|The Black Road XV: Requiem for Innocence
Author: Guede Mazaka
“Child of the scars of fire,
* * *
Sirius paused in front of the hallway mirror and smiled humorlessly at it. He attempted to strike a pose, but between his gaunt state and sardonic expression, his reflection only showed a mockery of a mockery. “How do I look?”
“Stop joking,” Severus said. He watched Sirius’ hands curl, then uncurl and dance restless fingers along his robes. “We’ll be late.”
“And Merlin knows you never want to keep your last date waiting,” Sirius retorted. His black humor grated on both of them, and he turned away as if he actually cared. More likely he was searching for something to think on besides where they were going, and what was going to happen.
He’d been uncharacteristically silent ever since they’d returned from Grimmauld Place. Once or twice Severus, wound up and desperately needing an outlet for all his repressed emotions, had tried to bait Sirius into a fight, but nothing had came of it. In the end, Severus had withdrawn to his lab and instead wasted too much of his most precious ingredients brewing one failure after another. He’d fallen asleep down there, then woken to find Sirius’ hungry, feverish mouth traveling down his chest and rolled the other man over. Even then, they hadn’t spoken.
In the morning, Voldemort had sent his summons, and now Sirius was apparently having a resurgence of his habitual verbal hemorrhaging in times of stress. He taunted and snapped at Severus all the way up until they Apparated into the Department of Mysteries. Then, standing in the long dark hall that led to where Voldemort awaited them, he fell silent.
Harry had been here before, so he’d have no problem getting in. According to Sirius, he’d be showing up shortly, so Severus fully intended to accompany Sirius to the door and then find some reason to excuse himself. He had considered it last night and found that he had surprisingly little stomach for witnessing the end of yet another era, even though the next one had to be better than this one.
But as they walked down the hall, Severus smelled something…odd. Normally the place had a damp, lifeless odor, but now he could detect a faintly sweetish, rotten odor.
“Somebody tell Voldemort he’s losing?” muttered Sirius.
“Shut up,” Severus quickly replied. He hurried them along, worried that Voldemort would somehow have sensed that Sirius was not the mindless puppet he was expecting. But even with that fear hanging over them, Severus’ mind kept returning to that trace of smell. He recognized it, of course: day-old blood.
Sirius bowed his head as they entered the Death Chamber and leaned heavily on Severus’ arm. His stride grew unsteady and uncertain, and a few times he made weak attempts to venture off in other directions so Severus had to pull him along. It wasn’t entirely acting, Severus suspected, and he tightened his grip on the other man.
“Severusss…” Voldemort was standing on the platform besides the veiled archway. His hands were clasped together before him and holding his wand, but once they’d gotten within a few feet of him, he lifted his right hand to motion them closer. That was when Severus noted that Voldemort had changed wands.
The other Horcrux. It was small comfort to know that Severus had indeed guessed right, even though he’d never gotten to act on his conjecture. “I’ve brought him like you asked, my lord.”
“So you have,” Voldemort whispered in a satisfied tone. He waved Severus back, and when Severus obligingly released Sirius, Voldemort came down to cup Sirius’ chin beneath his hand. He tipped up Sirius’ head to look him deeply in the eyes. “Thank you, Severus. You may go now.”
Severus didn’t realize he’d been holding his breath till he almost made the mistake of letting it out in a sigh of relief. He caught himself and forced himself to exhale slowly enough for it to seem normal as he made a deep obeisance in Voldemort’s direction. Then he backed towards the door without turning around.
He’d planned not to watch, but in the end some morbid interest made him glance back a last time before he walked out, and so he saw the shadows come racing from the walls. A moment later, Voldemort noticed and threw Sirius away from him with an angry exclamation. Before it could turn into words, a surge of shadows exploded upwards between Voldemort and Sirius, who was scrambling to his feet. “Harry! Not yet!” he screamed, as if that would make a difference.
Without any further hesitation, Severus flung himself out the door. He was halfway through the circular room that linked all the halls when he suddenly caught that smell again. At the same time, he trod heavily on a part of the floor that slid and gave way, sending him down onto his hands and knees. Severus cursed at the pain, then rolled over and angrily kicked out. Something stuck to the sole of his shoe fluttered.
He should have continued running, and left Sirius and Potter to fend for themselves. He should have finally stuck to his resolve to facilitate but never participate himself, and thus emerge from at least one battle with no new scars. Instead Severus, mind awash in terror and anger and self-hatred, grabbed the scrap from his foot and brought it up close to his face.
In the dim light, he could barely see that it was a piece of cloth, but something made him look longer. Then he recognized it as part of a robe, stiff with the dried blood that Severus was smelling…Voldemort killed people out of hand when he was upset, but—but—
Somewhere behind Severus, a piece of wood snapped. It was a simple sound, but for some reason it was grossly magnified and distorted so it thundered through the walls and crashed against the ceiling. Then there came Harry’s voice, rising in a shriek. “Three down! Three!”
And Voldemort, in a hiss that cut the knees out from under all the racket so Severus could hear it as clearly as if he and the Dark Lord had been sitting down at the same table. “Silly, silly boy. Still only two.”
But if Voldemort was speaking, then Harry wasn’t referring to the piece Sirius was supposed to obtain for him. He was talking about the wand. The wand had been broken, but Voldemort wasn’t afraid—Severus’ thoughts whirled round and round his head as he staggered back to his feet. A bang behind him made him spin to look at the door to the Death Chamber just as a blast of wind rushed through it.
When it hit him, it sent him skidding across the polished floor till he crashed into one of the other doorways. His hand hit the frame and slid unevenly through a thick patch of a flaky, crusty substance, while the smell of blood suddenly intensified. Severus dug his nails into the frame and hung on till the wind died down.
“You couldn’t finish me last time, Potter. And now—now, look at your godfather. Your precious godfather.” Voldemort was purring, though his voice had a strained undertone to it: he had sustained some injuries. “I brought him back. Death, life…they’re within my power.”
The bloodstains on the frame continued down to the floor, and then under the door. Half a thought came into Severus’ mind and he shoved it roughly open with his elbow to look inside. Then he flung himself back out, sleeve over his mouth, and struggled not to vomit. Davies. He was detailed to tend to this part of the Ministry, so of course the hallway hadn’t been cleaned if Voldemort had killed him.
Killed him. Murder was needed to make a Horcrux. The Ravenclaw Horcrux had been destroyed, but Voldemort wasn’t worried because he’d moved that piece of his soul to a new one. But what? What was it now? Where was it?
It had to be relatively near, but protected. Voldemort couldn’t risk assuming that Harry wouldn’t take the piece in him, and bodiless he was much weaker and couldn’t travel far or fast. To switch from relying on one piece to the other, he’d—Severus spun around and around, staring at the many doors lining the circular room. Here. It was the most heavily warded part of the Ministry. Here.
Another blast of wind rammed into the wind and sent Severus to the ground. His wand clattered out onto the floor and he barely grabbed it in time to keep it from flying away from him. Then he rolled over and gritted out a spell to show recent usages of magic. The doorway to the Death Chamber glowed madly, but so did another one off to Severus’ right.
He scrambled to his feet and to it, casting frantic spells to rip apart the wards on it. Shards of magic recoiled from his work and lashed out at him till hot blood was running down his face and hands. Once or twice the pain dropped him to his knees, but he gritted his teeth and continued forcing his way through. Then a starburst of agony went off inside his right eye, and Severus barely got out the last syllable of his current spell before he fell forward.
Forward and through, landing in someone’s arms. Adrenaline and force of will cleared Severus’ vision so that a moment later, he could see Lucius’ pale, bruised face staring wildly down at him. “Your eye’s gone,” Lucius said. He had blood on his face, and behind him, Severus could see Nagini’s limp form. “Is Harry here?”
“You’re it—get out here,” Severus snarled. He rolled back onto his feet and got the other man by the arm, then hauled them into the Death Chamber just before the next gale roared through the place.
* * *
When Draco woke up, it was to the sounds of battle. He started to sit up in bed, then threw himself flat against the mattress just as a brilliant surge of magic passed overhead. It burned itself into the wall while he scrambled to the floor, then out the door.
Someone tried to Avada him right away and he ducked, then jerked up his wand—hand—whatever and got them first. He could hear Weasleys yelling further down the hall and, after noting that the other way was a dead end, jogged towards them. “George!”
“Malfoy! Did you get Rosier?” George called back. He was interrupted midway, but continued in a strong enough voice so that Draco assumed Weasley had gotten the better of his opponent.
Draco glanced over his shoulder, then looked forward in time to nearly be brained by Patil swooping through the hall on her broomstick. Her right arm was soaked in blood and hung limply at her side, and she was holding onto the broomstick with only her knees.
“Rosier’s dead,” Draco said as he rounded the corner. He found George and a few other resisters crouched down behind a makeshift barricade of furniture and anything else they could drag into place before the front entrance, which had had its door blasted right out of the frame. The square of outside it framed showed a nighttime pastoral scene. “Farm?”
“Emmeline Vance’s. We’ve been blocked in by Death-Eaters.” As soon as Draco was close enough, George grabbed him and dragged him down. Then he failed to let go, but instead pulled Draco in to stare at him with bloodshot, angry eyes. “They’re calling for you. Says if we give you up, it’s all fine.”
It was actually a rather warm night, but at that moment, Draco was chilled to the bone. “You don’t actually believe them, do you?” he hissed. “They may want me, but then they’ll come in and slaughter you all as an afterthought.”
“I know.” George glanced over Draco’s shoulder as Fred crawled up on Draco’s other side, then grinned at Draco. His smile was a hideous parody of his old prankster’s humor. “But me and Fred, we’re thinking we’d best keep you close anyway. ‘cause it’d be even worse if you ran and we all died to protect your arse when you couldn’t keep Ginny alive. Wouldn’t it?”
Whether or not it was a rhetorical question never was decided, because just then the Death-Eaters decided to try another assault. Blood splattered over Draco’s head and dripped down the back of his neck; he tucked his crippled hand close to him and waited till footsteps were shaking the floorboards before he rose. “Avada Kedavra!”
The other wizard also cast that spell, but it bounced off the shield Fred set up. George was busy stuffing various rag-covered bundles into crevices and holes in the barricade, and didn’t look up till they’d forced the Death-Eaters back again. Then he nodded, manic smile firmly plastered on his face, and started dragging Draco backwards. “Right, retreat to kitchen. Easier to defend that.”
“Bloody hell,” Draco muttered. He said it again once he’d realized the Weasley bastard had just hauled him through a puddle of brains, and saw Vance’s staring corpse rolled off to the side. She was missing the top of her head. “I need a fag.”
Surprisingly enough, one was handed to him. Draco looked up and saw Lupin staring grim-faced at him. “Make that last,” Lupin said. “That’s what we have to do. Hold out a little longer.”
To everyone else, it sounded like war-worn encouragement, but Draco heard an extra, telling undertone. He looked sharply at Lupin, but the other man turned away before Draco could ask about what had happened between him, Black and Snape.
Blue fire suddenly came pouring down the kitchen chimney, sending everyone scrambling for the other side of the room. Except Draco, who seemed to be watching in wonder as his body pivoted and cast the canceling spell. Hell. Yes, that was about right.
He lit up. “Fucking Merlin. Potter, you better hurry up.”
* * *
Harry was on one side of the room, just rising from the floor. His clothes were in tatters and one lens of his glasses was completely shattered, with only jagged fragments left like teeth in the frame. He was staring at the other side of the room, where Voldemort was standing. Voldemort had Sirius, whose contract with the Devil apparently hadn’t granted him the same preternatural strength Harry had because Voldemort was easily restraining him.
Everyone swiveled to look when Severus and Lucius came into the room. For a moment, Severus froze. Then he shook himself—it was too late to fade to the sidelines now. “Harry, it’s Lucius,” he said. He put his wand up against Lucius’ throat. “He’s the new Horcrux.”
Fury came and went over Voldemort’s face, but that was to be expected. What wasn’t to be expected was the look on Harry’s face. “You went to him?” he snarled.
Lucius shrugged. “I told you, you can’t leave me like that. I knew you’d have to come back if I talked Voldemort into…well, I thought he’d simply give me the Horcrux.”
Severus firmly pushed all speculation out of his mind and tightened his grip on his wand. He wanted this done and over with. “Ava--”
He’d forgotten about the Mark on his arm. It flared to life so suddenly and so painfully that his attempts to brace up beneath it were easily beaten away. He collapsed, then curled in on himself.
A moment later the pain had dissipated just as suddenly as it’d come, but by then it was too late. He still had his wand, but a test spell showed that that was no help. A great swash of blackness separated Severus and Lucius, and it swatted his spell out of the air and ate it as a cat would with a too-slow bird. Shadows coiled and snatched at its edges, but they couldn’t make any headway.
“I see my earlier belief was correct,” Voldemort said. He’d dropped Sirius and left him surrounded by a pool of the same black stuff in order to walk towards a white, swaying Lucius. “You weren’t the only one of my Death-Eaters that Harry had meddled with. But you did come back to me.”
“Not for the reasons you thought he did,” Harry snapped. One of his arms was stretched towards Severus, and he abruptly swung it so a wave of shadows rolled towards Sirius. But it crashed up against a wall of black, and both subsided to the floor. Harry coughed and bent over slightly, then straightened.
Voldemort’s stride wasn’t as sure as it once had been, but there was triumph in his face as he looked at Lucius. As he walked forward, Lucius drew back till he hit the lowest ring of benches. Lucius had to stop there, but Voldemort continued moving forward. “It hardly matters. What does is that Lucius did come back, and offered himself for my use.”
“You jump into him and it won’t matter. You kill me and it won’t matter. Harry knows what to do.” Sirius awkwardly drew himself into a sitting position and sneered at the blackness surrounding him. Then he lifted his head to gaze at Harry.
So did Voldemort, but only briefly. Then he returned his gaze to Lucius. “Rookwood’s located where the resisters are keeping Draco,” he said. “I expect he’ll have your son soon enough.”
Severus sucked in his breath. He’d forgotten, somehow, that Voldemort would fixate on Draco—at the least, for the destruction of a Horcrux, and now also because Lucius’ face made it plain that Draco was still a weak point for him.
Behind Lucius, the translucent shadows and the opaque darkness warred back and forth on the walls. Sometimes one, then the other came streaming at him, but it became clear to Severus that neither had the strength to overcome the other. And looking around the room, he saw that Voldemort was actually stretched quite thin in keeping Harry and himself at bay, and Sirius separated from all of them. He couldn’t force Lucius towards him; Lucius would have to come willingly. Harry was in the same situation.
Lucius realized it at the same time, Severus thought. He glanced at Voldemort, then towards Harry, then back to Voldemort. “You’ll leave Draco alone if I…” he trailed off with a vague, nervous motion of his hand. He looked at Harry again, and his eyes were nakedly pleading. “He’s my son.”
“Bastard. Son of a bitch!” Sirius snarled. “Harry, just kill him already!”
But Harry was staring at Lucius with eyes that glittered with anger plus something else. Bitterness and resignation, possibly. “I promised to leave him alone, remember? He’s got to fend for himself now,” he finally said, tone vicious, but also oddly understanding. “Only thing you ever really did care about. Figures.”
Voldemort smiled. Desperate now, Severus raised his wand again, but the blackness rose off the floor and came at him so he had to scramble back. In doing so, he caught only a glimpse of something pale blurring through the air: Lucius had leaped back up onto the bench. He stood there barely long enough for Severus to see his strangely defiant smile.
“Not quite. I wanted to see you again—to see if you could do this,” Lucius said; he threw the words like a challenge at Harry. Then he threw himself backwards just as Voldemort and the blackness lunged for him.
Severus flung himself to his feet. His eyes found and watched him scream at Lucius, then slewed across the room to see the slight hesitation of the shadows in also reaching out for Lucius. But Lucius twisted as he fell through the air, aiming himself, and it was just enough to let the shadows take him first.
Someone screamed, but the sound had too much fury and grief in it to have belonged to Lucius. A brief spray of red arced upward to splatter the ceiling. Then shadows and blackness alike slid away to leave a broken, limp shell that had once been living stretched over one of the benches.
A sharp crack echoed about the room: Voldemort’s heel striking the floorstones hard as he stumbled, suddenly tottering and weak. Severus lifted his wand towards him and got off one spell before the blackness raced towards him and made him run for his life. He leaped up onto the benches, then back down in an attempt to evade them, but they were too fast. One tendril snatched up the hem of his robe and yanked so he fell heavily onto his side. It surged over his arm and it was so cold and his blood was freezing and shattering in his veins and—
--it receded. Severus jerked his arm free and clutched it to himself, then looked up.
His spell had knocked Voldemort close enough to Sirius for him to leap onto Voldemort, and now the other man was clinging to Voldemort, winding his arms around Voldemort’s thrashing form while he—he kissed the Dark Lord. Fiercely, unrelentingly, with no gentleness and no lack of violence. And as he did, the blackness drew back and thinned out till it was merely a whisper of a shade, and then till it disappeared completely.
The Devil had sent Sirius back as a kind of Dementor. Merlin…Severus started to laugh hysterically and only lack of breath forced him to stop. Lucifer had an exquisitely keen sense of humor, and it was horrific.
* * *
“What the—” Patil lowered her wand and stared in disbelief at the Death-Eater that had suddenly dropped to writhe at her feet.
Draco stepped up just as the hood fell off to disclose his former friend Gregory’s face. Their eyes met, but only briefly because then the green flash of the Death Spell blocked out Goyle. “I don’t know what, but don’t hesitate yourself, you stupid cow. When they’re down, then we get up.”
His cigarette had long since burned down to the smallest remnant possible, but Draco had held onto the butt. He took it out and sniffed at its ashy end, then went on to the next one.
“You used to have trouble killing, I hear,” Lupin said, casually like they were having tea. He, Draco noted, wasn’t stopping to watch either.
“That was a long time ago.” Something rustled behind Draco and he reflexively ducked the spell, then whirled to kill the wizard who’d sent it. Rookwood, wanting a last hurrah. Draco put him out of his misery. “I’ve learned better.”
Lupin looked sideways at him. “Better?”
“Better according to how you measure things nowadays. You can hold onto your old honor code if you want, but I thought it was pretty clear that we’d washed all that down the drain,” Draco snapped. He stalked on ahead. No, this part wasn’t pretty, but it was necessary and he was going to get it done while he was still too full of the battle to think on it much.
That was how they survived. That was how they’d made it, and no point in dwelling on what-ifs.
* * *
Sirius ripped himself off of Voldemort, who had stopped struggling a long while ago, and fell back with a gasp. After a moment, he made an attempt to roll over and push himself up on his elbow. Severus started towards him, but Harry got there first. He grabbed Sirius by the shoulders and pulled him up, then wrapped his arms around Sirius and buried his face in Sirius’ neck. He was audibly sobbing.
By the time Severus crouched down near them, Sirius had regained enough strength to feebly pat at Harry’s back. He was trying to shush Harry as if Harry were anything like a child. “No, no, you have to, you have to. It’s okay—I don’t blame you,” he was saying. “It’s all right, it’s all right.”
“It is not. Don’t whitewash it, Black,” Severus rasped. He heard his voice begin to catch and coughed vigorously to clear it. He snarled at himself for even succumbing to it, when he’d known that it would end like this.
Sirius glared at him over Harry’s shoulder, but after a few seconds, Sirius’ gaze contained more pity mixed with mockery than true anger. He nuzzled at the side of Harry’s face, but continued to look straight at Severus. “Harry. Come on. Please. It’ll be over after this.”
“But you’ll be dead!” Harry cried out. His fingers dug so deeply into Sirius’ shoulders that Severus was surprised there was no bleeding. “You’ll be dead and this time I know I’ll never get to see you again.”
“But Harry, if you don’t—” Sirius winced “—damn it, he’s stirring already. If you don’t, this’ll go on and on and there’ll never be a chance for something different.”
The center of Severus’ chest hurt, and his mouth and throat were so dry that merely breathing was agony. He sat down beside them and put his hand on the floor, very close to Sirius’ leg. So close that when Sirius shifted a moment later, Severus’ fingertips grazed the other man. “Listen to your godfather—to someone. For once in your li—your existence, Potter.”
“You know when Snape’s saying that, then you’d better,” Sirius laughed. He sounded shaky, but when he pulled back to cup Harry’s face in his hands, his gaze and face were firm. “It might…it could be different. But not now, not with how things still are. Voldemort has to die, for good, and then we might know. Then…Harry.”
“I know.” Harry’s voice was very soft, and though he spoke only two words, he managed to fracture them a thousand times. He looked at Sirius one last time, then dropped his eyes. His hands began to tighten on Sirius’ back again.
Sirius looked at Severus again. The bastard even curled his lip a little, as if daring Severus to look away. Of course, Severus wouldn’t give him the satisfaction, even when Sirius’ lip curled out of silent agony—it was brief; Harry clearly made it as easy as possible—even when the light in Sirius’ eyes slowly clouded over with shadows. When Sirius’ head tipped back, Severus got up so he could continue meeting Sirius’ gaze.
The shadows gathered around them and began to tug at Sirius’ body. At first Harry resisted, fiercely, but then one curl of shadow slashed blood from his cheek and he reluctantly let go. He watched till they’d engulfed Sirius, and then till they’d all flowed back through the Veil.
Then, slowly as an old man, he turned and walked past Severus as if he were the only one in the room. Much to Severus’ surprise, Harry stopped by Lucius’ body and carefully, gently straightened it out so the limbs lay neatly on the bench instead of dangling off it. Last of all, Harry delicately pushed down Lucius’ eyelids. He stopped that way for a good minute, staring pensively down at Lucius.
“He was a Horcrux at the end. I wonder,” Harry said. Then he smiled bitterly, and fresh moisture glittered on his lashes. “Fuck. Then I’d probably have to do something for that son of a bitch again, and if it’d be worth it—”
“Being the one who lives isn’t an easy burden, nor is it a short-lived one.” Severus paused, then opened his mouth.
Harry looked up at Severus, then shook his head. A trace of genuine regret flickered through his eyes. “Sorry, professor. Not your time yet, and I don’t get to kill at will now. But I’ll see you later. I promise.”
“I’m beginning to believe you can keep your promises, Mr. Potter,” Severus dryly said. He turned around and the thought of the long, lonely road still ahead of it briefly seized up his lungs in his chest. But he forced himself to breathe, and slowly walked out of the place.
* * *
“I think…it’s over.” Lupin came to stand beside Draco so both of them looked down at the last Death-Eater.
Yaxley, thankfully, had been a secret smoker. Draco blew a smoke ring as he eyed the pack wedged between the rigid fingers of his wand-hand. Then he shrugged and offered one to Lupin; the werewolf’s nostrils flared and it was obvious he knew where those had come from. But he ended up taking one.
“I think so too. So now we’ve got the whole world to ourselves. This broken, bloody, horrible world. Merlin knows what we’ll end up building out of it,” Draco muttered.
“It won’t be like before. I’m sure of that much,” Lupin strongly replied. He turned around to stare at the carnage behind them, and his certainty got the shakes. No one was celebrating back there—everyone was too tired, or too hurt, or too dead. They were all just relieved. “It might be bad again, but not in the same way.”
Draco had to agree with that. “No, we did a damn good job of making sure we can’t fuck it up that way again.”
Apparently that was too much pessimism for Lupin, because he dropped his cigarette to the ground and stomped it out with his heel. “I’ll see you back at the—” he stopped, then corrected himself. “I suppose I’ll see you,” he finished, and went back to the house.
Perhaps, and perhaps not. At the moment, Draco didn’t feel like thinking on that because he too was tired. He smoked a little more, and turned around to watch the sun rise. There weren’t many clouds today, he saw. He had no idea about tomorrow, but the light on his face was warm and the cigarette was good and he could breathe without anyone on his back.
He exhaled so the smoke wisped over the sun, and smiled crookedly to himself.