Chapter 9 : A Haunting Lullaby
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It had been hard to get sleep that night. Draco couldn’t find a comfortable position in which to sleep, and spent most of the night tossing and turning restlessly. It wasn’t only his comfort—or lack thereof—that was the problem. There was a strange, melodic wail that seemed to resonate into his room from the open window. When he’d first heard it, it had caused the hair on the back of his neck to stand on end. By the end of the night, he had an urge to go find whatever thing was in mourning and strangle it.
“Shut it, already,” he groaned. The morning sunlight was already beginning to warm his back, and a slick of sweat was forming at his temples, just above where his face was pressed into the pillow. With a resigned yawn, he pushed himself up and stumbled out of bed, only just aware of the sounds of cooking coming from the kitchen.
He pulled a t-shirt over his pale shoulders and wrestled it down as he made his way towards the kitchen, lured now by the scent of cooking bacon. The sound of sizzling strips of pork further awoke his senses, and he rubbed the sleep away from his eyes with his knuckles.
Snape was standing at the stovetop, flipping bacon with an intent look on his face; creases lined his forehead and mouth. It looked like he was brewing a very important potion, Draco noted bemusedly, pausing by the doorway. Perhaps Snape had been kept up by the dying animal, too, and was also suffering from exhaustion. In any matter, Snape was so transfixed by the bacon that Draco was able to slouch into a chair unnoticed.
It was only when Snape moved to retrieve a plate from the cupboard that he noticed Draco’s presence. He nodded curtly and turned back to the frying pan with a clipped greeting. “Morning.”
“Ergh,” Draco replied groggily. A carafe of coffee was on the table, and he poured himself a cup, unperturbed by the coffee that dribbled out from a chip in the spout and puddled on the tabletop. He took the cup and lifted it to his mouth greedily. It had a rich, acrid taste, but it served its purpose.
Snape continued to hover around the stove, producing various clanking, sizzling, and knocking sounds as he prepared breakfast. Draco, hardly eager for conversation, stared into the black surface of his coffee. The strange, mournful cry echoed inside of his head. He had no idea what it could be--he’d never heard anything like it before. He might be able to hum the tune of the wail, if he wanted to, though the idea wasn’t appealing.
The sound of a plate sliding in front of him brought him out of his stupor. Snape served him an egg and a few crisp strips of bacon. Draco would have liked a few slices of toast, and perhaps some marmalade to go along with it, but knew that beggars couldn’t be choosers. That didn’t make living like a pauper bearable, however.
They ate in silence, until Draco was swiping the yellow, runny yolk from his plate with a finger, leaving a strange doodle in its wake.
“Mm?” Severus’s gaze flickered over to him.
“Did you hear any unusual noises last night?”
“I heard many noises last night.”
Draco frowned impatiently. “Yes, but…did you hear a…a strange cry?” He didn’t even know how to describe it. “It sounded like someone—or something—was in mourning.”
Snape didn’t look at all surprised. “I did,” he replied. He dragged his napkin across his thin mouth and placed it onto his plate, leaning back into his chair. “I’d have thought you would have recognized it.” His dark eyes bore into Draco’s. “Have you not heard a phoenix before?”
“A phoenix?” Draco blinked, not quite comprehending Snape’s words. “A real phoenix?” He shook his head. “I’ve only seen Dumbledore’s, and it never sang when I was around. Looked pathetic, really…wasted away…rotten plumage.”
Snape didn’t say anything, and instead pushed back his chair and stood up, taking his plate to the sink. He turned on the faucet to rinse it off. “Had you ever heard Dumbledore’s phoenix sing,” he said, speaking low over the running water, “you might have recognized it last night.”
It took a minute for his words to sink in, but when they did, Draco nearly toppled over in surprise. “Dumbledore’s phoenix?” he repeated in astonishment. “Here?”
Snape still had his back to Draco, but his head bobbed. “Fawkes,” he said. “He arrived last night. While you were out.” The last three words were clipped and percussive, obviously meant to sting.
Fawkes’ appearance explained Snape’s temper, at least. Draco tapped his finger on his chin, mind racing. “I thought you said that no one knew we were here,” he said after a moment. “You said we’d be safe. No one knew of this place.” His voice rose accusingly. “How do you know someone hasn’t traced Dumbledore’s Dodo?” Snape spun around and fixed Draco with a dark look. “Phoenix,” Draco amended, flushing. “Fawkes.”
“I did everything in my ability to ensure our safety,” Snape replied in a low, deadly voice. “There were very few people that knew of this place, and they won’t be saying anything anytime soon.”
“How can you be sure of that?”
Right. Draco realized that he should have been ready for that one. This time he did not let it throw him. “Do you have any idea why it might have shown up?” He was also interested to know how long a phoenix’s mourning period lasted, but knew better than to ask.
Snape shook his head, leaning back against the counter with an air of casualness that Draco had never before seen. “I have a number of theories. Unfortunately, I am certain of none.” He shrugged. “He bore no letters and hasn’t acted as though his visit is a matter of urgency.”
“What would he do in a matter of urgency?” Draco asked, looking sceptical.
“I haven’t the slightest. I think, however, that if it was an urgent situation, we would know.”
He was probably right. Draco, however, could not get over the strangeness of the situation. “D’you,” he began, hesitating, “d’you think Potter sent it?”
Placing the heels of his hands on the counter, Snape sighed. “It is possible, I suppose.” Sunlight peaked out from behind a cloud, causing a bright beam to light up Snape’s pallid face. He grunted and squinted his eyes. The injured eye didn’t look to be improving. “If you’re thinking that Fawkes is a spy, though, don’t let it trouble you. That’s very doubtful.”
“So what does it mean?” Draco inquired, flicking an eyebrow in interest. “Fawkes wanted a holiday?”
“Very amusing, Mr. Malfoy,” Snape replied dryly. “As for the meaning behind his arrival, again, I can’t be sure. I do, however, think that it means we will have more visitors in the future, and not all of them will be…” he paused, tapping his fingers against the cupboard drawers, “…friendly.”
Draco sighed and poured himself a bit more coffee. On one hand, any sign of life from the wizarding world was extremely welcome. On the other hand, he didn’t really want his safety compromised. For a moment, while Snape had been speaking, Draco had the idea that it was perhaps his mother who’d sent Fawkes. His good sense quickly overcame that fancy, though he did wonder how the phoenix came to fly overseas and find them.
After breakfast had been cleared and the dishes had been put away, Snape gave Draco a long list of things to fetch from the herb garden and lakeside. Draco took the list grudgingly, crumpling it up in his fist as he stomped around the cabin to the back yard. He gathered the herbs on the list hastily, shoving them into a sack before heading out to the lake.
Approaching the stony shore, he promptly plopped down onto the stones, unconcerned about mussing his pants. He leaned back on his hands, tilting his face up so the heat of the sun warmed it. For a moment—just a moment—he almost convinced himself that he was sitting on the shore of the lake at Hogwarts.
He really missed it. After all the complaining he’d done throughout his schooling, and his excitement every time his father tried to rid Hogwarts from Dumbledore, he’d really grown attached to the place. It was strange to think that he’d never return, and it left a strange, tugging ache at the pit of his stomach.
A breeze rippled through the water and caused his fine hair to stand on end. He flattened it back down, eyeing the algae in the water that he was supposed to collect. Disgusting. Curling his lip back, he poked at it with a finger and shivered. It even felt revolting. There was a sharp stone next to him, so he grabbed it and scraped at the algae, collecting it in the container Snape had provided him.
As he was scraping the last bit of green off of the stone, there was a flutter of wings behind him. Mumbling an oath, Draco looked over his shoulder, straight into the large, glittering eyes of a scarlet bird. Fawkes. The phoenix was much more beautiful than Draco remembered. It blinked at him dolefully.
Draco frowned at it and turned back around to face the lake. “You kept me up all last night, you bloody bird.”
The phoenix couldn’t reply of course, but it was making noise so he knew it was still there. It didn’t appear to be very friendly. When Draco turned around again, he saw that it was eyeing him wearily.
“What?” he said defensively. “It’s not my fault you’re here!”
Fawkes cocked his head to the side, almost as if he were analyzing Draco’s character. This, of course, did not sit well with Draco. He narrowed his eyes at the bird. “You’re not the only one who’s lost someone, you know. You don’t see me crying on about it,” he snapped selfishly.
Fawkes ruffled his feathers a bit, made an indignant kind of sound in the back of his throat, and took flight, disappearing into the tree line. Draco scowled after it, muttering, “That’s right. And if you make any more racket tonight, the next time I see you I’m going to trap you, pluck your feathers, gather your tears, and sell them for magical supplies.” He grunted, getting to his feet, and marched back to the cabin with the herbal supplies in tow. Snape hadn’t been joking when he said it was going to be a long morning.
It was nearly time for bed, and Draco was sprawled out on the chaise lounge next to a pile of books. Bored, he’d attempted to amuse himself by reading some of the literature in the cabin. There were a few interesting books on Alchemy tucked into the shelves, but Draco was tired and couldn’t make heads nor tails of any of it. He tossed an old, leather-bound book onto the floor and grabbed a small red book from the pile. It was titled “Something Happened”. He turned it over once, than thumbed through the pages, trying to understand what it was about. Another boring book, probably.
Something fell out of the book, catching his eye. He thought it might be a dilapidated page that had broken free from the binding, and was surprised when he turned it over. It was a photograph. His eyes widened, and he tutted under his breath. It was muggle photograph, and the person in it was easily recognizable. It was a boy dressed in Muggle clothing, about Draco’s age, slouched over with his hands in his pockets. His black hair was hanging limply on either side of his face, framing his large nose. Draco snickered quietly, examining the picture. It was odd enough seeing Snape in a muggle photograph, but the thing that surprised Draco the most was Snape’s expression. Snape looked amused. Happy, even.
Draco had rarely seen that look, and on the occasions that he had, he was quite certain that it was fake. This smile, though, this smile seemed genuine. Draco decided that he had to find out more, so he left the chaise and went to search for Snape. He found him outside on the porch.
“Is this a bad time to interrupt?”
Snape shook his head. “No,” he replied. “But you had best not be planning to leave.”
Draco breathed out of his nose in disapproval. “I wasn’t going to ask that, as it happens.”
“Then what is it?”
He walked over to Snape, holding out the photo. “I found this in one of your books,” he said, doing his best to conceal a smirk. “It’s pretty old.”
Snape’s eyes widened as he examined the photo silently. Clearing his throat, his eyes flickered to Draco. “I’d forgotten about this. I was sixteen when this was taken.”
“You’re dressed in muggle clothing.”
“Yes. Horrible, isn’t it?”
Draco snorted. “Very. Was it taken here?”
Snape shook his head. “It was taken back at home, actually.” His long finger ran across the edge of the photo.
“Who took it,” Draco asked, curiosity piqued. Why would Snape want to run around England in muggle clothing? “A Muggle?”
Snape’s mouth twitched. “A Muggle-born.”
“Ugh.” Draco wrinkled his nose. He wanted to inquire as to why Snape looked so happy, but was distracted by the Muggle-born revelation. “Why do you have so many Muggle things?”
Snape’s brows arched in surprise. “Didn’t your father ever tell you?” he asked. “He does like to flaunt his knowledge—especially at others’ expense. I’d have thought he’d have told you by now.” He turned away from Draco, an ironic smile playing on his lips. “I’m a half-blood, Draco.”
Draco stepped back sharply, eyeing Snape like he had the plague. “No,” he breathed, shaking his head fervently. “You’re taking the mickey out of me.”
“Do you really think I’d waste time making up a lie like that?” Snape replied sardonically. “My father was a Muggle.” He paused, searching for words. “He was not a person to be proud of, so I never felt the need to boast of him as some people do their fathers.” Draco scowled, catching the subtle jibe in his direction, but Snape continued. “Your mother was also aware of my…status, although she never made a large affair over it.”
“My dad likes you,” Draco replied in an accusatory voice. “He trusts you.”
“Thank you for lifting that weight off of my shoulders,” Snape muttered with a soft laugh. “I had been so worried.”
Draco gave him an injured look.
“You know,” Snape continued, shaking his head, “there was a time when I believed my lineage was something to be ashamed of. I had to prove myself—prove my worth as a wizard—to be accepted in circles where blood meant everything. It was not a simple task, but eventually wizards and witches like your father and mother began to accept me and see the value of my talents.” He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “No matter what my father was, I am a wizard. That is what matters.”
“Is it?” Draco asked icily.
“It is,” Snape assured him. “And perhaps one day you will not want to be judged by the things your father has done.”
Snape’s words stung Draco like a slap in the face. He’d experienced some condemnation after his father’s imprisonment, and it’d bothered him, admittedly. He found himself reluctant to agree with Snape, though. Snape had no real idea of loyalty, especially when family was concerned. Snape had felt no ties to his family, after all. Draco, on the other hand, knew that blood was thicker than water. Snape could preach all he wanted about how the most important thing is to prove ones’ self; Draco would take it with a grain of salt. His primary concern was his family, especially his mother. He’d be damned if Snape made him feel ashamed of his parents.
He cleared his throat. “Well, I just wanted to give you that picture,” he said. “Not be subjected to a lecture.” All prior questions and curiosities were gone, and now Draco just desired to be alone. Before Snape had the chance to reply, he turned on his heel and stalked through the doorway, down the hall, and into his bedroom.
Apparently, Draco’s terse words to the phoenix hadn’t dissuaded it from its evening vocals. A low, tuneful wail slowly filled the woods surrounding the cabin, drifting in through the windows and reverberating inside the cabin.
Draco was lying in bed, pillow clamped soundly against his ears. There was something about Fawkes’ song that made him feel guilty and reminded him of his loneliness. He could hardly stand it, and it took all of his willpower not to throw open the window and scream vulgar obscenities at the bird, ordering it to stop. He doubted that would work, anyway.
He could still hear the tune, muffled through the goose down feathers, enough to realize that it was slowly mutating. The song of mourning was changing into a something familiar.
Or was it? Wearily, Draco released the pillow from his ears, listening carefully to the new melody. It seemed oddly familiar…
Suddenly, he broke into a ripple of gooseflesh and sat bolt upright in bed, mouth hanging slack in shock. The bird was singing a lullaby. He recognized it; it was one his mother used to sing it to him before bed when he was a child.
“Sweet Circe,” he muttered, feeling a lump rise up in his throat. How on earth did Fawkes know his mother’s lullaby? His pulse hastened as he tried to discern the melody. Was it some sort of message, or merely a coincidence? The logical part of his mind told him that it was to strange to be a coincidence. Perhaps Narcissa had been involved with Fawkes, somehow. Draco couldn’t fathom how, or why, but it seemed entirely possible.
Whatever the case, his heart had begun to ache for his mother, and he sank back onto his creaky mattress, pressing his eyelids firmly shut in order to stay the tears that were threatening to be shed. Part of him wondered if Snape could hear the same tune, and part of him selfishly hoped that this was some sort of private message that Fawkes had been sent to bear.
The song steadily crescendoed, and Draco had felt a strange sensation overcome him, as if every note was caressing him and luring him into slumber. The lower notes resonated inside his chest, slowing his pulse, calming his senses. The higher notes started to turn his muddle of thoughts into a dreamy haze, until he could not form a coherent thought any longer. His breathing steadied, and slowly he succumbed to sleep.
He dreamt of his mother.
A/N: Sorry readers, for taking so very long with this chapter. I am finally on vacation. Phew. Hopefully the next installment won't take as long, but I can't make any promises, unfortunately.
Also, a big thanks to Steve for betaing so quickly for me. :)