her?” Poppy carried her no further away than the end of Harry’s bed, bathed her gently whilst Harry and Severus watched intently.

Madam Pomfrey returned the swaddled baby to Harry’s arms, and he felt a wave of relief wash over him. She rooted around and let out a pitiful little wail, and Harry put her to breast without a moment’s thought. He gazed down at the dark head and felt a tug from somewhere deep inside. “I’m not,” he said feebly. “Really. It’s just…” He shrugged and turned pleading eyes on Severus. “I’m wearing my glasses,” he said blankly.

“I tried removing them earlier,” said Severus, “but you threatened to remove my arms if I attempted to do that again, so I resigned myself to a night’s worth of Repairing Charms.” He rested his elbows on the bed and propped his chin up with his hands, staring at the child. “If you wish to feed her yourself—” he said slowly.

“I don’t,” interrupted Harry. “Really, I don’t. I just had to do this.” She yawned, and he figured out how to hold her with his other arm so she could suckle for a bit more. “Do you have any idea what we should name her? I don’t know how long Poppy will be able to hold off Arthur and Molly, but we should have that decided before we let the others in.” It was almost impossible to take his eyes off her, but Harry gazed over her head to meet Severus’ eyes.

“Do you know the story of Persephone?” asked Severus hesitantly. “She was the daughter of Demeter and abducted by Hades.” Severus explained the myth, and Harry listened with a soft smile. Trust Severus to select a name that symbolised the light and the dark they had both grappled with over the course of their lives.

He reached out and laid his hand on Severus’ arm. “Persephone is a great name for her. Persephone Charlotte Prince.”

“For Charlie?” asked Severus quietly.

Harry looked up and nodded, feeling the sudden sting of tears. He removed his glasses and tossed them aside. Let them come, he thought, heartbroken that Charlie would never have a moment like this of his own. He stared mutely at Severus, tears coursing down his cheeks. A sob caught in his throat, and before he knew it, Severus was holding him as he wept. He cried for Fred and Lupin, for Sirius and his parents. He cried for Seamus and Parvati and everyone who still struggled through the nightmares of the past. He cried for all the children who had been erased and all those who had never had a chance to be born.

But in his tears was a quiet note of joy, of relief. Their daughter had not been touched by evil, was not born into prophecy or war. She would make her own way in the world one day, and he would do his best to ensure she wanted for nothing.

He felt wetness on the back of his neck, and when he drew back, he saw Severus’ cheeks were as tear-streaked as his own. Harry carefully passed the baby to Severus and mopped his eyes as Severus held her close.

“I do not know if I am supposed to thank you,” said Severus as he stroked her soft cheek with a long finger. Her hands were so like his own. “She is beyond anything I ever imagined or dared to hope for myself, but what I feel for her pales in comparison to the love I have for you.” He glanced up. “It is late, but I should tell the others. Shall I ask them to return tomorrow?”

Harry yawned. He was tired, but he knew that there was no chance in hell that the women in their lives would be willing to wait until tomorrow to meet the newest member of their cobbled-together family. “I’ll manage, Severus. Besides, with Molly here, I can get a bit of sleep before the baby will need something.”

“Don’t forget there are two of us, Harry,” reminded Severus. He handed Persephone back with obvious reluctance, and then walked to the doors of the Hospital Wing to make their announcement: Persephone Charlotte Prince had been born at 10:12 PM on Wednesday, the fifth of May, and, according to her father, she was the most extraordinary baby who ever lived.

Ch 20: The Truth is in the Spectrespecs

They came in twos and threes instead of in an overwhelming crowd, and Harry wasn’t certain who he had to thank for that small mercy. Ron and Hermione were first, though he couldn’t imagine the conversation that had taken place to allow that to happen. Harry knew that Molly had to be champing at the bit to see Persephone, and he imagined that Hermione must have Stunned her in order to get through the door first.

Hermione reacted just as Harry had expected, squealing softly with delight when Severus placed the baby in her arms. “Oh, I can’t tell who she looks like,” cooed Hermione. “But she has Severus’ eyes.” She nattered happily at Persephone, who appeared to regard Hermione with a blend of curiosity and caution. Then she let out a cry, and Hermione swiftly handed her back.

Ron was content to observe at a distance, but stared at Harry from time to time with something akin to awe. Harry found it disconcerting. “What is it?” he asked after Ron shook his head for the third time without having said a word.

“Harry,” said Ron slowly. “You had a baby. A real baby.” He shook his head again as though he couldn’t believe what his eyes were telling him. Persephone let out another sharp wail, and Severus hoisted her to his shoulder, rubbing her back softly until she went to sleep. “It’s a real baby.”

“Ron, where have you been for the last five months?” asked Harry with a grin.

“You don’t understand, mate. You had a baby.” Ron stood wide-eyed and watched as Severus did nothing more than hold her. Harry hadn’t seen Ron at such a loss for words since the day he had flown rings around the Horntail and collected the Golden Egg. Hermione shook him after a few a minutes, reminding him that it was late, that there was a line and that Molly was not going to wait forever to meet her grandchild.

“Don’t try to tell her differently, Harry,” she advised. “She won’t have it.” Hermione moved Ron aside and bent to kiss the top of Persephone’s head. “We’ll be by tomorrow to see her. Try to get some rest.” She paused. “She’s beautiful.” Her eyes misted over, and she turned quickly as though embarrassed by her sentiment. Grabbing Ron’s arm, she pulled him out of the Infirmary, leaving an amused Harry behind.

They saw in turn Neville, Luna, and Draco; Bill and Fleur; McGonagall, Flitwick, and Sprout; and Demelza, who had received special dispensation from the headmistress to be out after curfew. Demelza let out a little squeal of delight when Persephone opened her eyes for a moment, stretched, and squeaked back before going back to sleep. “I think she likes me,” she crowed. She climbed up on Harry’s bed and made herself at home, chattering like a magpie when Severus laid Persephone in her lap for the thirty seconds he was willing to part with her before panic set in. Demelza left with the promise that if her marks remained high, they might possibly allow her to watch the baby at some point in the future.

“She’ll be married with kids of her own before you let that happen,” said Harry. He yawned, physically tired, but his mind was going a million miles a second, and he knew it would be awhile before he slept.

“Which one?” said Severus dryly. “Demelza or Persephone?”

Harry laughed and was still smiling when Arthur and Molly arrived at his bed, accompanied by Madam Pomfrey. As Harry and Severus looked on in confusion, they transformed the area into a passable imitation of their own bedroom, complete with a spacious double bed and a rug for their feet. “Here is your nightshirt, dear,” said Molly to Severus. “Go get changed, and I’ll watch the baby.” Madam Pomfrey rolled a bassinet over and placed it next to the transfigured bed.

Severus stood clutching his nightshirt and gaped at Molly as though she’d taken complete leave of her senses. “What, might I ask, are you doing?”

“Making certain the brand new parents get one last good night’s sleep whilst they can,” replied Molly, taking the baby in her arms and cradling her against her bosom. “Oh, Arthur,” she said happily, “look at all that black hair. Have you ever seen anything like it?”

As every single Weasley had some shade of ginger, Arthur shook his head. “Not ever.” He stroked her cheek and smiled down as Persephone turned her head and opened her mouth, expecting to be fed. “She has Harry’s features and Severus’ face. She’s a lovely little thing, Severus.”

“It was so kind of you to give her Charlie’s name,” said Molly. “I can’t begin to tell you what this will mean to him.” She gazed down again at Persephone, her brown eyes shining. “Get ready for bed, Severus. You and Harry might not know it yet, but it’s clear you’re both exhausted. The baby will be fine. You can trust me on this.”

“If there’s anyone who knows babies,” chimed Arthur, “it’s Molly. And if there’s anyone who knows how tired you are, it’s me. Go on, Severus. There’s Sleeping Draught for both of you and a mild pain reliever for Harry. You’ll thank me in the end.”

As Harry and Severus exchanged an uncertain look, Molly walked away with Poppy, chatting easily and still holding Persephone. “Umm, she just took our kid,” said Harry in amazement. He threw off the covers and swung his feet over the side of the bed.

“Feel ready to take on Molly Weasley, do you?” said Severus with a strange glint in his eye. His eyes travelled to the end of the ward where Molly, Arthur and Poppy had gathered, sitting in a small circle of light and speaking softly in hushed voices.

“No more than you do,” Harry replied as he signalled his surrender by crawling back under the covers. He ran his hand over his stomach, thinking he still looked pregnant, but Poppy had assured him it would look much different in the morning. Whilst Severus was getting ready for bed, Harry availed himself of the potions Poppy had left for him and handed the remaining phial of Sleeping Draught to Severus without a word. Minutes later they embarked on the last full night’s sleep they would have for months.

~*~

Harry found himself the unenviable centre of attention the morning of his return to classes. All of Hogwarts knew of Persephone’s birth, but only those few who had been up to the Hospital Wing had actually seen her, and Harry found himself being roundly criticised for not displaying his daughter for all the world to see.

It didn’t help matters any that Harry was finding his first time away from the baby more wrenching than he had expected. Severus had borne his own separations with relative equanimity, and Harry felt like he should be able to do no less. But he nearly turned back when he reached the entrance to the dungeons, and it was only by dint of will that he made it into the Great Hall.

“She’s in good hands, Harry,” said Hermione as she drizzled honey on a fresh roll. “Honestly, she reared Fred and George. What could possibly happen that she hasn’t seen a thousand times before?”

“I know, I know,” said Harry as he filled his plate. “I’ll go down after Charms. I’ve a free period then, and I can check on Molly to see if she needs anything.”

Ron gazed steadily at him. “I think you should go to Potions and study, same as always. She’s twelve days old, mate. She’s too little to miss you, and Mum’s got everything well in hand. You know she does. You’re in the castle, so if she needs anything, she can get you. Madam Pomfrey’s in the Hospital Wing and Severus is less than a minute away if he runs. I’m sure it’s hard, but you’ve got me and Hermione.”

“And Draco and Neville,” added Ginny. “Luna, Demelza, me, the teachers.” She glanced at the Staff Table. “Well, maybe not Williamson. He’s a git.”

“But it’ll be hours until I see her,” moped Harry. He heard a flurry of wings, but looked up with everyone else when the usual flock of owls turned into a roiling mass of wings. Birds swooped down, pecking and clawing their way past the ordinary post owls to deliver to each person within the Great Hall a long, slender scroll of parchment. The owls from the Daily Prophet shrieked and screamed as they tried to drive off the intruders, fighting their way to the subscribers to deliver that day’s edition.

In addition to receiving the scroll compliments of the chaos going on over his head, Harry also had two thick envelopes land in the middle of his plate of sausage and eggs, one of which bore the Ministry seal. He picked the envelope up and wiped the egg off one corner before opening it. He unfolded the letter and began to read.

Mr Potter,

Pursuant to the Magical Creature Registration Act as Amended on the first of March of this year, you are required to remand into Ministry custody the creature you acquired on 5 May 1999 and remit payment of the seventy-five Galleon incarceration fee no later than midnight on 3 June 1999. Failure to comply with the requirements of the Act will result in a fine of 1500 Galleons and a term of not less than three years in Azkaban.

Enclosed with this letter—

Harry saw red. “Those fucking bastards,” he roared, springing to his feet and crumpling the note in his hand. But no one looked up except Severus. Wild-eyed, Harry started towards the Staff Table, so blinded with rage he could scarcely see where he was going. As he walked, he became aware of a low angry hum rising like a tide to fill the Great Hall. He paused and glanced over Ernie Macmillan’s shoulder to see beneath the masthead of the Quibbler the headline:

THE STORY OF PERSEPHONE

By Ginevra Weasley

“What the hell?” shouted a voice from somewhere in the middle of the Hall. Students came to their feet and began to search through the sea of classmates for their friends and siblings to discuss in urgent tones what the story meant. Harry fought through the crowd to reach Severus, stunned by the level of anger in the room. If Fudge had been present, he would have been torn to pieces.

“Did you get this as well?” snarled Harry in a low voice. He threw the letter onto the table next to Severus’ plate, looking on as Severus compared Harry’s letter to his own.

“Other than a few minor differences in language, they are the same.” Severus set both letters down and came to his feet, staring down into Harry’s face with such fury that Harry couldn’t breathe. In a smooth movement, he spun on his heel, pulled his wand and destroyed both letters in an inferno of seething red flames. Flitwick squawked and fell backwards as Minerva gasped. A split second later a fountain of water cascaded over the flames, and the fire disappeared beneath a cloud of steam.

“I do hope there is a reasonable explanation forthcoming to explain why you set the Staff Table on fire,” she said crisply.

“The Ministry has classified Persephone as a Level Five Magical Being, and we are to surrender her to the Ministry by the end of the month,” he snarled. “I will require the day to determine the steps I must take to convene an emergency session of the Wizengamot. This cannot be allowed to stand. Nor will I allow the imbeciles of the Ministry to take Persephone into their custody.”

McGonagall looked out over the House tables at the clusters of students speaking and gesticulating angrily, and she knew that they had lost them for the day. “I do not believe much teaching will go on today,” she said heavily. “Word is out, though I’ve no idea whether every single copy of the Quibbler was delivered here, or whether they’ve reached Diagon Alley as well.”

Draco must have been nearby, though Harry didn’t recall seeing him. “They’re everywhere,” he said. “One of the privileges of not being without resources,” he added smugly. “I asked Xenophilius how much he’d need to blanket the country with this issue and transferred the money from my vault to his. Bill, George, and Percy are distributing them through Gringotts, the Ministry and Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes. We estimate that half of Wizarding Britain will have seen one by lunchtime. If I were you,” he said sagely to Harry and Severus, “I’d keep to the dungeons. The Prophet is likely to send its entire staff here.”

“Come help us,” said Harry. He explained briefly about the letters from the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures and was gratified by the look of disgust in Draco’s eyes. “It ends now,” declared Harry grimly. “Fudge and this insane vendetta of his. I’ll go to the Ministry, but I don’t think he’ll much care for what’ll happen when I get there.”

“You are going nowhere,” growled Severus. “We will approach this problem like adults. There will be no more haring off, Harry. You’re a father now.”

“I’m her mother, Severus,” Harry snarled back, “and don’t you ever forget that.” He had carried Persephone for nine months and given birth to her. He’d be damned if he’d allow someone to decide he wasn’t a mother simply because he wasn’t a woman, even if that someone was Severus.

Severus left the Great Hall, and McGonagall rose to announce the cancellation of classes for the day, after which Harry rounded up Ron and the others to tell them what they planned to do. “I don’t suppose they sent the text of the Act in the envelope Severus burnt up,” said Hermione.

Harry pressed his lips into a thin line. “No,” he snapped. “They sent a form I was to fill out to list care and feeding requirements for the ‘creature’. You’ll need to check the library for what you need. I don’t think we have it at home.” He stalked off, heading to the dungeons and his daughter, with the others right behind him.

“I can’t believe the Ministry thinks Persephone is a creature,” said Neville as they tramped through the corridors that led to Harry’s home.

Luna was skipping. “You can’t change the world without it getting a little bit messy. Let’s hurry or it will all be over before we get there.”

“Just how long does it take to change the world?” asked Harry as they rounded the bend that skirted past the entrance to the Slytherin common room. He held up his hand and came to an abrupt halt as he heard Severus’ voice floating up from the junction just ahead.

“Put her down and I’ll let you live.”

Harry’s eyes widened and he turned to face them. “It’s Severus,” he hissed. “Draco, you, Ron, and Neville circle around the other way. Everyone else, with me.” Wands came out and they waited a few seconds for Draco’s team to scurry off before Harry, Luna, and Hermione crept along the passageway.

“You cannot hope to make it out of the dungeons, Williamson. You are, I’m sorry to say, unarmed, and I need not remind you what you’ll suffer at Harry’s hands should you harm one hair on his child’s head.” Severus sounded detached, but Harry knew better. The further down Severus pushed his emotion, the deeper his care. “What can you possibly gain by kidnapping Harry’s daughter?”

Harry poked his head around the corner and saw Persephone clutched in Williamson’s arm, held like a shield against his chest. “I am an Auror, Snape!” shouted Williamson. “Not a ruddy schoolteacher! Fudge promised to make me head of the department if I bring him Potter’s get. She has to be put down before she can destroy the world.”

“She’s a baby, Williamson. She can’t even hold her head up. I should think destroying the world is a bit above her talents, wouldn’t you say?” His voice hardened, and Harry wished he could see Severus’ face. “I already promised Harry I would kill her myself if she was evil, and we both know I’m a man of my word. I killed Dumbledore, after all.”

The nightmares would be terrible that night.

Harry dropped to hands and knees to peer into the corridor again, and he thought he saw Draco’s blond head at the other end. He pulled back. “Just another minute,” he whispered. “Hermione, you and I will flank Severus. Luna, I want you to get Persephone. Williamson’s insane, and we already know he hates me, but I don’t think he’ll move against you.” He sighed. “This would be a good time for that bonding potion.”

“Harry, we won’t let anything happen to her,” whispered Hermione.

“I like having adventures with you, Harry,” whispered Luna. “They’re loads of fun.” She gave Harry a sunny smile. “We should go now. Draco’s just about—”

“You chose the wrong baby to fuck with.”

Harry stepped around the corner with Hermione and Luna and found Draco holding Williamson, his hawthorn wand at Williamson’s throat. He came up alongside Severus as Hermione held her ground on Severus’ left. “No haring off. Got it,” said Harry.

“Professor,” said Neville from Draco’s right, “there are seven wands pointed at you. We’ve spent a year in your classroom. We’ve learnt how to surround you without being in each other’s sight line, and there’s not one of us who wouldn’t take a curse or two for Persephone. Give her to Luna, okay?”

“I just want to be an Auror again,” shouted Williamson. “I can do that if I bring the creature to the Ministry. They’ll take care of her there. You’ll see.” He turned slowly in a circle, evaluating his chances for escape.

Without a word, Luna walked over and took Persephone from Williamson’s arm. “Her mum is worried about her,” she said serenely. “You can fight now, if you wish. I’m just going to put her back in her cradle.” Her nose wrinkled “Harry, where do you keep the nappies? I think she needs changing.”

As she turned to walk away with the baby, Williamson drew his wand and rotated his wrist to cast.

Expelliarmus!” Three jets of dazzling red light hit Williamson at once as thick ropes wrapped themselves around his body. He spun crazily and two more spells exploded against him. He collapsed in a heap, unconscious. Everything was silent for a moment. Severus strode forward and pointed his wand. He stood over Williamson, the tip of his wand quivering. He drew it back. “Avada—

“No!” Harry grabbed Severus’ wand hand before he could complete the spell. “No, Severus,” he whispered. “We have work to do. You can kill him later, okay? We’ll give him to Kingsley to hold onto for us.”

Severus drew a deep shuddering breath before meeting Harry’s eyes. “He…Persephone…” He exhaled noisily and began to shake. “Merlin,” he breathed. He gazed around. “Ron, see if your mother is all right. Draco, Neville, Hermione, keep Williamson here until Kingsley arrives. Luna…” He collected the limp baby from her as Ron ran past.

“Is she all right?” demanded Harry. “Severus, is she all right?” He stared down at the still form, feeling as though his heart was caught in a vice. “Sev?” He reached out blindly, his hand shaking so hard he couldn’t begin to feel for a pulse.

Rennervate, you bastard!” Draco put as much power into the spell as possible, and Williamson’s body flew several feet in the air. “What the fuck did you do to her?” he screamed as Williamson crashed to the ground and moaned. “What did you do to the baby?”

Williamson looked around in a daze, still swathed in ropes from shoulders to knees. “Sleeping Draught,” he cried as he rolled onto his back. “Just a couple of drops. She’s sleeping, only sleeping. I swear.” His eyes grew fearful as Draco approached, his silvery eyes hard, his wand extended. “She’s only sleeping,” he said as tears started down his cheeks.

Severus bent his head to Persephone’s face, smelled her breath, touched her lips with the tip of his tongue. “Sleeping Draught,” he confirmed, his voice breaking. He shoved the baby at Harry and dropped to his knees. Neville laid a hand on Severus’ shoulder and whispered something, but Harry was clutching Persephone to his chest and urging her to wake up.

“Take her home, Harry,” said Severus. “I have an antidote that should be safe. If Williamson lied—”

“I haven’t! I didn’t! It’s Sleeping Draught,” pleaded Williamson. “I swear on my life.”

“It’ll be your life if anything happens to her,” promised Draco, his face twisted into mask of loathing. “Get Kingsley. I’ll hold this piece of shite here.”

Harry and Severus took Persephone back to their rooms. Luna was right, she needed changing, but Harry needed her awake. Severus sent his Patronus to the Hospital Wing before disappearing into his laboratory to rummage through phials and bottles. Molly was out cold in the middle of the floor, and Ron was at a loss. “She’s breathing, but Rennervate’s not working. Is the baby all right?”

Harry’s eyes filled as his arms tightened around his daughter. “Williamson drugged her,” he whispered.

Ron walked over, stood opposite Harry and reached out to lay his hand on Harry’s shoulder. “You’re Harry Potter, and life has a way of kicking you in the teeth, but not this time.”

Madam Pomfrey dashed in as Severus was stepping out of the laboratory. “What on earth…?”

“See to Persephone, then to Molly,” said Severus roughly. “Williamson claims to have given her Sleeping Draught, and my investigation bears that out, but I would like you to examine her before I administer an antidote.”

Pomfrey’s wand was out before Severus had finished, and she cast her spells whilst Harry was still holding her. “She’s sound asleep, Severus.” She cast a quick diagnostic charm at Molly and shook her head. “It’s the same with her. I suspect that Williamson Imperiused Molly and had her give Persephone a drop or two of Sleeping Draught, then ordered her to take some as well. You can give Persephone two drops of standard antidote or simply allow her to sleep. It won’t hurt her, Harry, but she’ll be hungry when she wakes.”

“Wake her, Severus,” said Harry, not willing to wait until the potion worked its way out her system. “And Molly, too. Kingsley will want to know what happened.”

Ten minutes later Persephone was wailing as though her heart was breaking, Molly was ranting at the top of her lungs, Kreacher was trying to prepare a bottle and Harry was relieved beyond measure. Kingsley appeared with Luna and McGonagall in tow and sighed heavily. “It’s quieter here than at the Ministry. That should tell you how my day is going.”

When he reached the part in Molly’s story about feeling as though she was underwater, Kingsley excused himself and collected Williamson’s wand from Draco. “Prior Incantato,” he said after listening to Draco admit to having considered using any of a dozen Dark spells on Williamson, just to assure himself he hadn’t forgotten how to cast them.

A ghostly voice said, “Imperio,” and that told Kingsley all he needed to know. “You were a good Auror once, Williamson,” he said sadly. “And we would have welcomed you back had you completed the retraining programme. But, once again, you tried to find a shortcut where none existed. Now you’re for Azkaban. You’re lucky you’re not dead.”

~*~

The large dining room table was covered with books and pieces of parchment. Severus, Draco, and Hermione were engaged in what they did best—research—whilst Harry busied himself with Persephone. Even now, almost two weeks after her birth, an air of incredulity fogged Harry’s senses and he found himself, more often than not, hovering over her cradle to watch her sleep, unable to believe he and Severus had created a tiny human being. Even Severus was enchanted by her, and every time Severus stood at the foot of the cradle that had once held another tiny black-haired child, Harry wondered if Severus found himself thinking of Lily.

Molly had decided to stay with them for the day, “to keep Harry company,” she said, but Harry thought she wanted to assure herself that Persephone had come to no harm, and Ron remained to make certain his mum was alright. Other than being fussy and cranky, Persephone was fine, but Harry would gladly take the relentless crying over the horrible stillness from earlier.

A house-elf in Ministry livery popped in with a sharp crack, and Persephone ramped up the volume of her wailing. “Edna is bringing Professor Prince a message from McLaird of the Wizengamot,” she announced in a croaky voice. She slapped a scroll of parchment bearing the official seal of the Wizengamot into his hand, executed a deep bow and Disapparated before Severus could say a single word.

Harry crooned to Persephone, gazing keenly over the top of her head at Severus as he broke open the seal and watched as Severus read the note. “Well?” he asked as Severus slumped back. Draco and Hermione looked up from their books. Ron, struggling through the latest Transfiguration assignment, was only too happy to set it aside.

Severus chuckled grimly. “It appears we underestimated the effect Ginny’s article would have. The Wizengamot is holding an emergency session the day after tomorrow. I am to report at five o’clock, prepared to—”

Another house-elf appeared, garbed the same way Edna had been. “Master Harry Prince, sir,” snapped the house-elf, extending a similar scroll of parchment to Harry.

“Set it on the table,” said Harry, busying himself with his distraught daughter.

The house-elf shifted nervously, and Severus came over and stood between it and his family. “Give it to me,” he said and extended his hand.

“Catro is to deliver this directly to the hand of Master Harry Prince, sir,” the house-elf replied, turning wide eyes the size of gobstones on Severus.

“I am Harry’s husband and a member of the Wizengamot,” said Severus. “You will deliver the scroll to me and consider your duties fulfilled.” Seeing no way around Severus’ directive, Catro handed the scroll over with obvious reluctance. “And there will be no ironing your ears or hammering your toes,” ordered Severus as he took the parchment from the house-elf. “You are dismissed.”

Harry rose from the couch and started walking around the room, hoping that the motion would comfort Persephone. “Read it to me, please,” he said over her cries.

Severus skimmed through the dense language and summarised the contents in three words. “You’ve been summoned,” he said. “The Wizengamot want more information than appeared in the Quibbler. They are trying to determine if Fudge can be charged with some form of treason.” He blinked. “Luna was right, you know. You’re changing the world.”

“This wasn’t confined to Britain, was it?” asked Hermione slowly. “No, of course it wasn’t,” she continued, answering her own question. “When the International Statute of Secrecy went into effect, there were three major powers in the world: England, France and Spain, though there were other signatories. England’s influence stretched all around the globe, and the Ministry would have ensured that the ‘cure’ for wizard pregnancies was enforced in every area of influence. France and Spain would have implemented their own methods, but the outcome was the same.”

“Don’t forget Portugal,” said Severus. “But you’re correct. This news will spread, first to France, then Sweden, and then it will cross the ocean and reach the Americas.” He took Persephone from Harry and gave him a brief kiss. “I am relieved you have Sanctuary.”

“So, you’re saying I should ignore the summons?” asked Harry as he draped a protective cloth over Severus’ shoulder.

“No, but I will ensure you have a Portkey on your person so you can escape if needs be. The Wizengamot need to understand everything that happened, and there was quite a bit left out of the article. I think we should bring the baby as well.”

Draco’s eyes narrowed, and it amazed Harry anew that, of all their friends, he was the one to be so protective of her. “I think we should continue working on the Creature Registration Act. You can make a motion from the floor, Severus, and if Harry brings Persephone and they see how incredible she is, they’ll approve the changes.”

“The word you want, Draco, is ordinary,” said Ron. “We need her to look as much like an ordinary baby as possible.”

“Are you saying she’s not ordinary?” demanded Harry, his eyes flashing.

Ron hesitated, knowing all too well how vile Harry’s temper could be. “Listen carefully, mate, before you take my head off, alright? I don’t know if she’s ordinary. I reckon it’s too soon to tell, but all that wild magic didn’t come from you. It came from her. The less the Wizengamot know about that, the better. She’s going to be a powerful little witch, Harry, and some people get right nervous about that.”

In his bones, Harry knew Ron was right, and it did nothing to keep him from worrying. “What if we take her to the meeting and she does something, well, powerful?”

“It’s very unlikely, dear,” said Molly, looking up from her knitting. “Babies don’t start using their powers until they’re old enough to want something and know what it is. That’s when bottles begin sailing through the air and toys wind up in their cots. Ron liked to gnaw on the tail of a stuffed dragon when he was that age, and no matter where Charlie hid it, Ron would manage to Summon it.”

“Do not think for an instant that I would willingly place you or Persephone in a dangerous situation,” said Severus, “but we must take steps now to ensure she grows up without the shadow of the Ministry hanging over her head. If we don’t fix this, we will have to spend our lives either in hiding or at Hogwarts.”

“Would living here be so bad?” asked Harry softly.

“No, of course not, but it would mean we could never, ever leave. Think of the implications, Harry, I beg you.”

Harry understood at once that Severus was placing their fate in his hands. “Very well,” he said finally. “I’ll go to the meeting and I’ll bring the baby. I’m also bringing a Portkey and my Invisibility Cloak. It’s easier to escape when they can’t see me.” He swallowed and turned to Draco and Hermione. “Keep working on Severus’ motion. Persephone is not a creature.” The words tasted foul in his mouth. “They need to know that.”

~*~

Severus Prince strode through the corridors of the Ministry of Magic like he owned the place. His plum robes billowed as he walked, and Harry smiled inwardly at the sight. Severus was impressive in any setting, but here, where he carried the imprimatur of the Wizengamot, he was without equal.

For tonight’s session, Harry wore the robes in which he’d been married. Rather than the comfortable onesie Harry had dressed her in, Persephone was wearing robes fit for a christening ceremony for someone of noble blood. Harry thought it ridiculous, but Draco had been insistent. “She’s a Prince and a Potter, you idiot. She needs to appear like a pure-blood, not like another mouth to feed.”

Harry bristled, but admitted Draco knew a lot more about Wizarding tradition than he ever would. He packed a bag with extra nappies, bottles, blankets and a change of clothes and shrank it down. Severus cancelled the charm. “Ordinary baby.”

“Severus, everybody uses shrinking charms,” protested Harry.

“Harry, if we walk in carrying nothing, the first conclusion the Wizengamot will reach is that she requires little by way of care. Every mother and father sitting on that council knows that babies are work, and even if they would have used a shrinking charm on their changing bags, we will not.”

Unlike at Severus’ installation, Harry was welcomed cordially and led to the front row of the gallery nearest the well, ushered into an aisle seat. To add a measure of comfort, he placed Persephone’s changing bag and extra blanket on the seat next to him, creating a small buffer zone between the two of them and the next person. Wizengamot tribunals were open to the public, and such a hue and outcry had been raised by the Quibbler article that the gallery was filled to overflowing.

The Wizengamot filed in, and those in the gallery rose as McLaird called them to order. “Certain allegations regarding the conduct of the Ministry of Magic and our Minister, Cornelius Fudge, have come to light. This body is charged with determining the truth of the matter and deciding whether any charges ought to be laid at the feet of Minister Fudge.

“This is not a trial,” announced McLaird. “It is a hearing only. No one will be taken into custody. No one will be sentenced today.” Harry reached into his pocket and fingered his emergency Portkey, not at all assured by McLaird’s statement. “It is somewhat unusual that a member of our esteemed body is in possession of actual knowledge about the events recorded in the article authored by a Miss Ginevra Weasley. Mr Prince, are you willing to provide testimony to your peers?”

Severus rose, and Harry drew a deep breath. “I am,” said Severus calmly.

“And will you agree to recuse yourself from voting?”

“I do.” Severus made his way from his seat down to the well where those giving testimony stood. He was sworn by a youngish witch whom Harry did not recognise, and as she administered the oath, Harry wondered if that Pendergast woman had been sacked. He hoped so.

“It is alleged,” said McLaird, “that a common potion intended to prevent the spread of Harpy’s Throat has been modified by the Ministry without the knowledge or consent of the Potions Guild or the potioneers of St Mungo’s. You are the Potions Master of Hogwarts and have been for many years. In addition, you are highly regarded by the Potions Guild and are thought to be an expert in your field by your colleagues. As this is not an interrogation, I invite you to walk us through your discovery.”

It took Severus well over an hour to review every event that led to the inescapable conclusion that the vaccine had been altered, but even as familiar with the story as Harry was, he found himself clinging to every word. Persephone woke at hearing her father’s voice, but other than a few gurgles and coos, she was happy to chew on her fist. It was fascinating to note that whilst most of the Wizengamot appeared to be listening raptly, they couldn’t resist the occasional glance in his direction.

As Severus reached the end of his tale, it occurred to Harry that Severus was incredibly adept at shading certain details to keep other, less savoury facts hidden or obscured. He thanked Dominic Janda for his unwavering support at discovering the truth, making it sound as though the St Mungo’s Potions Master had provided samples at various stages of the brewing process. The break-in of the laboratory was never even alluded to. Severus also credited Draco Malfoy and Hermione Granger, “a Muggle-born of some distinction,” with their tireless efforts on Harry’s behalf.

Severus answered every question patiently, explaining difficult potions and magical theories until he was certain the Wizengamot possessed enough understanding to move forward, and Harry found himself wishing that this person had taught him Potions instead of the nasty, bitter man who had been his instructor.

Instead of sending Severus to his seat when he had concluded his remarks, to Harry’s surprise, McLaird allowed those in the gallery to ask questions as well. It was only then that he became aware that the majority of those who came to witness the hearings were either gay themselves or the parents of children whose lives had been severely impacted by the long-standing Ministry policy. Over and over Harry heard them ask if there was anything that could be done to reverse the effects, to which Severus was forced to admit he knew of nothing, and Harry held Persephone a little closer.

At long last, it was Harry’s turn on the stand, and when he was called up, Severus took Persephone and the changing bag and carried her up to his seat. A warm murmur ran through the chamber, and people craned their necks to get a closer look at her. For a moment, Harry wanted nothing more than to cover her with his Invisibility Cloak, but he knew that would defeat the purpose of bringing her, so he gritted his teeth and tried to ignore their interest in her.

He was sworn in by the same witch and once that was done, McLaird came over to speak with him. “I welcome you to this tribunal of the Wizengamot, Mr Prince. I understand this is not the first time you’ve made an appearance here. Am I right?”

“Yes,” said Harry. “Fudge had me on trial for improper use of underage magic. I conjured my Patronus, you see, when the Dementors showed up in Little Whinging. That’s in Surrey,” he added helpfully.

“I wish to assure you, Mr Prince, that this will be nothing like that,” said McLaird in a kindly manner, and something about the elderly man’s demeanour put Harry very much in mind of Dumbledore. “Would you like me to ask you some questions? Or would you just rather tell your story to the Wizengamot?”

“My story?” asked Harry blankly. “Severus told you all about the potion. I was raised by my aunt and uncle, so I never had it.”

“About how you came to have that beautiful little girl,” said McLaird with a smile.

Harry turned crimson. “We, umm, made love,” he said in a hush. A brief laugh erupted from the stands, but died quickly. Harry figured they weren’t laughing at him so much as they were embarrassed by his slightly frank admission.

McLaird’s smile grew fatherly. Understanding. “I am glad you said that, Mr Prince. It saves me from asking you if other forces were at work. So you were never vaccinated against Harpy’s Throat?”

“No,” said Harry. “I’m not sure I’ve been vaccinated for anything.” He tried to remember visits to the doctor, but other than the occasional visit to the optometrist, he couldn’t come up with anything. Not even a trip to the dentist. Hermione’s parents would be mortified to know that.

“Will you tell us how you discovered you were with child?”

Harry explained about the Quidditch match, and how he couldn’t stay awake during lessons no matter how hard he tried. He told them how Draco had insisted he see Madam Pomfrey, how the spell had confirmed that something was growing inside him. The hardest part was explaining why he thought he had Voldemort incubating in his abdomen, and his voice cracked several times. “But the Sorting Hat told me I was carrying the heir of the Head of Slytherin House. Severus’ heir.”

“Are we to believe a hat over the Ministry of Magic?” called out a voice.

“The Sorting Hat was charmed by the Founders themselves,” retorted Harry. “And I can assure you that Persephone looks nothing like the scrap of Voldemort’s soul I saw at King’s Cross. She looks a lot like Severus though.” His eyes travelled up to where Persephone lay in her father’s arms, sucking lustily on a bottle. “She’s lovely and Voldemort’s soul…wasn’t,” he concluded. “She’s just a baby, and the reason we were able to have her is because I never had that potion.”

McLaird led Harry through a few more questions about his pregnancy, about the parts of the delivery he was willing to share, about Persephone herself in the two weeks since she’d been born. “And then Williamson tried to kidnap her the day before yesterday, because he thought Fudge would make him head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement for bringing her in and placing her in custody. I swear she’s not life-threatening,” he pleaded. “I promise on my life that she’s not.”

“I do not believe that will ever be necessary, Harry,” said McLaird gravely. “Is there anything else you would like to add?” Harry shook his head and stepped down. “Do you want me to come get her, Severus?” he asked to the Wizengamot’s amusement. He started up to where Severus was sitting.

“The Wizengamot recalls Severus Prince,” announced McLaird before Harry had so much as travelled up the first two stairs. Harry waited at the foot of the staircase and took Persephone from Severus as his husband headed back to the stand. He resumed his seat in the gallery, wondering what else McLaird wanted to know. As it turned out, there was still a great deal of ground to cover.

“I understand you were present at the recent interrogation of Cornelius Fudge, conducted by the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, Kingsley Shacklebolt. Please tell the tribunal why Minister Fudge was the subject of investigation.”

Every complaint Harry and Severus ever had about the Ministry of Magic came out in Severus’ testimony. He spoke about everything, from the Ministry’s interference in registering their marriage, to the endless attempts to lure Harry to the Ministry on some pretext or another. He then moved to the murder of Achilles Becker and the attempt on Simon Undermarsh’s life at Fudge’s command. “Fudge has two goals: eradicating homosexual persons from Wizarding Britain, and preventing the conception of children between homosexual partners. He claims this is part of the International Statute of Secrecy, which was enacted during the creation of the Ministry of Magic. None of us have seen the treaty language. He claims the original document is hidden in Westminster Abbey, but as Harry currently is under the protection of Sanctuary, we’ve not gone looking for it. He claims his actions were undertaken in furtherance of complying with the treaty’s terms.”

Heavy silence enveloped the chamber. “Do you have any evidence in support of this?” asked McLaird, his expression troubled.

Severus told them about the changes to the genealogical histories made by the Department of Mysteries, about the murders of children by and for the Ministry. “We have no idea what human potential has been lost,” said Severus. “Thousands of children who were never conceived, much less born. Hundreds and hundreds of children who were murdered before they had a chance to make their contributions to society. I do not know if the Wizengamot ever knew about the secret provisions of the treaty. It is quite possible they did not, but Fudge knew. It was not enough to choose to do nothing. He chose to make matters worse, and with the cooperation of this body, might well have done so.”

McLaird seemed to age before Harry’s eyes. “If there is nothing else,” he said heavily, “I propose we move to the next order of business.”

“There is one more thing,” said Severus. “I wish to make a motion from the floor. I move to roll back the Creature Registration Act to the form in which it existed on the 28th of February. I do not ask for a waiver of the existing rules, but that the old rules be reinstated until such a time as the new version can be properly studied and debated.”

“Seconded,” called an ancient voice from somewhere near the back. Harry’s eyes scanned over the witches and wizards assembled, but he could not see who had spoken.

“As I do have a personal interest at stake,” said Severus, “I will not vote, but I would like the Wizengamot to understand why I have made this motion.” He beckoned Harry forward. “I have the privilege of calling this incredible man my husband. In his arms he carries my child, my firstborn, Persephone Charlotte Prince. Whether we have more children is up to him. I am a half-blood, born of a Muggle father and a magical mother. I cannot carry them as Harry can. As it stands now, our child is classified as a Magical Being. She is classified as a danger to life and limb.

“I made a promise to Harry months ago that if Persephone was evil, I would destroy her.” Severus dropped his head and swallowed. “Though it would mean my soul, I would keep my word. I make that same promise to you. A vow, if you will. I love my child. I love my husband, sometimes beyond—” Severus bit back the words, silent for a moment before continuing. “I made him a promise. If necessary, I will keep it. I call upon the Pure-blood bloc, the Progressive bloc, the Creature Rights bloc and, by holding the Malfoy proxy, those representing the Traditionalists, to approve this measure.” He stepped down and walked over to Harry, kissed him, kissed his beloved daughter and stood quietly next to them.

McLaird dabbed his eyes, but Harry wasn’t convinced the wily old man had been moved to tears. “Is there any discussion?” called McLaird. He waited for several beats. “Hearing none and having a second on the motion, please signify your vote by saying aye.”

A part of the wall opposite the upper chamber of the room fell away and a large tote board moved forward. As the aye votes echoed off the domed ceiling, numbers appeared beside the name of each bloc Severus had called upon, as well as another half dozen he hadn’t mentioned by name. When all the votes were tallied, Severus’ measure had passed by a margin of over sixty-eight thousand votes.

Harry collapsed back in his chair. Persephone was safe from the clutches of the Ministry. He kissed her forehead and held her so tight that she squawked in protest. “I’m sorry, baby,” he said with a watery smile. “You’ve no idea what a big day you’ve had.”

“Moving on,” said McLaird. “The nomination being submitted no less than thirty days prior to vote as required in the Rules of Order, I submit for consideration the name Severus Prince for Supreme Mugwump of the Wizengamot, such term of office ending with his death. All those in favour?”

“Wait a minute,” exclaimed Severus, his eyes round as saucers. “What do—” But a thunderous chorus of ayes rattled the roof of the chamber, and he took a step back in astonished surprise as McLaird lifted a ceremonial mace and handed it to him.

Harry gasped and clutched Persephone to him as he jumped up, nearly as stunned as Severus. What nomination? Why hadn’t Severus been told? He stood in awed silence as a mystified Severus stepped up to receive a rich cloak with a train that stretched on for ages. He truly hoped Severus wouldn’t have to wear it often. It looked terribly heavy.

Severus was sworn in to raucous cheering, and when he rose again, he turned puzzled eyes on McLaird. “The public business of the Wizengamot is concluded. Our findings will be announced in three days’ time.” McLaird banged his gavel and handed it over to Severus. “Congratulations, Master Prince. I know you’ll be one of the best Mugwumps we’ve had in many an age.”

The gallery began to empty, and the members of the Wizengamot came down to congratulate Severus and to see Persephone up close, though they gave him more room when she began crying, her little voice shaking like a lost lamb’s when her cries grew desperate.

“Explain to me, please,” said Severus to McLaird when the crowds had thinned, “when I was nominated to the position? I would have declined it then had I known. I am unfamiliar with the workings of the Wizengamot, and I find it impossible to believe a more qualified candidate was not available.”

“Do you recall,” said McLaird with a twinkle suspiciously similar to Dumbledore’s, “hearing the phrase, ‘The might of Merlin go with you’ at your installation? That is the nominating phrase. Had you had the time to read the entire set of Rules, you might have remembered that and declined then. I took a chance that you had not had the opportunity to do so.

“We did conduct a thorough review of your suitability. Amongst Undermarsh’s less onerous duties has been a review your fitness for the office. He was part of the delegation sent to Hogwarts with the Department of Magical Education and introduced as Elias Steggle. The Department of Mysteries does get around.” He gave them a brilliant smile. “I will be here to guide you, Severus, as I did for Albus. He thought you would be well-suited for the task, provided you survived the war. I’m very pleased you did.”

“I would not have done had it not been for Harry,” said Severus. “He refused to give up on me, and I, for one, am most grateful for his stubbornness.” He removed the ceremonial cloak and draped it over his arm. “Thank you, McLaird, though for what I do not know, but if you’ll excuse me, I would like to take my family home.”

McLaird smiled and extended a finger to Persephone. She grabbed it and gave a bright gurgle, gazing at McLaird with her great dark eyes. “A beautiful child,” he remarked. “It’s not everyone who gives birth to a dancing star, Harry, but she’s been blessed to be given to you.”

“Thank you,” said Harry, “for everything.” He handed Persephone over to Severus and slung the changing bag over his shoulder.

“It’s over, Severus. It’s finally over.” He gazed around the chamber, silent and dark. He would be here again, he knew, when Fudge was tried, and he would attend the sentencing, knowing that with Severus at the helm, justice would be served. “Let’s go home and tell the others, and then put our dancing star to bed.”

“One must have chaos within oneself to give birth to a dancing star.

— Friedrich Nietzsche

EPILOGUE:

Deputy Headmaster Harry Prince read the next name off the list. “Persephone Prince.”

He smiled as his eldest stepped forward to take a seat on the three-legged stool at the front of the Great Hall. “Promise you’ll tell me what it says,” he whispered as he held the Sorting Hat over her head. He set it on top of her dark chestnut hair and stepped back to await the inevitable pronouncement.

Persephone strongly favoured Harry, though her colouring was all Severus. Not by any stretch a pretty girl, Persephone was nevertheless quite striking. Coltish rather than thin, surprisingly graceful when she wasn’t suffering through a growth spurt, on her the Snape nose was less pronounced, mostly because of her extraordinary brown eyes. Almond shaped with thick lashes, they drew everyone’s attention the moment they saw her.

They had come a long way since that day nearly twelve years ago when the Sorting Hat announced to all of Hogwarts that Harry would marry the Head of Slytherin House. Persephone’s conception had sparked a national crisis that resulted in the murder of an Unspeakable from the Department of Mysteries and the imprisonment of Cornelius Fudge, not to mention the restructuring of the Wizengamot. Hermione had worked almost non-stop to overturn the subtle discriminatory laws against same-sex couples, most of which had not come to light until after Severus had become the Supreme Mugwump of the Wizengamot.

A bit of jostling at the back of the Hall caught Harry’s attention, and he gestured lightly with his head to Draco, but the Headmaster of the Dobby-Kreacher Primary School for Magical Children already had the situation in hand. Harry would never have figured Draco for a schoolteacher, but it was clear he was thriving on the challenge.

Harry shot Augustus (Peverell) a warning glance, and his youngest son stopped bothering his older brother, Matthew (Potter), immediately. Augustus scowled as Draco whispered a reprimand and crossed his arms over his chest. A few months past his sixth birthday, he was barely old enough to witness his oldest sister’s Sorting.

As the Sorting Hat continued to sit silently on Persephone’s head, Harry risked a glance at the Staff table where Severus, now Headmaster, was holding Cassiopeia (Black) and struggling to keep her quiet. “Hat stall?” mouthed Severus and Harry shrugged, wondering what the two of them could be talking about. He and Severus already knew she’d be Sorted into Slytherin; the Hat had told them as much before they even knew Harry was pregnant.

“Ravenclaw!” the Sorting Hat announced, and Harry lifted it off her head and gave it a little shake, blinking owlishly and quite obviously perplexed. Persephone laughed and joined her Housemates at the Ravenclaw table with a knowing expression on her face.

Harry didn’t remember much about the rest of the Sorting. Once it was finished, he rescued Severus and took Cassiopeia off his hands so his husband could get the Feast started. At the back of the Great Hall, Draco shepherded the youngsters out to take them back to their school at Hogsmeade, where they would be collected by their parents. Matthew waved goodbye, but Augustus, apparently still irked at Harry, refused.

Knowing Harry and Severus would be busy with the Welcoming Feast, Draco had offered take the boys for the night. It would be chaos, Harry knew; Neville, Luna and Draco had four of their own. But as they were godparents to both boys, and Severus and Harry were godparents to two Malfoy-Longbottoms, the children knew well enough to mind their manners. Even Augustus.

“To our new students, welcome to Hogwarts,” announced Severus in tones nearly as welcoming as Dumbledore’s once had been. “And to those who have returned, welcome back. I know you’re hungry, so let the feast begin.” A wave of his wand saw the tables suddenly filled with food.

As Harry filled a plate for Cassiopeia, he felt a sensation much like walking through a ghost, and he looked around to see if one had just passed through the Staff Table. He frowned for a moment, feeling something very much like destiny reaching inside and squeezing his heart. Not again, he thought. He set the food absently in front of his daughter, earning an odd look from Severus.

“What is it?” murmured Severus as he added something besides mushy peas to Cassie’s plate.

“I want another baby,” said Harry, surprising himself as much as he stunned Severus.

“I thought, after—” he pointed at their youngest, “you were finished. She took a lot out of you.”

Harry frowned. “I know, but…” He looked at Severus through clear green eyes. “It’s just a feeling. Besides, it would be nice to have another Prince. It adds a bit of symmetry, don’t you think?”

Poseidon Prince was born nine months later, and as a naming day gift, Sybil Trelawney gave him a prophecy.

-The End-

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