~ Prologue ~
When Lucius Malfoy appeared at the edge of the clearing, Death Eaters made way for him, either out of habit or distaste for his current status.
Severus Snape observed that his friend seemed troubled by more than the lack of knowledge of his son's whereabouts.
"Severus, a word."
Some gasped this time. Severus had been elevated in rank, and Lucius hadn't even his own wand. But the recently displaced Headmaster motioned him closer and cast an advanced form of the Muffliato charm that he had invented in his youth.
"You are summoned." Severus reflexively glanced at his left arm, but Lucius continued. "He's in the shack, awaiting Potter. He means you no good, my friend."
An objection on his lips, Severus' heart clenched with the truth. He knew about the Elder Wand. He knew that the Dark Lord could see him as a threat.
"I have only one hope, Lucius. If he uses the snake, I may yet live. Make me one oath."
Lucius didn't hesitate; a wand oath--with a wand not even his own, no less--was not as binding as a vow.
"Lucius, brother, swear to me that you will not let my body remain in the shack."
"Body? But Severus--"
"I may appear dead, but even if you have to scream it as they drag you to Azkaban, tell them. Make sure Poppy knows where I am. Dumbledore's portrait will confirm it; he will plead leniency for us both."
"Why should they listen to me?"
"Draco will turn in the end. And even if he doesn't, the idea that I'm still alive is sure to inspire some Gryffindor to take me to Poppy. She is honor-bound to give me the antidote."
Severus grasped Lucius' wand, and the blond man did likewise. "To my last breath, I will plead for your life as though you were my blood. I swear it."
A small surge of magic passed between the men; then Severus prepared himself for his last stand.
Lucius held Narcissa and Draco in his arms, whispering words of reassurance to his wife as their son sat strangely silent. Trying to remain unobtrusive in the Great Hall as the victorious Light mourned their losses, he wished Narcissa could kneel beside her sister's body and bid her farewell, but he didn't want to draw attention to the inevitable connection. He would stay. Not only for Draco's best chance at acceptance, but also for the oath he had made to Severus. His heart had clenched when the Dark Lord had confirmed Severus' death, but he felt the compulsion to fulfill the vow to his friend.
He looked about the hall for Potter, but he couldn't be seen. Lucius was considering seeking out McGonagall or Pomfrey when Potter's friends--he recognized them--entered. The boy returned to his redheaded family, but the girl listlessly walked the perimeter of the large room.
Thanking the fates for this opportunity, he asked Draco for the girl's name. Then, as she drew closer, he called softly, "Granger."
She looked startled and wary, but must have seen something sympathetic in Draco's face because she approached. "Mr. and Mrs. Malfoy, Draco."
"Miss Granger, I cannot apologize enough for your treatment whilst you were in our home."
Her eyebrows rose, and her expression turned wry. "What do you want?"
"Severus Snape." He paused when he saw her face contort with sadness. "Do you know how he... died?"
The young woman took a deep breath and drew herself up. "Nagini."
"It wasn't the Killing Curse, you're sure?"
"I'm sure. He gave Harry some memories before--" Tears began falling from her eyes.
"Then he may yet live."
"But... but I saw him."
"I believe it was induced by a potion. I would go myself, but I don't want the attentions of those Aurors. You could ask Dumbledore's portrait."
"I was just there. He didn't say anything."
"Rarely in life did he give up information unasked. Perhaps if you and Draco go to the shack and bring Severus to Madam Pomfrey, she can provide the correct antidote."
Hermione's eyes scanned the room. "I'll ask Neville to come with us."
After what appeared to be a tense discussion, Hermione and Neville returned. The three left the hall, Hermione in the lead and Neville keeping an eye on Draco.