Hurrah! Another chapter has been written, and things are beginning to come together into resolution. I realize my pacing is less than ideal, but that will be changing with future stories, I think. I didn't want to suddenly spiral off into the distance and skip over things after I'd previously detailed so much; that and the next series of events can't really be skipped over without losing chunks of plot.

If I can manage it, I'd like to make this one more chapter long plus an epilogue (or two) to answer some questions I'd left hanging. This chapter is a little longer; I hope that will partially make up for the increased time between postings of the last few chapters. I'm also hoping to update sooner on the next installments.

Thank you as always for reading and reviewing. Disclaimers still apply.


Chapter 56

"You fool!" Lucius hissed at Harry as he helped his son restrain him from running off. "Are you that determined to get us all killed? We need to plan our actions if we're to survive this encounter."

Perhaps it was the fact that Lucius didn't express reluctance to help in the matter of freeing Severus that got through to Harry, calming him enough that the protective rage ebbed slightly. With the promise of action presented to him, Harry turned to regard the pair of platinum blondes. "Do you have anything in mind, then?"

Lucius wearily leaned against the wall, his carriage and bearing somehow still allowing him to appear graceful despite his current lack of strength. A gesture over to Draco sent the younger Malfoy walking to the other wall and opening a hidden panel. "Do you imagine I brought us here only for the scenery?" Lucius inquired with a grim nod over Harry's shoulder at the figures behind him. He continued swiftly before the drama could again assert its influence upon Harry and dominate his attention. "Neither Draco nor I have our wands; the Dark Lord never had trouble touching them. However, I've a backup wand purchased from one of Ollivander's foreign counterparts." He paused as though reluctant to voice his next thoughts. "I'm in no shape to cast with as much power as we might require at the moment, but Draco will be able to make use of the wand instead." The boy so named returned, the spare wand from the compartment comfortably in hand which sparked Harry's curiosity.

"How could that be possible? Doesn't the wand choose the wizard?" Despite his inquiry, Harry found himself keeping a careful watch upon the other room.

"Draco is compatible with my magic," Lucius explained, still with a touch of reluctance at parting with the information. "The only one who has been able to touch my wands without the consequence of at least some shock and reduced functionality."

Harry was suddenly put in mind of his pain when touching Snape's wand for the first time back in America, then later during the stay in the hospital wing with Severus. Fawkes had delivered Snape's wand to Harry, and touching it afterwards gave him a sense of warmth and rightness. Harry felt compelled to ask, "Could a compatibility like that be developed? Or is it biological?"

With a mild sneer, Draco primly polished dust off of the wand with a cloth. "If you hadn't decided to stay in that useless Divinations class, you could have taken Arithmancy with Granger and me, and had some idea of an answer to your question. There has to be some sort of a strong bond between the people involved, and it isn't at all a common thing. The largest chance for compatible magic to happen is between a parent and child, or between identical twins like the pranksters. Even your friend Weasel had trouble with an old wand belonging to one of his older brothers, I bet."

Somehow, Harry felt better as Draco's manner of superiority began to reassert itself even though it skirted the edge of insulting his friends. It displayed a sense of assuredness that bolstered Harry's confidence even if it didn't dispel his concern for the man bound in the next room. "Where is Severus' wand?" Harry asked with another glance at the group outside. Planning was all well and good, but he wanted to get his idea across quickly so that they could get Severus out of there.

Frowning protectively, Draco's eyes narrowed. "Why do you ask?"

"I don't have my wand with me," Harry muttered anxiously, "But I think I can use his."

With a protectiveness twin to that of his son's, Lucius stared Harry down, "And why would you think such a thing?"

Harry gazed back, trusting that his sense of the two Malfoy's intentions towards Severus were beneficial and simply replying, "The Prophecy."

Lucius' eyes widened and he paled with realization. "You're the one?" Draco just scowled.

Nodding, Harry shifted restlessly and checked the other room again where the occupants still hadn't moved from their previous positions. "The first time I picked up Severus' wand it gave me a nasty shock. But to make this short- lots of things happened in a short time, and the last time I picked up his wand it felt... right. So we should be able to use that to our advantage, and it gives us another wand to cast with- if Severus' wand is here."

Severus felt as though he were stifled; the spelled bonds contained a dark taint that made it seem difficult to breathe, and having Voldemort looming over him while he was pinned to an alter didn't help improve his outlook. Trying to ignore the discomfort, Severus worked to sense the magic surrounding him for any sort of linchpin he could direct an attack against if he found the opportunity to make an escape.

As he was feeling around his limited boundaries, Severus also felt Voldemort's invasive probing of his magic begin. It was unpleasant to say the least, but more disquieting than painful; it felt as though his mind and energies were slowly being laid open for the Dark Lord's inspection. Unable to continue his search for an escape, Severus closed his eyes against the probe, trying to resist its pressure. His struggle to keep himself was soon overwhelmed by Voldemort's power and determination, the Dark Lord smiling maliciously as he delved into Severus more deeply. Severus couldn't help but gasp.

"I sssee you've been busy, my Sssseverus. The sssafeguards I placed upon you are gone. I find that waste of my efforts to be most annoying." A cold hand brushed over Severus' forehead, slowly traveling lower until it hovered over his chest. "I can taste Dumbledore's meddling upon you still. He thinks his energy will shield you; he apparently thinks much of you."

The hand moved up Severus' right side, causing Severus' muscles to twitch in reaction as Voldemort continued his study. "I can see that you ssspoke truth when you claimed to not remember; I sssee the rents in your power that have not completely healed. Who healed you, I wonder," Voldemort lingeringly murmured as his hand moved across Severus' shoulders towards his left side. "I am most displeased with you, my Ssseverusss. You have allowed yourself to be influenced by Dumbledore, hiding behind his protections." The voice grew disturbingly cold, sending a shiver of dread up Severus' spine. "You have been... dissssssloyal."

Lucius' words were delivered quickly with a grim and restless glance into the other room; apparently Harry wasn't the only one with a wish to finish the preparations efficiently. "I mentioned earlier that Voldemort didn't have trouble touching our wands. He's always had trouble touching Severus'. Voldemort always had Severus' father remove the wand from him when he ... visited with us." A grimace of ill-fitting guilt appeared upon the patrician features, but only for a moment. "In all likelihood, Severus still has his wand but cannot reach it, bound as he is."

Quickly the three of them outlined a plan of attack. It didn't cover all contingencies, but it left enough leeway to deal with things as they came up. With the sudden tension building in the other room, they felt there wasn't time for much else. Voldemort's hand had been moving slowly over Severus' body as though sensing something from him. They couldn't hear what was being said, however; the Dark Lord was murmuring quietly to the trembling form upon the altar.

They decided that Draco would cause a distraction so that Harry could sneak over and retrieve Severus' wand. While the younger Malfoy didn't have the disposition during school to specialize in notice-me-not illusions for Harry, he certainly was inclined to draw attention to himself- or to others- at will.

Harry would run to the altar while the others were distracted. With Severus' wand, he would use Mobilicorpus to aid him in bringing Severus back to the room where Lucius would use his remaining energy and the capability to Apparate past the wards of Malfoy Manor to transport himself and Severus to the boundary of Hogwarts' gates. Lucius assured Harry that the entrance into the room they were in was able to close swiftly if needed, so that Harry and Draco would not be followed as the two boys used the hidden hallways to return to the room with the Floo. With the password Draco knew, they could make a return trip to the point of last departure- Severus' chambers.

When Voldemort expressed his displeasure and lifted his probe away from Severus, the prone man didn't know whether to expect the Cruciatus curse or worse. He felt sick as Voldemort began to speak to him, slowly rolling up Severus' left sleeve. When punishment was delayed, it was made all the worse out of Voldemort's deliberate effort to do so. That Voldemort was still speaking siblantly only made things worse.

"The Floo was especially useful this evening. It allowed us to deliver the bottled message from Draco; that boy will need to work on his Imperiusss resistance. It brought you here with a minimum of fuss. It was warded after you arrived by our good Lestrange to only allow someone of school age to travel into Malfoy Manor. There will be no Aurors, no Dumbledore to come to your rescue. The only one likely to come here will be the other half of the Prophecy or perhaps even Harry Potter- if the boy isn't the one we're looking for."

Severus was thankful that Voldemort didn't seem to require responses from him. A dry throat and years of ingrained subjugation under the wizard had stolen his words from him. All he could do was to meet the Dark Lord's gaze as he controlled his expression and his body's reactions to the spoken words that dripped like poison from Voldemort's dark smile.

"The Floo was activated nearly ten minutes ago now. If the child is not found by our Death Eater brethren in the manor, then he likely found poor Lucius or Draco and will be on his way here. Of course, our Lucius was hardly in a position to be of much use in his condition." Unsurprisingly there was no regret in Voldemort's voice; instead it was steeped in smug arrogance as his pale hand returned to Severus' left shoulder, resting there.

"Yes, you have been disgustingly influenced when my wards were removed. But the Dark Mark remainsssss." The lingering whisper trailed off for a moment as the cold fingers trailed down Severus' arm to the area just above the Mark. "... And that is all that matters, really." Knowing what to expect, Severus braced himself as best as he was able to before hearing, "This will bring your benefactor to me if nothing elssssse will."

A touch of Voldemort's finger upon Severus' Dark Mark, a hissed word, and Severus' world exploded with anguish.