Narcissa Malfoy looked slowly around the room, still feeling a bit stunned to be sitting here, in this room. It was the reception room. . .no, that sounded too grand. . .the front parlor. . .no, too cozy. . .it was the main ground floor room of an old hunting lodge belonging to her husband’s family. It was no longer used and kept only because it was hidden in a bit of ancient forest, Unplottable and unknown outside the family and a carefully selected circle of . . .acquaintances. She had only been here once before, when a new bride, and Lucius was showing her all of the great Malfoy estate over which she was now Mistress. The grand manor, with its polished floors and gleaming walls, as elegant and expensive a home as could be found in all of Britain, not just the Wizarding portion, and all that the mansion entailed, was now lost to her now, for the Ministry was surely tearing the manor apart, looking for her and her son.
Draco! He had failed but succeeded at the same time. Snape had done what Draco could not and Albus Dumbledore was dead.
No. She mustn’t think about that. She still had responsibilities, even if she couldn’t go home. Not with her husband in prison and her son, her only child, a fugitive. For even though Draco had not fulfilled his pledge, he had arranged for the invasion of Hogwarts and was the force behind, if not the individual directly responsible for, the murder of Albus Dumbledore. The Ministry would be searching for Draco and, as his mother, would never leave her in peace.
She had embraced her trembling son, surprised to find he was of a height with her now. He had been babbling, shaking, barely able to stand, as he tried to explain what had happened.
Not now, she told herself sternly. She mustn’t dwell on that now. Nor would she mourn the manor, for that would one day be hers again. For now, she was Mistress of Darkwood Lodge and she had to make arrangements for her guests. She had summoned the house-elf and instructed the creature to prepare rooms, then started a list of what needed to be done to make this half abandoned lodge more suitable. She and Draco would be living here, for a time.
She would return to Malfoy Manor! She would, triumphantly, her husband and son at her side. Oh, Lucius! Oh, oh, Draco!
A door opened, the sound startling Narcissa so that she put her hand to her breast. It led to the room where He was meeting with His followers. Draco had already been dismissed, half fainting, and been nearly carried up the stairs to his room by his uncle, before Rodolphus had returned to the meeting, assuring the distracted Narcissa that her son was lucky. Draco had been punished for his failure--Narcissa had heard his screams--but he had also been rewarded, praised and sent away from the Dark Lord. Even now, Draco slept, exhausted, in one of the rooms upstairs.
Severus Snape exited the room, bowing deeply as he backed through the door. Then he shut it and leaned against it, his shoulders slumping.
Snape turned slowly, exhaustion evident in his face and form.
“Narcissa.” His normally silken voice was rough. He was still leaning against the door. She suspected he couldn’t stand without the support. “It’s nearly dawn. Shouldn’t you be in bed?”
”I was waiting for you.” Even as she spoke the words, she realized the truth of them. She hadn’t known until that instant that it was for Snape that she sat in the chair in the dim and ugly room.
Snape shook his head slowly. “I have nothing to say to you that you don’t already know.”
“No.” She stood up, reaching a hand tentatively towards him. “I wanted to thank you.”
He raised an eyebrow. “You already did.”
“But not properly!” She bit her lip, aware that the words she had just spoken could be interpreted in other ways. “Severus,” she began again, but he stopped her with a sigh.
“Narcissa, I am exhausted. Is there somewhere. . .”
She laid her hand gently on his arm and felt the muscles twitch. He pushed himself away from the door. She could see the effort it was taking him just to stand.
“This way,” she said, walking slowly and keeping close, in case he needed her support. Imagine! Severus Snape, who always seemed to walk in a world of his own, never needing anyone or anything, was almost staggering as he reached the bottom of the staircase. “Or you could lie down in the. . .parlor.”
Snape gave her a cold glance, arrogant even in his exhaustion. “I am not an invalid.” He straightened, wincing at the effort, and started up the stairs. She could tell he was using the bannister for support. Normally, he would stride up and down stairs, his robes sweeping behind him, never deigning to so much as rest his hand on a bannister, lest someone think he needed it to keep from making a misstep.
“Severus.” How foolish she sounded, repeating his name. To whom else would she be speaking in this gloomy hall?
He didn’t say anything in response. His gaze was fixed on his feet and the effort it seemed to take to move them up each step.
“I am so grateful, of course. Without you. . .”
“Draco would be dead or keeping Lucius company.” Snape paused on the landing, lifting his head to look at her. “Albus Dumbledore would be alive and I would be sleeping peacefully in my own bed. Don’t state the obvious.”
“I tried to get him to tell you. . .”
“Arrogance,” said Snape, starting up the remainder of the stairs, “is a Malfoy trait and one with which I am long acquainted. Do you care which room I take?”
“Oh!” Narcissa glanced down the hall. The one closest to the top of the stairs had been prepared for Draco. It was where she presumed he was sleeping now. The door across the corridor led to the room she planned to take for herself. She didn’t know if any of the other rooms were prepared yet, the linens aired, the fires laid. She looked around as if to see the house-elf, which was no doubt about its tasks invisibly. Snape sagged against her suddenly and she made up her mind. “This way.”
Pushing open the door to the room Narcissa had planned to use herself, she was glad to see the coverlet on the bed was turned back and a fire glowed in the hearth. Snape was leaning on her heavily now, his breath harsh in her ear. They staggered towards the bed and Snape collapsed on it.
Some faint maternal instinct of Narcissa’s came to the fore, even if Snape was only a bit younger than herself. She pushed and tugged at him, ignoring his mumbled protests, until she had his outer cloak in her hands. She tried to remove his frock coat but he was too heavy. Instead, she satisfied herself with lifting his feet off the floor. Should she remove his boots? She looked at the sheets, then at the mud on the soles of his boots.
There was a row of buttons along the cuffs of Snape’s trousers. She flicked her wand at them and they unfastened. She repeated the motion and the buttons holding Snape’s boots closed also slipped free. With a gentle tug, she took off his right boot and made an unexpected discovery.
Severus Snape was wearing green and white striped socks that looked as if someone had knitted them for him.
Narcissa had to admit to herself, that, in some dark corner of her mind, she had wondered what Snape concealed under his robes. She knew that Lucius knew. Lucius had joked about Snape’s buttons on more than one occasion.
Poor Lucius! Trapped in Azkaban for nearly a year! Were he dead, she would be ending the first year of mourning, preparing to set aside her black robes for grey or lavender. But he wasn’t dead! Remember that! He would be back at her side one day soon and they would return to the Manor, Draco at their side. Draco!
Shaking her head to dislodge the disturbing thoughts, Narcissa removed Snape’s other boot and set it beside the first, next to the bed. Who would knit socks for Severus Snape? She almost giggled at the image in her head of Snape knitting them himself, his long fingers wrapped with yarn as his needles clicked deftly together. No, someone made them for him. Some doting aunt? Narcissa frowned, trying to remember if Snape ever made any reference to any living relative. None that she could recall. An adoring student, perhaps?
Narcissa shook her head again. She couldn’t imagine any student having a crush on Severus Snape. When she was a second year. . .or was it third. . .there had been a Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher with curling auburn hair and lovely brown eyes named Pertwee or Prewitt or something. All the girls in school had giggled over him. That she could understand but Snape?
She pulled the coverlet up to his shoulder, tucking him in as if he were a child. As she smoothed the fabric, she found herself studying him. He was an ugly man, with his greasy hair and hooked nose. Compared to her husband, who was nearly godlike in his beauty, Severus Snape looked like a troll.
And yet. . .
Someone had knitted him those ridiculous socks. He was a Head of House. Perhaps he had comforted a homesick child and the socks had been given in gratitude.
Narcissa pressed her hand against her mouth, not wanting her childish laugh to escape. Snape give comfort? The Dark Lord was more likely to give comfort than Snape. Snape snapped and snarled and made cutting remarks. If a homesick First Year approached Snape, he’d be more likely to scold the child than give comfort. A sudden image of the tall, thin figure of black clad Snape, patting some child on the shoulder, made Narcissa giggle unbecomingly again.
He stirred and she caught her breath, not wanting him to wake and see her standing over him. The moment passed and Snape seemed to settle into a deep sleep.
Well, killing the most powerful. . .the second most powerful wizard in Britain was bound to be exhausting.
The Dark Lord couldn’t do it but Severus Snape could. Draco had told his mother, his voice breaking, that he, Draco, had been unable to cast the Killing Curse, but Snape had. Raised his wand and, with no hesitation, ended the life of the one wizard the Dark Lord was said to fear.
Severus Snape had killed Albus Dumbledore. Severus Snape had been powerful enough--although Draco had said Dumbledore seemed weak and ill--to kill Albus Dumbledore. With two words and the strength of his will and his magic, Severus Snape had done what so many had tried and failed to do.
Lucius had failed.
No, don’t think such things! Your beloved husband was failed by those he commanded. Lucius was. . .was. . .no longer in the Dark Lord’s favor and was rotting in a cell in Azkaban.
“No,” whispered Narcissa to herself.
Lucius had failed. Severus had succeeded. Severus stood next to the Dark Lord now, more highly regarded than Lucius or even Bellatrix.
Narcissa brushed a strand of hair back from Snape’s face. It wasn’t as greasy as she expected. And his face wasn’t really hideous. True, his nose was large and hooked and his skin an unfortunate shade but he had compelling eyes and there was a . . .a. . .nobility? No, that wasn’t the word. An intensity about Severus Snape. What he set out to accomplish, he accomplished.
Not like Lucius.
Snape, thought Narcissa as she studied him in the flickering firelight, wasn’t really ugly at all. His was a face full of character, and strength. Severus Snape wasn’t ugly, he was distinguished. He was also powerful. Next to the Dark Lord, perhaps the most powerful wizard in Britain.
The wizard who had saved her son and killed Albus Dumbledore. The wizard, Narcissa thought, as she left him sleeping in the bed she intended for herself, who she should take care to bind even more closely to her. Closer than the friend of her husband. Closer than the mentor of her son. As close as. . .
Perhaps as close as that.
Much had changed that night. Narcissa had left Malfoy Manor. Draco was a fugitive who had declared for the Dark Lord and against the Ministry. Albus Dumbledore was removed as a threat.
And Severus Snape had changed forever in the eyes of Narcissa Malfoy.
October 17, 2005