Thanks so much to Norbert1175 for the wonderful chapter image.
Author's Note: The Pagan festival Llamas exists and it is a happy celebration. It is only used here as a backdrop for the scene and it was never my intention to connect it with what will unfold in this chapter. The ritual that the character performs is inspired by mythology but entirely a product of my imagination.
Drizzles of rain crossed the myriad of pink, red and golden shades that coloured the horizon. It was a hot rain, a sticky rain that was oppressing and relieving all at once.
A beautiful woman, not yet past her prime, sat on a reading desk, an ancient and expensive mahogany desk. Her head hung forward, her mane of silvery blond hair eclipsing her once icy-blue eyes; eyes that were now swollen and so red that could almost be mistaken for those of the Dark Lord.
Sundown. 31st July, "Llamas". The Pagan festival that Muggles still celebrated by baking the first available wheat into a celebratory loaf, by thanking God for bringing them the harvest. Harvest, fruition, an offering... The lady's head rested upon a leather-bound book, a forbidden book that was wet with her tears. A book of union, of magical contract, a snake, a flame, the rite of ultimate passage, a book by whose instruction she was going to relinquish herself, without a get-out clause.
It was time. She took the last gulp of wine left in the silver goblet and commenced.
"Swhss, swhss" she hissed in a language she couldn't speak. She had cast the circle, conjured up the altar, a marble altar, white as snow, with a chalice above it - suspended by magic in mid-air - which contained drops of her own very pure blood. The circle was surrounded by symbols, by letters belonging to an alphabet she couldn't comprehend but had tried to reproduce.
This was no celebratory magic! She cleaned up the air and focused her energy. She could feel a shiver, her slender fingers shaking whilst she held up the chalice. She was offering; she was ready.
"Vritra, Ophion," she invoked. “Gods of fertility, regeneration and immortality, serpent gods, I call upon you. I call upon you to help me save what is most dear to me." She paused. “I give myself... to you, Master of the Dark, Conqueror of Immortality, I beg you... please spare him! I shall give you what I believe you have been longing for, I am willing to give myself to you, as the vessel.”
She gazed into the slits of the coiling snake with a sense of serenity she didn't have before. The serpent, long and slender, was now sitting up as if ready to strike.
She was becoming drowsy, intoxicated by the smell of the incense that burned inside the chalice. A thick silver candle dominated the circle, the flame, tall, silver and green...
"Now, you will take me, through the symbolic god, you will take me and I will continue your blood line, but please, spare the child I bore my husband!" she pledged, her irises glassy and opaque.
Her eyes became unable to focus any longer; she was falling, drifting into the abyss, spiralling down a black hole, which was swallowing her with a reckoning force. It was all getting dark, she was fainting... Something had gone wrong, there had been a barrier and it had been impenetrable... the Lord of Immortality had rejected her offer, it had been all for nothing.
Severus Snape had Apparated just outside the threshold of the imposing mansion and have proceeded briskly, cautiously trying to silence the echo of his quicken step, through the ample rooms of the seemingly deserted place, watchful for any lurking servant or for anyone else.
Finally, he arrived at the fated drawing-room. He blinked in disbelief, trying to get accustomed to the lack of light, his heart-beat rising alarmingly.
"WHAT THE HELL HAVE YOU DONE!" the man bellowed, looking with outrage at the inanimate body of the woman who lay before him completely naked, in a pool of blood.
"Evanesco!" he shouted. His eyes had now adapted to the darkness. He had gone very pale, as if drained of all blood, like the lady on the floor.
The serpent disappeared but not without a struggle. Its red eyes stared at him defiantly even as it vanished.
He would have shouted Lumos much sooner, had it not been for the fact that he didn't dare see what he was sure had gone on.
He darted towards the naked figure feeling utter disgust, revulsion like he didn't remember having ever experienced.
She had made the room bare for the ritual, there were no candelabra and the light of the receding sun found it hard to penetrate the blackness, even after the spell.
"Cissy! WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?" he roared startled, his facial expression denoting absolute horror. He took her pulse instinctively. She was still alive, but not for long.
Her body, white as the marble altar, had been drained of all blood, practically of all existence. It was pearly and untarnished, fragile and extremely elegant. He looked away and covered her with his own travelling cloak. He tried to clean up the blood, but only that on the surface seemed to react to his incantations. He presumed she was still internally bleeding.
He held her in his strong, muscular arms, involuntary tears flowning down his weathered and lined face. He tried to reanimate her.
"Narcissa, it's Severus. What have you done? Please, tell me that you haven't, that this is not true!” He was not a man who had ever been comfortable with emotions, never mind his own weeping. His eyes were so intent on reaching her that they looked as if about to come out of their sockets. He muttered something.
Narcissa Malfoy opened her grey-blue eyes, now deprived of all sparkle, very slowly.
"Cissy, did you know this could happen?" asked the man impatiently.
"Yes," she sighed very faintly. "Can you stop the bleeding?" she asked gasping for breath.
"I've done what I could, I promise, but I can do no more. You have gone way too far," he responded as he tried to help her to a sitting position.
"I'm cold," she muttered.
"You would be," said Severus supporting her with his strong right arm, now too shocked even to hold eye contact. "The bastard has made you bleed to death. It wasn't the snake, you have not been poisoned. The snake didn't bite you, he just rejected you." His eyes were now injected with a venomous fire, a fire that demanded justice, commanded retribution.
“Severus, am I dying?” she barely managed to utter. She was so weak that her face was scarcely able to convey any emotion.
This time, he thought, it was only fair that he looked at her straight.
“I’m afraid so,” was his concise, resigned reply.
“The Dark Lord did it, he blocked me from inside his mind; I know he blocked me. I did it for Draco. I’m willing to go as long as he is safe!”
Snape kept his gaze down and remained silent not willing to tell her that no, Draco wouldn’t be safe.
"Narcissa, you've been reckless in the extreme. You offered him to mother his child? You daft, stupid bitch!" Snape sounded angry, very angry, with her, with the Dark Lord and ultimately with himself, for the part that, unwittingly, he had come to play on this. He covered his face with his own hands and swallowed hard, his muscles tensed.
She nodded very weakly. He placed his hands upon hers, he took her pulse again, it was barely there. It was nearly time.
"Draco, I must see him...must say good-bye!" Narcissa was now weeping, becoming agitated.
"It's too late for that, Cissy, you haven't the strength; you wouldn't make it. I'll say good-bye for you, you have my word," Snape offered. "How about Lucius?"
"He's left me..." she just about managed to answer.
"I know he's left you. Now, do I say good-bye to him, for you?"
"Yes, please, Severus," she said softly, without any resentment.
"I will protect Draco. You remember? I made the Vow to you."
"Yes and thank you," she sighed falling again into semi-consciousness.
"Cissy, I think it's time to go," he said firmly, his eyes locked into hers, in truth not wanting to let go. "Look at the light, Cissy. Don't go to the dark, don't linger and don't turn back!" he commanded with urgency. "I'll help you do it!"
"But, but.... I need to see him... one more time!" she pleaded.
"DO NOT LINGER ON EARTH, GO! I'm with you!" he bellowed trying to give her the necessary strength.
"Good bye, Severus."
"Good bye, Narcissa Black."
He held her very tightly. The cloak had now fallen off her shoulders and the scene looked grotesque. Severus Snape clutching the inert naked body of the woman he had secretly loved, his reddened face partially obscured behind two curtains of black shoulder-length hair, his eyes bulging, his heart racing, sobbing and cursing like he would not have believed possible of anyone, least of all, of himself. To a bystander, it would have looked like something out of Shakespeare or the Classical Greek tragedies.
Again, he cursed the Dark Lord, he cursed Narcissa and he cursed himself. Perhaps, he should have done what she had first suggested, getting held of Draco's wand and arranging for someone else to murder her, so that her own son would not have to do it, but making it look as if he had, hoping to fool the Dark Lord.
Who would have done this, though? Bellatrix would never disobey her Master. He, himself? She had asked, that was true, but he knew in his heart of hearts that he couldn't do it; he would had never mustered what was necessary to effect the killing curse upon Narcissa Malfoy. His emotions for her had run far too deep. These emotions were never meant to reach the surface, were suppressed, buried in the most profound part of his soul, but, nevertheless, there.
In any event, Narcissa's ultimate desire had been to protect her son and, that plan, even if successfully executed, would have defeated the object all the same, for how was Draco to continue to serve in the ranks of the Dark Lord after hearing of those orders. How indeed? This would have placed Draco even in more danger, and for this he would have been in breach of the Unbreakable Vow. His own life would have been sacrificed for nothing.
What was he to do now? He reflected whilst pacing down the deserted corridors of Malfoy Manor, holding Narcissa's body, wondering where best set it to rest. Bellatrix Lestrange was now likely to be trailing him; he didn't have much time. What was he to do with her body? He could never have left her there naked on the floor covered in her own blood; he could never allow for anyone to find out how she had actually died. He could have pretended he had never set foot on her residence, but what happened to her dead body did matter to him. She should receive proper, dignified burial but in order to ensure this he must compromise his own safety, for he knew the Dark Lord would never allow for this.
And what about Draco? He'd promised to say good-bye on her behalf, but what about the details? The kid wasn't stupid; he was bound to ask questions.
He had now reached her bedroom, her beautiful large four poster bed. He laid her there to rest and kissed her forehead softly, saying farewell for the last time, his eyes completely wet, praying with all his might that she had obeyed him and had truly passed away, for she had been very intent on seeing Draco, too intent, in his view.
He must now leave and take Cissy's body with him, but to go where? He would not be able to fool Voldemort any more. His defences had now broken down; he was not strong enough to resist Legilimency. He was now on the run, from both sides of the war!
First Lily and now her! Voldemort was going to pay for it this time! Snape vowed solemnly.
Sundown had come and gone. "Llamas" was over.
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