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Chapter 17: The Easy Way Out

I am silent, invisible to you
while I count the days gone by.
I am silent, invisible to you
while I shape the things to come.

-Covenant, Invisible and Silent


Snape landed in the fireplace, wand drawn and ready to defend against whatever was sent hurtling towards him. There was nothing though, no shouted spells, no angry retaliation. The room was bare and completely uninhabited; and the wards were down.

Snarling angrily Snape grabbed a nearby chair, fingers curling round the thin wooden frame as he hurled it at the opposite wall, finding little satisfaction in the splintered cracking that resulted. There was only one person who would have the audacity to break into his rooms, and ironically enough it was the one person he least wanted Harry Potter to fall into the hands of. Draco Malfoy all ready had more than enough to hold against him, and had concocted several hurts and slights over the years to give him reason to use it. Not that he needed any reason beyond the potential of his own personal gain.

He threw the door open so it hit the wall with a crash, a nearby torch shuddering in its holder as a wisp of ash drifted to the floor below. Draco Malfoy knew the truth, and now he had Potter. That Snape had found the boy in the beginning would be irrelevant. That he had earned his trust and that of the metamorphmagus, that he had mutilated his own flesh to do it would have little if any value. That he had successfully used the Boy Who Lived and the devotion of those who cared for him and protected him to manipulate and worm his way in to destroy the last thread of resistance in an otherwise perfect World would be forgotten. All he had achieved, all he done would be obliterated if he failed to hand over the key to the Dark Lord’s ultimate rule at the end of it. It didn’t matter what Draco had said before either, in fact Snape would have been an idiot to believe a word the brat said. Draco had no code of conduct, no standards of fairness he expected himself to play by. When he said he wouldn’t tell the Dark Lord of his secret, what he meant was he wouldn’t tell until it promised maximum benefit to himself. That time was now.

Snape briefly debated storming Malfoy’s rooms to reclaim what had been stolen. But with that damn clock it would be pointless, Draco having no doubt fled the second it chimed Snape’s arrival. Draco would not be so foolish as to challenge Snape directly anyway. One thing was certain though, Draco would reveal nothing until Snape himself was present. Draco would want to see the look in Snape’s eyes as his shameful heritage was revealed. He would want to see Snape cower with fear before death, as he assumed Snape would die.

Snape, however, had no such intentions. He was no fool, and had spent the last several years preparing for this eventuality. He had proven himself capable and he had proven himself devoted. He had suffered for his Master as was required, and had thusly risen. So it was with a small smile that he left his rooms, closing the door softly with his new found calm and his unshakeable faith before striding to the Hall in which his Master resided, knowing deep in his soul that there was nothing for him to fear, burying the traitorous memories of a time warped with confusion that could ever cause him to think otherwise.


The room, which he refrained from calling a cell despite the overwhelming similarities it displayed to one, was black. There were no shadows, as shadows would have indicated at least a dull greyness, that somewhere the edge of darkness was infiltrated by the smallest glow. It was simply black, the sort of emptiness that sucked at the back of his eyes as they tried to pick out a shape or form in the space with him. He could barely make out his own hand waving just before his nose though; there were no windows, only the occasional slither of light under the door from the passing of a Lumos. After a while that became enough, however, as though the gloom itself hungered after the brief infiltration and clung onto it, engulfing it into the very air so that the blackness could take shape. Snape hadn’t minded the dark at first; being surrounded by its perpetual presence had at least seemed preferable to a room filled with the constant glare of light. His eyes had adjusted slowly, and whilst anything beyond the vaguest tinge of colour was impossible, the outlines of his new abode were now as clear and sharp as they would have been in the highest tower of Hogwarts at midday. But as time dragged onwards it had taken on a malicious edge that couldn’t be satisfied. It brushed the back of his neck whilst he slept as the hairs prickled unnervingly, his eyes snapping open as his hand rose to protect against a hidden enemy. It crawled under his skin, tiny fingers pinching and stroking even as he tried to claw them off and rip them out. And the blackness slowly closed around him, trapping him, squeezing against him, pushing out the air and holding it ransom to his growing unease.

This was what he had given up Hogwarts for.

He was fed, most probably by a House Elf, as the portions were too generous and too pleasant, as far as the word could be stretched in these circumstances, to have been produced by anything but a creature to whom the idea of intentionally inflicting substandard service of any sort was horrifying. It had been disconcerting in the first few days, the muffled pop as the food appeared before him, stifling the whispers of his newly released imagination as he blindly forced himself to swallow what he couldn’t see and identify. He had expected poison, hideously aware of those he himself had created, or something noxiously inedible. But the water was clean and fresh, if a little sparse, and the bland meals nourishing enough to keep the worst of the hunger at bay.

The only thing he couldn’t tolerate was the cold. It was numbing and all invasive, trickling down his spine and freezing his muscles, which seemed to constantly twitch painfully in the after effects of the Cruciatus he found himself so frequently writhing under. His hand, bones still shattered from the meeting, had never been healed, although nature and time were doing the best they could. And even if he couldn’t examine it himself, he could feel the damage every time he flexed, he could feel the itch as the bones knitted themselves together just to be torn apart again as he gasped and flailed on the tip of a nameless wand. Sleep was a rare blessing in which he wrapped the tattered remains of his teachers robes tightly round his aching ribs, cradling his hand gently. The light drowses he occasionally and unwillingly stumbled into were far from restful though, filled with troubled dreams that made the monotonous nothingness of his waking hours all the more appealing.

He didn’t know how long he had been here. The days had all merged into a single blurred tunnel. At first he had relied on his own internal sense of time to mark the passing, but that had soon failed. For a while he had measured his imprisonment through the regular visitations, when the size of the room was briefly allowed to extend into the hallway beyond, before it was once again returned with the closing of the door and then shrunk to tiny pinpricks of nothing under the curses that followed. It wasn’t long before all concept of time fled him completely, his existence reduced to the ebb and flow of the painful humiliations he suffered; that served to tear his treasured pride to shreds. He wondered, occasionally, if it would prove itself less painful were he to just let go of the destroyed remnants that could barely even be classed as pride any more, but he couldn’t bear to do it, even though he knew the madness of Cruciatus was slowly creeping up on him. He could feel it giggling pitifully in the corners of his mind.

The door opened, the light that had been so long forbidden sweeping in unheeded to claim back its victory. He shrank away from it, shoulder blades digging into the hard wall behind him as he shielded his eyes, spots of light dancing beneath his eyelids. Rough hands pulled him to his feet, legs cramping stiffly as a thin piece of wood was thrust into his shaking palm, his hand forcibly curled round it as his fingers refused to obey his instructions. They were giving him back his wand?

‘Come on Snape,’ he tried to not flinch from Bella’s cruel fingers as she poked and prodded none to caringly, each touch sending shooting waves of pain straight to his heart, which seemed to judder under each shock. ‘He’s fine,’ she eventually declared, and he couldn’t help the raucous laughter that filled his head at the announcement, booming inside his ears and almost drowning out everything around him. ‘Just needs a bit of a rest and he’ll be right back to his usual, cheery self.’

‘Think he needs a medi-witch?’ Bella glared at the owner of the voice that supported him from the left, although she seemed to be considering the possibility.

‘No,’ she eventually replied slowly. ‘He’s suffered worse in the past.’ That was true, but never for so long and without pause. And he had always come away from it knowing he had managed to hold onto who he was, if nothing else.

‘The Dark Lord will be pretty peeved if he dies.’

‘Then you two had better stop blathering about like a pair of prats and move him,’ Bella’s voice was cold and unforgiving as Snape found himself hauled uncomfortably into motion, his unresponsive body dragged through a maze of halls, his feet gradually placing themselves one in front of the other as the concept of walking returned to them, although the hands supporting him never wavered as he stumbled frequently.

Another door opened and he instinctively flinched from it, but the insides were well lit and the walls didn’t crowd around him, so he stepped blearily in. ‘These are your rooms now,’ he heard Bella say unenthusiastically. Something was upsetting her, but he couldn’t bring himself to think on what. ‘Are you even listening to me?’ He found his focus snapped back at the harshness of the question, forcing himself to nod. ‘I don’t know why our Lord has decided to forgive you, but he has,’ and she was gone, with a flurry of robes, her two accomplices in tow as the door slammed shut behind him and the walls slowly started to close in.

He stood, wavering slightly in the middle of the floor and gazing with bewilderment around him. This was his home, right down to the tidy bookshelf that stood imperiously against the pale walls. The low sofa with its plush cushions looked mercifully like heaven itself to his tired and weary body. This is what you get for being good, the whole room told him firmly; and if you’re bad it’s back to the other place with you.

And he couldn’t do it.

The thought hit him like a battering ram, taking his breath away with the force behind it. He couldn’t do it, Albus had asked too much of him and he was going to fail, this was what failure felt like; what it meant to doubt, to be insecure. The years stretched before him, serving an uncaring Master. This wasn’t service anymore though; this was enslavement. No matter how it was dressed up, no matter how prettily it was titled, he would forever be beneath someone, and he would forever know it. And this time there would be no place to run, no place to recover. He would be here, under the watchful gaze of his Master for as long as he dared to contemplate.

He clenched his wand tightly, his thoughts frantic and desperate. There had to be another way. Albus would never willingly subject an associate, a friend even to a lifetime of subtle torture and degradation. Albus would never weigh the importance of one life against another in such a brutal fashion.

He disapparated, half expecting to splinch himself instantly, half expecting to find himself thrust painfully back into the small room he had only just left. When he felt the wet grass beneath his feet he could barely bring himself to believe it, the damp air filling his lungs wetly and causing him to cough in great hacking bouts. But the castle towers looming above the tree line were undeniable, the tiny lights flickering innocently in the windows that gave way to a World no evil could hope to conquer. He was free. And Albus would know he was here, would come to his aid with a gentle smile and genial humour that somehow made him feel less weak, less helpless. It was their meeting place, their small sanctuary in a forest of dangers. And Snape was not disappointed.

‘Severus!’ the anxious tones as gentle hands helped him to sit.

‘How long,’ he managed to croak out feebly, forcing his neck to lift his head to stare into the Headmasters sad eyes. ‘How long since I left.’

‘It has been a little less than four months.’ Four months in that tiny room, four months feeling he would never be warm again. Four months with only his own jumbled thoughts for company. ‘Do you need help?’ Severus managed to shake his head; although he feared at moment it would simply slide off his neck. ‘Will you be able to return safely?’

Return? The words built inside his head, pressing against the insides of his skull as his blood pounded in his ears. Return to the place he had just fled? But the Headmaster was looking at him with such concern, and there really was no other choice. This was what had to be done, to protect the future of a scrawny boy who was destined to be their saviour, whose worth thusly outshone that of all those around him. What was right didn’t get a mention.

‘Yes,’ he said finally, knowing there was no longer any place for him here.



His boots rang sharply on the stone floor as he easily negotiated the maze of hallways, as Death Eaters stepped respectfully out of his path with either a nod or small bow, Snape too lost in his own thoughts to notice or discern their faces. That night the Dark Lord had known Snape would leave, and had known he would return. He had been waiting when Snape apparated back into the room, considerably weakened by his trip, vision blurred as he looked with empty eyes. He had fallen to his knees, and there had been no point in continuing the façade that he had any pride left, expecting the worst, unsure if he would even be capable of feeling it any more. But the curse had never struck; the Dark Lord had merely risen gracefully from his reclined position, looking down on his servant with interest.

You were a good spy for me, Severus.

And Snape was good. He maintained the Dark Lords rule, kept the world perfect almost perfect and pure almost pure. He meant something here, was valued even, in a way he had so obviously never been in Dumbledore’s eyes. And at least now he was someone important, important enough to have proven himself.

And you never gave him a reason to doubt you.

Draco could rant and rave onto his deathbed, but Snape had done more for the cause than the young Malfoy ever managed. He had earned his position, through blood, death and betrayal, and that would not be forgotten, it would not be overlooked.

If anything, the doubt should be yours. Let tonight be proof of that.

Voldemort had lifted his damaged hand carefully, his light touch still agony against his skin. Snape remembered the rush of fear the action that created, further fed by the fact that the Dark Lord knew. He saw in Snape fear that he had never seen in him before, and the shame that Snape felt that he should experience such a thing so openly mingled with his terror and coalesced into a mind numbing panic. He would suffer for this, he would be forced back into that cell and left to rot.

The Dark Lord had healed him.

He had left without a word, leaving Snape to stare with incomprehension at his slender fingers, the skin still blotched with blood and coloured with bruises. But the Dark Lord had provided where Albus has refused, and it meant something. It had taken Snape months to understand exactly what that that meaning was.


The corridors were painfully familiar as he stalked through them in a way reminiscent of so many late night wanderings, patrolling the corridors for rule breakers. He was the rule breaker this time though, he was the invading force that had stepped out of the cabinet to be greeted by a nervously shaking Draco Malfoy, who had glared at Snape’s presence as though it were an affront to his abilities, as though Snape himself were the enemy, the threat to all Draco hoped to achieve.

There was no threat; Snape hadn’t wanted to be here, not since the hypocrisy of the last meeting he had shared with Albus and their final conversation deep in the Forbidden Forest. It was a meeting he had gone to not out of loyalty, which was fast waning, but in the hopes he could reclaim that which he had lost, the part of himself he knew he had mislaid in those first torturous months. He had needed the answer to so many of the doubts he couldn’t face, had needed to know where he stood. He had wanted to know that all he was doing meant something still. He had quickly learnt that it did not.

Dumbledore had had one last favour to request of him, one last injustice to lay on a man who could not refuse. His debt had been paid tens times over, the Headmaster had declared, yet still he insisted on collecting payment.

‘You must not let Voldemort know of your treachery.’

Anyone would have thought the old fool was blind. If anything his last visit had made such knowledge on the part of the Dark Lord painfully obvious. He had almost died and then been turned away from his only sanctuary, and still the old man had the gall to ask for more when Snape had no more left to give. He had listened though and accepted the fond farewell of an old and forgotten friend he could no longer bring himself to admire. He had said his goodbyes and attempted to close the book on those torn and crumpled pages of his life.

The book refused to be closed though, and the Dark Lord had instructed him to enter the school on this night, had told him to watch and listen and that all would be revealed and he would finally see the truth, would finally have all the answers he needed.

He had ended up in the Astronomy Tower, the air crisp as Dumbledore lay collapsed against the parapet, shoulders rising slowly with the effort of breathing, a single broom leaning innocuously against the wall a mere few feet away. His eyes flashed briefly to Severus, who crossed his arms and scowled, but they moved on just as quickly with no recognition or acknowledgement, his black and shrivelled hand resting, blending in almost with the dark stones beneath it.

‘Kill him then Draco,’ the younger Malfoy stepped forward, nudged by Greyback so he stumbled, swallowing heavily as he faced the Headmaster, wand shaking only slightly. Watch him, the Dark Lord had instructed, and so Snape had gone.

‘You don’t have to do this,’ the words were spoken softly, carrying on the late evening wind as Snape cocked an eyebrow. Watch him and listen. And then Dumbledore looked up through hooded eyes, which still sparkled earnestly. ‘I can protect you, and your mother. This is not your only choice.’ Anger like he had never felt before surged forwards in Snape. This was not what he wanted to hear. The old man could protect Draco, but not himself. He would remove the willing participant from the lion’s den whilst sentencing his own pawn to near death.

‘Shut up.’ Draco roared desperately, voice high and quivering against the night sky.

And Dumbledore did, but he never lowered his gaze, even as Draco shuddered angrily, determined as he raised his wand and shouted. ‘Avada Kedavra.’

Draco Malfoy never told him what had passed between them on that night, what words the Headmaster had spoken silently to him and that had angered him so. Draco claimed there had been no such thing, but Snape knew. He had seen it in Dumbledore’s eyes as he took the last few seconds of his life and used them to make one final offer to a boy who would never have listened to him instead of using them to apologise to the man to whom he owed so much and who wanted, needed to hear nothing else more.

Dumbledore died. Somehow it felt like he had taken the easy way out.



Snape had returned that night different. The Dark Lord had seen it in him. And he had been forgiven his transgressions, forgiven his lies. He had returned the year before and he had attempted to deceive his Master with false promises and insincere declarations of a love he had not felt. He had learnt, though the lesson had been painful and he had been reluctant at first. But the truth had been undeniable, and his Master was capable of forgiveness where forgiveness was deserved.

He had been forgiven for that lie then, and he would be forgiven for this lie now.

A few months later he had been handed a Timeturner, which Snape had regarded with incomprehension as Draco Malfoy was summoned to the room, tired and bedraggled and suddenly far too young. But he had fixed the Vanishing cupboard where everyone had thought he would fail and he had done it on his own, with no guidance and no one to turn too. So he had been handed his final test, to create the impossible. And it had taken its toll on the small boy, but beneath the tiredness and the wavering fear there was something else; a hardness that had grown and would not be destroyed. He had killed and it showed on him, it would do so forever more.

A long chain hung from his pale hand, as the item was handed over with a bow.

‘You will take this,’ the small weight had been dropped into his palm, similar to the one he all ready possessed, yet weighed heavily with unfamiliar magic. The feel of it had surprised him, a jolt he had felt again when Potter had handed it innocently back to him some days before. ‘And you will place it around the neck of Harry Potter.’ Then suddenly he had understood, he had seen with clarity everything that had happened, everything that was left to happen still. ‘The young Malfoy really has excelled himself this time, so it is now time for your part.’

He, Severus Snape, was the reason Harry Potter had gone missing. Or not so much missing as simply sent somewhere else. Somewhere they were not yet capable of going. The future. Harry Potter had disappeared by his hand; he had sentenced himself to this cruel fate.

‘No,’ the Dark Lord had interrupted his thoughts as he had stared mindlessly at the tiny object, trying to comprehend what he had done, what he was about to do. How it didn’t have to happen the same way again. ‘You are not sentencing yourself, but setting yourself free.’ And Snape had understood that he had to do this, that in a way he all ready had. If he didn’t he would forever find himself under Dumbledore’s thumb. Otherwise he would forever be trapped within the stone walls of Hogwarts, the freedom he had always believed he had been given tainted by the fact that he could now see the leash that had kept him bound, the leash the Dark Lord had lit up in all its glory and exposed for what it really was. It would be a mockery of independence, it always had been, and if he could not have the real thing he would rather have none at all.

His Lord had given him all he wanted, the peace he so desired as he whiled away his days in his Potions lab, the walls of his rooms slowly receding away from him again as the chill left him and he remembered the simple pleasure of warmth. He had come when he was summoned, and he had done what was demanded, and always he had known where he stood. He had known when he suffered for his failure, he had known as his Master taught him with pain and intolerance what was required to rise to the heights he had now obtained. The control had never been hidden from him, the freedom to do as he wished never granted. And with time he had found he no longer missed it, no longer believed it to be the necessity he had once fought so hard for. He was sure; no he was adamant he had never been more content. His Master gave him no reason to be anything else.

No, he had done far too much for the Dark Lord to toss him aside so easily. He had given his all, and for that he would be rewarded regardless of blood, regardless of parentage. Draco could say all he wanted, it would make no difference. This was where he belonged, this was where he was someone important.

***


‘Like hell I will!’ Harry shouted, voice slightly slurred as he finally found the use of his tongue again, Draco smirking infuriatingly. It made Harry itch to hurt him, to break his stupid Malfoy nose with his fist or foot just to make him stop bloody smiling in that knowing way, a way that reeked of false sympathy and consideration. He didn’t dwell on the futility of the argument; if Malfoy wanted him to swallow the bloody potion there was probably very little Harry could do to prevent it. It wouldn’t even be fight; it’d be a complete and utter walkover.

Draco rocked back on his heels, idly tapping the side of the vial with his little finger as he regarded Harry with interested, as though waiting to see what absurd yet fascinating thing he would attempt to argue next. ‘I don’t recall giving you a choice in the matter.’ There was still no fight forthcoming though, no matter what tone the comment adopted, as Harry broke the fixed stare and turned his head to the side as though proving a point.

‘You can’t make me!’ he declared in direct contradiction to the bloody obvious fact that Malfoy could. In fact he half expected Malfoy to just grab his jaw, prise open his mouth and force the stuff down his throat, the danger of him drowning on the most probably vile concoction be damned. At least that way it wouldn’t feel like Harry was being helped, like Harry owed the git a favour.

‘Snape lied to you,’ Draco said softly.

‘I know,’ Harry raved, fighting the automatic urge to turn back to face the man. His neck was starting to cramp from being held in such an awkward position, straining to look over his slumped shoulder. He wouldn’t do it though, wouldn’t give Malfoy the pleasure of being acknowledged. Instead he focused resolutely on the far wall, it’s blank surface marred only by the shadow of the opposite leg of the very table he was forced to lean so weakly against. It flickered across the wall as the flames of the torches danced in their holders, its soft pattern almost hypnotising. Harry really didn’t recall Malfoy having so much patience..

‘No, I mean more importantly. He lied to you about the Werewolf.’ Harry swallowed with difficulty, lines creasing his forehead as he frowned with annoyance, dismissing the comment with blitheness he did not feel.

‘What about him, he’s dead?’

‘No, very much alive actually,’ Draco smirked as Harry’s head snapped back round to glare daggers at him. Were it possible Draco was sure Harry would have had his fingers wrapped round his throat, ‘much to his discomfort.’

‘You’re lying,’ Harry hissed venomously, teeth clenched as he searched Malfoy’s features urgently for any such indication. Draco merely looked bored though, quirking an eyebrow at the possibility, appearing to weigh it’s merit.

‘That is always a possibility,’ the smugness was back, the unfailingly Malfoy smirk that seemed to hone straight in on Harry’s anger and stoke the fires beneath it into a frenzy. ‘But let me put it this way; you can continue to say no and I can kill you now,’ Harry opened his mouth to shout the definitive go ahead Malfoy continued to refuse to hear, ‘and you can risk sentencing yet another friend of yours to a gruesome future.’ Harry pursed his mouth closed again, refusing to look at the smile that was no doubt splitting Malfoy’s face at his victory, his lungs clenched with useless anger as he dragged a difficult breath in through his nose. ‘Or, alternatively, you can agree to help me and in return I shall promise that both you and the Werewolf will receive a quick and painless death.’

‘I want to see him,’ Harry demanded. He had to know.

‘After.’

It wasn’t good enough. ‘Give me your word.’

Draco looked amused and mildly insulted. ‘A Gryffindor would trust the word of a Slytherin?’

Harry glared up through his wild fringe. ‘Give it,’ he ground out, his voice no more than an ominous rumble in the back of his throat.

‘Fine, you have my word.’

‘Then lets get this over with,’ Harry snatched the vial from Draco’s unresisting fingers, gulping it down without pausing before wiping his mouth on the back of his hand and grimacing, fighting the impulse to bring it all straight back up. It sat uncomfortably in his stomach; he could feel its weight even as a mild tingling returned to his fingers and the numbness receded from his legs with a maddening prickling. ‘I hope you have a plan, because I have nothing.’

‘You have unfailing, annoying luck,’ Draco sighed, plucking the wand back from Harry’s fingers and standing up to brush himself down, as if a speck of invisible dust had landed upon his impeccable robes, which was ridiculous since Harry doubted a single fleck of dust or dirt had ever made its way into the elaborately furnished room. ‘I doubt it will let you down now.’

‘Yeah, because luck is far more reliable than, say, the ability to effectively pull of the Killing Curse.’ Bracing himself against the table Harry pushed himself upright, palms flat on the smooth surface and leaving dark, sweaty handprints as he stretched his stiff muscles. At least the antidote worked fast, although he had hoped Draco had forgotten about the wand. He watched as it disappeared into the swathes of his cloak, his choices getting fewer and fewer.

‘I am sure you will rise to the occasion.’

‘No, I won’t,’ Harry corrected incredulously. Draco seemed content to wait and watch silently as he grasped his bearings and readjusted his balance. Genuine tiredness had settled on Harry now, coupled with persistent hunger that made his head ache. Numbness, he considered, might well have been the better option. ‘I can’t cast it.’

‘That far beneath you is it?’ the first flashes of Draco’s temper were showing again in his clipped words as he wrinkled his nose in contemptuous disgust. Just like back at school, Harry realised, with the same childish and petty viciousness. Draco may have grown up, but he had never had someone to polish the edges off him. ‘If I were you I would swallow those misplace nobilities you seem to cling onto.’

‘I mean I physically can’t cast it. It doesn’t work.’ Draco looked at him warily for a moment before stalking towards the door.

‘You are destined to kill him, so you will find a way,’ a command for Harry to readjust the very functioning of the Universe to suit Draco, as an Accio charm dragged him across the room, unexpectedly catching him as his shin scraped the edge of the table and he was pulled past it. Why was this so much of a problem? He’d been given a chance, no matter how heavily the odds were stacked against him, to kill Voldemort, and Malfoy had nothing on the Dark Lord when it came to mindless evil. And his chance of success now was no worse than it would be in any other scenario he could possible imagine. He should at least be willing to try to fulfil his prophecy, to play the hand he had been dealt at birth. Voldemort was the immortal one, the one who could only be destroyed by his hand. Malfoy would be pretty much free game; the rest of the World could shoulder the responsibility of taking care of him.

This wasn’t the way it was supposed to end though, and even if he did somehow manage to achieve the impossible it wouldn’t be victory. It’d be taking the easy way out.

‘Don’t you think you’re being a bit rash?’ Harry questioned as he rebounded from the force of the spell, landing hard on his backside as the door to the chambers closed. This was much more like it, Harry mused dejectedly. With the darkness and the narrow corridors paved with stone. You could view this as a layer of evil no problem, unlike the bright, if compulsively tidy room he had just left. There was a heavy, musty scent that hung in the air too, thick and cloying and faintly nauseous.

‘Rashness is all we have time for,’ Draco snarled between teeth gritted in annoyance as he cast an apprehensive look down the corridor in both directions, an irrefutable facet of fear visible in his posture despite all his bravado. Voices could be heard in the distance, mutterings too quiet to decipher. It wasn’t Snape though, a conclusion Draco seemed to agree with as Harry found himself pulled awkwardly to his feet by a spell. ‘There will not be another opportunity like this. Ready for it or not we must take it.’ A sudden flash of light soared over Harry’s shoulder, as he swivelled round to watch it streak into a far shadow, eliciting a gasp of shock and a high-pitched yelp. ‘Follow me any further Bella and you will regret it.’

‘You must take it you mean; since it is your opportunity we are really talking about here. You’re just dragging me down with you,’ Harry corrected sullenly as the invisible force that had heaved him upright shifted itself to instead yank him after Draco, who was marching ahead and giving every impression of ignoring Harry, occasionally glancing over his shoulder and examining the gloom that spread behind them, ensuring they were no longer watched. ‘I know how powerful he was years ago, so I can only guess how powerful he is now.’ Harry’s logic failed to pierce Draco’s resolve or even dent the belief that his bloodline was enough to ensure triumph. He had been slighted, he had been undeniably insulted and he would not stand for it. ‘I don’t stand a chance.’

‘He has a weakness Potter,’ Draco said quietly, his gaze continuing it’s guarded watch. ‘He is incomplete.’

‘What?’

‘There is something called a Horcrux,’ Draco stopped suddenly, leaving the sentence unfinished, his eyes flickering around him with distrust.

‘Isn’t that what you called the diary?’

‘Yes, but he has more than one,’ Harry felt the spell release him, although Draco’s hand curled round his arm before he could so much as flinch away, Draco’s face coming close to his ear, his voice a low whisper Harry had to strain to hear. ‘Now listen, and listen carefully, because I have the time to say this only once.’ Harry nodded wordlessly as Draco aimed a silencing charm at the nearby wall, creating a tiny bubble for them both before leaning back slightly, although his voice didn’t rise above a soft murmur. ‘The Dark Lord made seven of them. He split his soul seven times, and stored each fragment in an object of meaning, thus turning the object into a Horcrux, a way to ensure that he, or at least a part of him, could continue to survive even after death. He can be reborn from them, as you saw that time in the Chamber of Secrets.’ Harry nodded mutely, his head reeling from the information as he stared blankly at the floor at his feet, trying to understand the full impact of what he was being told. ‘You have all ready destroyed one, and a couple of others have met an unfortunate fate over the years, but some still exist.’ Draco reached out and grasped Harry’s chin, lifting his eyes to meet with his own, which stared fixedly. ‘They are his weakness,’ he said intently, eyes bright with the knowledge. ‘He has stretched himself too thin without even realising. Just the death of one had more profound implications than he ever realised.’

‘Then we need to destroy the rest.’ Harry declared, the pressure of the fingers that still clenched round his jaw becoming painful.

‘Are you an idiot?’ Draco dropped his hand reflexively. ‘Destroy one and he will know. They are a part of him and he will feel it.’

‘You don’t know that, you’re just guessing,’ Harry responded indignantly, getting louder until Draco glared at him pointedly and Harry resumed in a harsh and throaty undertone. ‘You’re grasping at straws. You want to leave little bits of him floating around, but he can’t be completely destroyed until they are gone.’

‘Yes, Potter, each of the Horcruxes contain a piece of his soul. Yes, he cannot be truly defeated until they have all been destroyed,’ Draco reiterated with sarcastic contempt, his mouth curling into a disparaging sneer that made Harry want to just turn and walk away from the whole thing there and then, consequences be damned. He couldn’t spend another minute in the presence of the man, let alone work with him in a pitiful imitation of camaraderie. ‘However, if you would be so good as to give your shining consent, I would rather remove the piece that is currently capable of cursing me to oblivion and back first and then worry about the other, rather more inanimate pieces, after.’

‘I’m the one who has to kill him, and I would much rather deal with the bit that can curse when it’s at its weakest,’ Harry argued stubbornly, crossing his arms across his chest.

‘You only have to kill him Potter,’ Draco said scornfully. ‘Don’t worry about the rest.’

‘It’s a pretty big rest.’

‘Just because you are the only one who can kill him does not mean you are the only one who can fight him,’ the silencing charm was dropped with a wave of his wand, as Draco gestured for Harry to go first, smiling as he stalked past. ‘I want the privilege of taking him down a step or two for myself. I will keep him occupied, you concern yourself with fulfilling your part of the bargain.’

‘There was no bargain, Malfoy,’ Harry reminded forcefully, ‘only blackmail.’ The anger and resentment he was feeling abruptly left though, as a set of large double doors appeared before them, and his scar flared to life.

‘No backing out now,’ Draco commented tauntingly, seizing Harry, who had taken an unconscious step backwards, and dragging him forcibly towards the doors which opened with a long, drawn out groan at his presence. ‘Be a good little boy and act afraid.’ No act was needed though, Harry was bloody terrified. This was a bad idea, and it would take more than luck to get him out of this one. He needed a damn miracle.

The ceiling was too high as he entered, indefinable above the shadows that stretched from the walls. It left the air cold as the tiny hairs on the back on his neck and down the length of his arm prickled. No, it wasn’t the air doing that it was the presence. High windows showed only the darkness of outside though, with no escape as a set of eyes focused eagerly on him. Harry could feel the anticipation and the expectancy, and it was only the firm grip that kept him from bolting as he cursed his supposed Gryffindor courage for deserting him now.

Voldemort sat before them, unchanged over the years with Snape standing slightly to his right, a furious expression on his face as Draco approached.

‘You stole Potter,’ Snape said flatly.

‘You never told me he was here,’ Draco replied flippantly, throwing Harry to the ground before his forsaken Master, as Harry fell painfully to his knees before scrabbling back to his feet, horrifyingly aware of the eyes that watched his every move with malicious pleasure. He wouldn’t kneel, not if he was going to die; he wouldn’t give the bastard the satisfaction. ‘Perhaps if you had this whole thing would have been over that bit quicker.’

‘You were not told for a reason, Draco.’ Voldemort interrupted with a warning tone, although his eyes never left Harry; boring through him, stripping down his weak defences to leave him feeling smaller, younger and more vulnerable than before. Draco held back from sneering. ‘Yet still you defy my wishes and sneak behind my back. If your assistance had been required I would have demanded it.’

‘Forgive me,’ Draco’s tone was angry, but he couldn’t help it and couldn’t bring himself to tack the title of respect on to the end of the sentence. ‘It was inevitable Snape would foul the whole thing up sooner or later,’ Malfoy paused to look at his former Professor, a small smile curling the corners of his mouth, his grey eyes flashing with the prospect of vengeance soon to be justly had. Harry could have sworn he saw a momentary flicker of panic dart behind Snape’s own eyes, but it was soon gone as the Potions Master responded with no more than a derisive and contemptuous inclination of his head, as though daring Malfoy to continue. ‘After all, it’s in his blood to fail, to be weak.’ Draco looked back to the Dark Lord, whose gaze had hardened and narrowed to slits, leaning forwards on his throne as Malfoy held the look for a moment of calm before speaking, his voice strong and condemning, rising to the very rafters with its judgement and ultimate sentence. ‘I did not trust to the success of a Half Blood.’

There was a pause, a breath of absolute silence and sitllness as Voldemort turned his gaze on Snape, red eyes glowing murderously as the Potions Master opened his mouth to speak. He didn’t have a chance, barely seeing the wand that aimed towards him at the onslaught of his mind, as the Dark Lord plunged in without heed, shearing his way through the memories as Snape’s mind collapsed under the sudden invasion. Whether the Dark Lord ever found the wall of Occlusion was irrelevant, as it crumbled instantly under the assault, as his Master seized the secreted memory with triumph, pulling out victoriously to leave Snape with one final, coherent thought.

At least now he was someone important.

‘Avada Kedavra’



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