The thick smoke of the battlefield still wrapped around them, scented with man-meat and that of dragons, goblins and centaurs, even the skittering, scrabbling remains of those bloody acromantulas Hagrid loved so.
Had loved so.
Weasley hated the things. That alone had been enough to make Draco love them, or at least hold a fierce *admiration* for them. They were horrifying on so many levels, and yet they cracked and burned and died right alongside everyone else.
Those who should die, and those who shouldn't. After a time, it was hard to mark who was ally and who was enemy. Smoke shadowed all faces, clung to skin and hair, adding the appearance through its haze of expressionless faces and hoods. So they worked in pockets of fighters, knowing it was most likely to prolong their lives. Wands at the ready, they moved through the seemingly impenetrable air and tried not to kill too many of their friends.
The tossing of curses and hexes became pointless, followed inevitably by the mark of sword and dagger and ugly hooked knives. These made it easier, for one could at least see the person one stabbed better than if one had thrown a curse at them. Severus Snape had kept one in the drawer of his desk in the Hogwarts Potions classroom that was terrifying -- one granted him at his initiation into the Death Eaters. These, then, did the worst damage. They slid in smoothly, but on the way back out, vital organs ripped and tore and necessary bits and pieces spewed out with the motion. It was disgusting.
Not that one could see anything disgusting very well by then. Hexes twisted bodies worse, and Snape prided himself that silly wand-waving could occasionally be beaten by a quick shove of one's arm, and then a jerk back. The blade was intricately magicked, and by the final hours of the fight, he was almost using it as a machete to clear the ranks. So many Death Eaters, and so many magical creatures that had without warning turned on them.
So many dead, sprawled only inches away from him, too. He wondered if Potter had actually managed to accomplish his task -- this 'little diversion' certainly wouldn't be worth it if he hadn't. It wasn't *worth it* even if he did. Such an incredible loss of life...
He twisted towards the whisper, surprised to hear it behind him. Two others from his small groups were advancing with him, but that voice...Snape faltered for a moment, slit the throat of a something that wasn't human even questionably, and twisted backwards to see who had fallen. Who was calling to him.
He couldn't make out the eyes through the smoke; it was all swirling grey, and the faint movement only gave away life. "P'rf'ss'r..." So disturbingly familiar. Something only used in public. It was no wonder he'd missed it at first.
He knelt then, trying to pick out one side of the body from the other. "Malfoy?" The younger one, *his* Malfoy, his loyal-- he'd just been behind him! Safe, behind him...
"Hur's." It was an unsteady whisper at best, and a word that Severus had never thought to hear from Draco in public. Malfoys, after all, did not admit to pain or any emotion at all.
Draco had always been different, though. For him.
"What hurts?" His own voice was unsteady, strained by shouting orders, and screaming hexes, and then snarling at his former friends and comrades as he slaughtered them. One hand patted over Draco's chest, as Severus hoisted him into his lap.
The mess became obvious when his fingers pressed momentarily over the wet, tangled mess of the boy's belly even as a dirt and tear-streaked face nuzzled into his throat. "It h-ur's." The word skipped with his pain.
His own assurance of being able to fix it caught and died in his throat, when his palm touched loose intestine, when his fingers dipped against dark blood. Nothing could fix that, not even the most skilled medi-witch in the world... "Shh. Shhh, we'll get you back to the school." He started to stand, moving his hand from that messy pit, letting Draco nuzzle against him. He would retreat from the field for that, and that alone.
Draco didn't fight with him; even had he felt well, he wouldn't have fought Severus's leaving. He hadn't wanted to be on that battlefield, hadn't wanted to go with the side of light, but he had done for the simple fact that he loved the Potions professor. "'s not good," he muttered into Severus's ear. "I can feel it all leaking out of me..." Dripping.
Wasn't there... "Suspendio." His voice strained at the spell, but it locked Draco's guts in place as he started to jog, and then run, towards the doors of the castle. It healed nothing, only spared Draco of some of the stranger sensations. "You'll be all right," he promised, panted back to the whisper in his ear.
"No," his boy disagreed, moaning against his ear. It was so familiar, a sound given in the depths of the dungeon late at night. "No, S'vrus. P'rf'ss'r..."
Someone tried to slit him open, just like they had the boy in his arms. It took a moment of stunned shock on both parties, once the badly aimed blade nipped his side, to see that it was the young Weasley boy, with a Death Eater blade in hand. There was no chance to snarl anything, or chide him. It was just an accident, and it barely delayed Severus on his way to hurtling into the main hall, which still held.
"I need a medi-witch!"
The cry went momentarily ignored; he could see why, the way that the dead and dying and injured were littered all along the floor, as far as they eye could see.
"D'n' leave me." It was a pleading whimper, one accompanied by a sudden short sob. Sweet Merlin above, just that sound was enough to make Severus's knees tremble, his heart scream wild in his chest.
"I won't..." His shaking voice betrayed that he feared it would be the other way around. Carefully, he picked his way through the fallen, dead and hurt, walking towards the little pocket of medi-witches he could see. It didn't matter if they had someone else there, if they were busy -- he was immediate, and he could demand attention for Draco.
"L've you." He meant it, too, Severus knew how he meant it from mornings spent in laughter and moans, and nights spent in kisses and passion. The way that those pale fingers curled against his neck made him tremble, and the color in Draco's face that seemed somehow nonexistent now made that tremor worse.
"Love..." He jerked his head up from staring at the murky mess of bowels, and Draco's pale dirty face. "Help me," he demanded of the medi-witch closest to him. "*HELP* Dr--Mister Ma-- him!"
"I can make him comfortable," the exhausted woman told him simply, looking up from her work. "No more. Not with a wound like that."
Not words he wanted to hear, but he nodded. "Then help how you can. You'll be all right, Draco, you will..." He wanted him to be well badly enough, didn't he?
The hot, trembling breath that caressed past his ear said that it wasn't true, but Draco didn't contradict him; he simply clung, arms lacking strength to do any more than they already were. "Wan' t' lie down. Wan'..." Even the breath for words seemed to be escaping him.
"There's a potion," the medi-witch said, handing Severus a bottle almost tenderly. "It will make the hurt stop for the remaining time."
He laid the boy down on the blanket that was laid on the floor, a little clear spot on the floor of what had been such a joyous great hall. "Just rest, Draco," Severus whispered, as he unstoppered the bottle, and dribbled it down Draco's throat. "I won't leave you."
That promise was more than enough for Draco, who gave a ragged sigh as the pain went away. "'ll miss you." It was the only thing he could think of to say, a hand reaching up shakily to pull at Severus's hair, to tug him down close.
"Draco..." He let him tug, until he was leaning down close to that familiar, now smoke-dirtied face. Severus couldn't help the kiss he pressed, soft and slow, to Draco's almost chill lips. They went slack beneath him after only seconds, and the hand fell to rest upon his shoulder, the life in the boy bled out from the wound in his belly.
Severus didn't move, and let his lips press to Draco's a moment more after that last breath had been exhaled against him. Dead, so unexpectedly, so... so simply. There hadn't even been a chance.
It wasn't fair. How could it be *fair* when he'd never had the chance to do all of the things he'd wanted to do with Draco? Always, *always*, things were taken away from Severus, always the things that he loved best. The scream at the back of his head felt as if it would burst through his sinuses if he didn't give birth to it.
It came out as a keening noise, hitched and muffled by sudden, unexpected sobs as he clutched the gutted corpse close to him. His lover, his sweet, malicious, wonderful lover, his *life*. It wasn't worth it, none of it had been -- and so he didn't care when someone told him to silence himself. He couldn't have done it even if he tried, couldn't have kept that sound back behind his teeth. His mind came loose with it, he could almost feel the separation. It was all too much, so much, and his heart imploded in that same moment.
The feeling of that constriction went on for hours, and so did the urge to cry and clutch his prized student close. It was only the sad murmur from behind him, as the headmaster put a hand on his shoulder, that even jerked him a little from his sorrow.
"Severus," the old man said tiredly. "You must come away now. Night has been and gone, and the battle is done. We'll have to bury him."
"You can't..." His voice, raw, cracked open, and he had to swallow a few times to go on. "You will not take him from me. He'll be... be better soon. He will, and I won't leave him."
"He's dead, Severus," Albus informed him very gently, reaching to stroke the locks of dirty hair that hid the Potions master's face. "He's dead, and you cannot stay with him anymore. He must be buried, along with the others, or we'll be rife with pestilence..."
"Is Potter dead?" Severus looked up at the headmaster -- clean robes that seemed to repel the grime of the battle stuck out the most to Severus. They were red, and gold. Gryffindor Victory?
"Harry has survived, Severus," was the reply, "and Voldemort has been defeated."
"It's not fair," he shuddered, ducking his head down to touch Draco's icy skin. "It's not fair that he's still alive. Why can't he be dead? He doesn't deserve to be alive still..."
"Life is not fair, Severus. Potions class is difficult," Albus sighed. "I'm sorry you have lost your favorite student..."
The weak attempt at a joke only made Severus shudder more, pressing his face against Draco's. "I'm not leaving him. He told me not to leave, and I can at least... attempt to do this for him."
"He *must* be buried, Severus," the Headmaster murmured.
"Then bury me." He looked up at the headmaster, and it was clear that it wasn't only his favorite student that had been lost to him.
"I cannot," the old man explained. "I cannot, Severus, for despite everything, you have not yet died."
Slowly, Severus started to shift to his feet, Draco still cradled close. The blood and mess against his own clothes didn't matter, or that it was made worse by his moving Draco. The containing spell that had been holding the guts inside of Draco's narrow abdomen was wearing away. "I won't just leave him... here."
"No," Albus agreed. "We'll make a fine bier for him. We won't even burn him, Severus..." That was tradition in the wizarding world, and certainly in families like Draco's. "You may visit him *every* day if you wish..."
"Every... every day?" He looked down to Draco's dirty face, kissed his mouth again with reverent slowness. So cold that even that slight kiss seemed to sap warmth from his own mouth.
"Every day," Albus promised. It broke his own heart to see the Potions Master so horribly affected. "He can be as close by as you like, Severus." With the appropriate spells, Draco Malfoy's gruesome death would even be possible to... if not ignore, then at least *overlook*.
Glamours had a use, after all. "Then I won't have to leave him." Severus turned towards the headmaster, Draco still cradled limp in his arms. "Are they all dead...?"
"Your children yet live, many of them," Dumbledore told him, assuming that he meant the Slytherins. "Others were, perhaps, not so lucky. The Gryffindors in particular have suffered heavy losses, as has the wizarding world as a whole, Severus."
"It still isn't fair." He walked nearer Dumbledore, waiting to be lead where the old headmaster wanted him to go with his burden. "I wanted him to live..."
"I know." The breath that the Headmaster gave was quite sorrowful. "Above all things, Severus, I find this regretful. He will be close by you, however..."
"A Death Eater killed him. Or someone with one of their knives." Someone like him. Someone just like him, someone who could kill in cold blood in that battle, one of his old comrades.
"I'm very sorry. It is, of course, possible that the man responsible lived; yet it is also highly unlikely that he did so." The blood that drenched the stones around them, that drenched Draco's robes, declared as much.
"Still too little, too late. I didn't teach him well enough..." And now Draco would never again loll on his mattress, or wake him up too early, or exhibit any one of a thousand endearing habits. Now he would lay still, and quiet as his death failed to be, and fail to exist.
"You taught him the best you knew how," Albus replied. "You taught them all, Severus. You cannot blame yourself for his death, for in truth, you are not responsible."
"He was mine to protect. Mine -- my responsibility." As had been his death. "He was right behind me, and I didn't see..."
The old man stroked his head tenderly once again before leading him deep into the dungeons. The Headmaster's expression was thoughtful, serious. "You cannot be expected to be everywhere at once, Severus. You are *not* at fault."
"I wasn't expected to be everywhere," he countered slowly, tiredly. The Dungeons were still home, and quieter than the rest of the castle; it would've been better to slip down into them once more with Draco at his side, instead of dead in his arms. "I was expected to be beside him. And I failed him."
"And he loved you, even if you could not save him." Dumbledore seemed so *certain*, so utterly and completely *sure*. "Ah. Here we are." Severus's rooms.
Severus let the headmaster pull down the wards and open the door. The room beyond wasn't remarkable; it wasn't sparse, or particularly decorated, it was simply lived in. There were little touches that the headmaster could have noticed, if he wanted, that said it was lived in by two people.
"That doesn't matter, Headmaster."
"Perhaps not," Albus agreed. "Where would you like to keep him, Severus? Perhaps here, so that you might sit with him, or perhaps in your office...?"
He wanted to keep him in his arms. The professor ducked his head down for a moment in thought. The bedroom where Draco had been so alive, so... no. No, he couldn't sully the too few memories he had. "My office," he decided quietly. He spent more time there than anywhere else, so he could be near Draco more. It made sense, in a way.
"All right, Severus." Such gentle agreement, as if he would break if Albus did anything that might be viewed as rough towards him!
But he wasn't sure; maybe he would break? Maybe he'd die just as Draco had, only it was his heart being pulled apart irreparably. Severus turned, and walked past the headmaster to go back towards his office, unmindful of the blood on his hands, or how Draco's guts were close to spilling from him, jostled loose by the walk down sets and sets of stairs.
"A moment, Severus..." The old man waved his wand, and Draco's insides settled themselves more deeply into his body, the lot of it sealing up with care as Dumbledore wove a spell about him to at least keep it from spilling on the floors. "There. The rest we can manage once you've put him down..."
"He was the best student I ever had. Better than anyone credited him for, so brilliant..." A fitting fixture for his office.
"I'm sorry you've lost him." Well, it was more or less true, though Severus was sure that Dumbledore didn't *truly* understand. The door to Severus's office was pushed open lightly before him. "Lay him where you wish his bier to be."
"Here..." Severus knew instinctively where to lay him. Just behind his desk chair, so it would be easy to twist around and touch and see his boy.
"All right." There was no discussion of how it might frighten and worry Severus's other students, nothing to say. Sweeps of Albus's wand cleaned the blond, settling him with glamours into what almost seemed to be a sleep. "There. There, Severus..."
Severus watched the bier form, too; it did look like Draco was simply sleeping. Eternally sleeping behind him in his office, there to join when his work was finished... He swallowed, glanced towards the headmaster. "Thank you, sir."
"You're welcome, Severus. I don't believe this is good for you. However..." A heavy sigh spilled from the older man. "However, if this is what you need..."
"This is what I need," he decided very mutedly, glancing back to his eternally sleeping companion. Sleep, sweet sleep... "Thank you, headmaster."
"My poor boy," Albus whispered, the sound of it gone unnoticed by Severus, his attention tightly upon Draco instead. "My poor, poor boy. This is all my fault somehow."
But Severus neither confirmed nor denied it; he was caught up in looking at Draco.
"I shall explain," Dumbledore offered. "To the other professors. To the students, if you like..."
Severus waved one hand in acquiescence, still not looking towards Dumbledore. "If you wish."
The feel of the old man's hand rubbing his shoulder was a momentary comfort, or something like it. "I shall leave you to your mourning, then, Severus. Know that if you need me, I will be available for you."
But he didn't let him know, ever. He never once asked the headmaster for help, or even hinted that he needed it as clearly as everyone knew he did. It didn't matter if he had, because what he wanted, who he wanted, was beyond his grasp save for the touch of his hand to cool, eternally sleeping flesh.
In time, they forgot who the boy was. In ten years, in twenty, there were whispers that he was someone the Potions master had poisoned. In thirty, there were murmurs of worse things. They never saw him at night, dozing in his chair with the blond's hand held tightly in his own. They never saw him weep and plead for the pretty young man to return.
They had never really seen either of them at all.