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Bring Me Back To Life

By Eliška Suchánková

Drama / Romance

Chapter 1

I would never have thought of cheating on my husband. I did not love him, of course, as our marriage had only taken place because both our families had thought it to be a good match, but I never complained. After all, Lucius was not really a bad man; I could have ended up with someone much worse. Bella’s husband, for example, was definitely unhinged. But all Lucius did was treat me like a piece of ornamental furniture. Sometimes he complimented my beauty, but there was no love behind his words. Sometimes he shouted at me, when he got drunk. Sometimes he ignored me completely.

Sometimes we made love, when Lucius was in the mood. There was no romance, no passion. It was quick and emotionless, just to satisfy Lucius’s needs. He did not care how I felt. Still, that was how Draco came to be. Despite how Lucius felt towards me, I must say he did adore Draco, in his own way. He did not pamper him, he did not play with him, but he did care greatly about his marks at school, about his future. When Draco failed to fulfill his expectations, he was clearly disappointed. Sometimes he yelled at him, but often he just became colder than usual towards him, which hurt Draco more than anything. He would have given his right hand just to please his father. The more Lucius ignored him, the more he strived to make him notice. He never behaved that way towards me. Maybe it was because he took my love for granted. Lucius’s love, however, had to be deserved. That is why Draco eventually joined the Death Eaters, because Lucius wanted him to. I am not sure how much he really wanted to be a Death Eater himself, but I do know that he saw it as a chance to prove himself, to force Lucius to finally acknowledge him. I alone saw how frightened he was when the Dark Lord gave him the task of killing Dumbledore. It was in his eyes. I guess the Dark Lord saw it, too. But of course that was what he wanted; he knew Draco’s mission was doomed to fail. It was his way of punishing Lucius for messing up his own task, for getting caught and ending up in Azkaban.

Draco never told me about his fears. He tried to look strong, he tried to look as though he could not wait to get back to school to do what had been asked of him. But I heard him cry at night. I saw him look at his Dark Mark with disgust when he thought I was not around. I could not bear it. I could not watch my son suffer so. I could not stand aside as he slowly walked towards certain death. I decided to find help. I decided to see Lucius’s old friend, Severus.

I do not know what made me take Bella along with me. Perhaps I thought Severus was more likely to hear me out if there were two of us to plead for my son. But Bella soon proved to be a hindrance rather than the ally I had hoped her to be. She did not trust Severus and she immediately told him so. I was afraid he would turn us out of the house as soon as she opened her mouth. But he calmly answered all her questions, thus quelling even the small doubts about him that I myself might have had. He even promised to help Draco, in the end. That was when I asked him to make the Unbreakable Vow. I knew I may have gone too far, but it was all or nothing for me. I had to be certain.

It seemed ages to me before Severus finally spoke. His black eyes were boring into my tear-filled ones, his hand, which I had seized a few moments earlier, was warm in mine. I wish I could have seen what was going on in his mind. But at last he assented, and that was all that mattered to me then. I knew Draco would be safe in his hands.

And then Draco departed for his sixth year at Hogwarts. I was left at home, alone, compelled to only imagine how his task was progressing. His letters to me were frighteningly impersonal; he stuck strictly to the topic of school. It was unbearable not to know what was going on; I was growing more and more restless. Sometimes I even wished for Lucius to come home from Azkaban, imagine that. Everything seemed better than to be left alone with my uncertainties.

Finally I made a decision – I would go and see Severus. If Draco would not tell me what was going on, then Severus had to. Maybe he had, in the meantime, manipulated Draco into confiding in him. And so on one cold October evening I Apparated into Hogsmeade. Yes, I could have simply sent Severus a letter, but in these dark times one never knew how many people would read it on the way, and I did not dare risk getting Severus or myself into trouble. Thus I found myself heading quickly and purposefully towards the dark outline of the Hogwarts castle, paradoxically hoping that I would not meet my son. I suspected he would trust me even less if he saw me there.

There were two Aurors guarding the entrance into the castle, but after hearing the purpose of my visit and ascertaining that I was carrying nothing that could be considered dangerous they let me pass.

Seeing as it was getting late, the corridors were almost deserted. From my previous visits to Hogwarts with my husband I knew where Severus’s office was, so I headed directly towards it. I met no one on the way, for which I was grateful. I knocked on the door, and, upon hearing a sharp “Enter”, went inside.

Severus was sitting behind his desk, grading papers. He looked up upon my entrance, and his expression turned to one of pleasant surprise.

“Narcissa,” he said, rising and taking a few steps towards me. “What brings you here?” He paused to look at me more closely. “You do not look well. Has something happened?”

I do not know what got into me. Perhaps it was the tone of genuine concern in his voice. Nobody had ever cared how I felt before. Something stirred in me – the memory of his hand in mine a few months before, the way he had tried to calm me with wine when I burst into tears. On a sudden impulse I threw myself around his neck and started sobbing uncontrollably. All the strain of the past few months went into those tears, the endless days of having no one to talk to, to share my fears with. I knew I was being hysterical, but I just could not help myself.

I felt Severus’s body tense at the unexpected contact, but he quickly recovered, gently removed my arms from around his neck and steered me towards a chair. I obediently sat down, still sobbing as if my heart would break. A moment later, a glass was pushed into my hands.

“Drink this,” I heard Severus’s voice say. It was clearly a command, but the tone was not harsh.

I did as I was told. The liquid in the glass was a potion of some sort, probably something to calm me down, as it was not even a minute before the tears subsided somewhat and I started feeling slightly drowsy.

“Better?” asked Severus, a hint of concern in his voice.

I looked up at him through tear-filled eyes. “Yes,” I managed to choke out. “I’m ... sorry. It’s just... I was so worried about Draco. He writes to me regularly, but he never really tells me anything. That’s why I came to see you. I was hoping you would tell me how he’s coping with his ... task.” I fixed him with an expectant gaze, as intense as if I were waiting for a death sentence.

Severus sighed. “I am sorry, Narcissa, but I must disappoint you,” he said. “Draco does not confide in me. In fact, he seems to be trying to avoid me. I have been doing my best to find out what he is up to in my own ways, but so far I have been unsuccessful. I shall keep trying, however, have no fear.”

My face fell. Severus knew nothing, either. It seemed I would be stuck with my uncertainties forever more. Just the very idea made my eyes prickle with tears again. It took all of my remaining strength to lift my lips into an unconvincing smile instead. “Thank you, Severus,” I said quietly. “You will let me know if you find anything out, won’t you? Just a short message will do, one that won’t mean anything to anyone but me. I will come to you straight away.”

Severus nodded solemnly. “Of course, Narcissa. There is no need to worry, I assure you. I am keeping a close eye on Draco; nothing can happen to him.”

I bit my lip. “Yes. Of course. I shall be going, then.”

I made to rise from my chair, but Severus caught my wrist. “Are you sure you are fit to Apparate?” he asked, scrutinizing my face. “You are terribly pale. I would not want you to Splinch yourself on the way.”

For a second I thought I would burst into tears again at this display of concern aimed, to my surprise, once again at my person, but I quickly pulled myself together and gave a brief nod. “I’ll manage,” I said. “Thank you again, Severus.” And with that I brushed off his hand and marched out of the room before I could break down again.

I cried all the way to Hogsmeade. I had so been counting on Severus to provide me with some news about Draco, and now here I was, none the wiser than before and with nothing but the dreary prospect of Severus’s letter that could take months to arrive.

And months it truly was. October passed into November, November into December, and the only letters I got were the regular impersonal messages from Draco about his studies. The one change in the pattern was when he informed me that he would not be coming home for Christmas because he had some extra work to do. I burst into tears. I had been counting the days left until Christmas; it was the only tangible thing I could look forward to, seeing my little boy again. And now even this had been taken away from me. It seemed as though life had suddenly lost all sense for me. I tried to find something else to occupy my mind with, but it was no use. Even shopping, one of my former favourite pastime activities, brought me no pleasure now. Diagon Alley was mostly boarded up these days, so although I had money in abundance, there was nowhere to spend it. My attempt to visit Bella turned out to be a disaster, too. As far as I could see, her obsession with the Dark Lord had driven her quite insane now, so our conversation quickly turned into an argument about how lucky (in her opinion) Draco was to be able to serve the Dark Lord. Soon I could not bear it, and I almost ran out of the house.

There I was, then, finally resorting to spending most of my days closeted in our huge empty house, thinking my gloomy thoughts and finding myself getting more and more depressed. What had my life come to? My husband was in prison, my son refused to communicate with me. I could do nothing for either of them. What use was there for me now? What use had I been to anyone, ever?

Stuck in the endless train of my masochistic speculations, I sometimes found my mind wandering unwittingly towards Severus. Although I only knew him as Lucius’s friend, he seemed to be the only person I could rely on now. Sometimes I even got the feeling that he actually cared. Nobody had ever looked at me and told me I did not look well. Nobody had ever tried to calm me down when I was crying. Nobody could ever be bothered, for my sake.

I knew I was being silly. Why should he, of all people, care? Why should anyone care, for me? I was nothing. I was merely Lucius’s wife, a decoration to greet guests.

Still, I could not help myself. The feeling of his hand in mine, his face so close to my own ... it kept coming back. At first I tried to stop it. After all, my husband was in jail. How could I be so unfeeling as to lust after his best friend? It was simply wrong. It made me feel guilty, horribly guilty. And dirty. Still, try as I might to stamp any thoughts of Severus out of my mind, it was of no use. Whenever I ceased guarding myself, all the images sneaked right back, as stealthily as thieves. Eventually I simply gave up and let them come. They may have taken everything else from me, but they could not stop me from dreaming.

And so dream I did. I dreamt about throwing myself in Severus’s arms and kissing him senseless. I dreamt about pushing him down onto his own bed. I dreamt about wild, wild sex, the kind I had never had. I dreamt about falling asleep next to him, hot and sweaty. I dreamt about waking up and having more sex.

Surrounded by my cloud of dreams, I almost fainted when the letter came. A real letter from Severus. It contained only one word. Come. There was no signature. Still, I needed nothing more. I was in Hogsmeade within ten minutes, and at Hogwarts in another ten. Completely out of breath, I knocked on Severus’s door and entered.

He seemed to be waiting for me. He gestured me towards a chair, perhaps afraid that I would collapse again, and then went to sit behind his desk. It seemed at least an hour before he finally spoke, though in reality it must have been only a few seconds.

“I have spoken to Draco today,” he said, his expression grave. It made me fear the worst.

“What happened?” I managed to choke out, gripping my chair for support. I felt dizzy.

“Filch caught him prowling the corridors, alone. I seized the opportunity to take him to an empty classroom and offer to assist him with his task. He refused. The child thought I was trying to steal his glory. He would tell me nothing about his plan. However,” (he held up his hand to silence me as I opened my mouth to give vent to my despair) “I did catch a glimpse of his thoughts when I used Legilimency on him, just before he blocked me out. He is trying to find a way to let Death Eaters into the castle. I believe he knows how to do it, but he needs more time. Impatient as he is, he has been trying different means of killing Dumbledore in the meantime, all of which have failed. I do not believe the boy’s heart was really in it. I do not think him capable of murder. I am counting on doing the task for him, in the end.”

I gazed at him, my face a picture of agony. “My poor boy,” I whispered. “He must be so frightened, so lonely! I wish there was something I could do for him...”

“There is nothing you can do,” said Severus, his tone uncompromising, yet kind at the same time. “You know very well he would not let you. Leave everything to me, Narcissa.”

“Yes. Yes, I know. But ... how will you know that the moment has come to come to his aid? What if he confronts Dumbledore without you even knowing?” The mere idea made my skin crawl. I started trembling.

“Draco will not confront Dumbledore alone,” said Severus with confidence. “If he lets in the Death Eaters, which we know to be his plan, the Dark Mark is bound to tell me.”

I took a shaky breath. Calm down, I told myself. Severus knows what he is doing. He made the Unbreakable Vow. If he fails to help Draco, he himself will die. I felt my throat constrict painfully at the thought. In my fear for Draco, I had momentarily forgotten about my ... desire, for lack of a better word ... for Severus, but now that my worst uncertainties had been contained, it came back with full force. My heart beating madly, I slowly raised my eyes, and saw Severus looking at me with an expression I could not quite fathom.

“You are shaking,” he said at last, his black eyes still not leaving mine.

I wanted to say something, but the words seemed to have frozen on my lips. I felt like a rabbit that got cornered by a fox. I could not move, I could not speak. I could only watch and wait. And hope for ... what exactly was I hoping for? I realized I did not quite know. It was all very well to dream in the dark loneliness of my empty house, but did I really want my dreams to come true? Did I dare betray Lucius? I, the ever obedient wife?

Frustratingly, before I could make up my mind, the magical had moment passed, as suddenly as it had come. Severus blinked, as if snapping out of a trance, then rose from his desk.

“You should go,” he said curtly. “It is getting late. In these dark times it is dangerous to walk alone even in broad daylight, let alone at night.”

Strange as it was, these words had the effect on me that the eye contact did not. The prospect of leaving suddenly made me see everything clearly. Leaving meant more lonely days and nights. Leaving meant more endless fears about Draco’s fate. Leaving meant madness.

I remained sitting. “I don’t want to go.” I do not think I had ever sounded more determined.

Severus, however, looked at me as if I were nothing more than a petulant child. “You are evidently distraught, Narcissa,” he said calmly. “I can give you a potion that will-”

“I don’t want a potion. I want you.” I could not believe it was my own voice that had said that. Perhaps I was going mad already?

Severus certainly seemed to think so. “It was foolish of me to ask you to come here today,” he sighed. “I believed that hearing news of Draco would do you good, but I was obviously mistaken.”

“But this is not about Draco, Severus!” I exclaimed, frustrated by his attitude. “Of course I am worried about him, and I always will be until he’s back home with me, but as you have said yourself, there is nothing I can do. If anybody can save him, it is you. I have known this ever since I came to ask you for help all those months ago. But you cannot imagine how hard it is, sitting at home, all alone with only your thoughts for company. If I go back now, I shall run mad for sure.”

“I still do not quite see where you are heading.”

I ground my teeth. I was sure he knew perfectly well where I was heading, but if he had decided to play stupid, then I would show him that I could play dirty, too. I rose from my chair, crossed the few steps to where he was standing and kissed him on the lips, hard. He did not protest. On the other hand, he did nothing to encourage me, either. It was rather like kissing a marble statue.

Finally I pulled away. “Don’t let me go mad,” I whispered.

He fixed me with a look that made me flinch. “In other words, you are asking me to become your lover.”

I lowered my gaze to escape the accusation in his eyes. “If you want to put it that way, then yes,” I muttered, suddenly feeling like the lowliest of low things. I wondered whether even Lucius had ever made me feel so humiliated.

Severus, however, mercilessly ploughed on. “Why me?” he asked, his tone uncompromising.

It was then that I suddenly realized what his problem was. He did not trust me. Falling victim to the darkness that was closing in all around us, he naturally thought there was a hidden motive behind my actions. Well, I had to prove him wrong.

“Because I find you attractive and want to sleep with you,” I said flatly. “But more importantly, because I feel that I can trust you. Obviously, though, this feeling is not mutual, so feel free to use Legilimency on me to see that I have no intention of hurting you in any way.”

The penetrating gaze he fixed me with seemed to reach into my very soul. He was not using Legilimency, I was certain of that, but I presumed it was as good as. Finally his expression softened somewhat, and he shook his head. “No,” he declared. “I can see you are telling the truth.”

I expected him to say more, but he only looked at me, as if pondering something. I thought it best to wait.

At last he seemed to have made up his mind. “What about Lucius?” he asked.

The question surprised me somewhat. “What about him? He is in Azkaban. If he wasn’t, I wouldn’t be here now.”

“Exactly. What do you intend to do once he returns?”

I had to admit I had not thought about that. In these uncertain times one learned not to plan too far ahead. Going to sleep and waking up alive the next day seemed like a good enough plan to me.

“I don’t know,” I said honestly. “Go back to him, I suppose. Tell him nothing about you, of course. Providing there is anything to tell,” I added, as an afterthought.

“Providing that, yes,” Severus repeated cryptically.

I cast him a frustrated look. “What is it that bothers you, Severus?” I inquired, unable to contain myself any longer. “Do you find me repulsive, is that it?”

Severus had the nerve to look amused. “No, of course not,” he smirked. “On the contrary; I have always found you very attractive.”

“Well, what is it, then?”

Severus looked at me thoughtfully for a moment or two, then said, “What exactly is it that you are expecting of me, Narcissa? Sex? Company? Love? I would prefer to be clear on this subject, if you don’t mind.”

I pondered over his inquiry. Though I had spent endless hours dreaming, I really could not say I had analyzed my desires with such precision. Sex obviously went without saying. Company – yes, another day alone in my house would undoubtedly send me straight to St Mungo’s. But love? I was quite sure that what I felt for Severus was not love. A strong physical attraction perhaps, but definitely not love. And I did not want love from him, either. Love caused nothing but problems. Love was for others, not for me. My place was by Lucius’s side, where I planned to return as soon as he was released from Azkaban. Where would love fit into all this? How would I find it in me to return to my husband if I loved someone else?

I summarized the results of my musings to Severus, who nodded. “I am glad we are of one mind in this matter,” he said. “For I cannot give you love, even if it happens that one day you might find yourself wanting it. That is why I am warning you now, so that there are no misunderstandings in the future.”

This statement inevitably piqued my curiosity. “How can you be so certain?” I asked. “I don’t know much about love, but I’m quite sure it isn’t something you can just decide about rationally. I don’t want to fall in love with you, but you’ve just said yourself that this might change in the future. Why should it be any different with you?”

“Because it is,” said Severus simply.

I knew better than to question him any further. As far as I could judge, the time for conversation was over. My eyes found his, searching for confirmation. For a while our gazes remained locked; I found I was getting lost in the black depths of his eyes. There was an intensity in his gaze that made me dizzy with desire. I could hear my heart pounding in my chest. My breathing had become quick and shallow. Finally I could stand it no longer and I threw myself at him, claiming his lips in a fiery kiss. My fingers groped in his hair as if I were a drowning person grabbing wildly for something to hold onto. My body was pressed so tightly against his that I could feel his heartbeat, as fast as mine. His hands were all over me, each touch sending a new wave of pleasure through my entire being. I could not get enough of him; again and again I crushed my mouth against his, as if trying to swallow him, again and again I pressed myself on him, as if hoping that our bodies would fuse into one. All my fears, all my loneliness melted with the kiss. I was virtually aching with desire, the kind I had never felt with Lucius. It was like my hormones, keeping dormant until now, had finally awoken and flooded every single fibre of my body.

Just when I thought I would faint from sheer pleasure Severus pulled away. Slightly out of breath, his hair tousled and his eyes clouded with desire, he motioned towards a door behind his desk, which I knew to lead to his private quarters.

“Follow me,” he ordered, and with a swish of his black robes disappeared through the door. I did as I was told, and soon found myself in a spacious living room, which I was familiar with from my visits with Lucius. Severus, however, did not stop there, and continued straight through another door, leading, I presumed, to the bedroom. My already racing heart sped up even more as I followed him in.

I found him standing next to his bed, a huge four-poster with sheets in Slytherin colours. The same intense expression I had noticed earlier was playing on his face, alluring, hypnotizing. I stood frozen to the spot; it was as if I were caught in a trance. I do not know how long we stayed like that, just gazing at each other, but at last he lowered his eyes and I felt free to move again. I needed nothing more. Like a spring that had suddenly been released I once again threw my body against his, covering his mouth with mine, tasting him, devouring him. In a tangle of limbs we eventually dropped on the bed, almost unconsciously kicking off our shoes as we feverishly continued kissing. But soon it was not enough; I needed to feel more skin that I could press myself against. Impatiently, my hands trembling slightly, I started tearing on his robes. Taking his cue from me, Severus attacked my clothes, too. Of course, we could have done it by magic, but it would never have been the same. This, this was pure frenzy. It was as if our lives depended on getting rid of our clothes as quickly as possible, it was as if they choked us. Both half mad with desire, we tugged and pulled and unbuttoned, all the while kissing, touching, yet constantly craving for more.

At last all our garments were off, at last I felt I could breathe freely again. As if it were the end of the world and the contact would save me, I pressed myself against the pale bare skin of Severus’s chest, kissing his neck hungrily. His body felt warm against mine; I could smell his faint scent, unique and beautiful. I could not get enough of him, his hands all over my body, sending my mind swimming, his breath, hot and heavy on my neck, his growing arousal pressing on the inside of my thigh, making me want to cry with delight. And then he was inside me, and I thought the pleasure would surely kill me, but still I wanted more, and so I pushed against him, and we heaved, and we sighed, and then I could feel him spill inside me, but he kept going until I, too, reached my climax and collapsed against the green and silver pillows, dizzy and breathless.

For a long, long time I just lay there, incoherent thoughts whirring through my mind. Despite the pleasure I had just experienced, or maybe exactly because of it, I felt ready to cry. Never, never in the twenty odd years of my marriage with Lucius had I been given the chance to feel the way Severus had made me feel. For Lucius I was a tool. For Severus I was an equal. I still could not quite believe that he had actually been considerate enough to wait for me to come, too. Such a simple gesture, and yet... All of a sudden, the hopelessness of my entire life washed over me like a tidal wave. My childhood, where everybody had doted on the already spoilt Bella. My marriage, where everything only ever revolved around Lucius. Or possibly Draco, when Lucius happened to fall into one of his magnanimous moods. But me? Who had ever spared a thought for me? How I felt? What I wanted? What I needed?

My mind poisoned with despair, I began to weep. I wept over my ruined life. I wept for Draco, alone and afraid. I wept to erase all the injustices of the world. I wept and wept, only vaguely aware of Severus placing his hand on top of mine. As if he understood. As if he cared.

Gradually I found myself drifting to sleep, perhaps thanks to him, perhaps from sheer exhaustion. I dreamt of darkness and despair, as I often did, but for the first time I felt a glimmer of hope, too.

I do not know how long I slept. It was always dark in the dungeons; it was impossible to tell the time. The room was freezing cold, so I picked up my wand from the bedside table, where I had thrown it the evening before, and lit the fire in the grate. I saw Severus stir on the bed beside me, but he did not wake. Wrapping the blanket around my naked body to stop myself from shivering, I studied his face in the soft glow emanating from the fireplace. Now that he was asleep, the lines etching his face seemed to have smoothed out, and his expression seemed much more serene than what I was used to. Compared to Lucius, who was by far the most handsome man I had ever met, he could not be called beautiful, but there was a certain presence about him, a certain grace. One simply had to notice him, even in a room full of people. Unable to help myself, I reached out my hand to touch his hair ... and cried out in shock as Severus’s own hand shot out and caught my wrist in a vice-like grip.

“Severus!” I exclaimed. “I thought you were asleep!”

“I have been awake ever since you first stirred,” smirked Severus. “I would have been dead long ago if I had not learned to react to the smallest of sounds even in my sleep.”

“I wasn’t going to kill you,” I muttered, feeling slightly hurt. “So you can let go of my hand now.”

Severus gazed at me for a moment or two as if deciding whether to grant my wish or not, then slowly released his deathly grip. He said nothing.

I absent-mindedly massaged my hand, then, unable to bear the ongoing silence, blurted out, “I apologize for last night. I didn’t mean to cry. It probably wasn’t quite the reaction you expected after what ... what we had done.”

Severus, however, merely shook his head. “Sex is known to release pent-up emotions,” he observed.

“Oh. I see. Because I just didn’t understand it. I really enjoyed last night. I should have been happy. But suddenly it all just came over me...”

“Nevertheless, you feel better now.”

I thought about it. Now that he mentioned it, I did notice that I felt somehow ... lighter, as if a part of my grief had gone. I told him so.

“In that case, I see no problem,” he concluded. “Is that not one of the reasons why you sought me out? To ease your mind a little?”

“Yes, but ... what about you? Did you enjoy the experience, too? It would be selfish of me to ask you to satisfy my needs, and get nothing in return.” And as such end up behaving like Lucius, I added to myself.

To my disconcertion, Severus responded with a look that one would normally reserve for the occupants of the St Mungo’s ward for the mentally ill. “Was it not obvious?” he asked. “I would have thought my behaviour last night made it clear that I was far from bored. It has been a long time since I last had a woman in bed, and I must say I found the change quite pleasant.”

I sighed with relief; I knew that was the biggest form of compliment I would ever get out of Severus Snape. I fixed him with what I hoped to be a seductive smile. “If that is the case, then you surely wouldn’t mind continuing where we left off last night,” I ventured.

He regarded me in that unnerving way of his for a while, then finally gave me a half-smile of his own. “If you absolutely insist,” he drawled, and, with feigned reluctance, pulled me towards him. Not that he managed to uphold his act for long, I was happy to see.

And so our affair continued. Every evening (except when it was Severus’s turn to patrol the corridors) 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 had been more than a little disconcerted when he had 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 have been 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 have been 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 hurrying out through the huge oak doors, talking over one another and looking agitated. 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 running 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 infectious urgency 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.”

As Severus had foreshadowed, Lucius indeed returned a few days later. I did not know what to expect of the encounter. I was feeling anxious one minute, and curious the next. Sometimes I felt downright terrified. Still, nothing could have prepared me for what eventually came. I expected Lucius, and everything I had learned to associate with him. But the man that walked through the door was as different from my husband as black is from white. Instead of the arrogant and haughty persona from one year ago I now saw a broken man, quiet and indrawn. Gone was his imperious manner, gone was his indifferent treatment of Draco and me. He actually seemed to look to me for support, as if I were the stronger one. It was almost impossible to believe that a person could change so much in just one year. And yet I knew what the Dementors, now almost entirely under the Dark Lord’s command, were capable of. They could not hurt Bella, who was half mad already. They could not hurt Sirius, who kept himself sane with thoughts of revenge. But Lucius? Lucius had lost everything. He had lost his position at the Ministry. He had lost his place in the inner circle of the Dark Lord’s supporters, as after the fiasco at the Ministry the Dark Lord naturally thought him incompetent. He was, in short, a nobody. Do this to a proud man and you will break his spirit completely. I could easily imagine what thoughts plagued him with the Dementors all around. It must have been virtually unbearable.

As if all this was not enough, the Dark Lord had chosen our house as his headquarters. He could have had any other place, I am certain of that, but he went and picked us, as if he wanted to emphasize that the best our family could offer him now was a house. Lucius, of course, did not miss the taunt, and felt all the worse for it.

The worst blow, however, was still to come. A meeting was called in the middle of July to discuss the strategy of capturing Harry Potter. All the Death Eaters were there, which naturally included our whole family, though I suspect each of us would rather have been anywhere else. Lucius looked as if he had not slept for several nights. Poor Draco was cringing in his chair, as if hoping not to be noticed. And I, I was staring determinedly at my hands, doing my best to block out Severus’s voice as he gave his report. The voice brought back memories. The last night we had together. The touches. The kisses. The sex. The final kiss as we said goodbye.

I quickly checked myself, before I could get too far. It did not do to dwell on such memories. It would bring me nothing but pain. It was a closed chapter. I had Lucius now, and that was where my loyalties lay. He needed my support, he needed me to take care of him.

As the meeting progressed, I was shown just how true that was. The Dark Lord realized that his wand could not kill Harry Potter, and so he took Lucius’s. He could not have humiliated him more if he tried. It was as if he had told him he was no good as a wizard. I saw Lucius’s expression as he handed it over; he was ready to cry. Whatever wrongs he had done me, I felt genuinely sorry for him now. Not even he deserved to be punished so cruelly. I took his hand under the table and stroked it, hoping to transfer some of my strength to him. I did not let go all evening. It even made me completely forget about Severus, I was happy to observe.

Forgetting about Severus in the long run was not so easy, however. It was not so bad during the holidays, while I still had Draco to look after. Whenever my thoughts strayed to Severus, I immediately sought out my son and poured out all my affection on him. Unlike ever before, he actually seemed grateful for it now, I was delighted to see. Perhaps it was the terror he had been through. Perhaps it was because Lucius was no longer the strong one, the idol on a pedestal to look up to. Either way, during the summer my son and I had become closer than we had ever been before. He poured out all his fears to me, all his heartaches. He followed me around like a dog. He let me pamper him to my heart’s content. That is why we both nearly cried when the time for him to leave for Hogwarts eventually arrived, but all we could do was promise to write each other often, and then say a gloomy goodbye.

I finally let the tears fall as Lucius and I left King’s Cross station, now that Draco was not there to see them. Lucius did not see them either; he was too wrapped up in his own depressing thoughts to notice. But even if he did notice, I was sure he would not care anyway. That was one thing that had not changed about him – just as he had disregarded my feelings before, he disregarded them now. He and his problems always came first, but still, there was a difference. The Lucius I used to know would never ever show that he was a vulnerable human being like any other. He would rather die than admit his weaknesses. Instead, he took it out on me and Draco when things were not going his way. Now, however, he was an open book. Not that he talked much, but I could easily tell when his demons got the better of him. At these times he always came to sit with me and let me stroke his hand or hair. Sometimes he would recall his memories of Azkaban, in short, incoherent sentences. Sometimes he would lay his head in my lap, like a baby. Yes, that was what I now saw him as, a baby. And though I did like this new Lucius infinitely more than the old one, it was still not the kind of marriage I would have wished for. I felt sorry for Lucius, but I did not love him. I had a baby, but I needed a man. And now that I had experienced what a man could be like...

Yes, it was definitely not easy to forget Severus. After Draco had gone and I was left with only Lucius for company, my resolution to suppress all thoughts of him became almost impossible to keep. Yes, I had always known I would miss him. Yes, I had expected the memories of our times together to come back every now and then. After all, one could not forget sleeping with somebody for half a year with a mere swish of a wand. But I had naively thought that since there was no love involved, the memories would eventually fade out. How wrong I was...

It started with little things. A visit to the library, making me remember my late night chat there with Severus. A letter from Draco, telling me Severus was now Headmaster of Hogwarts. A sentence uttered by Lucius, reminding me of something similar Severus had said months earlier.

However, little things soon turned into bigger things. When I was holding Lucius’s hand, I sometimes caught myself imagining that I was holding Severus instead. When Lucius and I kissed, my mind often wandered back to my kisses with Severus. Worst of all, when it came to sex, it took all of my willpower not to imagine that it was Severus who was inside me.

I did try to stop the thoughts from coming, I swear I did. It was not fair towards Lucius, it was hurting me. What good was it to recall the past? It was over. Over. Over.

Still, my brain thought otherwise. For every thought I banished, three more would take its place. It was as if there was poison spreading through my every cell, and I could do nothing about it. It was not long before Severus was the only thing I could think about most of the time. I wanted to feel his touch again. I longed for him to crush his lips against mine. I craved to have him inside me, to dig my fingernails into his skin. It was as if a weight had settled in my chest, and would not go away until I got what I wanted. And it hurt, oh, it hurt. Every thought of him was like driving a knife into my breast. I was constantly on the verge of tears. Sometimes I cried for hours, when Lucius was not there to see me.

I had never felt this way before. At first I did not know what to make of it. I had experienced loneliness. I had felt desire. But this? What was this? The horrible pain in my chest? The tears that came out of nowhere? The feeling that wherever I turned, Severus was there with me?

I suppose the answer had been before my eyes all along, but I stubbornly refused to acknowledge it. I decided to play deaf and blind and pretend that it was just a passing thing, something that would go away in time if I only persevered. And so I cried, and I ached, and all the while I tried to fool myself into believing that all this suffering was like a bitter pill one had to swallow to ultimately feel better. Which was all fine and well ... if it were not for the Death Eater meetings. Whatever resolutions I had made, they all shattered to pieces whenever I saw Severus in person. We never spoke, of course, but merely being in the same room with him was enough to drive me insane. If my heart ached when I was alone, Crucio was nothing compared to the pain I experienced when I looked at him. It was as if somebody were trying to tear me apart from the inside.

I do not know how I made it through the meetings without giving myself away. However, as soon as they were over I wasted no time. Dashing to the bathroom, I locked myself in and cried and cried until there were no more tears to spill. By the time I finished I was usually trembling with cold, and my arms and legs felt as heavy as lead. Facing Lucius in this state was not an option, so I fell into the habit of feigning a headache to give me an excuse to escape to my room. There I would fall onto my bed in a heap, and soon be asleep from pure exhaustion.

Perhaps it would have been easier to bear if I had somebody to confide in. But who was there? Draco? Despite the recent change in Lucius, he still adored him too much to understand. Bella? She would only laugh at my weakness and sentiment, and then go blabbing to the Dark Lord. Lucius? Definitely not.

That left only one person. Severus himself. However, I would rather lose my wand like Lucius than tell him how he made me feel. I could easily imagine his reaction. He would remind me of the agreement we had made, and then send me on my way. In case I wanted to feel even worse, this was certainly the route to take.

I was at my wits’ end. I could not go on like this for much longer. Feeling the way I did I did not have enough strength left to give Lucius the attention he needed. And despite his preoccupation with his own problems, he was starting to notice. He noticed my frequent headaches. He noticed how much time I spent alone in my room. He noticed the shadows under my eyes, the pallor of my skin. He was past reproaching me, however. That was what the old Lucius would have done. The new Lucius blamed himself, and took to drinking instead. I knew that if I wanted to save him, and myself, I would have to act, fast. But how?

And thus the next Death Eater meeting arrived. I still had no plan, and seeing Severus definitely did not help me to think any clearer. As usual, I tried to block him out as if he were not there at all, but, also as usual, with little success. I dug my fingernails into my palms and took a painful breath; it was as if my chest were about to explode. I could take it no longer. For all those months I had been doing my best to avoid looking at Severus unless it was absolutely necessary, and what good did it do me? It only got worse. So what harm would there be in gazing at him until my eyes hurt? None at all. Perhaps it would even make some of the pain go away... And so for the rest of the meeting I drank in the familiar features whenever he spoke, remembering every line, every curve, hoping to etch them into my memory to recall them at will, in the solitude of my room. Such a beautiful face, even more beautiful than I remembered it ... perfect. It was almost impossible to tear my eyes away from it when the meeting eventually ended, but in order not to arouse suspicion I had to rise from my chair along with the others and walk to the door with Lucius at my side. Nevertheless, as Lucius stopped to say goodbye to one of his friends I did risk one final glance behind me ... and almost flinched as my eyes met Severus’s. What was more, he was wearing an expression I had never seen on his face before. There was sadness, and longing, and ... and then it was gone as he inclined his head to me and turned away, leaving me to wonder if I had merely imagined it.

For once, I did not spend the time after the meeting crying in the bathroom. My mind was too preoccupied by what I had seen. The more I thought about it, the more certain I was that the look on Severus’s face had been real. But if it had, would that mean that... No, it would do me no good to jump to conclusions, to get my hopes up only to have them torn down again. There had to be another explanation. Perhaps the look was not meant for me. Perhaps Severus was just sad because something else had gone wrong. Perhaps... But it was no good. The hope had been seeded, and it would not go away now. No matter what I tried to fool myself with, my mind always returned to the same conclusion. Severus missed me, too.

Once this belief had settled itself in my brain, there was nothing that could keep me at home. At the first possible opportunity I told Lucius that I was going to Hogsmeade to do some shopping, and then fled the house as if it were on fire.

It took a huge amount of self-restraint not to break into a run once I reached the village. However, I told myself to calm down. If I had managed to survive without Severus for so long, surely a few more minutes would not kill me. Still, by the time I arrived at Hogwarts I was virtually trembling with anticipation. I just could not help it. After all those months of despair, of tears I thought would never cease, I would finally get a chance to fight for what I so craved for. It was almost too good to be true.

Looking up at the castle, seemingly nothing had changed since my nightly visits that now seemed like an eternity ago. There were still two guards at the entrance, but upon closer inspection I recognized them as fellow Death Eaters. It was as Draco had been writing in his letters, then; the school was entirely in the Dark Lord’s hands now.

I approached the two men, and upon being asked for the purpose of my visit, I told them that I had come to visit my son. It had been all right to tell Aurors who I was truly visiting, but here I was walking on thin ice. I could never be certain what might reach the Dark Lord’s or Lucius’s ears.

After being allowed to enter, I nearly headed straight to the dungeons, but at the last moment I realized that as the new Headmaster Severus would probably now be dwelling in Dumbledore’s old office, and so I directed my steps there. Strangely enough, there was nobody about. It was late afternoon, but there were no children laughing and running down the corridors. Draco had told me in his letters that the discipline was now strict, but to me the atmosphere in the castle seemed downright ominous. I would have to ask Severus what was going on if I got the chance.

However, as I neared my destination my musings slowly took a different turn. After all, arguing about how the school was run was not what I had come for. No, my task would be much more demanding. I was not so naive as to believe that Severus would welcome me with open arms. I knew him too well to expect that. Even if he missed me, as I was convinced he did, he would put up a fight. And I knew I would only get one chance to make him see things my way. It was not a very positive prospect, I was aware of that. But it gave me hope, however small, which was more than I could have claimed having a few days before.

Even so, with every step I took my heart was beating faster and faster, which had nothing to do with the number of stairs I had already climbed. A weight had settled in the pit of my stomach, and would not go away. Blood was pounding in my temples. Black spots were dancing before my eyes. I may have convinced myself that I had hope, but the possibility of rejection was still hanging above me like a guillotine. I dared not imagine what my life would become if worst came to worst. It was simply too horrible.

Lost in my self-destructive thoughts, I finally reached the Headmaster’s office. Clutching at my breast, I took a deep breath and was just about to approach the gargoyle guarding the spiral staircase when I caught the sound of approaching footsteps. As quick as lightning, I dived into the shadows of the nearest niche just as two figures emerged from behind the corner. Peering from my hiding place, I recognized them as two Death Eaters I had never particularly liked, the Carrows.

“Pure-blood,” said Amycus Carrow to the gargoyle, which immediately slid aside to let him and his sister pass. As they disappeared from view I finally let out the breath I did not know I had been holding. It had been a close call. Now that I had told the guards at the entrance that I had come to see Draco, it was imperative that nobody saw where I had really gone. Of course I planned to visit Draco after my business here was finished, just to make certain. Ever since he left I had missed him terribly. But for once there was something my heart yearned to do more.

I was shaking like an aspen leaf by the time the Carrows finally came out. I had so wanted to get the matter over and done with, because the more time I spent thinking about it, the less confident I became. And now that I had had another fifteen minutes to elaborate on the worst possible scenarios, I was feeling more certain of failure than ever before. My whole life had been a failure, so why should it be any different now? Why could I simply not stay content with the half a year of happiness I had already had? Surely it was too much to ask for more?

No! That was how Lucius had taught me to think. That I had no right to live my own life. That I was only alive to obey his wishes. That I was nothing but a woman, an inferior being. But Severus had made me see differently. He told me that women were no worse than men; I only had to look into history at how many witches had been famous. He told me that I had exactly the same right to pursue happiness as any man. He told me that I could do anything I wanted; the only thing that dragged me down was my own lack of self-confidence. Well, I would show him that I was not afraid! I would throw his own words into his face if it came to the point. I would fight for my happiness, or die trying. How could I have even thought of backing out once I had come this far?

Clenching my fists, I uttered the password (perhaps it was lucky that I had overheard it from the Carrows, though I doubt I would have had much trouble thinking of it myself) and determinedly stepped onto the spiral staircase. It immediately sprang into motion, taking me up and up, and then suddenly I was at the door, giving it a quick rap before my determination could wane.

“Enter,” came Severus’s voice from the inside, and my heart skipped several beats. However, I did my best to ignore it; instead I took a deep breath and pushed open the door.

Severus was sitting at Dumbledore's old desk, studying a mass of papers spread out pell-mell in front of him. He glanced up as I entered, and a number of emotions crossed his face before he finally settled for a mask of neutral politeness.

“Narcissa,” he said, rising. “What a pleasant surprise. Do come and sit down.” He pointed towards a sofa and several armchairs off to the side of the room, which I could not remember being there while Dumbledore still occupied the office. I wondered whether it had anything to do with the kind of guests Severus now entertained, who would not take well to being left standing, as Dumbledore had often had his visitors do, regardless of their position. Be it as it may, however, I took the offered seat and sank down onto the sofa, while Severus claimed the armchair beside me.

“Would you like something to drink?” he asked. “Tea? Wine?”

“A glass of wine would be nice, thank you,” I said, and watched as Severus conjured two glasses out of thin air and handed one to me. We both took a sip before Severus put his glass down and asked, “So to what do I owe the pleasure of your visit today?”

I flinched at the words; it was as if he were talking to a stranger. I resisted the urge to shout at him. Or kiss him. Or both. Instead I said, “Well, since you so ask, I shall not beat about the bush. I have come because my life has become so unbearable I simply cannot go on anymore. It ... it all started when we stopped seeing each other. I wanted to forget you and be a good wife to Lucius as I had promised, both to myself and to you. You know I never meant otherwise. But ... something went wrong. No matter what I told myself, I couldn’t get you out of my head. I tried everything, I really did. But it only got worse. The more I tried to forget you, the more I missed you. Eventually I could think of nothing else; it was like an ever present nightmare. It was hurting me, and it was hurting Lucius. And I knew then that I really could not afford to delude myself any longer, that it would be the death of me – and Lucius – if I did. I suppose I had known the truth all along, I just didn’t want to admit it. But I ... I love you, Severus, no matter how wrong it may be. That’s the reason I came to see you today, because I really didn’t know what else I could do.” With this final declaration I slowly raised my eyes, my heart beating like mad. Severus, however, did not meet my gaze. He was staring at his wine glass, looking thoughtful. I watched him with mounting dread. Now that it came to the point, I was not sure if I really wanted to hear his reaction.

“I had feared this might happen,” he said after what seemed like an eternity, finally looking up from his glass. His expression was serious, but otherwise unreadable. “So what is it you expect from me? I hope you remember what I have told you about love.”

I sighed. “How could I forget? But no, I do not expect you to love me back. I just want to ask if ... if we could continue seeing each other, like we did before.”

“And Lucius?” Severus’s voice came like a whiplash.

“That’s exactly the point,” I countered, ignoring the stab of pain in my chest his cold tone had induced. “This is as much about him as it is about me. He returned from Azkaban a wreck. As if that wasn’t enough, the Dark Lord has taken his wand. He turns to me for support, but how can I give it to him when I am a walking shadow myself? He has started drinking, Severus! I know I could stop him, but not without your help.”

“And you believe having an affair will help him? Do you think he will be a happy man if he ever finds out about this?”

“Well, now he’s an unhappy man for certain,” I said, Severus’s uncompromising tone grating on my nerves more and more. “If we take extra precautions, the risk will be minimal. And if it helps him...”

Severus, however, shook his head. “Narcissa, this is different from last time. Have you not been listening at the Dark Lord’s gatherings? He is preparing for war, he has spies everywhere. Nothing escapes his attention now.”

“I still think we should risk it,” I said stubbornly. “Of course I don’t expect to meet every night like we used to. Once every two weeks will do just fine. I just ... need something to look forward to, something to replenish my energy. I’ve been giving Lucius my all, but now I’m empty. I have nothing left to give, Lucius has taken everything. He is a changed man, that is true, but he still hasn’t learned to give back. You, on the other hand-”

But Severus cut me off. “Narcissa, stop. This is not a good idea. These are dark times; it is no place for romantic affairs. Emotions do not belong in war. They only make people weak and vulnerable. They subvert their rational thinking. In short, they make them easy targets.”

“Well, I don’t think I can become much more vulnerable than I am now,” I said defiantly. “So I’m willing to take the risk.”

“I shall let you do no such thing,” retorted Severus heatedly, no longer sounding like his usual composed self. Perhaps if I persevered, I would eventually manage to discompose him even more. Now, however, I was furious.

“What do you mean, you shall not let me?” I bristled. “Why should you care? You have no feelings for me, you’ve said so yourself. So what’s it to you if anything happens to me or not?”

To my surprise, Severus did not answer. He merely looked at me, and there was such pain in his eyes that one would have thought I had hurt him. But ... that did not make sense. He may have missed me, yes, but surely it was not possible that...

“You ... you do care,” I breathed.

He flinched at the words, as if they had stung him, and averted his gaze. He looked, if possible, even more dejected, as he ran a shaky hand over his cheek. I could take it no longer. Before I could realize what I was doing, I had caught the hand and started stroking the long fingers soothingly. To my relief, Severus did not pull away. I guessed he was past protesting now. And so I edged as close to him as I could on the sofa, and whispered, “Don’t fight it, Severus. Fighting it is what will make you weaker, more vulnerable. But if you give it a chance, it will make you stronger, happier. Even the world won’t seem like such a desolate place to live in anymore.” I sighed, then quickly went on in the unlikely case Severus chose to interfere. “Still, you are right that these are dangerous times. It may happen that one or even both of us will perish in the war. But would you rather die regretting what you had missed? Or would you prefer dying with the memories of the good times we had had? Think about it.”

Severus finally looked up at me then, and it was as if his whole life was reflected in his eyes, the mistakes he had made, the chances he had missed. And then he was no longer gazing at me but past me, looking as though he was reliving each memory in its painful details, suffering just as he had all those years ago, his dark eyes glistening with unshed tears ... until, after what seemed like a millenium to me, he must have reached a decision of some sort, for his eyes were focused on me again and there was an air of determination about him that had not been there before. And suddenly, before I even had a chance to start worrying about the result of his musings, he was kissing me, kissing me like he had never kissed me before; it was hungry and somehow desperate, as if he would never get another chance again. And I was kissing back, my hand caressing his face, over and over, pressing on his skin as if trying to etch it into my palm, tears streaming down my cheeks, for it was too overwhelming to believe that after all those months I was in his arms once more.

When we finally broke apart I was crying like a child, and so Severus, who seemed in no way disconcerted by this reaction, having already been subjected to it before, pulled me onto his lap and stroked my hair until the tears subsided, taking all the pain of the last few months with them.

I would have never left the office if I did not have to. But Severus was right; we could not afford to take any unnecessary risks now. One never knew when the Carrows could return, and if they found me in Severus’s arms... No, I did not even dare think of it. And so instead of following the call of my heart, I arranged to meet Severus a week later in his house on Spinner’s End, and after one last parting kiss I quickly left the office before I could change my mind.

As I had resolved, it was to the Slytherin common room that I next directed my steps, where I expected Draco to be. I had asked Severus for the password, and so it was into the midst of a group of surprised faces that I unexpectedly walked through the stone doorway. Still, none of the students looked quite as surprised as Draco himself, whose eyes lit up like Christmas lights upon sighting me, and he all but ran to greet me. We found an empty classroom then, so that he could hug me without fear of losing face in front of his classmates. And then we talked. We talked about poor Lucius, and how he was coping without his wand. We talked about the Dark Lord’s gatherings Draco had missed while at school. We talked about the upcoming war, and how we no longer really cared who came out victorious, as long as our family survived. We talked about the discipline at Hogwarts, which now seemed more like a prison than a school. We talked about the students’ mounting dislike of the sadistic Carrows. We talked about the growing unpopularity of Severus, who was believed to be encouraging them, and whose own treatment of students was not far from matching theirs. I wished I could tell Draco that Severus was only following the Dark Lord’s orders (so he had told me when I had asked, and I had no reason to believe otherwise), not to mention secretly disobeying them when he thought them too cruel. But that would mean admitting that I had visited Severus, and I did not dare risk Draco mentioning this fact to his father. If only I could tell Draco the truth! After all, he was keeping nothing from me now, so it pained me not to be able to do the same. But no, it could never be. Draco would never understand that I could not make Lucius happy unless I had Severus. Sometimes it seemed a little twisted even to myself. And so I eventually left my boy with him being none the wiser, and with me feeling more than a little guilty. All I could do to make it up to him was to promise to visit him again soon, together with Lucius, perhaps.

As I walked back to Hogsmeade, however, all my guilty feelings were quickly forgotten as my thoughts turned back towards my meeting with Severus. Somehow I still found it difficult to believe that we would be seeing each other again. I guessed that after all those months of tears and despair I had almost forgotten what it was like to feel anything else. I suddenly felt as light as a feather. I wanted to skip, I wanted to dance. But since people would probably look at me strangely if I did that, I settled instead for buying a few items in the local shops to support my alibi, and then headed home in the highest of spirits.

I found Lucius sitting on the sofa, staring into empty space with a glass of Firewhisky in his hand. Poor, poor Lucius. So lost was he in his agonizing thoughts that he did not even glance up when I came. I knew that if I wanted to make amends, I could not have found a better time to start. And so I dropped my shopping bags onto the floor, swiftly crossed the room and took a place next to him on the sofa, draping my arm over his shoulders as I did so and placing a gentle kiss on his cheek.

“I’m sorry I took so long,” I said contritely. “It occurred to me that I could visit Draco while I was there. You should come with me next time. The boy needs us. The school feels like a crypt now.”

Lucius finally turned to look at me then, and I was shocked to see how strained he appeared. His eyes were bloodshot and it seemed as if he had not shaved for several days.

“That does not surprise me,” he said gloomily. “The Dark Lord has mastered the art of undermining one’s spirits to its finest points. If I could, I would bring Draco home straight away.”

“We can ask him to come at Easter,” I suggested. “The less time he spends at that cursed place, the better.”

“Not that it matters,” Lucius continued, as if he had not heard me. “Our days are numbered whatever we do. The Dark Lord has no use for us; he will sacrifice us at the first opportunity that suits him.”

I looked at him, aghast. I knew that Azkaban had scarred him badly, but I had no idea that he harboured thoughts quite so pessimistic. It just went to show how much attention I had been paying him lately. Well, that was about to change now. Taking his hand in mine, I ran my thumb gently over his palm, saying, “Ssh, Lucius, you mustn’t talk like that. The Dark Lord has other things on his mind now than punishing us. Also, Draco has rendered him a great service. Dumbledore would never have fallen had it not been for his help. Surely the Dark Lord is aware of that.”

“If he is, then why did he take my wand?” howled Lucius, his face suddenly contorted with agony. “Why not somebody else’s?”

“I think you should feel privileged that the Dark Lord had chosen your wand,” I said soothingly, though I knew very well that what I was saying was complete nonsense. “I’m sure Bella would have given anything to have been granted such an honour.”

“It is not an honour, Narcissa!” yelled Lucius, looking as though he would burst into tears any moment. “He’s punishing me, I know it! He only got me out of Azkaban to destroy me completely! He took my wand, he’s treating my house as if it belonged to him ... only Merlin knows what he’s got in store for me next.”

“He’s got nothing in store for you,” I said firmly, opting for a change of tactics as I realized that gentle persuasion would get me nowhere. “It’s only you seeing demons where there are none. But even if you were right, even if the Dark Lord was planning to punish you further, what use is there brooding over it? Will it help anything? Will it prevent what’s coming? No. So I suggest you get off that sofa and enjoy life while you still can. The garden’s covered with snow; it looks like a winter fairyland. Let’s take a walk in it. Perhaps the fresh air will help you clear your head.”

And before he could muster as much as a word of protest, I briskly extracted the whisky glass from his fingers, seized his hands and pulled him up from the sofa. He swayed a little, but quickly found support in my shoulder, and so with him leaning on me we made our way into the hall. I called for the maid to bring us our fur-lined cloaks, and after we had thoroughly wrapped ourselves in them in order not to catch a chill, I led Lucius into the cold night air outside.

As I had advertised, the garden did indeed look enchanting. The snow glittered in the light of the lanterns scattered among the bushes, and crunched beneath our feet as we walked, arm in arm, along paths whose position we could only guess at. We did not talk. I had said all I had wanted to, while Lucius simply gazed around in wonder. He rather looked as though he was seeing the world for the first time. It did not surprise me; I dared not even guess when he had last taken a walk.

“Look,” he said suddenly, pointing. “A squirrel.”

I glanced in the indicated direction and indeed, a ginger squirrel was hopping in the snow, leaving little paw prints behind. I gave Lucius a smile, feeling strangely moved. It was as if we had gone back in time, and I was a young girl and he was courting me again. And at that moment it seemed to me that maybe, just maybe, there was still hope for the two of us.


And so it went on, day after day. In order not to let Lucius’s mind wander into dangerous waters, I made sure to keep him occupied at all times. We went for long walks, we played wizard chess, we invited friends over to keep us company. Once we even had a snowball fight, believe it or not. Still, it was slow progress. There were times when Lucius fell into one of his fatalistic moods no matter what I did, and that was when he poured himself a generous amount of Firewhisky and the look in his eyes told me not to even attempt to stop him. But I was patient. Whenever things got too bad I thought of the upcoming meeting with Severus, and that is how I retained my will to keep going. After all, I could not expect Lucius to get better overnight. Sensing improvement, however small, was enough to keep me happy. I beamed every time Lucius’s expression lost a little of its sombreness. I rejoiced at every glass of Firewhisky I managed to talk him out of. My heart skipped whenever a ghost of a smile crossed his features.

Keeping both Lucius and myself busy in this way, it so happened that the days flew by surprisingly quickly, and before I knew it I found myself heading towards Severus’s house, all thoughts of Lucius momentarily left behind as my whole body filled with anticipation at seeing my beloved again. Well, no, that was not quite right. I did feel that way a week earlier, that was true, but now, after all I had done for him, it was no longer possible to completely erase Lucius from my mind. And so, deep down, there was guilt eating away at my conscience; guilt at leaving Lucius alone, guilt at lying to him about where I was going (shopping seemed to have worked last time, so I saw no reason why I should not use it as an excuse again, knowing Lucius to despise the activity, thus making it highly unlikely for him to want to come with me).

As I knocked on the door of Severus’s house, however, I firmly pushed all uncomfortable thoughts to the very back of my mind, determined to keep them there until the meeting was over. There would be plenty of time to feel guilty later, but for now I would let nothing spoil the happiness that had cost me so much to get.

The door opened a few seconds later, and there stood Severus, looking like a black angel as the light from the house illuminated him from behind. He smiled at me and beckoned me to come inside, and I followed as if in a trance, forgetting everything and seeing nothing but him. No sooner had he closed the door than I rushed into his arms and laid my head on his chest, blissfully inhaling the scent that I remembered so well. He wrapped his arms around me then, and placed a kiss in my hair, and I knew I had found heaven. I felt safe, I felt cared for. I felt as if nothing would ever go wrong again, if only I stayed in Severus’s arms. But of course I could not, and so after some time we broke apart, and when I looked up it was only to meet Severus’s gaze which was filled with such tenderness that it made my heart ache. I reached out and, ever so gently, ran my fingers down his cheek, as if to assure him that I knew how he felt, and that I felt the same. He closed his eyes at my touch, and seeing him so yielding I found I simply could not resist him, and I kissed him softly on his slightly parted lips. He responded immediately, and his kisses were gentle, as if I were a delicate flower that could break if not handled carefully enough. One of his hands had found its way into my hair, and I could feel it trembling slightly as it stroked me, with touches as light as a feather. I responded in kind, softly caressing his hair and his face, reveling in the sensation of his cool skin under my fingertips, all the while returning his kisses, a mere brushing of the lips. And then he pulled away and our gazes met, and the look he had given me before was nothing compared to the way he was regarding me now. Never had I seen so much emotion in one look, nor such intensity. And never would I have believed that anybody could look that way at me. It lasted only a few seconds, but I knew it would be burned into my memory forever, and I would see it in my dreams for the rest of my life. For now, however, the look was gone, for Severus had lowered his head and pressed his forehead against mine, and so we stood together, for how long I cannot tell, at peace with the world, living only for the moment and for each other. And when the magic passed Severus took my hand and led me out of the room and up the stairs, until we found ourselves standing in front of a closed door on the second floor. With one swift motion Severus pushed it open and led me in.

The first thing I saw was a single black candle burning on a small table by the wall, casting a soft light on the room we had entered. The only other furniture in the room was a battered chair standing by the table, and a large bed with sheets that definitely remembered better times. I had never before considered why Severus lived where he lived, but now a sudden realization dawned on me.

“Is ... is this your room?” I asked. “Is this where you grew up?”

Severus looked at me for a second or two, then at last gave a slight nod, looking as though it pained him to do so.

“So that means your parents are-”

“Dead, yes.”

“Oh. I’m sorry.” I did not know what else to say.

“There is no reason to be. I cared little for either of them.”

“Why? They didn’t treat you well?” I could not believe the conversation had taken such a turn. Severus had never discussed his life with me before, so now that I was given the chance to unveil some of the mystery surrounding him, my curiosity definitely got the better of me.

Severus, however, did not look at all thrilled at having to dig up old memories. “They argued,” he said gravely, his expression haunted, as if he had gone back in time, back to being a helpless child, cowering in the corner while his parents exchanged insults. “All the time. They seldom noticed when I left the room to escape the shouting.”

“Oh.” I no longer wanted to find out more. I felt Severus’s pain when he talked about it as if it were my own, and all I wanted now was for him to feel happy again. Therefore I told him to come to me, and when he did – reluctantly, as if he were afraid that I would hurt him, or worse, pity him – I pulled him into a hug and I stroked his back, gently, soothingly, until I felt his tensed body relax. And then we kissed, and before I knew it I was lying on Severus’s old bed, and Severus himself had pulled off my scarf and was now tracing soft kisses down the side of my neck, while his hands explored my body with loving caresses. There was no need to rush. We took our time as we peeled off each other’s garments, showering each newly exposed part of the body with kisses and gentle touches. It was as if every crease, every curve, every hollow deserved special care, and would wither without it. Still, by the time Severus’s wandering hands reached the area below my waist, I felt that the time for unhurried and tender gestures was over. As he slowly traced his fingers over the black lace of my knickers I had become so aroused it almost hurt, and so I quickly shed off that last piece of cloth and then unceremoniously guided Severus to penetrate me. His own arousal already more than notable, Severus was only too glad to obey, and so he slid into me as my breath caught in my throat and I dug my fingernails into the covers. Waves of delight washed over me as I felt him start moving inside me, but it was not enough, I needed him to go deeper, to tear my insides if need be, and so I pushed against him with all my might, again and again and again, moving ever faster, until my body arched in a final burst of pleasure and I fell back against the pillows, black spots dancing before my eyes. Only vaguely was I aware of Severus coming a few moments later, breathing heavily as he collapsed on the bed next to me.

I do not know how long we lay there, both silent, me with my head resting on Severus’s bare chest. My brain was too clouded to think, so I was more than happy to just listen to the steady rhythm of Severus’s heart, and let myself be lulled into a trance by the rising and falling motion of my human pillow. All I knew was that I was perfectly happy, and that I had just had the best sex of my life. I had never come anywhere near this with Lucius, naturally. Strangely enough, though, it had never been quite so good with Severus, either, despite having had numerous opportunities to try. Feeling his fingers wander idly into my hair, however, I had absolutely no doubt as to the reason of our sudden improvement. It was something that had been missing before, but was present now in every gesture. It was something I had been long past expecting to experience. It was love.

I still could not believe it. Where did it come from? How did it happen that one moment we were meeting only for sex, and the next we found ourselves lost in each other’s eyes? Yes, I remembered only too well how the change had come over me. But Severus? What had made him change his mind? Him, who had seemed so determined not to love again?

I could not bear it, I had to know. Even if I did not get an answer, I would never find peace if I did not ask. And so I pulled his hand from my hair and gently ran my thumb over his fingers for a moment or two, before finally finding the courage to address him and, upon his encouragement to go on, bluntly ask, “All those months ago, you said you could never love me. Why?”

Although I could not see his face, I heard him sigh, but the words I expected to follow did not come. I did not like the silence. Unlike the comfortable silence before, this one seemed strangely ominous. Perhaps it had not been a good idea to pose the question, after all. But just as I was about to apologize and ask Severus to forget I had ever said anything he suddenly spoke.

“There was a girl I used to know,” he said, and his voice was sad and somehow distant, as if he had gone back to the past again in his mind. “We were children when we first met, but she was special to me, even then. We became friends. I hoped that one day she would return my feelings, but instead she went and married someone else. And then ... she died. But not my love for her. She will always have a place in my heart. Always.”

He finished and I turned to look at him then, and saw that there were tears in his eyes. Watching him, I felt like crying myself. Had it all been only my fantasy, then? That he had come to care for me? To love me? Had all the looks he had given me been fake? All the kisses? All the caresses? Could he really have been so cruel?

As if he sensed my distress, he seemed to snap out of his reverie then, for he quickly wiped his eyes, and then turned to look straight at me. “I apologize,” he said, sounding, to my relief, like his normal self again. “I have been a little too blunt, perhaps. But I shall answer your question now, and that should dispel any doubts about me you may have formed. You asked me why I had told you that I could never love you. The reason is simple – because at that time I sincerely believed it to be true. I had loved that girl all my life; it had never even crossed my mind that I could love another. But when Lucius returned and I found myself alone again I realized that I missed your company. It was nothing more than that at first. But as the days went by the feeling grew stronger. It was no longer possible to dismiss it as mere loneliness. But I was confused. My feelings for the girl had not changed, and yet I wanted you. I felt as if I were betraying her. And so I fought it. I tried to forget you. But my attempts turned out to be futile. Finally I realized I would have to learn to live with it. I decided to treat you as just another woman whom I had lost to another. And so it would have stayed, had you not come to visit me, had you not poured out your heart to me. Even then I had no intention of renewing the affair. There was Lucius, there was the Dark Lord. But above all, there was the girl. I still felt I would lose something if I gave my love to you. But then you said what you did, and I realized that I did not want to let another chance go to waste. The girl was dead, and I was alive. So I would live, while I had the chance. I finally saw that my memories of the girl, and my love for her, would remain the same, regardless of what I did. For that I wish to thank you.”

He finished and lowered his gaze, as if unable to face me after revealing so much, as if convinced I would think less of him now. I wish I could have told him otherwise, but I was moved beyond words. I still could not believe that he had actually confided in me, that he had opened his heart to me. Even if he had told me that he loved he it would not have meant so much to me. And so at last I found my voice and, with tears in my eyes that were threatening to spill, managed to choke out, “And I ... I thank you for telling me all this. It can’t have been easy, I know. And to think that I doubted you! You cannot imagine how much I regret it now. But ... for a moment there I really thought ... when you said ... you know...” I trailed off, unable to look Severus in the eye. I felt like a fool. How could it have ever occurred to me that Severus was faking his feelings was beyond me. Then again, I guessed it was to be expected. Nobody had ever loved before. Why should they? All my life they had told me I was nothing, and would become something only when I married. How could I hope to change these ingrain beliefs in a week? But, Merlin, I would try. Severus had already worked wonders on my mental state when we were seeing each other half a year ago, and he did not love me then. Surely the healing effect he had on me would work twice as well now that he did? Feeling him wrap his arms around me as he brushed his lips over my temple, I did not doubt it.

And so time passed, and slowly things were beginning to improve. To my absolute delight, Lucius seemed to be thriving under my care. He resorted to his glass of Firewhisky less and less, and it was no longer a rare treat to see him smile. He had come to really enjoy spending time with me, and he could not get enough of it. Sometimes he brought me flowers, sometimes gifts. It was as if he had realized what our marriage had been, and was determined to make amends. Or perhaps he was merely grateful. There were times when he reminded me of a puppy that had been saved from starving on the streets, and was now showing gratitude in every possible manner. It was therefore more than understandable that every time I went to see Severus the guilt gnawing at my insides grew more and more intense. On the other hand, the mere idea of giving him up was like thinking of driving a stake through my heart. If Lucius was thriving under my care, then the same could be said of Severus’s effect on me. It was as if I were a plant and he was water. It was as if I were a baby and he was milk. In short, I could not live without him.

As spring arrived we no longer limited our meetings to his house. It was too dangerous, he said. The closer the war drew, the less the Dark Lord trusted even his closest servants, and so it was quite possible that he had ordered to have the house watched. Therefore we considered it wisest to vary our meeting places as much as possible. We met in forests. We met in village inns. We met in the heart of Muggle London. Not that it mattered much to me. Even the Sahara Desert would have been fine, as long as Severus was there with me.

The necessity of alternating meeting places was not the only change that spring had brought to my life, however. As if he had not humiliated Lucius and me enough already, the Dark Lord suddenly thought it a good idea to place Bella and Wormtail in our house – to help us keep an eye on the prisoners, he claimed, a twisted smile playing on his lipless mouth as he did so. At first I thought he had finally lost it. After all, there were no prisoners in our house. But eventually, with a rush of terror, it occurred to me that by prisoners the Dark Lord may have meant Lucius and me. It would have made sense. I noticed that Bella rarely let me out of her sight; she wanted to take part in everything that I did, making it almost impossible now for me to escape the house and see Severus. Thanks to her it sometimes happened that I never arrived at the appointed meeting place, where Severus was probably going sick with worry, lest something had happened to me. Fortunately for us, though, the approaching war also meant more Death Eater gatherings at our house, where Severus and I could secretly exchange a note with an alternative meeting date. We no longer dared to use owl post, for fear of Bella or Wormtail asking to read the note before I could destroy it.

Despite still feeling like a prisoner myself, however, the next few weeks showed that the Dark Lord had meant his words literally, after all. Mr Ollivander came first, dragged into the house by Mulciber and Avery. Handing him over to us, exhausted and shabby looking, they ordered us to lock him in the cellar and threatened in the Dark Lord’s name to give us hell if he escaped. A few weeks later Mr Ollivander was joined by Luna Lovegood, daughter of the crackpot, Xenophilius. I did not know what these two people had done to be treated this way. Perhaps nothing at all. The Dark Lord knew no bounds these days, he killed and tortured as he pleased. In a way our prisoners could be considered lucky to have escaped his fury. In comparison with his methods of torture our damp cellar was a luxury indeed. Even so, I secretly brought the poor souls leftovers from our dinner whenever I got the chance.

A few weeks went by in this fashion, with me feeding the prisoners in secret and Bella and Wormtail poisoning the atmosphere in our house. Sister though she was, it was Bella who was indisputably the greater evil of the two. Not only did she always seem to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, but she even dared to abuse Lucius! In his own house, no less! It started with little biting insults, but soon she was openly reminding him of how he had messed up at the Ministry, how he had fallen out of the Dark Lord’s favour, and so on, and so forth. Needless to say, Lucius took badly to such taunts, and it was only due to my endless patience that he eventually managed to dispel each one from his mind. However, when one day Bella dropped a nasty comment about how helpless Lucius must feel without his wand, even my patience ran dry. Without realizing what I was doing, I slapped her, just like that. It was as if my whole childhood, full of insults and bullying that I had endured quietly because our parents would never hear a word against their precious Bella, went into that slap. It must have surprised me even more than it had surprised her, but while she eventually ran out of the room, whimpering, I was left standing there with an odd sense of satisfaction. For once in my life, I was the strong one, not the ever obedient sheep. And it felt amazing. What was more, when I turned around, I saw Lucius gazing at me with admiration in his eyes. Perhaps I would actually thank Bella the next time I saw her.

The incident certainly triggered a few significant changes. Besides arming me with newly gained confidence and strengthening Lucius’s respect for me, it also brought peace to the house at last. Reacting like a model bully, Bella now seemed afraid of me. No longer stuck on my heels like an obtrusive dog, I realized she was evidently avoiding me, though she did her best not to make it appear so. And although she still insulted Lucius at times, I felt that it was more out of habit than because she really meant it. Not that I really cared what her motives were. I had put her in her place once, and I would do it again if I thought it necessary.

With the arrival of the Easter holidays, however, something happened that suddenly made my conflict with Bella seem small and insignificant – a group of Snatchers caught Harry Potter and his friends and brought them to our house. If the choice had been mine, I would have let them go at once, I had no reason to help the Dark Lord anymore, but I had to play my role. Lucius, on the other hand, was beside himself with excitement. He still craved the Dark Lord’s forgiveness, poor soul, and saw Potter as a means of getting it. But as the boy’s face was deformed beyond recognition, he kept asking Draco (whom, true to my resolution, I had invited to come home for Easter) again and again to identify him, but Draco would have nothing to do with the matter. Being as sick of the war as I was, he merely gave a few evasive answers, and then resumed his place by my side. But then Bella entered the room, and I had never seen her so afraid as when she discovered that the Snatchers were in possession of a sword that she had believed to be lying safely in her vault at Gringott’s. Quicker than lightning, the Snatchers never knew what had hit them as she Stupefied all of them except for Fenrir Greyback, who remained kneeling at her feet while Draco was asked to take his comrades outside to be disposed of later. Still half mad with fear, Bella then tortured the Granger girl and even questioned a goblin the Snatchers had brought with Potter, until, at last, she seemed satisfied, and called the Dark Lord.

Only vaguely do I remember the few minutes that followed. One moment Bella was standing there, touching the Dark Mark, the next Potter and his friends burst into the room, disarming Bella a knocking Lucius unconscious. Then, to my utter disbelief, Dobby the house elf appeared out of nowhere, unscrewing our crystal chandelier and sending us all running for cover. Worst of all, the little rotter dared to disarm me! An elf, disarming a witch, would you believe it! But before I had a chance to react, Potter had managed to steal Draco's and Bella's wands, and by then it was too late to do anything, for he grabbed his friends and together they Disapparated in a blur of hands and legs, gone as suddenly as they had come. And we were left standing there, bleeding and shaking, some with rage, some with fright, anxiously awaiting the Dark Lord’s arrival. We were bound to be punished, there was no doubt about that. The Dark Lord would forgive no one who had dared to call him without having Harry Potter to hand over.

I was not worried about myself, naturally. I knew I was strong enough to take any punishment the Dark Lord devised for me. But imagining my son getting hurt, while I was merely standing there, watching helplessly, made me want to weep with frustration. If I could take Draco and run, I would not waste another minute, but I was not so naive as to believe that we would stand a chance against the Dark Lord.

And so we waited. I could feel the tension in the room building with each second that ticked by. Bella had started pacing, muttering quietly to herself as she did so. Greyback was lying on the floor where Potter had Stupefied him before he left, and nobody could be bothered attending to him. Draco was clutching my hand as if it were the last thing he could cling onto on a sinking ship. Lucius, whom I had eventually brought to, was as white as chalk. His worst nightmare had come true, he had failed the Dark Lord once again. There was no hope for forgiveness now, and every reason to expect the punishment he had so been dreading. Wormtail, on the other hand, was nowhere to be seen. I wondered what had happened to him down in the cellar, but I did not dare leave the room to check.

Another minute or two passed. Lucius had dropped down into an armchair by the fireplace, clutching at his heart, trembling all over. Bella did not cease her pacing. Draco was now sobbing quietly.

And then it happened. Without any sort of warning, the Dark Lord suddenly materialized in the middle of the room in a burst of barely controlled fury.

“I distinctly remember telling you to call me only in the unlikely case that you manage to capture Harry Potter!” he raged, his snake-like nostrils quivering. “So, where is he?” His eyes wandered to each of us in turn, as if he suspected one of us of hiding Potter behind their back.

“He ... he was here, my Lord,” stuttered Bella, dropping to her knees, not daring to meet the Dark Lord’s red gaze. “We had him locked up in the cellar, didn’t we?” She glanced at us, as if waiting for confirmation. When none came, she reluctantly went on, though her voice was barely audible now. “But he ... he escaped. I ... I think it was the elf. He somehow managed to get into the cellar and let Pot-”

But she never finished her sentence. Like a flash the Dark Lord drew out his wand and hit her with a curse that sent her flying halfway across the room.

“An elf?” he sneered. “You let a creature with the intelligence of a worm outsmart you? And you dare call yourself wizards? Crucio!”

He tortured us all in turn, maliciously alternating the curses and continuing to insult us in between. I closed my eyes when he reached Draco, I just could not find it in me to watch. But his screams echoed in my ears all the same, and at that moment I found myself wishing that Harry Potter really was the Chosen One, and that he would find a way of getting the world rid of this monster that was finding pleasure in hurting my family so.

When, at last, he had finished with us, he asked for Wormtail, and that was when we finally found him, lying in the open door of the cellar, strangled by his own silver hand. I was convinced the Dark Lord would blame us for the loss of his servant and give vent to his fury in the form of further torture, but I was relieved to have been mistaken. Muttering something about having more pressing matters to take care of than a bunch of incompetent morons, the Dark Lord finally left in a cloud of threats, most of which provided detailed information about what would be done to us if we ever summoned him again without reason.

With the Dark Lord gone, the room suddenly seemed strangely quiet. There were no more curses, no more screams. Only Bella was still muttering to herself, crouched on the floor and rocking to and fro. I did not quite understand what she was saying, but I distinctly caught the words “disappointed the Dark Lord” and “no longer his favourite”. Poor Bella, her obsession with the Dark Lord was truly pitiful. He could not have found a better lapdog if he tried. If he now asked her to lick his shoes, I was certain she would fall over backwards to do so, and even enjoy the task. It sometimes made me wonder what her husband, Rodolphus, thought of it. But, knowing him to be equally devoted to the Dark Lord, it would not surprise me to find him encouraging her in her overzealousness.

Finally tearing my gaze from the muttering bundle on the floor, I turned to check on Lucius, who had fallen back into his armchair again, and looked as though he was not about to get up in a hurry. There were bruises all over his face and blood was trickling down his chin from a cut lip. However, I suspected his exhaustion to be more of a mental nature. He had been on the receiving end of the Dark Lord’s wrath yet again, and it would take days to determine how much it had affected him. Perhaps I could finally convince him to keep out of the war as much as possible, since even he now had to see that there was nothing he could do to regain the Dark Lord’s favour, short of bringing him Harry Potter on a silver platter.

But that would have to wait. It was Draco’s welfare that was at the forefront of my mind now, and so I quickly transferred my attention to him, a lonesome figure standing just a short distance away. To my surprise and relief, I found him to be the least scarred by the Dark Lord’s retribution. Perhaps the Dark Lord had chosen not to waste as much energy on him as on the rest of us, knowing him to have almost no say in the house, and therefore being the least responsible for Potter’s escape. Or perhaps he was merely stronger than we had all thought him to be, and as such withstood the Dark Lord’s curses better than any of us. Either way, after we had both eased off some of the tension by means of a long and comforting hug, it was he who helped me mend the shattered chandelier and set it back in its place (having lost his wand, I consented to lend him mine, while I settled for using the little wandless magic that I had learned during the years spent in the Dark Lord's services), revive the unconscious Snatchers in our courtyard and, together with a shaky Greyback, send them on their way, as well as bury Wormtail under a rhododendron bush in the garden. Cruel as it may sound, I doubted any of us would ever miss the man.

After Draco had gone back to school, life resumed its normal course again, bringing with it a few important changes. A welcome improvement was certainly the departure of Bella, who was no longer needed to help us guard prisoners, as after the fiasco with Potter’s escape it seemed highly unlikely for the Dark Lord to ever entrust us the task of keeping any in the house again. Having watched her for the last few days of her stay, I was convinced she was as happy to go as I was to see her leave; she could barely look me in the eyes. I supposed she was afraid that I would now remind her of her failure (not to mention the loss of her wand), just as she had reminded Lucius of his. It only went to show how little she knew me.

One of the advantages of having Bella gone was that I could once again enjoy the luxury of seeing Severus without her following my every move. I could see Severus was much happier for it, as he no longer had to pace a circle at meeting places I would never come to. Instead he could use the energy to take me to bed and cover my body with soft little kisses, which was a much more preferable alternative for both of us, I was sure.

The other advantage was that I could finally carry on working on Lucius’s mental state without anybody continually undermining my efforts. The incident with the Dark Lord had shaken him badly. More than ever was he convinced that he would be among the first to be sacrificed in the upcoming war, now that the Dark Lord had been assured of his incompetence. On the other hand, this conviction seemed to have finally made him give up the idea of impressing the Dark Lord, just as I had hoped it would. All he wished for now was to survive the war, despite being convinced of the opposite. Fortunately, this defeatist attitude no longer frightened me. I only had to work harder on keeping Lucius’s mind distracted at all times, so that he would have no opportunity to contemplate his fate and become depressed. Which, with the ever growing need for my company he was developing, was not nearly as difficult as it used to be.

Still, as the days passed, even I was beginning to grow slightly restless. The Dark Lord had very nearly finished his war preparations, and yet he never seemed to mention a particular date on which all his plans would be put into action. I did not understand what he was waiting for. How long would we go on like this? I had my ways of keeping Lucius’s thoughts from straying to the war, that was true, but I was not naive enough to think that they would work indefinitely. If the uncertainty of what was going to happen was taking its toll on me, I did not even want to imagine what it was doing to Lucius. Much as I tried, I could not possibly keep control over his mind every second of the day, and it was only too clear to me where his thoughts wandered when left unguarded. I supposed it was only a matter of time before the strain caused him to break and do something rash.

As it happened, however, the opportunity for things to go that far never came. It was a warm spring evening in the middle of May and Lucius and I were just taking a walk in the garden when we suddenly felt our Dark Marks burn. Knowing the Dark Lord’s instructions, it could only mean one thing – somebody had captured Harry Potter. Still, there was nothing Lucius and I could do until the Dark Lord himself summoned us; we did not know where to Apparate.

The minutes during which we waited for the call seemed endless. Even I was unable to keep my calm any longer. Somehow I felt certain that what the Dark Lord had been waiting for was exactly this. If the war did not break out after he had disposed of Potter, then I could not imagine when else it would. Unwittingly, I found myself wondering what the post-war world would be like. What fate would the Dark Lord design for our family if we survived? Would he be so intoxicated by his triumph that he would forgive Lucius all his failures and let him work at the Ministry again? And what about Severus? Would he be allowed to remain the Headmaster of Hogwarts?

I did not get any further in my musings, for at that point they were abruptly terminated by Lucius, who had squeezed my hand so hard I had to grit my teeth in order not to cry out in pain.

“This is it,” he said quietly. “The end. We are all going to die now.”

I shuddered at the ominousness of the words, though I hardly found them unexpected. Just a few hours before Lucius, together with Bella, had only narrowly escaped being murdered by the Dark Lord in his fury at Potter stealing something he had been keeping in Bella’s vault at Gringott’s, and it was only thanks to my unending care that he was now able to function at all. Having seen his fellow Death Eaters fall one by one as the Dark Lord gave vent to his anger, I considered it something of a miracle. Even so, I simply could not allow him to talk this way, as much as it pleased me that he had reached the same conclusion about the outbreak of the war as I had. Wrestling myself from his grip, I turned to face him so that our noses were only inches apart.

“We are not going to die,” I said firmly, putting as much conviction into my voice as I possibly could. “If we stay out of the fight just as we had agreed to, nothing can happen to us. We are going to start a new life after the war, and we are going to be happy. You are going to get a job at the Ministry again, and every day I’ll be waiting for you with open arms as you come back from work. That’s how it is going to be.”

Lucius sighed, and to my surprise I noticed that there were tears in his eyes. “I wish you were right,” he whispered. “You make it sound so convincing one would almost believe it...”

And then, all of a sudden, he kissed me, a passionate kiss filled with desperation, as if he believed it to be the last one we would ever share. And I allowed myself to be absorbed into the kiss; it was not like kissing Severus, that was true, but I would never have believed Lucius to be capable of such intensity; it was as if he had let all his inhibitions go and for the first time I was feeling only the real him, clean and pure.

When, after what could have been a second, a minute or an hour, he finally let me go he was no longer the only one who had tears in his eyes. I was so moved by what had happened that I simply could not help myself.

“Lucius,” I murmured in a strangled voice, as I stretched out my hand to caress his cheek. He took the hand and kissed it, and for a while we just stood there, he still clutching my hand, me weeping silently, for whom or what, I did not quite know. That was how the Dark Lord’s call eventually found us, and so with one last mutual reassuring look and a nod we Disapparated, still holding hands.

We found ourselves in a clearing, with a fire burning in the middle. It did not take me long to spot the Dark Lord; he was standing right next to the fire, the flames casting eerie shadows on his pale, snake-like face. Glancing around, I noticed other Death Eaters Apparating all around us with faint pops. Further away, near the edge of the clearing, I saw a group of giants, shoving themselves for the best place to sit on an enormous flat rock, and next to them, half hidden in shadow, about twenty spiders, the biggest I had ever seen. But I could tell that was not all. I had just begun to scan the rapidly growing crowd for any sign of Draco when a sudden chill went through my entire body, which I suspected had nothing to do with the warm May breeze. As a stealthy feeling of desperation slowly settled in the pit of my stomach, I no longer doubted it – there had to be Dementors somewhere close by, though I could not see them. I shuddered, not even daring to imagine what other creatures may be lurking in the trees beyond the clearing.

As time went by, more and more Death Eaters continued to pop into sight, but to my mounting dread Draco was not among them. It was true that without my wand, which I had lent him to use at school, I would be of little help to him, but I knew I would feel much calmer if I could stay by his side. Taking another look around, I spotted Severus not too far away, and so after only a momentary hesitation I left Lucius's side to join him.

“Have you, by any chance, seen Draco?” I inquired anxiously, not even bothering to address him. “He should've come by now. It's starting to worry me. There has been no trouble at the school, I hope?”

“If you do not count Minerva forcing me out through the window, then no,” replied Severus with a wry smile.

I gasped, all my worries about Draco momentarily forgotten. “She didn't!”

“Indeed she did. It would seem that with Potter's arrival my popularity at the school has deteriorated rather rapidly.”

I frowned. “Potter is at Hogwarts, then?”

“He is suspected to be. It was Alecto who had called the Dark Lord.”

I took in my surroundings again. “If that is the case, then we must currently be in the middle of-”

“The Forbidden Forest, yes,” Severus supplied for me.

“So the Dark Lord is planning to attack Hogwarts?”

“I cannot be certain, of course, but I believe that that is indeed his intention.”

“But if Draco is still there-” I began, my mind filling with panic. How could Severus be so unconcerned?

“-then it is the safest place for him to be, surely,” he finished calmly. “The students and teachers will not harm him while he is there, as they probably would do if he came attacking from the outside. Really, Narcissa, there is no need to worry.”

I had to admit Severus's words made sense, but just to make absolutely certain I said, “But you will keep an eye on him for me if you see him, won't you? Just in case...”

Severus gave me an amused smile, then nodded. “Of course.”

I sighed with relief. “Thank you. And,” I looked him straight in the eye now, “take care.”

For a brief moment his gaze softened as he said, “You too, Narcissa,” but then the look was gone, so I merely brushed my fingers against his in parting, before quickly returning to claim my place by Lucius's side.

“What was that all about?” he inquired as I snaked my fingers in between his, inclining his head in Severus’s direction.

“Nothing,” I said glibly. “I just went to ask him if he hadn’t seen Draco, seeing as he had just come from the school.”

Lucius nodded in understanding. “I see. And had he?”

I sighed. “No. But I asked him to watch over him if he happened to spot him later on.”

Lucius nodded again. “A prudent decision. Severus is a skilled fighter.”

I was about to agree, but at that moment the Dark Lord asked for silence, and I knew better than to disobey. Instead I focused my attention solely on him, anticipating the revelation of his plan and yet, at the same time, dreading it.

“I presume it is clear why we have gathered here today,” the Dark Lord began, his gaze gliding over the clearing as if feasting on our numbers. “You have felt your Dark Marks burn, and as you well know there is only one possible explanation for this occurrence – Harry Potter has been found. And so he has. Harry Potter is now at Hogwarts. I wish you to bring him to me. You may kill as you please, you may destroy the castle if necessary, but the boy must come to no harm. If he does,” there was an ominous pause, “I shall make certain that you spend the rest of your days begging me to end your miserable existence. Do I make myself absolutely clear?”

His eyes swept over the clearing again, and there was an uncertain murmur of agreement. The Dark Lord smiled, an unpleasant smile that made me shudder. “Good. In that case, I wish you all now to go to the edge of the Forbidden Forest – for that is indeed where we are currently positioned, in case you have been wondering – and wait until you hear my voice again. Then you shall attack. Severus will lead the way. Lucius, for he has no wand, will accompany me. Narcissa, likewise unarmed, will stay here and alert me in the unlikely case of an intrusion.” He paused, as if ascertain he had not forgotten anybody, then continued. “You are to fight until midnight. If Harry Potter is not captured by then, you shall return here. Understood?”

He waited for another murmur and a few muttered “Yes, my Lord,” to follow, before he barked, “Then go!”, and proceeded to watch with satisfaction as the clearing slowly emptied out, with Severus as the guide. Finally the Dark Lord, Lucius and I were the only ones left, not counting a lone giant, who was trying to uproot a tree to use as a club. Ignoring him, the Dark Lord turned to my husband.

“Come, Lucius,” he ordered. “We shall Apparate to the Shrieking Shack. You will act as my messenger when the time comes.” And with that, he vanished in a cloud of smoke. Lucius cast me one last anxious look, before reluctantly letting go of my hand and following suit.

I remained alone. Glancing around for a place to sit, I eventually settled on a small rock near the fire. So this was the Dark Lord’s punishment. Degrading Lucius to a mere messenger, as if to show him he was no longer fit for anything else. Leaving me in a remote place without any means of getting information on the progress of the battle, as if hoping it would make me go sick with worry. Even torture would not have been as effective, and I was certain the Dark Lord knew it. Still, I wondered why he had chosen only the two of us. Surely Bella was just as responsible, if not more, for Harry Potter’s last two escapes as Lucius and I? Not to mention that she, like us, had lost her wand? And yet, as I had watched her leave the clearing, she was ostentatiously fingering a new one. Where had she obtained it? As far as I knew, one wandmaker had gone missing after his escape from our cellar, the other had died by the Dark Lord’s hand. Had she stolen it from someone? Had the Dark Lord given it to her? Either way, it seemed she had been, once again, forgiven. Was it possible that the Dark Lord had sensed that while Lucius and I were no longer loyal to his cause, Bella would still willingly lay down her life for him? It was the only possible explanation I could come up with, and I dreaded to even think of our post-war prospects if my presumption turned out to be right.

On the bright side, the Dark Lord’s punishment had ensured that for the time being Lucius and I were relatively safe. After all, was that not what we had both vowed to achieve? To survive? What use was forgiveness to Bella if she was sent to battle where any moment could prove fatal to her? Then again, the same could be said for Draco. Despite Severus’s assurances of his safety it was pure torture sitting here so passively while he was out there somewhere, probably scared senseless. I had an irresistible urge to disregard the Dark Lord’s orders and simply run to the castle to find him, but I was not stupid enough to think that I would get away with it. Knowing the Dark Lord, he would probably punish us both once he found out. Not that it really mattered, as Draco had probably already unleashed the Dark Lord’s anger anyway, by not arriving when he should have. But why? What could have kept him at Hogwarts? Did he perhaps know something that we did not? Did he-

But no, I would not give the Dark Lord the pleasure of wasting my whole time here worrying, as he was counting on me to do. There was something I had that the Dark Lord could not possibly have counted on, and that was my love for Severus. And so, though it made me feel more than a little guilty, I spent the next hour or so reliving my most beautiful moments with him in my mind, breaking off only once to hear the Dark Lord’s magnified voice announce the time limit in which the occupants of the castle were to hand over Harry Potter, which must have signalized the start of the battle. But not even that could move me anymore. Once I had convinced myself that there was nothing I could do to help Draco from my prison here, I escaped entirely into my dream world, and only came out again when, just before midnight, I heard somebody Apparate beside me. Having found the somebody to be Lucius, I immediately jumped up from my rock and rushed towards him.

“Lucius!” I cried, throwing my arms around his neck. “Thank Merlin you’re all right! Do you have any news from Hogwarts? Have you seen our son?”

Lucius, however, shook his head, looking grim. “No. I begged the Dark Lord to let me go and find him, but he only laughed at me. He is not pleased that Draco did not come and join him when he should have. He even suggested that he might have stayed at Hogwarts to befriend Potter!”

I stared at him in disbelief. “He really said that? I ... I expected him to be angry with Draco, yes, but to accuse him of something so ... so ... absurd! I hope you told him that he was mistaken, that our son would never ... would never...” I trailed off, too frustrated to finish the sentence.

“Of course I told him that,” said Lucius despondently. “But he merely waved me off, like an annoying insect.”

“And you ... you stayed with the Dark Lord the whole time?” I pressed on, as soon as I had recovered my voice again. “What else did he say?”

“Surprisingly little, actually. Most of the time he appeared to be contemplating something. He kept looking at his wand, as if something about it bothered him. Finally he seemed to have reached a certain decision, for he sent me to fetch Severus.”

I tensed upon hearing the name of my beloved, feeling as if somebody had Petrified me. “Severus?” I choked out. “Why?”

Lucius shrugged. “I cannot imagine. When I found him, I Apparated straight to you. I presumed the Dark Lord would want to see him alone.”

“And ... what did the battlefield look like?” I inquired further, more because I felt it was expected of me than because I was really interested, for all I could think about was Severus and what the Dark Lord wanted with him. “Were there many dead?”

“There was so much chaos that I cannot say for certain,” replied Lucius. “Spells flying in all directions, walls crumbling, people running... But now that I think about it, there may have been several bodies on the ground; whether dead or merely injured, I could not tell. I did not stop to check, naturally. I only wanted to get out of there before it was too late.”

I nodded absently. “Of course. I would not have wished you to act otherwise.” Unable to think of anything else to say, I settled for resting my head against Lucius’s chest, while my thoughts immediately rushed back to Severus. Why had the Dark Lord called him back from battle? Did he, perhaps, have a special task for him? Or – my stomach tightened at the mere idea – had Severus also failed him in some way, and would therefore be punished? Was it some twisted fate that the Dark Lord had set out to hurt those I loved the most?

Absorbed in my gloomy thoughts, once again broken only by the Dark Lord’s magnified voice bidding Harry Potter to come to the Forbidden Forest within an hour if he did not wish to see more of his friends die, I may not have even noticed the first fighters returning had it not been for Bella’s arrogant voice piercing through the air like a whiplash, causing me to lift my head with a start. And indeed, there she was, strutting as though the world belonged to her, leading the Dark Lord’s slightly mangled army back into the clearing. My feeling of trepidation increased. Where was Severus? Why was he no longer in the lead? What had the Dark Lord done to him? And where was Draco? If the Death Eaters had penetrated the castle, what reason could have possibly kept him from coming back with them? My mind buzzing with questions, my eyes darted from one arriving figure to another, my hope mounting with each new shape that appeared among the trees, then plummeting again when it resembled neither of the two familiar faces I was looking for. Finally a giant closed the train of arrivals, dragging what looked like a part of the castle wall behind him as a trophy, and it was then that I knew I had been hoping in vain. Neither Severus nor Draco was coming. But – my heart fluttered as the idea occurred to me – what if they were together? What if, after leaving the Shrieking Shack, Severus had found Draco and chosen to watch over him, just as I had asked him to do? Perhaps Draco, for reasons I could only guess at, was unable to leave the castle and Severus had no option but to stay, too?

Once it had been given to me, I held onto this hope even as the Dark Lord eventually arrived, with Nagini the snake floating behind him in a giant glittering cage. I do not think I would have been able to get through the ensuing wait otherwise. I would have rushed off without thinking, without caring what the Dark Lord would do to me after my return, screaming Severus’s and Draco’s names. As it was, however, I merely watched with mild interest as the Dark Lord sent Yaxley and Dolohov to the Forest as lookouts for Potter, as he ordered to have Hagrid, whom the spiders had brought as their prisoner, tied to a tree, as he braced himself to wait, utterly convinced that Potter would come of his own free will. Considering the state I was in, I was inclined to agree with him. If Potter cared enough about the people in the castle, then he would come. I, too, would give myself up willingly if I believed that it would help save Severus and Draco.

An hour passed, however, and Harry Potter was nowhere to be seen. Yaxley and Dolohov returned alone. The Dark Lord stared pensively into the fire. It seemed we had misjudged the boy, after all. Perhaps he was not as noble as the whole wizarding world believed him to be. Perhaps he was just a selfish brat, incapable of love, who had become a hero through a series of accidents. It would not be far from what Severus had once described him to be, when our conversation happened to sway that way. Tears sprang into my eyes at the memory. Desperation, contained somewhere deep inside me until then, suddenly washed over me like a tidal wave. I found I could no longer sustain the hope I had been nursing so carefully for the past hour or so. Who had I been fooling? It had been nothing more than wishful thinking, a wild guess. It was not good enough anymore. I would welcome anything other than the horrible uncertainty, the excruciating fact of not knowing. Various scenarios flashed before my eyes, each one worse than the last. Hysteria threatened to overcome me. I wanted to run, I wanted to do practically anything, as long as I did not have to stay in this hateful clearing, clueless, passive, useless, while my son and lover possibly needed help.

I would have pursued these thoughts further, perhaps even acted upon them, but at that moment something happened that made my attention, as well as everybody else’s, instantly turn elsewhere. Seemingly materializing out of nowhere, Harry Potter was striding purposefully towards us, his lips pressed tightly together, his eyes fixed upon the Dark Lord. So he had decided to come, after all. He did value the lives of his friends more than his own. He had come to die, so that they could live. The Dark Lord’s plan had worked out.

Following his every move as if in a trance, I could not help but admire him as he came to a halt in front of the Dark Lord, fearless, calmly awaiting death.

And death did come. Ignoring Hagrid’s shouts of protest, paying no attention even to Bella, who had jumped to her feet, looking avid, the Dark Lord looked at Potter and smiled, a cruel smile that made my blood chill.

“Harry Potter,” he said, so quietly I had to strain my ears to hear him. “The Boy Who Lived.”

A flick of the wand, a flash of green light, and Harry Potter fell to the ground in a heap. A moment later, amidst a number of terrified gasps, the Dark Lord did the same. Bella, already on her feet, was the first to rush to his aid, followed by several others. The rest of us remained frozen in our spots, too shocked to move. What had happened? Was history repeating itself? Had the Dark Lord’s spell backfired on him once again? It certainly appeared so. The Dark Lord was lying on the ground, unmoving, while Bella hovered by his side, anxious to help him and yet afraid to touch him. I had never seen her so frustrated as when she whispered his name, over and over again, as if she hoped it would bring him back.

Several minutes passed in this fashion. I was at a loss at what to think, what to do. If Harry Potter and the Dark Lord had indeed killed each other, I was free to run and look for Draco and Severus, as my heart was telling me to do. However, my mind reasoned that if the Dark Lord came to and did not see me around, I would hardly live to enjoy their company, even if I was lucky enough to find them. And so, along with everyone else, I waited. I supposed, when it came down to it, I was really a coward. I preferred to leave my loved ones unaided rather than stand up to the Dark Lord. Perhaps he would not even bother to kill me. Perhaps he would just punish me, as he always did. But there was the ‘what if’ that frightened me. The ‘what if’ that meant death. And I was afraid of dying, just like Lucius was, just like Karkaroff had been, just like a lot of the others were. In this respect Harry Potter was better than any of us. A short while ago I had called him selfish, incapable of love, but now I realized it was really myself I had been describing. Harry Potter had died for his loved ones. I could not.

My Lord!”

The increasing urgency in Bella’s voice broke the train of my thoughts, and I quickly glanced her way to see what had caused it. I could see no difference at first. Everything was as it had been; the Dark Lord’s body on the ground where it had fallen, the smaller form of Harry Potter not far away. But when I looked closer I noticed that the Dark Lord was stirring, causing the people who had gathered around him to scatter in fright at what they guessed would follow. Finally only Bella remained behind, her eyes shining as if the love of her life had risen from the dead, but then even she was waved off as the Dark Lord rose heavily to his feet.

“The boy,” he barked, nodding his head in the direction of the dark bundle that was Harry Potter. “Is he dead?”

Nobody answered. Nobody dared to breathe, even. Fear and uncertainty hung in the air, thick as fog. Somehow we felt that not everything had gone as the Dark Lord had planned. He seemed angry and yet, at the same time, I could swear I could detect a trace of fear in his voice. It was not a good idea to attract his attention when he was in this state, we all knew that well enough. Consequently I almost fainted from shock when his gaze suddenly landed on me.

“You,” he snapped, aiming his wand at me as if to emphasize his words. A jet of sparks shot out of it, burning my skin and making me cry out in pain. “Examine him. Tell me whether he is dead.”

Glancing at Lucius for support, I reluctantly obeyed, the look in the Dark Lord’s eyes spelling only too well what would happen to me if I did not. I do not remember how I made my legs move, paralyzed with fear as I was, nor how I managed to reach Potter’s body without my knees giving way under me, but all of a sudden I was there, touching his face, feeling for his heartbeat. And it was then that I almost yanked my hand back in shock, as if I had been burned. Naturally I had expected to feel nothing, believing the boy to be dead just like everybody else, but it could not be, for his heart was beating frantically, as fast as a bird’s.

I did not even have to think about what I did then. If ever I was to find out what had happened to Draco and Severus, I could not have been given a better chance, and so I lowered my head so that my lips were almost touching Potter’s ear and asked, in a voice that was barely more than a breath, “Is Draco alive? Is he in the castle?”

“Yes,” came the immediate answer, making my heart almost burst with joy. I wished I could have asked about Severus, too, but I knew I could not risk Potter guessing the truth about us. If he was with Draco, my one question would have to do.

I stood up, and strangely it took me only a moment to decide what to say, despite the possible consequences. Witnessing the boy survive his own death, yet again, made me see clearly who was the stronger one. Despite his power, despite his army, the Dark Lord was finished. What was he compared to this brave boy, prepared to sacrifice his life for his friends? What was power and terror compared to the purity of love? I would be happy to see the Dark Lord fall, I knew that now, though the feeling had been growing inside me for much longer, certainly since Potter had been brought to our house a few weeks previously, though I supposed I should have seen it much sooner than that. After all, it was as clear as daylight who was, and always had been, responsible for our hardships. If it had not been for the Dark Lord, Lucius would not have been reduced to a nervous wreck. If it had not been for the Dark Lord, I would never have had to live in constant terror of losing Draco. If it had not been for the Dark Lord, I could have been lying in Severus’s arms now, instead of having to worry about his whereabouts.

How convenient, then, that I was given a chance to put a stop to all this now. I would have to be crazy not to seize it. If the Dark Lord found out, death would most certainly follow, but I found I was no longer afraid. If dying meant a chance of securing a Dark Lord free world for my loved ones, I would gladly take the risk. And so, as my eyes swept over the expectant faces around me, including the Dark Lord’s, I drew myself up to my full height, and, in a voice that was loud and clear, announced that Harry Potter was dead.

There was a moment of silence, before the crowd of watchers erupted in loud cheers. Gone was the fear that had gripped them until then, lifted as if by magic. Now there was only triumph and jubilation, and even the Dark Lord looked unusually exultant as he cast Crucio on Potter’s body to show us all who had come out victorious in the end. I watched in terror as he did so, certain that the boy would cry out and compromise us both, but he remained silent as he was thrown into the air, again and again, his body as limp as if he were really dead.

After the Dark Lord had finished showing off, he ordered Hagrid to take Potter in his arms so as to make a greater impression on the Hogwarts population, which, though further evidence of the Dark Lord’s cruelty, could not have suited me better. Looking rather like a rag doll as he was gently picked up, there was little chance of his heartbeat or breathing being felt through the half-giant’s moleskin overcoat, as would surely have been the case had one of the Death Eaters been asked to carry him.

We must have looked quite a sight as we slowly set off towards the castle; a bizarre funeral procession, with Hagrid in the lead and two giants closing up the rear. Through the Forest we trudged, on and on, until we finally reached the edge and the Dark Lord, who had meanwhile rid Nagini of her enchanted cage and was now wearing her around the shoulders like a giant boa, ordered us to stop. Amplifying his voice again, he gravely informed the castle defenders of Potter’s death, and asked them to submit if they hoped to be spared. Drunk with triumph, it was obvious he expected them to obey readily; a different possibility did not even enter his mind.

But he was mistaken. As we completed our journey to the castle doors and Hagrid set Potter’s body down at the Dark Lord’s feet, where the Dark Lord claimed it belonged, a boy rushed out of the castle, immediately recognized by Bella as Neville Longbottom. It was no wonder; after all, it was she who had tortured his parents into madness.

At first nobody, not even I, could see what threat he could possibly pose. The Dark Lord disarmed him easily, then rammed the Sorting Hat, which had, in the meantime, miraculously fallen from one of the castle windows, onto his head and set it on fire. I was certain that was the poor boy’s end. Whatever had made him give up his life so foolishly, I could not even begin to imagine.

If Longbottom’s pointless sacrifice seemed surprising, however, then what came next was even more so. Without any warning whatsoever, a great herd of centaurs came charging at us from the Forbidden Forest, followed by a giant, a Hippogriff and, unless my eyes were deceiving me, some Thestrals. Arrows fell upon us like rain, and amidst the ensuing chaos the boy Longbottom shook off his hat and out of its depths pulled a gleaming silver sword, very much like the one Bella had made such a fuss about several weeks before. Waiting for nothing, he rushed straight at the Dark Lord, who, being too busy fighting off all the attacking creatures, realized only too late what was about to happen. With one swish of the blade, Longbottom beheaded the great snake Nagini, and then watched with satisfaction as her body slowly slid off the Dark Lord’s shoulders and landed in the dust at his feet. Devastated by the loss of his pet, the Dark Lord let out a scream of anguish and fury and, momentarily forgetting about everything else, focused his attention solely on the boy, murder in his eyes.

I did not care to see the rest. If I wanted to get into the castle to find Draco and Severus, it was either now or never. Personally I preferred now.

Grabbing Lucius’s hand, I thrust my way through the crowd, elbowing anybody unfortunate enough to cross my path. The time to be considerate was long gone.

Helped by the attacking creatures, which were pushing both Death Eaters and Hogwarts defenders back into the castle, we eventually found ourselves inside. With absolutely no clue as to where to start looking, I haphazardly ventured into the Great Hall, which was closest to hand.

I immediately wished I had not done so. Absolutely unprepared for the sight that met my eyes, I jumped back in fright, almost knocking Lucius over as I did so.

“What is it?” he asked, startled. “Is Draco there?”

“I ... I don’t know,” I stammered. “But ... look.”

He did look, and what he saw were rows and rows of bodies stacked on the floor in the middle of the room, staring at the ceiling with lifeless eyes. I recognized some of them. There was the werewolf, Lupin. There was my niece, Nymphadora. There was one of the Weasley kids, easily distinguishable by his ginger hair. All dead, all victims of the Dark Lord’s obsession to vanquish Harry Potter.

Standing there in the door, paralyzed with shock at the number of lives lost in such a short period of time, we were almost overrun by the crowd of fighters that had meanwhile been forced entirely into the school, and was now pressing upon us from behind. Having no choice but to enter the room that now seemed more like a death chamber than the dining hall it used to be, we reluctantly took a couple of steps forward, and that was when I saw him – huddled in the furthest corner, barely visible behind the High Table, sat my son Draco.

I hardly dared to believe it at first. Was it even possible that after the nightmare of the past few hours we would be reunited at last? It took a moment before it all sunk in, that he was really there, alive and well, and that nothing could take me away from him anymore, but as it did so my eyes inadvertently filled with tears, whether of relief or joy I could not quite tell. Brushing them aside, I started off across the Hall as if the Dark Lord himself were at my heels, no longer aware of the bodies on the ground as I wended my way among them, for all I could think about was to be with my son again. And so I ran, all the while shouting his name, with Lucius right there at my side doing the same, until I finally reached his provisional sanctuary, where I threw myself on my knees and hugged him, bedewing his hair with fresh tears.

“Draco, oh Draco,” I sobbed. “Thank Merlin you’re all right! We’ve been so worried!”

“Yes, indeed,” Lucius joined in, kneeling beside me. I noticed that his voice, too, was breaking with emotion, despite his attempts to hide it. “What happened? Why didn’t you come to the Forest when the Dark Lord called?”

Breaking free of my embrace, Draco raised his eyes to meet ours, his face a picture of misery. “It was because of Crabbe and Goyle,” he said dolefully. “They decided to hang back. They wanted to catch Potter and bring him to the Dark Lord. I thought they were crazy, but they made me help them.” He sighed. “We found him. He wanted to go to the Room of Requirement. We followed him inside and we chased him. But he got away and Crabbe ... Crabbe... There was a horrible fire and ... he got trapped in it. We ... we couldn’t save him.” He gave a great sob and buried his head in my shoulder.

Gently stroking his hair, I mulled over what he had told me. A great sense of foreboding began to form in my mind. Yes, Draco had explained his actions, but not once had he mentioned Severus. And since Severus was not here with him now, it could only mean... No, no, no. It could not be. I refused to believe it. Perhaps the Dark Lord had merely sent him on an errand. Perhaps ... anything, anything but what my intuition was telling me.

So why the growing weight in my stomach? Why the sudden chill that was making my whole body tremble? No, no, no. Surely he just got delayed. He would come, he would be here any moment now... Like a person possessed I scanned the battling wizards still pouring into the Great Hall, searching for the familiar features, again and again; surely he was there somewhere, I just could not see him. But I saw only Bella, fighting three children at once before Molly Weasley took over and killed her before my very eyes. Strangely enough, I did not seem to care at all. It might have happened in another dimension, which I was watching as if through a haze. The Dark Lord’s army crumbling, Death Eaters being brought down one by one ... I saw it and yet I did not, for what was the point of it all when Severus was not among the fighters? What did anything matter, really? Was that truly Harry Potter emerging out of the mist, challenging the Dark Lord? Or was it merely a product of my clouded senses? I no longer knew, nor cared.

Only half-consciously did I watch as Potter (who must have been real, after all, as the rest of the Great Hall saw him, too) and the Dark Lord began moving in a circle, trying to distract each other with talk. I heard the words, but it seemed as if they held no meaning. How could they when the only thing that mattered was Severus? Severus, who might only be waiting until all this was over to show himself. Severus, who would sweep me into his arms and tell me I should never have worried, for he knew how to take care of himself. Severus-

“Severus Snape wasn’t yours.”

The words pierced through the haziness of my mind like an explosion. What was that? Who said that? Had I gone as far as having hallucinations now?

Taking a disoriented look around, I soon found that that was not the case. Perhaps it would have been better for me if it had been. But as it was, it was Potter who had spoken, and so I mustered what little concentration I could given my condition, and raptly listened for more.

And more did come. To say that I was shocked would have been a severe understatement. It was as if Severus’s innermost secrets were suddenly brought to light, secrets I would never have even dreamed of inquiring about. What was more, they were revealed by the most unlikely person I could possibly think of, a person I believed Severus to despise with his entire being. How was it that he knew more about my lover than I had ever hoped to do? How?

With growing astonishment I listened as he uncovered the identity of Severus’s old love, the mysterious girl whose name I had had no desire of knowing. Never, as long as I lived, would I have guessed her to be Potter’s own mother. It almost seemed too absurd to be true.

However, there was more still to follow. I had always considered Severus a staunch supporter of the Dark Lord. There had been doubts, of course, but after the Dark Lord had returned to power that had been the case with almost all Death Eaters, with the exception of Barty Crouch junior, perhaps. The important thing was that in the long run Severus had been convincing enough to regain the Dark Lord’s trust, and even secure himself the place of one of his most useful and trusted servants. Now it turned out he had been leading us all on, if Potter’s words were anything to go by. All those years he had been Dumbledore’s spy, feeding the Dark Lord false or incomplete information without the Dark Lord, who had always considered himself the most skilled Legilimens around, ever suspecting. Had the circumstances been less serious, it would almost make one laugh. But then the Dark Lord spoke, and any potential amusement I might have felt instantly died inside me as he uttered the fatal words; words that would continue to haunt me for the rest of my days.

“I killed Severus Snape three hours ago.”

I felt as if the world had suddenly come to a standstill. Or it may have been only my world. I could not be certain of anything anymore. Perhaps life around me continued as usual. Perhaps the Dark Lord went on boasting. But for me everything ended with that one sentence. Severus was dead. So was something inside me.

Strangely enough, I felt no urge to cry. Maybe it was the shock. Maybe it would take some time before I came to fully grasp the implications of what the Dark Lord had said. Or maybe I simply refused to believe it. Maybe I was still keeping a shard of hope, even now.

Nevertheless, it was almost frightening how rational my mind remained in light of what I had learned. One would have expected hysteria, or at least a tear or two. Any emotion would have done, really. But there was nothing. Only cool logic, planning my next steps as if I were preparing a garden party. I would have to go and find the body, of course. I would have to make sure it was properly buried. I doubted anyone knew where to look for it, or would even bother to do so. Not that I was entirely certain myself. My intention was to go to the Shrieking Shack, where I knew Severus to have gone last, but who could tell with the Dark Lord? Perhaps he had committed the evil deed elsewhere. Although, now that I thought about it, that did not seem very likely. Wasting his time on somebody he was going to kill anyway had never been the Dark Lord’s style.

Still cradling Draco, who showed no inclination of changing his position anytime soon, in my arms, I pondered over the sheer absurdity of it. I had asked Severus to watch over my son, and yet, in the end, it turned out that he had been the one who needed protection. Or perhaps they both did. If I were to believe what Potter, whose words drifted to me as if from a great distance, was saying just now, the Dark Lord had murdered the wrong person. Instead of Severus it should have been Draco.

Inadvertently pulling him closer and tightening my hold on him, as if afraid of the Dark Lord turning upon us to rectify his mistake, despite, as Potter had just made clear, having no valid reason to do so anymore, I wondered what I had done to make fate turn against me in this way. Was somebody or something up there enjoying killing off my loved ones? Or at least getting them as close to getting killed without actually doing so?

Then again, perhaps I was merely ungrateful. Perhaps I should be glad that Lucius and Draco were still alive. I could have lost them, too, and then I would have really had a reason to complain. But somehow that did not satisfy me. I wanted Severus. I could not imagine living a life where he would not be waiting for me, somewhere, anywhere. Waiting to smile at me and-

Stop. I would not dwell on that. Not until I had seen the body. Only then would I accept that he was truly gone. After all, the Dark Lord could have been lying, could have been mistaken. It was a slim chance, I knew that, but by now I was ready to believe anything, as long as it kept me from the bitter truth. Or what was considered to be the truth, to be exact.


A sound like an explosion suddenly shook the room, startling me so much that I nearly pushed Draco onto the floor. Glancing wildly around, I spotted the Dark Lord’s wand flying high into the air, while the Dark Lord himself keeled over, his lipless mouth open in disbelief.

There was a moment of stunned silence, merely a second or two needed to process what had just happened, but then somebody let out a shout of triumph, and all at once the Great Hall broke out in cheers and whistles and laughter, and I knew then that the Potter boy had really done it, that the Dark Lord was dead and would rise no more. However, relieved as I was not to have to worry about him threatening my family ever again, finding myself surrounded by all the happy and smiling faces made me sick. All I wanted was to get out of there and look for Severus, and so at the first possible opportunity I excused myself to go to the bathroom, and then virtually fled the room in my anxiety to fulfill my quest.

I found the Entrance Hall empty, save for a couple of Death Eaters lying sprawled on the stone floor. Not even half an hour ago I would have found the sight of dead bodies disconcerting, to say the least. Now I barely spared them a second glance as I rushed past. Frightening, really, how a single moment can completely change one’s view of the world. What did one body more or less matter now? Unless it was one particular body, which, of course, mattered more than I could ever say...

I quickly pushed the morbid thought out of my mind. Perhaps there would be time for such thoughts later, but it had not yet come. Not now, when there was still a shadow of hope.

Bearing this in mind, I determinedly passed through the double doors that were now hanging off their hinges, threatening to fall off at any moment, and stepped outside. The cool night air brushed against my face as I stopped to catch my breath, smelling of flowers in bloom mixed with the unmistakable cattle-like stench of giants, two of which I spotted hovering nearby. Now that they had nobody to command them, they were simply standing there with vacant expressions, absently crushing a swearing stone gargoyle, obviously torn from the castle roof, between their fingers.

I spared them only a moment, before I was off again. Unlike them, I could not afford to be idle. There was only so much time one could spend in the bathroom, though I supposed it would be possible to prolong the period a little by pretending that I had become nauseous and needed to sit down for a while before I felt well enough to walk back. Not that it was too far from the truth. As I came to a halt near the edge of the Forbidden Forest, just beyond the castle grounds where the Apparation restriction ended, I felt ready to vomit. I steadied myself against a tree, taking slow, deep breaths, waiting for the wave of nausea to pass. I had never been physically fit; I had never needed to be. It did not suit the part of a lady that my family, and later Lucius, had wanted me to play.

However, as I stood there and my breathing slowly returned to normal I realized that it was not only physical exhaustion that was making me feel sick. Now that I was only moments from finding out the truth, I could feel fear creeping stealthily into my body, dark and sinister like a cloud of thunder. It flooded my stomach, making it feel as though it were full of twisting snakes. It paralyzed my limbs, stronger than a Body-Bind Curse. It penetrated my mind, filling it with dreadful images that made me shiver. Images of what I might find if I only dared to take the next step. If only I dared... But did I? Did I really want to know, to see? What if the Dark Lord had been telling the truth? What if I really did find him there in the Shrieking Shack, cold and lifeless-

Enough. These thoughts would not get me anywhere, not to mention I was wasting precious time. Whatever was waiting for me in the Shrieking Shack, I would go and face it, fear or no fear. I would probably find out sooner or later anyway. Better get it over with, then. Thus determined, I took one last calming breath, gritted my teeth and Disapparated.

The smell of burning oil was the first thing that greeted me upon my arrival at my destination. It did not take me long to find the source – a sooty oil lamp standing on a battered wooden table, casting just enough light to illuminate its immediate surroundings. Boarded up windows, peeling wallpaper, numerous cobwebs, a dusty floor. To all appearances the room was empty. But perhaps there, in the corner, almost completely drowned in shadow? What was it? A black shape, a pile of clothes? A figure? Heart racing, body trembling, I took a few uncertain steps towards it-

-and let out a frightened gasp as my eyes met those of Severus Snape. Only ... only he could not see me. His eyes were lifeless, fixed forever at an unspecified point on the opposite wall. His neck was pierced in several places; blood was still oozing from the wounds, forming a dark pool on the floor.

Dizziness came over me. I swayed on the spot for a second or two, then dropped to the floor as my knees gave way under me. No, no, no. It wasn’t true. He could not, he would not. Surely my eyes were deceiving me. Surely I was having hallucinations, seeing only what I had feared to see. Surely if I extended my hand – thus – I would touch nothing but air.

A split second later I pulled back again, shaking all over. The feel of cool skin under my fingers could not have been more real. In one last desperate attempt to defy reality I gingerly reached back to feel for a pulse, half-heartedly hoping that, despite the horrible wounds, Severus was merely unconscious, that with the right treatment he could still be saved, if only I was quick enough to get help...

But it was useless, as I had known only too well it would be, whatever I was trying to beguile myself with. There was no life coursing through the veins, just as there was no life in the eyes. Eyes that used to reflect a thousand emotions at once. Eyes that spoke to me of love like words never could. Eyes that showed only emptiness now.

Slowly, ever so slowly, realization began to sink in at last. Severus was gone, dead, lost to me forever. That was the horrible truth, a truth I could no longer hope to run away from.

Crouching there by the body of my beloved, gazing at his pale, waxen face, I finally allowed my eyes to fill with tears. And once the first tear fell, there was no stopping the rest. I did not even realize how many emotions I had been holding in until they all came bursting out in great, heart-wrenching sobs. Taking no heed of the blood, I threw myself on Severus’s body, clutching his robes until my knuckles grew white, soaking them with tears that seemed to have no end.

“Severus,” I whispered in between the sobs, as if hoping he would hear me and answer. “Severus...”

I do not know how long I lay there on his chest, choking on my tears; in my grief I had lost all sense of time and space. For all I knew Severus and I may have been in bed together just like we used to, only now there was no movement under my head to soothe me. Nor would there ever be, again. My body convulsed with a fresh wave of tears at the realization. What sense was there to keep on living? Why should I bother? What good was a world without Severus in it? Never, never again would I see his eyes light up at the sight of me. Never again would his face soften as he smiled. Never again would I feel his lips on mine, his light touches on my skin. Instead of the love that had filled my heart to the point of bursting, warming up my body to my very fingertips, there would remain only a gaping hole, a stab wound, a frozen land. Why, why, WHY? It was not fair! Why did the Dark Lord not take me instead? Why this wonderful, brave man?

It would have been only too easy to stay there forever, with my cheek pressed against the fabric of his robes. Given the circumstances, it was the best I could get. It was something, at least. But once I left the room I would be left with nothing, save for my memories. Still, unless I planned to die here next to my beloved (which, romantic as it sounded, would not do anyone much good), I had no option but to do just that. Lucius and Draco would be wondering what had kept me so long. And so eventually I sat up, and for the last time drank in the face that I loved so dearly. Tears still streaming down my face, I smoothed back the soft black hair, now matted with blood. Then, with a sob that seemed to come from my very soul, I bent down and placed a kiss on the cool, lifeless lips. The last kiss...

“Goodbye, Severus,” I said softly. And with that I stood up and Disapparated, before I could change my mind and throw myself back on the floor, never to get up again.

Back at the edge of the Forest I paused for a while, taking several deep breaths to calm down. If I did not look composed enough by the time I arrived back in the Great Hall, there might be questions, which I honestly could not imagine answering without breaking into tears again. Also, it would probably not do to come back covered in blood, either. Or with half-dried tear tracks mixed with mucus all over my face.

One wandless Scourgify later, I finally regarded myself presentable enough to rejoin society, and so with one last deep breath I set off back towards to castle.

It seemed as if nothing had changed while I was away. The two giants were still torturing the unfortunate gargoyle, most of whose body had now been reduced to crumble, and nobody had yet bothered to collect the corpses in the Entrance Hall. And no wonder, too, for I did not even have to enter the Great Hall to know that retrieving dead bodies was the last thing on people’s minds; such was the noise coming from the room. Walking down the aisle between the House tables, I saw children and parents, teachers and house-elves, centaurs and ghosts, all sitting together regardless of Houses, laughing and chatting and raising their goblets in a toast for what must have been at least the upteenth time. Just like before, the sight made my stomach turn.

Dropping down into my place next to Lucius and Draco, who were sitting exactly as I had left them, demurely sipping their pumpkin juice, I took one last irritated look around before suggesting that we take our leave. As far as I could see, this room full of celebrating people no longer held anything worthwhile for the three of us. In fact, I was surprised that our presence was being tolerated at all. As the Dark Lord’s followers, we were certain to undergo questioning, perhaps even a trial. Obviously, though, nobody could be bothered about that at this moment, which suited me just fine. Like three shadows we left the Great Hall, straight past a group of Order members, who did not even raise their heads from their goblets as our billowing robes brushed against their bench.

Once outside, we followed the same route to the Forbidden Forest I had taken only minutes earlier. Tears immediately sprang into my eyes at the memory, but I resolutely pushed them back. I had held up until now, I would hold up a moment longer. I could cry myself silly after I got home. So I kept telling myself all the way to the Forest, which, as if to make it even harder for me, seemed much further than when I had undergone the journey alone, but at last we were there and, after taking a furtive glance around to ensure that, in spite of the apparent disinterest in our movements, we had not been followed, we departed from the grounds with three faint pops.

Three days later, a funeral was held at Hogwarts for the victims of the battle, heroes and Death Eaters alike. After all, everybody had the right to a proper burial, claimed the temporary Minister of Magic, Kingsley Shacklebolt, and I was inclined to agree with him. I doubted that, by the end, there were many Death Eaters serving the Dark Lord out of conviction, rather than fear.

It took me a while to persuade Lucius to attend. Like me, he had reached the conclusion that it was only a matter of time before our family came to be called in for questioning, though he obstinately insisted on the option of them coming for us, rather than us coming to them. Showing our faces at the funeral, he declared, was almost like walking into the Ministry of Magic and giving ourselves in. It was only when I flatly announced that he could hardly expect me to miss the funeral of my own sister, and that I was determined to go whether he accompanied me or not, that he finally conceded that it was really all the same whether we underwent questioning sooner or later, and that if they picked us out at the funeral we would at least get it over and done with. However, I rather suspected that he merely did not want to see me go alone. I was touched by his concern, all the more so because I knew just how much the prospect of a potential trial really frightened him. Given his condition upon his return from Azkaban, it was only too clear that even the slightest possibility of being sent back was enough to give him nightmares.

Despite Lucius’s attempts to put him off, Draco insisted on coming, too. Perhaps he did not want to be left behind, perhaps he simply wished to bid a final farewell to those schoolmates who had perished in the battle, but the fact was that all three of us returned to Hogwarts on the day of the funeral, though, of course, each for a different reason. Despite what I had told Lucius, it was not Bella’s coffin being lowered into the grave that I had come to see. Sister or not, I had not cared for her when she was alive, and I did not care for her now. No, it was because of somebody entirely different that I had fought so hard to be able to come...

Certain that nobody would go looking for him without my intervention, I had sent Professor McGonagall, the Deputy Headmistress, an anonymous letter, informing her of the whereabouts of Severus’s body. True, a simple spell would have been enough to reveal the identity of the writer, but even if McGonagall did bother to perform it, I could not imagine how such information could possibly serve her. As long as my signature did not shine at the bottom of the letter, I did not care if she found out who had sent it. All I wanted was for Severus’s body to be found and buried with dignity; he deserved no less. It was the most I could do for him, now.

And so we entered the lion’s den, as Lucius had taken to calling it. The weather matched the occasion perfectly. The sky was a murky grey, threatening with rain. A strong, cold wind was blowing from the mountains in the North, bending the treetops and making all newcomers wrap their cloaks tighter around their bodies. It hardly made sense to hold the funeral ceremony outside, and yet that was where we were, huddled together in the second last row to keep warm, doing our best not to attract unnecessary attention but at the same time surveying our surroundings with utmost interest. Ahead of us, rows and rows of chairs stretched into the distance, some occupied, some still empty. At the very front, barely visible from where we were sitting, stood a speaker’s desk.

Mainly, however, there were the people, milling about as they exchanged greetings and complained about the weather. A few I recognized, most I did not. I saw Harry Potter, holding hands with the Weasley girl as he chatted to Professor McGonagall. I saw Hagrid, trying to prevent a friendly giant, dressed in a suit that was much too small for him, from tearing off his tie. I saw Kingsley Shacklebolt, standing alone, muttering quietly under his breath, occasionally glancing at a roll of parchment in his hand.

And still more and more mourners kept arriving, many of them foreigners, judging by their appearance, all come to pay tribute to those who had died helping to rid the wizarding world of the terror imposed by the Dark Lord. It seemed to take forever, but at last, after several new rows of chairs had been added, everybody was seated and the ceremony could begin. I was quite numb from the cold by this time, but glancing around at the thousands of wizards and witches shuffling in their seats it was clear to me that it would have been quite impossible to fit them all inside the castle.

It was Kingsley Shacklebolt who held the first speech. Obviously not used to speaking in public, his magnified voice shook a little all the way through, which, surprisingly, did nothing to detract from the seriousness of his words. Quite the opposite; it made them sound more real, more human. Many an eye glistened with tears as he spoke about the courage, skill, selflessness and perseverance of the fallen fighters. To me, they seemed just the attributes that Severus had had, and I could feel a lump forming in my throat at the realization. I did not want to cry, at least not yet, but as Shacklebolt closed his speech with a lament over the loss of said fighters for the Wizarding community, as well as their families and friends, I felt my own loss more than ever, and a solitary tear escaped my eye, leaving a warm track on my frozen cheek. I quickly wiped it away with the back of my hand. Pretending that I had wanted to attend the funeral because of Bella was one thing, but I doubted Lucius would believe me if I claimed I was actually crying for her. Certainly not after he had seen me slap her, I should say.

Shacklebolt was superseded by other speakers, but though they were undeniably more practiced than he was, I found they somehow lacked the immediacy of our Minister. After all, he had been there, he had fought in the battle himself. He had known most of the victims personally. But these foreigners? What did they know? Yes, they were expressing their thanks now, but did they really understand what for? They had not experienced the atmosphere of terror like we had. They did not know what it had been like, waking up every morning in a cold sweat, dreading the worst. They had not felt the pain of losing a loved one...

Feeling the sting of fresh tears in my eyes, I resolutely transferred my attention back to the speakers, doing my best to concentrate on their every word so as to prevent my mind from further dwelling on undesirable topics. Listening to their repeated declarations of gratefulness, I rather wished time would speed up, but instead it seemed to drag on and on, as is so often the case in situations when we least desire it, until we were finally lulled into a state of lethargic stupor, which, in some cases, especially of those advanced in years, gradually turned into sleep.

Fortunately, even the most trying ordeals must come to an end sometime, and so as the last wizard, an elderly Frenchman whose English was so bad that we could barely understand him, finally lumbered off from the speaker’s desk, and the sleepers dazedly blinked their eyes and asked whether it was tea time yet, we all got up, made sure that our numb limbs were still in working order, and then slowly shifted off to the greenhouses. Here, a small area had been turned into an improvised cemetery, specially reserved for those who had perished in the Battle of Hogwarts, as it had come to be called. Fifty or so empty graves, complete with marble tombstones, were already waiting for their occupants, who were currently residing in simple wooden coffins; one lying next to each pit. I noticed that a single grave had symbolically been dug slightly away from the others, undeniably that of the Dark Lord. Squinting, I tried to determine which grave might belong to Severus, but to my chagrin I found I was too far away to make out the names on the marble. Therefore I merely watched with resignation as Kingsley Shacklebolt uttered a few more words, before waving his wand and making all the coffins lower themselves into their appointed graves. Dirt falling on top, the job was done. As if on cue, those who had no further business down at the cemetery started trailing back towards the castle, chatting and laughing as if they had just seen a good show. Others, with expressions rather more suited to the occasion, were wandering down to the graves in search of their loved ones.

I knew my moment had come. Having persuaded Lucius and Draco to go on ahead while I spent a minute or two by Bella’s grave, I swiftly set off along the first row of tombstones, flicking my eyes from one name to the next as I went. As if sensing what was about to happen, the rain finally broke its way out of its cloudy prison then; just a few drops at first, but quickly gaining in intensity. It was not long before I was drenched to the bone. Not that I really cared; all I could concentrate on was my quest.

Having passed onto the next row, it was paradoxically Bella’s grave that I found first. It was a little strange, seeing her name there like that, shining at me in golden letters. After all, she was my sister, despite the differences we had had. I may not have liked her, but I would never have dreamed of wishing death upon her. Still, it was barely half a minute that I spent gazing at her tombstone, reminiscing, before I rushed on again. Sad as it was, I could not afford more. Not if I wanted Lucius to come back looking for me, anxious that I had been dragged off to the Ministry.

And so my search continued. One grave. Then another. And another. I passed the Weasleys, weeping over the grave of their son. I brushed past my sister Andromeda, too busy mourning the loss of her daughter to notice me. Perhaps it was just as well. Believing me to have been a loyal supporter of the Dark Lord, she would hardly have shown much delight at seeing me. Eager to put as big a distance between us as I possibly could, I all but ran to reach the end of the row which she occupied, but was forced to halt mid-step as a name caught my eye, gleaming from the marble very much like the others had done, and yet entirely different. For while all the other names had been just that – names, a meaningless arrangement of fancy golden letters, the mere sight of this name made my stomach plummet as if I had just experienced a sudden dive on a broomstick. His name...

Sinking onto the wet grass, I read the inscription again and again, as though I could not believe what it said, as though it were merely part of a bad dream from which I only had to wake up. But I did not. No matter how hard I looked, the letters were still there, solid as the tombstone that bore them. Laughing at me. Mocking me.

As if to save me from the pain, it was then that the tears I had been holding back throughout the whole funeral finally came, mercifully blurring my vision, fusing the treacherous letters into a solid golden mass. And still the rain continued to pour down from the sky, running down my face and blending with my tears, making it look as though the heavens, too, were mourning with me.

It was not more than a minute or two that I kneeled there by the grave, but it seemed as if my whole relationship with Severus passed before my eyes in that time. For all I knew, I may have been reliving the moments all over again... Begging him to alleviate my loneliness. Sitting with him in the library on the night he brought Draco back to me. Seeing love in his eyes for the first time. Chatting with him in the Forest clearing as we waited for the arrival of the other Death Eaters, blissfully unaware that he would be dead less than an hour later. Dead, dead, dead...

These were the words that continued reverberating in my head as I shakily got to my feet. Dead, dead, dead. Casting one last teary glance at the grim tombstone, I slowly raised my hand and muttered a spell. Dead, dead, dead. A single red rose appeared on the grave; my last tribute to the man who had taught me to love, who had given me the strength to save Lucius ... who had saved me from myself.

Severus Snape.

Dead, dead, dead.

It has been three years since these fateful events took place. The war is a thing of the past. I can go to sleep in peace now, certain that Lucius and Draco will be there to greet me when I wake up. To the relief of us all, none of us got sent to Azkaban, as Lucius had so feared. Oddly enough, it was Harry Potter who had stood up for us at the trial that was, in the wake of some preliminary questioning at the Ministry, held about a week after the funeral. Insistent upon appearing as our witness, he resolutely testified that none of us had taken part in the final battle, and were therefore guilty of nothing but being Death Eaters, which, in itself, could not be considered a crime. A lot of muttering followed this statement, for there were naturally many for whom the words Death Eater and murderer meant very much the same thing, but eventually the court gave in to the Boy Who Lived, whose word was held almost sacred at the time. He had, after all, saved the world, had he not?

At first I did not understand it. Of what interest were we to the Potter boy? What did he care if we spent the rest of our lives rotting in Azkaban or not? But as we all walked out of the court room, still barely daring to believe our good fortune, he inconspicuously brushed past me, whispering “Now we are quits,” and that was when it finally dawned on me. I had most likely saved his life there in the clearing when I proclaimed him to be dead, and he had, in turn, saved my family from Azkaban. The debt was settled.

Finally free of all threats, we could start our lives afresh. A bribe or two secured Lucius a position at the Ministry. It was a far cry from the one he had held before, but since his ambitions had long since been trampled out, he did not mind. In fact, the peacefulness and anonymity of the work seems to be doing him good.

Draco, on the other hand, found it much harder to find his place in the world. He flitted from one job to another, eventually getting bored of each. I believe it was a common trait for all the children growing up in the Dark Lord’s era. Whichever side they had fought on, they had always had a goal to look towards, but now that this goal was gone, it was as if their life had suddenly lost all sense. They were like a school of fish lost at sea, swimming aimlessly back and forth and in circles. There was a certain restlessness inside them that did not allow them to stay in one place for long. It was the same with relationships, too. I dare not count how many hearts Draco had broken before he finally settled for his current girlfriend. She must have talked some sense into him, too, for shortly after meeting her Draco decided to join his father at the Ministry, and has not left since.

But what about me, I hear you ask? Well, I am exactly where I promised Lucius I would be, all those years ago. I am at home, waiting for him with open arms as he comes back from work. We hug and we kiss and then we go for a walk in the garden, or just stay at home chatting, if the weather is bad. I can see us growing old this way. The terrible events preceding the Dark Lord’s fall have formed a bond between us that I believe can only be broken by death. It is a quiet, devoted love, so different from its wild, passionate sister, the kind I have experienced only once in my life, with Severus.

Yes, Severus. It has been three years since he passed from this world to the one beyond, but he shall never pass from my mind. He still comes to visit me in my dreams, looking at me the same way he looked at me when I came to see him at his house for the first time, as if I were the most beautiful thing he had ever laid his eyes upon. I still think about him sometimes, when I wake up just before dawn, and cannot get back to sleep again. I see his face, all alight with love. I see his eyes, burning like two black coals. I see his smile, reserved for nobody but me. I see all of him, and I am happy. I have shed enough tears in the days following the funeral, when I seemed to think that there would never be any light in my life again. But now I know better. After all, did I not say to Severus that even if death claimed us both, I would much rather die remembering the good times we had shared than regretting what we had missed?

And so I remember, and I do not regret a single moment. I had always known there was no future for us. I belong to my husband, but without Severus I would never have found a way into his heart. Similarly, Severus would never have experienced what it was like to love and be loved in return if he had not met me. I expect that is why fate put us together, so that we could learn from each other. But then the bell rang, and the lesson was over. It was time to go home.


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