Grazhir :: Harry Potter :: Crumbling Pedestal :: 24 :: Declarations

24 • Declarations

“Over my dead body,” was Heru’s immediate, fierce response. “Are you out of your mind!? I didn’t save you just to turn around and watch you die the second he decided veritaserum was a good choice and you were forced to spill your guts.” He reached out and grabbed Severus by the shoulders and shook him. “I love you, you idiot! I want to marry you. Don’t you dare make suggestions like that. Don’t even think it, or I swear I’ll—”

He stopped and let go. “Well, I don’t know. But I would!” he insisted. “Please don’t say things like that. If I died you’d be the only father Mark had left. You’re already in my damn will, Severus! I can’t believe you could possib—”

He was cut off when a hand slapped over his mouth, and blinked when Severus said quite clearly, “Shut up. Now, I’m going to remove my hand, and you’re going to stay quiet. Right?”

Heru gave a grudging nod.

“Good.” Severus drew back, then placed a hand on each of Heru’s shoulders and shook him lightly with each word. “And I. Love. You.” After releasing him Severus continued, “So perhaps you can understand why what you’ve been saying is so alarming to me?”

Heru dropped his eyes, feeling a bit sullen despite the fact that his declaration had been returned. Eventually his gaze crept back to see that Severus was waiting patiently. He managed a small, sheepish smile that sparked amusement in his lover’s eyes. “All right. That’s fair,” he admitted.

“I’m glad to see you can be taught to see reason,” Severus stated smugly.

“You’re awfully brave for a man who knows I could probably snap you like a twig.”

“Ah, but you wouldn’t. You see, you love me. And besides, it would upset Mark.”

“Where the hell do you come off being all rational and logical?”

“When you start displaying reckless, brash behavior that positively reeks of those insufferable Gryffindors.”

Heru opened his mouth to retort, then snapped it shut. Severus was entirely right. He thought he had lost that part of himself years ago, but apparently it still lingered around the edges. The realization actually scared him a little. He looked back at Severus and said, “I’ll make you a deal, then—something for something. You stop making such ridiculous offers that are likely to get you killed quicker than I can say Salazar, and I’ll try to curb my tendency to think that because it’s my family that’s the problem that I have to be the one to deal with it.”

“Agreed.”

“Fine. I’m glad that’s settled.”

“Now, about that other thing. . . .”

“What . . . other . . . thing?”

Severus gave him a sly look. “When do you suppose our Mark will be back?”

Heru’s eyes widened slightly.

Some time later, after Mark had returned and gone to sleep, Heru and Severus had another kind of talk in their room. Several times, with silencing charms.

*

Heru woke up the next morning feeling absurdly perky, but at least this time he knew why. He had never quite realized before how hard it was to smile and yawn at the same time. He rolled over onto his side and propped his head on one hand so he could look at Severus’s sleeping face. The corners of his lover’s mouth were quirked up faintly, something Heru had not witnessed before. It was far more the usual thing to see him relaxed, but blank of expression, or more rarely, somewhat pained. Heru reached out to carefully guide the strands of hair back that had fallen across Severus’s face, not really wishing to disturb him, then rolled away and off the bed to land on his feet and pad into the bathroom.

He had only been in the shower for a few minutes when he felt Severus enfold him from behind with his arms and bite his neck. “Do you feel as disgustingly happy this morning as I do?” Severus asked lazily, then bit him again, making Heru arch his neck back and tilt his head to the side to offer better access. Heru really wanted to answer, but it didn’t come out that way. Severus bit him again where his neck curved into his shoulder, then laved the abused flesh with his tongue.

Heru didn’t protest at all when several minutes later Severus guided his arms out to press against the shower wall for support and gently toed his feet apart. He didn’t protest anything Severus did for the next space of time, and indeed, encouraged him enthusiastically in as many ways he could think of without losing his balance or interrupting the flow of their bodies as they moved together under the water’s caress.

It wasn’t until they were dressed and sitting at the table eating breakfast that Heru said, “To answer your question, yes, I do.”

Severus gave him a funny little smile and replied, “I gathered that, but I liked the way you answered earlier better.”

Heru might have said more, but Mark bounced in looking rumpled and ready to eat. Heru struggled very hard, telling himself sternly to act like an adult and to stop grinning like a loon, and eventually succeeded in repressing the worst of his urges to light up like a Christmas tree every time he tried to raise his eyes. Eventually he was able to look up from his plate with a fairly calm expression.

“So, how did your visit with Remus and Sirius go?” he asked Mark.

“Oh, fine. It was kind of hard to get a word in edgewise, but it was nice to see them looking so happy. We didn’t stay very long, actually. Ron and Hermione invited me up to their tower for a visit.”

Heru suddenly had no trouble keeping a straight face. “They did?”

“Yup! We played chess again. Nobody seemed to mind that I was up there. They all just sort of said hello and left me alone. I don’t see why Hermione is in Gryffindor, though. Seems to me she should be a Ravenclaw. That would have been neat since I still think that’s the house I’d like to get into, and I’d have already known someone in it.”

Heru relaxed minutely.

“Well, Slytherin would be okay and all, but I still think those kids might treat me funny.”

“Yes, well, that remains to be seen, I suppose.”

Mark shrugged, unconcerned. “So long as it’s not Hufflepuff or Gryffindor, I reckon. The one’s too boring and the others don’t seem to think all that much before they act.”

Heru raised his eyes and sent up a silent prayer, then realized Severus seemed to be doing the same thing. He blinked and said, “I’m sure Ravenclaw is just fine. They have a reputation for weighing things carefully before they act, and don’t seem to get bogged down in surface details.”

Mark nodded vaguely as he scooped more eggs into his mouth.

Later that morning Heru and Severus stopped by to see Albus.

“You might be interested to know,” said Albus with a twinkle, “that I received word this morning that Dolores Umbridge will no longer be gracing us with her presence.”

Heru heaved a sigh of relief and flopped into a chair. “Blessed be.”

“Apparently, Cornelius is now much too busy with the problem of Voldemort to send her off to find fault with us, and professes to need her with him during this difficult time.”

“What is the situation on Lucius?” asked Severus.

“Ah, yes. Thank you for reminding me, dear boy. Alastor reports that he was called to Voldemort not long after the evening edition of the paper was sent out. He has graciously included a copy of his memory of that encounter, for us to view.” Albus rooted around in his desk for a moment and produced a pensieve. “I really should buy more of these. They’re coming in quite handy all of a sudden.”

Heru gave the headmaster a patient look. “Is it better to display, or should we immerse ourselves?”

“Alastor did not say, so we shall just have to jump in, won’t we?”

Heru rose and stepped up to the desk, Severus coming to stand at his side. A moment later, they were inside the memory. The perspective was a little odd, but not nearly as much so as when Heru had shared his memory after using his distance spell.

“Well?” demanded Voldemort.

“My lord, though Peter’s answers were occasionally cut off, I am quite sure they asked him a great deal more once the gallery was cleared. One of those questions involved the location of where the Potter boy was taken—Peter was able to mention that you had an estate before he was stopped. Fudge was not present after the initial questioning, so I am not sure what else they might have asked, but it would be reasonable to assume they interrogated him for additional names aside from Barty Crouch Jr.”

“What of Slytherin?”

“They did not use veritaserum on anyone but Peter, my lord. Slytherin appeared to have no idea what he’d done. He claims to have simply noticed Peter while watching his son playing at quidditch, saw the silver paw, and stunned him for capture as an oddity. It was not until he brought it to Dumbledore that Slytherin learned who it was.”

“So it is possible he was not telling the entire truth of the matter.”

“Yes, my lord.”

“If so, he is a very clever man to keep his options open. Either way, he has managed to steal another minion from my service. Have you found nothing else out about him?”

“I have been trying, my lord. He has covered his tracks exceedingly well.”

“I didn’t ask for excuses, Lucius. I asked for results. Crucio!”

Lucius managed to hold himself upright against the debilitating effects of the spell, and to keep from voicing his pain. When he started to crumble, though, Voldemort lifted the curse. “It pains me when you force me to do this to you, Lucius,” he said with patent insincerity and mock regret. “You were doing quite splendidly, and then you go and tell me things like you were merely trying. I do wish you’d buck up and make me happy.”

“I live only to serve you, my lord,” Lucius rasped.

“Of course you do, Lucius. You’re one of my most loyal pure-bloods, aren’t you? And I’m very fond of you. Really, I am. But if you make failure a habit, I might not find it so easy to forgive you.”

“Yes, my lord.”

“That’s my good man. Now, you’re going to draft out a letter to Slytherin. Something subtle, I think. Something to see if we can determine which side of this conflict he leans toward. After all, one would think that as a fellow Slytherin of the blood he would be inclined to think as our ancestor did, despite what he currently allows the world to see. If indeed he is trying to court my attention with what he has done to Severus, he is wise to appear enamored of the Light so as to dispel suspicion. Yes, I think that will serve for the moment, Lucius. See to it.”

“As you command, my lord.”

Heru found himself abruptly back in Albus’s office, and promptly sat down and grimaced.

“We can,” Albus said after a pause, “always come up with a suitably ambiguous response to whatever it is Lucius sends you, Heru.”

*

Heru flipped the envelope over in his hands restlessly. He didn’t particularly want to open it. He had, of course, already checked it for any magic and knew it was quite safe, if you discounted what was written inside. He had been playing with it for perhaps ten minutes before Severus’s curiosity got the better of him and he snatched it from Heru’s hands, giving a quiet snort as he broke the seal and tipped out the contents. A second later he slapped it down in front of Heru and stared pointedly.

Mr Slytherin,

I trust this greeting finds you in good health. I must say, I was quite intrigued by our short encounter not so long ago. One could almost say you were the very twin of our dear Salazar if the existing portraits are anything to go by. Have you, by chance, a portrait of him in your chamber?

I have decided, after much careful consideration, to extend to you one of the business opportunities I mentioned in passing. And, of course, by proxy to Severus, who has always been steadfast in his appreciation of all that Slytherin has had to offer.

I speak, naturally, of your particular talents. It had occurred to me that it might be a wise venture for me to back your next book, or series of books. Several topics came to mind when I considered the idea, though the one that stood out was an analysis of our population, showing the breakdown of pure-blood, half-blood, muggle-born, and squib, as well as potential cause and effect factors.

I appreciate that you are busy with your position as Professor of Divination, so I know that it might take you a few days to think the matter over and respond.

Cordially,
Lucius Malfoy

“He calls this subtle?” Heru passed the letter back to Severus to read. “He just about comes out and asks if we’re on board, or stupid. I’m still not sure which.”

Severus shushed him and continued to skim the contents, then dropped it to the table and looked up. “I see what you mean. How do you plan to answer?”

“Well, for one thing, I don’t need anyone to back me up with wealth. I’ve quite enough of my own, thank you very much. I didn’t exactly lose money on the Potions texts either. So why, exactly, would I cut someone else in on the deal that I didn’t even trust, never mind want to get to know.”

“And?”

“Actually, I’d already thought of doing a book on why squibs were born, but what he’s asking for is ridiculous. I would have to be stupid, or naïve, or in agreement with his aims to consider writing that kind of work.”

“That doesn’t say how you plan to answer.”

“No. I’ll have to draft something out and let you read it over. Possibly Albus, as he is quite a master at being infuriatingly vague.”

Severus grunted and stood up long enough to return with writing supplies. “Then you may as well get started, hm?”

Mr Malfoy,

Your greeting found me in good health, and I trust you are also well. I would extend that to your son, but of course I see him most every day here at Hogwarts and know that he is fine. While I am not sure what you found so intriguing during our encounter, I am nonetheless flattered at your interest.

I do, actually, own a portrait of our dear Salazar, it having been passed down through the generations by my family, though I must say, I do not have a chamber set aside strictly for such things. I have seen some very fine examples, however, one of which displayed a number of objects which typified my family’s interests.

On the matter of my writing, I am currently in the middle of a rather more thorough version of the events during the Founding of Hogwarts, though I do have notes somewhere for a work on the morality of power, having often thought it was a shame that no one has had the courage to sit down and write a rousing treatise on when power is its own justification, and at which point morality, or at least a common code of behavior, must step in to assist in setting the rules under which we live as a society. And, of course, enforcers of those rules.

Your offer of backing is quite appreciated, but I’m afraid I must decline. The equipment I use is already paid for, and the modest profits from my first venture will serve well to accommodate the cost of temporary employees in the future when the need again arises.

You see, I feel I would be doing you a disservice, as I do not anticipate any meaningful returns on my efforts for some time. In any case, I am quite comfortable, and had not even considered bringing in outside funding until you mentioned it. It is something I will keep in mind for the future of Slytherin Press, especially if other authors flock to that banner to seek to publish their work.

The subject of your idea is interesting, bringing to mind that I had considered a statistical analysis of squibs born into pure-blood families, wondering greatly why such an event occurs. At the moment, though, the sheer breadth of your concept is more than I wish to undertake given the workload I am currently under. As it is, I am relieved that the genealogy I was creating for an acquaintance of mine is finally complete and delivered.

In closing, let me state that should you come across a different venture you believe I might entertain interest in, I would be pleased to hear you out.

Regards,
Heru Slytherin

Severus read over his response with a slight smile on his face. “I think you’ve done a fine job in each section of playing both sides of the fence, not to mention slapping him down once or twice. Several things you’ve said could go either way, but I think in the end this comes out as ambiguous as you could wish for. And it even hints at something you want.”

“Should I even bother to show it to Albus?”

“I don’t see why, but he might get that look if you don’t.”

Heru shrugged. “Then I’ll make a copy of both and send them up with Praecino. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind visiting with Fawkes. Albus can let me know what he thinks, and I can send out the response sometime this week.”

The letter went out on Wednesday, sent in an envelope sealed with the Slytherin family crest. By that Sunday another had arrived. Heru was tempted to just let Severus deal with it, but knew he’d never be let off the hook. And by then, Mark was occasionally eating at the Gryffindor table, sitting next to Ron. Heru could only imagine it had something to do with chess, or quidditch. So it was that he was sitting at the head table that morning when Lucius’s second missive appeared. After showing Severus the crest, he schooled his face to blankness and read.

Mr Slytherin,

I find myself curious as to what it is that you consider as being typical of your family’s interests. With such a heritage as your own, one would imagine there is a great deal of speculation surrounding you and your son. However, I can clearly see that your interests are wide and varied.

I would never have guessed you dabbled in genealogy for the sake of others, though I can appreciate your relief at the project’s end as I expect it would take a great deal of time to do such research with the unfortunately incomplete records we so often hold at this time.

On your other current ventures, I must say they are impressive in scope. Indeed, I am somewhat shocked that you did not mention plans for new textbooks on divination. I have taken the time to browse through some of what you have published for potions and am amazed at the time and care you must have taken. That there are formulas included that even I have never before seen is unexpected and welcome.

Your brief description on the morality of power sounds fascinating and I urge you to consider locating the notes you speak of. There are many who would be interested to see the results of such an undertaking. I also imagine that you must hold a great deal in the way of family history at your fingertips to be able to tackle a project such as the Founding.

In closing, it occurs to me that your son must nearly be of age for school himself. If you have not yet commissioned a portrait of him, I would be happy to recommend the services of someone reputable.

Cordially,
Lucius Malfoy

Heru casually laid the letter flat on the table next to his plate so that Severus could eye it as he ate, then began to eat himself. A glance up to check on Mark revealed that his son was fine, though when his gaze came back around he noticed Draco eyeing him. After several minutes he said in a low tone, “Is he always this obsequious?”

“You will remember, Heru, that you are suspected of being the one who can remove his master’s mark of service. That makes you as powerful, or more so, than the Dark Lord in his eyes.”

Heru snorted softly. “So I suddenly deserve to be fawned over?”

Severus looked over with an arched brow. “No, just respected.”

“You do notice he’s picked up on every likely reference but one and ignored the rest.”

“Of course. He seeks to guide the flow in a particular direction.”

“I suppose it would be no harm to confirm I am a parselmouth. I’m most interested in tweaking the bit on genealogy though. You know what I’m after. And, I wonder what the younger Malfoy will be reporting to his father this evening.”

“Were you planning on taking Lucius up on his offer?”

“What, the portrait? I don’t know. I can’t imagine he’d recommend someone without talent, but I would expect it to be a sympathizer at the very least. Could be useful, maybe not. But if I did, I sure as hell wouldn’t let Mark sit alone.”

“And yet, by doing so, you might make him more of a target then he may already be. Assuming, of course, that a portrait artist would spend time questioning his subject.”

“It wouldn’t matter. I don’t have any intention of letting Mark sit for a complete stranger whether it’s Lucius or I who chose the artist. I would be there.”

“I’m not criticizing, Heru, just pointing out possibilities.”

“I understand that, and at one point I had every intention of leaving the country if necessary to keep Mark safely out of politics.”

“But not now.”

“No. Not now.”