The room he had stepped into was silent and pitch black. Wand held out in front of him, he let his eyes adjust to the dark of the room as he walked in further. Harry swept his gaze around and found himself in a small sitting room. The little furniture there was all looked as old and decrepit as the house itself;
The sofa was threadbare and on it lay a thin raffled blanket. The rickety table in front of it missed a leg that was practically substituted by a pile of big and aged looking tomes.
More books were covering every available surface of the walls, and the floor was set with wood that looked like someone had held a mud wrestling tournament recently and hadn't bothered to clean up, and instead had let the mud dry and congeal.
The room was deserted, and didn't seem to have any adjoining rooms, which Harry thought was odd because it had looked bigger from the outside. He searched for the stairs that should bring him to the second landing, but couldn't find any, although he was sure there definitely should be some.
Harry walked nearer to one of the walls to inspect it more closely, certain that he was missing some major clue and ran his hand over the spines of the books. He grimaced when his hand came away with a thick layer of dust.
He was about to turn around and walk to the other side of the room when he heard it.
It was barely audible but he was certain he had heard something rustle on the other side of the wall.
He scrunched his face up in concentration and pressed his ear against the wall listening for any sound in the seemingly quiet room.
Yes, there it was again but more clearly now; a soft swoosh of a cloak and the whisper of a breath being stifled. He had spent too many nights hiding from Filch in dank broom closets, making the exact same noises, to mistake it for anything else.
Someone was definitely standing on the other side of the wall.
He scanned the row of books suspiciously; his eyes falling on a particularly old leather-bound book coloured in shades of brown. It was bigger than most of the other books, and it stuck out just a little bit over the edge of the shelf.
You wouldn't have noticed it if you weren't looking, but Harry was sure that there was something more to the book than met the eye.
He could just make out the title that was squiggled in a tiny loopy scrawl;
"A Wizard's Way to the heart of The Darkest Curses; In the tongue of the Ancient"
He leaned in closer, to take a better look and noticed that three words were written in a slightly different hue than the other words.
"A Wizard's Way to the heart of The Darkest Curses; In the tongue of the Ancient"
"A - Way - In ..." he read out loud before he could stop himself.
He soon realised his mistake when suddenly the wall slid open with a loud bang and something hard slammed into him with full force, succeeding in knocking him off his feet.
His head slammed against the rotting wood of the floor, but he didn't feel it as the simmering rage that still possessed him flared up and adrenaline pumped through his veins. His attacker landed on top of him, crushing the breath out of him, and immediately started dealing heavy blows to his head with what felt like an iron kettle.
Harry was so stunned with disbelief at what was happening that he didn't move for a couple of seconds, taking blow upon blow.
This was ridiculous! The Dark Lord's new right hand man was attacking him like a common Muggle, roaring in his ear like some village idiot! Snape, of all people was trying to kill him with his fists?
The absurdity took on new levels the longer he thought about it, and his lips started to twitch as the black hooded figure kept shrieking his warrior cry and slamming his fists. A bubble of laughter escaped Harry's lips, which soon turned into a full blown cackle that sounded disconcerting even to his own ears as he felt blood pouring down his face. But he couldn't help himself, it was just too bizarre.
He could feel Snape shift above him and hesitate as he noticed that Harry wasn't cowering in fear, but laughing like a maniac. The blows had stopped falling, and the ludicrous screaming had faltered as the body resting its weight on him sat stock still, iron kettle held high above his head in a downwards motion that never came.
Harry just threw his head back and laughed even louder, wheezing dangerously out of breath.
"Did you actually...did you honestly... Oh god," he gasped between fits of angry giggles peering at the dark clad figure sat frozen a top him between narrow slits.
"Don't tell me you thought you could beat me to death, when I still have my wand," he continued once he had some control over himself, twirling his wand provocatively between his fingers like a marionette. "Or where you deliberately going for death by laughter?"
He rolled his eyes impatiently when Snape didn't respond, but just kept on gaping foolishly. The blood that was still pouring down his face started to block his vision.
In one swift movement, he brought up the arm that was holding his wand and flicked his wrist with practised ease, successfully knocking Snape off of him with a spell, and got up, wiping at his eyes with his sleeve.
Harry could not believe his luck. Here he was. The man he had been searching for since Dumbledore's death was standing before him.
He kept his wand carefully aimed at the figure now scrambling to its feet; this was still Snape after all. He may have gone nuts and taken up Muggle fighting since he'd left Hogwarts, but Harry knew from experience that Snape was a skilled duellist, and would not push his luck.
He narrowed his eyes suspiciously, not liking the fact that it had been this easy to get Snape at wand point. He remembered the day of Dumbledore's murder, when he had run after Snape and found all his spells blocked effortlessly.
"Is this some kind of sick joke?" he snarled viciously, closing in on the figure before him. "Or do you always greet your guests this way?" he mocked, gesturing to the iron kettle now resting at his feet, his voice going dangerously low.
"Well no matter," he continued after a while. "You're nothing but a filthy Death Eater," he spat nastily. "I'm going to avenge Dumbledore's death, starting with you."
He took another step closer and demanded "Where is your wand? Why don't you show yourself, you coward!"
Snape spat in his face defiantly, standing firm with his back straight, still not speaking.
Eyes darkening in fury to an almost impossible black as he wiped at his face to remove the spittle, Harry closed the distance between them with two quick strides.
He touched his wand to the hooded head of the man in front of him, noticing that they were the same height now, and brought his face close to the other and whispered cruelly,
"You are nothing but scum under my shoe, an utter waste on the face of the earth; no one loves or cares about you. You are alone now, utterly alone, and no one will give a shit about your broken body when I'm through with you."
Snape gasped and tried to press himself back into the wall as Harry descended upon him with all his pent up rage and magic pouring in waves around him in a growing whirl.
"You won't be more then a stain on people's memories, tainting their minds. Everyone will be glad the Death Eater that walked free behind the walls of Hogwarts is dead."
He was breathing hard, face contorted in a livid sneer as he pushed even closer, he could feel the man's heart beating rapidly and smell the faint sweat from his body.
"Your precious Lord won't even care if you live or die; you are just another tool to him, a slave attending to his every whim a stepping-stone to step on and crush underneath a boot heel when he has no use for you anymore."
He raged on, not able to process logically in his mind that Snape, the oh-so cruel and heartless Death Eater was almost cowering before him.
"You should have died, you know..." he said softly, almost pleasantly. By now Snape was shaking, deep sickening tremors that were visibly coursing through his body. Harry revelled in the power he was feeling over the person in front of him. All he had to do was say the words, say the words and Snape would fall before him in a crumpling heap.
Festering hatred for Snape took over his mind as he thought of all those years he was tormented and ridiculed, thought of the way this man had been able to make him feel worthless and stupid and oh-so very angry, this man that had provoked Sirius so successfully, this man that had betrayed Dumbledore without a trace of remorse as he had uttered the killing curse. He thought of Ginny, and Bill and Fleur who had fallen by the hands of people like Snape and raised his wand to the middle of the man's for head.
"- on that night so many years ago, you should have died," he said breathlessly.
"My father... he...he never should have saved you!" he continued in a ferocious roar.
Time seemed to slow down then, and he called upon that feeling deep inside him he had ignored for so many years when he chose Gryffindor instead of Slytherin. That little bit of darkness that had been sitting dormant in the gut of his stomach ever since he had tried to curse Bellatrix with the Cruciatus Curse.
He could feel magic crackle around him that was making his hair stand up straight, and his eyes changed from a jade green to a murky black as he started to whisper the beginnings of the killing curse.
He flicked the piece of cloth covering the man's face away quickly with his free hand; he wanted to look into Snape's eyes as he died. He needed to see the stone black gaze of his former professor go out of focus, needed to see the life drain out of his eyes and eventually go blank, until they were nothing but two black marbles glazed over looking back at him, unseeing. But most of all he needed to know that he would be the last thing Snape would ever see.
Harry's eyes widened in shock as he gazed not into black, but grey, translucent eyes that were equally wide in terror.
His wand arm faltered and the words of the killing curse died on his lips as he stood face to face with Draco Malfoy.
"M- Malfoy?" he stuttered feebly.
Malfoy tried to gather himself quickly, closing his face off of all the emotion Harry had seen so visibly on his uncovered face.
"As eloquent as ever I see," he sneered after a pause, but the desired effect was ruined by his trembling limbs. Harry was actually pretty impressed that he was able to keep his voice steady at all.
Harry just gaped at him in reply.
"Well aren't you going to kill me? Please get on with it, will you!" Malfoy snapped, his eyes betraying his anxiety as they flickered between Harry's face and the wand still aimed at him.
"Malfoy?" Harry repeated incredulously, not able to comprehend what he was seeing.
"Potter." Malfoy sneered again, this time more successfully, dragging the name out as if it were something dirty.
"You're....you're not Snape...." Harry stated more to himself than to anyone else.
"Great deduction Potter, I hadn't realised that my, wait...wait a minute....what?" Malfoy suddenly stopped mid-sentence, staring blankly at Harry for a second before his face started to contort in palpable anger.
"Are you telling me Potter," he growled dangerously, "that you thought I was Snape all this time? All those things you said weren't about me but about Snape?"
Harry looked at him. "Well....yes, I..." he began weakly.
"What?" Malfoy shrieked, forgetting completely about the wand that was still aimed at him. He started forward stabbing his finger hard into Harry's chest with each word;
"You...." stab "-thought...." stab "-I...." stab "-was...." stab "-Snape?" /stab, stab/.
Harry took an involuntary step backwards in surprise at Malfoy's sudden outburst.
"I...." he began weakly, clearly flustered, but he was cut off again.
"I was confused about what you said at the end, something about your father and... and you/..." Malfoy hissed between his teeth "You almost /killed me...again!"
Malfoy quickly realised that had been the wrong thing to say, and his indignant anger left as quickly as it had come, as he deflated upon seeing Harry's face.
Harry's face had hardened instantly, his eyes going back to that frightening black, and he bared his teeth as he remembered exactly who was standing in front of him.
He jabbed Malfoy in the head hard with his wand, making sure he would not forget who was in control here.
"How...how dare you!" he growled incredulously.
"Almost killed you, almost killed you? You mean like you almost killed Katie Bell and Ron? You mean like the time you //almost killed innocent students and people by letting Death Eaters into Hogwarts? Or did you mean like how you almost killed Dumbledore on the tower?" he demanded.
Malfoy paled and flinched back as if Harry had slapped him hard across the face.
"I saw you Malfoy! I know what you did, I know it was you who did all those things, and I knew it was you all year but no one believed me when I tried to warn them of you!
"I should probably kill you; it's practically as much your fault Dumbledore died as it is Snape's, if it isn't even more - in fact, give me one good reason not to!"
He aimed his wand to Malfoy's temple threateningly, his eyes flashing and his breath coming in quick successions.
Malfoy paled even further, which almost seemed impossible at this point and avoided Harry's eyes, looking at his shoe's as if they were the most interesting thing ever.
"I...Potter, look I didn't ... I hadn't meant for, I mean, look-" he took a deep breath and forced himself to look up.
"He had my parents! My mother. He was going to kill her, he...he was going to kill her Potter! Don't you see," he said feverishly, looking into Harry's eyes, almost pleadingly willing Harry to understand. "Don't you understand Potter? I didn't have a choice! You of all people should understand!"
He just looked at Malfoy hard, piercing him with his eyes that were still a dancing pool of black and green, making Malfoy more nervous by the second.
The problem was that Harry did understand, and hated himself for it.
He understood it perfectly.
He understood what had made Malfoy do those horrible things.
And he knew what it meant that Malfoy hadn't gone through with it in the very end. It meant that he couldn't kill Malfoy. It meant that he couldn't go through with it in the end either.
And he hated it.
Snape wasn't here. The only person he could vent his rage and get his revenge on was Malfoy.
Malfoy, who on closer inspection looked gaunt and thinner than he had ever seen him. Malfoy, who had always looked so immaculate and aristocratic, now had dirt smeared across his face, his hair falling wildly, wearing frayed robes. Malfoy, who was staring at him intently with those searching eyes, licking his cracked lips anxiously, waiting for Harry's answer.
Harry understood about family.
He realised he would have done anything to get his parents back, just like Malfoy had done anything to save his.
Looking at Malfoy now, so helpless and obviously frightened (although he would never have admitted it), Harry was not able to find the energy that had been fuelling his blinding rage anymore. Instead he felt a wave of weariness take over him, and he could feel the pain that those usually indifferent eyes reflected.
"I do understand Malfoy," he said softly and slowly he lowered his wand to his side. He heard Malfoy let out a breath he wasn't aware Malfoy had been holding, and his face smoothed out again, getting rid of the crinkles that had started to form near the edge of his eyes.
They stared at each other for a long minute, neither of them wanting to break the rare understanding between them.
"Why are you here? This is Snape's house isn't it? Harry asked carefully.
Malfoy scrunched up his nose in an indignant Malfoy-ish way, looking around the room in obvious contempt that for once wasn't directed at Harry as he said in an even voice, "Yes it is, he took me here and locked me up. He said it was for my protection. He also took my wand."
"Ah, that explains the kettle then," Harry said lightly, unprepared for the death glare that was soon sent his way.
"Did you think I enjoyed that Potter?" Malfoy snapped. "How was I supposed to know it was you and not some Death Eater? The Dark Lord is not exactly pleased with me now, is he?"
"What do you mean he's not pleased? Dumbledore's dead, isn't he? Wasn't that what last year was all about, some way to get to Dumbledore instead of me for a change?" Harry said bitterly.
"It was my assignment,/ mine/, and not Snape's." Malfoy sighed loudly. "You really don't get it, do you Potter? The Dark Lord never meant for me to succeed. He wanted me to fail, so he could kill me and my mother to punish my father for his failure in retrieving the prophecy."
Harry just looked at him.
"I failed Potter, I didn't kill Dumbledore!" Malfoy snapped impatiently. "Snape did it, not me, I was too damn weak and I failed!" He balled his hands into fists and stared pointedly at the wall just above Harry's head.
"I...I...failed..." Malfoy repeated more quietly this time. "And now my mother...she's..." he stopped as soon as he heard his voice breaking.
"Malfoy," Harry said. "I'm...I'm sorry."
And he was.
He even surprised himself at how sincere he was. No one deserved to lose a parent, and definitely not like that. Not even Draco Malfoy, the spoiled, evil, mean bully. Not even the son of a Death Eater.
Malfoy's eyes seemed to turn into steel as he glowered at him, his defence mechanism kicking back in.
"I don't want your pity, Potter. I bet you think it's really fucking hilarious don't you? Now that I am practically an orphan like you after all those years I made fun of how you always were 'perfect little orphaned Potter'?" he spat.
"My mother is dead, my father rotting away in Azkaban for the rest of his life. Don't you think I deserve it Potter?" he snarled viciously.
"/What/..?" Harry said weakly.
"You heard me Potter, I bet you're glad. I bet you can't wait to run back to the Weasel and Weaslette and that stupid Mudblood bitch to laugh about it together!"
Harry pressed his lips together in a tight line, body tensing at the mention of the Weasleys, berating himself for ever feeling sympathy for Draco Malfoy.
"I'm not like you Malfoy," he growled under his breath.
"Of course you're not," Malfoy said sarcastically. "After all, you are Perfect Potter, aren't you? Always doing the right thing, feeling compassion and love for everyone and anything.
"But oh wait, there was this one thing I heard my Aunt Bella say," Malfoy cocked his head to the side as if he was figuring something out. "She said that Baby Potty tried to curse her with Cruciatus after she killed that mutt you called a godfather," he mocked cruelly. "Not so perfect after all, are you?"
It happened so fast that Harry didn't even know what had happened until he felt his fist connect with the side of Malfoy's face. He was so angry with Malfoy, and himself, that he lashed out as quick as lightening, his fist already descending in another blow to Malfoy's eye - his wand forgotten in his other hand.
Malfoy was prepared for the second one and swerved to the left, evading the blow effectively while bringing up his own fist and hitting Harry hard in the stomach. He doubled over in pain, and Malfoy kicked his legs out underneath him.
Harry scrambled for something to hold on to, dropping his wand and brought Malfoy down to the ground with him as he tore at Malfoy's cloak.
They rolled on the floor kicking, punching and biting each other hard wherever they could get to, until they bumped into the table, which wobbled unstably as its substitute leg gave way.
Harry was on top of Malfoy now, and was thumping him hard across the face repeatedly until blood was flowing freely from his nose.
Malfoy then felt around on the ground until he found a heavy looking tome just to his right, and brought it up in a swift motion, clobbering Harry in the back of the head.
Harry fell off Malfoy with a howl of pain, and just lay there for a few seconds, dazed.
And then Malfoy was back on his feet, swaying like a drunk, walking around, turning his head this way and that as if searching for something.
Harry's eyes widened when he saw that Malfoy had found what he was looking for.
It was lying near the narrow passageway Malfoy had come out from before. He quickly scrabbled up on his hands and knees trying to get there before Malfoy. But Malfoy was much closer than he was, and he knew he wasn't going to make it. He desperately searched for something to defend himself with, casting frantically about for anything at all.
And then he saw the iron kettle in the shadow of the couch and went to it quickly, he grabbed it intending to hurl it at Malfoy, but as soon as he turned around he saw Malfoy standing there with a gleeful expression on his face, pointing his wand at him.
"Well, well, well, I guess the roles have been turned," he drawled lazily looking pointedly at Harry and then to the iron kettle he was clenching in his fist.
"Give it back Malfoy!"
"I will do no such thing."
"What are you going to do, kill me like you tried to kill Dumbledore?" Harry spat viciously, remembering the way Malfoy had wavered on top of the tower.
Malfoy's face darkened, as he understood what Harry was referring to.
"No, you are right of course. I won't kill you Potter," he said softly, his voice almost gentle.
"What I will do though, is turn you in. The Dark Lord will be pleased. I may not have been able to save my mother, but I will not let my father die! And after I've delivered you to him, he will get my father out of Azkaban, I know he will!" Malfoy said feverishly, needing to believe his own words.
"Malfoy, don't do this! You don't know what he will do, the man is mad!"
"He will get my father out of prison, Potter. You won't be able to tell me otherwise," Malfoy said, his voice shaking lightly the wand in his hand trembling.
"Malfoy...please, you don't want to do this. You are not like them!" It sounded stupid even to him; of course Malfoy was like them! He was the splitting image of his father; he just needed some practice, Harry thought bitterly.
Malfoy laughed darkly at that. "You don't mean that, Potter, and you're wrong anyway. I am everything like them."
Harry desperately looked into Malfoy's eyes, searching for the boy that was standing before him just minutes before. The one that had felt the loss of his mother, the one that couldn't kill Dumbledore on the tower, the one he had seen crying in Moaning Myrtles bathroom. He couldn't find him, he wasn't there anymore.
And then there he was for just a second.
"I...I'm sorry Potter. I don't have a choice," Malfoy said in a voice that almost genuinely sounded like regret.
And then he was gone again. Harry wanted to scream at him, he wanted to hurl things at him, hurt him. Anything to get through to him again, to make him see reason. But as he looked into Malfoy's ice-grey eyes, and saw the way his jaw was set into a determined line, he knew it was a lost cause, so he just closed his eyes in defeat.
He didn't see the tear that escaped Malfoy's eye as he muttered the spell that would send him into darkness for the second time that day.