Letters from Nowhere

By Kat Reitz and tzigane

Scritch, scritch, scritch.

The noise was as steady as a pulse, that scrape of quill nub over smooth parchment. In the darkness, it did signal a pulse; a pulse of thought, of emotion. A beat was skipped to dip into the dark inkwell and draw out expensive silver-black ink.

"... in my thoughts and in my heart, Son, I wish that you were here now, near as we are to my hour of triumph. It seems months, at worst years, away, but it is now inevitable. Keep that in your mind, my heir, as you continue your travels and studies. How does your research progress? I've been told that the blood of a golden hind is nigh on impossible to gather; yet if any man can do the impossible, it is a Malfoy. Please, continue to enthrall me with tales of your hunt, as it gives me much to mull over as I watch Fudge stumble over himself."

All of the proper titles followed, and the candlelight predictably flickered and guttered for a moment as it was used to melt a stick of wax above the bottom corner of the paper. With the back of a ring, the seal was pressed in place, and that letter was rolled up, and sealed closed with wax and with magic. It was then laid aside to make room for a fresh piece. The appropriate greetings were scrawled at the top, in a spikier, more spidery handwriting than the previous letter. The inkwell, too, was exchanged for a different one; the same quill, only dipped into silvery green ink, and laid down over rougher parchment. The letter was more mundane, and less stirring, but without question more interested in *exactly* where Draco was, and exactly what he'd done so far to catch the hind -- even offering suggestions, and a brief recounting of a similar hunt undertaken two decades earlier for darker purposes.

The candlelight guttered again, melted a different flavor of wax just beneath the closing signature, and then another ring pressed down on it to seal. Soon the letter was closed up as the one before it had been, and the pulse-point of scritches stopped.

"We'll see how long this can go on, you and I," the writer remarked to a silent room.

"Dearest Father," the epistle began, and from there it was all glowing words of encouragement, explanations of Draco's search, and descriptions of Greece and the beauty there, particularly of the artwork and the buildings. It was obviously designed to go to a young man's sire. The letter gave few of the details of pursuit, but ran long on words for his father.

The parchment Draco had sent to Severus, however, was quite a different matter. It spoke in detail of how they were hunting, of the boys in the camp and the way they came to his tent at night. There were implications there that were subtly beautiful, intended for the eyes of 'Uncle Severus' alone. The younger Malfoy spoke with reverence about the hind, about their search. He wrote of moonlit trysts and wistfulness, a desire to come home again, and to see his favorite cousin once more. It was obvious that he was lonely despite the boys in his tent, and that he was resolved to gather the blood he needed for whatever intents and purposes he held. Severus was sure that he could guess at most of them, designs slightly shady, dancing the line between Light and Dark as well as anyone possibly could.

Upon receipt, both were read over by the same careful set of eyes, compared one against the other. What volumes it spoke that the outpouring of the young Malfoy's heart wasn't to his father, but to a vague relation who had taught him. Draco's father received a weighty tome, worthy of literature and extolling the virtues of the family pride they shared. Mundane, held up against the flash of an almost revolutionary mind, as those two letters were viewed together. Overheated passions, and under-heated self-serving whims.

Carefully, the letter to Severus was glanced over a final time before the edge was dangled over the flame of the guttering candlelight. Searing flames to take away vague words, implied temptation, and proof that the letter had ever been sent. The sheets addressed to Lucius, however, were laid aside, stacked atop others.

No proof of one, too much proof of the other; yet it was what was expected of Lucius Malfoy. A busy pile of letters, a few quills, spare bottles of ink. A busy, deep man, with a flourish when he placed nub against finely pressed parchment.

Dip once into the silvery black ink that never shone matte even in the most careful of inspection. Wet ink, fresh powerful words as Draco was given his response. The quill extolled the virtue of sticking to one's goals, and not faltering. The tenacity that such a hunt would take was one that the elder Malfoy took pride in, that smooth beautiful handwriting lavishing the words with devotion. A light warning against the satyrs in the area, and more words against the Minister of Magic. Casualness twisted formal with the flourish of a sharp quill.

For a moment, the writer hesitated over the sealing of the letter, and simply sat back in his chair, looking at it. There had to be some flaw, some crack in the pulse of ink onto page, in the thought processes. Something, he felt...

No. He wasn't haunted, he simply knew what he was doing, understood the subject to its fullest. Silver-green overtook silvery black on the next, rougher sheet with almost disgusting ease. Again there was a switch of hands, and he replied to what he recalled from the more mundane note.

"I hope that you've kept an eye upon your companions. Try to not let their sure beauty distract you from what you are undertaking. When you find the Hind, a falter could delay you weeks. So concentrate, and do not hasten back to England too soon. I would hate to see you fall prey to homesickness, Draco, and spurn the opportunity of a lifetime." More followed, idle description of research, well wishing, perhaps innuendo. It was there if it was sought out, and not there if it wasn't searched for.

Yes, he knew well what he was doing. The second letter was sealed and owled a full day before the first.

He would wait and see what Draco would say.

The letter arrived at the break of dawn, fluttering down from the claws of an owl that was nearly black, Draco noticed. It pleased him, indeed, for that meant Severus had answered before his father had. It was a rarity that both of them answered him with equal hurry, though he almost always sent letters to them together. With a wave and a smile, he abandoned the campfire to head towards his own tent, a small approximation of Malfoy Manor once inside. Even his favorite of the boys didn't dare to follow him when he had a letter in hand.

A quick perusal of Severus's note made him smile. It was so very Severus, wasn't it? Warning him, encouraging him, pushing him lightly to see what he would do. He loved the man madly, his 'Uncle' Severus, had since he was eleven, but the way that Severus would hide things from him sometimes made him laugh. He knew, somehow, that the situation lay thus; that Severus was keeping something from him. Draco was uncertain as to what it was, and the sense of something hidden did not come forth from his father's letters. Perhaps it was only that Uncle Severus missed him as much as he missed Uncle Severus and did not want to say so. Yes, he decided. Perhaps that was just it.

It was easy enough to sit down at a writing table in the small study - - small, perhaps, if the bottom half of the Weasley's house could have been considered small -- to dash off a reply. Quill in hand, he dipped the nib in the same silvery-green ink with which Severus wrote to him. He had loved it since he'd first seen it on a paper, declaring his grade. He had naturally written home immediately to have some sent to him, and it had just as naturally been automatically sent by his mother.

His mother...

A 'casualty', they had called her, in the fight between Lord Voldemort and Harry Potter. Someone who had just been in the wrong place at the wrong time, they had said, and never mind that the curse that had hit her had belonged to Potter. Draco knew that if it had been cast by Voldemort, they'd have blamed him, made it a crime, but it hadn't been considered one when cast by Harry Potter.

He'd learned to hate Potter even more, then.

With a sigh, he set pen to pale parchment, the quick, smooth flow of letters falling easily from the tip of his quill. He assured Severus that there would be no hesitation; that he was well familiar with his companions, and knew which ones were trustworthy. He did admit to his homesickness; how could he not? He *was* homesick, in many ways, mostly for Severus and for his father. He missed them desperately, but he had no intention of giving up his quest just yet, he said. They were close, dreadfully close, had followed the hind all night. He gave birth to the details on paper, closing with an amusing anecdote or two and his wishes to see Severus again before he sealed the letter with a sigh.


He missed Severus; he missed his father.

Draco rose and headed out to fetch an owl. Perhaps, if he was lucky, the island boy who so reminded him of Severus would not be remiss in visiting his bed very shortly.

There was something peculiar in the letter that Draco received from his father that week. It had arrived before Severus's letter, by the same owl that his father always used. Yet there was something odd about it, or perhaps it was spelled to urgency.

Or perhaps it had been tampered with. The seal seemed magicked, and a test of fingers over the rippled edges gave a feeling that wasn't right. Something crawled beneath that seal, stuck between wax and parchment, curling dark tendrils of hatred around his tentative fingertips.

It disappeared completely when he ripped the wax seal off with a spell. The parchment that unfurled seemed just as urgent, penned down so deeply into the sheets that letters were half-engraved into the sheets below.

"My Heir,

It has come to my attention that Minister Fudge would have me dead. This missive will be short, but you will find spelled instructions in the following pages. Do not return to England as of yet. Your presence would be unnecessary and would further complicate what has started.

"But be sure that I will end it."

And following that were the other pages, seemingly blank of all writing. No lengthy titling and perhaps overdone notations at the end. Only his initials, signed in glittering spelled ink.

Obviously, there must be something underneath it, something hidden in the ink. If only he could figure out how to find it...

Frustrated, Draco flung gloves at the island boy who made him think of Severus, stalking through the camp towards his tent with a fury that made all of them back away from him. There was no doubt that he threw off power with every step, anger and anxiousness a bad mix in a Malfoy man. Indeed, he was even more furious with himself for not automatically knowing the necessary revealing spell than he was at his father for sending such a strange missive.

With a snarl, he threw the letter down upon the desk and flung out the bottom drawer, opening the small black book hidden there and beginning to flip through it quickly, carelessly, the golden-edged pages rippling under his hands. Severus had given it to him, a book full of useful tidbits, including disclosing spells of several types and sorts. These he would try first, and then... *THEN* he would demand that Severus answer his questions. He didn't want to go home, not with Father's words hanging over him or with the situation obviously laying as it must for Lucius to send such a letter. Indeed, he didn't, for if his father had said not to come, that meant he was in danger as his father's heir, and that wasn't to be countenanced. Still...

Some half an hour later, wand in hand, he struck the answer and revealed the words on the parchment beneath.

For a moment the thought rose up in his mind that of course it was the last spell that he would think of trying that would work. But that seemed absurd in his mind -- the last spell to try working because why try more after one had worked? -- and that absurdity mixed and mingled with the anger and anxiousness as his eyes flew over the parchment. His father's handwriting was soothing to read, in light of the words it expressed.

"This letter will have been tampered with. The ministry is watching my owl posts. If this ink is green, then this spelled parchment has been read before; but I expect that if the ink is green, you shan't be receiving this letter, as the ministry will keep and burn it. There is no way to repair the spell on the ink, so if it is silver, come home as soon as your quest is finished."

There was a brief L.Q.M, and then oddly S.S., both in green ink, both with the distinctive handwritings he knew to be theirs.

And what followed wasn't an urgent account or some important letter. It was a copy of the Floo route from Greece imbedded into the parchment, and then rather random squiggles and lines, as if either Lucius or Uncle Severus had thought to pretend that there was more letter to the delivery than there was in actuality.

For a moment, Draco seriously considered the matter. It could, of course, be an even worse amount of trickery to try and get him home, to get him back to England where he could more easily be harmed.

It could be.

The handwriting, though...

Determined, he rose and slipped the parchment into his pocket. He would pack this morning, go back to Athens, pay off his island boys. He would abandon the search; after all, he was not a Malfoy for nothing. If he didn't have the opportunity to search for the Hind again, he could pay to have the necessary blood.

It was time to go home.

"Father?" It was a call made to a cold, empty house, the sound of his voice ringing back from marbled floor and high ceiling, the dark wooden paneling only muffling so much of his shout. There was no house-elf to take his coat and scarf, no one to fetch his gloves and place them away or the shoes he used for inside of the house as no Malfoy ever dirtied the beautiful Manor floors with shoes that had come in from outside. There was nothing, the whole house felt strange and blank and empty.

Draco did not like it.

That was, perhaps, an understatement.

Draco *loathed* it. Yet there was some... noise, something he swore he heard in the darkness and quiet of his home. He set his shoes aside just inside of the door, then, and moved to pad in stocking feet down the hallway, towards that source of life. He could feel it, a concentration of magic on the other side of the Manor. If it was for good or for bad as far as he was concerned, it couldn't be said.

He was not a Malfoy for nothing; sneakiness was in his blood, accompanied by a fierce sort of bravery that he had not held when he was young and so shortly away from home. He had never had to use it before his Hogwarts years. There had always been Lucius to protect him, to hold him safe, to hold him loved, and then there was Uncle Severus, but Uncle Severus couldn't save him from everything. It developed, that sheer daring, from defying Gryffindors and those who loved them, from opposing the adoration everyone else gave Potter and his ilk. Indeed, it had bred deep in his heart, and even though that muscle was frantically pounding, he knew what he had to do.

With care, he moved to the portrait of his great-great-aunt-Domine, a lovely lady of impeccable character, and he held his fingers to his lips to gently shush her as he pressed open her frame and slid into the space behind it, creeping slowly through the walls and towards the feel of that magic, that *life*.

Soon he came upon a house-elf who was sitting in the middle of the narrow space between walls, darning a sock with obvious relish, so that the color of the patch wasn't anywhere near to the actual color of the black sock.

The elf looked up at him, squealed, and scurried off in the direction that Draco had been heading towards.

"Perfect," he hissed to himself angrily, heading after it as quickly and quietly as possible. "Just fucking perfect!" He'd *strangle* that elf if it gave him away, or perhaps he'd just offer it a stay in the dungeon and threaten to never give it clothes!

Draco could hear it starting to yell, in some higher-pitched voice than even the squeal had been, and a muffled response. It was odd how the further he ran into the space between the walls, the more endlessly it stretched on, and the warmer it felt. There was life close at hand, and a doorway ahead that gave off a feeling of powerful wards. They felt familiar, so familiar, and yet, and *yet* he knew they weren't his father's, knew they weren't supposed to be there. Then they flew away, flew open, and he tumbled into the firelit room before he could screech to a halt, glaring around to check the room's occupants.

Uncle Severus.

It seemed as if the house had been turned inside out in places, because it seemed to Draco that he was standing, all at once, in the kitchen, his father's study, the workroom, and his father's elaborate bedroom. It wasn't a tiny niche, but a warm, expansive place that was silent except for the presence of eight house-elves.

The one with the sock in hand had hidden behind the chair in which Severus sat. It wasn't coverage for long, though, as the black-haired man stood, looking vaguely astonished for a flicker of a moment. Then his expression returned to itself, becoming bland and questioning as he began to brace for the explanations that would have to come.

"You weren't expected so soon."

"I had to have been expected eventually," Draco answered simply. "After all, the letter that was sent sounded quite desperate, Uncle Severus. You knew I would come."

"But you abandoned your search." The disappointment was audible in Severus's voice, as he turned towards the paper-littered desk. There was a stack of letters, and there two bottles of ink, on the opposite side two separate sorts of parchment, and there, beside the ink, one visible quill. A wave of Severus's wand made it all disappear into the bowels of the desk to store it away. Severus turned back languidly, adding in a tired tone, "I wasn't ready for your arrival yet. Things haven't finished falling in place yet."

"The search can be taken up again. Whatever is going on here seems to require me, or you wouldn't have sent for me, would you have? Did you think I would wait? Perhaps if Father had sent the letter, but not you," Draco told him simply. "Not you."

Black eyebrows held steady, despite the growing itch to crawl up into Severus's hairline. "You're bright," he said simply, slipping forwards in a smooth step to lay his hands warmly on Draco's shoulders. His eyes glistened for a moment, almost suspiciously as he looked down at the young Malfoy heir. "But your 'father' did write those letters."

"Did he?" Draco whispered softly, looking up into eyes so deeply crimson they gleamed black, strange eyes, the deepest shade of brown imaginable turned red in firelight. "Did he truly?" It was doubtful to him. No, no, there was something...

"No." Easily admitted, but without shame in the quiet sadness of the words. "Your father has been... indisposed since the week after you began your hunt." Severus twisted away, one hand still on Draco's shoulder, clutching to guide the young man with him towards the bedroom that inhabited the far corner of the expansive room.

"Why didn't you tell me?" Draco whispered, afraid to look, afraid to *see*. "What's wrong with him, Uncle..." No, no, that seemed wrong. "Severus. Please. Tell me, what's wrong with him?" He couldn't bear to lose Lucius, not after losing his mother. He couldn't!

The hand on his shoulder slipped down, lightly encircling the boy -- he was still a boy in Severus's mind -- around his waist. That guided him to the edge of the bed, where Lucius laid looking just as he always had. "A Merlin curse. He breaths, he doesn't require food, he lives from the magic in the air. This, Draco, is what Minister Fudge is capable of."

It was absurd to see the color that drained from the blond's face, leaving him completely ashen as he stared down at his father. Lucius looked as Lucius always did when sleeping -- hair tousled, eyes closed, lips parted for slow, even breaths. His hands lay almost primly atop Slytherin green velvet, lacking the signet ring Draco knew so well. "Father..." he breathed, mouth trembling slightly with no small amount of horror. He slept, like something out of some twisted fairy tale, and the urge to turn away was unbearable.

"With the letters to you, and the occasional use of polyjuice potion, I've convinced the Minister of Magic that his spell failed," Severus murmured in a tired tone. "And to make the charade easier on myself, I have withdrawn the resources of the household into this area." Those dark eyes focused on Lucius, studying him as if to note any change. "I'm trying to find the conditions that will release the spell."

"Then you'll need me," Draco decided firmly, not wanting to look at Lucius anymore. He turned away, twisting in Severus's arms to face him, to bury himself against the older man. If he couldn't see it... "So that the two of you can be seen together. So that no one becomes suspicious. And perhaps..."

"And perhaps...?" Light prodding was all he dared to do with the boy bundling himself close. Perhaps Draco thought he could hide, could hide what he felt and thought, but Severus knew. From having known Draco for as long as he had, and from his own tangled thoughts on the matter, he knew.

"And perhaps to do what needs to be done." There was no hiding that fact, was there? It was Malfoy family history at its worst, son avenging father in so many generations. If it became necessary, Draco would kill Cornelius Fudge without a doubt.

"Mm." Noncommittal agreement. Draco found himself being pulled to the study, and turned loose to sit down on a leather couch. "Tell me, had the last letter been tampered with?"

"It had been read," Draco admitted, taking in a deep breath. "The ink was green. I had the book of revealing spells you gave me my last year of school." He looked at Severus as if for approval. "I found one that worked, and came immediately."

There wasn't any need to tell Draco that the corresponding concealing spell had been chosen for that very reason. "Good. It's good... that the note has been read. Perhaps Lucius and myself should make an appearance in public and see where this leads."

"All right." It wouldn't be strange to appear as his father; he was accustomed to fear and respect, accustomed to white-blond hair slicked back from his forehead, long legs and pale, slender hands. It would be very much like being himself, only more powerful.

Draco enjoyed power.

"I've been tinkering with the polyjuice potion once more," Severus added, as he moved to the desk to pulled out a bottle of glittering green whiskey. Both of them could use that sort of drink in that moment. "Four hours before another sip is needed."

"That would be plenty of time to be seen, to make the necessary appearances. Even if I begin to change back," Draco murmured, "I'd have a moment or two to get out of sight since we aren't that different from one another." They'd often been compared to twins. Some had even accused Lucius of cloning himself.

"You can carry an extra vial on your person," he pointed out. Two glasses were conjured up from who knew where in the house, and Severus poured the drink to the brim of both. "Have some, Draco."

Draco took the glass gratefully and drank from it, the burn as it slid down his throat to pool warmly in his belly making him hum. "Eight hours. A full day. Fudge will be furious. What if he tries again?"

"I've come up with potions for that, too -- remember that I've been parading around as your father since you left, Draco. I'm not fool enough to leave myself open for the man to take a second try." Parading around as him, writing letters as him -- living Lucius's life for him as the older Malfoy slept.

"I should have known." Once, perhaps, Draco would have laughed. Of course Severus had made protective potions. The man was even more paranoid than the average Slytherin, and it had always made him smile. He couldn't bring himself to do it now, though. He took another sip of heated whiskey, listing slightly towards Severus where the dark-haired man stood.

The other man settled down on the opposite end of the couch at last, bringing the bottle with him as he sat. "Your father never believed these things were necessary..."

"No," Draco agreed, "but Father was... well, he *thought* he was invulnerable." He sighed. "Oh, Father..."

"I know. It was one of the house-elves who sent for me the very day that he fell under it -- he'd trained it to find you or I if something were to happen. A pity that paranoia didn't stretch farther." Severus was taking languid sips of the drink, eyes almost heavy on Draco. It was good to have company that could carry on a conversation in decent English, good to have someone there who knew the charade.

"When will we do it?" Draco asked him quietly. "Go out together, I mean."

"Tomorrow, perhaps." Severus let himself contemplate that, glanced over to where the caldron of polyjuice bubbled and burbled with its half-life. "Yes, tomorrow. Lucius Malfoy and Severus Snape will go to the Ministry building and stir up trouble. Snape will request a renewal of his research grant for wolfsbane, and Lucius will simply be himself." It was a pity that he'd been playing games of the personality for so long that the two blended and wove for Severus, distinct things that almost weren't him.

"If we go tomorrow, then I should go to bed," Draco decided simply. "It was a long trip home, and I'm tired." He wished he had something to take his mind off of his father. With care, he slid his fingers into Severus's, draining the glass of whiskey before setting it aside.

A light clutch at first, then Severus's other hand -- the bottle levitated back to the desk after a moment's murmur -- closed over the back of Draco's fingers. "Just lay down here, Draco. I'll see to it that you rest well." He would have to have the house-elves expand the space more, to make room for a second bed without leaving the space cramped.

"You're afraid if I go up, someone will..." Come in, go after him, hit wizards or something of that nature.

"Why do you think that I've withdrawn most of the house here? Your father used to do it when times were bad, do you recall?" Or perhaps he didn't recall. Lucius had a way of weaving spells like that, to fit a house within the house so that it was unnoticed. But Severus had better, more important things to devote his energies to.

"I never noticed if Father had done it." It was true, he hadn't, and why should he? Lucius had always protected Draco from things that he didn't believe his son needed to know, even if he often indulged him in ways he likely shouldn't have.

"When you step from here back out, you'll feel a slight tug, as you would with a portkey. That's how you know it's being done." Severus pulled at Draco a little, with the hand he still barely held. "Lay down and sleep, Draco. Tomorrow promises to be a long day."

With a sigh, Draco wound his fingers tightly. "Yes, Uncle Severus," he said softly, agreeably. He didn't want to go to bed alone. He wanted Uncle Severus to go with him. He wanted his father to awaken.

The agreeableness was pressed and used, Draco pulled and tugged to lay down on the sofa until his head was resting in Severus's lap. The older Slytherin began to weave a light sleeping spell immediately.

Blond lashes fell to cheeks still soft with youth, Draco sighing quietly as he gave in to Severus's binding. There was no shame in giving in, not when he was so very tired, and soon he was just as deeply asleep as Severus had hoped he would be.

And then silence reigned in that space. The house-elves kept themselves busy, and quiet spelled in the kitchen, Lucius lay in heavy slumber in his bed, and Draco stretched out onto his lap, warm and comforting. He decidedly would wake up with the breaking of dawn. More content and at ease than he'd felt in months, Severus leaned back some to let his head loll against the rear of the sofa, and spelled himself to sleep, too.

Waking up was an interesting process for Draco Malfoy. He never awoke the way his father did, eyes opening, instantly aware. Instead, he seemed to float himself awake. It was rather like the very pleasant swimming he'd done while in the Mediterranean, warm, relaxing, comfortable. He came to consciousness by slow degrees, and by the time he opened his eyes, he was invariably smiling and drowsy, not quite ready to wake fully yet.

He was vaguely aware of a spoon clinking around within the confines of a glass, rather close to him. The rustle of cloth, and the squeaking protest of a chided house-elf came as well. It seemed rather normal until he made his eyes focus on the fire-lit space.

"Morning." It was the best he could do as yet, a husky greeting to the dark man stirring at a vial with careful eyes. For a moment, he'd thought it might be his island boy, and more than his awareness had stirred, but it was Uncle Severus after all. He certainly wouldn't appreciate such a reaction, Draco was sure.

"Did you sleep well?" Severus was already dressed, an empty cup of coffee resting at his elbow, idle in that stirring. He'd freshly cut away a few snips of Lucius's hair, and was mixing it and the spare vial for Draco.

"Mmmm," Draco agreed with a hazy sort of smile. "Mmmhm. Were you with me all night?"

"Yes. I have the house-elves bringing a bed in for you while we're gone today, as I suspect you would prefer that to the sofa." He set the vial in a wooden stand on the table between the sofa and his chair, and then moved to get the breakfast tray that was waiting for Draco. "Hungry?"

Oh, he was definitely hungry, even though his thoughts were momentarily preoccupied with the wistful desire to remain on the couch forever if it meant Severus would stay with him. "Starving."

"Eat up. I don't suggest that you eat much while in the Polyjuice-induced form, due to the fact that it could shorten the time of effectiveness." Severus carried the tray over, a wince tugging at his lips. "A kink that I've yet to work out of it."

"I'm sure you will, given time," Draco said to him, smiling up as he took the tray from Severus and sat it in his lap. Tea, eggs, bacon, scones, lovely enough sort of breakfast. One hand rose to try and force his hair to lay down upon his head. He was sure it was waving wildly about after sleeping so well. "I hope we'll *have* the time."

"We will." Severus sounded so sure of it, looked so sure of it. That was the same almost heady firmness of conviction that his father often showed, and it made Draco feel somewhat better.

"How many times have they made attempts?" the blond asked, biting into a crisp strip of bacon.

"Attempts to what, exactly?" Severus asked carefully.

"To kill you," Draco replied flatly.

"As whom? Posing as your father, or simply as myself?" Which left Draco open to assume that it had happened both ways, and would no doubt happen again.

"Both," the younger man decided succinctly, looking across at the Potions master with eyes that demanded an answer, the same grey iron that his father's would turn when he wanted something.

"Two, three times as your father. Four or five as myself." His eyes looked tired as he twisted away a moment and gestured for a house-elf to get him another mug of coffee. "The attempts on Lucius, of course, are more heavily intentioned. Various ministry people have always thought it fun to drop a little poison or some liquified curse into a pleasantly offered cup of tea. Just to make sure that I haven't lost my edge."

The dark expression that shadowed Draco's face wasn't suited to it. "So much for the side of light," he grumbled, picking at his eggs. "You should have rested longer, Uncle Sev. You look tired."

"It's of no matter. I've been a little tired these last few weeks, but I'll recover." Or act as if he were, which was almost one and the same. "Yes, and so much for the side of light."

"When Father awakens..." When, not if. "I'm sure he'll want revenge of his own."

"He will." Severus cradled his cup in his hands for a moment, contemplative. "He'll change things, I'm sure of it. When he becomes the minister."

When he became the minister... That had always been Lucius's dream, even before Narcissa had died and they had let the Potter boy go so easily as if he hadn't killed her at all, as if her being wife and mother to Malfoy men made her somehow less human than others. Draco hated them as much as his Father did. "I suppose. I hope he does."

"Fudge spelled your father the way he has because he's aware of a shift in support away from himself. People are disillusioned now that the war is over, and wonder where their money has been going, what with all of these groups within the ministry proper sorely unfounded despite the tithes and donations."

"I don't suppose any of them have thought to look to the raising of Potter's house at Godric's Hollow, or the recompense because that idiot Fudge didn't give Sirius Black a trial," Draco muttered. "God forbid they realize that Fudge himself has been siphoning off funds for years and Father's been replacing them out of pocket."

"It will come out, in time." Severus seemed patient enough on the matter, as he almost idly twisted Lucius's signet ring from his hand. "Here, you'll want to wear this."

"It seems sacrilege to wear it," the blond said softly, slipping it only his hand. "I'm not supposed to have it until Father is dead." That seemed a terrible thing, really, too close for comfort considering the way Lucius slept so nearby.

"Consider yourself an emissary of your father until we find how to lift the curse." Severus inclined his head towards the bed where Lucius lay, even as he lifted his mug to his lips. "You must wear it once you drink the potion."

"Of course. It just seems as if I'm accepting him as being dead already instead of bound in sleep," Draco sighed.

"If you and I can't find out what breaks the curse, then he may as well be dead. And, perhaps even when we find out what it is... it could be something as simple as an alignment of the planets that's years in the future."

"I'll cut it out of Fudge if I have to," Draco answered him grimly, and he would. He would do whatever Severus told him to do, and Severus knew that it was true.

"It may take that." Grim truth again. Grim, grim and grim, everything seemed so hopelessly grim in that moment. "We'll see. If it becomes necessary, you and I will Apparate back here and discuss it quickly."

"Yes, Uncle Severus," Draco murmured, lifting his cup and drinking deeply from it.

"I hope it does not, however..." Severus rolled his shoulders, as he paced towards his workshop section. From there, Draco could hear bottles and vials clinking and being moved about.

"I'll do as you think best, of course." There had never been any question of Draco obeying Severus or his father. He did so unfailingly. "I don't know that there would be very many other ways to get the information from him. I trust you haven't been able to sneak any Veritaserum into him."

"I'm trying that today." Severus could be seen slipping a slender vial up his sleeve, tucked against the inside of his arm along with his wand. "He's going to cut my funding today, I'm sure, but we'll have to 'discuss' it over tea first."

"Of course." Cut funding also implied a certain loss of ability to get the necessary potions ingredients, not because Severus himself lacked money, but because several of the substances were controlled.

"Two protective potions, Draco, and two vials of polyjuice." Held out to Draco in one hand, separated by one long finger slipped between the two bunches.

He took them wordlessly and rose from the table. "I'll change into some of Father's clothes first," he decided, moving smartly towards the small chiffarobe nearby. "We'll be leaving very shortly, I presume."

"Yes. I let you sleep in longer than I should have." But it worked to their advantage to be out and starting a day later than most people. It was fitting of what people expected of them; those rich, lazy, old-blooded wizards...

"Of course," the boy agreed, fidgeting shortly through the small wardrobe and fetching out some of his father's favorite things -- dark grey trousers and a white shirt, a pull-over sweater of deep green dyed cashmere to accompany it and the soft silken black of Lucius's favorite robes. "It will only take a moment," he promised, and began shucking off clothing easily enough.

The retired professor watched with almost lazy eyes, soaking up the sight of Draco Malfoy, Lucius's frighteningly similar son, dressing himself as Lucius would. It sent a frisson of familiarity up Severus's spine. He had to admit, watching Draco's movements, that the boy was a boy no longer.

By the time he was dressed, hair slicked back, the similarity had become more worrisome than ever; aside from the scanty upward tilt at the end of his sharp nose, the slightly bluer grey of his eyes, the lack of lines around his mouth and nose, Draco Malfoy was almost identical to his father. "Shall we, Severus?" he asked softly.

Even if the polyjuice potion failed at any point in the foray, it wouldn't cause them much trouble. "The protectionary doses first," he cautioned lightly, holding his own in his hands as he made sure that Draco took his first.

It was easy enough for the boy -- man. Small, quick swallows and they were done, that nose wrinkling in distaste as a little shudder worked down his frame. "Ugh. You still haven't found a way to make them taste any better, I see."

"Secondary to the protective properties," Severus dismissed lightly, as he took his three vials in quick succession.

"That's so typical you, Severus," Draco said with a soft laugh, tilting the third and final necessary vial to his lips, the vague shimmer that came over him as he changed adding lines to his face, darkening his lips slightly, changing the color of his eyes in the smallest of ways.

For a moment, Severus stared at him openly -- watched as the lines of stress and age wore themselves quickly beneath his eyes, at the side of his mouth. Still beautiful, though, and it made it all the sharper to Severus's mind what Lucius had looked like when he was Draco's age. And, just perhaps, the nose grew a little larger.

"Say something -- make sure you sound as... pompous as your father acts to the ministry officials."

"Of course Father sounds pompous with ministry officials," Draco declared. "All Malfoys are far superior to that lot of incompetent dragon spoor."

Severus was sure that his smile twitched towards a satisfied sneer. "Good -- then we'll Apparate there, Draco."

Draco took his hand, and they were gone.

The Ministry was, more than ever, absolute chaos in motion. It seemed that the lack of leadership also created a lack of organization, and Draco couldn't help but sniff with disdain, shooting a passing Weasley a look that made the ginger idiot puff up as if he was some sort of cat. "You there," he drawled. "Fetch Fudge."

"Excuse me, Mister Malfoy, but--" Percy Weasley was easily cut down by the look Severus gave him from where he stood beside Lucius.

"I want to know where he is, Mister Weasley. I have a meeting with him at half past."

Percy's mouth was a pretty pout as he turned about sharply, obviously fuming. "This way, then, Professor, Mister Malfoy."

"I'm sure he's already waiting for me." Arrogance and a vague hiss to Severus's voice that declared there would be a loud fit raised if the minister wasn't.

"We can only hope, Professor," Percy replied, stomping along in front of them.

"Fudge is a poor excuse for a pureblood wizard," Draco declared scornfully with his father's voice, chin notching upwards. "He can't even control his office, much less the political mess which currently abounds."

"You and *I* already know that, Lucius," he drawled in a bored tone --

as if that decision had been reached between them four or five hundred times already. "It's the rest of these perfect *fools*..."

"Ahem." The Weasley cleared his throat, and while his face appeared disapproving, his eyes held a reluctant agreement. "We're here. Sirs."

"Of course, Weasley," Draco murmured, drawing out a Galleon and tossing it towards Percy before he walked right into the office, pausing only to open the door.

"You likely need that," Severus murmured to Weasley. The pay fiasco was well known, where Gringotts refused to allow the ministry to directly deposit payment into their employees vaults because so much of the money had been worthless and magicked. He slipped into the room itself, eyes scraping over it all immediately.

"Snape. Mal.."

"Yes, yes, Fudge," Draco cut him off sharply, moving to seat himself quite naturally in the most comfortable chair in the room, abandoning the ones near Fudge's desk. It was typical of Lucius to force others into his comfort zone, and taking the large wingback chair in the small settee grouping which was obviously meant for Fudge himself was at the least very amusing for Draco. "Come along, then."

Severus chose the next choicest one, leaving the minister to sit in the chair that remained. "Now, Fudge, you should perhaps cut to the point of why I'm here." In the same room with the selfsame Lucius Malfoy that Fudge had tried to do away with.

"Of c-course," the jittery Minister began. "You know that we've been having some f-funding problems..."

"Oh," Draco sniffed. "Is that what you call them?"

"I know about your funding problems, Fudge," Severus murmured, glancing around for a moment. "In fact, I've noticed them. Not even bothering with the formality of a cup of tea, are we? I'd like a glass of water before you rattle on any further about your funding problems."

"Let me summon some tea for you!" the Minister said with a sudden fervor, and Draco knew that it would be poisoned when it came.

Severus seemed uncaring of the idea, past a want to slake a thirst that Draco knew was false. "Then by all means, Minister, do."

"I'm sure we'd both *love* to sip tea with you," Draco murmured, wormwood bitter underneath his father's voice. "Particularly since the notion seems to cease your useless stuttering and stammering."

"Of course, of course!" A quick ring of a bell brought around a house-elf, sharp orders given to bring the tea tray responded to with alacrity. "There, there, that's all done, then, and we'll discuss your f-funding."

"Really, Fudge, there's dust an inch thick in here. You can't even be bothered to use a cleaning charm?" Draco asked, nose wrinkling slightly in distaste. "Draco's letters from the continent are cleaner than this room even after having spent several days upon an owl."

"I'm sure it's because the minister doesn't entertain guests here often," Severus drawled in a voice that dripped with mocking acid. "Or spend much time here. A busy man such as yourself, Minister, surely must not worry about cleaning?"

"Of course, of course!" Fudge didn't seem to hear the meaning behind Severus's words, or perhaps he was simply ignoring them on purpose. "I'm sure that Mopsy will be back along soon with tea..."

"Back to matters of finance and Severus's funding, Fudge," Draco said pointedly. "As tea is on its way."

"I understand the difficulties the Ministry is having with money -- particularly now that Gringotts is so... displeased with the ministry," Severus sneered lightly. "However, cutting off my sponsorship does the world of magic no good."

"True, true, but there's simply no money to give you!" Fudge protested.

"If you cannot fund such important research, one wonders how you manage to fund such things as the purchase of a home for someone such as Sirius Black," Malfoy sneered.

"Such a lavish home, too -- it doesn't hurt that he was tossed into Azkaban without a trial, but so were many of us," Severus muttered, barely glancing up as a house-elf scurried in. "Things are starting to fall down around your ears, aren't they, Fudge?"

"Your insinuations are *highly* unwelcome, Snape," Fudge began stiffly only to be interrupted by Draco.

"They're not insinuations, Fudge. They're accusations. Someone ought to take you to court for this mess, and I do believe that I will do *exactly* that," the young man said in excellent imitation of his father.

"Or take you to the court of public opinion -- your own staff, Fudge, is ashamed of what you've done to a fine institution." Severus reached for the teacup that the house-elf had brought, held it in his hands for a moment, then stood and shifted it to one careful hand that held it over the rim so that steam hit his palm. "Here, Minister. You can drink this one, since your house-elf had so apparently intended it for me."

"I, I, I don't think I'm very thirsty," Cornelius Fudge gulped.

"Oh, I think you'll find you're mistaken about your thirst, Minister," Draco informed him dryly, wand drawn. "Drink the tea."

"Don't worry -- if there's something wrong with it, I am a trained potions Master," Severus drawled, thrusting it at Fudge smoothly.

Draco would have laughed if he had been himself. Instead, he simply smiled thinly and kept his wand carefully pointed at Fudge. "We're waiting," he said, amused to see the man swallow hard and then drink from the cup reluctantly.

"Now, you'll want to take this, as I'm sure that was poisoned," Severus murmured, reaching just inside the collar of his robes to pull out a delicate looking vial. "Though I don't really believe you're worth the effort, Fudge."

The man was altogether too trustful; he took the vial gratefully and gulped it down, whimpering slightly at the taste once it was done.

"Ye gods, man," Draco said with distaste. "You're not an animal. At least *try* to behave subhuman since you obviously cannot behave as a grown wizard!"

"Now, Fudge -- I've a few questions to ask you," Severus drawled, moving to sit down again with a particularly satisfied sneer on his face. "What curse did you try to cast on Lucius, again?"

"Well, you see, er, that is to say...." He couldn't avoid the question. "It's a Merlin curse. I wanted him out of the way, though he obviously didn't succumb..." As if that had ought to count for something.

"And what are the conditions of this 'curse' supposed to be?" Draco sneered. "Did you try to think up something suitably impossible?"

"Or did you go by some star alignment or other far-flung objective?" Severus had feared for a moment that the serum wouldn't work -- but of course it would work. He'd brewed it, after all.

Fudge gulped. "His son...."

"What about his son?" Draco asked sharply. The man was wringing his hands, fingers twisting together rapidly.

"Y-you and your son, you must commit the foulest atrocity. Someone m- must die by your hands, but no more than one of you c-can be present," the cowardly fellow stuttered.

"Who?!" Severus jolted to his feet again, ready to shake the words from the stammering man if that was what it would take. "And how. I want every detail you have, Fudge!"

The man was sniveling softly, face screwed up into an almost ratlike demeanor. "You," he squeaked out. "You, Snape!"

"Me, hmn?" His serum didn't lie, and Severus's bland expression stayed just as bland as he looked to Draco-in-Lucius's-skin. "Why me, Fudge?"

"Because I knew they couldn't do it!" Fudge blurted. "They'd never kill *you*, Snape. Malfoy here's lusted after you since you were in school together, and that brat of his lusts after you still!"

"Dallben's sake, man, get hold of yourself," Draco murmured, reaching out to slap him firmly. "You're hysterical." He was also right.

"Good," Severus snarled, turning away and starting to rummage through flat pockets. "Good, let him be hysterical. Let him run around in circles, Lucius. After what he d-- tried..." His hands started to shake as he kept rummaging, pulling out a knife from inside one sleeve -- a little, useless looking blade -- and two small flasks. "Here, Lucius, cut a piece of his hair."

With care, Draco took the knife and the flask that was offered and reached for the cringing Minister. "You asked for this," he reminded the man sharply as he took care of the matter, cutting his hair and beginning to mix the grey touched things into the potion with decisive flicks of his wrist. "And you get what you ask for, dear man."

Severus ripped out a few long strands of his own hair with a faint flinch, and dropped them into the flask he still held, swirling it carefully. "We wouldn't deny the minister that, would we, Lucius? In fact, I believe the minister will be escorting you entirely off of the property."

"What are you going to do!?" Fudge babbled, shaking his head. "No, no, you can't harm me, I'll call out, people know you're here...!!"

"Yes, I suppose they do, but still. But still," Draco purred, "there are ways around that, are there not?"

"It isn't as if we're common Muggles," Severus drawled, still swirling the flask that he'd dropped his own hairs into. "Swirl his hair into it more, Lucius -- and I'll give him this."

"Here..." Draco lightly held up his flask to the light. "I think they've dissolved."

"What are you going to do with me!?" Fudge bleated again, begging.

"Just drink this." Severus thrust his own flask at Fudge's lips once he'd gotten near enough, and made the man take a great swallow of the potion.

"No!" It was a fine time for the man to go stubborn, bits of the potion frothing from his mouth until Draco reached over and firmly clamped his nose shut with fine-boned fingers.

"Swallow or die," he clarified.

Fudge swallowed.

Severus watched blandly as Fudge changed before his very eyes into a mirror image of himself. Exactly what he would look like if he ever went into a screaming panic, that is. Thoughtfully, Severus drank his own dose of polyjuice, and drawled in Fudge's obnoxious voice, "Kill him, Lucius."

"With pleasure," Draco purred, wand nudging at Fudge's temple.

"No, no, no!" the man screamed in Severus's voice, shudders rippling through him. The wand was just a distraction for the knife that slid upward into his diaphragm, spilling scalding, sticky blood over Draco's fingers in heated little gobbets.

Severus was oddly calm as he pulled the very mirror image of who he was off of Draco's knife, and washed the blood away from Lucius's clothes with a shortly uttered spell. "And that is that."

"And what if it isn't?" It was only afterwards that Draco was shaky, hands trembling.

"Then you'll kill me," Severus murmured flatly, in Fudge's voice. "Let's Apparate away, now."

The urge to argue was written on the boy's face in fear and fury, but he didn't. He only nodded firmly and agreed. "Yes," Draco whispered. "It's time to go."

There were things at the Manor that would reverse the polyjuice potion, things Severus had already brewed. He almost wasn't looking forwards to going back. There was a vague sense of failure, of knowing that he would soon die so that the curse could be lifted from Lucius.

Mouth set in a firm, dark line, he reached for Draco's hand with his foreign fingers, and lead the Apparation back to the Manor.

It was dark when they arrived; while it was possible to Apparate *from* the point where Lucius lay, it was not possible to Apparate *to* it. They walked together, hand in hand, down shadowy corridors that led towards Lucius, both of their hearts heavy and dull with a strange, gleeful sort of fear. Fudge was dead. Lucius would live. They knew what the Merlin curse was, after all.

"He may still be sleeping -- a real sleep, Draco. Shake him a little, and I'll reverse the polyjuice's effects..." Severus had to keep moving, to keep active with goals to keep him from lingering in dread outside the door to the space. He flung it open, eliciting a frantic noise from a house-elf.

"Uncle Se..." The breath caught in Draco's throat as his own polyjuice potion wore off, leaving him decidedly dizzy. If that hadn't done it, the stench of blood in the room very likely would have.

Blood, the room was seeped with it and the frantic sobbing hysteria of the house-elves. As if...

Severus entered the room further, almost diving for his workspace in the far corner of the pocket, downing the reversal bottle quickly. Only then did he turn to see where the blood had come from.

The bed upon which Lucius had lain was drenched; even the sheets dripped onto the floor with the amount of sanguine liquid that poured loose from the thin pale body upon the bed. It was obvious how he had died, the thin knife-wound to the gullet undeniable, and equally obvious that he had not died immediately from the words that were painted upon the wall with fingers and bodily fluid.

"U-u..." Draco couldn't even get out his name, only a faint moan that followed the attempt.

"Don't look." Severus's voice, his own once more, was a strained hiss as he pulled the young man near to him, turning his head away from the gruesome sight before them. It wasn't the blood, so much as the knowledge that their own actions, Draco's own blade and his own orders, had caused so much blood.

Who would have thought that Fudge would link himself to his victim?

Who would have thought that Lucius would curse either of them to such a thing....

Severus let his eyes drag over the writing on the wall, swallowing as he clutched Draco nearer to him. "Shhh. Whimmy, clean that up. *NOW*."

He wouldn't need to see the writing on the wall to know what the curse was. The words were engraved into his mind after one quick glance, archaic, twisted, vicious letterings dooming them both in a fell swoop of words. Trapped together until their mistake was amended.

Only there was no way to make amends to a corpse.

There was no way to make a death come undone.

"Forever," Draco whispered, horrified, *terrified*. "We're here... *Forever*!"

"Perhaps..." Severus clutched at a thin glimmer of hope, and quickly growled at the house-elf to preserve Lucius's body with a spell. There was his workshop at their disposal, and the library...

"Perhaps, Draco," he picked up again, grimly, kissing the young man's cheek for a brief moment. "And perhaps we can amend the situation."

"No," the boy whispered, shuddering against him. "No. We never can..." So much blood, and surely Lucius's soul would have taken flight immediately...

He swallowed again, letting that feeling of dread sink in once more. "We'll write letters, to the outside..."

To the outside.

"Uncle Severus," Draco said, mouth pulling into a sharp frown. "Uncle Severus, the house-elves are singing again. Do make them stop."

He looked just like Lucius. Years had passed and lines had marked his mouth, his eyes, lightly wrinkling them. Something else lingered behind that silver gaze, though, that Lucius had never shown.


Severus closed his book as he looked up, mouth drawn into a tight, miserable line. "They stopped singing half an hour ago, Draco. Do sit down and stop pacing." His voice sounded vaguely desperate, and he looked it as he followed the other man with his eyes.

"Oh." Draco seemed nonplussed by that. "Oh. I thought I heard them again. It's driving me mad, you know, all of that gibberish. All of that singing..."

Most of it in his head. "You're already mad, Draco," Severus snarled dejectedly. He tossed his book aside -- read hundreds of times already -- and paced towards the blond man to grab him about his shoulders. "I'm bored again."

"Oh, please no." The younger man began to tremble, eyes turned liquid in sorrow. "Please, no." He had wanted it so badly to start with. So badly. Thirty years of isolation, though, thirty years of nothing but reading and trying potions and watching his father's well-preserved body lay in its bloody bed....

It started with a kiss, Severus pulling Draco back towards the sofa. The house-elves had long ago tossed curtains up around Lucius's bed, so that most of the time, except when morbid curiosity or paranoia overtook one of them, it was hidden from view. Severus sometimes thought that when the curtains were closed, Lucius sat up in the bed, spiting them. "Quiet. I love you, Draco, as I loved your father. Still do, for all that it's done us..."

"Please, Uncle Severus." Draco wasn't sure what the please meant anymore. Perhaps it meant please yes. Perhaps it meant please no. He couldn't remember just which, and it felt nice to be kissed, but it also felt so strange. His father's body was only feet away, after all.

"I wish you'd found that hind's blood, Draco," Severus sighed, kissing against the side of his mouth, starting to trail towards his neck. "That could've freed us... I could've used that. It's a pity."

The younger man gave a short sob, eyes tightly closed. "I'm sorry," he said, and he meant it. What he meant it about, who could say? "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry..."

"Shh. Have you checked our post today?" Asked even as he was making it half-impossible for Draco *to* check the post -- by laying him down on the sofa, pulling at his clothes idly.

"I, I could, I could check it now," Draco offered, words stumbling in his hurry to profess his eagerness to call the house-elves to fetch the mail. "Right now. We could, I could, this could wait..."

"There's always more time." Severus pushed himself back from Draco, making a vaguely demented laugh. Yes, there was *always* time, time to go slowly more and more maddened with boredom, writing letters to the outside begging for some daring curse-breaker to help them.

But thirty years had passed, and he doubted help would ever occur.

If only someone *would* come. If they'd just come and set them free, maybe the sobs from beneath him would be silenced and their growing insecure relation with reality would be replaced with something approximating normality. What good was it, having a wizarding world savior if the grand messiah never came to save anyone?

"Please. Please. Please. Please."

"Get the post, Draco." Severus let him up, perching back from the younger man. There was time, after all. And when he'd fetched the post, they could...

Draco scrambled out from beneath him, face damp with perspiration and what might have been tears, Severus supposed. He called for a house-elf and moved to the opposite side of the room, ordering the creature to fetch the mail even as he sat and trembled wildly, mouth shaking as he looked at Severus.

Severus had not aged a day.

Draco supposed that he had not, either. He had not grown, after all, not any more than he already had. There were wrinkles about his mouth and his eyes, but they were not from age. Instead, they were from worry; from fear; from growing insanity.

Severus looked back, reclining comfortably. "One good deed..." Returned pain. They'd tried to do good, hadn't they? Tried and tried, for all the good it would do them... "You should try writing to Potter again. He's minister now, isn't he?"

The hysterical little laughter that burbled from Draco's lips said that he was. "Potter would never come to help us. Never, never, never, never.." It was as bad as the house-elves' singing.

"Stop that, Draco -- stop that *now*," Severus snarled. He couldn't stand it when Draco repeated himself -- over and over again. In thirty years, it seemed that sometimes conversations played out exactly as they always had. Deja vu on an almost hourly basis.

The blond sobbed, taking Severus's words to heart. It always hurt when Severus snapped at him, and it seemed as though that was all he did anymore. It hadn't been so bad at first, had it? Draco couldn't remember anymore.

"Merlin." Severus muttered that, got up from his worn seat -- it had always been a favorite chair, though now it was a prison -- and crossed to Draco, pulling him close. "I'm sorry, Draco. You mustn't cry."

Shaking arms wrapping around Severus's shoulders, damp face pressed into his throat. "I just want, want, want things to be as they were. I wish I never came home. I wish I had never ever come home from Greece. It would have been better to die there!"

"Perhaps..." Severus swallowed, kissed Draco's temple lightly. It was his fault, he who'd thought he could play the ministry and save Lucius's life, but... Ah, but he'd wanted to live, hadn't he?

The crying ceased as a house-elf came in, screaming unintelligibly and lacking the post. "Dallben, I hate it when they scream," Draco whispered against Severus's ear.

"What is it, you daft elf?" Severus snarled, holding Draco a little closer so the young man wouldn't think the snarl was directed at him.

"IS PEOPLES!" the elf screamed hysterically. "IS PEOPLES IS PEOPLES IS PEOPLES!"

"Peoples?" Draco stirred, eyes huge in his face as he clutched Severus more tightly. The sudden realization that he was deeply terrified of being rescued swam through his mind.

"People?" Severus started forwards, pulling Draco with him. People coming *in* meant that the spell that prevented he and Draco from leaving, but let the house-elves move back and forth, had been broken. "Merlin, let's leave, Draco..."

"But what if it won't let us out!?" Draco croaked, clinging to him. He was afraid to leave, he was *afraid* to abandon Lucius's body, he was so terrified!

"Then we'll still be here, as we've *been* here for years!" Severus made Draco move, pulled him so that they stumbled together, towards the short hallway that was as far as they could go. "There's no hurt in trying..."

"I'm afraid," Draco admitted in a tiny voice. "I'm so afraid!" He didn't want to be pulled along, but neither did he want to be left alone, and so he moved with Severus despite himself.

"Hush, and we'll see if there's reason to fear." One door that they could open, and Severus flung it open and took a daring step forwards. If the curse still hung in the air, he'd find himself trapped for a few hours, before he was hurled back. Only this time, Draco was held fast in his arms.

"Oh!" the blond cried in blatant fear, shuddering as they made it past that barrier with a startling ease. That had never happened before! "U-uncle Severus?"

Severus stood there, still in the hallway for a moment, feeling Draco tremble. They were... out. Or, still within the house, but so close to free... "Hello?" People, there were people there, and they needed to see what they wanted.

"Hello? Is anyone here?"

"Maybe it's just house-elves. They probably died or something, so I suppose we ought to make a diligent search for their bodies..."

Draco gasped, fingers clenching at Severus's arm as he gave a soft whimper.


There were *people* in his house.

"We're here!" Severus still found the power and courage to call back, stepping forwards further. He was wary of the next doorway -- what if it decided to hold them, and they ended up trapped in that narrow hallway. "Help us, we're here!"

"Did you hear that?"

"Yes, it's this way!"

"I'm, I can't," Draco gasped, clutching to Severus in fear even as the two of them moved through the next door with ease. "Oh, Dallben!"

But he was pulled. Dragged, made to take a step and another step, and another step, Severus leading him on forcefully, as he'd led Draco into their predicament. "We're here!" He wanted to ask how the curse had been broken, how it was possible that they were stepping out of the hallway and into the vacant dusty halls of Malfoy Manor to be greeted by....

Harry Potter.

"Malfoy!" the green-eyed man said sharply, turning to look at the two of them. "Snape!"

"Here..." For a moment, Severus wondered who the man behind Potter could even be. His black hair was shot through with silver and there were wrinkles on his face. It couldn't be...

Perhaps it could. It had been thirty years after all, hadn't it?

Thirty years was a long time.

"Come and sit down," Black urged. "You can't be well..."

But they looked perfectly well. Perhaps a little wild around the eyes, but there wasn't a physical difference in either of them from thirty years ago. Severus swallowed, staring at Potter and Black openly, Draco still clutched to his side as if to keep him from running. "How... How did you break it? The curse, how did you break it? We've tried and tried for years to get out, years and..."

Desperately, Draco hid against him. Potter looked so OLD! Why did Potter look so old? Potter shouldn't look old! They were the same age! The urge to run over and caress the wrinkles off of his face and the hair going white at his temples was maddening. "How did you do it?" he whispered.

"We've nullified the magical field around the house..." Potter squinted at him, as if trying to reconcile what he saw with what he thought. "You... haven't changed, Malfoy. We expected to find your bodies, not you."

"We expected to never be found," Severus countered shakily, stepping forwards with Draco. He was eyeing Black cautiously. An age mate, but why didn't *he* have that white cast to his hair. Perhaps... with the magic of the house nullified, he looked thirty years older? But Draco didn't...

"You're lucky we found you at all," Black admitted. "We caught a rogue owl. He'd been dumping mail in a tree about two miles from here for so long the stupid thing was filled with parchment and ink. Everyone thought you'd disappeared when Fudge died."


"Father..." Draco moaned quietly.

"Shhh." Severus closed his eyes for a moment, then murmured, "It's... a complicated matter. We've been here... in there since then. Since Lucius died, cursed us both."

"In where?" Potter pressed lightly, stepping forwards. The closer he came to them, the more sure Severus was that he and Draco must've looked unnaturally young. After all, Potter looked slightly older than him. It was... wrong. "In a -- ah, that's why you were never seen." The minister of magic cast an idle spell that started to turn the house, much to all of their startlement, right-side in once more.

"Oh," Draco said, eyes wide and gleaming. "Oh. It's all where it had ought to be again."


All of it except Lucius's bloody, beautifully preserved body.

Black knelt down by him, touching the face gently. "He feels almost... Fresh," he said queasily. "Like..."

"Fudge," Potter murmured thoughtfully. "Just like Fudge is. We finally gave up trying to burn him, and just buried him."

"Lucius has been like this since..." Severus trailed off, taking a step nearer to the two of them. "You won't leave us here with it, will you? I can't stand to see it any longer..."

"It was the Merlin curse combined with Father's," Draco said faintly. "That has to be it, doesn't it? Oh, please, take it away, take it away..." His hands were beginning to wring together nervously. "Take it away, take it away, take it away..."

Black gave Potter a sharp look at that. "We'll take it away," he soothed. "It will be all right."

"We'll see to it that it's disposed. Why don't... the both of you leave here," Potter suggested, eyeing them both. "Someplace near the Ministry, where we can study this curse."

"You won't just keep us there? You won't just lock us away and not let us out again?" Now that Draco was out, there was no small amount of fear in him concerning being put back *in* -- *in* anywhere, it didn't matter.

"I don't think... that they will," Severus murmured uncertainly. "There's still a curse on us, I believe. You, I, we should be as old as them."

"No one will," Black promised, giving Potter another *look*.

Harry's lips thinned for a moment, but he seemed to not to that last look. "Come along, then -- it's best that we leave soon. It's hard to tell what else in this house will crumble with a curse of such strength ended."

"Greece was so much nicer," Draco sighed wistfully. "I liked Greece. There wasn't all of *this*..."

"Right, then," Black said with a nod. "Mobilicorpus!" Might as well get the elder Malfoy's body so he could be buried or something.

Severus nearly leapt out of his skin with fright, when Lucius Malfoy pulled upright. So pristine except for the blood, so perfect and caught on that almost cusp of death...

"Dallben, calm down, Snape," Potter cut in, eyes wide as he watched Severus flick his wand from his sleeve, ready to attack... something. The action made Draco cling to him in fear, winter-white skin flushing with the tinge of fear.

"It will be all right," Black muttered. "It's just a spell."

"Just a..." Severus trailed off tensely, clutching Draco nearer for a moment without any qualm. "Merlin, don't do that," Severus shuddered, casting a sharp conjuration spell that tossed a ratty cloth over Lucius's body.

"I don't want to see any more," Draco whimpered pitifully. "Never. Never!"

"Maybe we should stop by St. Mungo's..." the ex-convict said softly to the newest Minister of Magic. "At least for a bit."


"No." Severus started to move *away* from them, then, but not back the way that he'd come -- towards where he hoped the front door still would lay. "No, we won't be locked away again!"

"We won't lock you away," Sirius attempted to soothe, coming towards him, Draco still clinging tightly to the man's arm. That action only seemed to make things worse because Lucius's body floated with him and made the younger man cry out and clench Severus harder.

Severus was desperately glad he'd covered its face and upper body with that conjuration. "Let's leave now," Severus murmured a bit sharply, as if to say that where they were wasn't the place to be discussing the matter.

Harry nodded as they began to escort them out of the building. "Leave the body, Sirius. We'll just bring it down over him," he prompted.

"Poor Father," Draco whispered, and the way he shrank into himself as he said it made Potter shudder. He was like an attic flower, tucked away like the children in some Muggle book he'd read. It was... disturbing.

"Perhaps we should have left him sleeping," Severus mourned quietly, as they finally stepped through the dust and half-rubble of age, and tentatively walked out of the front door.

He'd forgotten what daylight looked like.

"Merlin," Sirius muttered behind them. "The sooner we bring this place down, the better."

"Poor Father," Draco was saying again blankly. "Poor, poor Father." It was, for lack of a better term, horribly disturbing.

"Yes," Harry murmured. Perhaps it *would* be a good idea to stop by St. Mungo's after all.

"Look up, Draco," Severus murmured, half-forcing the younger man to do just that. "We haven't seen that in some time, have we?"

"It hurts," Draco whispered faintly. "Uncle Severus... It hurts."

"You wrote about how much you loved it when you were in Greece." Severus's footsteps faltered as he stepped on a crumbling piece of the walk at the base of the house's flared stairs. They tumbled together, off-balance, Draco giving a moan as they came to rest on the grass. It was wet, and he didn't seem to know what to do, his fingers clenching momentarily at the dirt.

"Uncle..." he whispered. "It scares me." The dirt, the sun, the dampness of it. The strangers, so old, looking at them in horror.

"It's freedom," Severus chuckled weakly, closing his eyes for a moment. The dirt under one hand, the grass, was a wonderful feeling after the sensations of *inside* after so long. "Merlin, how I've wanted this..." He made no move to get up yet, and still halfheartedly kept Draco against him.

Fingers clutched at him tightly, Draco shaking against him. "I don't think I can be free anymore."

"Why not?" he asked almost idly, even as Sirius Black neared them both, ready to nudge at them with the toe of his boot.

"It's too awful," the blond whispered. It was sun and grass and sky, so much *SKY*. He had loved sky once. He had loved the sun. He had wanted to fly forever and a day and never come down again. He hadn't been afraid...

"You'll get used to it again." Severus's voice held a firm tone, that Draco *would* become used to it again, that he had little choice and that time would smooth it over for him. He started to sit up, pulling Draco with him -- moving before Black could nudge them.

"I want to go home," Draco sobbed, burying himself against the older man. The elves were singing again and he wanted to scream. "I want to go home. I want to go away from here, I want to go home..." He didn't know what he meant.

"We'll go home," Potter assured him gently. "I'll take you home. You have to step away, though..."

The ex-Potions master rose, and dragged Draco to his feet with him. His young man was like a rag-doll, limp and sad in his arms... He gave Potter a glance, as if trying to say with his eyes that he *knew* that there was something wrong with Draco -- and that he himself wasn't half so bad off. "Come along Draco," he goaded, even as he made the young man walk.

"You won't let the elves come," Draco pleaded with him. "You won't let them come. I can't bear it if they keep singing."

"Merlin in a hopped up sidecar," Black muttered. "He's completely fruit loops."

"Stuff it up your ass, Black," Severus snarled over his shoulder. "It's been thirty years -- thirty YEARS of being trapped with those damned elves, and they *did* sing."

"And sing, and sing, and sing, and sing..." Draco laughed. "And they never stopped. No, not even when you threw them against the wall and trampled them. Not even if you dissected them. They *just* *kept* *SINGING!*" he screamed, shaking his head. Too much open, too much *sky*, too much noise, and he needed to go somewhere quiet and hide so badly.

Potter seemed to sense it, or at least wanted to put an end to his panic. A quick casting of 'stupefy' sent the screaming man into silence, slumping more against Snape.

"Thank you, Potter," he mumbled to the slightly older man, as he shifted his arms around Draco to shift him up over his shoulder.

"We really should go by St. Mungo's," Harry muttered, eyeing both of them warily. "You know that, don't you."

"I refuse to go there. I am still Severus Snape, still in complete command of my facilities..." No, he was lying -- he was off balance, still unsure of the older Potter and older Black, frightened for Draco, wondering why he and Draco hadn't changed yet. The spell wasn't gone, of course, but... Would it ever go?

Some communication seemed to pass between the older men. "We could keep an eye on them," Black offered softly. "It wouldn't take much. And it would give us the opportunity to study the spell..."

"It would be worth studying. I don't look or feel a day older than I did that day..." That Draco had killed Fudge, on his order, that they'd doomed themselves to madness. "Some place quiet. I'm sure he can be re-accustomed to life..."

The looks on their faces said otherwise.

"We'll do our best," Potter promised him gently. "We should go now."

Severus cast a glance back over his shoulder, cheek resting on Draco's back for a moment. Home and Hell, twined together. Perhaps he'd started to lose his mind once he'd started to play at being Lucius. It was so easy to not be a part of what was going on... "Lead the way, Mister Potter."

With a nod, the Minister of Magic stepped forward and gestured his godfather with him. He laid hands on the two men trapped in time and snared so long in space, as well, and he activated the single portkey in his pocket.

Malfoy Mansion fell to the ground the moment they were gone.

Lucius Malfoy rested there forever.