Chapter Eleven

Patience was a virtue, according to some. To Lucius Malfoy, it was a necessity. All Slytherins knew how to wait, when it suited them. Seated in his study, amidst the rich green leather and dark polished wood, he was forced to practice said necessity. Reflections of the light danced on the window glass, as the torches flickered.

Malfoy was waiting for news of Anthony McKinnon's tragic demise…and that of Severus Snape. Soon, Loki would deliver the news. All he had to do was be patient.

Malfoy wished dearly that he could see the expression on McKinnon's face when he realized that he had been used. McKinnon was nothing more than the means to an end. If Malfoy's instincts on human nature were correct—and they always were—then for McKinnon, that realization would inevitably lead to a nervous breakdown. McKinnon's use after killing Snape would be over. He could go to hell right along with Snape.

The Aurors, whom Malfoy had tactfully alerted, would be arriving at the Shrieking Shack very soon.

He smiled to himself, and leaned back further into the soft leather of his chair.

All he had to do was wait.

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The spots of white slowly left Septimus Snape's vision, and he blinked to clear his eyes once and for all.

There was something moving outside. It was barely visible through the dust on the windows, but there was definitely movement.

"What the…"

Septimus put his hand on Snuffles' back, trying to steady himself. The dog seemed supernaturally patient as he tried to stand up. He had to see what was happening. Peering through the dust-caked windows, he at last made out what was outside.

"Aurors," he murmured. "But why are they here?"

He steadied himself at last, cradling his broken arm. Were they here to rescue his son? If so, why did the thought fill him with dread, rather than relief?

Perhaps because you know McKinnon won't go down without a fight, if it comes to that?

Snuffles circled around him, as though waiting to catch him if he fell. He couldn't help flashing a grateful smile at the dog. It took his mind off the overwhelming guilt he felt over allowing McKinnon to capture him so easily, and use him to get to Severus.

I should have fought harder, I should have done whatever I could to keep him away from Severus!

And if Severus died, just when Septimus was finally realizing that he would never stop loving him, it would be an unbearable tragedy…not to mention an ironic one.

Oh, how I detest irony.

How had he let things come to this? In some ways, he felt a strange connection with Bartemius Crouch—a wizard whom he had known but never liked, the two having very different views. They had, however, other things in common—including the fact that both of their sons had allied themselves with the Dark Lord. Septimus had thought, at the time, that Crouch was the braver man for turning his son in, when Septimus himself had lacked the courage to do the same. His attempt to redeem himself and prove his courage had backfired drastically. Crouch, had he been capable of doing so, would probably have been laughing at him now.

Because whatever Severus had done in the past did not matter now. Love had a way of being unconditional, whether either party liked it or not.

Septimus had been a Slytherin in his own school days, and consequently been taught that to show emotion meant giving others control. Had he taught that to his own son, even inadvertently? Was there any point in wondering what he had done wrong in the past?

When will things make sense again?

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"STUPEFY!"

Anthony turned around, as though maneuvered by some sixth sense rather than any human reflex. He had seen the two people standing in the doorway at almost the last possible second. Almost.

"EXPELLIARMUS!" he shouted, at nearly the same time.

Their wands flew from their hands, and Anthony was able to get a good look at his uninvited guests.

"Lupin!" Snape exclaimed, though the strain of his current uncomfortable position was all too apparent in his voice. At this point, the chains binding him to the ceiling were probably all that was keeping him upright.

"And me," said the woman beside Lupin. "I did warn you, I wasn't going to give up."

"Of course not, Mariela. That would have required the use of common sense." Snape shot back at her. "Where is my father?"

"He's fine," Lupin replied. "He took nasty fall, but he'll—"

"Enough!" Anthony shouted, glaring at the intruders. "I don't know who you are, nor do I care. Tell the Aurors that if they enter, the Professor dies."

"We aren't with the Aurors," Lupin said evenly.

"Oh? Then why are you here, pray tell? Sightseeing?"

"We're here for Severus," Mariela said, clenching her fists at her sides.

Anthony cast an amused glance at his prisoner. "Well, Professor!" he clapped Snape on the shoulder as if they were old friends. Snape gritted his teeth, the area still sore from the extensive torture Anthony had subjected him to. "I had no idea your comrades-in-arms were so dedicated."

His eyes narrowed. "More Death Eater scum, perhaps? It would be a pleasure to destroy more than one of you today."

"They aren't Death Eaters," Snape began. "And you—"

"CRUCIO!"

"I will finish the job, Snape, if you contradict me again," Anthony said coldly, as the curse subsided.

"Contradiction is a side effect of being wrong," Mariela snapped, glaring at Anthony as though she would have dearly loved to break several of his limbs.

"Mariela, calm down," Lupin hissed, though clenched teeth.

Anthony watched the pair with a detached amusement. "Go on, please. This is most entertaining."

"No doubt the Aurors, wherever they may be, would agree with you," Lupin said dryly. "I suppose you must know it's not a coincidence that they are here?"

"You're trapped, McKinnon," Snape spoke up from behind Anthony.

"I swear, one more word from you," Anthony snapped, "And I will--"

"Then do it, unless you plan to bore me to death!" Snape replied sharply.

"No!" Mariela shouted, her eyes wide.

"How do you want this to end, McKinnon?" Lupin asked quietly. "As it is, Azkaban is a very real possibility for you now."

"I am serving justice," Anthony replied.

"Killing an innocent man is justice?" asked Lupin, in tones of mock astonishment. "You know better than that."

"He's not innocent!" Anthony cried desperately. Father, help me! Where are you now? Help me!

He looked around, as though half expecting to see his father standing there, offering his guidance and support. But Malfoy had been the only one that had offered those things…and Malfoy had tricked him, according to these people.

NO! He wouldn't, he couldn't! He was trying to help me! I know he was! Please, Father, believe me! Please! I'm not like the people that killed you---I'm not like Severus Snape!

But if these people were telling the truth, it would mean that everything Anthony had believed in was wrong.

It's got to be a lie, please, let it be a lie!

"McKinnon," Mariela spoke up quietly. "It's over."

"NO!"

Anthony stepped in front of Snape, glaring at the interfering pair. "It isn't over—not until Snape is dead, and my father's spirit can rest!"

"And your becoming a murderer will help him rest?" Mariela countered.

"I AM NOT A MURDERER!" Anthony roared. He pointed to Snape, his anger mounting. "I AM NOT LIKE HIM!"

"Then prove it!" Lupin burst out. "Release Snape!"

"I don't need you to fight my battles for me, Lupin," Snape spoke up icily from behind Anthony. "Turn around and face me, McKinnon."

"Severus!" Mariela cried. "Don't be a fool!"

As though under a spell, Anthony turned slowly to face his captive.

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"It's more difficult to kill a man when he's looking right at you," Severus said, his body still aching from the various tortures he had endured. "Let's see how you handle it."

"Have you gone mad?" Mariela shrieked. "Get away from him, McKinnon!"

But Anthony's eyes were fixed on Severus now, and he did not seem to hear anything else.

If nothing else, Severus was tired. He was tired of reliving horrifying memories, feelings of long-lasting guilt and regret. The physical torture was just that—physical. The pain beyond bearing was the look on Kevin McKinnon's face when he knew that he and his son had been condemned to death. And no physical pain that McKinnon had employed would ever erase it from his memory.

His own father would have died trying to defend him. After so many years of believing himself better off without his father, it was somewhat difficult to process. At least his father was still living…thus far.

Even if McKinnon succeeded in killing Severus, it could very well turn into a bloodbath. Mariela would try to take the boy on herself—and she would die, as would Lupin. To say nothing of his father, somewhere else in this house. McKinnon would not be satisfied until he had destroyed everything in his path, including himself. The boy no longer cared who would get hurt or killed anymore, that much was obvious.

Severus' mind raced. The Aurors were still outside, as far as he knew…but their presence inside the house could easily incite McKinnon to violence before overtaking him completely. Was there anything he could say that would not make the situation worse?

"Your father made me swear that you would survive. I saw to it that you did," Severus began. "He was a genuinely honest man. Look at yourself, McKinnon. What would he say if he knew what you were about to do? Before you start a bloodbath that will result in not only our deaths, but the deaths of three innocent people, ask yourself if your father would have condoned that!"

Strange, it sounded as though someone else were speaking through him…he did not sound like himself in the least. Then again, he no longer felt like himself, either.

Lupin spoke at last. "You have to choose, McKinnon. Will you avenge your father's memory, or will you honor it?"

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During all this, McKinnon had been watching Severus with wide eyes. It was as though something inside him was slowly breaking, destroying everything he thought he had known. Fragments of memory intertwined with flashes of realization swirled before his eyes

The flash of green light, the Dark Mark…

His father's face, his eyes kind and loving.

His mother's laugh…

Lucius Malfoy, manipulating him, using him…

He had become a pawn, a tool.

And now he would be a murderer.

In his mind's eye, he could see his father, disappointed and angry, turning away from him in disgust.

"NO!"

He backed away from Severus, dropping his wand to the floor—along with Lupin's and Mariela's. He was staring straight ahead now, as he backed against the wall and sank to his knees.

"Dad, what's going on? Why do we have to move?" he asked, addressing no one in particular.

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Mariela watched him as she scooped up the three wands from the floor. McKinnon didn't seem to notice her. Stepping forward, she waved her wand at Severus' chains. They promptly vanished, and Remus stepped forward to keep Severus from collapsing to the ground. She went to his other side, and the two of them supported Severus between them.

"I can walk," Severus said irritably.

"I would be very impressed if that were the case," Lupin responded.

Mariela cast a glance at McKinnon. "Is he…what's happened to him?"

"He's in shock," Remus replied, "I imagine he will come out of it, but what he'll be like when he does is anyone's guess."

She glanced at McKinnon again, feeling a strange mixture of anger and pity. What Malfoy had done to him was horrible—but the real tragedy was what McKinnon had done to himself. It had been the door that had allowed Malfoy to manipulate him so thoroughly.

"We ought to Stun him," she said, surprised at the bitterness in her voice. "Just in case."

Remus nodded. "Will you do the honors? We can take him back up to the castle, and decide from there what to do with him."

"Stupefy!"

McKinnon was knocked over by a burst of light from Mariela's wand, and lay sprawled on his back. His auburn hair, pooling around his head in the dim light, bore a disturbing resemblance to blood. Mariela shuddered involuntarily.

"Here, help Severus a moment," Remus said. "I'll take care of him from here."

Mariela opened her mouth to reply, but was cut off by a series of bumps and thuds on the staircase, accompanied by sounds of shuffling and…panting?

"Snuffles?" she inquired. There was a loud bark in response.

Severus glared at Lupin. "You brought him? Consider yourself lucky I don't have my wand or the energy to wield it!"

Mariela's brow furrowed. Bringing a dog along on a rescue mission seemed strange to her, but hardly a hexing offense.

I suppose he's just not a dog person.

"Yes, it's Snuffles," Septimus remarked, as he and the dog appeared in the doorway. "And me. What happened to McKinnon?" He stopped short the sight of his son. "Severus!"

Severus looked up sharply. "Father? Are you—?"

He stopped, as though embarrassed to admit that he'd been worried at all about his father. For his part, however, Septimus seemed to understand. He simply nodded, smiling.

If their present situation hadn't been so dire, Mariela would have thought it a touching family moment. Or at least, as touching a moment possible for the Snape family. Especially considering that they were standing in the bedroom of a dilapidated house with Aurors about to break in.

"McKinnon is incapacitated at the moment, Father," Severus explained, gesturing toward McKinnon's limp form. "If you don't have any other probing questions, I suggest we leave this place before some very awkward explanations are in order."

"I like that idea," Mariela said fervently, looking toward the window. "Through the tunnel, I suppose?"

Lupin nodded. "Healer Snape, if you're feeling better—"

"I am," Septimus replied. His eyes were slightly brighter than usual, but his voice was steady.

"Then would you be so kind as to see to Mr. McKinnon? We need to transport him back to the castle."

The darkening of Septimus' expression shocked Mariela. "Why not let the Aurors have him?"

Mariela wondered that herself for a moment. Then she realized...

The Aurors take McKinnon, McKinnon tells them why he was after Severus...and, as Severus himself said, a lot of awkward explanations will be in order. Is revenge on McKinnon so important that we are willing to sacrifice the reputation of someone we care about? Or at least, that Septimus and I care about?

The answer seemed obvious. Septimus, however, did not look as though he thought so.

"Because the situation is extremely delicate," Lupin explained. "I promise, all will be explained once we get to the castle."

"Very well," Septimus said. He pointed his wand at McKinnon's prone form. "Moblicorpus."

"Vamanos," Mariela said, taking a step toward the door.

(A/N: I read HBP, and my fan fiction no longer adheres to canon. That's okay, though. I still intend to finish this story, no matter how long it takes me. Long live the Half-Blood Prince!)