DISCLAIMER: I do not own Harry Potter.
PROLOGUE: Ten More Seconds
Malfoy did not speak. His mouth was open, his wand hand still trembling. Harry thought he saw it drop by a fraction—
And then it dropped. Malfoy looked as defeated as he ever had, his eyes as lifeless as they were after their battle in the bathroom. Unable to raise his eyes to meet Dumbledore's, he spoke so quietly it seemed a whisper, "What should I do?"
"Well, considering four Death Eaters are about to enter, I would suggest locking that door most quickly," Dumbledore answered nodding at the Astronomy Tower door behind Draco.
A look of terror crossed his face, but Malfoy quickly turned and raised his wand to the door.
"Well done Draco," Dumbledore spoke as he walked over and placed his good hand on Draco's shoulder. "I will hold to my promise to protect you, but this evening I fear I must indulge you for protection for a little longer. I myself am not up to defeating the dozen of Voldemort's followers you have allowed to gain entrance to the school on my own."
There was a pounding on the door and as voices on the other side began casting unlocking charms Dumbledore reached out and touched the door with his uninjured hand and the old block of wood seemed to glow for a moment and the voices quieted. Harry saw the fear turn to terror in Malfoy's eyes, "But I can't… they… they brought Greyback and I can't… not alone."
Malfoy didn't react when Dumbledore took the boy's wand and with a flick of his wrist his own came flying back to him. He offered Malfoy the original wand back and explained, "Certainly you could not defeat all of them at once, Draco. I believe no individual in this room could claim victory over that task at the moment. But if we work together, I am sure it will all work out. Don't you agree, Harry?"
Harry found he could move once more and quickly removed his Invisibility Cloak, revealing his presence. He stepped forward and looked at Malfoy, who still found he could not meet anyone's eyes. Harry felt he should say something. Maybe not "thanks", necessarily, but something to show Malfoy had for once done the right thing. But renewed voices and a great explosion on the other side of the door interrupted any conversation. Standing between the others and the door, Harry looked at a very frail Dumbledore and a grave feeling came over him.
"Sir, I don't think you should…"
"Now Harry," Dumbledore began, leading Malfoy by the shoulder so they all three stood side-by-side. "As I told you earlier this evening, I am certainly not afraid of these few would-be murderers while in your company. And now we have Draco with us as well. Now, will Hogwart's two finest young duelists disappoint me?"
"No, we won't Professor," Harry agreed after a moment's consideration and a look at Malfoy, who simply shook his head and raised his wand towards the door. Harry raised his own wand level as another blast sounded at the door, tearing away splinters of wood.
Finally, Dumbledore brought his wand forward and as a final blast shattered the door said, "Together now, gentlemen."
The three combined spells sent the four attackers flying back down the stairway. Harry led the way down the stairs followed a short way after by Malfoy and Dumbledore last with his hand still leaning on Draco's shoulder. When they reached the corridor, Harry saw the duels throughout the hallway. A large Death Eater casting spells against Tonks that went flying in every direction, McGonagall facing a pair of enemies standing near a bloody body with red hair that stopped his heart for a moment. It did not beat again until he saw Ginny not too far away leaping to and fro and avoiding curses from a grey-haired Death Eater with blood covering his lips and chin. Raising his wand, Harry yelled, "Petrificus Totalus!"
Harry's body bind charm hit the werewolf Fenrir Greyback from behind and sent him crashing to the ground. Ginny barely had time to nod and smile at Harry before she leapt aside as another curse zipped past her. Three Death Eaters quickly advanced at Harry wands raised. Harry put up a shield charm just in time to deflect the first curse. From behind him two curses hit the male and female Death Eaters on the left. The boy was quickly bound by tight ropes and the other stumbled a bit and fired off three curses, one of which hit the third in the head and sent him crashing to the ground. Harry fired off another body bind spell at the confunded female Death Eater and she fell to the ground.
Ginny raced past Harry in a blur and before he fully realized what was happening, she knocked both Malfoy and Dumbledore onto the ground as a blast of a green curse zipped mere inches over their heads. Bolting up, Harry saw the wand that had fired the Killing Curse. It stood outright in the hand of a furious Professor Severus Snape.
"Traitor!" Harry screamed as he raced forward towards his Defense teacher.
"Potter is mine alone," Snape called out to his fellow Death Eaters.
Ducking down low, Harry avoided an exchange of curses between the large Death Eater and Tonks, who had now been joined by Lupin and was gaining ground. As the distance to Snape was exhausted, Harry screamed off an attempt at a Full Body Bind, a Leg Locker and even a Stunning Spell, but each attack Snape parried away effortlessly. Sneering at him, Snape simply pointed his wand at Harry and before he could block, Harry fell to the ground at the Defense professor's feet. Pointing his wand at Harry's heart, Snape hissed, "Close your mouth and shut your mind Potter, or do not consider assaulting your betters in the future."
Before casting what Harry was sure would be a Killing Curse at him, Snape glanced up and saw Draco being hurtled off the ground and towards a stone pillar.
As Malfoy hit the pillar it seemed as if most of the structure hit some type of protective bubble surrounding him. Rising quickly, he glanced off at Snape before drawing his attention back to the Death Eater advancing on him. Deflecting a hex, Draco fired back with an Impediment Charm that froze his attacker in mid swing.
By the time Snape turned his attention back to his own battle, Harry had rolled over and recovered his wand. Fighting off the remaining haze from the last attack, he pointed his wand upward and simply thought Levi—
Snape knocked the nonverbal away with even more ease than the spells Harry had been screaming at the top of his lungs. A devilish smile crept onto Snape's lips. All Harry could think about was the Killing Curse that nearly hit Dumbledore and Ginny. Shrugging off another jolt of pain that broke through his shields Harry came around and again took aim at Snape's chest, "Sectum—"
With a flick of his wrist Snape sent the curse flying back at Harry tearing the skin of his left arm open with a decent gash. As his eyes glazed over black like a feeding shark, Snape bellowed at the boy, "You dare use my own spells against me! Those I invent and you steal, just as your father did. Let this be a lesson when next you plan on stealing school property, Potter. LE—"
Wheeling around Snape saw Dumbledore and the other members of the Order staring down, wands raised at him. Lupin and Tonks appeared furious, each held back only by Dumbledore's presence from ending Snape's life. While Remus slowly inched forward, his eyes never leaving Harry, Tonks started right out of Snape's field of vision. McGonagall stood next to the headmaster, supporting him while still keeping her eyes trained on her colleague. On the floor behind them lay eleven frozen and bound and one deceased Death Eater. Madam Pomfrey had arrived and was in the distance kneeling next to a bloodied Bill Weasley and Neville Longbottom.
Beside Professor McGonagall stood Ginny Weasley, whose eyes were full of fear and rage. It was her and not Dumbledore that spoke next. "Get the bloody hell away from him."
Lowering his wand, Snape stepped forward and stood before Dumbledore and met his gaze evenly. Harry stumbled to his feet and moved over towards the others, never looking away from Snape. He soon found himself standing between Draco Malfoy, who was bleeding from a scrape on his forehead, and Ginny. Her wand-free hand reached down and grabbed Harry's squeezing it as she fought back a sniffle. Snape looked down at Draco then up to Dumbledore and back again. "Switching teams in the middle of the game, Mr. Malfoy?"
Harry noticed that the younger Slytherin continued his practice of not speaking to anyone or looking directly at them. He instead lowered his wand and shifted around in place. It was Dumbledore that answered for him, "It seems as if he has. I must say I am delighted over his change of heart. Aren't you Severus?"
"It was... unexpected. You are as persuasive as ever, Albus."
Nodding, Dumbledore had a sparkle in eyes for the first time since he began drinking Voldemort's foul concoction. "Thank you, my friend. Although we are now left at an impasse. It seems utterly certain young Draco will not be killing anyone tonight."
"Then we have the matter of—"
"The Unbreakable Vow." As he spoke, every member of the group's eyes flashed at the headmaster for a moment. "I supposed that would be the only reason you would attempt to assist him and keep it hidden from me. Draco will not kill me. And he has my thanks and pride for making this decision. So now you must."
Harry went to object furiously, but found he was unable to move or speak for the second time that hour. Flashing his eyes back and forth, he saw all the others save Snape and Dumbledore were frozen, eyes flashing around as frantically as his were. Dumbledore removed his arm from Professor McGonagall's grasp and stepped forward.
"Let us hurry Severus. I have not nearly my former strength. They will all be free in minutes. The Order will require more service from you before the end. It won't do to have Riddle free to act without any information passing to our side. It is time, my friend."
Snape twitched only slightly. Besides this he appeared as frozen as any of the others. He started to mutter an objection. Then he face was overtaken with a steely resolve. He nodded, raised his wand and pointed it at Dumbledore's heart and quietly muttered, "avada kedavra."
Harry felt his heart shatter as the spell hit the grey-haired man in the chest. But he stood tall.
"Come now my old friend. Any fourth year student knows you need to mean it to perform the Killing Curse. Let us be adults about this. Do not dance around what you know must be done."
Again Snape stared Dumbledore in the eye and worked up a rage in his eyes, breathing heavily. His blood seemed to boil and his face became contorted and flush red. Dumbledore simply stood still with a kind and sympathetic smile on his face. Slowly, Snape swallowed a breath and screamed, "AVADA KEDA—"
As green steam began to spill forth Snape closed his eyes and dropped his wand to the ground. It seemed to Harry that tears began to appear in the cruel teacher's eyes before they glazed over and Snape fell to the ground dead, a faint red flame burning over his hands.
The next few hours were a blur for Harry. He vaguely recalled racing with Ginny down to the hospital after Bill; meeting Hermione, Ron and Luna around Neville's bed and hearing stories of Snape's assault of Professor Flitwick; Mrs. Weasley and Fleur holding each other as they cried over a sleeping Bill. Lupin and Tonks definitely started holding hands shortly after that. He vaguely recalled McGonagall and Dumbledore announcing the students returning home in the morning.
Harry was pretty sure Hermione objected to that a bit more harshly than he or Ron would have. Ginny was there with him all the time holding his hand and he was thankful for that constant. The only two words he clearly remembered in the morning occurred when Hagrid came in and told Dumbledore about "Snape's body" being moved. Then the two men walked out the front door of the hospital wing and for just a moment he caught Malfoy's eye on the other side.
Draco's head popped up as the door opened and Dumbledore strode out of the hospital wing followed closely behind by Hagrid. Before the door shut he caught Potter's eye. It struck Draco as odd and he shook his head thinking about how they nearly killed each other not all that long ago in a bathroom only to end this night fighting on the same side. But there was the satisfaction that Potter had to remain 'the Chosen One' and face the Dark Lord, while he could leave and put all this behind. If Dumbledore stood by his promise in the Astronomy Tower he and his mother and one day his father would all be protected and together. His family could be safe.
Dumbledore stopped and sat on the bench beside him. He leaned slightly closer and explained, "I am sorry about Professor Snape, Draco. I know you were close. He mentioned to me many times what a credit to your House you were and often wished he could set you aside from the path he followed himself into the service of Tom Riddle."
Draco merely nodded. He had no intention of thinking about the man who had really been protecting him and died because of what Draco had done... had failed to do. The old man continued, "Unfortunately the events of this night have left me too weakened to help you collect your mother at this time. However, Hagrid here will accompany you to the gates. From there you may disapparate to Malfoy Manor. Gather what possessions you wish to bring with you and have your mother do the same. We have mere hours until the free Death Eaters realized their comrades have failed. Hagrid and other members of the Order of the Phoenix will arrive at dawn to collect you."
"But I haven't taken the test yet, I'm not allowed to—"
"Yes Draco, I know how ardently you believe in following the rules, but I truly believe these are extenuating circumstances which require speed over caution. Now, all ready to go?"
Draco nodded once more and began walking down the hallway followed closely by the half-giant professor he had spent the better part of six years insulting at every opportunity. Though he hoped they could simply walk to the front gates in silence, they had barely passed through the front doors and started across the grounds when Hagrid near-mumbled, "Anyway Malfoy, Aye wanted ta tell yeh dat Dumbledore told everyone how yeh saved him."
"I didn't save anyone," Draco replied without turning around.
"Well," Hagrid continued, "Not the way I 'eard it. Dumbledore told us all 'ow yeh met up with Harry and him in 'da tower and helped 'em. Spect' he's a bit under the weather. Feelin' down Dumbledore is. But said yeh took down three Death Eaters. Wonder how they got in 'ere ta begin wit."
"Nobody knows?" Draco asked and came to a sudden stop. Hagrid ran into the much smaller man and knocked him to the ground. Malfoy shrugged off Hagrid's enormous mitt of a hand as it tried to pick him back up.
"Well, Dumbledore said he and Harry got it all figured out, but that it's top secret. Won't ever happen again Dumbledore said. But anyway, wanted yeh ta know I was mighty proud of you and Harry puttin' dat silly feud away and workin' together. I figure only way ta' stop You-Know-Who is by workin' together like the Sortin' Hat said."
"'Like the hat said!' Who cares what the bloody hat said in those stupid songs? I—I—I just want it to be over," Draco said as he walked past the gates.
"Eh, yes. Er… Well, tis for the night at least. We'll see yeh in an hour or so."
Not acknowledging Hagrid, Draco concentrated on the grounds just outside Malfoy Manor in Wiltshire. A moment later, he disapparated and left Hogwarts and immediately found himself standing in front of his family home.
Standing out amidst a large forest and beyond a high gate was Malfoy Manor. The well-manicured lawn encompassed a stately moated manor house with 60 rooms over three floors loomed ahead of Draco. As he entered the main gate, Draco noticed the only sources of light were the moon reflecting off of the narrow moat and a light hum of a fireplace emanating in his mother's sitting room on the ground floor.
Upon entering the manor alone, one is taken aback by the seeming immensity of the place. The tall foyer ceiling and wide hallways can make even a full-grown man feel unimposing. The feeling is only increased in the hallways, littered with six foot tall portraits of the previous residents of the house; some 650 years worth of pureblooded Malfoys, the elite of their world. It is said that even the Malfoy heirs themselves are intimidated by the Manor. But tonight Draco had no time for such feelings, no time to think on how much a failure he now was compared to those that came before him. Walking hurriedly past the doors for the drawing room and his father's private study, he began to hear the faint sound of his mother humming. By the time he reached her door, the tune was easily recognized as a lullaby that had not been sung in that house in many years.
As Draco reached for the handle, he paused at a familiar voice within that made him stand razor-straight as the hairs on the back of his neck bolted up. A voice unheard by Draco for most of his adult life, which had become uncomfortably familiar over the previous summer, sounded from within. How could he rescue his mother with the most loyal and dangerous of the free Death Eaters in the same room? Raising his mental shields, he shut his mind out as his mother and her sister Bellatrix Lestrange spoke on the other side of the threshold.
"—failed us, sister. You know that means Snape is gone as well."
"Is it for certain, Bella?" came Narcissa's comforting voice.
"They have been gone far too long, Cissy. We have to assume the worst. That he has failed. You will be punished as well as Draco, should he escape. He really was our greatest mistake."
"Don't talk about him like that! If we tell the Dark Lord the truth, he would see Draco's true value. It's here, Bella. In the vault under Lucius' desk. The ministry never found it, obviously. You could take it to him and explain—"
"No, Narcissa, it will only ensure his fate. But we can save you with it. Present both it and the boy to the Dark Lord and he will figure out our secret, even if we must remain silent, and he might spare you. It was your fool husband who came up with the damnable spell in the first place. Trying to right his own... inadequacies, always reflecting poorly on the rest of us. And then you can continue in his service. You want that don't you? You are still loyal to the cause!"
"Of course I am foolish girl," Narcissa replied. "We have to stop the pollution of our blood with that of muggles. That mudblood mother of his is responsible for tonight's failure."
Draco leaned closer as the conversation continued. 'Mudblood mother?' What were they talking about? Were maybe Snape or Greyback—
"I have always said it was not right for the boy to reflect on you. With this we can now prove it to our Lord. We should have shown it to him right after he returned to us. We must prostrate ourselves before him and beg forgiveness. The secret can die with the boy."
The room was quiet for a moment as Narcissa seemed to ponder over her sister's statement. Draco's eyes glanced back towards the study. He knew his father had various dark magics still locked away from the Ministry inspectors, both in the study and the hidden dungeons below the manor house, but he had no idea what it had to do with them.
He leaned the door open a bit more, waiting for his mother to defend him, explain how it wasn't his fault. If only Bellatrix would leave. Then he could save his mother and protect her. They could be free if only—
"You're right. We will take the book with us when we are summoned. It will give him a chance to live and perhaps even continue service for our Master in time. He could yet be worthy of the Malfoy name. I know him, Bella. He will take the Mark as we all have and fight against Dumbledore and the mudbloods and the real blood traitors. You will speak for him, won't you? Tell our Master how Draco has always been loyal to the cause."
"His fate is no longer in our hands," Bellatrix replied. "My only concern here is you. Your resolve for the cause of our Master is as strong as ever. I know this is true, sister. But your actions have been softened by the care for Draco and your love of Lucius. Come with me tonight and rejoin the fold in full. You know where your heart and future lies. For yourself and your husband, do this and though certainly punished, our Lord might forgive our terrible mistake."
"Very well," Narcissa answered.
Trying to be as quiet as possible Draco backed slowly away from the door. Struggling, he held back more tears. His weakness, he believed, had now cost him the love of his mother. He had failed in every way possible. As he turned and continued down the hall, he paused outside his father's study. The room had been strictly off limits for as far back as Draco could remember. But something was in that room that might redeem him in the eyes of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. It could be a way to account for his failure. If nothing else, the leverage could protect his mother. Entering, Draco noticed the room was covered in a fine layer of dust from a year without use. In any other circumstance, neither he nor his mother would enter this private chamber, but tonight was not a night for half-measures. Kneeling underneath the desk, Draco began casting fixes to his father's favorite concealment charms. It was the seventh one, the same that allowed access to the dungeons (a place Draco had only been permitted entrance to once in his life) that revealed a small latched compartment in the floor.
"Alohomara," he whispered as the latch clicked and unlocked. Pulling the door open, Draco revealed the contents. Some three feet deep, it held only one item that Narcissa and Bellatrix could be referring to: a large and heavy white book bound with two thick black ribbons. The leather cover seemed old and worn as if discarded in this safe and left untouched for many years. Lifting it up, the writing on the ribbons became visible. The first read, "Draco Abraxas Malfoy" and on the one beneath it several signatures in deep red ink covered the thicker ribbon. Turning it around, there were seven signatures all slightly aglow. The signatures of both his parents were there, his aunt Bellatrix and her husband Rodolphus along with his brother Rabastan. The final two signatures belonged to the senior Crabbe and Goyle.
Besides his name being most prominent, Draco felt an ownership of this book that he could not explain. For an item that he had never before thought of or new existed, it seemed more his than anyone else's. More than leverage, the book was his. Draco knew this without explanation, so it did not seem odd to him at all to slide the ribbons off. Stuffing them quickly in the pocket of his robes, Draco slowly opened the book. Before he could focus on any word or image within, a burning hot light filled the room and the world shifted back into its proper place.