54 : Endgame
Time seemed to stand still as his scream echoed in the air. He forced the arm clasped upon his shoulder off, leaving three deep scratch lines oozing with fresh blood. He wouldn't, couldn't, let this happen. He would not lose what was left of his family, not now. Not ever. The barrier he had erected had slowed the curse down, but Horris knew it would not stop it; though he hoped that he could at least get his seemingly frozen father out of harm's way. One look over at Draco told him that the blonde would not be of any immediate help; that he had to save his father himself. He was the only one the curse could not kill, and he would be damned if he let someone's life be sacrificed. In one swift leap, as he knew he could not outrun the curse in his human form (and frankly not caring if Voldemort found out he had been keeping major secrets all along), Horris turned into his panther Animagus. All the times he had run in the forest to trample his stress had heightened his already impressive speed. He was still weak, he knew, yet he hoped this would be enough. The transformation frightened all the Death Eaters, at least, giving Horris a clear path to his father. He pushed himself as fast as he could, keeping one eye on the green zooming spell at all times. With one final jump, he lunged at his father, the malevolent curse hitting his back before he made contact with the still standing figure.
Pain coursed through his entire form, forcing Horris to change back into the wizard he was, even as he finally collided with his father. He let out an earth-shattering sound, a beastly roar that morphed into a blinding scream. The curse hurt far worse than he had remembered, and for a few moments he had wondered if perchance his immunity to said light might not apply when not in wizard form… then, of course, he realized that it must, since he could question the pain instead of being blissfully dead by now. Merlin above it hurt, maybe because it held such fervent desire to kill this time; to rid Voldemort of what he assumed was the last obstacle between him and 'his heir'.
Severus caught his son as the boy slammed into him, further propelled by the curse. How the boy had outrun the curse he would probably never know, nor did he care at the moment. His focus was on the screaming child atop him, the sound both relieving and heart-wrenching. At least he knew his son was alive…
Severus heard Voldemort yell at them, but he couldn't force himself to care. Horris was hurt.
Severus cursed silently, even as he heard his son's screams subsided. Just when he though Horatius had finally grown out of his damned Gryffindor tendencies, the boy turns around and does something like… like this. Not that Severus had particularly wanted the curse to hit its target (namely, him), but did Horris even realize how scary it was for Severus to see it hit him? He had half a mind to break into lecture mode this instant and chastise him for his Gryffindor idiocy. Certainly, Severus was quite aware that his little boy was immune to said ray of death, but the sight was still enough to make his insides churn violently.
Severus had blanked out during the meeting, flashbacks of his mother appearing before his eyes. He had seen this, he finally realized, he had seen it all so long ago and still he was powerless to prevent it from taking place. When he had heard Voldemort asking him to transfer Horris to his commmand, to name his son as the man's ultimate gift of servitude, Severus had wanted to kill the bastard then and there. But no, his dearest mother could not allow him this peace, could she? She had shown him this, only to prevent him any way to fix it. She probably orchestrated this, Severus realized, to make sure that he had not revolted against Voldemort then and there. Why? To save his son. How him agreeing to allow Voldemort to claim him, making his son save him, would help the boy Severus could not comprehend, but a part of him could not help but trust his mother. She had, after all, always spoken with him about an heir to the Snape name, a boy she had always referred to as her little Nitidus.
"You alright, Dad?" his son asked, forcing a coy smile though Severus was still quite aware that Horris was in pain.
"For the moment." Severus assured, allowing his eyes to finally check what events had transpired around them. Did Horris even realize the implications of what he had done, Severus wondered.
"It's over Dad," his son told him firmly, as if in answer to his musings. "I should have ended it long ago… its high time the truth came out."
It was long overdue, Severus agreed, now angry with himself. He should have never allowed it to go this long; he should have never forced his son to suffer on his behalf.
"Don't you dare die Dad, you hear me? I couldn't bear to be alone again." his son told him, quickly rising from Severus' arms, too quickly for him to capture the boy once more in an embrace. Merlin, Severus did not want him to go!
Ron watched the scene unfolding before him as if in slow motion. Why his master had demanded that he be brought to this occasion he honestly did not know, nor why he was to remain in Lucius' clutches for its duration. The silver haired man had said he was to be awarded as a gift to the Lord's new heir, but he didn't trust the elder Malfoy as far as he could throw him (which presently would not prove far at all, Ron imagined). A gift for Snape? Hardly! More than likely his Lord had finally accepted him into the fold as one of his Death Eaters! Even if he hadn't, Ron vowed to make sure that after tonight Voldemort would have no doubt as to where his true loyalty lay. And, by Merlin's grace, the situation was proving to be full of opportunity for Ron to fulfill his oath. Perhaps, perhaps he could even do so while getting back on that idiot of a Snape the Lord had called his heir… as if the prat was worthy of such an honor!
His lord was yelling at the pair at the center of the ring, at that wretched Snape and his father, who were making it a point to ignore him. How dare they, Ron fumed, having half a mind to run right in there and kill them both… the other half noting how tightly Lucius was keeping him immobile, and how much pain would result in any attempt to interfere.
"MY SNAKES!" his master roared, meaning his inner circle, though the call drew everyone's attention except for the two at the center; his Ammodytus and his viper. Lucius, or Natrix, however, gave his full attention. "My Ammodytus dies tonight!"
"DON'T YOU DARE!" the smaller Snape, Viper, shouted at them in turn, suddenly on his feet.
"Do not defy me, child." his master warned, "Do not make me dispose of you both."
"I've defied you my entire life Voldemort!" Snape shot back once more, his voice sounding bare and fluid. "I won't let you kill him, you hear me. He's not yours to do with as you please!"
What an idiot, Ron mused smartly. Didn't he even realize that his greasy father was as good as dead already? Even if the Death Eaters had stopped at Snape's growl, none were stupid enough to leave their Lord's orders go unfulfilled. Who did he think he was, anyway, trying to control his Lord's Death Eaters as if they were his own! Sure, he was an Asp, his Lord's Asp, but the power he had came from Voldemort, and surely, Voldemort could take it all away! Perhaps he could help his lord, extracting his revenge while securing his place within the great Dark Lord's ranks…
Voldemort hissed something, and to Ron's horror, Snape hissed right back.
"That won't work Voldemort…" Snape growled in normal English, "Snakes aren't loyal to the death, and damn well know when it is to their death you send them!" When Ron looked to his right, the snakes there were, as Snape had said, paused half way between their usual resting place and what he assumed to be their implicit target. Most, slowly turning away.
"They know my power Voldemort, as should you."
"Your power isss nothing without me boy!"
"It was enough to defeat you, was it not?" Snape asked coyly.
Enough to defeat the Dark Lord? The only person who ever 'defeated' Voldemort was… but he was… Snape couldn't…
"No… fucking… way!" He growled, pulling himself from Lucius' grasp. No. No, no, no, no, no, no. Snape. Was. Not… Could. Not… be Potter.
It was impossible, IMPOSSIBLE!
"Weasley's figured it out, apparently." Snape continued, "Come now Tom… surely you can too."
"I wonder, how will the other Asps react to your revelation, young sssnake…?" Voldemort responded, grinning, "Or did you truly believe I knew not whom you were?"
Of course… of course his Master knew… the Dark Lord knew all things! He… he must have been using him, using Potter…
"The time has come, my little Asps." Voldemort called to them, "The time has come for you to chose by whom you stand, by whom you live or die." Draco saw him gaze at each one in turn, with those crimson eyes, the gaze finally resting on Draco himself. "It is time to choose who you will follow; the Viper or Dragon… Dumbledore or I." And in that instant, far more eyes landed on Draco. Far more eyes than he could have ever thought possible before this night. Horris and his father were still fixed upon Voldemort, ready for any sign of attack; but every other eye was on him and him alone. his eyes did not linger on the red for long. Instead they fell onto the one person he had though would never betray him: Horris. But Horris had betrayed him, hadn't he? Hadn't he lied to him? He was Potter, Potter!
The eyes he had known so well, both as an enemy and a friend, flickered towards him for a moment before once more refocusing on the Dark Lord before them. And in that one instant, they had told him everything he had ever needed to know. Or, more precisely, they asked him nothing.
In that moment, Draco realized the only person not wondering what Draco would do was Horris. He alone had faith in him, trusted him.
And suddenly, Draco couldn't imagine Horris not being their savior, their hero, their 'Boy-Who-Lived-And-Wouldn't-Die'. All the pain he had undergone… all the sacrifices he had made, all the good he had caused…
Who else would have befriended him in so intimate a way, a so un-Slytherin way? Who else would have treated the Asps as his equals, not as his minions, as he had every right to? Who else would have been able to make Draco treat them that way?
Horris had seen himself as their friend, mentor and teacher instead of superior… an advisor and trustee… and that was what Draco honestly saw him as, as well. That's what all the Asps saw Horris as. That's what it meant to them to be their Alpha, not a simple commander. To Horris, Draco suddenly comprehended, the Asps were always under Draco's leadership… under his call. That's why allowing Draco to hold the reigns never seemed to annoy the raven-haired boy. That was why he had prepared Draco so actively. At that moment, Horris' eyes caught Draco's once more, and this time their owner smiled and tilted his head slightly, before once again turning away. And in that moment, Draco saw so clearly why everyone had run to Harry Potter, why they sought leadership and salvation in a simple child, why they loved him… and why he was, above all, a Snape.
"What you fail to realize, Voldemort," Horris' rich, regal voice flowed forth like silk, a fire in the Jade-colored eyes, "Is that we are most loyal to ourselves."
At the statement, Draco nodded faintly in agreement, as did the others. Their wands were already out, and they stood resolutely in place, just waiting for anyone to make a move.
"Then you have chosen death." Voldemort sneered, red eyes blazing. Perhaps they had…
But what good was life if one could not live it?
Horris stared down the monster he had deceived so long, his stance unwavering, even as Voldemort called for his Loyal Death Eaters to slaughter them all. The Asps had chosen, and he could not let them down. Nor, he knew, would they fail him.
"No brother wand to save you this time, Potter."
"It's Snape, Tom, and you of all people should know I don't need one."
"You think I cannot unmake what I've created?" Voldemort shot back, still focused on Horris, allowing his minions to finish off the rest… much as Horris relied on the Asps to keep themselves and his father safe.
"If you could, you would have done so by now. Stall tactics. Not quite the highest form of subterfuge, wouldn't you agree?"
"And what is it that you are doing, pray tell?"
"Simply noting your faults and making conversation." Horris responded, when in truth he was hoping to gather his strength enough to make a real use out of those flaming rings Voldemort had been oh so fond of.
"Keep this insolence up and I shall be forced to keep you under Imperious indefinitely…"
"What, no longer out to kill me?"
"And run the chance that the Asps will follow the young Malfoy? Hardly." Voldemort waved the idea off, "You seem to have him too firmly under your thumb, in either case."
"Jealous, are we?" Horris taunted, still pulling together his fire energy, even as he had to dodge a few of Voldemort's spells. "You know, it's so much easier to gain followers by actually caring for them…"
"And where'd be the fun in that?" Horris called, finally allowing a massive ring of fire to toast a few dozen of the idiot's minions.
Horris hoped his coyness would fool the idiot of a Dark Lord, as his energy reserves were plummeting at an alarming pace… perhaps he should stick to wandless magic from now on…
He tried to shoot a Killing Curse at Voldemort, which sadly had much the same effect as it did on Horris.
"Worth a shot," he mused aloud, smirking slightly even as he mentally groaned at the failed attempt, one of Voldemort's curses searing his right arm in rebuttal.
A scream pulled his attention away from Voldemort and his aching arm, as he saw the tall-tale green light envelope a young Ravenclaw Asp named Lisa. Damn it! They weren't supposed to die, not here!
He couldn't save her, not now, but his gaze lingered an apparent moment too long as a weight pushed him face first into the ground, a sharp, searing pain overtaking him. It was corporeal though, oddly not induced by a curse for once, and it took him a moment to comprehend what had happened, and who was screaming atop him. He suddenly couldn't focus enough to make out the cries, though he knew the voice that generated them. Weasley… Damn him, the redhead had sliced right into his venoms. It took Horris another moment to realize another painful reality; he was screaming. He was screaming, Ron Weasley was yelling, and everything else had suddenly become way too quiet.
The gut-wrenching pain faded slowly, taking what felt like an eternity, though Horris knew it was only due to his very nerves burning off far faster than the healing venom could fix them. He had to force himself to align his eyes, trying to see what was happening. Weasley had gotten off of him, he could tell, but was not anywhere in his limited field of vision. A few Asps had taken protective posts around him; Blaise, Dean, and Cho from what he could make out, and a Dark shape was moving towards him in a hurry.
"Do..don't-t..touch." he choked out, throat raw from his earlier cries. "Ve-venoms.. Dad."
"Shhh, I know." his father calmed, setting Horris in his lap, careful to keep him on the cloak.
Draco finished off another set of the damned Death Eaters, finally able to check what the screams were and, more importantly, who they were coming from.
The wand dropped from his fingers, the quiet thump it created sounding grotesquely loud in the midst of the roaring spells and screams.
The Onyx orbs of his Alpha's father locked with his own, telling him far more than he had ever wanted to know.
The 'Boy-Who-Lived' did not, could not, die!
Draco ran, dodging the spells that shot at him out of pure reflex, hardly even noticing when he had done so. Getting to Horris was the only thing that mattered at the moment.
"KILL THEM ALL!" he cried out to the Asps mid-run, who responded fiercely to his bloodthirsty roar.
"Horris!" He called out as he finally reached the two figures, only to have his hand jerked back by the Professor.
"His venoms." The obsidian-eyed man chilled him, still focused on his son.
"Is he-" he stopped, turning to Horris instead, "Are you-"
"Remember what you promised." his one true friend forced out, "Protect them."
"It goes without saying." Draco agreed quickly, holding back a sob.
"Re.. release him." Horris insisted, and it took a moment for Draco to comprehend his meaning. "Before Voldemort-"
"I promise." Draco nodded, "Save your strength."
"You'll be a good leader Draco… I know you will."
"And you'll be fine." Draco shot back, not wanting to hear what he knew Horris was going to say. Horris would be fine. FINE!
"Bu-" A jerk on his arm stopped him, and when he looked toward the source, the Professor's death-like glare cut away any other words Draco might have formed.
Merlin no! Why would Snape not let him comfort Horris? WHY? And why hadn't he tried to give him anything?
The other Asps were gathering around now, having wiped out any lingering Death Eaters. Voldemort, Draco had absently heard, had called in a retreat some moments ago, and any who were too slow or injured to Apparate were now lying all about them, a layer of blood staining the grass, oozing blackly in the sallow moonlight.
"Draco…" Horris' weak voice called him back, "Remember my loyalties. Remember yours."
Draco nodded, and with a last, sad look towards the Professor, answered verbally in the affirmative and stood from his kneeling pose. With a silent jerk of his head he ushered the other Asps to follow, leaving the Professor to be alone with his son. He watched them; as did the others; just out of earshot, just close enough to protect their Alpha's father if the need arose. From there, he watched as his normally cold and emotionless professor calmed his son, speaking to him in sweet whispers as he attempted to force a smile for the boy's sake. Another moment, and he grew silent, simply looking at the figure in his arms, before finally setting him down and crying openly.
Draco hung his head, his own tears flowing.
Those left behind
Oh, help them cope!
AN: since I've been getting a lot of reviews asking for a continuation, I just wanted to be sure everyone knew that the 2nd part of the saga, Forlorn Dream, is up already. Thanks.