Death Knell

by Lara Wilson

Standing at the kitchen sink, scrubbing a pan caked with grease and cheese from the previous night's meal of lasagna, Lilith took momentary satisfaction in picturing the pan as her husband's head as she dunked it beneath the suds again. A little over three weeks had passed since Severus had found them, and he'd been back twice for long weekend visits that had left her feeling confused and upset and more and more lost. Last night had been the first decent sleep she'd gotten in a long time, so maybe her heart was finally hardening against him.

She knew it had to if she was going to survive much longer with her psyche intact.

Sighing softly, she rinsed the pan and set it in the drainer, then pulled the plug on the water. As it swirled down the drain, she forced aside thoughts of her husband and began to make a mental list of groceries she needed to buy the next day. Drying her hands, she started for the living room, only to be jerked from her thoughts by the ringing of the doorbell. A glance at her watch showed her Rose wasn't due home from school for another twenty minutes--Violet was planning to go to a friend's to study--and the few friends she'd made usually called first.

If this was another religious zealot, she was going to go against her own proscription against magic and hex him into next year.

Chuckling to herself, she opened the door and the smile vanished from her face.

"Draco?"

Her nephew stood on the doorstep, looking nervously around, dressed all in black, the sleeves of his shirt cuffed at his wrists.

From her experience, Death Eaters never wore short sleeves in public.

He looked...lost. His face, always narrow, was gaunt, his eyes a bit wild and yet dull at the same time. There was a tight look around his lips that reminded her of her sister.

He was not surviving well.

"It's Father, Lilith. He's out."

"What?"

Shooting a fearful glance over his shoulder, Draco pushed past her into the house and slammed and locked the door shut with his wand, before continuing, "He escaped from Azkaban. When he discovered you had fled with the girls, he started ranting and swearing and..." Haunted eyes shot to hers. "Is Rose really my sister?"

Fear flooded her system, freezing her in place as she tried to process what Draco was saying. Lucius was free? "What?"

"Father! He came to Court. I'm not even sure why he cares, but when he discovered you had left England, he swore to find you and take his daughter from you."

"Oh...No, no, Draco. Why? Why now?" Her voice became shrill as the fear turned to panic. Lucius had never cared about Rose, never tried to claim her, never given any attention to any of them outside of the lusty looks that always sickened her. Why now?

"It's true?"

Defensively, Lilith wrapped her arms around herself and stumbled over to the sofa. Her legs gave out beneath her and she sank down, trembling in reaction. Draco joined her, confusion written all over his face.

"I thought maybe he'd just lost his mind."

"It's...it's true," she breathed out slowly, desperately trying to control the wild emotions inside her. "I don't know why he'd care now, either."

"He's always known?"

She nodded.

"He's lost favor with the Dark Lord. My failures haven't helped any. Maybe he thinks bringing Rose to him will redeem our family name somehow."

The chill inside her deepened and she could feel the color leaving her face. "Was Severus there? Did he overhear Lucius?"

Draco shook his head. "He's off on some secret mission. I tried to send a message to him but it came back immediately as undeliverable, so I came here."

Lilith looked over at him, meeting his troubled eyes for a moment. "How did you find me?"

Frowning, he shrugged in resignation. "Your location isn't a secret since Professor Snape found you. The Dark Lord keeps tabs on all of us."

"...Oh."

"Where's Rose, Lilith? We need to get away now, before father finds us. The Dark Lord insisted he stay there and explain all this, but I doubt he'll keep him there for long. Father's just too determined."

"She'll be home from school in a few minutes; Violet's going to a friend's house," Lilith replied, distracted by thoughts of how to escape and where to go, and a tiny part of her that wished Severus was there to help.

"You need to get to one of the Order's safe houses. He won't be able to reach you there even if he can find you." Draco jumped to his feet and, when she didn't respond, reached down to pull her up as well, barking, "Lilith, I know you're scared, but he'll kill you to get to Rose. You know he will."

Suddenly, everything went blank for a moment and then strength flooded her. Rising to her feet, her shoulders going straight and her chin clenching in determination, she nodded and went to fetch her wand from the mantel and her purse from the back of a chair. "I know the route the girls take home and Violet's friend's house is on the way. We'll intercept them." As she headed for the door, she turned back for a moment to give Draco a hesitant smile. "You've risked a lot to come here and warn me, Draco. Thank you."

"I...You're welcome," he mumbled, embarrassed by her gratitude. "Rose is such a good kid. She doesn't deserve him as a father."

"Neither do you."

He shrugged as they both headed for the door.

Only to barely get back as it burst in on them, ripping off the hinges and shattering in a gush of smoke and noise that left ringing in their ears. Lilith stumbled back, choking as she raised her hands to shield her face from flying splinters, and felt Draco grab her, pulling her back into the living room.

Into the destruction strode Lucius, dressed like his son all in black, but looking much more deadly, his pale hair gone totally white during his imprisonment, his face ravaged by the torments of Azkaban. His eyes, though, sent terror screaming through Lilith.

There was nothing human remaining in them.

"Where is my daughter, Lilith?" he asked, his voice retaining that silky, sickeningly evil quality that sent her tumbling back into her memories. "You've kept her from me for sixteen years. No more."

"...Kept?" she gasped out, confused. "You never tried to claim her!"

"Letting her grow up to become a Gryffindor. Making her weak," he continued, as if she hadn't spoken. "You'll pay for that, Lilith. You'll pay for so much." As he raised his wand, Lilith instinctively froze. Only Draco diving at her and knocking her to the floor saved her from the killing curse.

"Father! Stop!"

As if finally noticing his son, Lucius screamed, "Traitor," and hit him with the cruciatus curse. Draco writhed in pain, and Lilith dragged herself to her feet to throw herself at Lucius, breaking the curse as he lost concentration.

"Stop it! I won't let you take Rose." Grabbing his wrist, she tried to knock his wand free, but he was too strong. She didn't see the blow coming that sent her flying back into the living room. Pain exploded in her and she struggled to get back her breath and defend herself. Lucius appeared over her and she cowered back, her hand scrabbling for her wand that had tumbled free as she'd fallen.

"The killing curse is too quick, Lilith," he sneered. "Maybe I should take my time with you." Straddling her hips, he crouched down and delicately dragged the tip of his wand down her cleavage. "It's been years since we've played." A button popped free and she whimpered at the growing desire in his eyes.

"I'd rather die," she bit out rashly.

His lips quirked evilly. "Soon enough." A whispered spell and her shirt and bra disappeared, leaving her half-naked and vulnerable. Lilith reached for her wand again and he grabbed her wrist. "No, no, Lilith. No fighting me." The tip of his wand circled one of her nipples and she froze in terror. A scowl formed on Lucius' face. "You let that idiot Snape touch you, Lilith, fuck what was mine. I'll kill him, too."

He was demented, truly demented. Lilith knew that trying to make him see reason--that he was the one to choose Severus for her--was hopeless.

He was going to rape her and then kill her.

The wand slid down her shrinking flesh to the waistband of her jeans and Lilith knew it was only a matter of time. Tears stung her eyes and she looked away, only to see Draco struggling to his feet, his wand held in a shaky hand.

"Get off her, father."

"Any true son of mine would be waiting his turn," Lucius bit out, not even looking back as his wand toyed with the button beneath her navel.

"That's sick!"

"We're Death Eaters, boy!" His voice dropped to that evil whisper again. "It's the definition of sick, isn't it, Lilith. Sick and perverse and so dark it makes your soul cringe. I so enjoyed whittling away at that back then until you begged me to stop and cried such pretty tears. I loved it when you cried. Will you cry for me again?"

The tears dried up and she slammed her leg up, the hard spot just above her knee catching him in the groin. "Fuck you!"

Lucius howled and fell off her. Taking advantage of the moment of freedom, Lilith spelled her wand to her and scrambled to her feet. Draco reached for her, dragging her out of the immediate line of sight, just as Lucius recovered enough to send a hex firing at her back. It hit the wall, leaving a nasty scorch mark. "Come back here, bitch."

"He's insane," Draco hissed.

"And that makes him even more deadly." Desperately trying to come up with some spell to stop him, Lilith backed them towards the kitchen. "There's a door to the back garden. If we can make it there, we can apparate."

As she whispered to her nephew, the wall next to her disintegrate and Lucius stepped through the hole, his face twisted with fury and madness. This time the cruciatus curse hit Lilith and she screamed as every nerve in her body fired in agony. She didn't see or hear anything as she fell but felt a second explosion of power and knew she was dead.

The first thing she heard, as the pain inexplicitly faded and she felt a heaviness draped over her, was Rose.

"Get him off her. Get him off," Rose whimpered, sounding lost and terrified.

Lilith tried to open her eyes, tried to speak to reassure her daughter, but the pain was still coursing through her, though slowly diminishing in intensity. The weight left her and she drew in a ragged breath.

"Mum?"

Hands shook her shoulders, cloth suddenly covered her breasts, and she heard crying. Lilith forced her eyes to open and slowly focused on Rose kneeling beside her, her hands smoothing the shirt she'd worn over a camisole over her mother's nudity. Tears were streaming down her pale cheeks from stricken eyes.

"Rose?" came out as a pained whisper. "What...?" The immediate memories hit hard and Lilith gasped, struggling to sit up, the pain her body was in making it impossible to do more than raise to her elbows. Her eyes widened in shock at the sight of Lucius beside her, on his back, glassy eyes staring at the ceiling. "What happened?"

On the other side of Lucius, Draco dropped to his knees as if in slow motion, his wand falling from his shaking hand. There was a burn on his fingers, testimony of the strength of the curse he'd uttered, the only one he could have that would have done this.

"Mum? Are you okay?" Rose's voice was as shaky as her own hand that brushed Lilith's hair from her face.

Her fingers were burned, too.

"No," Lilith gasped as she fought against the truth and finally managed to sit up. One hand grabbed the shirt as it fell, the other wrapped gently around her daughter's wrist. "Rose, what did you do?"

"Stopped him," was the dull reply as the girl's eyes drifted past her mother to the man who'd sired her and to her brother who was staring at his father's lifeless body. "We stopped him."

The pain in her body was finally manageable but the sorrow filling her heart made her want to curl back up and sob. The children had saved her life, but at what cost? "Oh Rose, I never...This shouldn't have happened. None of it."

"He would have killed you," Draco said softly. "It's nothing to him, killing. It never was." Finally looking up, he met Lilith's eyes and swore, "I'm glad he's dead."

"Draco..."

His lower lip trembled, but his jaw tightened with determination. "I'll take the blame, all of it. No one will ever know Rose had anything to do with it."

"It was my choice," Rose replied, shaking her head. "I knew what I was doing." Her eyes fell to Lucius, and she bit into her lower lip as fresh tears slid down her cheeks. "You couldn't do it alone, not to him."

All the cobwebs finally cleared from Lilith's mind. "We have to do something with him. Get rid of him. I doubt the ministry or aurors will come for you--they have too many other things to worry about. You won't go to prison."

"It doesn't matter," was Draco's dull response. "I used an Unforgivable Curse to kill my father. I think I'm pretty much damned."

"He deserved it," Rose bit out. "He would have killed her."

"I didn't say he didn't deserve it, but the killing curse is unforgivable for a reason."

Rose's chin tightened just like her brother's. "Then I'll go to prison, too."

"No one is going to prison." Lilith pushed herself to her knees and slipped the shirt on. As she reached for the wall to pull herself up, there was a noise at the door, and her first thought was that she'd been wrong about the aurors, and her second was to take the blame herself.

And her third was relief.

Severus strode through the ruined door, his quick eyes falling on each of them in succession, before settling on Lucius. His lips tightened and his eyes burned dark and hot with anger. "Draco, fix the door before someone notices the damage and calls the Muggle authorities." As he spoke, his voice clipped, he removed his cloak and draped it over the body. "I'll take care of this." His eyes went to Lilith who had finally gotten to her feet and was leaning against the wall for support. "Are you all right?"

She nodded slowly and reached out for her daughter, who flinched away from her, hugging herself as reaction set in.

"It was self-defense."

At Severus' decisive statement, Rose began to mutter. "It was murder. He was going to kill mummy and we killed him instead. I...I...killed." As she broke down and buried her face in her hands, Lilith watched her husband's stoic facade shatter.

"Rose?" he asked, incredulous disbelief tightening his voice.

"You thought I did it," Lilith said softly, sadly.

"I did it, I did it." Rose's moans grew in volume until she suddenly flung herself into Severus' arms, collapsing against him, sobbing wildly. "Daddy."

"Oh, Rose, Rose." Wrapping his arms around his daughter, Severus pressed his lips to the top of her head. "I'll fix this, darling. I swear."

Lilith's eyes drifted past them to Draco who had repaired the door and was now watching them, sorrow in his eyes, a mirror of her own.

"She's so lucky," he murmured, and Lilith's heart broke at how young and lost he sounded. As Severus guided Rose into the living room, she went to her nephew and drew him into her arms. Draco started to shudder and she tugged his head down to her shoulder, crooning wordlessly to him. "Maybe I wouldn't be such a bad person if I'd had him as father."

Ignoring the irony in that statement for the truth, Lilith stroked his shoulders and felt his tears wet her neck.

"We must act quickly."

Lilith turned her eyes to Severus who sat on the couch, Rose curled onto his lap like a child. His stoic mask had returned along with a determined look in his eyes.

"I arrived at Court only minutes after Malfoy left and the Dark Lord knows I followed him. I'll take the blame for this. I'll tell him the truth, that he was attacking my wife and I killed him."

Feeling an odd numbness begin to fill her, Lilith gently separated herself from Draco, who had regained some control over himself. Keeping her hand in his, she led him into the living room. "What will he do to you?"

Severus shrugged. "There will be some punishment. Although fallen out of favor and trapped in Azkaban, Lucius was still highly placed in the inner circle. So am I, though, and the Dark Lord needs me."

"Sir, no, no," Draco protested. "I killed him. I'll take the punishment. I've failed at so much, but let me do this one thing."

"I swore to your mother to protect you, and, past that, you don't have the skill to keep the truth from the Dark Lord, and if your involvement gets out, so will Rose's, and that I won't allow." Rose had stopped crying, so Severus gently set her aside and rose to his feet to approach his nephew. "What you'll do is disappear, go spend time in mourning with your mother, give the Dark Lord no opportunities to read your mind until enough time has passed that he is distracted by other matters. I'll keep his attention focused solely on me for the moment."

"Sev," Lilith breathed her fearful protest, as something hard and painful made her heart tighten in her chest. "We can all run."

He turned hard eyes on her. "He'll find us. Someone has to pay for this. I'm the only one who can survive." His hand lifted, lightly brushed against the cheek that still throbbed from Lucius' blow, and Lilith dropped her eyes, unable to meet his as they started to burn. "I would have killed him for this alone, Lilith."

Lilith resisted the sudden urge to fling herself into his arms. The earlier adrenaline had faded and she felt sore and scared, and she had no clue what to do about Rose. How did a teenage girl recover from killing someone? Lilith glanced over at her and saw her huddled into herself, staring at her feet, obviously in shock.

Severus pointed one long finger at her nephew who seemed to have recovered a bit more than Rose, but then Lilith had a bad feeling this wasn't his first killing. "You disappear. As soon as word gets out about Lucius' death take Narcissa to one of your country estates in France or Italy. It'll be expected that she'll be fragile and lean on you."

Tight-lipped, Draco nodded, then turned and hugged his aunt, whispering, "I'm sorry."

"You saved my life, Draco," she murmured in return, kissing his cheek. "I'm sorry that it had to end this way, though. Take care of your mother."

"I think she'll be relieved."

"She'll still need you. Be more her than him."

He nodded and tried to smile, then turned back to Severus. "Thank you seems inadequate."

"You saved Lilith's life. I'm the one who owes the debt." For the first time ever, Severus seemed to see Draco as a man, no longer a boy, and Lilith watched as they clasped wrists, right below their tattoos. It was a Death Eater's grip, but it was also something else.

Head held high, shoulders straight, Draco left the house vastly changed from the young man who had entered so frantic and worried.

"He'll be all right, Lilith."

She nodded. "Yeah, I think so, too, but..." Her attention turned back to Rose and her heart clenched again, as fresh tears threatened. "Draco will survive what he's done. He's killed before," she murmured knowingly, continuing at Severus' nod, "Only the magnitude is different. Once you've taken that step..."

"You can never go back."

At the sorrow in his voice, Lilith found herself reaching out to him, then drawing back her hand. She wanted to comfort him, but...all he had done the past six months weighed so heavily on her. Instead, she turned back to their daughter.

"I can make her forget," Severus murmured from behind her.

She looked over her shoulder and saw the sincerity on his face, but shook her head. "No, she has to deal with it. I'll help her as best I can."

"You don't have the experience, Lilith."

"But, you can't stay. You have to go, now, before Voldemort sends troops here to find the two of you. Let me worry about Rose. You save us all."

Severus nodded and walked over to Rose, where he dropped into a crouch in front of her. "Rose? Look at me, darling," he coaxed until she raised her head from where it hung just enough to meet his eyes. "I'll take care of this."

"He'll hurt you," she wept brokenly. "Because of me."

"Rose, don't you know? I'd die for you, baby, gladly." His arms went around her and he held her as she began to cry again, her arms clinging to his neck with a strength born of misery. After a moment, Severus glanced over his shoulder, giving Lilith a look of helplessness she'd rarely associated with him. Joining them, she sank down on the couch and wrapped one arm around Rose's trembling shoulders.

"Rose, you need to let him go." She pulled gently until her daughter and husband separated, then let Rose turn into her, still crying. Severus stood and Lilith nodded at him. "We'll be okay."

"I'll contact you as soon as I can, hopefully within a few days. Teach her to shield her mind, Lilith. It's the best thing you can do for her." For a moment, it looked like he wanted to say something else, but then he tightened his lips and turned to leave. A quick invisibility spell on the body, and they were both gone.

Tenderly, Lilith stroked her daughter's shoulders and let her cry, trying to concentrate fully on her and not worry about what Severus faced. A tiny part of her wanted to hold onto the belief that he'd made this bed for himself.

But, mostly she realized she still loved him.

End

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