Feeling conflicted about it, Harry, Ron and Hermione landed with Malfoy in a heavily treed area. Harry wondered whether this wasn’t a part of the plan to waylay them from finding Ginny. It better not be, he thought. He was quite ready to jinx or curse anyone else that tried to stop him from finding her.
Malfoy was looking quite unlike his normal self. He was even paler than usual, looking almost green. He was also a little unsteady on his feet, and had to brace himself by leaning on a tree. He was surely going to be ill soon.
Harry allowed him a minute to get his bearings and then said, “so where’s Ginny Malfoy?”
Draco hesitated for a minute causing Harry to advance upon him.
“You’d better not be messing with me!” He held his wand in Malfoy’s face in a threatening manner.
“I’m not,” Malfoy said, looking scared. “She’s being held in the dungeon at Snape’s house.”
“SNAPE?” Harry thundered, causing more than a few birds to rise out of the trees in fright.
“Yes, Snape. He’s been feeding information to the Dark Lord for months now. He was the one that brought him that article about you from the beginning of August. You know, the one where you were in Godric’s Hollow,” Malfoy explained.
Ron and Hermione had lit their wands and Harry could see them looking at him. He was absolutely apoplectic. Voldemort was one thing, Harry had expected trouble from him, but this was more than he thought he could bear. He had never hated Snape more.
“You’re not completely innocent in this, I’m sure,” Harry growled, turning his attention back to Malfoy. “What are you doing here anyway? And how did you know where to find us?”
“Your cousin. I’ve been talking to him.” How did Malfoy know Dudley? And how exactly had the two met? They had all thought that Dudley was spending all of his time holed up in his room at headquarters. Apparently they had been wrong.
“Why did you need to talk to him anyway?” Hermione asked. Malfoy looked at her in a scathing manner before answering.
“That was my task. The Dark Lord was furious that I didn’t murder Dumbledore. He only spared Snape and I because he wanted information on you Potter. He finally got what he was looking for from that photo of you in the Daily Prophet. You always were big on publicity,” Malfoy sneered at this.
“Get on with it,” Harry jabbed his wand at Malfoy again.
“He wanted to make sure we could get to her, the little blood traitor —“
Even when he was supposedly trying to help, Malfoy was an obnoxious little berk. Harry dispensed with his wand and grabbed Malfoy by the neck. They were now mere inches apart.
“Say that again and I will break your neck,” He informed Draco through gritted teeth. “Get on with it, and without the commentary.”
Draco straightened himself up indignantly.
“Honestly, I try to help and you act like this. Maybe I should just forget it.” He reached for his broom, but Ron snatched it back, earning his own sneer from Malfoy.
“Finish your story. I want to get going,” Harry demanded impatiently.
“Fine,” Draco whined, still glaring at Ron. “I was set to watch the house, that hovel you call a home Weasley, and determine if there were any protective spells around it. I did that easily enough. Then I saw you show up there —“ he motioned to Harry. “ — Looking all upset and the little — she came out.” He looked like he wanted to taunt Harry about that night, but restrained himself, with difficulty. “The Dark Lord was most pleased with this. He had me watch again to see if you came back after he planted that vision in your mind. He was furious when you didn’t, and I probably would have been done for. If it hadn’t been for my ingeniousness in following Lupin back that night to wherever it is that you were hiding out and chanced an encounter with your cousin. He told me you had another way of communicating with her, that two-way mirror. When I told You-Know-Who this he was more pleased than I had ever seen him. He promised me a great reward once you were disposed of. But I think he wanted to give it to me a little early,” Malfoy grimaced at the thought. “It was her — he brought me down into that dungeon and said I could do whatever I wanted.” Malfoy looked revolted at the thought. “As if I would want to.”
Harry couldn’t believe that they were still standing here listening to everything that they were. He was still half convinced that this was some sort of plan to delay them, and it was working. Why would Malfoy, someone that obviously hated Harry, and had done so since their first meeting, now be providing him with information? There was something not right about this supposedly chance meeting. “Why are you here?” he asked, looking at the uncharacteristically disheveled Draco.
“Because — because I want to make things right,” Malfoy said in a meek voice, again very unlike his usual. “I mean . . . she’s a pure blood. This sort of thing should only happen to mudbloods and half-bloods.”
“Brilliant Malfoy,” Harry fired. “Just tell us where Snape lives and get the hell away from me before I curse you.”
“It’s also because he’s threatened my parents,” Malfoy added, somewhat hysterically. “He said he would kill them before. He’s not saying that now, but — but he might in the future. I — I — I don’t think I can do the things he wants done.” He looked revolted and Harry wasn’t sure if it was over his own inability to perform the tasks requested of him, or because he was admitting it to Harry, Ron and Hermione.
“Shouldn’t have got mixed up then, should you?” Ron asked.
“No, but I need your help to get out of this. You are the one that’s got to finish him right?” Malfoy looked significantly at Harry. He didn’t seem pleased with this arrangement. Harry realized that the expression he was wearing was contempt for the people he had to ask for help, rather than for his own shortcomings.
“What makes you think that?” Harry asked, crossing his arms.
“The prophecy. You forget who my father is Potter.” Malfoy said, adding the latter part when he noticed the trio’s shocked faces.
Harry had already swung his leg over his broom. The others, including Malfoy, did the same. “Whatever, let’s just go. Where are we going exactly?”
“I’ll show you where they are,” Draco said and took off, Harry, Ron and Hermione following him.
As they flew farther and father Northwest Harry wondered it if was foolish to trust a Malfoy? It wasn’t exactly as if he had the best track record. Could this possibly be revenge, leading them farther away from Ginny? The stupid idiot would have some explaining to do if that was the case. But as this was their best hope now, he decided to take a leap of faith and not question Draco.
They flew for over an hour, getting colder all the way. Finally, Malfoy started to descend, and the others followed. They could see a large chimney looming up in front of them. They landed on a dark, rubbish strewn bank, next to a river that was babbling languidly to Harry’s left.
“It’s up here,” Malfoy said and started to walk away from the river.
A sudden slithering noise made them all jump and turn toward the embankment. Four voices called “lumos,” and they saw a gigantic, twelve-foot long snake coming at them. It was Nagini.
Harry raised his wand to defend from the inevitable attack. Malfoy, who was standing beside Harry, panicked when he saw the snake (an odd reaction given he was a Slytherin and the symbol of his house was a serpent) and tried to hurry away. In his haste he tripped, slammed into Harry causing him to drop his wand.
“You moron,” Harry hissed, backing away from the snake, which was now moving even faster. He was scanning the ground for his wand, which had gone out when he dropped it. Harry spotted it a few feet away but would never be able to reach it because the snake had lunged. He pushed Ron and Hermione out of the way as he saw Nagini rear up. She was right in line to strike him. If he didn’t move she would certainly collide with him.
Harry took a step to the left and tripped over a rather large rock. He was in trouble now. The snake was only feet from away. Soon he was going to feel her fangs sink into him.
Milliseconds from being bitten Harry heard a fifth voice cry, “AVADA KEDAVRA!”
He heard a whooshing sound, saw a flash of green light and next second the snake had fallen on him, dead. His first thought, as he pushed the lifeless coils off was that he at least didn’t have to destroy this Horcrux.
As Harry watched, the snake shriveled up and then dissolved into dust.
Who had murdered Nagini? The spell had come from above them. Harry looked up and saw Wormtail.
“W — w — we’re even then?” he asked, looking at Harry pleadingly, obviously referring to the life debt that he owed him.
“Yeah,” Harry answered feeling grateful but repulsed at the same time, “but you’re definitely dead. Voldemort’s not going to be happy with you.” After retrieving his wand, he, Ron, Hermione and Draco climbed up the embankment as he had been talking.
“D — d- don’t t — t — tell him.” Wormtail whimpered.
Harry thought this was rather rich coming from the man that was responsible for his parent’s death, and had murdered Cedric Diggory. If there were anyone besides Snape that deserved Voldemort’s wrath it was the pitiful man cowering before him. But Harry’s main concern was Ginny. They were so close to her now. He needed to get her away from Voldemort and Snape.
“Yeah, whatever,” he responded, waving away Wormtail’s request.
Wormtail sighed in relief, transformed into his animagus form, which was the true representation of his character, and took off down the embankment.
“Let’s go,” Harry nudged Malfoy to get him walking again, as Hermione handed him back his wand.
Draco walked up the street heading towards the great stone chimney. They turned down a small grubby-looking street. Draco walked partway down and knocked one of the doors. Then he gave Harry one last look, full of fear, and ran as fast as he could.
“Where are you going?” Ron called after him.
“He’s saving himself,” Hermione answered, watching as Draco disappeared down the embankment, and seconds later could be seen flying off. “He doesn’t want anyone to know that he was the one that helped us, or he’ll surely be dead.”
They waited a moment for the door to open. When it did they stood face-to-face with the greasy-haired, hook-nosed face of Severus Snape.
Harry’s head almost exploded with the rage that erupted from within when he laid eyes on his former Professor. His anger had been building for months over what Snape had done to Dumbledore, but had reached combustion point when he had been told of the role the bastard had played in Ginny’s abduction.
Forgetting completely about his wand, Harry charged at Snape, who, probably out of shock, didn’t react quickly enough to prevent it. Harry pinned him against the door, ignoring Hermione’s whimpers. All he knew was that he wanted to hurt Snape as much as possible. If the loathsome man ended up dead, well that was unavoidable, it wasn’t as if he didn’t deserve it.
“Where’s Ginny you bastard?” he asked, looking Snape right in the eyes. The former potions master’s eyes were starting to bulge a little, but he was still alert, and the rage that Harry was feeling, was echoed in Snape’s expression.
He didn’t answer Harry’s question.
“I should have killed you the night you murdered Dumbledore,” Harry replied through clenched teeth. He tightened his grip a little more around Snape’s neck.
Just as he did that though, his grip was suddenly relinquished and he was thrown back onto the floor. Their positions were now reversed and Snape was in control. He was hovering over Harry now.
“You don’t have the skill or the nerve to do it Potter,” he sneered, a little raspy from having his wind pipe compressed. Snape was now looming over Harry as he had done on the Hogwarts grounds in June, wearing a look of absolute disgust.
“Answer my question!” Harry demanded. He was seething with rage, staring at the man that had been responsible for so many horrible things, including the two worst things that had happened in the last four months.
“Manners, Potter,” Snape smiled, looking down at Harry’s angry face. With his wand pointed at Harry, and an expression of utmost glee on his face he said, “I’m glad to see that I was mistaken in thinking that you would have smartened up after Sirius Black’s death.”
All the greasy git was doing was adding fuel to the fire that was Harry’s anger. The one person that he could have brought up that would have made Harry more enraged, apart from Dumbledore and Ginny, was Sirius. Snape had been responsible for that death too. He had goaded Sirius into taking foolish risks, like running off to the ministry.
“DON’T YOU DARE TALK ABOUT SIRIUS!’ Harry screamed at Snape. ‘YOU KILLED HIM TOO!”
“No Potter, you did, with your sloppy and arrogant beliefs that you are the only one that knows what’s going on, and that you alone can save people.” Snape was gazing down at Harry with contempt on his face. “That’s exactly why you are so easy to manipulate. I’ve told you this before. Fools who wear their hearts on their sleeves stand no chance.”
“Not against cowards like you that can only show backbone when murdering someone who’s already weak,” Harry fired back.
Harry saw Snape flinch at these words, and his eyes filled with fury.
“WHEN WILL YOU LEARN NOT TO CALL ME COWARD?” Snape screamed in fury, “CRUCIO,” he bellowed, pointing his wand at Harry, who once again was experiencing the terrible plain that accompanied the torture curse.
He really would probably have let it go on until Harry suffered a fate like Neville’s parents, but a sudden shout of “Impedimenta,” from behind him, caused Snape to fall over backwards.
Hermione rushed over to Harry.
“Are you OK?” she asked in a weak voice, looking very pale.
Harry didn’t answer her at once. He had to catch his breath. Finally he slowly nodded his head, “Wand?” he asked. Hermione retrieved it for him, and then helped him sit up.
Ron had his wand pointed at Snape, who was now in the position that Harry had just vacated, lying on his back on the floor, covered by Ron’s wand. He had thankfully lost his when he fell over, or Harry was sure he would have done something horrible to Ron.
Harry exchanged places with Ron and looked down at the only person he hated more than Voldemort. “Answer my question now. Where’s Ginny?” He bent down so he could press his wand into Snape’s neck.
Snape again didn’t answer the question. He was glaring contemptuously at Harry. “Not this time Potter. The Dark Lord isn’t going to let you get away this time. You’re going to learn what happens to fools that can’t keep their emotions in check.”
“Don’t fuck with me,” Harry said to him. “I have no qualms killing you.”
“You don’t have the balls,” Snape grinned wickedly at him. “You didn’t even have the nerve to keep to your resolution to stay way from Ginny Weasley, and look where that’s landed you.” He was now wearing a gleeful look on his face. “It was very easy for the Dark Lord to get to her. Thank you for your weakness, Potter.” It seemed like Snape was done talking, but then as an afterthought he added, “fools who love area always easy prey,” reiterating something he had already said.
“What do you know about love?” Harry asked, pressing the tip of his wand even harder into Snape’s neck. “I bet no one’s loved you in your entire life. Who could?”
“Don’t talk about things you don’t know!” Snape spat at Harry who saw, too late, that Snape had his wand again and had pointed it at him. Harry felt something slash the side of his head, and felt a trickle of blood run down his face.
“Sore spot is it?” he asked, goading the man lying before him. If he could provoke him enough, maybe Snape would lose control and let slip exactly how Harry could get to Ginny. “Couldn’t find anyone to love poor Snivelly?”
Harry couldn’t have explained why he had pulled that particular name out of his memory. Perhaps it was because it was one that he had heard his father use, or because he knew it would incense Snape, which it did. He was ready for whatever Snape would throw at him. Snape said nothing, but had his wand pointed at Harry, who thought and yelled ‘protego,” Snape’s own spell rebounded back on him, but he was ready as well, and it ricocheted off the shield spell that he had used and hit Ron who was standing quite close by. He fell back against the wall.
Harry had backed away after casting his own shield charm, and the distance between him and Snape allowed the latter to regain his feet. He moved forward, wand stretched out in front of him, Harry stood his ground.
“I’ve had enough of you and your whole meddlesome family,” he said, looking deranged again. “Your uselessness, your father’s arrogance, and your mudblood mother’s prying ways. I’m glad they’re all dead, and you’re soon to join them.”
“Don’t you dare talk about my parents,” Harry fired back enraged, not able to taunt Snape after the jibe about his parents. Snape chose to ignore this and continued on.
“Precious Potter’s still too delicate for the truth?’ Snape was now the one doing the taunting. “What you don’t want to hear about how your mother wormed her way into my life so she could get fodder for your father? You don’t want to hear how she did her utmost to make sure that I was not happy?”
“Why would she even care?” Harry demanded to know. “In that memory I saw in the pensieve she couldn’t care less about you.”
“She did, enough to cause trouble,” Snape growled. “Dear sweet Lily – cared for no one’s happiness but her own.” He sneered these words too.
Harry would never have thought he would hear the words dear and sweet come from the mouth of the man standing before him. More shocking than that even, was the fact that he had heard these words, said in exactly the same way, from Aunt Petunia the morning after they arrived at Grimmauld Place. This couldn’t be coincidence.
A horribly disgusting thought occurred to Harry just then. Once before he had been revolted to think that maybe Aunt Petunia had been about to reveal a secret, torrid affair with Snape. It had seemed ludicrous then, but now . . .
“Yes Potter,” Snape replied. There was a closed look on his face now. “I knew Petunia.” He said this in a very cold voice, making Harry wonder something else. Had it perhaps been he who had something to do with the death of the Dursleys?
“You were the one then? You were the one that murdered them?’ Harry’s voice was trembling with rage once more. One other horrible thought occurred to him, which he voiced. “It was you that sent Voldemort after my Aunt Marge too, wasn’t it? WASN’T IT?” he thundered, when Snape didn’t answer.
“Those who can’t close their minds present the Dark Lord with the weapons he needs to control them,” Snape said, confirming Harry’s thoughts. He was obviously referring to the fact that he had learned about Aunt Marge through their disastrous Occlumency lessons several years previous.
“You really are a bastard,” Harry replied. He raised his wand. Now was the time to do it. He was going to kill the worthless waste of skin that had been responsible for the death of everyone that Harry was related to.
“And you really are a ignorant little prat,” Snape replied, also raising his wand. “Not that I owe you any explanations Potter, but I had nothing to do with the death of Petunia and Vernon Dursley. But I don’t deny it was a pleasure to give the Dark Lord the information he needed on Marjorie Dursley.” He looked quite vindictive now.
“You’re pathetic,” Harry said calmly. He was sickened by the reaction of the Death Eater standing before him. “I can’t believe you would hate me and my dad that much to get someone so distantly related to us —“
“Not everything is about you Potter,” Snape replied. “Your failure to realize this is what’s landed you in this situation.”
Snape snorted. “As obtuse as ever I see.”
Harry, feeling annoyed at this pointless banter saw sparks fly out of his wand, which he was still pointing at Snape’s face. “You’re just trying to waste time, and I’ve had enough. Tell me how I get to Ginny NOW!”
“No Potter. It’s time for you to understand what your arrogance and stupidity really cost. You learned some of that with Black, but I want you to understand what it’s like to lose the love of your life. Like I did.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Harry asked, advancing a few paces closer, in case he needed to provide more incentive for Snape to give him the information he wanted.
“Petunia,” Snape said quietly.
“M — my aunt?” Harry spluttered, his most disgusting fears confirmed.
“Yes idiot boy, your aunt,” Snape growled.
“Professor,” Hermione aside, speaking up for the first time since entering the house, “how did you even know Harry’s aunt?”
Harry wasn’t sure he wanted to know the sordid details.
“That, Miss Granger is really none of your concern,” Snape replied coldly.
“Bewitched her did you?” Harry asked. It seemed the sort of thing that Snape was capable of doing. “To try and mess with my mom, or dad?”
“SILENCE!” Snape yelled, looking slightly mad now. His eyes were bulging again, not from strangulation, but anger. “You dare speak that rubbish to me!”
“Then spit it out,” Harry demanded. He was using Snape’s stall tactics as an opportunity to look for the entrance to the dungeon that he knew was attached to this house.
“I really don’t think that it’s any of your concern Potter,” Snape replied, trying to backtrack now. Harry looked at him. There was an unusual expression on his face, one of regret?
“You loved her didn’t you?” Hermione asked standing in the same spot she had been helping Ron back to his feet.
Snape spun to face her, causing Hermione to recoil.
“Love is for fools,” he stated. Despite this statement, he was still wearing that expression of regret on his face. Harry was sure that Hermione was right. Now he really wanted answers. If it didn’t take too long he wanted to know how Snape had known his aunt, and had come to feel this about her.
“Then I guess you’re one of us,” Harry stated. “Out with it. How did you come to get involved with my aunt? Now!”
Snape glared at Harry for probably the tenth time, but then opened his mouth and started talking.
“We met when your mother brought her to school and abandoned her. It was a really selfish thing to do. Maybe that’s why your parents got on so well Potter, two peas from the same pod. We’re very alike, she and I. We got on very well. I will not enlighten you with the details of our relationship Potter, for they are none of your concern. Suffice to say that your mother didn’t like the fact that we were together, and did her utmost to break us up.”
Harry seriously doubted that was the case, but decided he would let Snape get on with this story, it was disturbing to the nth degree, but somehow he needed to hear it.
“Your mother did a good job on Petunia though. By the time we graduated she had convinced her to end things. It was shortly thereafter that she started seeing Vernon,” Snape grimaced at this.
Harry would have seen the point if it had been anyone else, but hardly thought that Uncle Vernon was a better choice than Snape, or vice versa.
“She wouldn’t speak to me after that.” Snape had a pained expression on his face. Harry was more certain than ever that Hermione had been right, and that Snape really had loved his aunt. “Not that I didn’t try. She was easily influenced your aunt. Once she started seeing that fat lump she wanted nothing to do with me at all. She went so far as to say she detested magic, which I knew wasn’t true. I was certain that she would change her mind one day.”
Snape had lowered his wand and was walking around the room as he remembered this. He seemed agitated, and was getting more so with every step. Harry, for the second time in his life, felt a little sympathetic towards the pathetic man standing before him. It didn’t cause him to cease being angry though.
“Just when I thought that she was going to give in and come back you and your stupid parents got in the way Potter,” Snape stated, stopping to stare angrily at Harry before resuming his trek around the tiny sitting room. “We were meeting in Hogsmeade. I had business there that night.”
Harry perked up a little more. He thought he knew what exactly that business was: the prophecy.
“It was a mission for the Dark Lord. I was to spy on Dumbledore. Lo and behold, I overheard the fraud Trelawney was a true seer after all. She was making a real prediction — too bad I didn’t hear It all, but Petunia, who had been waiting for me, had come out of the room, it was her opening and closing the door to our room that alerted that imbecile Aberforth to our presence, but not before she overheard some of it too.”
“What? Aunt Petunia heard the prophecy?” Harry asked, his head reeling. It seemed like more and more people knew about this thing. Why had Dumbledore, or aunt Petunia even, mentioned that she knew about it?
“Yes Potter, I have just told you that,” Snape barked, and then continued. “When we were thrown out Petunia decided that she was done with me once and for all. But things weren’t over yet. It was several moths later that I learned the Dark Lord picked you out Potter, to be the one that was most dangerous to him.
“You know what happened the night he turned up at your house. When you survived and he was destroyed I knew that there would be repercussions. Who knew about Petunia and what she had overheard? I knew that she would be in danger from the Death Eaters looking for information regarding our master. It was I, therefore, after speaking with Dumbledore, learned of Lily’s sacrifice, and suggested he bring you to the Dursleys. There you would be safe, and in turn, she would be as well, because Dumledore would put the most advanced spells in place to guard you, and thus would protect her as well.
“It was too dangerous after that to convince her of the horrible mistake she made in Vernon. It would have been too much of a giveaway that she might have information on the prophecy if she and I could be linked again. So, despite the huge mistake I knew she was making, I chose to stay away. I let her go. That Potter, is real bravery.”
“So this is the iron-clad reason Dumbledore has for trusting you?’ Harry asked disbelieving. “The reason he believes you are on his — our side?”
Snape responded with a “tsh.”
“Both sides are fools. I have chosen just to stand back and watch you all destroy yourselves.”
“You’re a Death Eater,” Harry reminded him. “I don’t remember hearing anything about you being forced to join Voldemort in the beginning.” He flinched as his scar gave a particularly nasty throb.
“Things change Potter. I now no longer care. There’s really nothing worth fighting for is there? We’re all alone in the end.” Snape sounded a little bitter. “After the Dark Lord murdered Petunia . . . “ he looked away from them all, his head hung. “That solidified my position. I no longer care what happens in this war.”
“Really Severus?’ came the high-pitched and cold voice of Lord Voldemort.