Disclaimer - everything you recognize is JKR's, and all the rest is mine.
CHAPTER 15 - AFTERMATH
Somewhere, far off, a horrifying scream echoed in the night - a scream of outrage, of horror, of utter and feral anger - it started off small, but seemed to grow larger and larger until it echoed with shattering effect back and forth, blocking out the entire world. It rose to a mind-numbing crescendo, louder and louder until, finally, it was simply cut off.
And then there was nothing more.
On the floor of the great hall in the Castle, a small, black robed, pale skinned form lay crumpled where the repeated applications of Cruciatus and the physical beatings and torture had left him, white face bruised and battered, fine features and limbs obscured by the marks of fists, curses and whips. Blood leaked in a crimson trail from his mouth, from his nose and his ears, the only colour in a monochromatic image of black hair and black shadows and white, pale skin and moonlight.
The Hall was empty, the Death Eaters and new recruits had gone off to Godric's Hollow to witness the Dark Lord destroy the child of prophecy; and the children who had yet to be inducted, thanks to a small, unexpected glitch, had been taken home to wait for another day.
Nothing stirred to disturb the eerie tableau; not even the crumpled being on the floor, lying so still and motionless - until, with a small shift in the fabric of reality, something changed.
The world shifted.
And Luc Malfoy began to breathe again.
Albus Dumbledore jerked awake in his bed, heart pounding, hands trembling from the instinctive rush of adrenaline that had come in his dreams.
Snape had told him that Voldemort was planning to begin his final moves tonight - after the inductions. After seeing his Potions Master off, he'd gone to his study and indulged in something he hadn't done for almost fifty years.
He'd gotten thoroughly, blind drunk trying to blot out the faces of all the Slytherins he'd lost over the years - starting with Tom Riddle, progressing through the entire - yes, the entire Slytherin class of 1975, where names such as Severus Snape and Lucius Malfoy, who could have been great in the light, stood out particularly in his memory.
And then there was Luc Malfoy, who had fallen asleep on the grass in the sun. Albus feared he had let the boy come too close, and now he would pay the price.
All he could do was wait.
But the scream...
In the main headquarters of the Auror Corps, located near to but not in the Ministry building, all was chaos. Alastor Moody, who had been sleeping on the couch waiting for the latest disaster, was jerked rudely awake by the unearthly scream.
His awakening brought others with him, eyes half blurred with fatigue and jaded experience, they were nevertheless alert, aware and ready for anything. They were the Aurors - the elite forces of the wizarding world, and they had been trained, honed and conditioned until they were as lethal as the men they hunted. And at the first sign of the scream, every single one of them had awakened, on their feet and wands out, before they fully realized that there wasn't a tangible threat.
Moody's gravelly voice bought them back to order. "What the hell was that? Who has been attacked tonight?"
An Auror over by a topographically accurate map of wizarding England, complete down to moving people in Diagon Alley and the wind moving through the trees of the Forbidden Forest called out.
"Sir, it's...it's Godric's Hollow."
There was stunned silence, and Moody cursed viciously. "The Potters." He spun on his heel and started rapping out orders, and the stunned Aurors pulled themselves together and got down to work.
"And find out what that scream was."
And with those last words, he and three others apparated to Godric's Hollow.
Severus Snape and Lucius Malfoy stood, robed and masked, over the wreckage of the Potter House in Godric's Hollow, for once united in their feelings.
Stunned shock, that the Dark Lord was gone, truly gone - a dawning relief that was slowly turning into almost hysteria...and calculation.
How were they going to spin this to their advantage?
And beneath all that, suppressed ruthlessly, lay a sick grief and a feeling of despair over the small form that they had left crumpled on the floor of the Hall in the Castle. But they could do nothing about that, not yet...first, they had to come out of this alive and smelling of roses.
And that meant getting out of here as quickly as possible.
But there were sounds on the edge of their awareness, small sounds, almost like a whimper. Like a baby's cry - but that wasn't possible, was it? The Dark Lord had killed them all: father, mother, and child.
They found him in the wreckage, sheltered by his mother's arms, still alive and well but for the bleeding curse mark on his forehead. Exchanging glances, they bent down closer, and the child opened it's eyes - green eyes, like Lily Potter's had been - and Snape put a restraining hand on Lucius' wrist.
"No - he has done us a service. Let us do him one in return."
Lucius' soundless laughter got through to Snape, who turned his head to glare at him even through the mask. "I thought you had gotten over her, Sev?"
"I am merely in too good a mood to kill infants right now, Lucius. Let be."
Lucius nodded slowly, remembering, perhaps, his younger brother lying crumpled on the floor. "So. He has indeed ridden us of the Dark Lord...it seems we owe him wizards debt, Severus." He sighed, and then picked up the child, who was no older than his own son, and drew a knife. Snape followed suit.
With swift, economic motions Lucius Malfoy, Lord of Clan Malfoy, and Severus Snape, Lord of Clan Snape engraved visible marks of their debt on Harry Potter's infant wrist. If he, at any time in his life, showed those marks to them again, they would be bound to give him whatever assistance he needed and asked for.
The gratitude of a Clan Lord is no mean thing.
Then, healing the cuts so that they would scar, they replaced the child and, straightening, apparated silently away - Snape to Hogwarts to inform the Headmaster, Lucius to his castle and his brother and son.
The Aurors arrived almost immediately after.
"Merlin's balls!" Alastor Moody stared in shock at the destruction before him. Nothing could have survived that. But sometimes miracles happened.
"How the hell did this happen? Who was their secret keeper?" That was Dane Harcourt, his second in command, a young, very intense man who had been a Slytherin, before he threw everything over to become an Auror. He had worked twice as hard as everyone else to prove himself, and even now he was still regarded with suspicion. He didn't allow it to embitter him - he believed too strongly in the cause.
The third man, looking around him warily, as if waiting for Death Eaters to appear, turned back to them at that. "Sirius Black."
Not paying attention, focusing instead on searching the rubble, Harcourt was only half listening. "What about him?"
"He was their secret keeper."
Both Harcourt and Moody straightened up and gave him their full attention - an unnerving experience.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes. They're best friends - or," here he swallowed and glanced around, "at least, they were. There was no one else James Potter trusted more."
Harcourt and Moody exchanged glances - then looked back to what had once been the home of a couple they had all liked and respected. Harcourt's voice was tired as he breathed out a curse.
And then they heard it, as the two Death Eaters had - a baby's cry, more agitated now that he'd been rudely awakened, badly frightened, had lost his mother and father, and had been cut and scarred by two High Clan pledge blades.
Harry Potter was not happy.
They all rushed over to him, the youngest, because he had younger brothers, picking him up and trying to soothe him. "How is it that he's still alive?"
The other two shrugged. There was nothing else alive around here, and the baby had no doubt been hit with the Killing Curse - but he was still alive. They didn't know how, or why, and they didn't need to. What they wanted to know was who.
Even allowing for the flames of the fireplace, Albus Dumbledore looked distinctly inebriated as they talked with him over the floo. His normally blue eyes were bloodshot, and his hands were trembling uncontrollably. For the first time in all the years Moody had known him, the headmaster looked like an old man.
"It was the Potters, headmaster," he said as gently as he could, for a man with his famously gruff manner. "They were betrayed, and James and Lily are dead."
Evidently the headmaster knew the implications of that statement, for he closed his eyes and covered his face with his hands momentarily. When he looked up, his eyes were dulled and cloudy.
He had loved Sirius Black, Moody remembered, like one of his own sons.
"And the child?" He asked hoarsely. "Harry?"
"He is alive, sir." For the first time, something like hope came into the old man's eyes.
"Do you know who was leading the attack tonight?" Moody knew that Dumbledore had a source inside the Death Eaters, a source he guarded jealously; but the information provided was so valuable that Moody could afford to let it lie.
"I don't know..." but his head turned at this, and he seemed to address someone else beyond the reach of the flames. When he turned back, his eyes were shining, and there was an almost giddy expression on his face.
"Voldemort himself led the attack," he announced. "The curse rebounded off the child and came back tenfold upon its caster - Voldemort is gone, gentlemen. He is gone." Exaltation rang in his voice, danced in his eyes, and Moody, who had been battling the Death Eaters and their masters for ten years and more, felt a strange feeling of joy well up in him as well - joy he hadn't felt in more years than he could remember.
Harcourt's face was impassive, but he was High Clan - he never showed anything. There was, instead, a fierce expression in his eyes that could have been triumph. But with him you were never really sure.
The youngest auror, still holding the baby, openly whooped and cheered, and fell silent when the other two turned to look incredulously at him. But he couldn't restrain the almost silly grin of delight.
Voldemort was gone.
They were free.
Severus Snape slumped on the comfortable stuffed chair in Dumbledore's office, out of the line of sight from the fire, and listened to Albus spread the news. He could hear the headmaster's joy clearly, and to an extent he shared it, but underneath was the fatigue and the grief that had begun when he'd seen his protégé methodically destroyed simply to set an example to anyone who would dare defy Voldemort.
He doubted he'd ever be completely free again.
Not even the news that Sirius Black was to be hunted down and sent to Azkaban for betraying the Potters was enough to lift the depression - and that was a goal he'd been working towards ever since the Werewolf Incident in sixth year.
Now that Luc was dead, it simply didn't matter any more.
Rayden, Shan, Dirk and Brandon, safe in Lord Andahni's house, sat and stared at each other, lost in their own thoughts, each remembering the sight of silver eyes glazing over in death, but shining with an enigmatic smile that could not be erased.
He'd done it - he'd taken what he wanted, and had been prepared to take the consequences that came with it; but what was the point, when Voldemort would not be harmed, and nothing in the world would be changed?
In the end, it all came down to what Michel had said - acknowledgement.
They were interrupted when the door flew open, and their respective guardians flowed in, black robes swirling, an aura of desperation and...relief? surrounding them. Without any proper small talk, because the situation was too urgent for that and Slytherins could ignore the niceties, if it was necessary, Gabriel Courtney, the highest-ranking Death Eater broke the news.
For a moment, they thought he was referring to Luc. Dirk had actually opened his mouth to reply that, yes, they did know - they'd seen it...and then the sense of urgency and relief registered. They would not have been so agitated had it been Luc dead. He was simply not important enough.
Brandon, for once abandoning his ennui, sat straight upright and looked almost wide-eyed at Dirk's father. He was almost afraid to hope - but he asked the question anyway.
"The Dark Lord?"
There was a small beat of silence, as if to deny it would make it untrue, but then they all three of them nodded - Avery resentful, Courtney resigned and Andahni slightly relieved.
"Yes. He's gone, completely, and he won't be coming back any time soon - it was the Potter brat..."
Like all good High Clan children they showed no reaction, but it couldn't be disguised in their eyes - the sense of fierce relief. Voldemort was gone, and they were free - they didn't have to be Death Eaters, they could be whatever and whoever they wanted...and Luc had died for something, after all.
But first, there was the matter of surviving the fallout. The Ministry would very soon be searching about for scapegoats...for Death Eaters to punish and imprison - for estates and bank vaults to confiscate, and they would start their search within the High Clan.
If they weren't careful, they could all be dragged down.
All was silent in the Castle, even the shadows and the moonlight static - the only sign of life was the insistent crying of the newest Malfoy. Draco's wails echoed in the silence, crying for his father, his mother, his nurse, anyone - for the person who had bonded with him earlier in the night, who had silently promised to protect him against anyone and anything who ever threatened him.
But Draco was scared, and there was no one to protect him against the cold, and the fear, and the sense of great malevolence he'd felt tonight, especially in the great scream he'd heard earlier.
And his protector was gone.
Lucius, letting himself into the castle, ignored the hall in favour of the nursery, picking up his frightened son and letting the flow of the ardeur soothe him, warm him and calm him. Then, almost reluctantly, he went into the Great Hall, to see the brother he had only recently recognized...he lay, in an unmoving heap on the floor.
A faint noise, and whirling with his wand in his right hand and his son in his left arm, he saw Severus Snape, unmasked and defenceless in more ways than one come out of the shadows. Together, the two guardians and young Draco knelt down beside their charge and surveyed the damage.
Rolling the boy over, they watched in agonized silence as the great Swiss clock in the foyer ticked off the seconds methodically - Snape swearing rash promises to whatever Gods were listening, Lucius rather coolly holding on blindly to mental calm by resorting to a muggle meditation technique.
Then - there it was...the faintest lift of his chest, a rattling inhalation, and a definite breath. A slight frown appeared between the brows, and a soft noise of pain escaped.
And he opened his eyes.
Luc walked forward through darkness, confident of his path, happy simply to be free of pain and fear. It was safe, here in the dark.
And then, suddenly, there was a flash of green and an echo of a mother's scream, and in the darkness there was a fundamental shift, a twist of reality. It shifted, and it took him, struggling and protesting, back into the light, where there was pain and fear and evil. Everything was too intense, and he tried to go back - but the way was barred, and he was stuck in the light, in his body, which he remembered had been tortured and abused and discarded.
Reluctantly, he opened his eyes, to see Professor Snape, his brother and his new nephew leaning over him, eyes and faces open and concerned, as he had never seen them before. He wondered idly what was wrong that they had so forgotten protocol - but then he remembered.
He had died.
And now he was alive.
And Voldemort was gone - he knew that as surely as he knew there would have to be some very smooth talking in times to come, if they were to keep everything they had away from the Ministry.
But they would worry about that later.
Professor Snape's relieved expression vanished, to be replaced by a fierce scowl.
"Well, Mr. Malfoy," came his velvet, dangerous voice. "What did you hope to gain this time from that foolish stunt?"
Luc smiled weakly, but it was a genuine smile, something that was as rare to him as it was to Snape.
Yes, it's the very last chapter, the end...sheds a tear but don't worry, I might write a sequel - I probably will, dealing with the trials. It's just that I go back to uni on Monday, and then things start to get really busy. Oh, well, I'll find time.
A few last notes - in chapter 11, the quote "duty is heavier than a mountain, death lighter than a feather" is from Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time.
In chapter 13, the bit about whether the game or the players control it is paraphrased from Raymond E Feist & Janny Wurts' Mistress of the Empire.
And I have no doubt there is a whole host of other ideas and issues borrowed and lifted from other books and fics I've read - if there's anything I haven't acknowledged, then if you recognize it, it's not completely mine.
Thank you to all the people who reviewed this and gave me ideas and support. Feel free to read any of my other fics (hint, hint ).