Author Notes: Thank you to aigooism and pionie for the beta! Originally written for hds_beltane.
Harry was having an excellent day.
Everything was working out fantastically for him. The sun was smiling brightly in the sky, and he had just got a promotion that he had been anticipating for several weeks. It meant that he was only a step away from running his own Auror team. He already had several candidates in mind. When he had gone downstairs for lunch, even the cafeteria at work seemed to be sharing in his good cheer; it was serving something other than black pudding. He ended up leaving early and there was very little foot traffic on his walk home. His neighbour, an old retired witch, gave him a cheery wave as she left to do her weekly shopping.
He was about to open the door to his flat when his nostrils were assaulted with an overpowering scent of violets. The smell was oddly familiar. Slowly, Harry turned around and almost groaned out loud. It was Romilda Vane. The last time Harry remembered seeing Romilda was all the way back when he was at Hogwarts, and she had ended up giving him a box of chocolates spiked with a love potion. It had been over five years since he'd left Hogwarts and he'd hoped that she had forgotten about him. From the slightly widened eyes and the way she kept on edging towards him, Harry suspected she wasn't here to apologise. "What are you doing here?" he asked.
"Harry!" Romilda gushed. "It's wonderful to see you. I have great news!"
"Good for you," Harry said flatly.
Romilda gave him a coy look and fluttered her eyelashes at him. She twirled a lock of her long hair in her fingers. "Well, actually, it's great news for both of us."
Harry was beginning to get a bad feeling in the pit of his stomach. "What is it?" he asked wearily.
Romilda inclined her head towards his door. "Aren't you going to invite me in?" she asked. "This isn't the kind of conversation I want to have in a corridor." She cast a rather disdainful look at the patchy carpeting.
"No, I'm not," Harry said. He knew he was being rude, but there was no force on the planet that could convince him to let her into his flat. Knowing her, she would use the opportunity to steal something of his to create a more directed love potion.
Romilda pouted at him. She took a step towards him, her hands cradling her stomach. "You won't let the woman who's carrying your child into your flat?"
"What?" Harry spluttered, stepping backwards into his door. "You... you... what?"
"Isn't it wonderful? I'm pregnant with your child."
Harry was horrified. It was ludicrous. Impossible! He hadn't had sex with a woman in over two years and even when he had, he definitely wouldn't have had sex with Romilda. Harry didn't go for creepy and stalkerish women who had once tried to give him a love potion. Surely this was some sort of joke? He looked into Romilda's eyes but couldn't see any indication of it being some sort of giant prank. "You can't be," he told her. "And even if you are, I'm definitely not the father!"
"I am pregnant and you are the father," Romilda insisted. She waved a piece of parchment in his face. "I have proof."
Harry grabbed the parchment and stared at it. It seemed to claim that Romilda was pregnant with a baby girl and that he, Harry James Potter, was the father of that child. "You faked this," he snapped.
To his horror, Romilda's upper lip began to tremble. "I didn't," she insisted, her hands still clasped around her belly. "You bastard. How could you deny that she's yours?"
"Because she isn't!" Harry exclaimed. "I haven't had sex with you!"
Romilda had a faraway look in her eyes. "How could you forget our magical night? I bumped into you in Hogsmeade, and we ended up getting a cup of coffee and reminiscing about our days at Hogwarts together. We ended up at my place and..." She blushed. "Well, you know what happened next."
"No, I don't," Harry said firmly. "Because we didn't have sex. I would never have sex with you." He was alarmed when tears stared to roll down her face. "Stop crying, it isn't going to somehow convince me."
"I love you, Harry," Romilda said, stepping forward. She seemed to rub herself up against him like a cat in search of a bowl of cream. "We'll be very happy together. I know it."
Harry shuddered. He needed to get away from her. He turned around and stuck the key in his lock. He pushed his door open and quickly stepped inside, shutting the door firmly and locking it behind him. Once inside, he breathed a sigh of relief. How on earth had she discovered where he was living?
"Harry!" Romilda called through the keyhole. "I'm pregnant and you're the father. We have to get married!"
Harry cringed. She wanted him to marry her? This was getting more and more ridiculous. "Go away!" He held his breath and exhaled slowly when he realised that there was nothing else coming from the other side of the door. Perhaps she'd finally gone away? If there was ever a candidate for St Mungo's, it was Romilda Vane.
"We're going to get married, Harry."
Well, apparently not. Harry growled as he walked over and turned on his stereo, hoping that the sound of it would drown out her voice. She was so obviously insane. He wondered if he needed to get a restraining order against her. If she continued harassing him, Harry decided, then he would have no choice but to get one.
Harry tilted his head to one side. Walking over to the door, he peered through the keyhole. She seemed to be gone at last. He crossed his fingers. With any luck, that would be the last he'd see of her.
"Can you believe it?" Harry said, with a laugh. "She actually appeared at my door and insisted that she was pregnant with my child. I haven't seen her in years and years." Now that a few days had passed, Harry was beginning to find the entire incident rather amusing. It was one of those things that never happened in reality; it was like something from those soap operas that his aunt used to watch.
Hermione looked worried. "You should be careful, Harry."
Harry waved away her concern. "She's insane. Everybody knows that. I mean, she tried to feed me a love potion! She only stopped when I started dating Ginny."
"But you're not dating anybody right now," Hermione pointed out.
"And that makes me fair game?"
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Of course not. You know that's not what I mean."
"Anyway," Harry said as he took a sip of his coffee. The warmth of the liquid slid down his throat comfortingly. "She can't bring me down right now. Life's too good."
"I heard," Hermione said. "Congratulations! You'll have your own Auror team in no time." She grinned at him as she took a spoonful of her pasta.
"And you recently got a promotion too, didn't you? I think Ron mentioned it."
Hermione snorted. "I'm surprised he's got anything nice to say about me nowadays. Our lawyers told us that we had a non-acrimonious divorce, but it feels plenty acrimonious to me. At the end of it all, we couldn't seem to talk without yelling at each other."
Harry gave her a sympathetic smile. "You guys are going to stay friends, yeah?"
She nodded. "We're going to try. I guess one day soon we'll have dinner together. The three of us. You can be our mediator."
Oh fun, Harry thought, but he forced a bright smile. There was a twinkle in Hermione's eyes that made him feel better. She was joking. "Don't force it," he said. "We'll be laughing about this in ten years time."
"Well, we'll certainly be laughing about Romilda Vane's claim to be pregnant with your baby," Hermione said. "Not quite sure about the other thing though."
Harry grinned. It wasn't a cold day but somehow, a shiver slid down his spine. He hoped he wouldn't see Romilda again for a very long time.
"Did you have a good day?"
Harry smiled as opened the door to his flat. "Quite good. How was yours, Esther?"
She gave him a bright smile. "Lovely. I'm just off to visit the grandkids." She waved her wand at her door and it locked itself. "I'll see you later, Harry."
As Harry walked into his flat and closed the door behind him, he was slightly alarmed to see a rather persistent owl beating itself up against his window. "Oi!" he called out as he hurried over to open the window. "Stop that." He fiddled with the latch for a few seconds and pulled the window open.
The owl hooted at him and ruffled its feathers disagreeably. It flew into the room, dropped a letter onto the table, then turned around and flew out the window again, sending dander and several feathers flying into his living room.
Harry wrinkled his nose. There was something to be said for postmen. They were generally much cleaner than owls, for one. He grabbed a butter knife off the kitchen bench and used it to break the official looking seal on the letter. It was probably some sort of bill from an over-zealous Ministry tax collector.
As Harry scanned over the first few lines of the letter, his eyes widened. He sat down with a thump and stared at the letter.
The words paternity suit and Romilda Vane jumped out from the page, mocking him.
It was ridiculous. He had seen her last week and she had claimed the same thing, but it was so obviously not true. He hadn't had sex with her. She might have been pregnant, but it was impossible that he was the father. Harry examined the letter closely but couldn't see any telltale signs that it was written by George or Lee. After all, he had told Hermione and Ron about it. Ron could have mentioned it to George. Unfortunately, it seemed to be genuine.
Harry smoothed the letter and envelope out on the bench. He took out his wand and pressed the tip of it against the broken seal. Immediately it flared up.
"Fuck," Harry muttered. It was genuine.
He examined the letter. It told him that he needed to present himself in front of a panel of the Wizengamot in just over three weeks, whereby it would be decided by a panel of at least five judges whether Romilda's claim had any merit. Harry's eyes widened as he read on. "What the hell?" he spluttered. If he lost the case then he would have to marry Romilda Vane. It was the most ridiculous thing he had ever seen. The letter strongly advised him to get legal counsel and then congratulated him on his possible upcoming nuptials.
Harry threw the letter across the room. He was most definitely not going to get married to Romilda Vane. He hadn't met a crazier witch. Even Voldemort seemed to have a better grasp on reality! There was just no sodding way he was going to be having any kind of nuptials with her. He didn't get her pregnant. It was some kind of mistake. It just had to be.
It was with that thought in mind that Harry grabbed his box of Floo powder off the mantelpiece and threw it in the fire. He needed to speak with Hermione.
Hermione bit her lip and frowned. "Harry, you have a problem," she said quietly. "I said you should be careful." She toyed with her coffee cup.
"But I didn't sleep with her!" Harry insisted. "Please tell me you believe me, at least." He couldn't believe how much this was beginning to spin out of control. He didn't know how she had managed to get a Wizengamot hearing, but obviously she had managed to falsify records enough to convince Wizengamot members.
Hermione sighed. "Sometimes I can't believe how long you've been in the wizarding world, Harry. You should know that wizarding law states that a pregnant woman has the right to insist on marriage as long as she has proof of paternity."
"What?" Harry spluttered. "That's completely ridiculous!"
She gave him a severe look. "It's not a provision used very often. Witches are taught contraceptive spells from a very young age. Madam Pomfrey took us aside in first year to teach them to us as a preventative measure. But it's still on the books."
"But I didn't sleep with her. Therefore, I can't be the father."
Hermione took the parchment from his fingers and scrutinised it. "It says here that St Mungo's performed the test on the foetus, and their tests prove it. Of course, without looking at the tests more closely, I can't tell what methods they used." She looked up at him. "Why weren't you more careful?"
"Careful?" Harry snapped. "How more careful could I be? I didn't sleep with her! I haven't even seen her in years!"
Hermione laid a hand on his arm. "I'm not saying that you did," she said softly. "In fact, I know you don't swing that way, but you could have calmed her down to buy some more time before she took you before the Wizengamot."
"Could I still do that?" Harry exclaimed. A sudden thought just occurred to him. "Can't we give her Veritaserum?"
Hermione looked shocked. "You can't give that to a pregnant woman! It'll kill the baby. And before you ask, breastfeeding mothers can't take it either."
"Fuck," Harry muttered. He didn't really want to be married to her for months or years before they could give her the Veritaserum. "If we had more time, could you help me prove that the tests were false?"
She looked doubtful. "I could help," she said. "But you know how busy I am at work. I've had to work late for the past few weeks. I'll only be able to help you on weekends. Also, I think we might need a Potions master - I haven't worked on a potion in years."
"I'll find one," Harry said. "but why do we need a Potions master?"
Hermione gave a wry smile. "I saw her transcripts once. She applied for a job in my area. If she did falsify the paternity test, I suspect she would have used either a charm or a potion and I know she almost failed charms. She got an O in her Potions NEWT."
Harry pursed his lips. "I can think of somebody to talk to," he said slowly. "Didn't Snape end up setting up a potions business with Malfoy?"
Hermione nodded. "Apparently, they're doing excellently."
Harry let out a long sigh. "I'll talk to them," he said.
"I'll take a look at it as well," Hermione promised. "She won't succeed, I promise. I'll represent you at the hearing."
"I hope not," Harry muttered. He could imagine what it would be like being married to Romilda and it wasn't a pretty thought. She would probably be one of those frills and bows type girls who would insist on him being home by a certain time every night and would want to have at least five children. She would probably even want to call them cutesy names.
Hermione sipped the last remnants of her coffee before digging around in her purse for some money. She tossed a few Sickles on the table. "It'll be okay, Harry," she said reassuringly and leaned over to hug him.
Harry stared up at the sign that proclaimed in huge black letters: Snape & Malfoy: Potions Masters. He hadn't known that Malfoy had gained mastery in Potions, but then again, he didn't really keep up with what happened to most of his former classmates from Hogwarts. Once in a while, he'd bump into some of them at the Ministry and they would sit down for a coffee, but all in all, Harry mostly just kept in touch with Ron and Hermione.
Harry was about to lift his hand up to knock on the door when it opened. Harry looked up and swallowed nervously. Severus Snape looked exactly the same as he did back when he had been intimidating Harry and his friends in Potions class. In fact, Harry wasn't sure, but he could have sworn that Snape was quite possibly more intimidating, if that was possible. "Uh, hello," Harry said quickly. "Can I come in?"
"You certainly can," Snape said.
Harry blinked in surprise.
"But you may not," Snape added, with a smirk.
Ah. Harry knew that it was some sort of catch. "May I come in then?"
Snape gave him a look that suggested that Harry was some sort of insect that he had scraped off the bottom of his shoe. "I just told you that you may not," he snapped.
Harry couldn't help but think that Malfoy was probably the charm of this operation. If Snape was this friendly to every single customer that turned up at his doorway, it would be likely that he'd be out of business within the week, regardless of how good his potions were. "I need your help," Harry said, swallowing his pride. "I was told that you guys were the best."
"That we are," Snape said smoothly. "However, what makes you think that I'll help you, Potter?"
"I'm a paying customer," Harry pointed out. "You can't turn me away." He desperately tried to think of something to bamboozle Snape with. "It's against the law. A company cannot turn away a paying customer without due cause."
Snape snorted. "That law doesn't exist, Potter."
Harry ground his teeth. "Romilda Vane has me dangling over a pot of boiling water and she's chopping up the vegetables. I really do need your help."
Snape raised an eyebrow and stared. It was obvious that he was intrigued. "Very well," he said slowly, "you may come in."
Harry pushed his way past Snape into the dark corridor. Snape allowed the front door to swing shut behind him and he swept down the corridor, swirling his cloak around him. Harry blinked. The man was indoors and he was wearing a cloak? It was bizarre. With a sigh, Harry followed Snape into a dimly lit lab.
Sitting down on a chair, Snape spun it around to face Harry. "Do tell me what Miss Vane has done this time? Is it another love potion?" His lips quirked. "Another one of your unfortunate friends, perhaps, has been dosed with one of her creations?"
"Worse," Harry said glumly. "She's pregnant with my child."
Harry never knew that Snape could look so surprised. "Mr Potter," Snape said severely, "I knew that you were an idiot, but I never believed that you would be this stupid."
"I didn't sleep with her!" Harry burst out. "But she's got this test thing that apparently proves that I did and that I'm the father of her child, but I know that I didn't, and damn it, I need your help to prove that it isn't my baby. Now I have to go before the Ministry in a few weeks and prove that it isn't my child or I'll have to marry the woman!"
Snape raised an eyebrow. "Are you sure you didn't conveniently forget anything?"
"No!" Harry burst out. How could Snape think that? His stomach squirmed at the thought. She would probably take pictures while he entered her and gush about how fantastic it was to be fucking Harry Potter. "I've never had sex with her! Ever!" He wasn't sure how more emphatic he could be. "She gave me love potion filled chocolates back when we were at Hogwarts."
Snape's lip curled. "She was a pretty girl. Are you sure?"
"Positive," Harry snapped. "Look, she was creepy." He folded his arms across his chest and narrowed his eyes. "Now, can you help me or not?"
"I can," Snape said. "If you can get me the tests performed on the foetus then I can see whether they have been falsified. I can also perform my own test on the amniotic fluid."
Harry wasn't sure what amniotic fluid was but he was glad that Snape could perform tests on it. "So you'll help me?" he asked, feeling relieved. He mightn't like Snape, but he was positive that the man was good at potions. "I'll pay whatever your normal fees are."
Snape's lip curled. "You'll pay double our normal fees. Draco will also be helping on this. It's a high profile case because of your celebrity status and we need to tread carefully."
"Fine," Harry said tightly. "I'll pay double." A sudden thought occurred to him. "What about the marriage? I don't want to marry her because of some sort of old law. Do you have some way to get me out of that? I mean, just in case, you don't figure it out within a few weeks."
"Perhaps," Snape said slowly, tapping a fingernail on the table. "However, Potter, I assure you, you're not going to like it."
Harry couldn't think of anything he'd prefer than not to be in his current predicament. He shuddered at the idea of having to marry that girl. It wasn't as though he wouldn't have done the right thing if it was his baby. It just so happened that he was absolutely positive that it couldn't be his child, magical tests be damned. "I'll do anything." As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Harry regretted them.
There was a gleam in Snape's eyes. "You need to get married."
"What?" Harry spluttered.
Snape scowled. "Are you hard of hearing, Potter?"
"No," Harry said with irritation, "but I thought you just said that I needed to get married."
Snape sighed. "I thought you said you would do anything."
Harry stared. He did say that. He knew he said that, but it was just something that people tended to say. He honestly didn't mean that he would do anything. "Why marriage?"
Snape had a look on his face that suggested that he thought that Harry was a dolt. "Bigamy is illegal."
Harry blinked. "So," he said slowly, "what you're saying is that she can't make me marry her if I'm already married to somebody else."
Snape closed his eyes and leaned backwards in his chair. "Yes," he said, through obviously gritted teeth. "That's exactly what I'm saying, you dunderhead."
"But," Harry said, his forehead furrowed, "isn't the whole point of this so that I don't have to be in some half-arsed forced marriage? I don't want to be married to somebody else. I'm not even dating anybody right now."
He could see Snape rolling his eyes. "And you can get divorced as soon as I prove that you didn't father that child," he snapped. "Whereas, if you were married to the girl, then you would need to wait until the child turned eighteen. Or until you can convince a court to give her Veritaserum, which is unlikely."
"I would ... what?" Harry gasped.
Snape ground his teeth. "Potter, it's a wonder how you manage to survive in this world."
"What?" Harry said angrily. "Just because I don't know some obscure laws. It's not like we were taught them at Hogwarts."
Snape stared. "You were taught them," he said flatly. "In History of Magic. It covered contemporary wizarding law as well."
"Oh." Harry could remember sleeping a lot in that class and just about nothing else. Professor Binns was incredibly boring, after all. "I don't remember that."
"Typical," Snape said with a sneer.
Harry resisted the urge to bang his head against the wall.
"Come back in a few days with the test results and a sample of her amniotic fluid as well as some of her blood," Snape told him. "Draco will be here and you can give it to him. We'll run tests and then get back to you."
"Are you insane?" Hermione asked loudly.
Harry leaned forward. "I'm desperate," he admitted. "Look, you're divorced. It's not like I'd be breaking up your marriage or anything. You're not dating anybody, are you?"
"That's not the point, Harry!" Hermione exclaimed. "I'm not going to marry you just because Snape told you that marriage was the only way to get out of this. It's ... crazy."
Harry had a feeling she was going to say this. He wiped his sweaty palms against his robes. "It's the only way I'm going to get out of marrying that madwoman. You know I'm right. Look, I don't want to marry you either, but it's my only choice!"
She snorted. "Lovely marriage proposal. You don't even like women!"
"So?" Harry said. He could hear the desperation tinging his tone. "The Ministry doesn't know that. I've been careful. You know I have." Somewhere, in some distant part of his own mind, Harry was wondering what he was doing. This was one of his best friends. She had just gone through a divorce. Even though it hadn't been messy, Harry could still see a significant amount of tension between Ron and Hermione. It wasn't as though he had been particularly thrilled about this plan when Snape had suggested it. But he preferred it to being married to Romilda Vane.
"I'm not going to marry you," Hermione said flatly. "It's a terrible idea."
"It won't be forever! We can get divorced once Snape and Malfoy can find out how she faked the test."
Hermione leaned forward. "And what if that takes years, hmm?"
Harry hadn't thought of that. "It won't," he said. "They're very good."
She rolled her eyes. "You can't know that."
Harry slumped. "Then I'll end up married to her."
Hermione patted his arm. "It won't happen. I promise."
"So?" Harry asked hopefully.
"No, I'm not going to marry you," Hermione said, rolling her eyes. "We're going to find another solution. At least you should marry somebody of a gender that you're attracted to!"
Harry snorted. "I haven't had a date in over a year. In fact, if you remember, the last date I had was with a Muggle."
Hermione frowned at him. "I don't know why you don't just date somebody in the wizarding world."
Harry bit his lip. The star-struck gleam in most people's eyes freaked him out. He didn't think he could stand to find a male version of Romilda Vane, especially if he ended up falling for the guy. He really didn't want to take that chance. "I don't think it'll go down well."
"Gender doesn't play a role in wizarding marriages," Hermione pointed out. It was a conversation they'd had many times before. "Look, you could find a nice guy..." She trailed off. "Well, you could try anyway."
Harry shook his head. "In less than a month? Unlikely." From the look on Hermione's face, he could tell that she had forgotten the Wizengamot deadline. Everything that Snape had given him to read pointed to the fact that precedent meant that he was screwed. It didn't matter that the last known case of a witch suing for marriage was from over a hundred years ago. The law was still on the books and it was obvious from the hearing that the Wizengamot was still taking it seriously.
"We'll find a way," Hermione promised.
Harry felt like running away. He'd defeated Voldemort. He'd faced his first job. He'd even faced bright-eyed naive witches and wizards who had just left Hogwarts, who still had a rosy-pink view of the world and had to break them in. Yet he wasn't sure he could face this. Harry stared around at the shimmering strobe globes floating around the club and the gyrating bodies on the dance floor. He hadn't been to a club in years.
"Come on," Ron urged as he dragged Harry forward. He then said something that was completely indistinguishable from the background noise.
"What?" Harry asked, cupping his hand behind his ear. "I can't hear you!"
"You're never going to find a date if you don't come out!" Ron yelled in his ear.
Harry took half a step backwards but ended up brushing up against somebody else. The person turned around and winked at him. Harry gave a half-smile and turned back to Ron. Hermione had ended up sucking up her courage and asking Ron to help him. At Harry's request, she hadn't told Ron anything other than the fact that Harry wanted a date. Ron was more than happy to drag Harry out to some of the most infamous wizarding clubs. "I'm not sure this was a good idea."
Ron just gave him a puzzled look and then grinned. "Come on! This is fun!"
Harry found himself being pulled forward into the crowd of bodies. He took a deep breath as he could smell various people's bodies, washed and unwashed, perfumed and non-perfumed. Various body parts brushed past him. Harry shuddered slightly. He could feel random hands attempting to grope his arse. "You like this?" he shouted into Ron's ear.
Ron shrugged. "Have a drink!"
As if the bartenders of the club had super-hearing – which, Harry thought, was entirely possible – a woman dressed in sparkly silver robes materialised next to them. She held out a tray, on which were a multitude of alcoholic drinks. With a sigh, Harry grabbed one of the drinks. He sniffed it tentatively; it smelled like Firewhiskey.
"Five Sickles," a voice said into his ear. Harry blinked. Obviously the woman had some sort of charm on her voice. Reaching into his pocket, Harry was just about to grab his money when Ron dumped a handful of Sickles onto her tray and took two drinks.
"The night's on me," Ron said loudly as he downed one of the drinks. The bartender disappeared as Ron began on his second drink.
Harry sighed and took a sip of his drink. He almost gagged as it burned its way down his throat. "This is disgusting!" he exclaimed.
"Drink more," Ron said as he quickly polished off the other drink. "It'll be more fun if you're drunk."
Harry considered those words. They made sense. The idea of getting drunk was strangely appealing anyway. Ever since Romilda had reappeared mysteriously in his life, Harry had felt like his life was spinning out of control. It was as though he was on a broomstick that was plunging him headfirst into the ground. Taking a deep breath, Harry finished his drink off, ignoring the burning sensation sliding down his throat.
Harry groaned. His eyelids felt like they had been glued shut but that wasn't the worst of it. His head felt as though a little man was standing inside his skull, hitting him with a hammer repeatedly. Even though his eyes were shut, it was as though sunlight was streaming through his eyelids and burning a path straight into his brain. He was never going to get that drunk again. In fact, he was off the entire go-out-and-get-drunk-to-find-a-spouse thing. He'd rather ask Ron to marry him than go through that again. In any case, Harry wasn't sure what he'd do even if he had ended up with somebody. He couldn't exactly ask somebody to marry him within the month. What would the person say after the court case came to light? Harry didn't really want to explain to some random person that he married them purely to get Romilda Vane off his back.
Harry sighed as he managed to force his eyelids open. His head spun as he tried to concentrate on his ceiling. He was pretty sure it wasn't supposed to be all wavy like that. He closed his eyes again. Perhaps if he just lay here, very quietly, then he'd feel better soon.
There was a sound from the floor that disrupted his plans. Harry sat bolt upright in bed and looked over. He was almost positive he hadn't managed to bring anybody home the previous night, but there was always a chance that he could have forgotten. He could feel a rush of relief when he saw the shock of red hair and the blue eyes blinking up at him. "Ron, you bastard," Harry croaked.
Ron shifted. "Yeah," he mumbled. "That was... rough. D'you remember how many drinks I had?"
Harry had lost count at around ten. "I dunno," he said. "But I'm sure I had something like fifteen. Maybe twenty."
"Urgh," Ron said. "And I didn't even score. Did you?"
Harry blinked blearily. "Did I score?"
"Nope. I didn't," Harry said. "Thank Merlin."
Ron looked confused, but obviously the effort of looking up at him had become too much. He rolled over and pillowed his face in his hands. "Think 'm going to sleep more."
"Me too," Harry mumbled. More sleep sounded good. Perhaps if he slept for a month then he wouldn't need to face Romilda at the Wizengamot hearing, and that entire mess would go away. He closed his eyes and pressed his face against the coolness of his pillow.
"You look terrible, Potter," Malfoy said bluntly when Harry turned up at the doorway. Hermione had served Romilda with a warrant for all the pertinent information and had handed it to Harry.
Harry glared at him. He wished that he could say the same but, as always, the skinny git looked well-polished. In fact, he barely looked older than when they had both left Hogwarts. "You look like a rat, Malfoy." Harry held out the bag. "I have all the stuff."
Malfoy rolled his eyes and took the bag. "No need to be nasty. I was just being honest." He held out a mirror.
After a pause, Harry took it. Why on earth was Malfoy carrying around a mirror anyway? Probably to preen at himself. He definitely seemed like the type. Proud and peacock-like. "Shit," Harry said as he looked at himself properly in the mirror. His eyes were all bloodshot and his face looked almost as greasy as Snape's head. He was beginning to regret not having a shower before he came over but the idea of the sound of running water made his pounding headache worse.
"Had a few too many drinks?" Malfoy asked, sounding almost sympathetic.
Harry considered making a sarcastic comment, but he couldn't seem to think of one. "Yeah," he said with a sigh. "I went out with Ron last night."
Malfoy raised an eyebrow. "Weasley, huh? I never took him for a big drinker. Then again, I never took you for one either."
Harry frowned. He was positive there was some kind of insult in what Malfoy had just said, but he couldn't seem to figure it out. His mind was all fuzzy, as though somebody had removed his brain and replaced it with fluffy cotton wool. "Well, do I need to come in?" Harry demanded. "Snape just said to give you that stuff."
Malfoy stepped back and spread his arms out. "My, my, where are my manners? Please, come in," he said. "I need to take your blood as well."
Rolling his eyes, Harry brushed past him and walked quickly down the corridor towards the lab. Behind him, he could hear Malfoy shutting the door and then his footsteps following Harry. "Any progress?" Harry asked, turning his head to look behind him.
"Not so far," Malfoy said. "Any progress on your end?"
Harry stopped and spun around. He stared at Malfoy. "What'd you mean?"
Malfoy had a gleam in his cold grey eyes. "Have you made any progress in getting a wife? Or a husband, I suppose, since that's more of your cup of tea."
The little pointy-nosed prick. "Snape told you of the plan?"
Malfoy snorted. "Of course. I'm his business partner. I need to know these things. Don't worry, Potter, I'm not going to go running to the Wizengamot to turn you in. I'm not that enamoured of the Ministry, as you might already know."
Harry did know. "So what'd you get out of this?" he asked suspiciously. "I'm not going to pull any strings for you."
"Money," Malfoy said simply. He scowled. "Did you know the Ministry froze all of my father's assets when he was sent to Azkaban? I've been living on the remains of what I had in my account and whatever Severus and I make off this potions business. So Potter, you supply the money and we'll supply the brains to figure out your little problem."
Harry sighed. "I didn't sleep with her," he said, almost automatically. "It's not my fault I'm in this situation."
"I know," Malfoy said unexpectedly. "Look, she was always a few syllables short of a spell, even when we were back at Hogwarts."
Harry couldn't help but feel a flutter of relief. Somebody else seemed to believe him. Mind you, the somebody else was Draco Malfoy but still. It made him feel as though he wasn't alone in all of this. "Too bad Snape seems to believe that I did," he muttered.
"Severus doesn't," Malfoy told him.
Harry snorted. "Yes he does. You should have heard him last time." He sat down on a chair and looked around. "Are you even qualified to take blood?"
Malfoy shrugged. "How hard could it be?"
Harry stood up immediately. "I can come back with my blood," he said quickly. He had no desire to have Malfoy using a needle to go poking around in his veins. From his childhood memories, it was bloody painful when an inexperienced doctor did it.
"Sit down," Malfoy ordered, rolling his eyes. "I'm perfectly qualified."
Gingerly, Harry sat back down and watched as Malfoy took out his wand. "What, in Merlin's name, are you doing with that?" he demanded. As far as Harry was concerned, the taking of blood involved needles and tubes. The Muggles did it that way. Even the doctors and nurses at St Mungo's did it that way. "Where's the needle?"
Malfoy smirked at him. "Needles are for amateurs."
"What?" Harry stared. What kind of statement was that? "So how are you going to take my blood?"
Malfoy twirled his wand around in his fingers and gave a lazy smile. "With this, of course," he said. "Severus and I developed a spell for this. It can take your blood straight out of your veins."
Harry automatically stared down at his arms. He didn't like that idea. It sounded creepy and he wasn't sure he trusted Malfoy to take the correct amount of blood.
"I could even take a sample of your semen," Malfoy continued in a conversational tone. "I wouldn't even need to touch you."
Harry frowned. He definitely didn't like the sound of that.
Malfoy lifted his wand. "This won't hurt, I promise."
"Wait!" Harry exclaimed. "I... I..."
Malfoy rolled his eyes. "It won't hurt. I'm not going to kill you, Potter. Look, if I wanted to kill you, I could have done it a long time ago." He spread his arms and gave Harry a wide-eyed look. "This method's much easier than the traditional methods. This vial of blood on the table will be filled automatically with your blood with no messy needle marks and no chance of outside contamination."
With apprehension, Harry reached into his pocket and fingered his wand. He was positive he could disarm Malfoy in time. "Fine," he muttered. "Go ahead." He heard Malfoy mumble something under his breath and there was a slight tingling sensation in his left arm. Harry looked down, almost expecting to see a visible stream of blood flowing from his arm to the vial on the table. Instead, all he could see was the vial slowly filling up.
"All done!" Malfoy said briskly.
Harry had to admit that it was much quicker and cleaner than the normal methods of extracting blood, even though he'd never admit it to Malfoy. "How long will the tests take?"
"A day or two," Malfoy told him. "I'll be in touch with you once the results are in. You'll find out whether the baby's truly yours or not."
"I know it isn't mine!" Harry exclaimed but then he noticed the slight twitch at the corner of Malfoy's mouth.
"I was joking, Potter," Malfoy said in exasperation as they walked out of the lab.
Harry sighed inwardly as he stepped outside. He was putting a lot of his hope in people who had spent a lot of their lives hating him. He was beginning to wonder if it was a good idea.
Harry pushed his blankets off and stared up at the ceiling. It was unreasonably hot, even for late summer and he just couldn't seem to sleep. Sweat kept on beading up on his forehead and no matter how many times he wiped it away; he just kept on feeling hotter and hotter. He held up a hand to check if the cooling vents were still charmed: they were. Harry considered charming them to a lower temperature but couldn't be bothered getting up to grab his wand. He kept on seeing the image of Romilda in a puffy white dress, standing at the altar, cooing his name lovingly. He shuddered and rolled over. Closing his eyes, Harry tried to think about something peaceful but images of Romilda kept on dancing through his mind. He tried to focus on counting sheep or wands or Nargles, but Romilda kept on flitting into his line of vision, taunting him with her obviously pregnant stomach.
Opening his eyes, Harry stared at the ceiling. "Merlin help me if I have to marry that girl," he muttered.
He rolled over again and tucked his hand under his pillow. Closing his eyes again, Harry thought of winning the hearing, of not having to marry Romilda in her puffy white dress, and of being able to go back to his normal life again. His work was suffering because of this because Harry found himself having to leave early in order to go and see Snape and Malfoy. But once the hearing was over, once he proved that Romilda had played some sort of trick, then he would be able to concentrate on his work once more.
Slowly, Harry drifted off to sleep amid visions of being chased by girls in puffy white dresses.
Harry took a deep breath and then let it out again very slowly. Snape was strumming his fingers on the lab table and giving him an exasperated look. "So what were the results?" Harry asked. He couldn't seem to stop his leg bouncing, half from nerves and half from the huge amount of coffee he'd had recently to keep himself awake.
"It's your child," Snape told him flatly. "I just confirmed all the tests from St Mungo's."
"What?" Harry exclaimed. He would have shouted, but he was too tired to shout. He wasn't sure what he had been expecting from this, but he wasn't expecting Snape to simply agree with the St Mungo tests. "I just told you. It can't be mine. There must be some sort of mistake!"
Snape sneered. "I don't make mistakes. But since I anticipated that you would ask that, Draco also ran the tests independently. He came up with the same result."
"I'm afraid so, Potter," Malfoy said. "She's managed to fool the tests."
"Or, far more likely, you're just another father looking to run away from his obligations," Snape spat. "This entire exercise was a waste of my time. I expect the money for the last two days to appear in my account tomorrow."
Harry watched as Snape turned around, his cloak swirling around his feet. "No!" he snapped. "That's not it! You have to run more tests! You have to find out how she managed to fake the results!" He found himself stumbling forward and grabbing onto the sleeve of Snape's robes. "Please! There must be something?"
Snape whirled around, his gaze icy. "Remove your hand."
Harry yanked his hand backwards. "I didn't sleep with her," he said earnestly. "I don't sleep with women." There was a look of something that he couldn't identify in Snape's eyes and then it was gone.
"There was an anomaly."
Harry turned and stared at Malfoy.
"Severus," Malfoy said quietly. "Remember the anomaly?"
"It was well within the margin of error," Snape snapped but he was walking back towards the lab table. "The rest of the data was precise."
"What anomaly?" Harry demanded. This was finally beginning to sound promising. An anomaly in the data could be just what he needed to stop Romilda Vane's plan. "It could be how she faked the results."
Snape made a harrumphing noise. "It was one data point among thousands. It's meaningless. It doesn't mean that it isn't your child, Potter."
Harry took a deep breath. "You're trying to say that there was some uncertainty about the paternity?" he asked. He crossed his fingers behind his back. This was beginning to look better and better. Even the slightest uncertainty would be in his favour.
"There was something off about the telomere length," Malfoy explained. "One of the tests we did turned out an approximate age of somebody over the age of seventy."
That all sounded like gibberish to Harry. "But I'm only in my mid-twenties."
Snape rolled his eyes. "There is little point in explaining the finer aspects of potions and genetics to Potter. He won't understand. Suffice to say that every other test we performed came up with the correct telomere length."
Harry could feel himself deflating. He didn't really understand what the other two were saying, but it was sounding less and less like the kind of evidence he could shout out at the Wizengamot hearing. He wanted something that everybody could understand; something that was a clear indication that Romilda had faked everything and had somehow, magically, impregnated herself with Harry's child, with absolutely no involvement from Harry.
"There must have been a reason for the result," Malfoy said. "Severus, you know that I didn't screw up that test."
"Then why wasn't I able to replicate the result?" Snape asked flatly. "As I recall, you couldn't either. As you know, good science can be replicated."
Harry was surprised that Malfoy seemed to be on his side. Snape seemed to be convinced that he was lying and that he had impregnated Romilda; whereas Malfoy seemed to believe him. At least somebody was on his side, even though Harry suspected that Malfoy had some sort of ulterior motive. "She did something!" Harry said. "She must have. We just need to figure out what she did."
Snape just rolled his eyes but Malfoy slowly turned his head and looked thoughtful. "Or we need to approach this from a different angle."
"You're not an Auror," Snape said irritably. "You're a Potions master. Stop trying to be a detective."
Malfoy shrugged and looked at Harry. "We could prove that you didn't father the baby through the process of elimination."
Harry frowned. "What'd you mean? And why're you trying so hard to help me?"
"You are paying us quite well," Malfoy pointed out.
Harry suspected it was more than that. Snape's pointed comment about Malfoy not being an Auror seemed to be a sore point between them. Perhaps Malfoy wanted to be an Auror? "I guess," Harry said. "Anyway, continue."
"If we find out the exact date and time of conception, then if you have an alibi, you can't have fathered the child," Malfoy said a matter-of-factly.
Harry blinked. "You can do that?" He knew that it was possible to pinpoint how old a foetus was but he didn't know that it could be that precise.
"We can get it down to the minute," Malfoy said smugly. He then hesitated and bit his lip. "Well, we could if we had the proper ingredients."
"I'll pay you extra," Harry said immediately. Cost was no problem for him. He had plenty of money, both left over from his parents and from his salary. He barely spent any money usually so cutting into his savings wasn't an issue.
"Money isn't the problem," Snape said irritably. "As usual, you have failed to grasp the crux of the issue. The potion Draco is alluding to is a very complicate potion that needs months to brew owing to some very rare ingredients."
"One of the plants only grows in the light of the full moon," Malfoy admitted.
Harry could feel himself deflate again. "Well, that's useless," he muttered. He didn't want to be married to Romilda for any length of time. Wizarding divorce could be complicated at times and he doubted she would ever agree to divorce him. That meant he had to jump through a ridiculous number of hoops to get divorced and he didn't want to do that.
"Not necessarily," Malfoy said with a gleam in his eyes.
Harry wasn't sure he liked the expression on his face. "So you have a plan?"
"You could marry somebody," Malfoy pointed out.
Harry sighed. "Snape already told me that one. I don't have anybody to marry. I'm not going to marry one of my friends and I don't want to lead somebody on."
Malfoy snorted. "I wasn't thinking that you marry Weasley or anything like that. You could marry Severus."
"What?" Harry exploded. He shook his head. Did he hear Malfoy properly? Did the little git just suggest that he marry Severus Snape? Looking over, Harry could see an identical look of horror on Snape's face. "How is that a good plan?"
Malfoy looked smug. "It's a perfect plan."
"Nobody will believe it," Harry snapped. "Oh, and by the way, I'm not going to marry Snape!"
"As much as I hate to agree with Potter, I have to concur," Snape said icily. "That is the most idiotic thing you have ever said. I'm beginning to regret my decision to take you on as my potions partner."
Malfoy lifted his hand. "Look, hear me out." There was a smirk playing about his lips. "You're gay. Severus is gay."
Harry stared. Snape was gay? This was the first he'd heard of that. "So are plenty of other people," he pointed out. "Nobody's going to believe that I've somehow fallen in love with Snape. They're more likely to believe that I've fallen for Hermione or Ron!" Except neither of them wanted to go through this charade of marrying him, his mind added.
Malfoy shrugged. "Nobody has to believe it so long as they can't find any evidence to the contrary. If you two can go out a few times, pretend to be a happy couple, get married, then it solves Potter's problem."
"This is preposterous," Snape spat as he pushed his chair back and stood up. "This is not going to happen. Ever!" He fixed Malfoy with an intense look. "I expect that by the time I return, your sanity would have reasserted itself?" He stormed out of the room. Harry could hear footsteps echoing down the corridor and a door banging in the distance.
"He's right," Harry said. "I may be desperate but I'm not that desperate."
"You'd rather marry Romilda Vane?" Malfoy asked. He looked as though he was quite amused by the entire situation. "Look, Potter. I'm not saying that you have to fall deeply in love with Severus. I'm just saying that there's nobody better if you want to pull off this marriage charade. Severus is a brilliant actor."
Harry snorted. "Of course, I wouldn't. I'd just rather marry you than marry Snape."
Malfoy tilted his head to one side and, to Harry's horror, seemed to be considering his words. "Astoria will never agree to that," Malfoy finally said. "Too bad, because we need the money."
"And Snape will never agree to this mad plan either. Nor will I," Harry said emphatically.
"Then congratulations on your upcoming wedding to Romilda," Malfoy said with a bland smile. "I hope that you will be very happy together. I have no doubt that your children will be very pretty. I hear that one's on the way already."
"What's wrong with you?" Harry protested. "I'm sure you could come up with a better candidate than Snape! If I didn't know better, I would have thought you wanted me to marry him or something!"
"Hardly," Malfoy told him. "You were the one who said that you didn't want to marry some random person and lead them along. You simply continue to pay Severus during this charade and we'll prove that it isn't your child. You get a divorce and everybody's happy."
Harry stared. Malfoy's words were making some sort of bizarre sense, but that could just have been his lack of sleep. He rubbed his eyes and sighed. "I'd be better off paying some random person," he grumbled.
"You might," Malfoy conceded, "but how do you know they'll agree to divorce you after all of this is over?"
Harry had to admit that made sense as well. He didn't want to go through all of this and end up jumping through the same hoops to divorce the random person as he would have had to divorce Romilda. "Well, that's one positive aspect," he said. "Snape isn't going to want to stay married to me."
"That's the spirit," Malfoy said, amusement tinging his voice. "Now we have to convince him."
Harry lifted his hands up. "You can do that," he said. He wasn't entirely positive he was that convinced himself. This entire situation was feeling rather surreal. He suspected Malfoy was getting some sort of sick, sadistic fun out of all of this. Either that or Malfoy had been replaced by an alien. He squinted.
Malfoy raised an eyebrow. "Why do you have that funny look on your face?"
"I'm trying to figure out if you're from another planet," Harry said before he could stop himself. He resisted the urge to slap his forehead. He couldn't believe he said that out aloud.
"Go home, Potter," Malfoy advised. "Get some sleep."
That, Harry realised, was probably the most sensible advice Malfoy had ever given him.
Snape raised an eyebrow and sneered. "What did Draco do to convince you to go along with this inane plan?"
"Nothing," Harry protested. "I just can't think of a better plan." Well, he couldn't think of a better plan that didn't involve running away screaming. Over the past few days, he'd considered grabbing a Portkey across the pond and hiding in the US, but that really wasn't a viable option. China would also be nice at this time in the year, Harry mused silently.
"Well, can you come up with a better plan?" Harry challenged. "I don't like this one that much. I'd be happy to go along with your better plan!"
"It isn't my responsibility to come up with a plan," Snape said icily. His upper lip curled; the expression on his face made Harry want to take a couple of steps backwards. "This entire situation is your fault, Potter."
"But it isn't!" Harry protested. He didn't know how many times he had to insist this before Snape actually believed him. "How is it my fault that Romilda's crazy? I didn't ask for this. It's not like I walked up to her and asked that she magically impregnate herself with my child. I don't want to be married to her!"
"Calm down, Potter," Snape said, his tone unusually mild.
It seemed to have the opposite of the desired effect. Harry clenched his fists. "Don't tell me to calm down!" he snapped. "It's all very well for you to sit there and sneer and stare down your long nose at me, but you don't have a crazy woman after you."
Snape's eyes gleamed. "You haven't seen Bellatrix on her bad days."
Harry stared. Was that a joke? He didn't think he'd ever seen Snape make a joke before. In fact, he wasn't sure the man had a sense of humour. He blinked as what Snape had said finally sunk in. "You mean, I saw her on her good days?"
"The Vane family is related to the Black family," Snape told him. "A little more closely than the Vanes would like to admit."
"Not all the Blacks are crazy though," Harry insisted.
Snape raised an eyebrow. "Name one."
Harry hesitated. He wanted to say Sirius, but he was positive that Snape would have a thousand and one stories of Sirius's insanity. He didn't know anything about Andromeda. "Tonks," he finally said.
Snape smirked. "Her arrest record as an Auror is at least fifty percent longer than her peers. She's been cited over ten times for undue force. Try again."
Harry glared at Snape. "You're just trying to change the topic," he said as the realisation dawned upon him. Damn it, Snape was good at that. "Look, I'll pay you double what I'm paying you now."
"It isn't about the money," Snape said, his lips curled in distaste. "Has it slipped your mind that perhaps I do not wish to be married to you?"
"That's why this is perfect!" Harry insisted. "Look, if I married anybody else, it's possible they might want to stay married to me. If I marry you, we don't even need to see each other after you prove that Romilda's crazy. We'll just have a quiet divorce and then you'll never hear from me again."
"If you believe that the public is going to allow you to have a quiet marriage or divorce, then you're more deluded than I thought, Potter," Snape told him.
"You're changing the topic again," Harry snapped.
Snape gave him a penetrating look. "You're not going to abandon this suicidal plan, are you?"
"Not unless you can think of a better one," Harry said flatly. "Look, we can practice the whole being together thing until people believe us." He shuddered mentally at the idea of having to practice being in a relationship with Snape. Fortunately, he normally wasn't one for public displays of affection so at least it wouldn't look too suspicious if he never kissed Snape in public.
"I believe you'd be perfect for Romilda Vane," Snape told him. "You are both deluded dunderheads."
"So you'll do it?" Harry asked, crossing his fingers behind his back. He'd tried coaxing and begging; he was fast running out of options.
To his surprise, Snape inclined his head slightly.
"So that was a yes?" Harry couldn't believe his eyes. "It didn't look like some sort of twitch. I'm going to take it as a yes."
"Don't push your luck, Potter," Snape said wearily.
Harry could almost hear his heart pounding. It seemed to be thrumming at almost three times its normal pace and he could hear his breath coming harshly. He resisted the urge to look furtively around but instead tightened his grip on Snape's hand and forced a smile. It felt as though everybody was looking at them and judging them. It was as if everybody they passed looked them up and down.
"Perhaps you could loosen your grip?" Snape told him through gritted teeth. "And your smile looks as though somebody has stretched your mouth open with hooks."
Harry narrowed his eyes as he looked up at Snape. In his opinion, Snape's smile didn't look much better. In fact, even without a mirror to judge, he was almost positive that Snape's was worse. It looked rusty, as though Snape hadn't smiled in over ten years. Knowing Snape, he probably hadn't. "Work on your own smile first," he said, his voice a low hiss. "And come closer to me."
Almost mechanically, Snape moved closer.
Harry was beginning to regret this idea. They had decided that it would be sensible to go on a pretend date in the Muggle world as a test run to see if they could fool anybody. It was becoming blatantly obvious that they needed some practice. A lot of practice. "You could put your arm around me," he suggested, smiling up at Snape. "Think of happy things. Your expression's too sour."
"I'm not putting my arm around you, Potter," Snape snapped.
A couple of people walking past started at them with puzzled expressions. Harry could hear whispers of surprise. "Put your arm around me," Harry ordered.
Stiffly, Snape complied. "This was a ridiculous idea," he said. "We're not fooling anybody."
Harry looked up and studied Snape's smile as they walked. It was beginning to look better. It still didn't look entirely genuine, but it didn't look as though Snape was bored or murderous, which was a distinct improvement. "We just need more practice," Harry said, forcing himself to sound cheerful. "Now where shall we go for lunch?"
Snape surveyed the surroundings with distaste. "Nowhere here," he said. "I'm not having chips wrapped in newspapers and doused with vinegar."
"Then where would you want to go?" Harry looked up and smiled sweetly.
Snape shuddered. "Potter, stop doing that."
"What?" Harry said. "I'm merely smiling up at the man I love." The words tasted terrible in his mouth, but he persevered. If he was doing this, he might as well do this right. Hogwarts mightn't have had a drama class, but damn it, if Harry wasn't going to put on the performance of a lifetime for the Wizengamot.
"Stop saying that as well," Snape ordered, sounding weary.
"Oh you," Harry said, patting Snape on the shoulder in a way he had seen couples behave. "I think we're doing quite well."
"That's your opinion," Snape said icily. "I believe I've had enough of this."
Hermione's mouth fell open and her eyes widened. She blinked a few times before her face relaxed and she began to laugh. "Good one, Harry," she said. "You almost made me fall off my chair. You're lucky I didn't spill my tea!"
"It's not a joke," Harry said quickly before he lost the courage to go through with this insane plan. He had agreed with Snape that the fewer people who knew about their plan, the better. Harry had spent the last few days wracking his brain trying to think of something plausible to tell Ron and Hermione. At the end of it, he had just decided to blurt it out. "We're really getting married."
Hermione gave him a suspicious look. "Are you telling me the entire story?" she asked quietly, her words heavy with implication.
"We didn't want to tell you before," Harry said. He tried to keep a fond expression on his face. He and Snape had spent hours practicing their happy loving expressions in front of Malfoy the previous evening. Harry had been rather annoyed at the number of times Malfoy ended up clutching his stomach, laughing uproariously. "Severus wanted to keep it a secret."
"You don't say," Hermione said sounding non-committal.
"I finally ended up plucking the courage to ask him to marry me. We've only been dating for a few months and I never thought he'd say yes, but ... well..." Harry stared off into the distance with what he hoped was a misty-eyed expression.
"And this wouldn't have anything to do with Romilda Vane?"
"Well," Harry said, looking down at his coffee, "I'd be lying if I said it didn't."
"I knew it," Hermione muttered underneath her breath.
"But we were talking about moving in together in a few months," Harry added. "This whole Romilda thing just hurried along our plans a little."
She looked sceptical. "Are you sure you know what you're getting yourself into? Marriage isn't all that easy, you know."
Harry forced a happy smile. "I know, but Severus thinks we can make it and if he thinks that, then so do I. You know how he can be."
"Yes, I do," Hermione said sharply. "I also remember how alarmed you were when I suggested that you talk to him about helping you with the Romilda issue. I would have thought that if you were dating him at the time, you could have mentioned it."
Harry spread his hands. "Sorry, but Severus really wanted to keep it quiet. He knew how I felt about the whole being a celebrity thing and he didn't want to be hounded by the media for being with me. They've finally forgotten about his past, but if it was known about us... well... he'd be plastered all over the Prophet."
"I suppose," Hermione said, still sounding doubtful. "I hope you know what you're doing, Harry. I hope this won't end up coming back to haunt you."
"It won't," Harry said, injecting every last inch of earnestness he had into his tone of voice. "I love Severus. He loves me. We're going to be very happy together. The whole Romilda thing was just a catalyst. We would have come to this sooner or later."
"Uh huh," Hermione said. "A catalyst. Right."
Harry bit the inside of his cheek. He shouldn't have used the word catalyst. That was supposed to be one of Snape's words to describe their relationship. Although, he had to say that Snape had the easier end of the bargain. Snape didn't have any friends that he had to explain himself to. He didn't have to be questioned by Hermione. Still, Harry suspected that Hermione's grilling was going to be nothing compared to what Ron was going to say.
"You're doing WHAT?" Ron exclaimed, stepping back and almost knocking over a little girl. "Sorry," he said quickly as her mother gave him a glare and hustled her child away. "You're doing what?" Ron asked again, in a slightly lower tone of voice.
"Severus and I are getting married."
Ron looked around. "This has to be some sort of joke, right? Where are the cameras? Or maybe you're getting married to somebody other than Severus Snape. Please tell me that it's some other Snape?"
Harry took a deep breath. It was now or never. Ron had no idea about his Romilda problems so if he could convince Ron, he could convince anybody. Inwardly, Harry frowned. If this were real, then it would be likely that he would be angry right about now. "Ron," Harry said, trying to sound exasperated, "look, I know he was a bastard to you back when we were at Hogwarts, but he's changed. We're happy together."
"I don't believe you," Ron said flatly. "Hermione said that you were looking for a date just last week."
"She didn't know about us then," Harry snapped. "Nobody did! We've only been going out for a few months."
"And you're getting married so quickly?" Ron folded his arms across his chest and looked amused. "Look, Harry, it's a bit bloody late for April Fool's, isn't it?"
"It's not a joke!" Harry insisted. He tried to think of every other explanation he and Snape had come up with the previous night but his mind kept on drawing a blank. Ron was right. The whole idea of him dating Snape was completely and utterly preposterous. "Look, Severus didn't want us to tell anybody. He wanted to keep it secret."
"Severus didn't want you to tell anybody?" Ron repeated sounding incredulous. "What kind of relationship is that? Don't you get your own say?"
Dimly, at the back of his mind, Harry realised that Ron was beginning to believe him. He stared at Ron and tried to come up with an appropriate response. "What are you trying to say?" Harry asked slowly. "Are you trying to say that Severus controls me or something?"
Ron shrugged. "Well, can you think of any other explanation?" he asked. "I'm supposed to be your best friend. You should be telling me these things! But instead, all you do is just blurt out that you're getting married to your precious Severus."
"Look," Harry said, "I'm sorry." He really was. He wanted to grab Ron and tell him the truth that this was all an elaborate charade, but Snape was right. The fewer people that knew, the better. He didn't want to be brought in front of the Wizengamot under contempt charges for lying to them.
Ron stared at as though he didn't know Harry. "This isn't a joke, is it?" he said quietly. "You're really getting married to that Death Eater?"
Harry could feel a bubble of anger begin in his stomach. He thought Ron knew better. "He was on our side!" Harry exclaimed. "You know that. He did everything that Dumbledore asked of him."
Ron snorted. "I know you want to believe that."
"It's true!" Harry snapped. "You know it is."
Ron shrugged. "I thought I knew you," he said. "I thought that you would have told me about something like this. Regardless of what Severus wanted you to do." His words were mocking. "Friends tell each other things. Didn't I tell you when Hermione and I were having marriage troubles?"
"You did," Harry conceded. "That's not the point though!"
"I think it is," Ron said frostily.
Harry watched with alarm as Ron spun around and stalked away. He opened his mouth to call out but Ron disappeared into the crowd before he could say anything. Harry bit his lip. He couldn't have said anything anyway. Well, he couldn't have said anything to reassure Ron, in any case. He couldn't tell Ron the truth, and at this point, the lies weren't helping.
Harry took a deep breath. This wasn't how he wanted to get married. He wanted to be like his parents, to fall head-over-heels in love with somebody and for marriage to be a happily ever after, but he had no other choice. Looking up, he could see the Ministry official – a chap called Wimberley who was an old bearded wizard who looked remarkably like Dumbledore – peering over half-moon glasses at them. Harry pasted a tremulous smile on his face and hoped he looked both excited and anxious.
"Are you two sure you want to go through this civil ceremony?" Wimberley asked them.
Harry nodded. "I'm afraid that some of my friends ... disagree with this marriage." It wasn't a lie; Ron certainly disapproved vocally of the marriage. "We decided that a big wedding would only create more trouble than it was worth." He clutched Snape's hand and tried to look hopeful. "We love each other. That's all that matters."
"Well, of course," Wimberley said slowly. "Young love. Very important." He flipped through a few pages and then scratched his head, looking concerned. "Mr Potter and Mr Snape. You registered to get married only last week. This is most peculiar."
"We wanted to get married as quickly as possible," Snape said flatly. "We were told that this time slot was available."
"Yes, yes," Wimberley said. "Of course. You are positive you wish to get married?"
"Of course," Harry said quickly.
Wimberley gave him a penetrating look and then glanced up at the ceiling. "Young couples nowadays... they want to get married so quickly."
"I'm not that young, sir," Snape said acidly. "I ask you to please hurry this along."
Wimberley gave them a startled look as if they had just interrupted his afternoon nap. The resemblance to Dumbledore was painful. Harry snuck a look out of the corner of his eye and could see that Snape had his poker face on. "Certainly!" He clapped his hands together. "Come forth."
Harry took a deep breath and stepped forward. After a half-second pause, Snape did the same. They were about get married in front of this little old wizard. Harry looked down at his hands. The previous evening, Snape had given him a ring box and told him that that was the ring that he had to wear. Harry had a sneak peek into it. The ring was white gold with a single black onyx stone set in it. It looked very old and Harry hadn't dared to ask Snape whether it had been in his family for long.
"Civil ceremonies," Wimberley muttered. "Very well then. Sign here then." He pushed forward a long register of names.
Snape took the quill and scrawled his signature. He then handed the quill to Harry.
With trembling fingers, Harry signed his name.
"So we're married," Harry said faintly.
"You don't miss anything, do you?" Snape said but there was no venom to his voice. "I suppose the accepted practice right now would be to go out for dinner to celebrate."
Harry blinked. "You're asking me out for dinner?"
Snape's eyes gleamed. "I'm asking my husband out for dinner." In one swift motion, Harry found himself being led by the arm towards the restaurants of Hogsmeade. Harry wasn't sure what to say. Snape's hand felt hot on his elbow, even through his robes and the look in Snape's eyes made him shiver. "After all," Snape continued smoothly, "I am given to understand that this is a happy occasion." His eyes glittered as he looked down at Harry.
Harry gulped. "Certainly," he managed to get out with a smile. "A very happy occasion." He couldn't understand why Snape was giving him that look and why his body seemed to be reacting to it. It was ridiculous. He didn't like Snape that way. Sure Snape was tall and imposing but he also had greasy hair and a manner that put off all but the most masochistic of people. But then, why couldn't he seem to look away?
Snape steered them into a restaurant and without letting go of Harry's elbow, he managed to get them seated. A few of the other restaurant patrons gave them strange looks.
"Well," Harry said awkwardly, ignoring the pounding of his heart, "this is a nice place. Have you been here before?"
"No," Snape said shortly. "But I'm given to understand that the food is nice."
"Oh. Good." Harry wasn't sure what else to say.
Snape's eyes glittered. "Of course, given that tonight's our honeymoon, I don't expect that you'd remember the food."
Harry blinked. Was Snape flirting with him? If he was, then it was working. Harry squirmed slightly in his chair. "Let's order some food."
"Yes," Snape said his manner suddenly business-like again. "We wouldn't want the great Harry Potter fainting in Hogsmeade."
Harry snorted but privately, he was glad that the tension in the air had dissipated. For a moment there, he had been feeling like they were on a real date, which was ridiculous. This was Snape. He didn't like Snape that way and Snape definitely didn't like him. "The steak looks nice," he said blandly, looking at the menu.
Snape was studying his own menu with an intensity that bothered Harry. It was just a menu, for Merlin's sake, not a life and death decision.
"D'you want steak as well?" he asked.
"I would prefer the seafood," Snape said, with a slight curl of his lip.
Harry shrugged. "Suit yourself." He lifted his arm to flag down a waiter who came rushing over, his quill poised over his parchment. "I'll have the steak, medium rare. And he'll have ..."
The waiter nodded and hurried away.
Harry resisted the urge to raise an eyebrow. He had no idea that Snape liked that kind of thing. Then again, he knew very little about the other man. Silently, he vowed to remedy that. If they were going to pull this off, then they needed to get to know each other a lot better. Back when Hermione and Ron were married, they knew everything about each other, down to their favourite colours and the way each other liked to be woken up in the morning. He looked up from the table and could see Snape studying him intently. "What?" Harry asked. "Do I have something on my face?"
"No," Snape said shortly.
Harry was about to open his mouth to say something else but then realised he had nothing else to say. He was suddenly acutely aware of everybody else around them. They couldn't give anything away. "So..." Harry began. "How was your day?"
Snape gave him a scathing look. "Was that small talk, Potter?"
"So what if it is?" Harry asked.
"Terrible," Snape said snidely. "I'm getting married soon."
Harry sighed mentally. He probably could have predicted that answer. It was too much to hope for to actually have a real conversation with Snape that didn't involve insults. "Well congratulations," Harry said sarcastically after a pause.
Snape gave him a strange look.
Great, Harry thought. Snape probably thought he was crazy now. He turned around and was glad to see their waiter coming towards them with plates laden with food balanced precariously on his arms. There was something to be said for wizarding service. It was definitely a lot faster than Muggle service at restaurants. "That looks great!" Harry said as the waiter began to set the plates on the table. Snape just glowered.
"Enjoy!" the waiter said, directing his comment towards Harry while Snape rolled his eyes.
Harry grabbed a knife and began to hack away at the steak. It was a lot tougher than what he was used to and he regretted not telling them to go light on the cooking. It was overdone. Snape was silent as he picked fastidiously at his lobster. As Harry chewed, he couldn't help but surreptitiously stare around at the other restaurant patrons. All of them seemed to be talking happily but he couldn't seem to think of a single thing to say to Snape.
"Is that good?" Harry finally managed to say in between mouthfuls. He knew he was eating far too quickly, but he tended to do that when he had nothing to say.
"Passable," Snape told him.
"Can I have some?" Harry asked but Snape just stared at him as if he had grown three extra heads in the last minute. Harry was rather disappointed. The lobster looked much nicer than his burnt steak.
There was another long an awkward pause before Snape opened his mouth. "How's your food?" Snape asked him.
Harry almost fell out of his chair in surprise. "Not very nice," Harry admitted. He speared a piece of steak with his knife and stared at it. "I hope yours is nicer."
Snape nodded. "I have heard bad reviews about this," he said abruptly.
"Oh?" Harry asked, but Snape seemed to have exhausted his ability at conversation. Harry considered trying to continue the conversation but came to the conclusion that it was too hard. He never liked forcing conversations. In any case, Harry looked down at his plate and realised he didn't want to finish what was left. "I think I'll just leave this," he said.
Snape raised an eyebrow but didn't say anything.
Harry fiddled with his napkin as he watched Snape eat slowly. The man was a rather finicky eater who ate very slowly. It was maddening watching him taking small bites when all Harry wanted to do was get out of the restaurant. He kept on feeling like everybody was watching them.
Finally, after what seemed like a lifetime, Snape put his cutlery down.
"Finished?" Harry asked, after what he hoped was an appropriate pause.
Snape smirked and Harry suddenly had the impression that he had been deliberately eating slowly to annoy him. "Shall we go?"
"Sure," Harry said quickly as he jumped out. He dropped several Galleons on the table for the meal and watched as Snape did the same. "Well, then," Harry said as they left the restaurant, "I hope you had a nice meal?"
"Very nice," Snape agreed acidly. "You've said that several times now."
He had? Harry blinked. He didn't think it had been more than twice. "Sorry," he said softly. "I wasn't sure about what else to say."
Snape simply walked on silently. It was with consternation that Harry realised that they were walking towards his apartment. "Look," he said quickly, looking around to see if anybody was watching, "you don't need to walk me home or anything. I'll see you tomorrow."
Snape's upper lip quirked. "For our daily attempt at fooling the wizarding public."
Harry looked around again but there was nobody there. "Yes, that," he said. Suddenly Harry felt awkward. It was a lovely summer evening and in the distance, he could see couples strolling about hand-in-hand. They should have been pretending to be like those couples, but suddenly he just felt tired. "Well, see you," he said.
Harry was about to turn away when Snape suddenly caught hold of his arm in a vice grip. Harry caught his breath as Snape pulled him in. Snape's eyes were glittering with something that Harry couldn't identify. Was Snape about to kiss him? He wasn't sure whether he was looking forward to that or not? Snape's breath was warm against his face as he spoke. "Remember, Potter," he said softly. "You were the one who wanted this." His lips brushed Harry's face very lightly.
And then Snape was gone, his black cloak swirling around him, leaving Harry staring after him, confused and half-aroused. What in Merlin's name had Snape meant by that? Harry lifted his hand to touch his cheek. Had he just imagined the kiss? Why on earth would Snape kiss him? Sure, Malfoy had said that he was gay, but that didn't mean that Snape would somehow be attracted to him. Yet Harry could still hear the hammering of his own heart.
With shock, Harry realised that regardless of Snape's feelings, he was definitely attracted to Snape.
Harry held his breath. This was it. It was the moment he had been dreading for the past few weeks. The Wizengamot hearing. He could see Romilda sitting at the other table, holding a handkerchief and using it to dab at her eyes. She was looking decidedly pregnant. Hermione leaned over and patted his hand. "Don't worry, Harry," she said softly. "I triple-checked. The courts cannot make you marry Romilda."
Still, Harry had a knot in his stomach as the severe-looking middle-aged woman stood up to deliver the verdict. "Mr Potter, please stand."
Harry stood up and fought not to wipe his sweaty hands on his robes. He didn't think looking nervous would make the right impression. "Your honour," he said.
The judge gave him a stern look. "Mr Potter, it is this court's belief that you have married Mr Snape in order to subvert the court's justice. However, we cannot prove or disprove this supposition."
Harry gulped. He looked around and could see Snape sitting in the courtroom. Undoubtedly he was there in an attempt to look like the supportive and loving husband. "Your honour," Harry said, "I love Severus..."
"Spare me," the judge said dismissively. "This court cannot order a ruling that would bring about an act of bigamy. Therefore, we find that Mr Potter need not marry Miss Vane; however, he must pay child support fees for her child of no less than twenty galleons a month."
Harry barely heard the exorbitant child support fees. A huge smile spread over his face as he leaned over to hug Hermione. "Thank Merlin," he whispered into her ear. She grinned back. Harry looked around and beamed at Snape as well who looked startled before giving him a very small smile in return. "Your honour, thank you for this finding," Harry said quickly.
The judge snorted. "You were lucky, Mr Potter."
Tears poured down Romilda's face as she clutched at Harry's robes. Wrinkling his nose, Harry tried to yank his arm away but her grip was as tight as a Lethifold. He tried to edge her away to a more private place than right outside the hearing room, but she wouldn't move. "H-Harry," she said through hiccupping sobs. Her voice sounded nasal and as Harry watched, her nose began to run. "H-h-how c-could you do this to me? How could you do this to our child?" Her voice ended on a wail.
Harry couldn't help but notice that her nose was bright red. Some women could look good while crying. He hadn't met any personally, but he'd heard from friends that their wives managed to look beautiful even when sobbing their hearts out. Romilda definitely wasn't one of them. The veins in her neck stuck out, her hair was plastered flat on her head, and her cheeks seemed to bulge. "I never had sex with you," he snapped. "It's not our child."
"The court says it is. St Mungo's says it is!" Romilda burst out. "Why won't you admit it?"
"Because it isn't true," Harry exclaimed. He didn't know how to make it more clear to her, except perhaps to draw her a picture. "I haven't seen you in years. The first time I've seen you after Hogwarts was two months ago when you just showed up at my doorstep declaring that you were pregnant."
Romilda gently patted her obviously pregnant belly. "I am, and she's yours. The doctors at St Mungo's gave me a picture." She reached into a folder and pulled out a black and white image of something moving and tried to hand it to him.
Harry cringed. He really didn't want to know more about this baby than what was absolutely necessary. "I'm not the father! I'm gay and I'm married."
"You didn't look that married to me when I saw you two months ago," Romilda said nastily. "Where was your so-called husband then?"
"We were engaged back then," Harry said flatly. He and Snape had come up with this story and Snape had made him rehearse it enough times for it to sound natural. Snape had even come up with some inconsistencies in both of their accounts to make it sound less faked. "Look, we wanted to keep it private, which is why we didn't tell anybody. But we are married now."
"I k-know!" Romilda said with a whimper. "You just did that so you wouldn't marry me. I know you did."
Harry shifted uncomfortably. "I married Severus because I love him." That particular phrase had taken him over two hours of rehearsal to say properly. The words kept on sticking in his throat. Declarations of love didn't come easily to him and false declarations were even harder.
Romilda's piercing gaze made Harry fidget. "But I-I love you."
"I don't love you," Harry said, trying not to audibly grit his teeth. "It's not my baby. I don't care what the tests say."
"The tests are over 99.99% accurate," Romilda told him. "It's your baby. You're abandoning us." She rubbed her stomach and sniffled loudly. "You told me that night was the most wonderful of your life." Her eyes took on a misty glaze. "You said that you'd never been that happy. You were so manly when you entered me."
Harry looked quickly around and could see the shocked expressions of most of the onlookers. Those he could stand. Other people looked almost intrigued by the idea. "That never happened, Romilda."
"You were so hard, so big," Romilda breathed out, her hand slowly rubbing circles around her stomach. "I cried afterwards and I knew almost immediately that you'd started a miracle inside of me."
Harry couldn't help but think that she'd gotten a lot crazier since Hogwarts. "You're deluded," he snapped as he began to walk away. "This conversation is over." Hermione had told him to be nice to Romilda while in the public eye, but he simply couldn't stand it anymore. The woman was certifiable! Because of her, he was now officially married to Snape. Harry suppressed a shudder. He never thought that would have seemed like the better of two options.
"You're going to still pay child support, Harry!" Romilda called after him. "And you'll want to see your daughter!"
Harry just kept on walking. He knew about the child support and planned on paying it until Snape and Malfoy managed to prove that it wasn't his child. At the back of his mind, Harry could feel a flutter of sympathy for the child. It wasn't the baby's fault. It wasn't as though Harry couldn't afford child support; it was just that he suspected that it was yet another ruse for Romilda to stay in contact with him. He definitely didn't want that.
As he left the building, he could still hear her cries behind him.
Malfoy looked smug. "I told you it would work."
Harry rolled his eyes. The expression didn't irritate him as much as he thought it would. He was getting used to Malfoy. He was never going to be a good friend, but at least Harry found he could talk to Malfoy. Whenever he tried to strike up a normal conversation with Snape, the other man insulted him. It was beginning to get old. "Don't gloat, Malfoy. It's unbecoming." He still couldn't believe they'd pulled it off and best of all, he hadn't seen or heard from Romilda since the hearing, which was over a month ago. He had been surprised when he'd heard from Malfoy that morning. "So any progress?"
"We're in the final processes of brewing the potion," Malfoy said. "It was a lot faster than we thought."
"Let's just hope I have an alibi for the date and time," Harry said with a sigh. It wasn't as though his social life had been bustling over the last few years. It had struck him that it was possible that this entire exercise could have been futile if he didn't have an alibi.
Malfoy rolled his eyes. "Stop being so negative, Potter," he chastised. "Least you're not married to her."
"But I am married to Severus," Harry pointed out.
Malfoy gave him a funny look. "You said Severus," he said slowly.
"I know!" Harry said as he let out another long sigh. "I need to say it all the time or I'll forget. I was with Hermione a few days ago and I accidentally said Snape. She looked rather suspicious."
"You should really appear in public more often with Severus," Malfoy said. "They're beginning to call you a very reclusive couple."
Harry shrugged. "I haven't got a problem with that." In fact, it suited him a lot. He didn't want to go out with Snape more often than he had to. If they were called reclusive, then so be it. It was awkward being out with Snape. They'd given up on the whole handholding exercise after Harry realised that he never held hands with people he dated. Besides, Snape looked very uncomfortable whenever Harry touched him.
"You have to seem like a couple," Malfoy told him. "I mean, what if you don't end up with an alibi?"
Harry shuddered. "Don't say that!"
"I'm serious," Malfoy told him. "Go out. Act like a couple."
Harry stared. Malfoy was being awfully pushy about this. "If I didn't know better, I would have thought you were trying to set us up or something." He laughed. "But that's a ridiculous idea."
Half a second later, Malfoy laughed as well and rolled his eyes. "You wish, Potter."
Snape's expression was tight. "I think that we can go without meeting each other's friends," he said, his voice deceptively calm.
Harry suspected that Snape knew that he had chosen a very public location to bring this up because Snape would have outright refused if they had been in private. "But Hermione wants to meet you," he said with false cheer. "Look, she's sitting right over there."
Snape slowed down almost to a halt. "We're not doing this, Potter," he said, almost inaudibly.
"She's going to be suspicious otherwise," Harry said, in an equally soft tone. "In fact, she's already suspicious. Look, it's just coffee and maybe cake."
"I don't do cake," Snape told him.
Harry stared. Who didn't do cake? "Well, you can have coffee then. Or scones. Or tea. Or whatever you want. But we've been dating for three months. Heck, we've gotten married. Hermione wants to meet you." He gave Snape a meaningful look.
"She's met me already," Snape said acerbically.
Harry rolled his eyes. He couldn't help but glance around at the people around them to see if any of them found this exchange strange, but nobody seemed to be paying them any notice. In fact, other than the couple of articles on them when they had first got married, a few dozen congratulatory letter, the odd Howler or two, the wizarding world seemed to be ignoring them. Harry found it decidedly odd. He had expected an uproar, but instead, there was little more than a few whispers. "Come on," he said and grabbed Snape's hand, dragging him towards the cafe.
Hermione waved at them.
"Smile," Harry told Snape as they neared. "No, not like that. Less scary." Mentally, Harry crossed his fingers. This had better go well. Out of everybody he knew, Hermione was most likely to realise the truth.
"Harry!" Hermione exclaimed happily. She then turned her gaze towards Snape. "Uh..."
"Please," Snape said smoothly, holding out his hand. "Call me Severus."
Hermione's mouth made an 'o' of surprise. "Well, Severus then," she said, sounding slightly uncomfortable. "I only have a few minutes." She shot Harry an apologetic look, but inside he was dancing a gleeful jig. "I'm afraid I just got handed a new case at work and I need to get back to it."
"No problem!" Harry said. "I guess no tea then?"
"I've had too much already, but if you two want to go ahead."
"I'm okay," Harry said. "Severus?"
Snape gave him a look of mock surprise. "You're not drinking coffee?"
Harry glared at him. "Play nice," he snapped automatically before he realised that Hermione was there. "I don't have that much coffee."
Snape simply raised an eyebrow.
"Well, congratulations," Hermione said after an awkward silence. "I have to admit, I was surprised."
"Well, everybody was," Harry admitted. "We didn't really tell anybody."
"No, you didn't," Hermione agreed. "But it's understandable. I know how private you like to be, Harry."
Harry nodded. He was racking his mind for something to say when Hermione glanced at her watch.
"I'm so sorry, but I'm going to have to run," she said. "We really should meet up again." She looked over at Snape. "I'd like to get to know you."
"Likewise," Snape said politely.
Harry let go a mental sigh of relief as he watch Hermione hurry off into the crowd of people. "Well, that went better than expected," he said. "Should we get coffee now?"
Snape snorted. "It was only two minutes."
"Yes, well, nobody yelled and nobody cried. I consider it a success," Harry said adamantly.
Harry was feeling rather out-of-sorts. He'd just had another fake dinner date with Snape and it had gone rather well. That was the problem. He wasn't expecting them to go well. In fact, he was expecting that they would have nothing to talk about. Instead, Snape seemed to even be getting along with Hermione. They had ended up having dinner together with her a few nights before and it had gone smoothly. Harry harrumphed. He wasn't sure what he thought about that.
He grabbed his keys out of his pocket and unlocked the door. He was pushing open the door to his flat when he suddenly felt the hardness of cool wood pressed against the back of his neck. He could feel his mouth go dry and his heart start pounding. "Who's there?" Harry asked, his voice soft as he reached down and felt for his wand.
His attacker grabbed the wand before he could take it and reached past him to wrench open the door. "Inside!"
As Harry stepped forward, he could suddenly smell violets. "Romilda!" he exclaimed. "What are you doing here?" He spun around to look at her.
Romilda twirled her wand and stuck Harry's wand in her belt. "Inside, Harry. I don't want to have to ask again."
Harry walked inside. He could hear her shut the door behind him. "Can I turn around now?" he asked softly, not wanting to anger her. He didn't want to know how crazy she could turn if she was angry.
"Of course, Harry. I want you to see me."
Turning around, Harry stared at her. She gave him a simpering smile before suddenly, drawing herself up and looking down her nose at Harry, still twirling her wand in her fingers. She looked very different; there was a nasty gleam in her eyes. "You should have just married me," she said, her voice a low hiss. "I could have made you very happy. But now you've left me no choice."
Harry took a step backwards. He could hear his heart hammering in his ears as he tried to use his hands surreptitiously to search for something to disable her with. He could have kicked himself that he had let her take his wand. He tried to concentrate on making her fly across the room, but somehow she didn't move. "How'd you do it?" he asked. It had been niggling at the back of his mind for months. Even though Snape had managed to prove the exact moment of conception of the child and how Harry most definitely had been nowhere near Romilda at the time, Harry still wanted to know how Romilda had managed to almost pull it off.
Romilda laughed. "Wouldn't you like to know?" She stroked her stomach.
"I'm sure it was a very clever way," Harry coaxed. He injected as much sugar and honey into his voice as possible as he gazed deep into her eyes. "Even Severus couldn't figure it out."
She sneered. "You don't need to keep up that Severus pretence any more. I know all about your little deal."
Harry almost stopped breathing. "What deal?" he said after a brief pause, thankful that his voice was still even.
Romilda snorted. "You made it difficult to trace, but I still managed it. You'd be surprised what money can buy these days. You paid him for this entire endeavour. I can't believe you managed to fool the courts. Harry Potter and Severus Snape. It's ridiculous!"
"Not any more ridiculous than you being married to me," Harry snapped. "In fact, given the choice, I'd rather be married to Snape!" With a shock, Harry realised that it was true. He really would rather be married to Snape than to a harpy like Romilda. He'd seen quite a lot of Snape over the past few months, and the man wasn't that bad. And ... Harry tried not to think about what had happened a few nights before. It was a marriage of convenience. They were going to stay married for a few more months – with Harry continuing to pay Snape for it – and then it was going to come to an abrupt end. Harry could go on with his life no worse for wear.
Romilda looked as though somebody had hit her with a stack of books. "You'd rather be married to a former Death Eater?" she said, her voice shaking. Harry considered pointing out the hypocrisy of her words out to her, but suspected she wouldn't get it. "You'd rather be married to a man too stupid to realise that I used one of the oldest wizarding rites to have this child?" Romilda swung her arms around. "You don't get it. I didn't expect you to though. You're just a half-blood."
Harry gritted his teeth. He had his doubts about it being an old wizarding rite. It sounded very much like dark magic to him. It was probably some sort of weird dark spell that had been lost in the ages. "What didn't I get?" he asked softly.
"Beltane, Harry," Romilda said, her eyes shining. "The night of bonfires. The night where the veil between worlds is thin."
Involuntarily, Harry thought of Sirius and his stomach twisted. "The veil between worlds?"
Romilda sighed. "You're such a Muggle, Harry. When we're married, I'm going to have to educate you on wizarding customs."
Harry realised that she seemed to have forgotten already that they weren't going to get married. Her grasp on reality was more tenuous than he first thought. "Educate me now."
"Witches are more fertile on Beltane," Romilda said as though it explained everything.
Harry stared. It explained nothing for him. "So you found a wizard..."
"No, no, no!" Romilda burst out. "Don't you understand anything? I didn't need a wizard! All I needed to do was open myself up to the magic of Beltane. I could feel the forces of the very earth flowing through me. I just called upon your spirit to impregnate me."
"You what?" Harry spluttered. It was all sounding very implausible to him. He'd heard of Beltane before, but he didn't really know much about it.
Romilda looked dreamy. "It's an arcane rite. It allowed me to call up your spirit from the dead."
"My spirit? From the dead?" Harry couldn't help repeating the words incredulously. "How the fuck did you do that? I'm alive!"
Romilda giggled. "It was my brightest moment when I realised that you're forever linked with You-Know-Who." Harry stared at her in shock. "No, he's not alive," she added. "In fact, he couldn't be deader, and that's precisely why I could call your spirit from the dead. You two are linked." She clasped her hands together. "It's romantic, really."
Harry could think of many words to describe it. Romantic wasn't one of them. "So let me get this straight," he said slowly. "You called some bit of my spirit that's linked with Voldemort and used that to get yourself... like that."
She nodded, smiling brightly. "Isn't it wonderful?"
Frankly, the notion terrified Harry. It meant that some other nutter out there could call his spirit up from some nether realm and get pregnant too. He had hoped that Voldemort was out of his life forever, and since Hogwarts, that wish had been granted. "Why?" Harry asked. "Why'd you do this whole thing?"
Romilda looked at him with wide eyes. "Because I love you," she said simply. "I want to spend the rest of my life with you, Harry." Then suddenly, her face changed and her expression twisted. "But now you've ruined everything."
Harry took another step backwards and his hands came into contact with his wooden desk. Desperately he felt around for something, a letter opener, a wand, some sort of nail file, but there was nothing. Not even a piece of paper he could hope to throw at her to distract her. With dismay, Harry remembered that he had cleared his desk of everything the previous night.
"I wouldn't try that," Romilda said, raising her wand.
"You can't kill me," Harry said quickly. "The Ministry will find out. You'll be sent to Azkaban."
"I'm not going to kill you," Romilda said, sounding shocked. She pulled a bottle out of her pocket that was filled to the brim with some sort of clear liquid. "You're going to drink this and then you're going to divorce Snape. This is our happily ever after." She tapped the bottle with her wand."
Harry narrowed his eyes. "I thought you'd learned your lesson with love potions."
Romilda giggled again. "This isn't a love potion. It's a memory potion. Once you drink this, you'll remember how much you love me. You'll remember that you made a terrible mistake cheating on me with Snape. And you'll want to spend the rest of your life making it up to me."
"That sounds worse," Harry said faintly. He concentrated on the bottle in her fingers, but it didn't move one inch.
"And before you think of using wandless magic," Romilda said, "I've warded your entire house against it."
Great, Harry thought. "I'm not going to drink that," he said. "You can't make me."
"Oh, but I can," Romilda said, sounding cheerful. "You're showing your Muggle roots again, Harry. We have magic. I can just make this bottle pour itself down your throat but I'd really prefer that you drink it yourself."
Harry gulped. "There's no way you're ever going to get me to drink that voluntarily," he said defiantly. "Look, I've stood up to Voldemort before and you're no Voldemort."
"Oh bravo," Romilda said with a giggle. "I do like bravery."
Harry watched as she took another step closer. Her eyes were glittering like hard jewels and her mouth was curved up in a crooked grin. As Harry watched, he thought he could see something out of the corner of his eye. It took all his effort not to turn his head to look at the door. He kept his gaze focused on Romilda. "You're insane," he said flatly.
Romilda shook her head slowly. "You're being mean, Harry." Her face brightened as she held up the bottle. "You won't be mean anymore after you drink this."
"In your dreams," Harry snapped as he watched the door open silently. Snape stepped through, his wand in front of him. Harry could feel a wave of relief fall through him at the sight. He could have taken Romilda. Harry knew he could have; it's just he didn't want to have to hit a woman.
The expression on Snape's face was almost that of worry as he stepped forward. But Harry had no time to think about that as Snape almost immediately shouted, "Stupefy!"
Romilda had a look of surprise on her face as she crumpled to the floor.
Snape walked over and knelt next to the body. Coils of rope emerged from the end of his wand and wrapped themselves around her arms and legs. "You're an idiot, Potter," he snapped as he tied the ends of the ropes. "Letting her attack you like that in your own flat. Why didn't you have wards up?"
Harry narrowed his eyes, his gratefulness vanishing immediately. At the back of his mind, a niggling voice agreed with Snape but he ignored it. "I didn't need your help."
"If I hadn't come just then, you'd be a zombie thinking that you were blissfully happy married to Romilda," Snape said, his voice a low hiss. "Is that what you wanted, Potter?"
"Of course not!" Harry exclaimed. "It's just... I could have disarmed her."
Snape rolled his eyes. "Obviously. You were doing so well before I came."
"And what are you doing here anyway?" Harry demanded. He was positive that he'd never given Snape his address.
"You're changing the topic," Snape said flatly. He stood up and surveyed the scene. "I trust you are capable of calling the Aurors on your own." Without another word, he turned on his heel and walked out of the flat.
Harry just stared. That had been decidedly odd, he thought. Not only did Snape not answer his question, he had come in so quickly as well. It was almost as though Snape had been anticipating such an attack. And the look on Snape's face just before he had shot the spell at Romilda was oddly protective. Harry shook his head. He was just imagining it. There was no way Snape would be feeling any sort of protective type emotions towards him.
He looked down at Romilda's body on his carpet. Now that they knew how Romilda had done it, the telomeres made sense. Harry was positive they could easily prove it now. In any case, Snape would be able to testify that Romilda had tried to attack him.
It was finally over.
Harry was almost surprised when his life went back to normal. He expected it to take months for his life to settle back into its usual pattern, but instead it barely took days. He went back to his usual routine at work and ended up working late to make up for all the time he'd missed. It was easy to do, except for the slight niggling feeling he had at times that something was missing. But Harry just ignored it and continued filling out all the necessary paperwork he had been behind on.
Harry fiddled with his quill as he pondered over a particular tricky part when he heard a cough. He looked up to see his boss peering over the side of his cubical. "Congratulations!" his boss said cheerfully with a grin. His boss was always a happy man, but today, he looked especially pleased.
Harry looked up and blinked a few times. "Hmm?"
"Your marriage. I didn't have a chance to say congrats before," his boss said by way of explanation. "I have to say, I was surprised. I always thought you hated Severus Snape, but here you go, proving me wrong. He was a good asset during the war. I always thought that."
"Um, thanks," Harry said.
His boss stared at him. "You don't sound too happy."
"No, no!" Harry exclaimed quickly. He picked up the paperwork and waved it in the air. "It's just this. I've just been concentrating really hard."
His boss grinned at him. "Well, don't work too hard!" He leaned over and clapped Harry on the back. "You need to have energy to get back to your husband at night."
Harry gave a faint smile as he watched his boss walk away. It was odd, he thought. He should have been happy. Everything had gone right. Romilda was currently on trial for what she did, and he had agreed with Snape to start divorce proceedings in a few months. A lot of marriages ended after half a year. It wouldn't look suspicious. He really should have been ecstatic. He had his life back but somehow, Harry found himself thinking the daily meetings he used to have with Snape. They had some odd but interesting conversations. Plus, there were the sideways glances Snape used to give him.
Did he miss Snape? Harry dropped his quill in shock. He couldn't. It was ridiculous. But he couldn't seem to escape the inevitable conclusion.
Harry watched as Hermione fiddled with her spoon. It clinked against the side of her teacup as she dumped several teaspoons of sugar into her tea. "Don't you usually not have sugar?" he asked with a frown. She looked very distracted.
Hermione looked down at her cup and wrinkled her nose. "Yeah," she admitted.
"Anything on your mind?" Harry asked, concerned. The last time she'd been like this was when she was getting divorced. "Anything to do with Ron?"
"Hmm? No," Hermione said. "Actually, I'm getting along quite well with Ron. Much better than when we were married." She hesitated and bit her bottom lip. "Actually, I was wondering about you and Severus? How are you guys doing?"
Harry could feel himself freeze. He knew that somebody was going to ask him about Snape sooner or later, but he expected it later rather than sooner. He hadn't seen Snape for almost a week since the Wizengamot had sent Romilda away to St Mungo's to be evaluated. It was strange not having to talk about him like they were a loving couple. "We're fine," he said.
"Are you sure?" Hermione said, sounding concerned. "You're usually so chatty about what you two have got up to and how much you love each other." She laughed lightly. "You know, at first, I thought it was a big charade, but you really do make a good couple. You were adorable together when we had coffee a few weeks back."
Harry blinked. "We were?" he asked before he could stop himself.
"Well, yes," Hermione said. She looked down. "I have to admit I miss that. Ron and I were like that when we first got together."
Harry's mind was still reeling at the idea that he could look adorable together with Snape. He had thought that they barely managed to fool Hermione, but apparently they had fooled her completely. He had to admit that he did almost have fun with Snape at times. If he was feeling really morose, Harry had to admit that he missed Snape. A shiver slid down his spine when he remembered the look in Snape's eyes when they went out to dinner just after they had got married. He could have sworn that Snape had wanted to kiss him. Properly. On the lips.
"Are you having problems?"
Harry looked up from his reverie. "No, of course not," he said quickly. Too quickly.
Hermione gave him an understanding look. "Talk it out," she advised. "Every couple has problems. You did rush into the marriage, but it doesn't mean it won't work out."
Harry stared. He couldn't believe Hermione seemed to be giving him advice about his fake marriage. It was so surreal. "We're fine, I swear."
"Uh huh," Hermione said. She leaned over and patted him on the hand. "Well, you know I'm always here to talk if you want."
"You know guys don't talk about their feelings," Harry teased with a grin.
Hermione just rolled her eyes. "Go and talk to him."
Harry took a deep breath as he knocked on Snape's door. He was surprised when Snape answered at the second knock. "I just came to ..." Harry stopped. He wasn't really sure why he was here other than the face he wanted to talk to Snape. They still needed to discuss where they stood with their relationship, well, fake relationship, Harry admitted. He looked up and sniffed the air. Had Snape been drinking?
"What're you sniffing at?" Snape asked irritably as he stepped aside. "Look, Potter, whatever you're here for. It's not a good time."
"I just wanted to talk," Harry said as he walked through the door. He could have kicked himself for sounding so lame.
"You just wanted to talk?" Snape repeated, raising an eyebrow as he shut the door. "Perhaps you could have gone to Weasley or Granger for that?"
Harry peered up at Snape's slightly bloodshot eyes. Now that he was closer, the smell of alcohol was stronger. "I didn't want to talk to them." Harry hesitated. "Have you been drinking?"
Snape's eyes narrowed. "That's none of your business, Potter."
"Well, no," Harry admitted. "But it smells like you've been drinking a lot."
He didn't expect Snape to swoop down on him like an overgrown bat. Harry gasped as Snape pressed him up against the wall of his hallway. "And who might you be to comment on my drinking habits?" Snape asked silkily. "As I recall, this marriage of ours is a farce. It doesn't give you the right to come here and demand to know why I've been drinking."
"I didn't mean anything by it," Harry protested. He shivered at how close Snape was. It reminded him of the night they had gone out to dinner, ostensibly to celebrate their marriage. There was a strange look in Snape's eyes and if Harry didn't know better, he would have thought that their current position was erotic.
"You don't think very much do you?" Snape said flatly. He released Harry's hands and stepped backwards. "Look Potter, I don't want to talk to you. So leave before..."
"Before what?" Harry asked. He felt himself take a step forward, almost as though he was moving on auto-pilot. He could see Snape inhale sharply as Harry reached out and placed a hand on Snape's chest.
"Before something stupid happens," Snape said softly.
Harry took one more step forward. He wasn't sure what he was doing other than the fact he seemed to be mesmerised by Snape's gaze. "Something stupid like this?" he asked as he pressed a soft kiss on Snape's lips. When he pulled back, he could see Snape's startled eyes.
"Exactly like that," Snape said roughly.
Harry gasped as Snape slammed him up against the wall. Snape's lips were all over his, and his tongue was in Harry's mouth. It was absolutely nothing like the chaste kiss Harry had just given him. The fire and intensity seemed to burn through Harry and he could taste the unique taste that was Snape: pepper and spice. Harry could feel himself hardening as Snape pressed up against him.
"Fuck," he managed to get out as Snape slid a leg between his. He could feel the hardness of Snape's erection poking into his stomach and Harry's legs wobbled as Snape reached into his robes and began stroking him.
"Like that, do you?" Snape murmured into his ear.
"Yes," Harry panted as Snape kissed a hot trail down his neck. At the back of his mind, Harry wondered if this was exactly what he had come over for, but he filed that away for another day.
Snape pulled back, his eyes gleaming. "Bedroom, Potter," he ordered.
Harry took a deep breath. "Do you think we can make this work?" he blurted out.
Snape's eyes looked flat. "We're getting divorced, Potter," he said. "Stop having these romantic notions of us living happily ever after. Last night was a mistake. A big mistake." He walked over to the door and reached for the handle. "Leave."
"No," Harry snapped. "I'm not going to leave." He stood up, walked over to where Snape was standing and placed a hand on Snape's arm. Snape flinched at the touch. "Look, I know it was supposed to be a charade..."
"And that's all it is," Snape interrupted. He yanked open the door and gestured for Harry to leave. "Do I have to repeat myself? Last night was a mistake. A big mistake."
Harry felt as though a hand was clenching around his heart. He looked up into Snape's eyes and tried to look for something, some sign that this was all some joke, but there was nothing. "I didn't think that we'd just magically live happily ever after," he snapped. "But I did think that we could have an ever after. It wouldn't be easy, but we could do it."
"Romantic nonsense," Snape said acidly. "I expect the divorce papers within the month."
Within the month. The words seemed like lead to Harry. "Fine," he said quickly. "Have it your way. I'll fill them out during the weekend and owl them over to you."
Snape nodded curtly. "I'll file them with the Ministry."
Harry took a step forward onto the doorstep and then stopped. He almost expected Snape to reach an arm out to stop him, but the only thing that happened was that the door swung shut behind him. Harry turned around and stared. He knew from the beginning that it was just a charade but somehow in between foiling Romilda's plans and getting married, Harry suspected that he actually had some real feelings for Snape.
"Well, fuck you," he muttered at the closed door.
"I guess you're happy now," Harry said with a sigh.
Ron gave him a puzzled look. "What'd you mean?"
"We're getting divorced," Harry said quietly. "Severus and I. It just didn't work out."
Ron blinked rapidly and stared at him. "Why would I be happy?" He paused for a second. "Oh, because I reacted badly when you told me about your relationship. Look, Harry, I was being silly. You guys aren't that bad together... I mean, I still don't like it, but I'm not happy that it's over. Have you tried counselling or something?"
Harry snorted. "Can you see Severus in counselling?"
Ron laughed slightly. "Yeah, I guess not. But I think you should still try something. Hermione and I were in counselling for over a year before we finally decided that it wasn't working."
"You also dated for years before you got married," Harry pointed out. "You were friends for ages. Severus and I... well... you couldn't really call what we had friendship, could you?"
"But you seemed so happy..." Ron trailed off.
"I did?" Harry frowned. Ron was the third person who had told him this. Malfoy had also mentioned it last time they had met. Mind you, Malfoy had winked at him and told him that perhaps he ought to go for it with Snape. Harry suspected that Malfoy may have used the entire situation as an excuse to set Snape up. "Really?"
"Well, yeah," Ron admitted. "You were so much of a workaholic before. I didn't want to say anything, but you never seemed to do anything. The only friends you seemed to have were me and Hermione."
"I had other friends!" Harry protested, but even as he said the words, he wasn't that sure. He did talk to people at work and go out to lunch with them, but Ron and Hermione were the only people he associated with outside of work. He usually just got up in the morning, went to work and then came back late and went to bed a few hours later. It had been a quite boring life, he had to admit.
Ron bit his lip. "I didn't mean that, you know I didn't. But you seem to have had fun with Snape. Well, as much fun as you can with a dour bastard like that. I dunno... You seemed happier."
"But it's over now," Harry said adamantly. "Look, I even tried to talk to him. He just wouldn't listen."
"Well, of course not," Ron said.
"Look, it's Snape," Ron said practically. "He held a grudge against your father for years. He's not exactly the most reasonable person."
Harry frowned. What Ron was saying made an odd kind of sense. He really couldn't expect Snape to react like a normal person. "So..." he said slowly. "You're saying that I should go back to talk to him some more?"
Ron rolled his eyes. "Yes." He made shooing motions. "Go, now!"
"Potter, what are you doing here?" Snape narrowed his eyes. "Don't tell me you still want to give this fake relationship another try?"
"Yes," Harry said stubbornly. "Now let me in."
Snape raised an eyebrow. "Were you raised on a farm?"
"In a cupboard," Harry said. "Let me in, okay? I just want to talk."
Snape blinked a few times at the mention of the cupboard. Harry could almost see the cogs turning in his head before he stepped backwards and held the door open. "Fine, but you only have five minutes."
Harry marched inside and sat down on the sofa. He watched as Snape sat down on the other end. "I know you want to give this another try." He could see Snape almost splutter. Harry held up a hand. "Let me speak, okay? Look, I spoke to Malfoy. He told me that you rarely have relationships."
"What in Merlin does that have to do with this?" Snape exploded.
Harry narrowed his eyes. "Yet you agreed to this charade very quickly."
"And I'm regretting it every day," Snape said acidly.
"You also slept with me," Harry said. "Although, I don't think we did much sleeping."
"Which was a mistake," Snape countered. "As I keep on telling you."
"You're awfully defensive," Harry pointed out. "You did let me in today. I think you want the same thing I do."
Snape just stared at him as if he had grown several extra heads without the help of magic. "You barged in here today, Potter," he said, his voice a low hiss. "You're just like your father. No manners. You think the whole world revolves around you."
"I don't!" Harry exclaimed. "And at least I'm not determined to avoid every single chance of happiness."
Snape simply glowered at him.
"Just give it a chance," Harry said simply. "Look, this is the last time I'm going to ask. I want to try, but I won't if you don't. But I think you do." He held his breath as he saw Snape frown. It was obvious that Snape was thinking.
The sound of the clock in the hallway seemed overly loud. Harry could hear the tick, tick, tick of every single second slide slowly by. He wanted to open his mouth and say something more, but he knew that he needed to let Snape think.
After almost a minute, from the number of ticks Harry could hear from the clock, he saw Snape's mouth open. "I'll give it a try," Snape said almost grudgingly.
Harry could feel his heart leap. He scooted over on the sofa and placed a hand on Snape's arm. He was pleased when Snape seemed to shudder slightly. As Snape turned his head, Harry shivered at the heat in Snape's gaze. "How about we give it a try right now?" he murmured.
"Who would have thought this would've happened?" Harry mused as he half-sat, half-lay next to Snape watching an old Muggle movie. "Romilda Vane used my connection with Voldemort and Beltane to impregnate herself. D'you know what'll happen to her?"
"A lifetime in St Mungo's if Granger's worth her salt," Snape said.
Harry nodded. It sounded fair. She probably needed the help. "What's going to happen to the baby?" he asked. It was something that had been bothering him for a while.
"The baby will be adopted," Snape said, sounding surprised that Harry needed to even ask. "She'll be declared unable to look after a child."
"Oh," Harry said, with a frown.
Snape gave him a suspicious look. "You're not thinking ..." He trailed off.
"I'm not thinking of anything," Harry said innocently. He paused. "Well, except the fact that this all worked out so well. Who would've thought?"
"We'll see," Snape said slowly. "We'll see."
Harry leaned over and poked Snape in the ribs. "We'll see?"
Snape half-smiled at him. "Well you never know what'll happen, do you?"
That was true enough. Harry settled back down on the sofa and grinned. After all, six months ago, the only thing he had been concerned about in his life was getting the promotion he wanted and ensuring he had his own Auror team. Now, that was well on the way and he had also somehow managed to gain a husband. "I guess that's true. I never thought we'd end up together," he teased.
"Impertinent brat," Snape said fondly.