A/N: So glad to be back working on this & all of the reviews and private messages have been wonderful to read. Usual disclaimers apply.
Lucius and Severus moved through the woods quietly, a charm deflecting any attention in case anyone else was wandering out this far. Lucius led the way, heading for the entrance to tunnels that led under the manor. He'd never shared the knowledge of them with the Dark Lord, or any of the Death Eaters. Only Narcissa and Draco were privy to this secret. Even his father, who'd been enamoured of the Dark Lord's views and aims had guarded this secret, and many others jealously.
Lucius came to a stop in front of a moss covered stone. He pulled a small dagger from his boot and cut his hand, pressing it to the rock. There was a shudder in the stone, and a crevice opened in the center revealing a stone staircase the descended into the earth. Once they were inside he made a motion with his wand and it sealed behind them.
"Let me see your hand." Severus said, a non-verbal lumos lighting the narrow tunnel.
"Just wrap it, we'll need more blood before tonight it over." Lucius said, letting Severus bind it quickly. He was not completely back to his full strength, but the advantage to fighting this particular battle with his family wards was that it would not take a great deal of magical energy to engage them, and they might actually feed power back to him. He was not ready to fight a duel, but at least he could give the Dark Lord a proverbial bloody nose.
"All right." Severus said quietly and once done they continued on. The stone walls were wet in places, showing that they were under the river that ran just north of the manor house. The air was heavy down here, the scent of wet earth clinging to the back of their throats.
Lucius paused when they reached a point where the rough stone floor was replaced by smooth stone blocks. He unwrapped his hand, flexing it to reopen the wound. It was a small pain, nothing to others he had suffered. He knelt and placed his hand onto the line between the two materials, focusing outwards and tapping into the wards. He felt them stir, awakening to the taste of his blood. He called them to ready and begin building. He felt the echo of them against his magic as if tasting his needs and intent. He could see everything in that moment, feel the magic of every single intruder in his home. He pulled back after a moment and having to rest a moment.
"We'll have to activate the wards first…there's no other way to reach the library undetected. There's too many of them." He said once he'd come back from the power rush.
"Then we have a short window once they're expelled to kill the snake and get the books." Severus said. "He'll challenge the wards to try and retrieve Nagini, if she is what we fear."
"Not as short as you think. These blood wards are nearly four hundred years old, they can withstand a fair bit of punishment." Lucius said, standing and straightening his robes.
Severus nodded. "Still…we can't linger."
"Not tonight, no." Lucius said. "There is much to do before my family and I can come home." He said.
Severus touched his arm. "You will get to come home."
Lucius nodded. "We will. Are you ready?" He asked Severus.
"I am." He offered his hand, not flinching when Lucius cut smoothly through his skin. He laced his fingers with Lucius' and ignored the sting of his cut as their blood mixed together.
"All right." Lucius closed his eyes and opened to the wards, letting them fill him and helping them to recognize Severus as a friend, not foe. He visualized the serpent, and the magical cage he wanted it in. He raised his wand and traced an invisible rune into the shimmering edge of the wards. "Auferte serpentibus adflentur," Lucius spoke the invocation of the wards and a dark wind seemed to gather around him and then explode inwards, seeking out all those not of the Malfoy bloodline.
Lucius began moving forward, Severus a dark shadow behind him as they entered the manor through the cellars. The wind ripped the Death Eaters from the house and quite literally flung them outside the ward line as a protective barrier snapped into place. There were screams as the wards tore into those resisting the abrupt eviction. The harder they resisted, the more damage the wards would inflict. There in the cellar, inside a cage was Nagini. She flung herself at the magical bars, hissing and writhing.
Severus drew the sword of Gryffindor from inside his robes and nodded to Lucius who dispelled the magical bars with a gesture. As the snake flew at him he struck taking the beast's head cleanly and then driving the blade through the brain…just to be certain. As he did there was a sudden rush of magic, and it chilled him to the core. He looked at Lucius, and from the set of his jaw he knew that he had felt it too. He wiped the blade and tucked it away again.
"Let's collect those books and be away." Severus said.
"Indeed." Lucius shook himself and turned, heading up the stairs and sweeping towards the Library. He was still connected to the wards and could feel the others challenging them, trying to bring them down. They were holding, for the moment. "Behind the gargoyle there is a small hidden space, I need the two books that are there." He said to Severus and headed up the circular staircase to open a hidden compartment on the upper level. He grabbed whatever he thought they might require, ignoring the searing pain in his arm. The Dark Lord had to know he was behind this, and was trying to express his displeasure. Lucius blocked it out and headed back down to meet Severus.
"Is there anything else you need?" Severus asked, having grabbed the books.
"Just one thing more….Accio cane." He said and his serpent's head cane came flying into the room and he snagged it. He tucked the borrowed wand away and drew his own. "That's much better." He grinned darkly.
Severus shook his head as they walked to the center of the room. "Let's get out of here."
"I couldn't agree more Severus." Lucius said and offered him his bloody hand again.
Severus gripped it with his own and they apparated out of the wards and back to Prince's hold. Severus released his hand once they popped back through. "A pity the wards couldn't kill him." He said.
"A great pity." Lucius said. "I do hope he struggled…at least a little." He'd felt the intense roil of satisfaction through the wards as they were fed off the blood of those that had resisted. He hoped that some of it had been Riddle's.
"One can hope." Severus said and tucked his wand away and took a deep breath, letting go of his tension and focus now that they were back.
"Three Horcruxes destroyed…four remaining." Lucius said quietly.
"I still cannot believe Albus intended for my son to do this alone." Severus said quietly. It would be a difficult enough task for an adult wizard, but for a boy without the practical skills or experience, it was tantamount to a death sentence. Of course Albus had always intended for Harry to die.
Lucius touched his shoulder. "He can't meddle with him anymore, and we won't allow the Dark Lord to hurt him either." He promised quietly.
Severus nodded. "I could use a drink, and I'm sure Narcissa and the boys have been worried." He headed for the main entrance to the Hold.
"A drink sounds wonderful. It's quite late, will you stay the night?" Lucius asked.
"I think we will, I'll have Cozy get rooms prepared for us. Septimus will likely enjoy spending some time with Draco." Severus smiled. He was glad that they were getting along so well, it was important to have friends to get into innocent forms of trouble with.
"They seem to be getting along rather well. My son was regaling me with stories last night." He chuckled a little as they crossed the entrance and headed into the sitting room where Narcissa was standing in front of the fireplace, waiting for them. His wife met his eyes and he could see the worry that had been there. He held out a hand for her and pulled her close. "We're fine…everything went smoothly." He said softly to her.
Severus gave them a moment, going to pour them all a drink. He could hear Lucius speaking softly to his wife and was glad that through everything they at least still had one another. He remembered how Lucius had ranted and raved about having to marry her in the first place but it seemed that his father had chosen well. They were an unstoppable political pairing, and in moments like this he could see the softness that Lucius had been lacking in his life before Narcissa. He brought two glasses over for them.
"Where are the boys Narcissa?" Severus asked as they sat down.
"Downstairs, I heard some talk about exploring the potion's lab." She smiled a little, glad to see her son consorting with someone a little more intelligent than the likes of Gregory and Vincent.
"I'll go down and check on them in a minute." Severus said, resisting the urge to immediately check up on them. Draco and Harry were competent enough to avoid blowing themselves up, and shouldn't be getting into anything too dangerous.
Narcissa chuckled. "How are you adjusting to fatherhood, Severus?"
"It's…been a challenge. The worrying is the worst," He admitted. "I know he needs the freedom to be a child, but I also know all too well where it can lead."
"You can only guide them, they have to make their own mistakes." Lucius said. "I don't think you need to worry about them ending up where we were. Now starting a prank war between Slytherin and Gryffindor…that you might want to prepare for." He chuckled. "From what I hear it's nearly a forgone conclusion."
"I've heard something similar." Severus smirked. "And I doubt the lions will know what hit them."
"A true Slytherin then, your son?" Lucius had amusement dancing in his eyes. He'd always had his suspicions about that boy.
"To the core." Severus grinned and sipped his whiskey.
"Why do I get the feeling I'm missing something?" Narcissa arched an elegant eyebrow at the two men.
"I have no idea what you mean, Darling." Lucius smiled and kissed her cheek.
"Mmmhmmm." She said. "Will you be spending the night?" She asked Severus.
"Yes. Cozy?" He called, smiling at the House elf. "Can you prepare my bedroom and one for my son?" He asked.
"Yes Master Severus, right away!" The little elf smiled and popped back out.
"I'll head down and let the boys know we've returned safely, and that we'll be staying the night." Severus stood, setting his glass down on the table.
Lucius nodded, grateful to his friend for giving him a little time alone with Narcissa.
Severus swept out of the room and headed downstairs, going to the potion's lab. He opened the door, seeing the boys working away at one of the tables. "What are you working on?" He asked.
"Just some healing potions…we thought they might come in handy." Draco said. "Nothing too difficult."
"Is everything ok?" Harry asked.
"Everything is fine." Severus reassured him. "If you are both amenable, Lucius and I may recruit your assistance in researching a few things, but that will be the extent of your involvement. Am I clear?"
Harry and Draco shared a look. "We understand father."
"I will be most disappointed if I discover you attempting to do more. This is a dangerous business and best left to wizards with the experience to handle it." He was very serious, knowing Harry's predisposition to go off half-cocked.
"We'll limit ourselves to research, Professor." Draco said, glad to be involved at all.
"Very well. When you reach a stopping point, come upstairs and we'll have some dinner and then discuss what you'll be looking for." Severus said. "Septimus, we'll be spending the night." He told his son.
"Yes Sir." He smiled, glad to hear it.
"Don't be too long." Severus said to the young wizards before leaving them to finish their potions.
Draco looked to Septimus once he was gone. "Looks like things are about to get serious." He said quietly.
"I'm just glad he's letting me help, even if it is just research." Harry said.
Draco rubbed his forearm absently, it was aching tonight. Somehow he knew that outside these wards it would be worse.
"Does it hurt?" Harry asked quietly.
Draco stopped and dropped his hand ashamed he'd drawn attention to it. "You shouldn't worry about that."
"You're my friend, and from what I can see…it's not like you joined him by choice." Harry said. "I'll worry if I want to."
Draco gave him a half smile. "It started on the train, started burning. It's less here, but yeah it hurts." He said quietly.
"I see my father holding it sometimes, when he thinks I'm not looking. I wish there was a way to remove it." Harry said, a glimmer of an idea in his head.
"I don't think there is." Draco said quietly. "Or I'm sure our fathers would have found it before now."
"Maybe." Harry said and added the last set of ingredients to the cauldron before they removed it from the flame. They started bottling and labelling the simple healing draught and carried them over to the cabinet. They cleaned up and washed their hands well before going back upstairs to have dinner.
The Prince's main library made the one at the Heath look miniscule. Harry was unable to help gaping a little, and think that Hermione would likely go insane in the presence of that many books that she hadn't read yet. There were three levels to the large circular room. The ceiling was vaulted and massive wrought iron chandeliers cast light throughout the space.
"Have a seat." Severus said to the two teens, Lucius having already claimed a chair for himself. Once they were seated Severus took a breath. "Lucius and I came to the decision to allow the two of you to assist us in our fight to destroy the Dark Lord. Mostly because we know you both want to contribute and would rather you were involved under our supervision as opposed to on your own. We need to look for any clues about the ritual the Dark Lord used to resurrect himself, as well as any information about soul magic that you can find. I will join the floo here at the Hold to the one at the Heath so that we can move freely between the two properties without leaving the protection of the wards."
"Why Soul magic Professor?" Draco asked.
"The Dark Lord made use of a piece of obscure magic called a Horcrux. It involves splitting your soul and then hiding the severed piece in an object. A soul can only be split by an act contrary to nature, by murder." Severus said quietly. "We have already destroyed three such objects, but we believe there are four more."
"So until these split pieces of his soul are destroyed…" Harry trailed off, feeling ill.
"He cannot be truly killed." Severus said. "If you find anything of interest, you will bring it to our attention." He said to them both.
"Yes Professor." Draco said, stunned at the revelations.
"The books most likely to yield results are on the upper level." Severus said and he and Lucius settled down to start reading through the books that had been brought from Malfoy Manor.
Draco and Septimus headed for the staircase, making their way up to the top level of the library. "So, look for anything to do with resurrection, soul magic, and what else?" Septimus looked at Draco.
"Blood magic, the Dark arts, and even some of the histories might lead us there." Draco said, pondering. As they reached the upper level there was a reading area with two chairs and a small table between them. "I'll start at that end, you start at the other?" He suggested.
"Sounds like a plan." Septimus said and headed to the leftmost bookshelf. He wished a little that Hermione was on hand, she was always good to have on hand for research projects. However, this time they were on their own. He couldn't risk her getting involved and ending up hurt because of it.
Harry woke early, not entirely sure how he'd ended up in bed. He remembered being in the library, reading. He sat up and ran a hand through his hair. He got up, seeing a robe laid over the back of a chair for him. There was a door opened and he spotted a small adjoining bathroom. He went in and mentally thanked the elements, there was a shower with fresh towels laid out and clean clothes beside those.
He got the water going and stepped under the hot spray, closing his eyes and just letting it flow over him. Everything he'd read last night swirling through his head. He'd pulled a book on ancient blood rituals and some of them were definitely nightmare worthy. He finished his shower and got dressed, heading downstairs. It took a little guess work but soon enough he was back down in the main entrance and he followed his nose to the enticing scent of freshly brewed coffee.
He opened the door to the small, casual dining room where there was a carafe of coffee, and Lucius Malfoy enjoying a simple breakfast of warm buttered scones and jam. He paused in the doorway and nodded respectfully. "Good morning Lord Malfoy." He said formally and made himself walk to the table, pouring himself some coffee.
"Good morning, Septimus." His lips quirked with amusement at the teen's discomfort. "I know you are most likely uncomfortable with me being privy to your secrets, but I assure you I will not tell anyone." He said more seriously.
Harry nodded and added some cream and sugar to his mug. "I don't trust you." He said after a long moment. "But my father does, so I'm willing to work with you."
Lucius nodded. "Draco tells me the two of you have been dueling, and that you're most inventive." He let the topic change, aware that Severus would be up soon.
Harry smiled as he sat down, a plate of bacon, eggs, and toast appearing in front of him. "Dueling with Draco, you need to be." He chuckled a little thinking about the look on his friend's face yesterday facing down that summoned bull.
"Over the summer you both should start dueling with Severus and I, just to help you prepare." He said.
Harry nodded. "You think it'll come to a head next year."
"He's laid low this year, letting others doubt his return and has been gathering his followers to him. He won't remain dormant forever, the man's ego won't allow it." Lucius said and just watched the other boy for a moment. "I am sorry, about your godfather." He said quietly. "Bellatrix is…insane."
Harry nodded quietly. "I'll kill her for what she did…I just wish I'd been able to do it that night." A darkness passed through his eyes.
Lucius saw it and felt a very distant kind of pity for his sister in law. "You will get your chance…just be ready when it comes." He said.
Harry lifted his eyes and met Lucius' pale gaze. "I will be." He promised, falling into a more easy silence as he ate his breakfast. Things were much less strained by the time Severus came in and poured himself some coffee. "Morning father."
"Good morning Septimus. Everything all right?" He asked as he sat, looking between Lucius and his son.
"I believe so." Lucius said. "Narcissa and Draco will likely sleep a while longer." He said, pouring himself a little more coffee.
Severus nodded. "Draco was up far later than Septimus."
"How did I get to bed?" Harry asked, a little sheepishly.
"Cozy." Severus said with a smile. "House elves are good for putting sleepy children to bed."
Harry gave him a look but knew better than to argue the point. "After breakfast I'll go and start back where I left off."
"We'll make what progress we can over the holidays, and Lucius will continue to work while we are all back at Hogwarts." Severus said.
"Will Draco be safe back at school?" Harry asked quietly.
"As safe as we can make him. He knows he needs to be careful." Severus said quietly. "Though a second set of eyes could hardly go amiss. If you notice anything out of the ordinary, come to me immediately. I don't care how minor, or what else is going on at the time."
"I promise." He said, determined to make sure that he had his friend's back.