R-ish (mostly for themes)
I’ve had this half-written since last summer. Severus/Draco has always been very deliciously wrong to me. Um. Yeah. Thanks to the shiny lisamarie0921 for beta reading and handholding through the first draft.
Assumes bright Digitalis dress and air;
Her ruby cheek, white neck and raven hair;
Four youths protect her from the circling throng,
And like the Nymph the Goddess steps along,
O'er him she waves he serpent wreathed wand,
Cheers with her voice and raises with her hand
Warms with rekindling bloom his visage wan,
And charms the shapeless monster into man
Botanic Garden, Part 2, Canto 2
When he's a toddler, Draco can't understand why Severus doesn't have blond hair and pale eyes like him. He’s a child full of questions, of how and why and show me? Often during the long summers or around Christmas, Severus stays for a week or two. Lucius is all smiles and strong drinks, Narcissa flighty laughs and hands on his shoulders as if they’re the sort of friends Severus has never had. The boy sits in his lap, talking about his cat, the monsters beneath his bed, paints parchments full of purple stick figure wizards and gives them to Severus as a present. The bottom drawer of Severus’s desk at Hogwarts is crowded with purple wizards when Draco is four. Drawings, dried herbs and a stuffed animal he once bought but couldn’t bring himself to wrap and bring over.
"Digitalis Purpurea," Severus teaches Draco. He’s five years old and Severus is walking with him in the garden outside the Malfoy manor, a bubble of nature and scents enclosing them safely for the moment. "Even the Muggles know about this one."
Draco nearly crushes the flower between sweaty fingertips. "What does it do?"
"It controls the heart," Severus says to make the inexplicable sound simple.
Severus watches him grow up this summer; teaches him the Latin name for celery leaved Buttercups – Ranunculus Sceleratus, the boy will never remember it but his mouth dutifully forms the words, absorbs them – and how spiders breathe, how to duel without a wand, that Dark Arts can cut through skin and bones. It’s foolish but he keeps talking.
"He’s very fond of you," Narcissa smiles in the evenings.
Albus, darkly, when a new group of first-years enters his castle:
"I trust you to know what is best for the boy."
"Perhaps you shouldn’t."
There are always so many things he wants to say.
So much Severus wishes he could speak of during those afternoons when Draco comes strolling into his office, hands in pockets – careless, as if he doesn’t really need someone to talk to. He pretends to be a messenger: my father wants you to visit him this weekend or mother has sent a bottle of her homemade wine, and he sits down, waiting for anything – a berating speech, O-marked Potions assignments, a crumb of attention. He gives nothing back, at first. Then eventually there is a smile, a liberated laugh, or a confession about someone or something he dislikes, occasionally one or two honest words. He is already tired, Severus notices, tearing at his own anchors to disobey everything that must seem like destiny to him.
Severus usually hands him a cup of tea or hot chocolate. Draco pretends he’s becoming too old for hot chocolate but accepts it all the same and drinks it slowly to make it last.
There is one thing in particular Severus wants to say in the autumn following Cedric Diggory’s death, a crispy cool autumn when Draco hesitates to enter the office. It’s the first time in four years. Once inside he leans against the wall, looks across the room, arms crossed over his chest. He’s so young, Severus thinks. Too young for this and he’s not Albus, can’t blurt speeches of lies and comfort.
"Father told me... He’s back, isn’t he?" he says and is suddenly terrified in the way teenage boys are terrified – mutely, achingly, wholeheartedly beneath layers of glamour. Severus watches it all take place in his face, as the carefully constructed calmness falls to pieces and the boy slumps down in a chair, staring at the floor.
"Yes, Draco. He’s back."
They speak of this matter in the months to come and Draco listens. Draco listens, but misses the meaning of if by a few millimetres every time – he’s always almost and Severus can’t afford to be precise. He pours tea and thinks about what he would like to tell him, what truths he wishes to shout: there's nothing there for you. For anyone. There's nothing there.
As the autumn grows into winter, Severus notices a glint of betrayed teenage pride in Draco's eyes as he finds Harry Potter in the dungeons and earns himself a you can do better than this scribbled over his essays about foxgloves. He tries to sooth the boy, tries to harden him with harshness, but eventually it all boils down to one thing he cannot say:
"You should consider yourself lucky your family is still alive," he tells Lucius in Azkaban. They're surrounded by shadows of prison bars and Dementor's kisses but he must say it nonetheless. Brutal truths are his only benefits; he would be foolish not to enjoy this degradation. "I've been told it was a disastrous battle."
"Oh, criticism coming from our very own armchair general," Lucius says. "I feel privileged."
The words are thinner than before, though, all of them as overused as the mechanics of coping. It’s pathetic, but Lucius has never possessed a lot of pride. It clicks in Severus's head; a certain kind of triumph deriving from the baseness of the scenario, the way Lucius's face breaks with the ghosts of terror. Loyalty is a violent, brutal thing.
"Will you help me protect them?" Lucius doesn't look up. His hands are clutched in his lap and he speaks abruptly, with great restraint for once. They both know why.
"I will," he echoes, always.
"I wish you would let me take care of this, Draco." Severus looks out over the orchard where he recalls that Narcissa once wanted to grow plums instead of apples.
"I'm not a child," the boy huffs with the heavy air of immaturity reserved for those exact words.
"Yes, you are," Narcissa weighs in over her cocktail glass.
It's late July and the nights are warm in the garden, welcoming as always at the Malfoy Manor. They stay up late and have drink after drink - pumpkin juice for Draco, wine for Severus - as though it would take the edge of things. Narcissa flutters around them, nervous at small noises and big silences, irritation overshadowing everything else - she snaps the teakettle from the house-elf when it takes too long, hexes a rustling bush so violently that it catches on fire, interrupts her son every other sentence to tell him things he already knows.
"You must finish your education, no matter what happens," she says, close to tears.
He’s proud of the Mark. Even so, there's a touch of something close to honesty in his face much later, when Narcissa has left them, as he tells Severus about it, about the thousands of millions of shadows he can see in the corners of reality now, about how they scrape against him. But he's proud. Draco is his father's son; he flaunts the Dark Mark like he flaunts everything else and Severus thinks oh you stupid sodding boy even death is better, biting down so hard on his tongue that he draws blood.
This summer never ends.
"Stop trying to interfere!" Draco shouts again at Christmas. He is sleeping too little and worrying too much and it shows in the fluttering eyes, the nervous hatred for everyone who’s getting in the way. "You’re not my father."
"No, Draco, I’m not." They stare at each other across Severus’s office. The damp winter-cold makes the light from the other windows in the castle resemble badly lit letters, signs for them to interpret but nobody has the time for it. Severus reshapes the irritation to gentleness once again. "But I do know your father, and he would not want you to risk your life for a mission, regardless of its cause."
Shape up, Severus thinks. Grow up; clench your teeth and cope. There are many things better than courage, other strengths than idealism that can induce a spine in the most spineless of creatures – the boy would be surprised to learn how well self-loathing works. It is contours like these he needs: something to make him survive, something to rage against while he matures and Severus already knows how it will end. Everything is reflection.
"Then why did he let me do this?" he asks, his voice hoarse and thick with fury. "Why did you?"
"My dear boy," Albus says softly, almost lovingly, his hand pressing down on Severus’s shoulder.
Then, when the night comes, it’s dry and hot, carrying a passionate desire for extinction in its throat.
The earth is dark with rain the day Severus leaves Hogwarts for the last time. It's a rain tasting of much-needed purity and new beginnings, a scent of relief that sprinkles over them and dies in their exhaustion, in Draco’s very young voice.
"What am I supposed to do now... sir?" he asks as they stop in front of the Portkey. The rain is making it difficult to move fast, it weighs down their robes and blocks the sight. Severus casts another Lumos.
"I'll take care of it." He makes no remark about the 'sir', cannot find words to address it tonight. Nevertheless, this is how it goes. It’s everyone against everyone; a war without mercy and he should have understood this sooner, what it means.
"Are you angry with me?"
The night covers them both in its rhythm, the pulse, slowly calming them down. In time there will be battles, but tonight they can rest. (His hands are still shaking behind the composed calm, soaked.)
"No," Severus says. It takes what he has left to create the tone, its neutrality. "I'm not angry with you."
There are places in the world where the final judgement already took place, in silence, and Spinner’s End is one of them.
Spinner's End wasn't made for explanations; its sparse construction doesn't allow discussions. Severus stands in the midst of the rooms, inspecting his heritage, his little empire of dirt. He can still feel the taste of his old hunger in the walls here, the stale smell of misdirected ambition and pride, of too-big desires. It's an ugly home. Always was. A filthy place where the spider's web has covered up all the empty corners and rests thick like fog over every memory because shame hides things in the dark - and this, Severus thinks as he puts new sheets in the bed his parents once shared, is a place of shame.
Even the boy notices it.
"Why do you live in a Muggle dump?" he asks that night before sitting down on the bed, a disgusted frown on his face.
"Surely you are clever enough to figure that out on your own?" Severus replies and hexes the door shut behind him.
Time is frozen here.
He makes tea in the kitchen, walks the already measured steps between the sink and the cupboards, where his mother’s ghost-steps still can be seen, thinking it’s a good thing he buried his conscience a long time ago. Thinking too, that he is getting better at fooling himself.
He makes tea and pretends not to hear the slow rustling of the past walk between the rooms, the shadow of someone he used to be mocking the man he became.
It's warm, despite the rain.
Digitalis Purpurea, he reminds himself.
Any means necessary.
For the first couple of days they rarely speak.
"Your mother thinks you will be safer with me," Severus says on the sixth day in his old house. He wonders, briefly, what will happen on the seventh.
Mauve Witch Orchids: it’s the first flower that has marked his memory, in his mother’s garden; clusters of heavy, damp flowers lowering their petals so they lick the back of his hands. A sigh of exhaustion, as though they are too tired to carry their colours.
The garden’s still here – overblown, the earth dried up, but the lines of it across the landscape remain.
Severus walks through it at times, looking at its pathetic implications – a barren woman’s attempts at recreating a past she walked away from, and a present she never knew how to endure. Nothing ever bloomed here, except for the orchids. (Funeral flowers and suddenly he reads the Telegraph again, the long articles about ‘the saddest event of the year’.) She surrounded herself with boundaries – a low garden fence, poles of wood; building them both in as a defence or a way to fool loneliness.
In front of the small square where she tried to grow basil, he kneels. There are Witch Orchids here, too. They’ve survived and conquered after her death, mocking her even now. He cups his hand around the head of a flower, nips it – fifteen fullgrown ones should be enough, he decides, and picks all of the heaviest ones that meet his skin, like a weary rain of what to come.
The boy’s eyes during supper: the need already burning in them.
Severus looks away but not in denial. It’s too late for that.
"We crucify each other and expect resurrection," Albus says once, bitter and old, already dying in Severus’s bedroom. "I have no more method in this madness."
Severus remembers promises he can’t keep and a kiss, a last one.
(Oh please forgive me.)
When Severus wakes up in the seams between night and dawn, the boy stands on the threshold.
He has prepared for this.
There's so much Severus ought to say, but nothing comes out and Draco is shivering, is both bigger than the boy-shape in his memory and terrifyingly small in his arms as he slips beneath the sheets to kiss him, clutch his body like it is the only way of survival. Perhaps it is. Perhaps Severus always knew it had to end this way.
Draco's hands move over Severus's chest, his eyes wide and curious, lips wet as they kiss again. Severus closes his eyes this time.
"Digitalis Purpurea," he reminds the boy. I will crush you.
The low-pitched sound of protest increases as Draco fumbles beside him, already hard and quivering; when he touches the boy he can hear a moan. Severus reaches out for him, thinking nothing, it's nothing, and then he allows himself to absorb the pounding warmth of skin and breath, of Draco's hands on his back as he pushes closer.
And suddenly the mornings taste of metals and warm arousal: the boy is always beside him, propped up on his elbows in bed, watching Severus sleep. After they get up, they share the newspaper and make breakfast. It’s ugly and beautiful, in the way that fragile things tend to be and he thinks for the best, not for my sake, for the best so many times he believes it.
"The milk has curds," Draco whinges from the table.
"Then you’ll have to drink something else," Severus mutters and burns the toast. He puts the charcoaled slices on his plate, makes new ones for Draco who’ll complain anyway about the Muggle food and its lack of finesse.
They argue and share, slim hard arms and sinewy flesh under his palms and he’s closer to content than he’s been in a long, long time.
"Are you happy?" Draco asks, often, like the anticipating child he is. They’re still panting beside each other in the dark room and Severus knows the boy can’t see his face for the shadows.
"Yes," he replies.
"Good." An arm across his belly, fingers stroking his hips.
"Yes," Severus says again, helplessly.
The last of the apples coated with frost when they make the potions together, in Severus’s kitchen. It becomes cold very fast this autumn, they remark occasionally, and sleep in quick, hard breaths. They’re both aware, if vaguely, that time’s chasing them.
"Does the granite powder affect the Ashwinder eggs?" Draco leans over the table under the biggest window, where sunlight cuts the vials and jars into prisms.
"Yes." Severus crushes the eggs. They slide into the saltwater and the granite, forming a slick paste. Hard and glistening – everything’s grey-white and tied together by knots of stone; it’s the beauty of Potions, they are the only absolute truths he has ever touched.
"More than serpentine rocks?"
"That’s a different substance altogether." He pauses, searches for a role to play. It’s been months since he felt his position. "I can draw you a graph."
"Oooh, a graph. Naughty." Draco moves closer, his breath on Severus’s skin now, hands sliding down below the cauldron and the knives. Severus pushes away.
"Draw the poison out of the orchids instead," he orders, feeling nothing like a teacher.
"Aren’t we proper today," the boy teases, with a slight edge because this is not any boy. This is Draco Malfoy.
He knows that. Again and again he knows.
For a second Severus closes his eyes. A second. He has to give himself that, these moments that slice time into fragments of things that never were, ashes from a life that burned to the ground. This autumn the roads are lost in heavy rain and storms; what’s left is an endless path of echoes, the same bitter destructions. And in the midst of all the loud weather, the ugly reflection of absence.
One night, three stars fall and although he doesn’t believe (in dreams and prophecies and the conspiracy of stars, in my dear boy) Severus can’t sleep, staring at the sky.
They leave no footprints on the snow.
Digitalis Purpurea, he scribbles for Draco on the back of an old parchment. Ingredients, purposes, words for clarification and an ending he has been holding on to for too long anyway, embarrassed himself enough. He leaves it on the desk, all drawers open.
The openness makes the boy react instinctively.
"Fuck. Did you...?" He takes a step back, against the wall.
"Have you…?" Wand in his hand, aiming for Severus’s chest. Perhaps he’s a fighter after all. "On me?"
(This is when he closes his eyes and doesn't open them.)
"You’re disgusting." Draco is a man now, firm and furious. A too-young man but the best he can do with his promises, the chain of words.
"Yes," he says again. His voice feels hollow, like steel. "What did you expect?"
He allows the curses to hit him as Draco runs out, the door slamming hard against broken vials and blurred lines of purple paint.
Then finally a day - much later and holding a battle in its hands - that follows the last potion he brews.
The war, coming to an end.
The boy, betrayed and safe.
(And the losses beyond numbers.)