It was a very strange sense of foreboding that Nott felt as he lie on his bed, staring at the map he had stolen from Harry Potter. He'd been memorizing the map for weeks now. Learning every secret of the great castle, all in preparation for the moment when his Dark Master would finally take over.
Nott was wondering where it was that Potter and Dumbledore had gone to when they had disappeared off the map. They had been gone for two hours, and he had been watching the map diligently for their return, as well as keeping his eye on Longbottom, who was in the library with those traitorous girls, Greengrass and Davis, as well as the mudblood. His master was most pleased that he had come into possession of this map, and had, according to LeStrange, been most eager to examine the map himself.
He had seen LeStrange only the day before, when he'd finished repairing the caved in passageway. It had been then that Lestrange had tasked him with watching Longbottom carefully. He had made it clear that he should know exactly where the boy was. Nott knew it was not a problem, thanks to Potter's map.
He had also been given another task, one that he hadn't even expected. A task that had kept him awake all night, thinking about.
Nott knew that his master's siege was to happen soon, and he had know that there would be help from within the castle itself, though he had no idea who the other Death Eaters were. Well, almost no idea. There was a couple of people who were all but flaunting their allegiances.
He had noticed both Crabbe and Goyle had bore the Mark on the arms the other day when the two goons had finished their showers. The idiots hadn't even bothered to hide the Mark at all. If their master knew of their lack of secrecy, they would know severe pain, as Nott had know Draco had experienced.
That memory still made him smile. He had just been marked and masked when Draco was brought before the Dark Lord, and punished for his obvious failings in accomplish the task he'd been given. Nott didn't know at the time what that task and really had no interest in learning it. He had his own job to be getting on with.
He sat upright on his bed quite suddenly as his arm burned. He clutched it tightly, trying to stop the searing pain shooting up his arm, when the door to his dorm burst open and both Goyle and Crabbe came stumbling in, and going to their trunks.
The two hulking boys began throwing on black robes that Nott recognized at once. The battle was about to begin. Glancing at the map, Nott saw that both passages he'd told LeStrange about was now clustered with names, all moving towards the castle.
He leapt out of his bed, and opened his own trunk to don his robes. Both Crabbe and Goyle stared blankly for a moment, unsure of what their room mate was doing, until they saw the ornate silver mask in Nott's hand.
"Yeah." Goyle grinned, slipping his mask on.
"Let's kill some fucking mudbloods." Crabbe chuckled.
Nott followed his two roommates out into the common room, where a number of others, all wearing the masks and robes of their order were gathering. There were also a number of Slytherin students staring in horror at their fellows.
Nott had known there were other Death Eaters within the school, but he was genuinely surprised by the number. Over half of his house were gathered in their garb. Nott didn't understand why there were so many, or why the Dark Lord would allow people so young into his ranks, unless they were simply sheep for the slaughter.
"Anyone who wishes to live," Said one of the bigger robed figures. "Should stay here, or fight with us. Those who remain here will go before the Dark Lord."
With that, all of the robed figures poured out of the common room to take up arms against the teaching staff, and anyone who resisted. Nott straggled behind as they marched, overwhelmed suddenly by what it all meant. Many of his fellows were likely to die, and it was very possible that he would be one of them.
Nott stayed with the group until the got to the Great Hall. He then remembered that he had two jobs to accomplish, and he had left the key to them both on his bed. Going back for the map, Nott was able to miss the first bit of fighting, when Aurors, who had been stationed at Hogwarts tried to subdue the junior Death Eaters.
There were shrieks of surprise when Nott burst into the Common room once again. He simply ignored them and ran into his dorm, and snatched up the forgotten map. A quick scan showed him that Longbottom was still in the library. All he needed to do was fine Lestrange.
"Abe," Dumbledore gasped, clutching his chest. "We need brooms."
Harry watched as the man called Abe gave a very disproving look before turning and stomping into the Hogs Head. Harry was about to question Dumbledore regarding his clearly ailing condition when the old man cut him off.
"My brother." Dumbledore said weakly, looking to Harry. "He and I have never seen eye to eye. Not since we were young men, anyway. But there is very few people I trust more."
Harry nodded, not really listening to the Headmaster. It was everything he had not to just start running towards the castle. They had failed to get the Horcrux in the cave only to return to Hogsmeade and find the Dark Mark hovering ominously over the castle. He had know way of knowing what had happened, or if in fact it was still taking place. His friends were there. They could be fighting Voldemort's forces or they could be…
He refused to allow himself to think on it.
"Here." Abe snarled as he shoved to ratty looking brooms out. "Their old, but they'll do the job. Are you sure about this Al? There's gotta be another way."
"Abe," Dumbledore smiled, though it was clear he was suffering serious pain. "It is one of my deepest wishes that things between us had been better. I must finish my journey. I will tell them that you miss them."
Abe nodded, clapping his brother on the shoulder. Albus mounted the broom and urged Harry to do the same.
"We are going straight to my office, Harry. Do as you must to make sure we are unimpeded in our journey. But keep close to me."
With that, Dumbledore kicked off the ground, followed closely by Harry. Normally the feeling of the night air on his face as he pushed a broom to its limits would be thrilling and exhilarating. Tonight, however, Harry was immune to it. He had only one focus. He needed to find his friends and make sure they were safe.
Dumbledore set down right in front of the gates, with Harry right on his heels. They pulled their wands, and ran as fast as they could up to the castle. Harry kept pace with the Headmaster who was clearly struggling to remain standing.
Yet, the Headmaster managed to surprise Harry when they met the first resistance at the Entrance Hall. A group of Death Eaters had apparently been stationed at the great doors to prevent people coming or going. What truly surprised Harry was the size of the Death Eaters. They were all shorter than he was.
Harry took up his wand, ready to start throwing curses, when Dumbledore's hand came to rest on his shoulder.
"Students." Dumbledore said, making a slashing motion with his wand, bowling all the robed figures over.
"Students?" Harry looked appalled. "How can they be students? Did you have any idea they had taken the mark?"
"I did, but I could not check them, any of them." Dumbledore said guiltily. "People have rights, Harry. Without cause, I could not violate students privacy unless I could prove they posed a threat." The Headmaster sounded very tired as he spoke, and his face looked very old as he approached the now unconscious junior Death Eaters. Harry glanced at one whose mask had fallen away and recognized her as a fourth year. His anger boiled hot at the sight of the girl. While he understood Dumbledore's dilemma about being able to check students, it didn't change the fact that he, and the rest of the student population had been walking around for months will young killers in training and been entirely unaware of it.
"Come, Harry. We have little time." Dumbledore said, fighting to remain on his feet.
Harry and the Headmaster slipped into a hidden passage, narrowly avoid a group of Death Eaters coming down the Grand Staircase.
"Why would Voldemort use children?" Harry asked, trying to fight down his anger. "It doesn't make sense.
"Voldemort has no regard for life, other than his own. The children are simply a means to his end." Dumbledore wheezed, leaning against a wall for a moment. "They are merely a new batch of easily manipulated sycophants, brought up by their own parents to believe that his way is the right way. Another tool for his use."
"It's disgusting." Harry growled and Dumbledore nodded.
"Especially when you consider that they will make great shield for him."
Harry looked up with horror in his eyes.
"Most people will not initiate an attack against children. It will allow his forces to gain the upper hand in any fight."
Harry clenched his teeth in anger. The arrogance of the Dark Lord in using children as nothing more than human shields. And what was worse, those children were so blinded by their dreams of glory and power that they had no idea of what their choice to follow the Dark Lord truly meant.
Dumbledore stared at Harry with a heavy heart. The battle had come, just as he knew it would, but he had never thought he would be so weakened. He only hoped that his orders were being carried out. He had called Hagrid, Severus and Minerva to his office before he had left with Harry. It had been difficult to get them to understand, and only Severus agreed right away.
"It is my belief that this castle will come under attack before the night is through." He had told them. "Hagrid, I need you and your brother to hide in the mountains. It is of great importance that you remain hidden until the time is right?"
"But how will I know?" Hagrid asked, looking to Snape and McGonagall.
"Someone will let you know, my friend. For now, it is important that you survive."
Dumbledore turned to his other two teachers.
"The safety of the students is paramount. You and the other teachers must get them all out through the emergency passages. But you can not start until an attack comes. Any sign that we know of their plans, and the consequences will be dire, I fear."
"Can't we get them assembled?" McGonagall asked.
"I'm afraid not." Dumbledore shook his head sadly. "I fear that there are students loyal to Voldemort within the castle. We can not risk any of them getting word out. You must appear as if you are ignorant of any threat. If he even feels that we know of his plans, We will suffer greater losses. While I do not believe he will kill children, as they are far more useful to him alive, I do not wish to give him the chance to even consider it. "
McGonagall looked as if she were about to argue when Dumbledore cut her off.
"But if an attack is coming, why not keep Hagrid here?" McGonagall asked. "Surely we could use him to assist in keeping the Death Eaters at bay."
"'At's righ! Me and Grawp would be quite proud to defend the school." Hagrid said proudly, puffing out his vast chest.
"I truly admire your courage, and your desire to protect the school, but the odds are not in our favor this time. We must yield to them for now, but it is only temporary, I promise you both." Dumbledore looked very sad at having to order the practical surrender of the school, but the safety of the children was far more important.
"Gather the teachers and the Prefects, and alert them to what they must do, but tell no one else. Position them all close to the houses, and anyplace where students might be in preparation for a mass evacuation."
McGonagall stared at Dumbledore for several moments, looking as if she wanted to argue. Eventually, she slowly nodded, and agreed to carry out Dumbledore's request.
"There is one other thing that must be done, and it is of the greatest importance." Dumbledore said after McGonagall had complied with his wishes. "Should an attack occur, it is vital that Mr. Longbottom, and Miss Greengrass, Granger and Davis are brought to this office straightaway. They will be safe inside until I return to get them out. I can not begin to stress how important that task is. Those for students must be kept safe."
"I don't understand." McGonagall looked very confused. "Why those four?"
"It isn't important that you understand, only that those four are kept safe. They will play vital roles in the future, and without them, and young Harry, I fear for the end of our world, as we know it."
"It will be done, Headmaster." Snape said.
"It is McGonagall that I wish to see this task done. Severus, you have another task I wish for you to complete."
Snape's eyes narrowed at the insinuation. Dumbledore didn't have time to try and ease his young friend's conscious over what he had been asked to do, but Dumbledore knew that there would be no dignity, or mercy should Voldemort be the one to end his life. At least with Snape, it would be quick, and there would be no gloating, or great presentation of the corpse.
"You have your assignments, and now, I must finish mine."
He felt terrible saddened that those would be the last words he would ever get to speak to either of his most trusted, and revered friends and colleagues. What was worse, was that he knew he would never have an opportunity to remedy that. But it was out of his control now. He needed to do what he had set out to do before he was forced to pass on the quest to young Harry.
"We must get to my office." Dumbledore said, taking a deep breath, steeling himself for the next part of the journey. He had to get Harry to his friends, and get them all out of the castle. The preparations were already made, he had simply to get Harry and his friends together.
Harry jogged alongside the headmaster as they made their way through the passage. Harry heard small, distant explosions. Dumbledore gave a heavy sigh.
"I ordered that the students be helped to escape." Dumbledore said weakly, knowing that Harry was looking at him for answers. "I only hope that the teachers manage to get them all out of the school."
"They will, sir." Harry tried to reassure the Headmaster. Dumbledore nodded at Harry's words, and they pushed on. They emerged from the passage, and Dumbledore looked about to make sure they were alone. When he was sure, Dumbledore slowly led Harry out into the open and together they headed for the stone Gargoyle that guarded the entrance to the Headmaster's office.
Theodore Nott had seen very little in the way of battle. He had followed the map and located Rudolphus LeStrange to inform him of Longbottom's location. Rudolphus had a mad gleam in his eye as he and several other Death Eaters followed Nott through the castle chasing the little dot with Longbottom's name on it. At one point, Rudolphus' brother, Rabastian appeared to have cornered the squib.
Then, Longbottom's dot began moving again, and Rabastian's dot remained still, and then slowly faded off the map. When they came upon the scene, Rudolphus let out a roar of bloodlust at the sight of his brother's body, slumped against the wall.
He and the Death Eaters ran down the hall, all but forgetting Nott, who had suddenly been entranced by two new dots on the map. Quickly, he turned and began running in the opposite direction.
Nott arrived in time to see the stone gargoyle jumping back into place in front of the entrance to the Headmaster's Office. He had seen Potter just as the gargoyle returned to it's place as guard.
Nott knew he had no hope of learning the password, so he did the only thing he could think of.
A large chunk of stone was blasted off the statue, which remained for the most part, standing defiant. Nott threw more blasting hexes, destroying the gargoyle a piece at a time until finally, nothing remained. Nott chuckled at his work, wondering why no one had ever thought to do that before.
Nott tucked the map into his robes, and clutched his wand tightly. He needed to move quickly. He could not allow anyone time to retaliate. Taking a deep breath, Nott ran up the spiral stairs and kicked in the door to Dumbledore's office. His wand was up taking aim, and he shouted the words that would end the life of the greatest wizard since the great Merlin had walked the earth.
There were screams of outrage from the many portraits all shouting their anger at the assassin. Dumbledore's face looked shocked. Surprised that it was a student, a mere sixth year who had killed him. Dumbledore slumped onto his desk, and slid down upon the floor. Nott then looked up and saw that Harry Potter was there. Nott knew he was not allowed to kill the Gryffindor Golden bastard, but he could capture him. His wand rose again, but to his great disappointment, Potter, and the people he was with… disappeared.
"No!" Nott yelled lunging into the room, as if he could bring Harry back.
He fell to his knees on the spot, pounding his fists on the floor in anger. He had failed to capture Potter. His master would be very displeased at his failure, and Nott feared that there would be a cruciatus curse in his future.
Then he turned and saw the foot of Albus Dumbledore from behind the desk, still lying where he'd fallen under Nott's wand. He began to smile. He hadn't failed at all. He'd done as he'd been told and killed Dumbledore.
Nott stood, coming around the desk again to look upon the body of the greatest wizard of all time, chuckling at the ease in which he'd been killed.
And then he really looked at his handiwork, and he felt suddenly cold and empty. The full weight of his actions began to settle in on him. His stomach gave a lurch as he stared into the now vacant empty blue eyes of Albus Dumbledore. He still wore the look of surprised recognition upon his ancient weathered face, and Nott felt as if someone had walked over his own grave.
He ran a hand through his hair, and tried to turn away, but his eyes were locked with Dumbledore's, and he was overcome by a strange feeling, one he'd never felt in all his life.
Footsteps sounded in the stairwell, and Nott turned as Professor Snape appeared in the door. The former Potions teacher stared silently at the body of Dumbledore, and the Death Eater standing over him. There were no signs of anyone else in the office.
"Well done." Snape said evenly. "The Dark Lord will be most pleased with you. You will be rewarded above all others. And I will see to it that you get all you deserve. Reveal yourself to me."
Nott removed his mask, and Snape had to fight not to reel in shock. The boy's eyes looked red, and misty. He turned back to stare at the Headmaster's body.
Snape entered the office, and bent down to inspect the former Headmaster's body, sliding his long fingers down Dumbledore's face and closing his eyes. He had failed to do as he had promised. It was not him who ended the great man's life, but a child. A child who's soul was now broken.
Pushing all of his guilt aside, he rose again to look at Nott. He still had a part to play, and so far as he knew, Harry Potter was safe. So long as the boy was safe, he, Snape, had to remain ensconced in Voldemort's inner circle. He would have to remain the spy, and do his best to aid the boy when he could.
It was the only way that he would be able to eventually find his own end.
"Come, The battle is over, and the students that didn't get away are being taken to the Great Hall for his arrival. You must be there so he knows that you have done what no one had been able to do before."
Nott nodded, and with Snape to guide him, left the office of the Headmaster. Snape allowed himself one last glance to the man who had played so prominently in his own life. He vowed to that memory of Albus Dumbledore that he would se Lord Voldemort's life ended, even if it took his own dying breath.
"No! NO!" Harry shouted as the office vanished in a swirl of color. He and the others had been port keyed away. When the spinning stopped, Harry found he was in a very dark room. Harry fell forward as the arms grasping him let go.
"Harry?" He heard Daphne's voice from somewhere beside him. There was a sound like something bumping into a table, and trying to keep object from falling on the floor. Harry scrambled to his feet once again, ready to defend himself and his friends.
Neville's wand lit the room slightly, and Daphne grabbed Harry in her arms. She began to cry in earnest now, clutching him close as if he might vanish if she didn't keep a hold of him. Harry began to relax a bit as he wrapped his arms around the shaking form of his girlfriend.
"I thought…" she began to speak but her storm of emotions prevented her from continuing.
"He's dead." Harry said weakly, and he and Daphne sank to the floor. "He's dead."
"I'm s-s-so sorry." Hermione sniffed as she sat down next to Harry and Daphne. Neville also sat down, wiping at his eyes. They were all beginning to feel the full weight of what they had all experienced, yet none of them seemed to be able to form the words to express their feelings.
"He knew he was going to die tonight." Harry said, his voice hardly a whisper, though it was quite loud in the dark silent room. "He said goodbye to his brother. He said goodbye to me." He looked at Neville and Hermione, who both looked very tired, and saddened.
"Did you do it?" Hermione asked softly, tears falling from her eyes. "Did you destroy it?"
Harry slipped his hand between himself and Daphne and retrieved the fake locket from his pocket and handed it to Hermione, who looked frightened by the thing.
"It's a fake." Harry said sourly. "Everything he did was for nothing, and now…"
"A fake?" Hermione asked, picking up the locket, still looking at it with trepidation. "But, where's the real one?"
Harry shrugged as Daphne sat up to look at the locket in Hermione's hands.
"Where's Tracey?" Harry asked. Daphne looked up at Harry, her eyes filling with tears again. Harry pulled her close, feeling as if her look of despair was answer enough. Hermione's eyes fell, and she began to cry once again. It was Neville who spoke, finally giving Harry the answer he felt he already knew.
"They got separated while heading to Dumbledore's office." He said. "Astoria was with her."
Harry felt his chest tightened. Tracey and Astoria. Two people who had come to mean so much to him. Tracey was Daphne's best friend, and Harry knew well the value of a real friend. He had lost his own best friend less than a year ago.
Had it not been for Astoria, Harry wondered if he and Daphne would have come together at all. She had pushed for them to just kiss, and let things be what they would be. She felt that he and her sister were over thinking things, and had gotten overly involved in their budding relationship.
"Where are we?" Neville asked, looking about the dark room.
"I don't know." Harry said. "But I think we're safe for the moment. Should we try and find out?"
"No." Daphne said through her tears, gripping Harry's jacket in her hands. "Can't we all just stay here. Let's just stay until it gets light, and then we can look around. Please."
Harry looked at Neville, who appeared to be settling in his position with Hermione in his arms. He looked at Harry as if to say that given all that had happened, perhaps it was best.
Slowly, Harry nodded, and tightened his hold on the girl he loved. They held onto each other trying to find a small bit of comfort after what they had seen and lost this night. They all felt their eyes grow heavy as they heard the very calm soothing sound of phoenix song seeming to come from all around them.
Harry's heart felt heavy, and he felt like he needed to do something in retaliation against the Dark Lord. But now was not the time. He was hurting, as were his friends, and they needed each other. Revenge could wait until they were more prepared. For now, all that mattered was that they were alive and together. Tomorrow, they would declare war.
To be concluded in "The Lion's Roar."