And so our affair continued. Every evening I Apparated into Hogsmeade and walked the rest of the way to Hogwarts. Since there was no knowing when Draco would need help, we could not meet anywhere else. I suspected that after a while the guarding Aurors must have realized what was going on between Severus and me, but, frankly, I did not care. I doubted they would ever go blabbing to the Death Eaters, who were the only ones likely to report to Lucius. The one person they must have told, however, was Dumbledore. Severus was more than a little disconcerted when he first inquired after my health, but after a while he learned to simply ignore the Headmaster's playful remarks. After all, the man did not have long to live; why not let him have his fun. For all we knew, he could be dead the next day.
Most evenings Severus was already waiting for me when I came. He treated me with wine, followed by a light supper. I rarely left before dawn.
Sometimes we talked. Sometimes we made love. Most of the time we did both. After giving vent to the almost animal instincts that had been so typical of our first few meetings (no doubt the result of our living without partners for so long), we both seemed to have calmed down somewhat, and no longer jumped at each other as soon as we met. We could spend all evening just sitting on the sofa or lying on the bed, content with each other's company. Neither of us was in love, of course, but I think we both welcomed the change from the grey monotony of our lives, though Severus would never openly admit it.
As for myself, I got what I wanted. Though I still spent most of my time at home, the prospect of seeing Severus every evening gave me the strength to survive the dreariness of the day. Suddenly, the house no longer seemed so empty. Suddenly, the loneliness seemed much more bearable.
I needed nothing more. Never, in my entire life, had I felt so content. It was as if every day a small part of my maimed psyche regenerated. It was as if, for the very first time, I was truly becoming alive. I did not have to play the part of the ever obedient wife. I did not have to come running at every one of Severus's whims. I did not have to pretend constant happiness. I could complain. I could be selfish. I could be myself.
However, I would not want you to think that I had become so self-centred as to forget all about my son. On the contrary, I nagged Severus every day about whether he had found out anything more about him, however insignificant. Unfortunately, all Severus could tell me was that Draco was spending most of his time closeted in the Room of Requirement, and that when he came to class, he was pale and withdrawn. Eventually I just stopped asking. I made Severus promise that if he happened to find out something new, he would report straight to me, and I knew I could trust him to do so. Other than that, there was nothing more I could do for poor Draco. It was all up to Severus.
June arrived warm and sunny, a mockery of the dark events that were to come. Of course I knew that our illusory island of peace could not last forever. Still, I fervently wished for it to be so. I lulled myself into a false sense of security. If Draco had not acted until now, perhaps the Dark Lord had given the mission to someone else. Perhaps he had forgiven our family, and would leave us alone. Perhaps...
And perhaps not. As it seemed, Draco had fulfilled his mission without anyone knowing, not even Severus. We had no warning. One minute Severus and I were drinking wine, the next Flitwick burst in, asking for help. Severus Stupefied him, then told me to hide in the bedroom and dashed out. I did as I was told, and not a moment too soon, either, because I had barely closed the door behind me when I heard some children come in. They shouted Flitwick's name for a while, then finally must have managed to bring him to, for I heard all three of them leave the room.
I was alone. Everything was silent, like the ominous silence that comes before a storm. And then the storm broke out. I heard a bang, then another. Shouting, the sound of running feet overhead. Finally a deafening crash that seemed to shake the very foundations of the castle.
I could not bear it. I had to see what was going on. I had to make sure Draco was all right. Disregarding Severus's orders I ran out into the corridor, and ducked behind a suit of armour just in time to avoid being hit by a stray curse. Then a masked Death Eater backed past me, locked in battle with a group of children. I waited for them to disappear behind the nearest corner, then sprinted up the stairs into the Entrance Hall.
The castle was in chaos. People were running in all directions. Curses were flying through the air. The ceiling was caving in. The floor was covered with blood. If I did not know better, I would have thought the world had come to an end. But I had thoughts only for Draco. I squinted through the smoke and multicoloured lights to see if I could catch a glimpse of his blonde hair anywhere, but I may as well have been searching for the Golden Snitch. I had no idea what to do. For all I knew, Draco could be anywhere in the castle, so setting out to search for him did not really seem like a perspective option. Perhaps I could ask somebody...
As if in answer to my wish, I saw another Death Eater backing down what remained of the marble staircase, firing spells left, right and centre. His hood had fallen off, so I recognized him as one of Lucius's friends, Goyle. I seized the opportunity when he had eliminated his closest opponent, a pyjama-clad boy that could have been no more than twelve years old, and grabbed him by the shoulder.
"Have you seen my son?" I demanded anxiously.
Goyle stared at me in surprise. "Narcissa! What are you doing here? How did you know-"
But I cut him off. "No time to explain," I said impatiently. "Have you seen Draco or not?"
"On the Astronomy Tower," he barked out, before swiftly turning around to deflect a spell cast at him by one of the members of the Order of the Phoenix.
Having found out what I needed, I left him to defend himself as best he could, and sprinted past him up the marble staircase, ducking curses as I ran. I did not know what I would do once I got to my destination. I was past thinking rationally. All I knew was that I had to get to my son. Everything else was insignificant. And so I ran and ran, up staircases, along corridors, past groups of fighters. Nobody paid any attention to me. The Death Eaters considered me their ally. The Order of the Phoenix did not see me as a real threat. I suppose that was a good thing. I may not have got past the marble staircase had it been otherwise. As it was, I had just reached the fourth floor when I saw them. Severus, running towards me, looking as though there was a pack of Hell Hounds on his heels. And behind him – my heart skipped in my chest – Draco. My son! He was safe! Whatever had happened up on the Astronomy Tower, he had made it out of there alive! Severus had managed to save him, after all!
It was at that moment that they reached me in their mad bolt down the corridor, and Severus slowed down just enough to shout, "Apparate home, Narcissa! I will bring Draco there as soon as I can!" And I saw Draco's white face turn towards me, his grey eyes haunted with fear, and then both he and Severus were gone, and I was left alone once more.
As if in a daze I made my way back to the Entrance Hall. After Severus and Draco had left, the Death Eaters seemed to have dispersed, too, for I saw only a few solitary fighters as I went. The other side was already tending to their injured. I cried out in shock as I tripped over a body. I hoped there were not many losses on either side.
Eventually I reached the bottom of the marble staircase, and almost slipped on the rubies scattered all over the floor. Somebody had broken the huge Gryffindor hourglass. Otherwise, however, the fighting in the Entrance Hall had ceased. Teachers and students alike were filing out through the huge oak doors, murmuring quietly. I could not quite catch what they were saying, so I thought it best to follow them to see what the commotion was all about. Once outside, I noticed that Hagrid's hut was on fire, but the crowd was not heading that way. Instead they were walking around the castle, gathering at a spot close to one of the walls. I trailed behind them, my curiosity getting the better of me. I knew Severus told me to go home, and I absolutely craved to see Draco, but now that I had seen that he was safe, some of my earlier desperation had ebbed away. Besides, there was something about the quiet sombreness of the people that made me want to follow them whether I wanted to or not.
And that was when I saw it. Surrounded by a circle of silent onlookers lay the crippled body of Albus Dumbledore. The silver hair was glinting in the moonlight, the half-moon spectacles were reflecting the dying fire of Hagrid's hut. The arms and legs were spread out at an unnatural angle. Harry Potter was kneeling close by, clutching something in his hands and weeping. There was no doubt about it; Albus Dumbledore was dead, just as the Dark Lord had ordered it.
Perhaps it was the dreary atmosphere that ruled the place, perhaps it was my conscience taking over, but, like the rest of the crowd, I could not help but lower my head to pay respect to the dead man. Despite fighting on the opposite side I believed him to be a good man, a man who did not deserve to die. And suddenly I wished it did not have to come to this. I wanted no more war. I wanted no more deaths. I no longer wanted to be afraid for my family, for Severus. If only...
But no, it could not be. I knew better than anyone that the Dark Lord would never stop what he had started. We had to fight it until the end, until there was only one winner. And I knew I would kill if I had to, as long as it helped my son to survive.
Having seen everything there was to see, at last I turned around and started walking swiftly in the direction of Hogsmeade. Perhaps Draco and Severus were already waiting for me, so I did not want to waste a single moment. I was dying to find out what had happened, though the dead body of Albus Dumbledore gave me a rather clear idea. The only thing I did not know was who had done the deed in the end, but my personal bet was Severus. Whatever Draco had become since he joined the Dark Lord, I sincerely believed he did not have it in him to actually kill. In fact, that was one of the reasons why I had gone to beg Severus to help him in the first place.
Lost in my thoughts, I finally reached Hogsmeade and Disapparated. With a little jolt, I found myself standing on my front porch, the house looming dark against the night sky. There was a light in one of the windows on the ground floor, but that did not mean anything. Lucius may have gone to Azkaban, but my servants had remained with me.
I murmured the magic password and entered. The hall was dark and empty. So was the drawing room. It seemed Draco and Severus had not returned yet.
"Draco?" I called, just to make certain. "Severus?"
No answer. Instead, one of my maids came hurrying out of the library.
"Is there anything you need, madam?" she asked, wiping her hands on her apron.
"Yes. If Draco and Professor Snape arrive, let me know at once. I shall be up in my room."
The maid bowed her head. "Yes, madam."
She hurried away, while I made my way slowly up the stairs. I wondered what could have kept them. I imagined they must have gone to report to the Dark Lord, but it was difficult to guess how long such a meeting would take. One never knew what would please the Dark Lord and what would not. One could never say what whim he would take into his head. I stopped dead in my tracks as a terrifying idea suddenly occurred to me. What if... Dumbledore was dead, that was true, but if it was not Draco who had killed him... What if it was not enough that he had fulfilled the main part of his task by letting the Death Eaters into the school? What if the Dark Lord still chose to punish him for failing to go all the way?
My knees gave way under me and I sank down onto the stairs, trembling. My poor boy... What horrors was he having to face right now? If the dark Lord decided to use Crucio on him... And there was nobody to help him, not even Severus, who would be punished too if he as much as uttered a word in his defence...
I do not know how long I sat there on the stairs, weeping and shaking and trying not to imagine the worst. The next thing I knew was that my maid came running up to me, calling that young Master Malfoy and Professor Snape had arrived, and that she had ushered them into the drawing room. Forgetting all decorum, I all but bolted down the stairs, and halted only as I reached the drawing room doorway.
The scene before me resembled my worst nightmare. Draco – my darling boy – was lying on the sofa, moaning with pain. His face was as white as death. His breath came out in short gasps. I saw no visible injuries, so my immediate guess was the Cruciatus Curse. Severus was kneeling next to him, administering a potion of some sort. He glanced up upon my entrance, then quickly finished what he was doing before turning his attention entirely to me.
I quickly crossed the distance between us and knelt down beside him. "Is he ... is he going to be all right?" I whispered.
Severus nodded. "Yes. I have merely given him something to ease the pain and to help him sleep."
I studied Draco's face. Although his eyes were now closing, he managed to give me a faint smile. I returned it, my eyes inadvertently filling with tears. I had to take a deep breath before I could finally turn back to Severus. "What happened?" I asked simply.
Severus, however, glanced briefly at Draco and then shook his head. "Let us go to the library," he said in a low voice. "That way we will not risk waking Draco up." And with that he got up, with one wave of his wand transfigured the sofa into a bed, and then went to wait for me by the door.
Though I knew Severus, practical as ever, was right, I did not like the idea of leaving Draco alone. On the other hand, it was true that I could do nothing for him while he was sleeping. At last I settled for adjusting his blanket and brushing away a strand of hair that had fallen into his face, promising myself that I would come back to check on him at the first possible opportunity. Then, with one last longing look in his direction, I went to join Severus by the door.
We found my maid hovering in the hall, so I asked her to bring us some of Lucius's elf-made wine before we retired to the library. Seating ourselves in two comfortable armchairs, each with a glass in hand, I once again appealed to Severus to recount to me the events of the night.
And so recount he did. How he had found Draco up on the Astronomy Tower, facing a wandless Dumbledore but unable to finish him off. How he himself had finally killed him. How he and Draco had fled the castle together to report to the Dark Lord. How the Dark Lord had scorned Draco's weakness, and punished him with the Cruciatus Curse. How he had finally Apparated both himself and Draco to the house.
I listened as if in a trance, reliving each moment with my son. When Severus had finished, I remained silent for a while, still processing what he had said. At last I asked, my voice trembling with anxiety, "So what is going to happen now? What are the Dark Lord's further intentions with Draco?"
Severus looked thoughtfully at his glass of wine. "I cannot be certain, of course, but I should say the Dark Lord has finished with Draco," he answered finally. "Draco has served his purpose, he has contributed to Dumbledore's downfall. His failure has been punished accordingly. It is my belief that the Dark Lord will lose all interest in him now. He is preparing for open war, he cannot rely on weaklings such as Draco."
I bristled at the insult of my son, but I checked myself before I could open my mouth in protest. After all, Severus was only conveying the Dark Lord's point of view; it was not as if he himself shared these sentiments. Instead I asked, "So Draco can stay at home now? With me?"
Severus nodded. "I believe that to be the case, yes."
I sighed with relief. At last! At last I would have my son by my side. At last I would no longer have to wake up worrying about his safety. And it was all thanks to Severus. A wave of immense gratefulness washed over me. I took his hand in mine and kissed it, my eyes filling with tears. "Thank you, Severus," I choked out. "I don't know how I'll ever repay you."
Severus looked a little taken aback by my outburst, but he quickly recovered and, in a voice devoid of any emotion, said, "I was bound by the Unbreakable Vow. I could not have acted otherwise."
"True," I said, wiping my eyes with the back of my hand. "But you consented to make the Vow, didn't you? You could have refused."
"And have Bellatrix call me a coward? Like Harry Potter did only today?" he flared up, suddenly looking angry and, unless my imagination was playing tricks on me, hurt. I looked at him in surprise; it was not like him to lose his nerve this way. I must have struck a sensitive chord.
Seeking to soothe him, I took his hand in mine again, this time proceeding to stroke it reassuringly. "Harry Potter is a spoilt brat," I said firmly. "You should not care one bit about what he says. And Bella is much the same, you know that."
To my relief, his gaze softened a little, but he said nothing.
I decided to change my tactics. "Why don't we go and check on Draco," I suggested, hoping that if I diverted his attention elsewhere, he would forget his pain. He assented, and so together we made our way to the darkened drawing room.
We found Draco lying where we had left him, sleeping peacefully. There was even some colour in his face now; his pain seemed to have gone. Severus's potion must have worked wonders with him.
For a long time we just stood there, looking at the sleeping boy as if he were a precious jewel. Which, for me, he was. I still could not believe I actually got him back, but I could not imagine anything more pleasant than getting used to it. During the holidays I would do everything in my power to make him forget the nightmarish year he had had to endure. I would chase away his fears. I would kiss away his pain. I would make him happy again.
When I finally found it in me to tear my eyes away, we stepped back into the hall, closing the door quietly behind us.
"Will you stay the night?" I asked Severus, who had glanced at the main door as if considering departure. "I suppose you cannot go back to Hogwarts after what happened there."
"Indeed," he returned drily. "However, if I do stay here, it will, in all probability, be for the last time. Draco's achievement seems to have been sufficient to atone for his father's mistakes. As such, the Dark Lord is going to help Lucius escape from Azkaban."
I stared at him in astonishment. I had no idea how to feel, how to react. Yes, in a way I would be glad to have Lucius home at last. We would be a family again, he, Draco and I. Then again, I had so got used to Severus's considerate treatment of me, so different from Lucius's ruthless one, that even now I knew I would miss him immensely. But there was no other way; I had to let him go. So we had agreed, so it would be. I would try to be a good wife to Lucius, no matter how he treated me. After all, it was what I had been brought up to be. And so, pointedly ignoring all the emotions that had welled up inside me upon Severus's sudden revelation, I carefully rearranged my features into a half-smile and said, "If it is to be our last night together, we may as well make the most of it, don't you think?"
Severus gazed at me for a while, then finally smiled, too. "As you wish."