Phoenix Tears, Chapter One : Felix Felicis
DISCLAIMER : The characters and many of the situations described in this story are the property of the incomparable J.K. Rowling. I make no money from this story, which exists as a work of tribute. Text quoted from the original books is marked with an asterisk.
PLEASE NOTE : This story is the SEQUEL to Phoenix Song (or, Hermione Granger and the Half-Blood Prince); I strongly recommend that you read Phoenix Song first. You can find it here : .net/s/4763572/1/Phoenix_Song_or_Hermione_Granger_and_the_HB_P
Thank you very much to LAxo, for her comments and feedback, and particularly to WriterMerrin, for not minding that I went ahead and posted this even though she hadn't yet had time to re-arrange my random commas. Please be aware that any errors are 100% my own!
Thank you, too, to all of the readers who left reviews to my earlier story. Your encouragement has had the following result . . .
Severus Snape stared down at the small phial she had pressed into his hand. He recognised the contents immediately. "Felix Felicis?" he asked. "Where did you get this?"
"It's Harry's," replied Hermione Granger. "It's a long story. We divided it up tonight."
Only a scant mouthful remained in the bottle. "This is your share," he said, struck by sudden certainty. He pushed the phial back towards her, but she stepped away from him, shaking her head and pulling her hands behind her back in refusal.
"No," she lied, then added more truthfully: "You need it more than I do, sir."
Severus had no need of Legilimency to read the sincerity behind Granger's gesture. Her good faith glowed. He glanced from her to the small glass container in his hand. His heart ached. Felix Felicis, liquid luck. There was no clearer way to display her whatever decision he made now, it had to be quick: Death Eaters had breached Hogwarts' defences, he had to find Dumbledore and kill him before someone else did, and Luna Lovegood was only feet away, separated from Severus and Granger by the door of his office. This was not the moment to stare at a student and think about kissing her.
Or was it? With only the tiniest twinge of guilt, Severus thumbed the cork from the bottle in his hand and tilted back his head, drawing the contents into his mouth.
Granger's response was immediate. She beamed at him with delight; her lips parted slightly as her smile spread across her face. Severus struck immediately. Shifting the empty bottle into the hand that held his wand, he freed his left hand and reached out across the distance that separated them. He took a firm grip of her chin. The tips of his fingers dug into the soft flesh of her cheeks, forcing her jaw open. As he stepped closer and lowered his head, her smell washed over him. The Felix Felicis tingled against his tongue. The warmth of it spread outwards—down his throat and up through his sinuses—though he had been very careful not to swallow any. He crushed his mouth against hers and as soon as he managed to manoeuvre his bottom lip between the two of hers, he opened his mouth, transferring the liquid contents from one person to the other. She struggled silently: her hands pulled ineffectively at his fingers and her tongue pushed up against his in a futile effort to push the Felix Felicis back up into his mouth.
Severus' eyes were pressed closed, his concentration narrowed to the points of bodily contact. Her lips were inordinately soft. Within seconds, she was forced to swallow, and her struggles ceased. Severus could provide no justification to prolong his behaviour, but he drew back only reluctantly, stretching out the last brief seconds of contact between his lips and hers as long as possible.
His eyes fluttered open almost immediately, and he stared at the face before him: the curl of an eyelash, the curve of her lip, the soft groove between her nose and her mouth. His left hand slipped from her chin, sliding across the edge of her jaw and down her throat to rest with his fingertips lying in the hollow at the base of her neck. He could feel the unsteady beat of her heart and the rise and fall of her breath. He wanted to kiss her again.
"Hermione!" Lovegood punctured the moment, her panic evident in the cadence of her voice. "Come quickly!"
The interruption brought Severus immediately to his senses. He pulled away from the young woman in front of him, and gave her one last glance before he turned on his heel and ran.
He ran through the melee upstairs unscathed, unsure whether it was the residual effects of the Felix Felicis he had absorbed through the membranes of his mouth, the compulsion of his Unbreakable Vow taking over, or merely coincidence. The passageway up to the Astronomy Tower shimmered distinctively, and Severus recognised the barrier that would admit only those in the Dark Lord's service. Leaping over a fallen and unrecognisable body, he ran up the stairs.
Severus threw open the door at the top with the kind of bang he normally reserved for the Potions classroom. As he stepped outside, a gust of cold air blew back his hair from his face and ruffled the clothes of the unlikely tableau that was frozen before him: Dumbledore leaned against the ramparts, dreadfully pale and barely upright. Two broomsticks lay abandoned beside his feet; his wand was nowhere to be seen. Is he so keen to die that he didn't even bother to draw his wand? Draco was as pale as the headmaster, and his wand hand shook alarmingly. Yaxley and the Carrows also had their wands out; Greyback had been thrown to one side. The Dark Mark hung above the scene, casting an ominous green light over the participants.
"We've got a problem, Snape."* It was Amycus Carrow who spoke. Severus heard his words as if they came from a great distance. "The boy doesn't seem able—"*
"Severus . . ."* Albus barely raised his voice above a whisper, but it caught at everyone's attention.
Severus strode towards him, roughly pushing Draco out of his way, his eyes fixated on Albus. The relief on Albus' face twisted uncomfortably within his chest.
"Severus . . . please . . ."*
The hatred Severus felt seemed to begin low in his body, sweeping up his chest and throat like nausea, clenching the muscles of his jaw and arms tight. That it should come to this. Dumbledore looked old. He looked weak. He stood precariously, as if another gust of wind might topple him from the tower, as if his knees might give in and send him sprawling at the feet of his enemies. How dare he? This was the man Severus had trusted to rescue him and to protect him, the man he had thought would save the wizarding world from the malignant cancer of the Dark Lord's insatiable desire for power. And here he was, about to die. How dare he look so vulnerable? How dare he beg me? Severus raised his wand and pointed it unerringly into the impossibly dear face before him. Albus—Damn him!—smiled.
"Avada Kedavra!"*cried Severus. His own voice sounded strange to him.; the green flash from his wand moved as slowly as treacle. He watched it stretch out across the distance between them before—too quickly—it thudded into Dumbledore's chest. He thought he heard the old man sigh softly as the curse impacted. Devoid of the twinkling sparkle that characterised him in life, Albus' broken body was lifted by the force of the Killing Curse. It hung in the air for an infinite second, then tumbled out of sight. Severus spun on his heel. "Out of here, quickly,"* he ordered, grabbing a hold of Draco's collar and pushing the boy before him towards the staircase.
Severus Disapparated as soon as he got beyond the Hogwarts gates. Only seconds later, he appeared on the black and white tiled floor of Malfoy Manor's Apparation foyer. Draco hovered beside the door, waiting for his arrival. The boy, always pale, looked a little green around the edges.
With a mammoth effort, Severus pushed his last altercation with Potter from his mind: he needed to keep his wits about him. With his left hand, he felt up along his right shoulder blade. The hippogriff had left him with a large gash: it was oozing blood, but not enough that it needed his immediate attention.
"We mustn't keep the Dark Lord waiting, Draco," he snapped, once again grabbing the boy by the scruff of his neck and pushing him before him. The short walk to the drawing room was over far too quickly.
"Sir," gasped Draco uncertainly just before they entered.
"Keep your mouth closed," he snarled in reply.
Severus threw open the drawing room door, and pushed Draco inside. Most of the furniture had been shoved back to the periphery of the room, with the exception of the winged armchair in which the Dark Lord sat. The Death Eaters stood in a loose circle, their attention focussed on the new arrivals. The anticipation was palpable. Severus stepped towards Voldemort, sinking to one knee and pulling Draco down with him until the boy's head was pressed against the carpet.
"My Lord," stated Severus, bowing his head.
"Ah, Severus. News of your exploits has preceded you. I believe you have something important to relate."
"Yes, my Lord."
"Come closer, Severus."
Severus left Draco where he was and crawled on his knees towards the Dark Lord.
"I am pleased to inform you of the death of Albus Dumbledore." Severus couldn't help but feel impressed by the conversational tone of his own voice. Somehow it was always easier to actually face the Dark Lord than to anticipate the meeting. He looked up into the distorted, snake-like features of the almost-man who loomed over him.
Voldemort smiled. "That is good news, indeed, my spy. You must be relieved."
Severus ducked his head in deference to his master, but the Dark Lord reached out and lifted his chin with two pale fingers.
"Tell me, Severus," he hissed. "Is it true that the old man begged you for mercy?"
"Yes, my Lord."
"And, tell me, Severus." Voldemort's eyes gleamed red. "How did that make you feel?"
It was almost too easy to smirk up into the dehumanised face that loomed above him and speak the truth: "It seemed like an appropriate moment to demonstrate my loyalty, my Lord."
Severus pushed forward the memory of what happened atop the Astronomy Tower, knowing that the Dark Lord would want to see for himself. Within moments, he felt Voldemort shoulder his way in. The Dark Lord was so intent on the vision that he forgot to cause the kind of mental discomfort that was typical of his excursions into Severus' mind. The absence of pain left Severus oddly wrong footed by the experience.
"Rise up, Severus!" Voldemort took hold of the front of Severus' robes and the two stood as one. Voldemort turned Severus to face the assembled Death Eaters, one cold hand rested on his shoulder—thankfully not the one that had been mauled by the hippogriff. "Tonight you have proved yourself the most loyal of my followers! You shall be rewarded!"
Severus said nothing, allowing his gaze to sweep across the faces of the circle that surrounded him. None looked delighted by the Dark Lord's pronouncement, though only Bellatrix stared at him with pure, unadulterated hate.
"As for the young mister Malfoy, however," Voldemort began, turning his attention towards the figure who remained prostrate in the middle of the floor, "he shall be punished."
"NO!" The words escaped Narcissa as a broken sob, and she flung herself forward, covering her son's body with her own. "Please!" she begged. "Please!"
"Out of my way!" shrieked Voldemort. With a bang, Narcissa's body was thrown back against the wall. She continued to sob, though the Dark Lord ignored her, raising his wand and pointing it at Draco.
Severus spoke before he struck.
"My Lord," he said, his tone deferential. Only because it was Severus, and only because Severus had just killed Dumbledore, did the Dark Lord hesitate. Without lowering his wand, he turned back towards Severus. Severus shrugged, as if to point out a minor impediment. "I promised to protect the boy," he said, almost apologetically.
"The Unbreakable Vow?"
Severus bent his head in agreement.
Voldemort's attention snapped briefly back to the boy cowering at his feet, then up, across the room, to Bellatrix.
"Bellatrix," he crooned, a threatening lilt to his voice. "It occurs to me to wonder why you didn't point this out yourself. Surely you want to protect your precious nephew? And surely you wouldn't want harm to come to Severus?"
"My Lord!" Bellatrix fell to her knees. "I didn't think!"
"Remove the Unbreakable Vow!"
Bellatrix scrambled to draw her wand. "Cissy!" she hissed, glaring at her sister who managed to stagger to her feet, pushing herself up off the wall where she had fallen and moving across the room towards Severus. Narcissa's beautiful face was streaked with tears and she grasped hold of Severus' hand as if it were a lifeline.
"Severus . . ." she begged. "Please . . ."
Does no-one have the dignity not to beg? Severus stared at her, unblinkingly, his face impassive. Bellatrix brought her wand to bear over their joined hands.
"As your bonder, I wish to recall the terms of your Unbreakable Vow." At Bellatrix's words, the glowing magical lines of the Vow shimmered into view. Severus noticed Draco raise his head. The boy's attention was fixed on the evidence of the promises Severus had made to protect him. He looked terrified.
Narcissa drew a shaky breath. "I, Narcissa, proclaim that you have fulfilled the terms of your Vow. You no longer need to watch over, protect or assist my son, Draco,"—a sob interrupted the formal words of the dissolution, and for a moment it seemed as if she might be entirely overcome by her tears—"for you have ably and adequately served as I desired."
As she spoke, the bonds broke and withdrew into nothingness, leaving only the shadow of their luminescence to fade slowly on the retinas of the people present. As the last streamer of magical compulsion disappeared, Narcissa crumpled, burying her face against the carpet. Severus stood up and stepped away; Voldemort laughed, a high, brittle sound.
"Now, Draco," exclaimed Voldemort, with evident pleasure, "your punishment will begin."
"No." Once again it was Severus who interrupted and, though his tone of voice was mild, his contribution was so unexpected that it shocked even Narcissa into silence. The other Death Eaters froze warily, obviously concerned that Severus was about to spark a rage that would see the Dark Lord punish everyone present. Severus strode forward into the centre of the circle. He bent down and grasped a fistful of Draco's robes, pulling the boy up by his collar until he rested in a kneeling position, his head hanging by Severus' side. "I gave my word, my Lord," said Severus, giving Draco a slight shake and looking fearlessly into the slit pupils of Voldemort's pale face. "There are those here who would do well to learn that I stand by what I say, regardless of whether or not an Unbreakable Vow is invoked."
Voldemort looked at him appraisingly for a long moment, before his lips twisted into a thin and entirely humourless smile. "You wish to protect the boy, still?" he asked, genuinely curious.
Severus nodded. "He could be useful to me. His Potions marks are adequate, or were, while I was his teacher. There are tasks he could complete." Severus waited, letting no outward sign of his internal tension register on his face or in the set of his body.
Finally, Voldemort spoke. "Very well, Severus," he said, flicking his fingers dismissively towards Draco's limp form. "The boy is yours, do with him as you please."
Severus bowed deeply. "My Lord is generous." He gave Draco another mild shake. "Say thank you, Draco," he drawled, sounding for all the world like an indulgent parent with a forgetful child.
Draco glanced up at Severus, then quickly across at the Dark Lord, before ducking his head once more; his face was ashen. "Thank you, my Lord," he managed.
Voldemort laughed at the exchange. "What a lovely pet he makes, Severus," he said conversationally. "Do tell me when the novelty wears off—it's never too late to feed him to Nagini."
Instincts honed by years of working with volatile substances kicked in only just in time, and Severus twisted Draco's body away. The boy emptied the contents of his stomach onto the lush carpet of his parent's drawing room.
"Evanesco," snarled Severus quickly, removing the offensive matter. He turned towards the Dark Lord apologetically, "My Lord—"
Voldemort cut him off with a wave of his hand. "Take him away, Severus. You and I will talk soon."
"Very good, my Lord, thank you." Severus bowed once more, before pulling Draco fairly roughly to his feet and moving quickly towards the Apparation Foyer. He had no desire to hang around and be thanked ad nauseum by Narcissa Malfoy.
Severus Apparated directly into the living room of Spinner's End with Draco's neck tightly grasped in one hand. On arrival, he pushed the boy gently, but firmly, into the nearest armchair and summoned the Firewhisky and two glasses from the cupboard. He poured them each a generous slug.
"Drink this," he said unnecessarily, pressing the glass of alcohol into the boy's hand.
Draco drank immediately, the glass clattering against his teeth as his body trembled. Severus swallowed his own drink smoothly, appreciating the sharp burn as it slid down his throat and the comforting warmth that pooled in his belly. Banishing his glass to the mantle piece, he knelt to open the fake mahogany doors of the cabinet under the old television. Rummaging around, he withdrew a healing salve and several pieces of gauze bandage. As he unbuttoned his robes, his waistcoat and the front of his shirt, he rocked back on his heels. Within a very short time he had shrugged his right arm out of his clothing and he peered back over his shoulder to examine his wound. Most of it lay just out of his line of vision.
"Draco," he ordered. The boy lifted his face from his hands and looked up, gasping at the sight that met his eyes. "Come here," said Severus curtly, holding out the salve and the gauze squares. "Clean the wound with Tergeo, then wipe this salve into it," he instructed.
Draco fumbled for his wand and came to kneel behind his host. Before turning away, Severus caught sight of his stricken face.
"I didn't realise you were hurt." Draco sounded genuinely upset at the revelation. "Tergeo." He laid his wand on the coffee table and reached for the salve. Hesitantly at first, he began to rub the salve along the rough edges of the long cut. He took a deep breath. "You saved my life."
"Yes." A short breath hissed between his teeth as Draco pushed against a particularly painful area. "I have been trying to save your life all year."
"I thought,"—Severus could feel the redoubled trembling of Draco's hand—"I thought you wanted to profit from my failure. Aunt Bella even thought that you might betray me to Dumbledore."
Severus grit his teeth at the mention of Bellatrix, but he was savvy enough to recognise the positive implications of Draco's attempt at honesty. "It's about time you learnt to think for yourself, Draco. Betraying you to Dumbledore would have saved your life far more easily and, from your perspective, far more pleasurably than I was able to this evening. Albus Dumbledore, unlike the Dark Lord, was a firm believer in the power of forgiveness. A contrite apology would have sufficed to gain you his protection. He would have put you and your mother far from the reach of the Dark Lord and his punitive gestures." Severus was facing the television, and he could see Draco's expression reflected in the blackened glass of the screen. The boy had frozen as he spoke.
"He said as much," whispered Draco, "on top of the tower before the others got there."
"A shame you didn't take him up on the offer," replied Severus in an entirely unsympathetic tone of voice, twisting to look back over his shoulder at what he could see of the wound on his shoulder blade. "Now that I have murdered the headmaster, with Potter as witness, I can't see the Order of the Phoenix welcoming either of us with open arms—"
"Potter as witness? But—?"
Severus twisted on his heel to look Draco directly in the face. "There were two broomsticks up there on the top of the tower. Unless one was yours, we have to assume that Potter was there, concealed under his Invisibility Cloak." Severus raised one eyebrow derisively. "Presumably he was also privy to your conversation with Dumbledore regarding forgiveness. It would seem that your best bet is to somehow save his life during the coming conflict. If you play your cards right you might still manage to switch sides and live to tell the tale."
Draco's mouth hung open in surprise, the gauze forgotten in his hand. "Whose side are you on, anyway?" he stammered.
"Dear me," sneered Severus, turning away to hunt through the cupboard under the television once more, "how foolish I was to believe that my actions tonight might have answered that question once and for all." Having located a box of Muggle butterfly plasters, Severus turned and upended the contents onto the coffee table. "We're not talking about me, Draco, we're talking about you." He looked across at the boy, who was shaking once again. "You're not a killer, Draco, and you do not have the Dark Lord's favour. To earn it, you would have to become a killer—or worse. Even if he, or the tasks he might set you, didn't literally kill you, the process would destroy the parts of you that make you who you are. And as irritating, ungrateful and self-obsessed as you have been for most of your young life, your parents seem quite fond of you." Severus shrugged. "Who knows why?" he queried sarcastically.
Draco was as white as a sheet, and seemingly unable to process the information Severus had just articulated. "What are you saying?" he asked, his voice cracking.
Severus looked up from the butterfly plasters he was counting off the tabletop and into the outstretched palm of his left hand. "I'm not sure that I could make it much clearer without resorting to crude sign language or words of one syllable. What exactly don't you understand? The Dark Lord is not the forgiving kind. You fucked up. Your life will be miserable for the foreseeable future. Your best hope is that Potter wins, and you save his life somewhere during the process. Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes, sir," said Draco mechanically, ingrained habits of his six years at Hogwarts stepping into the breach when his power of speech had otherwise deserted him.
"Good," said Severus, taking Draco's hand and tipping the butterfly plasters into it. "Use these to close the wound on my back." When Draco stared at the white adhesive strips with a completely blank expression Severus elaborated further. "You have to peel off the backing, the exposed side is sticky. Use them to fasten the edges of the cut closed. It's Muggle first aid; quite frankly I don't trust your spellwork in the state you're in."
Comprehension blossomed and Severus swivelled back around to give Draco access to his shoulder. The boy took a couple of tries to get the hang of peeling back the paper from the back of the plasters but soon had most of the cut carefully pressed back into place.
"Sir?" he ventured when he was nearly finished.
Severus glanced up at the television, but Draco's head was ducked, intent on his task, and his reflection showed only a smudge of his blond hair, oddly distorted across the curvature at the edge of the screen.
"Why did you kill Dumbledore?"
"Because, Draco," he replied, suddenly overwhelmed with exhaustion, "my master told me to; I got the impression that the Dark Lord was pleased."
A / N : did I ever mention that I love reviews?? : )