Chapter Nine: Render Unto Caesar . . .
Surveying the scene in Lucius' bedroom, Severus knew that it was too late for chokeberry and ash balm to be of any use to the elder Malfoy. He lay, white and not-quite-perfect, on a scarlet coverlet that had once shone of silver threads. The deep rents in his body were encrusted with dried blood. His son Severus found huddled next to the dying embers in his father's baronial fireplace, so filthy as to be almost unrecognizable from the soot-stained stones against which he pressed his bare body. Snape could not immediately discern any injury to the boy, who clutched an ancient dragon's claw blade set in a hilt of obsidian wood. Severus knew the blade. Lucius used it for certain . . . ceremonies, rites over which it seemed le seigneur du Manoir de Malfoy would no longer be presiding.
"Draco, do you know me?"
The boy made no movement other than to gasp out shallow breaths. Severus walked as close to the boy as he dared, knowing that Draco was in shock, and not wishing to startle him into rash action.
"Draco, it's Severus. Can you hear me?"
"No, no, no, no, no . . . ," the boy keened low in the back of his throat.
"May I take this from you?" Severus asked, placing a tentative hand on the sanguineous blade.
The boy's hand tightened on the hilt of his knife, and he rolled a murderous eye toward Snape's face.
"I will not hurt you, child."
"Fool," Draco spat through bloodied teeth. "Think you I'm a child any longer?"
The older man removed his hand from the weapon. "Forgive me. Of course you're not--"
"Pretty golden fleece to be hung about the neck--did you think that would keep me safe?"
Severus didn't know what to say.
Draco laughed in the face of his would-be-protector's confusion.
"Why? Why did you give the charm to Harry?"
"She has no birthright to protect her--not like I do," Draco said, thrusting out his right arm so that Snape could see the Dark Mark. The edges of it burned with an eldritch glow. "My father's final duty to his master."
It was all Severus could do not to stagger under the weight of the sudden anguish that imbrued his heart, every beat of which threatened to pull a scream of pain from his dry lips. I've failed him. By all the gods, I've failed him in the only way that mattered. "Draco how . . . when did this happen?"
"Potter, she's just a walking wound seeping wasted power, isn't she? And Daddy wanted her. Daddy wanted her, but she's already mine. . . . I told him so, but Father will take what he wants. Do you think he's content to be the lapdog of some crazed half-breed wizard? Who kept them together, the cowards, after Voldemort's supposed destruction? Who laid plans for the future of our kind? . . . Lucius Malfoy is no man's slave!"
"Lucius Malfoy is no man any longer, Draco. You killed him."
The boy laughed; it was the sound of rusting hinges swinging on crumbling metal doors.
"Yes, yes--oh, poor Daddy. He asked for my obedience one too many times, didn't he? It just wasn't enough, burning and cutting this filth into my arm so that the Dark Lord wouldn't suspect him of treachery. Why wasn't it enough? Why couldn't he just have loved me as his son?"
Merlin preserve this boy, for I cannot, Severus thought. I have no answers for him.
"That is quite enough, my darling son," a crystalline voice cut through the echoes of Draco's lament and Severus' silent plea.
"Narcissa," Snape said, turning.
"Severus," she acknowledged him, flicking her left wrist once toward her son and calling to herself without spell or wand the heirloom with which her son had butchered her husband. "It is unfortunate that you find us thus."
"The murder of my husband by his faithless friend--I fear that the Ministry will be compelled to investigate--and I would not wish the circumstances to . . . inconvenience you," the witch said, smiling at the flicker of distaste that crossed Snape's features. "Goyle," she called over her shoulder.
The gross figure of Goyle lumbered into the room.
"Is it done?"
"Yes, just as you requested."
"I'm well pleased to hear that," Narcissa purred at the man.
"What steps have you taken?" Snape asked, hoping to appear unruffled, feeling desperate in his need to help Draco.
"Terrible, how jealousy twists a man," Goyle opined. "It's never been a secret that Crabbe has always desired those things that were beyond his reach," he said, favoring Narcissa with a heavy lidded gaze.
"And I am most grateful that you were able to kill the man before he harmed me or my son after he murdered my beloved husband," the Widow Malfoy finished for her henchman. "I fear, however, that certain parties will be dismayed not to have the testimony of one who was most certainly the servant of Lord Voldemort."
Draco's low laughter interrupted this civilized exchange.
His mother turned her leveling gaze on him. "But one moment, dearest, and I'll have you mended and clean and warm."
The boy went quite still.
"We need to get Draco medical attention," Snape attempted.
"I shall handle those arrangements myself, Severus," Narcissa told him. "It would, perhaps, be best if you returned to your latest charge. I'm sure our lord continues in his desire that she be left to your devices."
Severus knew it was stupid to take such a risk, but he couldn't help himself. He turned back to Draco.
"Do you wish me to stay?"
"Mother told you to go, Severus," the boy said in a reasonably firm and final tone.
"I am, of course, touched by your concern for Draco. When he has recovered from the shock of this night, you must return to visit with him. He depends so much upon you, as well you know."
Snape sighed and faced Narcissa. Bloodless bitch. "Your strength shall be the greatest testimony to your husband's life, 'Cissa. Promise me that you will send for me immediately should you have any needs with which I might assist you."
Severus ignored how Goyle's sly smile faded into bitterness at his offer.
"I can assure you of that . . . old friend."
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