May 2nd, 1998: Shrieking Shack, Hogsmeade
The smell drifting down from the ceiling put Lucius ill at ease. It carried notes of mold and open flesh from the second floor, suggesting true horror lingering above. Behind him, Narcissa hissed, "We have to go," for the fifth time since following him into the abandoned house. She was right, of course.
"Quiet, woman," he returned in hushed tones, scanning the dark foyer for a proper staircase. Early afternoon light leaked through the boarded windows, illuminating more dust than anything else. He squinted, waving her away. "I told you to wait outside with Draco."
He was scoffed at and given an exaggerated eye roll that he felt more than saw in the dim. She slid in so they walked arm-in-arm, pointedly linked. Her shoulders were stiff with a tension between fear and outrage, a balance he knew that tilted towards the latter the more he dismissed her.
It had been a long year for their family. Lucius suspected he had a scant few hours left before the woman's Slytherin brain devised of life without him as opposed to with. She was a Black, after all, who once held the lady Zabini in high esteem, as if whispers of murder were just breezes passing through the trees. And this, in her happier days.
"This is ridiculous," his wife spoke in low tones, trampling a loose board underfoot. The pureblood woman inhaled clouds of yet more dust, and hacked viciously. "Honestly, Lucius!"
"Narcissa, you can at any time go and wait outside, like I've told you. You're of no help to me in here."
"Haven't we done enough?," she continued, as if he hadn't spoken. He clenched his teeth, irritated. "Haven't you satisfied your damned curiosity enough for all of us? There's always something else, always one more sick little shadow to poke at," her tone chilled, turning the damp May in the shed absolutely wintery.
"I'm ready to return to what is left of home, Lucius. My patience is wearing thin."
He spared a measuring glance at her profile. Her angled face was pale and drawn, framed with pale flyaway hair. Months of sleeplessness pooled beneath all their eyes, but the deep purple bags sat like bruises under her morning blue ones, bringing out the black in her wide, vacuumous pupils.
Lucius suppressed a grimace. In addition to the frayed, black robes they all still wore, and the immediate smell of dried blood, Narcissa resembled her sister—the mad, slaughtered one. The man accepted the need for caution.
"We'll only be a moment," he proclaimed, giving her cold hand on his forearm a decisive pat. She didn't respond. She simply turned her dogged expression to his and scowled.
Lucius cleared his throat, and judged the haunted house a more salvageable cause than convincing his wife of his good intentions. Then, with no little distaste, he realized fallen debris had blocked the way upstairs.
The shattering blasts from the fight must have rippled as far out as the outskirts of Hogsmeade. A large beam, cracking with mold, had collapsed onto the stairs. He reached into his robes for his wand, faltering when he felt the handle of the replacement wand. Sharp with clarity, he remembered the fate of the centuries old Malfoy heirloom. Relinquished, mocked and lost in battle.
He breathed through the sting of having been well and truly scavenged by his escapades. He assumed it was regret that had finally come for him these past days and nights. It hit suddenly and with a penchant to linger.
Of course, he didn't care for the feeling, so let it arrest him without comment. It often manifested as little more than a non sequitur silence, a distant look, a word floundering on the tip of a dry and tarnished tongue.
"I, well," he said brilliantly, taking in the beam. He flinched as, with a sigh and shake of the house, it was banished from the stairs.
Lucius looked down in time to see Narcissa tuck her wand back into her sleeve. Then she looked ahead, jaw tight with reproach, and waved him forward. He nearly refused to thank her—he wasn't a damn Squib—but he remembered where pride got him and moved them along with a practical nod.
He thought he might should feel regret for Narcissa's state as well as his own and that of their son. Generally, he did. However, as they climbed the crushed stairs, and Narcissa's arm slipped from the crook of his own, regret fell behind apprehension.
His wife gathered the skirts of her robes and overtook him. As she stepped out onto second floor landing, she cast her blue, imperious gaze down on him, paused on the stair.
He straightened to his full height under her perusal, and glimpsed her fine walking boots under the hem of her robes. They were her sturdiest and still impractical, heeled and of opalescent dragonhide with onyx buttons, stained with forest mud and leaves.
He'd paid a mint for them to be custom made by her favorite cordwainer in Versailles. Now, they were ruined.
"Well," she prompted, irked.
She opened her arms, swanlike in the dilapidated surrounds, and asked, "is this what you wanted? Yes, this is much preferred to leaving gods-awful Scotland with our criminal son before Dumbledore's people can think to hunt him down. Yes, this! Standing in this disgusting house with the putrid ghosts! Gathering dust! A lovely break from sanity, this is!"
She dropped her arms and spun away from him, disgusted. He managed to say, "Now, Narcissa, really," before she whipped up a hand for silence. Lucius walked up to make her face him when, almost wistfully, her head listed to the side and her expression contorted into a rictus of horror.
"Merlin help us," she breathed. She stood, peering into the room at the end of the hall. As he came closer and placed a ringed hand on her shoulder, he felt her wilt. "I'm so tired of this, Lucius."
Lucius turned to see what had gripped her so, and recoiled. There he sat, torn open and mouth slack, staring sightlessly at them from the floor. His unblinking black eyes were like holes in his sallow face.
One hand lie open on the ground, palm up like a beggar's, black grime caked under the yellow nails.
"Please," Narcissa begged, sounding very near the end of her rope, "let's just go."
There were few moments in life where Lucius Malfoy remembered heeding his wife's self-appointed role as his conscience. He'd indulged her when it came to trifling matters like curtains, or with Draco's schooling. However, she tended to disagree with him on pivotal points in his more serious ventures.
And, in reaction, he tended to ignore her.
But to continue like this was ill-advised by his malnourished nascent conscience to his much-abused ego.
Draco never argued with him like Narcissa did, he lamented. And she had done more today than in all the prior years of marriage. Granted, this was not without excellent reason, he saw in retrospect. But, had he tried, he worried that the only words he'd find to explain this particular detour might sound like "compulsion."
Which, given the master they had barely outlived not an hour before, was not a concept he delighted in bringing up. Again.
But he had to try and make sense of why, instead of fleeing persecution, they were stopped in the Shrieking Shack, witnessing Severus Snape's remains. Of course, there was no spin he could give their situation to make it palatable. At this point, he hoped just trying might stave off a violent hexing. He despaired at the thought of Narcissa leaving him to rot with their late ally.
So, for the first time, Lucius Malfoy engaged in a real, if spectacularly subpar, bit of honestly.
"I am...sorry," he said, turning his wife into his chest. He hadn't expected for Narcissa to push off of him. She whirled around, stabbing a finger toward the body.
He had meant to block her view of it, figuring it was one corpse too much. Instead, she demanded he look. Merlin, it was hideous to see what had been made of their only friend.
"Damn your late apologies," she spat. "Look at this, Lucius! Look at that-that thing! Why are we here!?"
"To bury him," he replied, squeezing his eyes shut. The constant dull ache he nursed in his body blossomed into a true pain. His head throbbed and his joints ground in their sockets, like he was made of stone. "Gods, I wanted to bury him. I'd been the one to send him here when the Dark Lord called."
"Of course you did." The disdain in her voice could cut glass.
"Please," he hissed, now begging himself. "Narcissa, I had no idea he'd be killed! He was in favor, more than all of us! We all expected him to be honored, not-," he gestured to the room, covering his mouth and nose.
The smell of open wounds clogged the hallway now as he walked down it, spurred forth by his own admissions. Soon he was standing over the body, not sure where to look. His skin crawled to see the open neck, still moist. His chest hurt as he stepped over that damned open hand. He was disgusted both by the body and his reaction to it. He felt sick.
He'd never grieved for anyone, or regretted death and dying, and perhaps this was where the line was drawn between himself and better people. Potter had mentioned some hard tapped, driving regret of Severus'. So told, it had, against all proof to the contrary, suggested the man capable of a puling sort of love.
Lucius only knew him capable of honor, first on suspicious and then with evidence. Draco was alive because of him, but he held no delusions that this was a labor of love. He was bound to the task, coerced at best. Still, he had done it.
Oh, he was an evil man, like the rest of them, but a friend surely. And Lucius had sent him to be killed. Of all the dark and damnable deeds in his life, this one rancored.
"I could walk away," he went on to his strange audience. He spoke to Narcissa, to himself, to Severus, and to the powers that measured souls and knew his lacking.
"Dumbledore's people would take care of this. Potter, at least, would give another inane speech about loyalty and sacrifice." These were both proper pureblood values, of course, but Lucius would never give that brat such a credit. "But Severus despised Potter and his ilk, regardless of his feelings about some chit from school. And if I leave it to them-"
He looked at Narcissa and was surprised to see her right next to him, close enough to brush shoulders. He didn't, because he could tell after a moment that she hadn't gotten nearer for him.
His wife stood staring down at the body, like he had been. Her expression was cool, despite the trembling in her shoulders. She then went a step farther than she had, kneeling in the mess on the floor and bending over. Slowly, she took the ebony wand left, forgotten, by the torn man's side.
Her cheek came inches from the gash in the neck as she picked up the wand from the floor. She then pressed it into the other, empty hand, curling stiff fingers around it.
Narcissa ended by leaning back on her heels, staring into the dead man's face. Her eyes shone in the meager light, but she didn't cry. Good breeding and a proper education rid her of that habit decades prior. She hadn't cried since Draco was born.
"We owe him Draco's life," she reasoned, "perhaps even our own. We will bring him with us and bury him overseas, where no one can desecrate the grave."
Then, an intake of breath. She glanced up at Lucius and parted her lips around some new question. She looked flushed, from which he knew it was nothing of the vitriol she had before. He held her gaze, privately relieved that this had been worth explaining.
Of course, now she was gasping. Lucius saw her shoulders shake. He assumed she must have finally noticed the neck wound in the dark. Thinking it might be easier to move the body with more light, he nodded his thanks when a soft, blue-white glow lifted the room.
And it was in this brighter space that he realized Narcissa wasn't gasping. She was staring at him, breathless, hands folded and white-knuckled in her lap. Those hands were also without a wand, making him ask the quite terrifying question of who had cast the Lumos.
He was unfortunate enough to realize it wasn't him, nor was it his wife, given her obvious panic.
"Lucius, for Merlin's sake, please tell me he's dead," demanded Narcissa in a harsh whisper.
He knew what she meant. On one hand, he would be glad to not have the regret of Severus' death on his fledgling conscience. It seemed too weak to carry that weight for a lifetime, if he were being honest with himself.
On the other, begging hand, they only had a couple of hours ahead of Dumbledore's people to leave Britain. They had to steal away to the Manor, gather what valuables and funds left unravaged by war, and disappear.
Escaping while toting Severus' body was morbid, but doable. Once it was cremated and buried in a discreet plot, it would cease being of concern. This was the opposite scenario to moving with a living Severus Snape himself.
A fugitive family did not simply leave the country with Severus Snape, murderer of Albus Dumbledore, the black dragon of Hogwarts whose hoard was the children of magical Britain, the bane of the Light and reported traitor to the Dark. Harboring him would likely win them no allies and many enemies.
But, if they left him behind, he would go up for trial and, at best, be sent to die in Azkaban. At worst, he would be set free and open to any loyalists among the surviving Death Eaters.
Perhaps Severus would meet with some good fortune, he thought. He might be rewarded for his contributions to the Light, and end up with a pardon and an Order of Merlin for his troubles. He and Narcissa, even Draco, could send him well wishes via owl post and keep up with him in the papers.
Contrary to that were the facts of the horrific tear in the man's throat and his abandonment in a ruined room of a haunted house. These things did not portray a fortunate man, thus discouraging all of Lucius' desperate fantasies.
"What we do rests on if he's actually alive...against all odds...and common sense," he surrendered. Narcissa huffed and pointed to the new source of light.
In Severus' frozen hand, the tip of his wand shone bright white. Grimacing, Lucius freed his own wand and revealed more of Severus' face. The man still stared sightlessly into the middle distance, but the quiet gasping Lucius had thought was Narcissa was actually coming from the sucking wound. Their friend was breathing shallowly from his new hole.
"Gods," he said incredulous, leaning in closer. "Only you, you impossible berk."
"He must be paralyzed," returned Narcissa. She was already spelling away filth from his robes and transfiguring a blanket out of a nearby shred of drape. "I'm no mediwitch, Lucius. He needs help."
"Ah, so we are taking him with us," he probed. He received a glare for the effort and was snapped at to make himself useful. He did so by sending a message outside to Draco, via Patronus.
"Prepare to leave," it went, "We have a fourth."
They still managed to escape Scotland after the Dark Lord's defeat, while both armies were numb with shock. They have been graced with all three Malfoys having survived the final battle, and with a fourth person in tow, returned to the Manor to dig up their emergency portkey. Unfortunately, they met the consequences of their detour not long after Apparating home.
What Order members that could be spared led a ragtag group of Aurors to the former Death Eater stronghold. Lucius had been arrested for crimes against Muggle and magical kind, as had Draco.
Narcissa, who despite everything had not been Marked, was arrested and released same day on an "anonymous tip" that she had changed loyalties in the final confrontation. While not technically true—her loyalty was always to her son—Narcissa sent a note of thanks to the Boy-Who-Lived-Twice while under house arrest, awaiting her family's trials.
She appreciated the help.
She shared, rather subtly, that a certain person of interest may have survived the final battle. She lamented, with great aplomb, that this person was too tragically injured to serve trail. And she admitted, with full truthfulness, that she didn't trust the Ministry in its hobbled state to offer this person due justice. She carefully avoided mention that her husband was one party to have hobbled it.
Still she managed to talk the most politically potent boy of this era to lend her two great powers: potions and privacy.
When the Aurors did their snooping, Narcissa had a door that need not be opened. When Narcissa complained of her ailments—commonly her stiff neck, her breathlessness, her poor appetite, and her fatigue—she was sent Ministry standard potions and creams to address the hurts. These routinely went to Severus.
She couldn't ask for much by way of pain potions, as these were monitored closely to avoid overdose. For this, she pitied her secret guest his quiet agony.
Still weeks rolled into months, and enough of the Ministry clung on to transition Kingsley Shacklebolt into a seat as Minister of Magic. Trials came and went, and her family didn't come home. After Draco's sentencing, she suffered the indignity of adorning the Daily Prophet's front page.
The paper had photographs of her shedding wordless tears from four or five different angles. One paparazzo captured her hunched outside of the hearing with her head in her hands.
She was glad, then, for having to stay inside. Narcissa cloistered Severus away in an adjoined suite to her sitting rooms. She had the house elves tend to his food and hygiene, while she sat nearby and read on ways to expedite the healing. Of course, the Aurors had seized the majority of the Malfoy libraries, but it had been far from her first raid.
She managed to hide a few choice texts that she used, with some cross referencing and practice, to fully close the man's wound.
It was three months before his limbs loosened from their petrification. Mobility returned in small ways from the feet up. There was a first toe twitched, then a first finger wiggled. Then, over the course of a few days, Severus began to thaw.
He moved his neck first, and howled for what turned out as half the night. She left, unable to stand it after an hour. She spent the rest of that time scribbling new notes: to Potter, to her arrest monitor, to Shacklebolt, to Lucius. Drafting countless iterations for each note, she threw them away unsent. She didn't know what to ask for, really, and instead, waited out the screaming and fell into a fitful sleep.
Narcissa returned the next morning to see Severus lift his arms and touch shaking fingers to scar on his neck. The suite was done in mostly warm woods and cream, so he looked the oddest accent. He sat up in the middle of the wide, white bed, all sallow skin and greasy black hair and thick, brown scars.
She felt she did rather well there, all things considered. The scars were neat and shiny, running in three dark cords from right under his jaw to down across his collarbone. The man's hair had grown down his back during his stay and mostly covered them. In fact, he had to continue brushing hair aside to investigate his skin.
Narcissa sighed, letting go of a breath held for what felt like years. Severus pushed the first, rough word out of his mangled throat.
"Mirror," Severus rattled. It sounded more like "m'r," but she filtered that through reason. He wanted to see how he looked. If how he must have felt and obviously sounded were his only clues, any person would worry.
She conjured a hand mirror and found a seat on an eggshell and gold tasseled chaise lounge. Narcissa then reclined, plucking nonexistent fluff off of her cerulean robes, so as to watch him from under her lashes.
Severus lost his grip on the mirror once before snatching it from the duvet with a grunt. He then went over his features, his sunless complexion and chapped everything.
"The elves made sure you were fed and hydrated," Narcissa explained unprompted.
Severus put the mirror down and stared at her. She nodded in acknowledgement, her way of saying welcome back. No need to carry on about it. "They also charmed you clean and changed your clothes and linens as needed."
"How?" She blinked and then saw the mirror lift in an aborted gesture at his neck.
"How did you heal?," she clarified. Severus inclined his head once, and grimaced, rubbing his neck. Narcissa conjured a ministry potion for the stiffness and was rudely snorted at and waved off. She put it on the bed anyway. Yes, they were rubbish potions, but it was all she had.
"I healed you," she pointed at the small table sitting at the end of her chaise. It held books about healing and a couple about poisoning. She looked back and smiled at the open scepticism on his face.
"I can read, Severus, and remember that I had Draco at home. I know some things about staunching blood and knitting flesh, if only how it's supposed to look."
"Hm," he seemed to drop the point. He focused on her, willfully ignoring the potion on the bed and looking at the rest of the room. Narcissa realized, given some of his tension and the nature of his attack, that he might be trying to parse her agenda.
"Voldemort is dead," she said, proud of herself for not catching on the name. Severus continued to stare, face unchanged. "Draco is in Azkaban, as is Lucius, although Draco has a lesser sentence as we could prove coercion for most of it. Some Death Eaters escaped, which is why it's best that you stay here."
She thought he said, "How?," again but heard when he repeated himself that he was asking, "Who?"
"Who knows about you? Or who escaped?"
She got another inclination of the head, and a wince. He would take the damn potion or go spare refusing it, honestly.
"Lucius, Draco, and I all know that you survived. I can't account for who they might have told, but I hinted at it to one Harry Potter." She rolled her eyes at the resultant groans and swears. Severus' voice became clearer when trying to curse.
"Relax, he hasn't been to see you, and hasn't mentioned it since offering to help. To be crystal clear, it is quite obvious to me that the boy, as appreciative as he is of your service, deeply dislikes you. Once I suggested that you would prefer anonymity to glory, he agreed to a few terms and seemed happy to call you as dead."
She then figured he wanted an answer to both questions. She summoned another item to a tray on his bedside table and sat up, hands folded.
"As for who escaped," she said quietly. Severus stopped his ranting to listen. "I only know of who was free as they've been captured. Most of the Death Eaters died in the war, and of the ones still alive and still free, I believe very few are interested in avenging their master's death upon you."
Narcissa gestured to the large envelope she had summoned. "In there is a list of who I believe is still at large. It is charmed to update every time I edit the master copy."
"There is also," she went on, "a small amount of money, new identification papers, and a portkey to Riga. The house there is already purchased through a third party."
"Karkaroff had people and planned to hide under an alias in Riga before the Dark Lord's return. I hear he enjoyed the architecture. Lucius found his connections after Karkaroff died and hired them to our cause."
Severus made no moves to pick up the envelope. He simply continued to level her with his heavy, hippogriff gaze. Narcissa sighed, eyes drifting skyward. She was exhausted by the men she knew never thanking her. She could come to look forward to a life alone.
Still, she pulled back her sleeves to show the tracking spells there cast: two bands of crawling, fluorescent green runes marching across her skin. From his raised eyebrows, she knew she made her point. Her location and her every spell were watched.
"I'll be staying in England, to await my family's release. You can take Lucius' share and leave, unfollowed, once you're able to walk," she paused, delicately, "and talk, if you can stand to wait longer. It might behoove you to start your time there fully capable, or as close to it as you can get."
Narcissa didn't stay to wait for an answer. She knew what it would be.
Over the course of the following months, as summer withered into fall, Severus recovered. Regular food and rest, alongside walking the suite, then the corridors, then the gardens continued to improve his mobility. By September, he managed a long-legged stride that, while more contemplative than before, smacked of his habitual stalk.
With time, Narcissa's complaints to her designated Healer were treated with vitality draughts and Dreamless sleep. The greater energy gave him space to push himself. By November, he easily eluded the Aurors on their surprise inspections. He could slip from the libraries to his suite without a sound. He could even outpace Narcissa on walking conversations through the manor.
He soon spoke in full sentences, read at near his normal pace, and so began a cursory study in new languages.
Narcissa watched him, on one evening in late December. He paced the library, his most frequent haunt, and practiced glamour charms in rough Latvian, occasionally stopping to check himself in a floating mirror.
She knew then that she'd be alone for the rest of winter, and did not regret that.
"I suppose I should say thank you," said Severus on the first day of the new year. They had been sitting in her tea room, eating and talking Baltic politics. The thanks was announced and never given.
Narcissa only hummed, "Yes, I suppose you should," over her cup of tea. The elves were instructed to clear his room exactly one week following. She then patted herself on the back for guessing correctly. The room sat vacant for less than day before it was washed and stripped of evidence.
The man, healed for weeks now, held out as long as he could. But he couldn't stand the sentimentality spending his birthday in their routine. It would come to feel like living there, and she quite agreed that even the thought was too much.
She would return to her desk, nonetheless, and write him a letter, thanking him for his company.