Chapter 75- Malfoy Matter

"It's the evening prophet," Hermione said, putting the paper in front of Harry's dinner. "I had- wondered if there would be anything about the Yule Ball this morning, but I guess Rita Skeeter was still working on something else. Did you have a- flying competition this morning?" Hermione asked.

"I- a seeker competition. Krum would only agree if only the five of us- him and the four Hogwarts seekers knew. I- was going to tell you guys afterwards, today… sometime…." Harry said.

"Eh, I'll complain about not getting to watch later. How'd you do?" Ron asked. A few others were listening in or trying to get hold of a copy of the Prophet.

"It was a- tie, three to three, but he did better, really. He almost won four catches to two," Harry said, to the growing crowd.

"You should write to Oliver about that," Fred said.

"Though he'd try to convince you to drop out now and join his team, and we won't be the ones to tell your dad about that," George pointed out.

"And none of the other competitors made a catch?" Hermione asked, still reading the paper.

"Yeah, but they flew well. There's a lot of luck," Harry said. "And without beaters and bludgers it wasn't like a real game," Harry said. Though he was feeling pretty good about everyone thinking he did well.

"Boy-Who-Lived, Greatest Seeker in the World?" the headline read. It sounded pretty great. And really arrogant for him to even think that.

"And, the end references other articles about you," Hermione said, now on a later page in the paper. There's one about you changing your name, and then it seems to be just rehashing the story of you and your dad. Congratulations on that, by the way," Hermione said. A few of Harry's friends had known his plan, mostly the old core of their defense group, but Harry didn't mind about that one being public now. "This- one is- ah- about you too, about the Yule Ball and Padma slapping you, though it doesn't get her name, and about you dancing with Fleur- which did that last part happen?" Hermione asked.

"Yeah," Harry said. "So I guess Parvati and Padma are going to be even more mad at me now?" Harry asked. Parvati was far on the other end of the Gryffindor table.

"Probably," Ron said with a smile. "But Fleur might not be."

"Fleur was- it was just a dance. She's seventeen and goes to another school. We barely know each other. That's ridiculous," Harry said. Though she had been nice, and very pretty.

Ron started a coughing fit that made Harry-

"Oh, I'm sorry, Hermione, I didn't mean you and Krum," Harry said in a rush.

"It's fine," Hermione said, and she didn't look too upset, maybe annoyed…

"The Prophet is always stupid but- how did they know about the flying anyway? It was just a few hours ago, and- I didn't say anything," Harry said. "Can I look at that?" H,arry asked, and he started scanning the article.

'Keen eyes, being followed by….'

'Breathtaking dive, culminating in a catch not even a second before Victor Krum would have…'

'Nearly a collision…'

Harry said, "It sounded like she was really watching, but that's not possible. It was only the five of us, and Krum put up wards. I hope Victor doesn't think I told anyone." Harry groaned, "It looks like I did it for publicity or something. I've got to say something to- he's not at the Slytherin table," Harry said. He didn't know why he cared so much, except he had really appreciated what Victor said and- if they really could fly against each other again as competitors one day, he would hate to have Victor still annoyed at him for this when he didn't even do anything.

"I'm going to go- see if he's by the boat okay? Maybe they can eat there too," Harry said heading for the door. If the school thought he was running from what was in the Prophet… he didn't care.

Harry found Victor easily. No one else would be swimming in the lake on a freezing December evening with the sun was long since down and everyone else that was still at the castle was at dinner. Harry supposed he wasn't the only one who knew the secret of the egg by now. He wondered what Victor's plan was to make it so deep. Unless this was unrelated and Victor just liked to swim in water with a bit of ice in it. Even with warming charms, that seemed crazy.

"Victor," Harry shouted, to the young man now coming up on the edge, out of the water, in just small swimming shorts. Why did the task in the lake have to be in the winter?

"Yes, Harry Potter?" Victor asked.

"It's- Harry Snape actualy, officially now," Harry said. "But I just," he held out the paper. "Wanted you to know I had nothing to do with this. I didn't even tell my best friends, though I was going to, but they wouldn't have told either. Here," he said, holding out the paper again.

"I do not read Eenglesh vell, Harry Snape. Vat does say?" Krum asked. It was pretty dark anyway.

"Oh it just- describes our game and… calls me maybe the best seeker alive since- you're maybe the best seeker, and we tied. I didn't want you to think that I asked to fly against you planning to tell the papers about it," Harry said.

"I learn after goblet you do not like attention. You are not afraid of it, but do not seek it, I tink. So I do not tink you talk to paper."

"I didn't, but I don't think any of the others would as well, really," Harry said, which was another problem.

"Proud competitors. Not brag about loss, I tink," Victor agreed.

"Yeah, I just don't know how she knew," Harry said.

"Who is writer?" Krum asked.

"Rita Skeeter," Harry said. "The same one who was at the wand weighings."

"She ees good. Knew about my- how you say, end dating- with girl before World Cup final. I thought girl speak to Skeeteer but maybe not. Girl only wanted famous."

"That's rough," Harry said. It also gave some insight into why Victor might be interested in Hermione, a girl who didn't care about quidditch, and who didn't care that one of her best friends was famous too. Not that there weren't plenty of other good reasons to like Hermione too.

"Find anything interesting in the lake?" Harry asked, more to have something else to say.

"I vill," Krum answered, and Harry could hear his smile, more than he could see it. "Because I vill vin."

*****Severus*****

"Severus?" came Lucius Malfoy's voice from his sitting room. Severus had never seen the man head in the floo in his life. Though the man wouldn't have been able to use the floo properly, the dignified man would use owl communication. "May I come through?" he asked. He looked… ragged. His long, blond hair was not perfectly straight.

"I believe you will understand my reservations in making that allowance," Severus answered, in what was likely to be the end of their long friendship. He told himself that it would be no great loss.

"You've talked to Draco then, probably helped him plan this whole thing."

"I speak to Draco frequently, as his professor, Head of House, and godfather. Though I am not certain to what you are referring," Severus said, though of course, he assumed that Draco had taken his thoughts into action.

"I would have never thought I would describe your life as blissful," The man said. This was not the well-liked, wealthy teenager that a first year Severus Snape had looked up to. "But you have a son who doesn't want himself disowned. Does anything else matter? Though I hear you've become quite cozy with Andromeda Black's daughter."

"She's been Andromeda Tonks for more than two decades, but I doubt you came to discuss my romantic life. What do you want, Lucius?"

"Draco's last letter to his mother said that he no longer had need of the Malfoy finances and residence, would be living elsewhere this summer, and would not discuss it further. And he said that if I attempted to intervene in any way, he has a request for emancipation ready to be filed. He even threatened to speak to the press."

Draco has acted more quickly that Severus expected. He supposed the boy had been thinking about it for some time. "And how is Narcissa handling this?" Severus asked neutrally.

"She only speaks to me when she feels like yelling again, and- wha-" he screamed as the green flames rose higher, and Dora materialized, kicking Lucius Malfoy in the head with her purple trainers before falling to the stone floor. Severus helped her up immediately of course, and regretted any pain she might have felt but… it would still be a treasured memory, Dora kicking Lucius in the head. Severus wished she had been wearing more substantial footwear.

"I'm fine, Severus. I've had a worse fall today even. Am I interrupting?" Dora asked.

"Yes," Lucius said. From his position, he wasn't even able to rub the back of his head, though he hadn't left his place on the floor.

"No. In fact, your presence could be quite useful," Severus answered. If Lucius would agree.

"Well, hello, Uncle Lucius," Dora said. "We haven't been properly introduced, have we, Severus. But you probably already know that I'm your wife's disowned sister's daughter, and that I'm Severus's girlfriend." She declared.

"I was aware," Lucius said.

"Lucius, I will ask you again. And you can speak freely in front of Dora, because I would have told her everything we discussed anyway. What do you want by coming here?"

"I want my son back. For my wife to not hate me. I want to live the life I had for those ten years between the Dark Lord's fall and my son leaving for Hogwarts."

"Did he start to pull away even then?" Severus asked.

"Soon after. And I don't think I have to tell you that I blame you and your son. And myself. But that doesn't matter now, does it?"

"And what does matter, Lucius?" Severus asked, enjoying the strange frankness of this direct conversation.

"I will do whatever I have to do to make amends with my son. And as I cannot speak with him, I am seeking your advice, as an adult he still respects, perhaps more than anyone else."

"Dora, would you mind if I allowed him through the floo this once?" Severus asked, more to annoy Lucius than anything else.

"Oh, go right ahead," Dora said, playing along amiably with whatever Severus chose to do, it seemed.

A few minutes later, Lucius Malfoy stood before them, no wand in sight and looking less regal than usual. Though it was likely an intentional play for pity.

"Tom Riddle is trying to rise again," Severus stated, testing the waters.

Lucius looked confused. He was not aware of the name.

"Tom Riddle. The evil, self-righteous, half-blood bastard whom I no longer call the Dark Lord. This is where we stand, Lucius, if you wish to leave now, I can simply wipe a few memories away and pour some fire whiskey down your throat, and you'll never know you were here."

"He was a half-blood?" Lucius asked disbelievingly. Of course the bigoted man would latch onto that. In the presence of two other half-bloods.

"Just as much as I am. And he is a half-blood. He's not dead. Though whether he is human at the moment is unclear. He is doing his best to walk among the other living again. And you cannot be so ignorant of it, or is your Dark Mark not returning to the way it was?" Severus asked.

Lucius's hand drifted only as far as his wrist. How many years had he spent checking to make sure his sleeves were down at all times before it was a nervous gesture for the serene man? "And you want to stop him, you and your son. Is Draco involved?" Lucius demanded. "What danger are you putting my son in, Severus?"

"Draco was a great help, yes. In a role that he has already completed and was put in no physical danger to do so," Severus said, and it was true, really. "I love my godson and would not hurt him in any preventable way, Lucius. I care for him almost as much as my own son."

"I love my son. He and Narcissa are my life," Lucius declared.

"And what of the time a year and a half ago that I held him as he cried after you slapped him for setting an elf free?" It would have been a mild event in either of the lives of the two men present, but it had hurt the child greatly.

"It was an action I regret more than any other that I can remember, and I have killed, Severus. I am not blind to the atrocities I have committed."

"He let the elf go intentionally, you know, because you were torturing the creature," Severus tested.

"I am aware of the motivations of my son, Severus. He has never been a careless child. I knew before then that I was losing him, and it angered me far more than losing a servant," Lucius said, staring at Severus's floor rather than his usual chin-jutting pose. The creature had been a slave, not a servant, not even a willing slave like most house elves. However, the morality of slave labor was not a discussion Severus ever cared to have, particularly not with the man in front of him.

"If there were something difficult, potentially dangerous that you could do that might earn the respect of your son, would you do it, Lucius?" It was... an interesting thought that might have merit.

"Yes," the other man responded instantly, sitting straighter in the chair.

"I will need an unbreakable vow to show your commitment and your silence," Severus said. "And we are lucky that Dora is here to assist. What do you say, Lucius?"

"I will do what I must," Lucius said. A father's bravery, even if he wasn't the best father. He was as reluctant as he was any word in the English language, but determined.

"Your hand," Severus directed," extending his own.

Lucius grasped the offered hand, and Dora raised her wand above them.

"Will you, Lucius Malfoy, swear to not speak, or otherwise communicate in any way the nature or subject of what we discuss in this room tonight? I make one, small allowance that you may say to Narcissa Malfoy, your wife, if the subject were to arise, that she may come and speak to me personally. Will you?" he asked again. He shouldn't have added the last piece, but Narcissa could be an ally in her own right.

"I will," Lucius agreed. A tongue of flame from Dora's wand, binding their hands together. At a nod from Severus, the flames faded.

"That is all?" Lucius asked, surprised.

"For now," Severus answered. "Tell me, are you familiar with the concept of a horcrux, Lucius?"

The other wizard frowned, thoughtful, "I have heard of the word and know it as dark magic but nothing specific," the wizard said, wary.

"It is formed from murder, splitting one's soul, and putting it in an object. The creator cannot truly die while a horcrux remains undestroyed. Tom Riddle made several."

"The diary," Lucius whispered.

"Yes, you did carelessly hand out a piece of the soul of our old master. Without that, we might never have been alerted to their existence. I shall be sure to tell Tom about that one day if this goes poorly."

The other man ignored the threat, "But you have been finding others and destroying them?"

"There have been others retrieved and destroyed as well, yes. But one has been particularly difficult. One that Riddle created recently, after an unknown follower helped him return to some rudimentary physical form."

"And you want me to find and destroy it," Lucius said, swift on the uptake, though it was brutally obvious that Severus would not have been sharing this otherwise.

"It is a snake, which Riddle keeps near him. It must be reached without alerting him that anyone knows of horcruxes. He must not make more of them."

"I'll do it," the man promised.

"You would need to find him or his follower, fabricate a story of wanting to help your master, and instead work to bring about his final demise. Is that something that you can do, Lucius?"

"For my family, I would do anything," Lucius Malfoy maintained.

"Then I shall require another unbreakable vow from you, old friend. I cannot afford to take chances."

"And if I did not agree?" Lucius asked.

"You would agree," Severus stated evenly, holding out his hand again.

Again, Dora started the binding.

"Will you, Lucius, as your foremost priority in life, work to find Tom Riddle, the master we both once served, and obtain his familiar, a large snake, without alerting anyone to the existence of horcruxes or our knowledge of horcruxes?" Severus crafted.

"I will," Lucius answered. It was good that Severus had given at least the illusion of choice in the matter. He had always known that Lucius would agree. This time, the thin whip of flame that coiled around their joined hands, reminded Severus vividly of the snake they must destroy.

"And will you work to bring this snake to me, incapacitated but alive, to the best of your abilities, at all times when this does not conflict with your foremost priority?" Severus asked. He had to make the task narrowly defined enough that a Snake could not slither out, but not so much as to paralyze his helper. It wouldn't help either of them if Lucius went off getting killed.

"I will," Lucius answered, prompting a second tongue of flame to emit from Dora's wand.

"Will you, if called to serve again as a follower to Tom Riddle, report all of your actions and any other information related to Tom Riddle that you are able to discover to me, as quickly as possible without revealing your association with me or any actions we intend to make together, until such time that you can retrieve the snake?"

"I will," Lucius answered, the sweat rolling down his temple wasn't just from the fire in their binding.

"Will you, in your potential service to your old master, seek to cause as little harm as possible to any living being except for Tom Riddle and his followers, except when this conflicts absolutely with our previously stated objectives," Severus spelled out. He wouldn't just be giving Riddle a second follower to do his work.

"I will," Lucius replied, their hands so encased in coils of flames that they could hardly be seen.

With a nod from Severus, the spell flared once more and vanished. They still had much to plan, and other matters than Severus needed to tend to.

*****Severus*****

"Draco, how are you?" Severus asked

"Fine," the boy replied.

"I hear you will be staying with Andromeda and Ted next summer?" Severus asked.

"They have a room ready for me already," Draco said in non-answer. "I assume you have spoken to my Mother, then?" Draco said.

"Your father. I received the impression that Narcissa gave him orders to fix the situation or he would not like the consequences."

"So, he came to you instead of talking to me," the boy sulked.

"Would you have responded to his owls?" Severus questioned.

"Probably not," Draco answered.

"And he found it necessary to not wait for owls. He floo called yesterday evening. I must say, in all the years I have known him, I have never seen Lucius Malfoy's head sticking out of a floo. Dora came through while he was there and kicked him in the head by mistake."

As expected, all of that seemed to cheer the boy, that his father had cared to floo call, and that he had gotten a kick for it. "What did he want?"

"A form of penance, I believe. He wanted a way to earn your respect. And I freely admit that I had need of assistance he could provide, so I made agreement for his assistance. I made no promise as to your thoughts on the manner. I believe he is hoping that you will give thought to his… change of heart, so to speak. He is now helping me similarly to how you did, Draco," Severus said, giving the most relevant details. He had no regret over his deal with Lucius, if it would help Harry. But he wouldn't want to negatively impact Draco either.

"But- but he didn't really want to change, so that's not a real change. He just agreed to it to try to keep me. That's nothing new. I mean- I always knew that he loved me. But is that enough? He's- killed people, I'm sure, and he's not even sorry for that," Draco said astutely.

"That is- a completely justified viewpoint for you to have, Draco. You do not have to see him if you are uncomfortable. The Tonks's are a wonderful family that anyone should be proud to live with. And my floo will always be open to you as well, though I would need to- discuss it with Harry before any long-term arrangement was reached," Severus said tightly. Should he have given his godson another… option years ago? He had been concerned with not pushing matters with Lucius too far. And if he had done such a thing, he would not have Lucius's alliance now, but this was another teenage boy's life.

"However, sometimes, a change of actions even for the wrong reasons is enough to start a new life, and the heart may follow. I turned from the life of a Death Eater because a woman I loved was threatened," Severus said. "It was fear that caught me first. And later, I turned away from the life of a miserable, bitter man, old before my time, because my son needed to be cared for. Love is a very powerful motivator. And as dark as his past has been, I truly believe that your father loves you very much, as does your mother."

"I could probably see them," Draco said. "Not now, and not in the manor. But after my father does whatever he has to do for you, and after every single thing that's hidden under the drawing room has been destroyed. Then, I'll talk to him. I will write to Mother tonight," the boy said. "I don't mean to hold my fa- her husband's- actions against her, but- I can't- but she could have stopped him, I think," Draco stumbled over his words. And the boy was probably right. Narcissa Black had always had a strange system of priorities, but she had never been a complacent weakling, nor did Severus suspect that she truly was now.

"My only last advice? Tell your mother that you love her. And your father too if you can manage to say it," Severus said. Words left unsaid were more painful than anything ever said.

*****Severus*****

"Hey, any new developments?" Dora questioned. "I mean, I know it was just yesterday, but has Narcissa visited yet? I would love to see that," she said from her place on their- on the sofa.

"She has not visited, which leads me to believe that Lucius has not yet told her anything, because I believe she would do anything for her son," Severus stated.

"Like you would," Dora said.

"Being an auror, you have… dealt with the risk of dying for a cause," Severus started uncomfortably.

"Yes, and I would for our cause, to stop Riddle, and to protect Harry," Dora declared.

"What if they cannot both be done?" Severus asked. "You would die for a cause; would you run for one?"

"What?" she asked.

"I am asking for something against your nature, but there could come a time that the only way to save Harry's life is to go far away, away from the Riddle, the Ministry, from Albus Dumbledore himself, for all that he has been my greatest ally for years. And I'm asking if you'd come with us, even if it meant abandoning both of our professions, and everything else. Riddle would be chasing us, and I know it's more dangerous for everyone but Harry than staying here, but I would have to protect him. And I love you and hope that you would come with us," Severus finished breathless.

"First of all, yes, of course I'd come. Harry would be much harder to convince, and we'll want to convince him, not take him by force. And it won't come to that, because we'll come up with something better first. And second, go back and say the 'I love you' part again, because your grand declaration of love for me is not something that is going to just get wrapped up in a doomsday escape plan, Severus Snape" Dora said.

"I love you, Dora Tonks" Severus repeated. It had been what he had been meaning to say for a while, to not leave anything important unsaid, hanging over him. But when he saw her sitting there, everything else had come out too.

"Well, haven't you grown? I've wanted to say that for a year, but didn't want to scare you. I guess I underestimated you. I love you, Severus Snape," Dora said in return.

"Thank you," Severus said.

"You're not supposed to say thank you. I'm pretty sure you're just supposed to kiss the girl," Dora grinned.

"You're not a girl," Severus reminded her. They'd had that conversation some years ago now.

"Then you're supposed to kiss the woman that you love."

"Gladly," Severus responded, and he- they did.

A/N: Please let me know what you thought! Before all else, Severus is a parent. Someone's asked a while ago how he was going to take learning that Harry had to die, but I don't think that any good parent is just going to accept that your teenage son needs to be a sacrifice for some great cause. And Lucius Malfoy is a parent as well, though one who thinks too much of himself and his bloodline.

Thank you for all the lovely reviews last week! They really keep me writing. When some people weren't getting what I wrote the week before, it had me really discouraged (though I did have one awesome reviewer ask if I was okay because I usually posted by then, which told me something was wrong in the first place.) And the upload is early this week because tomorrow will be really busy for me.