What Follows Betrayal~*~
Recoiling from the great beast, Severus abandoned his anger and fled. He could hear the hippogriff hard on his heels, but the Apparation point lay just ahead. Then suddenly he was twisting through a crushing blackness. Seconds later, he found himself under a star-filled sky, surrounded by Death Eaters.
“I see you’ve decided to join us, Severus,” a voice hissed from behind him.
Turning, Severus prostrated himself before his master, his only master for the first time in what seemed a lifetime.
“Rise, my friend. Amycus tells us that you have done us a great service tonight. Come, tell me: Is Dumbledore truly dead?”
“He is, my Lord.”
“And young Malfoy? What part did he play?”
“He had Dumbledore at wand point when I arrived, but he’d already hesitated too long; the risk of failure was too great. I had no choice.”
“Very well.” Voldemort turned his attention to the boy. “He will be punished for his hesitation, but I will allow him to remain in my service. He may yet redeem himself. Where’s his mother?”
“My Lord, if I may…?”
“Yes, Bella, fetch your sister.”
Silence descended after Bellatrix Apparated away. Severus remained standing before the Dark Lord, wondering what awaited him. Several minutes passed, and then Bella stood beside him with her sister.
“Narcissa, how good of you to come.”
Dropping to her knees, the blond witch trembled at Voldemort’s feet. “My Lord.”
“Your sister has apprised you of tonight’s events?”
“Yes, Lord. I cannot express my gratitude….”
“The Malfoys have been faithful, if inept, servants. Let it not be said that Lord Voldemort is unmerciful to those who follow him.”
“Still, Draco must be punished.”
Severus watched his master bend to caress Narcissa’s face, gently coaxing her chin up until blue eyes met red.
“He will not be permanently damaged, I promise you that. Now, you must do something for me.”
“I think Severus has been bound to two masters long enough. Release him from his vow. It would not do to sacrifice him now that he has fulfilled his promise, would it, my dear?”
Severus saw Narcissa’s eyes brimming with tears as he moved to take his lord’s place in front of her. Kneeling, he grasped her hands. Once again, Bella presided just as she had done almost a year before. As they completed the ritual, Severus felt like a giant vice was loosening itself from around his very soul. Hell, no wonder I’ve been so short-tempered all these months!
Looking to his lord for permission, Severus rose and left Narcissa to join the circle. Now he had nothing to fear from Draco’s punishment.
Narcissa, however, remained on her knees, sobbing before their master. “Please, please punish me instead. He’s only a boy!”
Voldemort seemed to consider this for a moment. “Well, Draco, shall we do as your mother asks?”
“No! I mean, please, no, Master. I…I take full responsibility. She only wanted to protect me.”
“And we can hardly fault her for that, now, can we?” Severus almost cringed as his master’s eyes swept the circle and came to rest on him. “Severus, I believe you, too, found it difficult not to sympathize with Narcissa’s devotion to her son, didn’t you?”
“Yes, my Lord.”
“Very touching.” He sighed—a soft, unpleasant hissing sound—but then his voice hardened. “Of course, there’s a time to set sympathy aside. A time to honor one’s primary allegiance to the exclusion of all others. Wouldn’t you agree, Severus?”
Draco’s former protector bowed his head. “Yes, Lord.”
“Good. I leave Draco’s punishment to you then.”
Hours later, Severus collapsed onto the lumpy bed one of his fellow Death Eaters had provided, gasping as pain shot through forgotten wounds.
It wasn’t enough, he mused bitterly, that I had to murder the one man who believed in me, the one man to give me a second chance all those years ago. No. I also had to torture one of the students he entrusted to my care….Not that Draco was the first student to be on the receiving end of my curses tonight. He couldn’t deny that he’d lost control of himself during those last moments at Hogwarts.
Still, all and all, the night had been a success. He’d banished any misgivings Voldemort and his followers might have had concerning his true loyalties. Moreover, Draco would survive, something neither Severus nor Dumbledore had been sure of when they’d planned for this night; perhaps the boy would even take a lesson away from all this. One could hope.
Closing his eyes, Severus sighed. He’d done what he’d promised to do, but it wasn’t over yet—not by a long shot.
Fawkes arrived just as Severus drifted off. If the dark wizard sensed the phoenix’s presence, he gave no sign of it. Settling on the night stand, Fawkes bent over the exhausted man, noting the untended slashes across his chest and throat. A quiet song drifted through the air, embracing them in its mournful melody, as Fawkes wept.
When he awoke just a few hours later, Severus felt reinvigorated. Running his hands over the places where his wounds had been, he allowed himself a moment of gratitude. Wizards healed fast, but not that fast. So the phoenix song was no dream. Relief accompanied the thought. Fawkes would play a crucial role in the months ahead, but Severus had never entirely trusted Albus on this one point. He’d always wondered how they could know for sure how the bird would react to the loss of his wizard.
Well, he ought not to have worried. The headmaster had been right as usual: Fawkes would return when Severus needed him.
Rising, he looked down at himself in distaste. Murder is no excuse for letting oneself go, I suppose, he thought wryly. A few quick flicks of his wand had his robes mended and tolerably clean. Then, straightening his shoulders, Severus took a few minutes to clear his mind before reaching for the door knob. It was time to see what the Dark Lord had in mind for his new golden boy.
Written for Grainne in honor of her awesome winning entry to January's S.N.A.P.E. contest. Check it out at http://lunafish.livejournal.com/19491.html. As always, JK Rowling really owns everything here.