Recipient : justheidi

Title: The Season

Author: dracoamalfoy

Rating: Pg-13

Characters: Severus/Draco, Lucius/Narcissa

Word Count: 6300

Warnings: none

Disclaimer: I do not own anything

Summary: The Malfoys invite Severus for the hunt. DH spoilers – sort of

Notes: Written for justheidi. Thanks to tealturtlequeen for beta-reading, and to nishizono for organizing snacoexchange

The Season

"There is no hunting like the hunting of man, and those who have hunted armed men long enough and liked it, never care for anything else thereafter."
-Ernest Hemingway-

Narcissa Malfoy née Black was a wise woman – not to mention charming, strong-willed, cunning and absolutely dangerous. She had always shown a talent for planning: she was constantly plotting tea parties, social events, her unmarried cousins' engagement hopefully to each other (since, being as observant as she was, she understood that Draco's was never to be planned), and her husband's life.

She was still congratulating herself for her ingenious intuition of covering Potter's arse before the Dark Lord: it had kept the whole family out of Azkaban and even away from trial, only on the boy's word. She was so pleased with herself that she started smoking Cuban cigars while sipping French wine with the brightest smirk on her face, because –she said- it favoured her self-assured-woman's air.

So it was hers, the uncontested deliberation to go and spend the rest of summer and autumn at Blacksley Hall, before returning to the manor in a generally pacified situation for Christmas.

Lucius greeted her veiled imposition with enthusiastic agreement and started talking uncontrollably about beauty-sleep, merited vacations and pheasant hunting; he terrorized house elves for days in preparing his luggage under his incongruous directions. He seemed a possessed man while dissertating by himself about glove textures or hat colours, but Narcissa thought it was quite understandable in a man who had spent almost a year in Azkaban, without dementors, yes, but with that horrible uniform and no civil facility at all, surrounded by brutal jailers and even more brutish companions. She let him get away with everything, or almost so.

Draco nodded without raising his eyes from his book and sighed but did not say a word.

Blacksley Hall stood in green and golden light, where the woods ended and the moor began. A small village was hidden in a vale nearby and in deep silence; the woodcock's cry was not so sharp and all was peaceful and almost still in the mild August wind.

It had belonged to the Black family until Narcissa's grandfather had lost it to a commoner, a muggle peasant who lived in the village, by playing cards.

Aunt Berenix was on her Grand Tour on the Continent at the time. When she returned, faintly tanned, smiling, chatting about how beautiful Italy was and bringing along three cases full of muggle paintings ("I liked them and muggles are so stupid! I still don't understand how they pay for things"), she was so shocked by the baleful news that she decided to go and meet the new landlord.

Many years had passed and she still said, very politely, that that dinner had been almost not so unpleasant, on rare moments, and that it was really a pity that they didn't get to have dessert because she had let a full vial of monk's-hood distillate fall in the soup-bowl.

Then, the property had returned to the Blacks and she had felt that it would be wiser to take her still sealed painting cases, leave for the Continent immediately and not set foot in England for a decade or two. She had married a first cousin of hers and now was enjoying a long, brilliant widowhood among her beloved (and enormously increased) art collection and rich young suitors, from the best magical families, who courted her because of it. She had for them an indulgent smile, and they all ended calling her aunt and coming by for a cup of tea and a pleasant, cultivated chat.

Draco rather liked the place. The days passed smoothly there, almost painless. It was sort of peaceful and green of woods and grass and dusty time all over. As a child, his parents had let him "experiment" with the mini potion-set Severus had given him in the left wing, roof-less, half conquered by the forest and invaded by clouds and sky, even after he had blown up the manor dungeons. Severus… he forced himself not to think about him, not now; not to wait for a letter, a word, anything, and tried to concentrate on his parent's voices chatting about tea cups and carpets in the next room. Severus… he thought again, shutting the forgotten book in his lap - Klopstock's odes, about sweet summers and long gone lovers, and too many dead. It was already autumn, now; yet, a still warm wind whispered among the leaves of the nearest trees and the woods grew darker day by day, hints of golden and red in a dark green as deep as night: he looked at nesting birds from the window where he was absently sitting.

- Draco, darling, it's tea time...

- I do not feel well, mother. I think I'll go for a walk.- and he went, grabbing his cloak (even if it was still too warm to use one, but he felt a chill inside) and bringing his book along. He sighed and closed the door.

Narcissa poured herself some more tea, and added two spoons of sugar, contemplated the pot absently for a moment and added two more full spoons. Lucius eyed her suspiciously; he took the milk.

- Are you worried for Draco, darling?-he asked, prudently, as if it was a casual question, his teacup lifted in front of his face like a shield in battle. You never know, dealing with a woman like that.

She stopped, her cup barely touching her lips, thinking hard, eyes low and half closed, as to catch something very small on the too decorated Persian carpet below her feet.

- I need more sugar- she hummed, adding some more and sipping the hot liquid meditatively.

She shocked her head, like dismissing an importune thought or an exasperating fly.

- I think we should invite him over, for the hunting perhaps.- she stated, smirking accomplishedly and slamming her cup on the table, quite brutally, in fact.

- You should not express your self-satisfaction by becoming abusive toward fine china, Cissy dear.- Lucius seemed perplexed, he pulled out a handkerchief (a bit too frilled for his wife's taste) and wiped the tea drops off, murmuring a Reparo on the cup's golden brim. – Who should we invite over for the hunt, by the way? The great majority of my poor old friends passed away, or they are a bit… incapacitated anyway, you know, Azkaban… It will be so boring this year!

She was clearly not listening to him and his old man's ramblings any longer: - Our dear Severus, of course, Lucius! The man was dismissed from St. Mungo's about a week ago, he should be spending his convalescence in the countryside, not in that… that horrible hovel where he persists in living. Don't you agree?

It was already settled, and he knew it, neither he nor even Severus could do anything to change that; yet he kept quiet for a moment or two, looking at his well manicured hands, at the family crest on the ring on his finger. When he spoke, he was almost serious and very calm: - We should not plot our son's amours, I believe, Narcissa, this shouldn't concern us…

He received a quite menacing but not totally unexpected glare, one of those glares you usually reserve for potentially dangerous madmen on their daily walk.

- Don't be silly, honey, it's for his own good. For their own good, I dare say. I do not want to get in my maternal mood, and yes, before you speak, I know perfectly well that you absolutely hate it, so please spare me that; but have you seen how pale he is lately? My poor boy! He's barely eating since Severus' release from that unhealthy, over-crowed and always unpleasantly smelly sanatorium…

- Do you think that malady smells, darling?- he interrupted her, truly interested, and she stopped for an instant.

- I don't know, but their cheap curative potions do for sure! O, I prefer Severus' ones so much more! By the way – she went on- there was no owl, in fact, none sent, none received, and I quite sincerely don't get it! Draco spent every day there at his bedside, when he was moribund, sweet heaven, I know for sure that a night or two, at least, he managed to weasel out under my nose – and she poignantly indicated the aforementioned nose to underline the concept and the gravity of her son's mischief.

Lucius realized that going along with her would be safer and for the best : - Such impropriety, darling!

She stopped her gesticulation and looked at him like an overzealous inquisitor should eye a bunch of heresiarchs caught in the middle of a... well heretic rite: with ontological repulsion and a not so disguised desire to kill.

- But it was in the greater name of love, Lucius! You can't be as insensitive as I am in my menstruating days: you're out on probation, or on Potter's word, or something like that.

He hadn't caught it, not at all. Maybe he was growing old, but the thought only depressed him and made him feel in desperate need of a mirror.

- Please, do not pronounce that word again, not in my presence.

Narcissa was visibly perplexed. – What word? Potter?

- M-mnsstuatin'..- babbled he

-Sorry? Menstruating?

- Oh, please!

And he would swear that she was repressing a giggle. Yes, definitively a giggle.

- But we are what?, nineteen? twenty? years married by now and you….

- Happily, I'd say… and I would like very much to stay this way for twice as long, at last; so, please, have mercy for my male sensibility… you know I can't stomach blood…- and no sane man with an operating self-preservation instinct could stomach her in those days, but his one was very efficient and so he refrained from saying that. Her eyes were far too huge, now, with a weird sparkle in them, her lips too curved upward, in a half grin, and her whole person far too amused, probably because of him, for his general comfort.

- By the way- he added, a bit too hurriedly- speaking about Severus, I'm not enamoured with the idea of being my son's madame, but I'm lonely and hunting would be so nice, don't you think darling?- he was raising from the armchair and about to bow before her, slightly lifting his robe, which also made it easier to walk -I'm going to owl him right now.. shall I send your greetings?

She smiled her most devilish smile :- I don't think so… Kinky!!!

The house-elves' popping was too loud, too noisy, and gave Lucius a headache almost every time. Draco had loved it, when he was a small child, and had made those horrible creatures apparate everywhere in the most unusual times of the day… and of the night. He often found himself asking his own mirror reflection why fatherhood had just to be so messy in his case: first your only child is a sort of untamed little beast, who pours all his energies into making your days a living hell, screaming and floating in his spontaneous magic through your mansion, arguing with your most unsociable paintings in that nonsensical child-language of his; then he becomes a well mannered little boy, but he asks too many questions about matters that could get you thrown into Azkaban for the rest of your life, spends too much time reading books you forbade him to read and speaks about dresses with his mother simply too much and too passionately; and then, at the end, he is so well mannered and civilized that you open your eyes and find out that he is a sissy and drools over your unsociable best friend (twice as unsociable as your paintings, but the boy grew up!) and you have to arrange the affair for him, because the boy's mother wishes so. Maybe Lucius had been an unrepentant sinner in another life, or someone had just started counting this one too. Maybe his main problem was that life was fair, sometimes, but he had always loved cheating –and not without reason.

- Kinky, please go fetch Professor Severus Snape,- Narcissa was ordering- he is unwell so pack for him. God help him! Bring as much as you can, he is staying. He will protest… soundly protest. Do not mind him and bring him here. Now go! Ah, we send him our love!- she smiled to herself, and dismissed the elf with a wave of her hand. Another pop and it was gone.

- Alone, at last- she said, taking the hand her husband was offering her and standing. – Would you fancy a romantic walk in our woods, Lucius?

- Only if you know where we are going and the way back, honey.

- I always know where I'm going, dear, and you too…- she was solid and warm at his arm, a familiar and loving presence, and he remembered over and over again why he had married her, twenty years earlier.

- You know, we shouldn't have let Draco name the elves, even if he was only four.

- Definitely.- he agreed.

Draco had wandered lonely around the house, where the forest was less intricate and the sunrays tepid and pleasant on the skin; there, the fallen leaves were not rotten yet. Unknown creatures murmured far from his eyes in unspeakable voices, but it was a peaceful sound, and his own sighs were throttled like a buzzard-cry.

He had felt tired soon, his legs not responding to him anymore maybe because his heart was dumb and his head dizzy with spores that gilded air, so he had entered the west-wing's ruins from a half-arch that was a window, once; had arranged his coat on the tender, pale green grass and lain there, his book open in a light shadowed with unmoving time.

He had heard his parents not much later, whispering, chatting, smiling in the woods, their robes heavily whishing in the thick brushwood. The sun was lowering behind the oak-chestnuts' pinnacles, half hidden from big, reddish leaves, rarer and rarer. And Draco was cold; maybe it was time to go back.

He could even ask Kinky to brew him some hot tea, but the elf was not there to take his cloak from his hands the moment he entered the main door – leaf fragments and grass stains on his trousers and an unpleasant chill along his back. Strange, indeed. And irritating, utterly irritating.

He let the coat fall on the floor, in the hall, indisposed because he had been forgotten by everyone, and now was about to go in the kitchen and prepare that damn tea by himself. He believed that if he was in one of his not so positive moods and about to throw a tantrum in the most desolating solitude, some familiar, serviceable entities would appear and make his day sweeter.

But then somebody rang the doorbell and he burst in not so murmured murder menaces and went to open the door with such a fury that it seemed he was about to do something concrete about them. He had to blink once, and then twice, but the terrifying, pink-dressed and dangerously mugglish figure in front of him did not disappear. It was time to think, most strongly think, and fast, if possible. He came to a logical realization almost immediately because maybe his mother was right and he was effectively a smart boy – the consoling idea prevented him from fainting in a quite undignified and un-heroic way. He could be experimenting a persistent hallucinate-state, or maybe had hit his head and suffered permanent damage, or – a last and yet more repulsive hypothesis- that kind of monster was actually before his doorstep, wearing a not particularly reassuring smile, under uncountable layers of red lipstick, on her fat and wrinkled face. He was a well mannered young pureblood wizard and he knew perfectly well what would be the most proper course of action in this kind of embarrassing situations, but it implied a certain amount of the most politically incorrect illegalities against the importuning female-muggle before him… His wand's wood was invitingly tepid under his palm. He asked to his dusty conscience what his father would do in a similar case, but it would have been probably an absolutely wrong thing. So he inspired deeply, thought about his family's position and stood there mute and frozen, scanning this weird thing invading his personal space and disrupting his peace of mind - instead of killing it right there, like any wizard of sound mind would have done, or torturing it to madness, like any of his closest relatives would. The Muggle, on its, or well, her side, didn't seem particularly friendly anyway: she was eyeing him suspiciously, from head to toe, she was staring and that was rude and unnerving. He swallowed the two simple, elegant, tempting words that would solve the situation.

- What's that mess you are wearing, boy?- The Muggle's voice was as irritating as the rest of her person, but -Draco thought- it could be a propriety of Muggle voices in general.

Yes, he was a perfectly mannered young, pureblood wizard, and he knew perfectly well that you should never speak to a stranger, and especially to a muggle – which, if you have a minimum of decency, should be a stranger anyway-, in this case with the mentioned nice and civil two-words exception, sadly strictly forbidden in these depraved times of barbarities; but this was too much. He glared at her, then at his own unbuttoned robe and grass-stained trousers under it. He was not dressed for attending a ball, he could concede - even if he was a gentleman, and a gentleman can attend anything in any state and still be impeccable- but at least he wasn't the one with a smashing pink, deformed and clearly cheap thing on!

He was about to express his celebrated, offensive and sharp wit, but she was obviously the petulant, obnoxious type, because she was talking again and, since there wasn't anybody else around, she was probably addressing him.

- Are your…- she scanned him again – parents, I suppose, since no wise man would let an employee wander around in such a state, good Lord, young men this days…How old are you? Thirteen? Fourteen? Oh, I know, it's a momentary phase, every teenager has it, but you can't be a little freaky punk, you are required to grow into a fine, respectable young man, do you understand, son? What was I saying? Ah, sure! Are they home, boy?

I'm going to kill her –he caressed his abnormal and greatly offended ego- I'm going to kill her, skin her and decorate my room with her mortal remains…

- You…- he murmured, and sounded almost dangerous.

Severus Snape had never been a pleasant, cheerful man, and the most recent developments in his life had not contributed to the improvement of his general mood. First, he was bitten almost to death by a giant snake stuffed with a piece of the Dark Lord's soul, and, consequently, particularly vicious; then, the only person who could help him in the middle on the infuriating battle – who, by the way, was also the only person who should have fought it and yet had nothing better to do than wandering around and trying to get himself killed before the time- had to confirm his utter stupidity by abandoning him in a pool of his own blood when he had lost consciousness. Severus had always sustained that the Potter boy was an idiot, now he knew that he was a murderous, blind, particularly obtuse one.

But this had not been enough, no… He had to regain consciousness in the arms of a desperate Draco Malfoy crying his soul out like he was a sort of Longbottom and someone had finally killed that damned toad of his, professing eternal love and enouncing his many qualities among even more numerous defects. Severus could have found this touching, a moving expression of unconditional caring and sincere pain from a moody lover whose heart's existence was still to be proven; yet Draco, now that he was a corpse to his eyes, was quite manhandling him, like he usually did with the rest of the world, and his own subconscious was evidently poisoned by the moment of diabetic sentimental sweetness, because he passed out with a rattle of pain. It saved his life, because Draco was, unlike Potter, not stupid at all, and noticed that maybe if he was still bleeding, rigor mortis had not appeared yet, and he was moaning pitifully and so faintly breathing in his arms, maybe he was not dead at all. God bless brightness and generations of endogamy!

The next time he woke up he was in a bed that was not his own, an intense scent of dittany and malady almost solid and damp in the air, the sweetest, saddest grey eyes on his face, followed by the most gentle fingertips. He was about to speak, to say something, to ask about the war, about Potter and the Dark Lord, or anything; but those fingers silenced him barely touching his chapped, but not dry lips, because Draco had probably fetched him a bit of water-for which he was grateful.

"There's a time for silence, and a time for words" he whispered in his ear, his breath warm and cinnamon-scented, exactly like Severus remembered it. "You taught me this. Sleep." The most featherlike kiss brushed his cold cheek. "Goodnight."

When he woke up in the morning the apparition was gone, like he had never been there; before demitting him, not much later, the mediwitch had told him that a fine Malfoyish-looking young man had been there to visit every day, on her face a look of complicity. He had shrugged and hurried away, but he was unusually embarrassed, and a microscopic part of him felt nonsensically satisfied. He could still feel Draco's warmth on his skin – more distant and burning memories biter-sweet on his lips.

Now he sped up his pace along the slight climb, keeping his rhythm murmuring imprecations against that damned family. Lucius, well was simply Lucius and that was enough; Narcissa believed she could plan his life as if he was one of her distant-nephews and had always brought him in a mess with her foolish, purely egoistic requests, and now had sent that trained destructor of a house-elf to go trough his belongings ; and Draco… well Draco could as well go and get married, and probably this was exactly what he was going to do and the very reason that inconstant brat had spent days over days at his comatose bedside: he had been waiting to give him the news as soon as he woke up – and kill him once for all. Draco… This could be actually be true, because he had sent not an owl, not a word in days and Severus knew how the boy's father could be persuasive against every evidence, reason and natural inclination. Draco… he was childish, spoiled rotten, cruel in his total disinterest for anything that was not himself, with a pathologic lack of courage and some serious emotional dysfunction; and yet he could be almost loving sometimes, dedicate in his absolute refute to understand any reason, so careful and there, and just… Draco - Severus missed this, mostly, on the rare moments he admitted it to himself.

This was the least indicated moment for such improper thoughts, so he straightened his usually black and severe robe and went on, dark and resentful like a big raven.

A high-pitched, almost screaming voice and of that general quality that Draco would have defined vulgar, was the first thing he heard; the first things he saw were Draco's hands, whiter than ever, trembling nervously among the wrinkles of his dishevelled robe, between his lips the faint space for a deathly whisper. He thought about Lucius' temper when he was twenty, about the Malfoys' goddammned genes and how exasperating these men were; then advanced with the stern solemnity of a condemned man before the inevitability of fate.

- Good morning, Draco… Ms?

The piggish, Umbridge-like woman turned to scan him with small, round eyes and an incredulous expression on her face. She attempted a circumstantial smile, trying to understand if the newcomer's social status was possibly relevant.

- Lavery… I'm Mrs. Lavery. And you have to be the new vicar…

- I'm Roman Catholic, I fear.

He answered coldly, not even deigning to glance at her, because he had eyes only for Draco now.

The boy was on the doorstep, leaning against the jamb as if his legs couldn't manage to sustain him–and they probably couldn't.-, paler than a ghost, his face unreadable and yet looking so lost. They hadn't told him anything, concluded Snape.

- Draco…- he murmured, talking to his own thoughts.

- Professor…

And Draco seemed reanimated, a small smile appearing on his lips, an unexpected flush on his cheeks; he was leaning nearer and nearer to him, or was it Severus who had come closer?

- So you are the tutor…

When Snape absently answered "No, I'm not", almost in Draco's hair, so close that his breath tickled the young's forehead, that insignificant muggle started understanding that she was not welcome there at the moment and babbled undistinguished things like 'tell… parents…passed… Lavery… good neighbours… away… bunch of papists' with a certain discomfort, hurrying along the small path toward the village.

When she was gone, they still stood there, unmoving, and Snape believed that he had been bewitched or that the brat had mastered Legilimency so well as to be controlling him now without him knowing.

- Who passed away? The Pope? – Draco asked, vaguely remembering something she had said and he had not listened; Severus knew perfectly well that it was only an excuse to dissimulate how Draco was leaning forward, how he was smiling now that their chests were almost touching…

- I don't care.

- You didn't write.

- Neither did you - Severus observed, now more detached, a familiar aching bitterness heavy in his chest – And you're are getting married.- it was said in a flat tone, the one he used to describe armadillo's bile proprieties to particularly daft first years: there were dissimulated disinterest and resignation.

Draco eyed him not understanding.

"O, Severus! You're early! We weren't expecting you until dinnertime ...", Lucius called, emerging from the woods, Narcissa at his arm, a step behind him, her ample robe slightly lifted by her minute, eburnean hand, on her face a calm, satisfied smile. She was still planning something, Severus knew on sight.

"That little, untamed best of yours was and still is, I suppose, devastating my house, I could as well come immediately, since there was nothing I could do." He said sternly, first kissing Narcissa's hand, then shaking Lucius'.

"I'm sure Kinky just wanted to help. And you really shouldn't stay by yourself, now. So, how's your convalescence going?" she said smoothly, in her tone a silken sweetness he didn't like at all. He could feel Draco's shoulder brushing against his arm, casually, as they were standing side by side, a warm presence on his skin through layers of clothes – he would have blushed, were he not… simply who he was and so trained to be who he was. Lucius' eyes were observing them with a sort of friendly condescension and unexpressed complicity.

Severus hadn't the time to manage a decent, un-insulting, pertinent answer, because Malfoy Senior was already helping him out of this embarrassment, by making the category of pertinence absolutely out of place.

"Ah, Severus, old boy, you look positively awful. Well, at least more awful than you usually look. I don't think black is your colour, my friend, and that you should have a cup of tea, because you're impressively pale." Said he, potting an arm around Snape's shoulders in a friendly gesture a bit too studied to be credible, even with Lucius' floating moods, and leading him inside. Severus thought that if Lucius had thought a bit more seriously about policy and not about its esthetical implications years ago, stopped to do it before speaking more often and been generally less vain, their situation would be very different – and that he was the last man on earth who could give anyone a preach about paleness. He meditated about poisons and teas too, but those were highly improper thoughts, even if they kept him from looking at a standing, too quiet, Draco, in the door frame , while sitting in the parlour, a hot cup in his hands and before him a Lucius eyeing nervously his wife while trying to be discrete. These were going to be long holidays, if holidays at all.

The space in the closet between the kitchen and the little hall before the parlour was so small that they were pressed to each other, their bodies fitting perfectly together from a long familiarity, the only tension between them was that of a secret complicity in crime, and a faint hint of familiar sensuality in the way her rising chest was on his.

- You don't know a thing, is that clear, Lucius?- she whispered, in a slightly menacing tone, but her well manicured, pale hand caressing gently his jaw spoke of a totally different sort of intimacy. They still were like in school days, the same deep trust in each other while committing mischief , the same little smiles they had when freshly married, with a new sort of knowing of each other, deeper than a lifelong friendship, which had come along with days and days. Narcissa loved the feeling, and she loved the way Lucius still pleasantly tensed under her touch.

-Crystalline, Cissy darling.

She nodded. – Lets go.

They found them, as expected, in the sitting room. Lucius didn't know if he would have been as proud of his son as he was in that precise moment if said son weren't blatantly homosexual: Draco sat languidly as an ephebe from that muggle Eaton thing in the '30ies – that Lucius, from his not so humble point of view, found highly fashionable; he was absently, even if in an undisguised nervous way, playing with a pair of white, leather gloves, finely decorated, his eyes flitching nervously on the window's pane, because he was clearly too concerned about something to be contemplating the windy landscape. Around his neck, a fine neckerchief was tied in a recherché but almost coquettish knot; his tweed, deeply dark green jacket fit him perfectly, its colour made his eyes look as rainy as the stormy sky above their heads, as unreadable as a mud puddle in unexplored woods. He was dressed to seduce, even if he looked unusually unconfident. Lucius glared at his wife quite manly accomplishedly because of his loins' offspring and Narcissa shook her head, disconsolately. Her attention was already on Snape, who sat more tensely than usual, with a book that could as well stay closed, at a small desk before the left wall – she found it ironic that Draco was the one who chose to bring it over from the Manor, that fragile looking, minutely inlaid object, almost translucent sustaining the black weight of this tall, harsh man.

She made a mental note to raise another un-eventual son to have a smoother, clearer, normal love life, and meanwhile to let slip a copious dose of cheer-up potion into the dinner soup if she planned to have some civil conversation; then she imperceptibly touched her husband's sleeve and invoked God, because they were going to need help, and a great deal of it.

Lucius' tartan coat appeared on his shoulders, and eight or nine improbable hats were floating around his head under his meditating eyes: he seemed quite unsure about his choice. Narcissa took the only one without a triumph of feathers or a too daring and clearly meant old-fashioned shape, handing it to him without any excess of grace. The others disappeared immediately, along with Lucius' ecstatic expression, replaced by a painfully sad and quite repulsed grimace. The glare Narcissa gave him managed to be even more eloquent – and Draco almost smiled looking at them.

- Shall we go?

Severus snorted pathetically like a wounded boar.

The day had become clearer, and sweeter.

Narcissa observed them, vaguely amused and with a sort of superior condescension, on a blanket under a faintly yellowed tree, sipping deep, thick red wine and counting falling leaves.

The glade where the tree men stood were diffused with a soft, greyish light, the air subtle like an evoked spirit.

Lucius loved hunting with shooting-wands, despite the muggle quotation; and loved the hunting dress code. He waved his stick, adjusting his hat with precise accuracy and producing a positively horrifying sound, soon followed by a dull thud. He loved pheasant's meat too. He was copiously smiling to himself.

- Good aim, father – said Draco, even if he was sheet like pale and wore an unmistakably repulsed expression when pressing a perfumed handkerchief to his mouth while he thought he wasn't seen – that made Severus quite repulsed too. They stood a bit too close, all the same, hanging on each other through Lucius' madness.

Draco's wand was not even out of his pocket, but he was sincerely trying to look pleased anyway. The little credibility the situation held was not improved by Snape's pathetic attempts at conversation.

- We should invite Urquhart too, the next time, don't you think, Severus, old boy?- Said Lucius.

- I'm sorry to disappoint, but he's dead, I fear.- Severus replied. Narcissa poured herself another abundant dose of wine and Draco hid his face more deeply in the embroidered handkerchief. Lucius just murmured a so heartbreakingly sad and candid 'oh' that even Snape looked quite sorry for his own tactlessness.

- Yaxley?- Lucius went on, answering to his own question, keeping on with shooting under Severus' turbid eyes, whose wand was now low.- Mad…. And old Crabbe?

- Gone, I suppose

- Such a pity, he was a good fellow. Not the bright one, but good nonetheless.

On Draco's porcelain pale cheek a single tear was sliding toward his pointed, obstinate-looking chin, fast and discrete. Father and son were intimately alike, Snape thought, and not as bad-hearted as they liked to believe: they grew affectionate of things nobody thought of, and he could even suspect that the boy had a soul, now… then he resolved to not think about this. Draco's single tear was wiped away by a gloved hand; and Severus tried his best to persuade himself that he was not thinking of that same hand on his own skin.

The sun was lower and the wind more insistent, now; the falling leaves brought along a more reddish, bloody gleam trapped in their nerves.

- We should go back- said Narcissa, raising and straightening her robe – It's almost sunset and we are awaited for dinner, Lucius.

Her smile was devilish, everyone thought.

Draco rarely was absolutely sure about anything: he doubted his parents and his friends, his own feelings, Snape and the most constant things in his life, among which Snape, by the way, was – yet, he was positively sure that he never referred a single word about that Lavery monstrosity. And now his parents were out for dinner, in the village, among muggles, and he was sincerely almost worried about their physical safety –and mental health.

He combed his hair and poured two drops of perfume on a handkerchief skilfully arranged in his sleeve, half emerging in a cloud of lace. This was his occasion, and it scared and yet excited him.

Severus was in the parlour. Draco entered like a winter fog, mysterious and expected, elegant and ethereal – Severus could not keep his eyes on the book he was reading, and even if he lowered them immediately, it was enough for Draco to notice. His smile was as sweet as poisoned wine.

- How was your hunting?- asked Draco, sitting on the loveseat near Snape, their shoulders brushing. He was cautiously casual, his scent too bloody and musky to pass unnoticed. Severus sighed.

- You were there to see. – he answered, returning to his book – or trying to: Draco's hand was on his arm, firstly on the sleeve, nothing more than a distant warmth, then sleeping on his wrist, skin on skin, and it was burning.

- I had eyes only for you.

This was too much. He was feeling too much, with Draco's body pressed against his arm, Draco's hair tickling his face, Draco's eyes so stormy grey and Draco almost kissing him. Too much even to realize that his own heart was pulsating madly in his chest.

- There's no one else- murmured the boy.

- Cissy, let me see!- whispered Lucius into his wife's ear. That damned closet was too damningly narrow and Narcissa was monopolizing the tiniest glimmer from which she could see the loveseat and what was happening on that, yes, but, since he was not the least bit interested in his son's sex-life, for him, it meant mostly a source of fresh air – and she was not going to understand this primary necessity he had for breathing.

- It's not for you to see, darling.

- But he is my son!

- He is my son too!

- But a mother should not…

- Lucius…?

- Yes, sweetie?

- Shut up.

He did. But it didn't last.

- …. Cissy?

- Yes Lucius?

- Draco should learn how to hunt pheasant, not men.

- Next season, Lucius, next season.