Chapter 16 - Paying the Price

It was only a few minutes later when Remus, Severus, Lucius and Professor Dumbledore arrived outside the door to the hospital ward.

"What the hell did you say to her, Lupin?" Severus demanded as the Headmaster tried to unlock the door.

"I didn't say anything. She started ranting about how she never meant to survive what she did to Bellatrix and Wormtail. I tried to take her wand, but she was just lucid enough to stop me." Remus was almost as frantic as Severus was.

"Mur killed Bella and Wormtail?" Lucius asked quickly. "How?"

Severus explained it to him distractedly, trying to think of what other locking spell she might have used. He quit mid-sentence as the door was blown backwards off it's hinges. They looked into the ward but couldn't see anything unusual. Dumbledore stepped inside and promptly disappeared, causing the others to hang back.

"She's made a porthole," Remus said quietly as Severus swore under his breath. THAT was advanced magic. Merlin only knew where the Headmaster had gone, but he certainly wasn't in the hospital ward.

Severus narrowed his eyes and stepped to the side of the door. He was about to blow a hole in the wall when Lucius grabbed his arm. "Avery," he said quickly. "She's trying to kill Avery."

A look of comprehension crossed Sev's face, followed swiftly by revulsion. A moment later a gaping hole appeared in the wall of the hospital ward and Severus stepped through it to find Muriel sitting up in bed. Her eyes were closed and her wand raised. Before he could get to her, she lowered the wand. When she opened her eyes, they were filled with pain, and she was smiling grimly. But only for an instant.

Her hands flew to her head and the wand fell, forgotten, onto the sheets. "I'm so sorry, Sev," she whispered hoarsely. Remus and Lucius exchanged a glance, then stepped back outside. Though Remus had never trusted Malfoy, Dumbledore had requested that the man come along, and Severus had seemed to take his presence for granted. That was enough for Remus.

"It's not your fault, Mur," he whispered, misunderstanding. He tried to take her hand, but both were now clutching her hair tightly. He pulled her into his arms instead.

She spoke quickly and breathlessly, as if she was trying to say a lifetime of apologies in a moment. "I wasn't so lucky this time. He's dead, but I wasn't strong enough. Tell Remus I'm sorry." Her breath was coming in gasps. He tried to say something to sooth her, but she cut him off. "I've been so selfish! Promise me," she said quickly. "Promise me you'll write Macnair."

He pushed her away to look into her eyes. That was an odd request. Before he could answer her face scrunched into a horrible grimace. With great effort, she forced the expression away and returned his gaze.

"I love you, Sev," she whispered. She was gone before he could reply. He cradled her head against his chest for a long time after that, unaware that Lucius and Remus had come back into the room. Lucius reversed the porthole spell while Remus fixed the hole in the wall. They held a service three days later, when Dumbledore finally made it back from Afghanistan.

"Lucius, will you explain something to me?"

Lucius Malfoy looked up from the chessboard. It was Draco's turn anyway, and it wouldn't be a good idea to ignore Severus just now. He put on a questioning expression that felt foreign. From the raised eyebrow his old friend was sporting, he knew it LOOKED foreign as well.

"Why did you come with us?" Severus set down the empty shot glass that Lucius was sure he hadn't refilled in over an hour. This was the first he'd spoken about Muriel since the day they'd buried her, and Lucius chose his words carefully.

"She helped me in Diagon Alley when no one else would have. Even most of the Slytherins would have let me bleed to death rather than risk my father's wrath." He paused, then decided to continue. "When I found out that she remembered that day, it was like she'd given me back part of myself I'd lost. She saw the mark on me and never even flinched, as if it wasn't any indication of who I really was."

"She knew that the mark only meant that you were human enough to make mistakes. Just like her parents, and me. Her father was a good man, mark or no." Severus said.

"She knew me for who I really was, even when I didn't. If I could get her out of there safely, I had to do it, even if it cost me my father's approval."

Draco watched the exchange with interest, the chess game forgotten. His father had told him something similar when he'd first come to stay at Hogwarts, the only safe place left for a Malfoy who wasn't a death eater. Draco had thought long and hard before accepting Lucius back into his life. After all, their relationship up until now had been based strictly on fear. But whatever else she'd done, Muriel had left a lasting legacy with the Malfoy family. Lucius had already sent for Narcissa, who was scheduled to arrive under guard by the Order next week.

The men fell silent and Severus turned to pour another drink, only to find someone already holding the bottle. An unsteady hand filled his glass for him, and then another for its owner.

"Here's to knowing each other," Remus said quietly, lifting his glass to Severus. It wasn't lost on any of them that the toast was proposed by the only man in the room who wasn't raised to dark magic, the only Gryffindor. Yet they knew in that moment that he was right. They DID know each other. Severus, Draco and Lucius raised their glasses as well.


A/N: This is an alternative to the 11th segment of my story. It will please some of my reviewers, who felt Snape got the short end of the stick with my original version. (Not that he faired particularly well here, either.) It will annoy a few reviewers who were glad my first attempt didn't end up a cliché. All the stories that follow will be based upon "11 Sorting Things Out" rather than this story. (I will begin updating it tomorrow - Sunday, I mean.) Sorry to disappoint, but I had to at least give them a chance. Turns out it didn't take Sev nearly as long to swallow his pride as it took Sirius. Boys! You just never know what they're going to do until you sit down to write about them!