Chapter 44: Battle Royale Part II
Severus strode into the Headmaster's office, grimly resigned to what needed to be done and trying to desperately calculate what it might mean for his newly established truce with Potter after he told the Gryffindor his less-than-noble-intentions. He was surprised to find that apart from needing the two of them work together during the coming battle and the rest of the war, he actually...cared what the boy was going to think of him. It was novel experience for him, wanting the approval of another person. Even as a teenager he had been hard pressed to ever consider the feelings of anyone aside from Lily and even that, in end, had not been enough to deter him from doing what he had wanted at any given time.
But Potter- Harry Potter at least- was different. Severus generally had little use for high morals or handwringing equivocating but Potter had a way of putting other people's needs first that did not cry out for attention or sympathy. He was stoic in the face the tragedy, calm in the face of disaster and yet he possessed an innate compassion for those unable to defend themselves and was driven to protect them.
Severus faltered as he saw the Headmaster sitting in his chair behind his desk, the same position that he had seen the man in countless times but in this moment it seemed terribly wrong. It would have been so much easier to tell the man his plan if he had been lying helpless and weak in his bed. If Severus could see that the man was dying, the way he knew he was, instead of looking alive and competent if not strong and healthy.
"Severus," Albus greeted and Severus was grimly satisfied to hear the weakness in his voice. The man was dying, Severus had to remember that lest he convince himself that he could not go through with his plan.
"Albus," he greeted curtly, consummately professional, "you are aware that the castle is under attack."
The Headmaster nodded slowly before a slight smile lit his face, "Harry has grown into a wonderful man, hasn't he Severus? As I was sitting here, thinking over all that needs to be done and everything I failed to prepare for, I knew that I could not leave Hogwarts in better hands. You, Minerva, Filius, Hagrid, his friends, you will help him. I realized that I did not have a single doubt in my mind that Harry will do what needs to be done." The old man smiled peacefully and one might have believed that he could have died right in that moment.
But things could never be that simple and when Albus opened his eyes once more his gaze was sharp and intelligent. "I have something that I must tell you, something I should have told you a long time ago. Harry cannot know, not until the last possible moment...it would be unfair to ask him to carry this burden."
"Albus, I need you to understand," Severus determined to say his piece, unable to concentrate on whatever the Headmaster was saying until he had made his abhorrent intentions clear.
"I know, Severus," Albus answered gently. "I know what must be done and I want you to know that I will be forever in your debt for the sacrifice you are willing to give. You are offering an old man, one that has lived a long life with more blessings than he deserved, an end that will have dignity and no pain. You will grant me the thing I have always wanted, to make my life meaningful to the people of our world. Thank you Severus. Truly."
Severus was a man too used to hiding his reactions for there to be any outward sign of his surprise, however, his breath was slightly shallow and if one looked closely they would see that his pupils had dilated from the shock. He had not been prepared for Dumbledore to not only anticipate his plan but to give him his damn blessing for his own murder. That blasted man!
"The important thing now is Harry, you must tell him Severus; I should have ensured that you knew long before now. It appears that I am forever doomed to repeat the same mistakes again and again, keeping secrets that should have shared, failing to trust the people that deserve that trust the most. I am sorry Severus, but it is not too late."
Severus frowned, irritated that even at the last Dumbledore still had secrets and plans to reveal. "What more could the man possibly want from Potter now?"
Dumbledore closed his eyes and let out a deep breath, "tell me Severus do you understand the concept of Horcruxes?"
Severus blinked before shaking himself, "Potter already told me Albus. He told me that the Dark Lord made six of them."
"Seven," Albus corrected solemnly.
Severus nodded his head impatiently, "yes, he split his soul in seven pieces but the seventh piece remains in what is left of his body. I understand Albus."
"No, you don't understand, and neither does Harry and most especially, neither does Tom. Tom was reckless Severus. He played a dangerous game and was unprepared for the consequences. When he attacked Harry that night so many years ago the Killing Curse rebounded on him, rebounded upon a person that had enmeshed themselves in Dark Magic so dangerous that no sane wizard would have attempted such a thing. His soul at that point was so unstable that the only truly surprising thing about that night was that there was enough of Tom Riddle to survive at all. But his soul, it was split again and in the absence of a suitable container it latched itself onto the only living thing in that room. The person that has a connection to Voldemort that neither one has been able to explain, and a boy that can speak Parseltongue when no one in his family is capable of such a feat."
Severus felt his mouth run dry, his heart seemed to thud heavily in his chest and he knew that his face was white. "Potter is a Horcrux."
Dumbledore looked at him with pain filled eyes, "Voldemort cannot be killed while Harry lives and the only way to ensure that the cycle is truly broken is to ensure that it is Voldemort himself that kills Harry. That is essential, don't forget Severus, Voldemort must be one to act."
And then in that remarkably uncanny way Dumbledore had of knowing precisely what was going to happen before it did, the door to the office was blasted open, wood and stone cascading in the office and Draco Malfoy entered...followed by three Death Eaters and another student that Severus had never suspected of treachery but in that moment realized that he had been foolish to disregard her feelings so callously. Severus let out a slow breath and prepared himself to balance himself on the highest tightrope of his long career as a spy. He needed to buy Potter a little more time.
"Dobby!" Harry called out and sure enough the small elf appeared immediately, though his usual excitement was tempered with a nervous quality. He was pulling anxiously on his ears and hopping between his two feet as he said, "Harry Potter, there be bad wizards here, sir."
"I know Dobby, that's why I need your help. We need to get the other students out of the castle. Can you and the other House elves transport them back to their homes?"
Dobby was shaking his head and started pulling his ears as hard as he could. "Harry Potter sir, Dobby is a free elf and can do what Dobby wants and he wants to help Harry Potter more than anything, but the other House elves only be listening to a professor. They will no listen to Dobby, Harry Potter."
"That's...alright," McGonagall panted and Hermione hurried to the woman's side as she began to stir and helped her to her feet. McGonagall was pale and slightly unsteady on her feet but her usual decorum and discipline were also present and it was clear that she was not done with the fight. "Allow me, and since it appears that our so-called element of surprise is out," she pointed her wand at her throat, "'All students are to report to their respective Common Room immediately. This is an emergency situation, return to your Common Rooms and await further instructions from your Head of House'".
She nodded as though satisfied before adding, this time only for the benefit of the people in the room. "No need to give any further information away. She called four different names and four different House elves appeared. "As the primary caregivers of the Four Houses, I am entrusting you with a very important responsibility. Use your authority to get the other House-elves to help you to evacuate the students back to their respective homes. Start with the First Years and work your way up. Seventh Years must be asked permission first before you remove them from the grounds as they are of age but leave no one else behind."
"Professor!" Harry spoke up quickly, "I don't think we should do that. I have...Draco is working on something that we need but we can't have him be the only person left behind or we're essentially proving that he's on our side. If a student fights to be here, than I know that means that they must be serving Voldemort...and we should let them stay."
McGonagall looked as though she was going to argue this point and Harry understood. The last thing they needed was to be fighting other students on top of fighting the invading Death Eaters but in order for his plan to work he needed for it to look as though they were unable to get out anyone that refused to go. After a moment she turned back to the elves, "do as Mr. Potter says, if any student refuses to go do not make them but report back to myself, Severus, Filius, Pomona...or Mr. Potter as to who is staying."
"Yes ma'am," the elves chorused before disapparating.
Harry looked up at his Head of House in surprise at his inclusion in what was essentially the established leadership of the school. "Don't look so surprised Potter, after years of you running around us and playing the hero I imagine the only way I can ensure that you don't ignore me completely is to put you in charge," she huffed, grimacing slightly at the pain in her side from the curses she sustained.
Harry nodded turning to direct everyone to the next part of his highly improvised plan but was interrupted by the sudden arrival of silvery jackal that spoke in the voice of Fred Weasley, 'Harry we're on our way and we have reinforcements. If you can keep the Three Eyed Witch clear than we'll be there in minutes. We're bringing that new line we told you about with us and a few other surprises.'
Harry turned to McGonagall, "was anyone going to show me that you can send messages with a Patronus? That really would have come in handy last year, don't you think?" he asked thinking of the fact that he had believed that he had had no means of contacting Sirius.
"It's an Order secret Mr. Potter...one admittedly in retrospect that would have prudent to have shared with you," McGonagall admitted sounding oddly sheepish. She seemed to busy herself with casting several healing charms on Ron, making sure that her student was in good condition and Harry was relieved to see his friend's expression smooth out as pain disappeared from his various injuries and bloody gashes smooth away into newly healed scars.
"Was that one of the Weasleys?" Nott asked.
"Fred," Harry answered absently, his mind working furiously to think of everything that they needed to do in the next few minutes.
"What 'line' are they are talking about?" Daphne asked.
"You know the twins own a joke shop, but they've also been supplying the Ministry with loads of Defense materials. They also have shield hats and jackets, darkness powder, decoy detonators- their stuff is really brilliant. They showed me some of it over the holidays but I know they've been working on others too. Knowing them, I think I might feel sorry for the Death Eaters. I knew giving them that start up money was a good idea," he said proudly.
Daphne and Theo looked at one another before looking back at Harry with shock. "What?" he asked, suddenly feeling uncomfortable.
"You're the secret investor?" they asked in unison. "People have been wondering about you for months!" Daphne added sounding stunned. "It's been the hottest gossip of the year and you've been sitting on it this whole time?"
"Damn it...first I lose out to Weasley in the Defense bet and now I owe Malfoy 20 galleons," Nott groused.
"Malfoy thought I was the investor?" Harry questioned in slight surprise.
"Close enough," the Slytherin admitted irritably, "I believe his exact words were, 'I bet you 20 galleons that it isn't some experienced investor with a portfolio that was looking to expand into an untapped market but some reckless Gryffindor with more money than brains that just got lucky'."
Harry felt like he should be highly insulted but honestly didn't have the time at the moment. Idly thinking that he should really remember to address this opinion of him later, he shrugged as he moved over to the desk and conjured a piece of parchment, "I told them I wanted to be a silent partner. It wasn't anyone's business. And besides...Fred and George loved making up half of those rumors. I didn't want to deprive them of their fun. But that's hardly important at the moment. You know the statue of the Three Eyed Witch?" At several nods, Harry explained, "it's a secret passage that leads to Hogsmeade, that's how they'll get everyone in."
McGonagall looked like a strong part of her wanted to reprimand Harry for sitting on this information and surely using it for his own gain but she also seemed to decide to wait for a better time. Harry had the errant thought that it would be just his luck to actually pull off his wild plan and save the school from Death Eaters only to later be assigned detention. He wondered if real Aurors ever had to deal with these kinds of problems.
"We need to make sure that everyone is put into the right position, but I have to get to Dumbledore...or Snape and I need to get to Snape so that he knows about Draco, and the sword I need that..." there were too many loose ends and Harry felt as though he was juggling a dozen balls in the air and the moment he let one slip everything would come tumbling down around him.
"I can take care of that," Tackley spoke up rather unexpectedly.
Harry blinked at her and fought the impulse to shout her down out of hand. Instead he said, "we're not following Ministry protocols."
"I can work around Ministry protocols," Tackley said quickly and when Harry looked as though he was going to argue she added, "Potter, believe it or not you are far from the first person to come up with their own ideas and techniques...you just happen to be better at executing them and getting others to go along with your schemes. I have spent 30 years arguing with 'creative little minds' like yours and a few ideas have stuck. I know what they will expect us to do and I can avoid it."
"I can help," Neville added, looking desperate to be helpful and not knowing how else to contribute. Harry nodded tightly. Tackley, as much as Harry didn't like the woman, was a superb fighter and Neville and she had a good working relationship. Tackley had personally trained Neville throughout most of the year and their styles were similar which was important but Neville had also learned from Harry and likely had a good idea of what Harry planned to do before he had to say anything.
"Right, go and get them to set up a perimeter but wait for the signal."
"What's the signal?" Neville asked.
Harry swallowed and glanced upwards, wondering when it would strike, how long had they already been detained? "Any minute now I expect the Dark Mark to go off over the castle...but you have to wait until you hear the wards break."
"What?" nearly everyone gasped at once. Harry tensed, they didn't have time for lengthy explanations but they needed to know...
"Right now, Draco going to Snape, he'll take care of everything but what you need to know is this, Dumbledore is dying, and once he dies, once Voldemort knows that that the only person he's actually afraid of is dead...he's going to attack the school and we can't take out the Death Eaters until we already know that he's here or at a point where he won't turn back."
"You-Know-Who...is coming here...and that's your plan?" Neville gaped at him. Daphne had turned ghostly white at this proclamation and seemed to sway slightly on her feet.
Harry gave a stiff nod, "and he'll bring the Shield of Slytherin with him-"
"The impenetrable Shield of Slytherin that an army of Aurors couldn't make a dent in? You want to stage a confrontation with the most powerful wizard in the world while he has the most powerful weapon in the world?" Nott asked as the Slytherins that he had brought alongside him shifted nervously, their bodies leaning almost subconsciously towards the door as if they were bidding their time until they could official escape and swear allegiance to the winning side.
"Do you remember what I said to you after Tackley's first battle simulation? About fighting a war?" Harry asked trying to inject as much confidence as he possibly could into what he was saying.
Theo grinned at him as he recounted, "that you don't plan on losing."
"We need to bring the fight here, the Slytherin Shield won't work at Hogwarts, not against the sword and not here in the castle against its students. We have the advantage here and I can almost guarantee that Voldemort doesn't know it."
"Do not underestimate you opponent, Potter," McGonagall reminded him. "V-Voldemort has been a master of tactics for longer than you've been alive."
"I'm not underestimating anything professor, but I know him. He's too arrogant to look for the weakness about the Shield. Or if he did learn about them, I bet you anything that he'll think that they don't apply to him because he's Slytherin's Heir."
"If he's coming, he won't come alone," Daphne pointed out. "He'll bring an army. A proper one."
"That's why we need as many people as we can get." He didn't add that he could only hope that the letters that he had had Daphne send would reach the recipients in time, or if they did reach them in time that the alliances that he had worked so hard to build throughout the entire year would actually pay off.
Hermione gasped, "I can't believe I didn't think of this before. Oh I hope they thought to pick them up once they heard the emergency announcement," he muttered as she dug into her robes and searched for a moment before extracting a galleon. Harry blinked at her for a moment before the connection was finally made. "Brilliant Hermione!"
"What's that?" one of the Fifth Year Slytherins asked.
Ron barked out a laugh as comprehension flooded him as he answered for Hermione who was busy setting the coin up with the proper information. "Looks like we're gonna need an army of our own, good thing that while you lot were off joining inquisitorial squads and doing homework Hermione here was organizing a secret cabal of students to overturn the Ministry and made Harry train us." Hermione looked rather indignant but Harry laughed.
"No need to be so dramatic Weasley," McGonagall muttered but she looked distinctly amused herself.
"Don't tell them to do anything yet Hermione," Harry warned, "the last thing we want is for all of us to be crowded into one area where they can trap us. I think it's better if we can spread our defenses. Voldemort is going to be waiting for his own signal, waiting to make sure that Dumbledore is really..." Harry coughed to clear his throat, not only upset with the Headmaster's imminent death but his active role in bringing it about. A year ago Harry would have never dreamed of such a plan and he realized that while he had changed things at Hogwarts, he too had changed from the boy he had been. He had never truly been naïve or innocent as many of his peers had been but there had been an idealism of how to win the war that he was beginning to accept was not realistic. He only hoped that he was not crossing a line that he would discover too late that he could not come back from. He had promised himself that he would never turn into Voldemort, even if it seemed to be the only way to defeat the man.
"He'll need to know that Dumbledore is dead before he'll attack."
"Right, Longbottom, move out with me and we'll scatter the perimeter with the reinforcements. Potter... you've proved me wrong, don't disappoint me now," Tackley said as she headed for the door with a determined stride that showed her prowess as a true fighter. Harry actually felt his respect for the woman grow.
"Harry, how can you be sure that Voldemort is going to attack right after Dumbledore... after he dies. Wouldn't it be better for him wait?" Hermione asked.
Harry nodded thoughtfully, thinking over everything that he knew about the man and reassuring himself that he had planned this the right way. "If he didn't have the Shield I would say you would be right and he would bid his time but with it, he thinks that he's invincible and..." Harry shrugged feeling a bit embarrassed to say this, even to his close friends, "honestly, after Dumbledore the only person left that he's really concerned with personally is me. For a while he's been feeling...restless. I can feel it in my visions. He wants a clear victory, one that will show the Wizarding World that fighting is futile and that it would be easier if they just fell in line. The Shield gives him confidence and the attacks on the villages..." something else occurred to Harry and he hoped that he had time for one more message to go out.
"Professor, how do I do that patronus-message-thing?"
McGonagall raised her eyebrow at this but once again didn't stop to question his commands. She quickly showed him how to adjust the spell, luckily after being able to cast the patronus, the addition of the message was very simple.
Harry used his wand to summon the two most important elements in the coming fight- Gyrffindor's Sword and Ravenclaw's Map. Looking at the map he could clearly see where Voldemort's main bases were, the map even showed what positions were the most important to Voldemort's plans as well as where the defenses were most vulnerable. It was truly a brilliant piece of magic and Harry could see why Ravenclaw was known for her intelligence. He had been told that the objects worked best when used in Hogwarts, and in defense of the castle and he could see that the Map was eager to help.
After a quick discussion with McGonagall and Hermione with an odd comment or two thrown in by Nott and the Slytherins who knew enough of the Death Eaters to give important information, he sent a message to Dimitri and Raymond explaining that he expected there to be a full assault on Hogwarts at any minute as they should have heard from Daphne's hurried messages, but that meant that Voldemort's other fortifications would be left virtually undefended. Daphne was right after all, when Voldemort came he would be bring an army...his whole army if Harry wasn't mistaken. Hogwarts had always been seen as a stronghold. Harry vaguely remembered Hermione saying something about the fact that it was built as a castle originally for the purposes of defense when witches and wizards were attacked. The salient point being that if Voldemort captured Hogwarts, the rest of Britain would eventually fall.
Now all he could do was hope that they got the message and while Voldemort was distracted with the battle at the castle, the werewolves and vampires would attack the enemy's bases and free the imprisoned towns. Harry delivered his message and looked up to see the Slytherins looking impressed with his strategy.
He sent a couple of other messages to the closest alliances he had built in the ICW as well a few of the Order members like Tonks and Lupin setting up a clear attack plan and received a confirmation from the Order members but had to contend with silence from the other recipients as they were not aware of the necessary spell to respond.
Harry felt jittery and anxious, an hour had passed since he had first learned of the Death Eaters breaching the entrance to Hogwarts and yet there had been no Dark Mark in the sky, his scar was strangely painless, and the castle had fallen almost strangely quiet now. The elves had reported back, every single person under Fifth Year had been evacuated but there were many Upper Years that had remained behind.
The entirety of the DA had stayed to fight, much to Harry's delight along with a few other Upper Years that Harry felt confident were on their side. However, it seemed that Voldemort had more of a following than even Harry had wanted to believe and Ron in particular had seemed as though his world view had been shaken to the core when they had learned that four Hufflepuffs that they couldn't vouch for had decided to remain in the castle. Ron had gone so far as to say that he had been less surprised with the six Gryffindors that had stayed than the Hufflepuffs, swearing that he never would have imagined that notoriously 'innocent' House would have anything to do with Voldemort. Harry had been less surprised, Hufflepuffs were known for loyalty- it had only been assumed that it was loyalty to the right causes.
He wasn't the only one feeling the tension. McGonagall had been casting protective spells with her wand and Hermione had been muttering different curses under breath as though to remind herself of different spells to use. The Slytherins were pale and silent but Daphne had come to stand next to him, leaning into his side slightly as though looking for reassurance.
Theo and another boy that had a family connection to the Death Eaters left together after a good amount of time passed so that they could infiltrate the other side. Just when Harry thought that he would go mad from the waiting he saw the spark of green outside the window. The Dark Mark. Ron was staring that mark over their school, face pale but posture unusually straight. Hermione gasped, her hand tightening on her wand. Daphne reflexively grabbed his hand at the sight and Harry found himself returning the gesture with a comforting squeeze and a desire to hold her closer to himself. There was a shiver of anticipation, a moment of halted silence in which Harry wondered if their plan had been for nothing...and then he felt the world shake.
Draco was intercepted by his two uncles and the Carrow siblings, two families that should really be used as cautionary tales against the dangers of inbreeding, though of course the Crabbe and Goyle families had problems of their own. "Draco!" Rodolphus called in what on another person might be called a jovial tone. "My dear nephew, little Narcissa's baby boy who has been working for months on a way to get us into a castle only to be outdone by annoying little bint from Ravenclaw."
Draco glanced to the left and forced himself not to look surprised at the curly haired, pockmarked face of Marietta Edgecombe. Potter had said that a Ravenclaw must be working for the Dark Lord as they were the only ones capable of getting into the Common Room but he never would have suspected her. But then... Edgecombe had been humiliated by Granger, marked as traitor from the moment the girl had chosen her mother's job advancement opportunities over the loyalty of her friends and the school.
"Edgecombe...can't say I'm surprised that a job where you get to wear a mask would appeal to you," he smirked at her.
The girl flushed brilliantly, her face turning sour. "Granger thinks that she can just ruin my life and I'm going to slink off into the shadows like a kicked dog? The Dark Lord is going to reward me...how do you think he'll feel when he hears that I could finish what you couldn't?" She was taunting him but lacked the stature or intonation to come across as intimidating as she would have liked. She was out of her league and Draco suspected that she was very quickly going to learn regret trying to play in the big boys.
Draco's lip curved slightly at the idea that this girl would willingly put into someone's mind that she resembled a dog. "Considering you have a year more of magical training? I would be more concerned if you weren't more skilled than me. I hardly think that's reason to brag Edgecombe. Though if you had taken a second to think things through...you might have realized that I was waiting for the right moment for this attack and this...is not it." He was bluffing, trying to make her feel uncomfortable and it was working remarkably well. She shifted and her eyes flicked with uncertainity towards the older Death Eaters who only looked entertained to hear the two of them squabbling.
"As for you," Draco continued, pressing his point, "let's hope that you've gotten better at double-crossing Potter, shall we? I would hate to see what happens if you mess things up as badly as you did the last time."
"Let's move," Rabastan grunted, "we don't have time for your little tantrums. Now are you coming nephew," the man sneered the title knowing that it did not truly apply but enjoying the feeling of making him feel young and inexperienced, "are you least going to finish the job or you going to let the bint do it all for you?"
Marietta flushed angrily once more at hearing how they referred to her, even after she had successfully fixed the Vanishing Cabinet, but said nothing to the experienced Death Eater.
Draco nodded curtly but said nothing, his face becoming a blank mask and his posture stiffened into one of perfect pureblood breeding. He had learned from a young age how to play this role and while the last several months had taught him that the cost of the game was too high for him, it didn't mean that he had forgotten the rules. He followed at a steady pace, not showing his inner conflict and reassuring himself that he shouldn't have any. He smirked slightly, his father had once told him that positioning was the most important element of success. Placing yourself in the correct social circles, investing in the right markets, being seen supporting the 'right' (popular) causes- all of these things were what led to status and wealth. Lucius had served in the Inner Circle of the Dark Lord when the man had been the most powerful wizard in Europe. Then he had aligned himself with the right people after the war and established himself as a traditional but upstanding member of the Elite. Throughout Draco's childhood he had enjoyed the benefits of his father's wealth and status and they were two things that he had no intentions of willingly abandoning. Intelligence, alliances and timing were the keys to success according to Lucius Malfoy.
And in this moment, somehow, Draco had arrived at the perfect position.
Safe from suspicion from the Death Eaters or the Dark Lord and yet safe from recrimination if the Dark Lord failed and Potter won. Grimly, Draco acknowledged that his father would be incredibly proud of him but at the moment his heart was too busy trying to beat out of his chest. There had been a time in the not so distant past when he had fancied himself Potter's rival. From their first day at school, the Gryffindor had offended him in every conceivable way. He had rejected his offer of friendship, Potter's sharp tongue was the only one that seemed imperious to his insults, Potter's Quidditch skills were second to none and his fame seemed to only grown with time. And yet rather naively, Draco had never really doubted that in the end he would triumph over the scruffy Half-Blood. The so called 'Chosen One's' mannerisms could only be described as plebian, his intelligence and achievement were average at best, he had only two real friends to his name so he was hardly considered popular- he had always appeared...ordinary.
And then Draco had seen Potter shatter the Dark Lord's wand. He had watched from the sidelines as he had somehow brokered alliances with both werewolves and vampires. He had been shocked to learn Potter had escaped from the Malfoy dungeons, a feat that he had been told his whole life was impossible. Finally, he had seen firsthand that Potter cared more about his friends than anything in the world. He was loyal to a fault and pushed himself into situations that no sane person would ever even contemplate but for Potter it wasn't arrogance or a death wish- it was sacrifice. It was duty and honor and as Draco made that walk to the Headmaster's office he desperately hoped that his role in the war was over because he didn't have the will that Potter did.
They entered the small office with more pomp than the circumstances really required but Draco barely noticed the noise, time seemed to have stopped for him and all he could think was in the next few moments he would be a murderer. He glanced up and saw Snape and felt the smallest release of tension. Snape was there, and Potter trusted Snape.
And if that wasn't a strange sentiment all around. Potter trusted Snape and Draco trusted Potter more than he trusted perhaps anyone else at the moment. His mother had once told him that war changed people but he hadn't thought he it would turn him to a Blood Traitor sympathizer.
"Rabastan, there are simpler ways to go about things. Not everything needs to be a demonstration in destruction," Snape sniffed, sounding almost bored with the proceedings. His wand was trained on Dumbledore who sat with seeming complacency at his desk. There was no sign of the older man's wand but Draco wasn't sure if it was simply out of sight or had already been taken. Either way the Headmaster seemed to be making no attempt at actually resisting.
"What are you doing here Snape?" Rodolphus sneered at him, his pale face coloring at the sight of other wizard already in the Headmaster's office having already cornered the man's prey.
"Cleaning up after your blatant incompetence," Snape sneered, his voice colder than the time in Fourth Year when somehow Longbottom had managed to melt not only his own cauldron but the one beside it as well.
"We're here!" Alecto Carrow called out triumphantly. "We got past Dumbledore's impenetrable wards and right under his nose to boot!"
"And in the middle of the bloody day," Snape's silky voice was filled with mocking exasperation. "The entire castle is aware of your presence and I've already been informed that Bellatrix, Dolohov, Yaxley and Blane have been taken out by Minerva and a Weasley! We don't even know where Potter is at the moment but you can be assured that he is already launching his own defense. He isn't quite as foolishly idiotic as last year and has already been establishing contingencies for an event of this kind. I warned you," Snape whispered threatening and while Rodolphus' voice had been brutal and harsh in his demand, Snape's was frighteningly calm. "Months ago I told you that we could not afford to underestimate the boy any longer and now you have gone and played directly into his hands!"
"Potter is a blowhard Gryffindor that thrives on danger in the moment, you really believe that he has an array of defense strategies ready at hand?" Amycus Carrow asked with a raised eyebrow.
"Potter's greatest weakness in the past was his stubborn belief that he was fighting a war alone. He was isolated and vulnerable and he was often convinced that he could depend on no one. He has learned this year the importance of building alliances and using help where it is offered. Potter lacks any strategic ability but if any of you learned to actually use the information that I provide you, you would be aware that the Granger girl is far from stupid and she hasn't been spotted yet either."
"The little mudblood?" Rabastan chortled and Snape's eyes narrowed with anger but not before flicking his eyes subtly in Draco's direction in such a way that the younger Slytherin understood. They were buying time. Granger and Weasley had been together and the two of them would not have separated willingly at a time like this, Potter and his friends needed time for whatever defense they were actually planning to mount and Snape was going to give them as much time as possible. Draco had no idea what Potter was actually planning but he could only hope it was a way to ensure that once Dumbledore was dead the rest of the school would be secured from further attack.
However, despite his main objective, Draco had a feeling that when Snape spoke again his words were not mere acting. "You may choose to disregard her worth simply because of her muggle parents but...need I remind you that Lily Evans might have fallen before the Dark Lord but it was her actions that lead to his demise for thirteen long years. Do not underestimate someone's power simply because it is uncomfortable for you to come to terms with your own failings and insecurity."
Amycus smirked in Snape's direction, "never did get over that one, did you Severus?" she asked softly and Draco glanced up in confusion. He had put together that this 'Lily Evans' was actually Potter's mother, though why Snape would refer to the woman by her maiden name was beyond him or why the man had such hatred in his eyes as he spoke of her memory.
Trying to appear- and for perhaps the first time in life, to Draco's knowledge, failing- undeterred by the comment, Snape seemed to push forward, "Nevertheless, I believe the goal of this little...coup was to take over silently and efficiently, not blunder about like a bunch of...Gryffindors. Mr. Malfoy I trust that you at least considered these small details before executing this little... attack of yours?"
The Death Eaters were flushed with a combination of embarrassment and anger at the dressing down that they had received but Snape was looking at Draco expectantly and he knew that this was the ultimate test. The two Slytherins had never truly discussed their loyalties with any honesty but somewhere along the line it had become clear to both of them that they stood with Potter and not the Dark Lord. But Severus Snape was a cunning man and he was not about to entrust everything without knowing that Draco's resolve had not faltered at the last moment.
Draco's Slytherin mask on and he responded with appropriate condescension. "In the absence of having any original ideas to contribute of her own it seems," and here he dipped his tone to borderline revulsion, "Edgecomb felt that she could take the credit for my own plan. She finished the cabinet ahead of the schedule that we arranged together sir, the one that would strike when the Ministry officials were staying in quarters for the OWL and NEWT exams so that they could be eliminated at the same time, and then decided it would be best to strike in the middle of the day. A weekend day when the most people were around and most likely to spot an intruder," he added for good measure. Draco had ample experience blaming others for his mistakes and short comings and he used the skill well now.
Marietta's face was fighting between a blotchy red and a deathly whiteness at her seeming mistake but the only defense she could seem to muster was a shake of her head.
"Miss Edgecombe, what a...delightful surprise," Snape commented while the Headmaster only looked desperately disappointed at the girl. "I'm not sure if you've ever had the pleasure of actually speaking with our esteemed Headmaster face to face before...ah but of course, you were in his office only last year. Working for the Ministry," he added significantly before the assembled Death Eaters.
Dumbledore seemed to frown at the deliberate attempt to question the girl's loyalty in front of such dangerous men but the Head of Slytherin was nothing if not vindictive and this girl had put them all in danger by launching a surprise attack.
"They were breaking the law, there was no reason not to- people should be rewarded for doing what is right," she flushed as she said this as she seemed to recognize what a ridiculous argument she was making in light of her present company.
Where most people would have looked livid at the position the girl had put him in, Dumbledore only looked at her with frank disappointment, "If you are so concerned with doing the right thing my dear, why have you made the choices that you have made? You have been passing information to a dangerous individual at the risk of endangering your friends-"
"Friends!" Marietta scoffed and suddenly she seemed quite unhinged, eager to share what it was that had tipped her hand and changed her from a Ministry follower to a Death Eater. While on any other day, the potions master would have been the last person that would have wanted to listen to a teenage girl's angst ridden confession, Snape was clearly prepared to use the girl's histrionics to his advantage and keep running the clock. Neither one of them were entirely sure what Potter was planning but Draco was reasonably sure that Snape at least knew that the Gryffindor was trying to get reinforcements and they would take time to arrive.
"The Dark Lord might be harsh but he at least recognizes what it means to be a proper witch! That- that little mudblood did this to me!" she cried gesturing to her face with obvious distress. "And no one cared! No one has even thought about me at all year! It like I don't even exist at this school! Granger- she-she ruined my face and she didn't even serve a detention for it! And then that little slut gets McLaggen in trouble, I bet you anything he didn't even do anything to her, she is little liar! But once the Dark Lord takes over she and all her upstart little mudblood friends are going to know their place."
"While your distress is understandable I would prefer if you not use such an offense term in front of me, my dear," Dumbledore answered her calmly. Marietta looked livid but Dumbledore continued before she could speak again, "and I do believe that I owe you a most sincere apology. I have been known to ignore what I see as small obstacles when I am consumed with larger ones. In my preoccupation last year with the return of Voldemort," here there was a collective gasp and shouts of indignation over the use of their beloved master's name from around the room but Dumbledore only smiled, "my apologies, I should be addressing him as Tom. But again, with my attention focused on a coming war and the hostilities of the Ministry towards myself and- regrettably to a lesser extent than it required- with my attention on Harry Potter, I overlooked your own distress with a problem that was in no way a small one in your life. It was wrong, sincerely, and I am sorry."
Draco waited for the man to continue with a lecture about how that did not excuse the choices that she had made next, to remind her that he had been helping the good of the school while she had helped invaders in that would harm others. However, the old man said nothing more, allowing his apology to stand on its own without diminishing its value by placing it next to her own choices. Draco had the damnedest idea that the man knew perfectly well that she would make the connection on her own and would feel all the worse for it anyway.
"Are we through with the life monologues!" Rabastan growled, clearly impatient. "We came here to kill the old codger not have tea!"
"By all means," Snape answered graciously, "I had not realized that you were so uncomfortable with the idea of killing the old man that you have been in distress this whole time waiting for it be over. Some of us...some of us have waited a long time for this moment and would prefer it not be wasted," he said with a hard look in Dumbledore's direction. The damn twinkle in the man's eye only seemed to brighten rather than fade.
"It's Draco task, he should be the one to do it!" Alecto, who had been very quiet up until now, finally said, challenge clear in his voice.
Snape raised his wand but Draco stepped forward before he could even think to allow someone to take this job from him. "It is my task," he said firmly, eyes darting to Snape as he added, "and the man I promised I wouldn't want to let down." Snape's eyes widened ever so slightly and his lips seemed to lose color as the impact of what he had just said entered the man's consciousness, Potter had sent him to kill Dumbledore and he was going to do it.
"Draco," Dumbledore of all people called, his voice tired and entire body looking suddenly weary, "there are times when we all must think about the path that we wish to follow. And when you commit to your path...be sure to take all the right steps to reach your goal," he said significantly. Draco stared at the Headmaster for a long moment and he wasn't sure why but he knew in that moment exactly what he needed to do. "Expelliarmus!"
Dumbledore's long, spindly wand- the same wand that had defeated Grindlewald, had dueled the Dark Lord, had helped the man in front of him lead the nation of Great Britain in one capacity or another for the past fifty years- sailed gracefully through the air and Draco caught it. And Draco could have sworn he saw the briefest flicker of a smile grace the man's lips, a flash of triumph in his eyes.
He saw Snape raise his wand once more and it was clear he willing to spare him the task, but Draco had made his decision, he took a breath and thought of his parents. His frail mother, his increasingly desperate father and knew that he needed to do this for them. He needed to do this for Potter because he was the only one that would end this. And so with no malice in his heart Draco raised his wand and said two words that he had once thought would sound much sweeter to him, but with more meaning than he had ever put into a spell before, "Avada Kedevra."
There were gleeful laughs and it was Rabastan that took great care to press his wand to his Mark. The others in the room hissed with a sting of pain, though Snape only let out a wince before he raised his own wand and fired the Dark Mark into the sky above them. The trap had officially been set, they could only hope that it was worth it.
The closest description of the sound was a bomb detonating but Harry knew that it was the wards shuddering under the strain. He remembered those times in the past year when multiple curses had clashed against his Shield Charm and this felt like an exponential version of that. In spite of everything that he had seen from the man, it was still unnerving to be faced with the fact that his enemy had such immense power. Now that Dumbledore was dead, Harry did not know of a single other wizard in the world that would have been able to topple the wards of Hogwarts as the man was doing now.
Harry swallowed and forced himself to square his shoulders. Harry had always felt that when one committed to a path you saw it through no matter what. He had no room for doubts anymore, there was no time to back out, but with the remaining Horcruxes looming over him he couldn't help but feel that he was only starting a doomed venture.
Around him, from his final position directly in front of the doors of the school, he could hear the frantic movement of people struggling to get into the right positions. Just when Harry had thought that the twins had already pulled off all their best pranks, they had managed to surprise even him. McGonagall had nearly kissed them when they had realized that Fred and George had been drastically under selling the term 'reinforcements'. For the past half hour there had been a steady stream of people coming through the passage between Honeydukes and the Three-Eyed Witch. Harry had been shocked to find among them members of his old Quidditich team, the shop owners of both Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley, Aurors, Ministry workers and dozens of others. While Harry had been building bridges with as many foreign dignitaries and dark creatures as possible it seemed that the twins had used their magnetic personalities as well as their store to recruit a veritable army of their own. Or rather for him which was almost disturbing to think about.
When he had seen the scope of what they had done he had turned to his business partners in shock. They had grinned and held out a medallion type necklace. "You have to really stop thinking that you're the only one in the Wizarding World doing anything, Potter. There are a few of us that can fight evil as well," Fred told him.
The fighters had quickly fallen into the Tackley's battle plan had designed and stationed themselves at every possible point of entry. The castle had been quickly secured from the remaining Death Eaters when Draco and Snape had turned their wands on the people in the office and quickly subdued them as soon as their marks had burned hotly. There had been a few stragglers, guarding the escape and meant to take care of any resistance found by the teachers but they had been taken out by Harry and a very entertained Nott who had enjoyed his part as supposed double agent by aiming his wand at Harry before shifting it to an approaching Death Eater that had thought he was coming to the aid of a loyal son of a now-former-Death Eater at the last moment.
But now Harry stood with the heavy sword of Godric Gryffindor in his hand, hoping that he had not sentenced every person in the castle to their death. He had called them here, asked for their help, even when he knew that Voldemort could not be killed that day. The best they could hope for was a retreat, and even if that happened, would it lose him the support of the ICW and the Dark Creatures in the future if they saw that Harry had been unable to defeat his enemy?
He shook himself and reminded himself once more that there was no sense in worrying, what was done was done and, as Hagrid had once told him, they would meet when it came.
Daphne had claimed that Voldemort would come with an army and it clear that the man was not about to disappoint. Harry's breath caught as he witnessed the sheer magnitude of numbers at Voldemort's command. He had suspected, even darkly hoped, that the so-called Dark Lord would make his big power play here for everyone to see. Harry had never been one to tout his own fame or influence but he had seen firsthand how the Wizarding World relied too heavily on single entities. The death of Albus Dumbledore followed swiftly by the Chosen One would break the resolve of nearly everyone and those that were strong enough, smart enough, to realize that the death of two people should not signify the destruction of their entire world, would not be enough to make a difference.
Hundreds of dark robed men stood with wands pointed, giants and dementors at their sides, ready for the charge. Harry raised his own wand and in that small stick was a reassuring warmth that gave him that modicum of control in a situation that should have left him overwhelmed. He could still fight. He could still resist. This wasn't the end, not for the war with the remaining Horcruxes still out tethering a sadistic madman to life, and not his own end if Harry could help it.
Voldemort, much as Harry had expected, was not on the front lines and there were no flowery speeches or dramatic posturing, instead there was a second of beautiful stillness before the world exploded in an array of light and sound. Curses flew around him but Harry had never been more aware of himself than in that moment. He had spent months training on how to dodge and block curses and he was using the full weight of that training now. He was barely attacking himself, his goal was not incapacitate as many Death Eaters as possible, he would leave that to the others; his goal was simple- get to Voldemort. Destroy the Shield and with it the momentum of the man behind it. Make Voldemort regret the day he had brought the fight to Harry because Harry was not a scared 14 year old kidnapped and afraid. He was not alone in this and he was going to use every advantage that he had. Voldemort had wanted to intimidate the world but Harry had learned a long time ago that no one was more scared than the Death Eaters that followed the largest display of power that they could find. If nothing else was accomplished, Harry wanted them to start rethinking who they were following after today.
Harry ran forward into the fray, his shield reflecting curses back to their owners with frightening strength, the sword directing curses at enemies with a force and accuracy that Harry had never had before. He could see why it was a powerful weapon because it was no ordinary sword but a magical conduit, channeling his magic towards directed targets. Harry ran past dueling classmates and Death Eaters, heading towards the places where he was most needed and spotting people that he cared about fighting for lives.
Lavender and Parvati were trying to take down a group of rough looking men, both looking scared but determined. Their fighting skills weren't fantastic but Harry recognized many of the moves that he had taught in the DA and they were managing to hold their own. In that moment, Harry appreciated fully how much the club had helped not simply as a means of resisting Umbridge but as an actual way to educate the others on defense. Ernie McMillian and Susan Bones were fighting back to back against Fenrir and band of rogue werewolves that were not the most proficient of fighters. Ginny, he was only slightly surprised to note, was fighting like a demon- her passion giving her force behind her spells but her style was sloppy, making her strikes inaccurate and ill-timed. Harry blasted two different attackers away from her with a reducto curse when he saw that she was more fierce than prudent in her fighting. But then, he had learned rather late that was generally her style in most things. He felt a need to stay and try and protect her but he was pulled in too many directions by the advancing fighters, all eager to attack the 'Chosen One' to be able to focus his attention on her alone.
He had had lost track of Ron and Hermione but knew that they had been headed up on his flank and protecting him from the side- just as they had always done for him. He knew that the three of them had the most practice as all of them had used the practice dummies in the Room of Requirement and Harry wished that he had told more the DA to practice on their own as well.
There was confusion as a second wave of attackers approached from the back and Harry felt giddy with excitement. It was the ICW wizards, trained Aurors and Hit wizards from various countries that had pledged their support and must have deployed as quickly as they gotten Daphne's note. They had come to surround them from the back, forcing the Death Eaters to fight on two fronts and military like fighters were terrifying in their precision. Cutting down enemies with a deadly exactitude that the Death Eaters could not have possibly anticipated when attacking a school of children. Harry had the bizarre desire to laugh at the change of fortune- after all this time it had been Harry to lay the trap for Voldemort instead of the other way around.
And suddenly the man that he had been searching out was there, with well over a score of fighters at his back behind the Shield that had made a powerful wizard into an unstoppable force of destruction. Voldemort striking out with his wand, leaving the Shield to defend against attacks while he toppled fighter after fighter with deadly green light. To call it a fight was a bastardization of the word, it was a massacre and suddenly Harry was very unsure of his plan. He had been sure that the Shield would be ineffective at Hogwarts but then Fawley had said that the weapons were only rendered ineffective when faced against the commander of more than one of the objects. Harry took a moment to pat the charmed pocket in his robes that was concealing the Map and hopefully keeping it safe from attack.
Voldemort's red eyes gleamed with hatred and power as he spotted Harry in the crowd, his eyes flicking to the sword in his hand a mocking smile on his reptile features. There was a shiver of disgust at that image but Harry stood defiantly against him, raising the Rowan wand in his right hand even as he held the sword in his left. Voldemort raised the Shield in front of his body, his face still visible and it was a strange sight to see. Voldemort's terrifying visage over the top of the green and silver shield which in spite of its clear age and power was strangely beautiful in design.
Harry raised his wand just as Voldemort raised his own, his lips moving and light building in the tip as Harry shouted out the only thing he could think to say in front of an impenetrable shield "bombarda!"
And in that moment, everything around him exploded and Harry could only feel pain, see darkness and hear nothing...
A/N: Thanks for the reviews. Sorry again for the wait, this was a hard chapter because there were a lot of loose strands that needed to be covered by a lot of different characters. At first I had vague intention of wrapping things up entirely before the big battle and avoiding a Seventh Year sequel or continuation of this story but logically it just didn't make any sense the way the story progressed and Harry defeating in Voldemort in Year 6 always seems somehow...unnatural. Please review and let me know what you think :)