Chapter XV - The Final Mystery
Draco entered Albus's office escorted by Shacklebolt. Shacklebolt wanted to stay in the office, but Albus asked him to leave.
As soon as Shacklebolt left, Draco took out his wand and shouted, "Expelliarmus!"
Severus had to force himself not to react. Albus had made him promise he wouldn't do anything no matter what happened. Albus's wand flew out of his hand and clattered to the floor, several feet away. Severus couldn't believe it; Albus would never let himself be disarmed so easily by a mere Disarming Spell.
Albus was very pale, but looked calm. "Good afternoon, Draco."
Draco glanced around quickly to check that he and Dumbledore were alone.
There was silence. From the back of the office, Severus saw Draco staring at Albus who, incredibly, smiled.
"I... I've got a job to do," said Draco.
"Well, then, you must get on and do it, my dear boy," said Albus softly. "Draco, Draco, you are not a killer."
"How do you know?" said Draco at once. He seemed to realise how childish the words had sounded, and flushed. "You don't know what I'm capable of."
"Perhaps you ought to get on with the job," suggested Albus. "As you have perhaps realised, there are other members of the Order of the Phoenix here, so you ought to do what you have to do as soon as possible. You have disarmed me... I cannot defend myself. Are you afraid?"
"I'm not afraid!" snarled Draco, though he made no move to hurt Albus. "It's you who should be scared!"
"But why? I don't think you will kill me, Draco. Killing is not nearly as easy as the innocent believe..."
Draco looked as though he was fighting down the urge to shout, or to vomit. He gulped and took several deep breaths, glaring at Albus, his wand pointing directly at the latter's heart.
Albus closed his eyes and nodded, the strength in his legs apparently fading. Severus held his own wand firmly, struggling mutely against the promise he himself had made to his mentor.
As if in a last effort, Albus opened his eyes again as he struggled to remain upright. "You have had several long minutes now. We are quite alone. I am defenceless, and still you have not acted..."
Draco's mouth contorted involuntarily, as though he had tasted something very bitter.
"Why don't we discuss your options, Draco?"
"My options!" said Draco loudly. "I'm standing here with a wand - I'm about to kill you..."
"My dear boy, let us have no more pretence about that. If you were going to kill me, you would have done it already."
"I haven't got any options!" said Draco, and he was suddenly as white as Albus. "I've got to do it! He'll kill me! He'll kill my whole family!"
"I appreciate the difficulty of your position," said Albus. "Why else do you think I have offered you protection? Because I knew that you would have been murdered by Lord Voldemort if you failed your mission."
Draco winced at the sound of the name.
"No harm has been done yet. I can help you," insisted Albus.
"No, you can't," said Draco, his wand hand shaking badly. "Nobody can. He told me to do it or he'll kill me. I've got no choice."
"Come over to the right side, Draco, and we can hide you more completely than you can possibly imagine. What is more, I can send members of the Order to your mother right now to hide her likewise. Your father is safe at the moment in Azkaban ... when the time comes we can protect him too... come over to the right side, Draco... you are not a killer..."
Draco stared at Albus. "I'm the one with the wand... You're at my mercy..."
"No, Draco," said Albus quietly. "It is my mercy, and not yours, that matters now."
Draco did not speak. His mouth was open, his wand hand still trembling. Severus saw it drop by a fraction.
"They... they are waiting for my sign to attack."
"I know, Draco. Send them the sign," said Albus.
"But... I had to kill you first."
Albus collapsed into an armchair. "We both know you will not do that. Send them the sign, and we will take care of the rest."
"What about my mother?"
"She will be all right. I give you my word," said Albus, his words barely coming out.
Albus was now paler than a corpse. Severus got rid of the Invisibility Cloak and approached him.
"You!" exclaimed Draco. "The Dark Lord told me you'd be here to give me support. Will you kill him?"
"Cast the Dark Mark as the Headmaster asked you to, Draco. Albus?"
"Don't worry, Severus. Cast the Dark Mark yourself. I have already removed the Fidelius Charm. They will think I have died."
Severus walked to the window, raised his wand, and the skull with the snake in its mouth was shot into the evening sky.
Severus held Draco by the arm, and pulled him with him as he approached Albus again. The old wizard smiled, but Severus knew his life was slipping away. "You old fool. You transferred all your magic and all your strength to us, didn't you? Why did you do that? Because of me? So that I didn't have to choose between killing you and dying?"
"No, Severus. I'm tired. I have accumulated too much knowledge for just one life. It's becoming more and more painful to make decisions that no one understands and that hurt my beloved ones."
"This is not the time for this discussion. You must send Draco to a safe place."
Reluctantly, Severus left Albus in the armchair and took Draco to a cupboard at the back of the office. He opened the cupboard and showed Draco a candlestick. "This Portkey will take you to a hiding place. I personally selected this place for you and your mother, and added the necessary protections to it. We have already sent a person to contact your mother and lead her there. Don't worry."
Draco nodded and touched the Portkey.
As soon as Draco disappeared, Shacklebolt opened the door. "Is everything all right, Snape? Dumbledore?"
"The Dark Mark has been cast," said Severus. "Tell everyone
to take their positions."
Albus managed a smile. "Take the Invisibility Cloak and keep an eye on Harry. It's he who needs to be protected, not I."
Severus realised Albus had won. What a damn, stubborn manipulator he was.
~* ~* ~
The Chinese man approached his table, and Remus bought another mooncake. "There is a poisoned cake in the bakery," said the fortune.
Remus didn't need further information to understand. He left The Crescent and walked to the old abandoned bakery in the Market Square.
Louis Auger was waiting for him outside, with a group of six friends.
"Alohomora!" Remus shouted.
Greyback was caught by surprise, but reacted accordingly, leaping on Remus. With teeth and razor-edged claws he tore deep gashes in Remus's chest. The dormant wolf in Remus reacted instinctively. The first trickle of blood he could suck from Greyback burned in his veins like liquid fire. They rolled on the floor like two beasts. Greyback's mouth frothed blood.
Remus growled deeply and dug his teeth into Greyback's right arm. Roaring in agony, Greyback sunk his teeth deeply into Remus's hand. A tortured growl rumbled from deep within Remus, and he tried to dig his teeth deeper. Blood poured all over their bodies. Claws seized Remus in the groin, and a shock of agony swept through him. Remus punched Greyback's stomach as hard as he could. Then Greyback's teeth got a hold in his shoulder. With a roar Remus tried to shake himself free, but Greyback held on. Remus drove his teeth into Greyback's throat, tearing it open. Greyback howled. The blood poured out like a waterfall.
Greyback had been defeated. Remus wanted to call the Ministry - Greyback was a wanted murderer, a monster. But Louis and his friends didn't agree. They thought that would be a betrayal to their kind. Remus didn't want to argue with Louis; Louis had risked his life to help him. Remus agreed to keep Greyback tied up and under surveillance in a hiding place until the end of the day and then free him. What mattered was that Greyback wouldn't be able to respond to Voldemort's call and gather his group to join the attack on the Order's Headquarters.
~* ~* ~
Everything was quiet and apparently calm in the Black mansion. Severus positioned himself on the staircase so that he could see all the action from above. A thousand questions hit him: would Remus's contact be able to prevent the werewolves from coming? Would Albus's, Hagrid's and Madame Maxime's efforts to convince the giants not to join the attack succeed? Was it possible that the Dark Lord had a hidden trump card, something he hadn't revealed in the meeting Severus had attended?
Soon Severus would know, for a noise coming from the entrance hall indicated that the door had been blasted open. Bellatrix was the first to enter. Behind her, Yaxley, the Carrow brothers, Avery, Crabbe, Goyle, Dolohov, Jugson, Mulciber, Nott, Rookwood and the Lestrange brothers, followed by the Dementors. They were all there. No. Not all of them. Severus was relieved to notice the Dark Lord was missing, and his pet rat. Fenrir Greyback and his werewolves were not there either. Apparently Remus's friend had fulfilled his mission. There were no giants to be seen either - Albus's plan had probably worked. The atmosphere started to become gloomy as the Dementors - hundreds of them - entered. Albus had alerted them that this might happen, and had advised them not to let their spirits sag. Bars of chocolate had been distributed among them. Even Severus had grudgingly taken his part, and now was eating one of them.
The Dark Lord hadn't entered yet, but it was clear to Severus that the Order couldn't wait any longer. At Shacklebolt's command, the Weasley twins activated the Portable Swamp they had spread on the floor, and the Order's members, concealed by a Disillusionment Charm, cast Incarcerous and Petrificus Totalus on the Death Eaters. Taken by surprise, some of the invaders struggled frantically to get rid of the ropes, while others were immediately petrified.
Severus sensed Harry probing his mind and attuned his own mind to his. Together, they cast their joint Patronus non-verbally, so that no one knew where it was coming from. The Baphomet hovered over the hall, colossal and majestic. Everyone seemed paralysed for a moment, except for the Dementors, which immediately recoiled and left the mansion.
In the middle of the mayhem, Bellatrix had managed to disentangle herself from the ropes and Sirius was trying to stop her. Severus feared for the worst; wanting to stop her if he could, but knowing it wouldn't be wise to cast a spell from that angle when Sirius was so close. Bellatrix pointed her wand at Sirius and shouted, "Avada Kedavra!"
Sirius dodged the curse and countered, "Scatify!"
Severus had to force himself not to laugh when he saw a jet of shit covering Bellatrix. It was a childish spell that Severus had created to use against the Marauders and now, apparently, it had been the first spell that had come to Sirius's mind. Severus's spell had saved Sirius's life. Taking advantage of Bellatrix's shocked state, Sirius cast a full body bind curse on her.
Everything seemed under control: the Death Eaters were all immobilised, either by ropes, or by the full body bind curse.
However, Severus knew the worst was yet to come. His fears were confirmed when the lights went off, and a freezing air seeped into the hall. Severus could feel that the Dark Lord had arrived.
The tip of the Dark Lord's wand appeared, illuminating just his cruel face. With a flick of his wand he brushed aside everyone who was in the hall - enemies and allies were thrown against the walls. Pained moans filled the hall. With horror, Severus saw that, besides himself and the Dark Lord, only Harry had remained on his feet, and that the Dark Lord was right in front of Harry.
Severus pointed his wand at the Dark Lord.
"Finally alone," said the Dark Lord, his voice dripping sarcasm.
"I was eager to meet you too," replied Harry, unruffled.
Things happened too fast. Severus knew the Dark Lord wouldn't waste time. Severus also knew Harry was the only wizard who could defeat him. Severus didn't believe he would be able to act in time to prevent what he most feared, but suddenly Wormtail turned into his human form beside the Dark Lord and held his arm, forcing the Dark Lord to push him away. In the meantime, Severus jumped in front of Harry, just when the green light was issuing from the Dark Lord's wand.
Amidst the green glow, the Grail appeared, interposing itself between the Dark Lord and Severus, and absorbed the Killing Curse.
For a moment, the Dark Lord looked astonished. Then his expression changed, a fascinated glow shining in his eyes.
The Grail was source of infinite power. Few things could be more seductive to a dark wizard... The Dark Lord reached out for the chalice, the red sparks of his eyes mixing with the lustre of the gems.
When he touched the Grail, his body started to transform. His skin wrinkled, his body shrank. His eyes became hollow and lifeless like black holes. Astounded, Severus watched the transformation happen before his eyes. Tom Riddle let go of the chalice and wrapped his arms around his own body. Severus felt a sharp pain in his left arm, and saw that the Dark Mark was disappearing.
Too weak to survive, Riddle fell to the floor. Wormtail transformed into a rat again, but Sirius was there to prevent him from escaping, and caught him with his bare hands.
"Don't kill him, Sirius," said Harry. "He tried to stop Voldemort from killing me."
"The bastard only did that because he has a life debt with you," Sirius grumbled.
"Then he'll have another one," said Harry, determined.
Knowing that everything was well with Harry, Severus removed the Invisibility Cloak and ran upstairs to see Albus. He found Albus's office empty.
Fearing the worst, Severus turned to Harry, who had followed him. "Albus has disappeared."
"Look!" exclaimed Harry, pointing to the front window.
Severus turned to the window and saw Fawkes flying away, the red feathers
shining in the twilight sun.
"How do you know that?"
"He has died, Harry. If he hadn't, I would have died, because of the Unbreakable Vow."
Harry embraced him. "Don't you remember our pact? And what the Grail
means? Life and death are just two phases of the same energy. You'll meet
him again, one day."
"But it wasn't me who killed Voldemort, in the end," objected Harry.
"The Grail was filled with our energies, and you were the catalyst for all that happened. Albus was right. It was Love that defeated Voldemort.
Ptyx, March 2006