Overwhelmed by anger, Snape watched as Potter hit the ground and gasped for breath. He raised his arm to cast another stinging hex and was almost knocked over by Hagrid’s great monster of a pet. Instead, he turned and ran for the gates. Swearing at his own folly for wasting time with Potter, he scanned the area for signs of the other Death Eaters.
Draco stood alone, his head jerking back and forth like a child afraid of the dark. Snape grasped Draco’s arm and, still ducking from the pursuing Hippogriff, snapped, “Ready. Malfoy Manor!”
There was a familiar squeezing sensation and they were in the Malfoy parlor. Tastefully decorated with the intent to impress and welcome, the room was designed for the secretive Apparition of a select few. Visitors were justified in being impressed with the wealth; the welcome was less genuine. Snape knew that no one could go farther into the mansion without Narcissa’s approval. He let go of Draco and the boy fell to the floor.
The sounds of battle were replaced by the quiet music of the room and by Dumbledore’s voice in his head, “Severus… Severus…Please…” Snape strode across to the cabinet and poured himself a generous portion of firewhiskey. Draco was being sick on the Persian rug. The boy moaned, but Snape ignored him, his mind centered on the fiasco they had just left. Had Potter heard what he had been telling him about closing his mind? Had all the Death Eaters obeyed him and left Hogwarts? Were the students safe? Could he have saved the Headmaster? His heart had begun to slow, but now it resumed its pounding with a painful intensity. He began to push the feeling down deep where he could hide it.
He had downed half of his drink when Narcissa rushed in. “Draco! You’re hurt!” she gasped and ran to his side, dropping to the floor.
“No, Mother.” Draco pushed her away and waved his wand at the floor. “Evanesco!” He looked at Snape’s back. “Professor, why did we come here? Shouldn’t we report?”
Snape stood silent for a moment then said with a cold smile, “I don’t believe I can claim that title anymore.” He took a deep breath. “Never present yourself to the Dark Lord without his summons--unless you have a very good reason.”
“Dumbledore’s dead, isn’t that…”
Narcissa gasped, her hand flying to her mouth. She looked from Draco to Snape, a question plain on her face. Snape looked at her, but saw the Headmaster. “I’m not in a hurry to announce your failure. We’ll both be punished.”
“Punished? Shouldn’t he reward us?”
“Yes, well, your reward is likely to be that he won’t kill you. My reward is likely to be that I won’t be punished as severely as you will.”
“Kill?” Narcissa whispered, horrified: “Severus - he won’t kill Draco now?”
“Draco had the chance…” Severus cleared a lump from his throat, “to kill Dumbledore - but he didn’t.” Severus blinked away that last image of Albus. “I had to do it for him.” His chest tightened. He turned from the others, walked to the window and tried to breathe. His mind refused to close and his chest refused to open. He swallowed the rest of his drink and turned back, looking Narcissa in the eye. “I am released from my vow?”
Narcissa nodded, but Severus insisted, “Do you release me from the vow I made to you?”
“I do,” she whispered.
Dumbledore’s voice, “Severus, please,” reminded him of his duty. “I don’t think he’ll kill Draco. He usually performs the Cruciatus Curse on those who disappoint him.”
“Cruciatus?” Draco swallowed as if he was forcing down more sickness.
“You weren’t expecting detention, were you? Just remember: no matter how long it lasts or how much it hurts, it could be worse. Don’t forget to thank him for his mercy.”
“Mercy? Dumbledore spoke of mercy. He said he could hide us, Mother. All of us, even Father.”
“Dumbledore said that?” She looked confused, there was flicker of hope, then her expression closed and her face grew stern. “He was tricking you.”
Snape’s eyes darted from mother to son. ‘Dumbledore died for them’, he thought angrily. He wanted to remain quiet, unsure if he could hold back the rage that continued to build, but he heard the incessant, “Severus…Please.”
“I don’t think it was a trick. The old fool does—did that sort of thing. He and Moody were always talking about ways to hide people. ”
“Alastor Moody?” Narcissa asked, incredulously.
“Alastor Moody,” Snape confirmed. He hoped Narcissa understood what he was saying, but he tried to repress that hope along with his anger. It wouldn’t do to lose control now.
Draco was still mumbling, as much to himself as to his mother. “Dumbledore said that he wasn’t at my mercy; that I was at his. I think, if he hadn’t died, he would have helped us. He can’t help anyone now.”
Snape thought, ‘He helped you by dying, you fool,’ but he said aloud, “Dumbledore’s followers would obey him beyond death. They’re as loyal now as they ever were.”
In his mind’s eye, he could see Dumbledore looking at him on the tower, and worse, could still see the request in the old man’s eyes. ‘Severus, please.’ Snape swallowed. He had to get out of here; he needed to be alone to prepare and there might be very little time for it.
“Goodbye, Narcissa,” he said, then looked at the pale boy who still sat on the floor. “Draco, remember, no matter how long the punishment lasts, or how much it hurts, thank the Dark Lord for his mercy. ” Snape turned and was gone.
“Mercy?” whispered Draco.
“Moody,” whispered Narcissa.
This is the Wizarding Wireless Network with late breaking news. Narcissa Black Malfoy and her son, Draco Malfoy have been murdered. Aurors, responding to a tip that the suspected accomplice to the Dumbledore murder was at the Malfoy Mansion, discovered both bodies late this evening. It is now believed that Malfoy had been a hostage rather than an accomplice, and Severus Snape will be charged with these deaths as well as with Albus Dumbledore’s. Sources tell us that Auror Alastor Moody has been re-called from retirement to head the Malfoy investigation. Stay tuned for the complete story at midnight.