Disclaimer: I do not own any of these characters or places. I'm just borrowing them for my own amusement.

oOo

"Pettigrew!" Lucius stated coldly, watching as the chubby spy staggered from the towering trees and tangle of overgrowth dragging his fellow Gryffindor along in his wake.

"You're late," he remarked striding over to view the merchandise. "You know better than to keep the Dark Lord waiting. Be assured that He will be told who is to blame for the delay."

Pettigrew's stammered apologies and asinine explanations faded into the background as he bent over the prone body, feeling a rush of pleasure as Potter's eyes widened behind his cracked glasses. Of course, this was the first time he'd allowed himself to be seen in his true aspect—as a Death Eater, a vassal of the Dark Lord. One who would share in His power when He succeeded in ridding the Wizarding world of the weak and eradicating those useless muggles.

A sick smile spilt his face but his mirth was hidden by the featureless mask.

"Enough," he ordered absently and the irritating buzzing in his ears immediately ceased as Pettigrew's mouth shut with a snap. His gaze drifted along the scrapes and scratches adorning his prisoner, evidence of his unorthodox trip through the forest. His lip curled. Pettigrew was truly a sorry excuse for a Wizard. If they didn't need a spy so desperately, he'd kill this embarrassment himself. He glanced at the simpering smile the boy was wearing as he puffed himself up, clearly expecting praise of some sort.

But before he could cut the worm down to size, something moving through the trees caught his attention. Narrowing his eyes, he raised his wand ignoring Pettigrew as he blanched.

"Time to go, I think," Lucius announced briskly. He was fairly confident that he wouldn't have a problem defending himself—not with the spells the Dark Lord insisted his recruits should master. All the same, the forest was forbidden for good reason, even professors refused to venture in without good cause. With a flick of his wand, Potter was floating properly. Realizing that his time had all but run out, his prize began to struggle violently but being midair, merely succeeded in making himself look ridiculous.

"Wait, what about me?" Pettigrew suddenly demanded, shrinking back as Lucius turned to regard him. "Y-You c-can't just leave me out he—"

Lucius barely had time to blink when a shadow flashing sharp teeth and claws erupted from the darkness, piling into Pettigrew's side, its momentum driving them halfway across the clearing. Lucius had no desire to do battle with the forest's native fauna, he knew only too well how deadly the creatures residing here could be, but as much as he wanted to just grab Potter and apparate directly to the Dark Lord's side, he had no wish to displease Him with the news that they'd lost their best placed spy.

After checking that there were no more rabid animals skulking among the trees, he turned his attention to the snarling form rolling around with Pettigrew as he screamed and wildly shot off spells. Not one got within a foot of the beast. With a roll of his eyes and a resigned sigh, Lucius quickly brought his wand to bear on the—

Stars exploded in his vision as something slammed into the side of his head, sending him staggering. Before he could right himself, he was struck again in the exact same spot and pain burst behind his eyes. Disorientated he stumbled on the hem on his robe and fell heavily to his knees. He swayed for a moment, before gathering his scattered wits and attempting to push himself up. His mask had twisted out of position, blinding him and his heavy robe was suddenly awkward as he tried to find his balance, reaching up to rip the mask from his face.

The cool night air shocked him back to his senses and he blearily looked around for his attacker before he glimpsed movement from the corner of his eye. Clumsily bringing his wand up and ignoring the pounding in his head, Lucius turned to face it, only to get a face full of rock and feathers.

oOo

Nightwing collapsed beside the Death Eater, gratefully releasing the rock from his aching talons. It wasn't too big but it was heavy enough for an already exhausted owl to feel the strain. However, it did its job well, battering through the subtle protection offered by the spelled mask and robes. A surprise attack was the only way he stood a chance against Lucius and he wasn't ashamed to admit it. A fifth year, even a precocious one—against a seventh year Death Eater who'd trained at the feet of the Dark Lord...no contest. There was no way he was getting in a duel with Lucius—he wasn't suicidal.

oOo

Human now, Severus stood and regarded Malfoy, spread-eagled in the snow with his silvery hair fanned out around his head. He looked delicate, almost ethereal, even with the blood matting his hair and the ugly bruise that was already making itself known. A wounded angel. Thoroughly unimpressed, Severus kicked the wand from his adversary's limp hand before making his way toward James.

He hurriedly dissolved the ropes but gave in to temptation and allowed him to drop into the snow.

"Snape!"

At the familiar enraged yell, Severus couldn't hold back a grin as the tight knot in his chest slowly loosened.

"Enough lying around Potter," he said silkily, "some of us have better things to do than run around in the snow while you enact your bondage fantasies."

James spluttered, sitting bolt upright. "Hey, don't blame me for Peter's weird fetishes," he retorted, recovering quickly.

Severus raised a sceptical eyebrow but a sudden whimper interrupted their banter and they both spun around to see Padfoot crouched on Pettigrew's chest, muscles straining as he lunged, obviously trying to go for the throat. Peter blocked clumsily with a much abused arm, shoving it between the teeth as they tried to descend. His small, watery eyes rolled wildly, mad with fear and pain, until his gaze fell on them.

"Please," he whispered desperately, his voice no more than a thread of sound. "Please...help me!"

A guttural snarl bubbled up from Padfoot's throat and he ground his teeth deeper into Pettigrew's arm eliciting a piercing scream. Severus winced at the pitch but it was enough to galvanise James into action.

"Padfoot—Sirius, stop!" he yelled sliding over to the frozen tableau. An ear flicked back as he spoke, indicating that he was being listened to. "Sirius, calm down! I understand how you feel, trust me. But this isn't the way to go. He'll get his, Sirius but he'll have to be alive to suffer it. Let him go," he said soothingly. The dog cocked its head, eyes turning to regard him, scanning his body, checking for injury. Noting the collection of scrapes and bruises.

"I'm fine, I promise. Just let him go, Sirius," James repeated gently.

A muffled sob burst from Peter as the teeth slowly disengaged. "Th-thank you James, thank you!" he hiccupped, "I-I knew you wouldn't let him—"

Another snarl had James pulling Sirius bodily away while giving Peter a disgusted, incredulous look.

"Don't think I'm doing this out of any concern for you!" he spat, hooking an arm around Padfoot's trembling frame. "We're taking you straight to Dumbledore to be expelled and if there's any justice in the world you'll end up in Azkaban with the Dementors!"

Severus noted that James was trembling himself now but where for Sirius it was clearly due to the effort of suppressing his rage... He supposed it could be shock, though seeing the haunted quality in those hazel eyes, Severus couldn't help wondering if Pettigrew hadn't been describing—in detail—just what the Dark Lord had been planning for him.

Coldly furious, he stalked forward cutting through Pettigrew's stumbled apologies—complete with wild claims of coercion and misunderstandings—and shot a stunner at him. It was rather satisfying to silence the irritating babble and watch him crumple into the snow. Ignoring the way James was gaping at him; Severus quickly conjured ropes of his own and efficiently trussed up the pudgy Gryffindor and after only a small hesitation, added a gag as well.

Raising an eyebrow at James' expression, he snorted. "If you're going to be so nauseatingly Gryffindor as to insist on saving him, then you better not expect me to listen to his whining the whole way back to the castle," he snapped caustically.

Sirius transformed under James' arm, a grin briefly lighting his face as his friend reared back in surprise. "Nicely done!" he told Severus looking over Pettigrew's restraints with approval. His expression darkened with undisguised revulsion as he continued to watch his former friend. "I hope he does get Azkaban—he deserves it!"

James placed a steadying hand on his shoulder but didn't disagree. Severus sneered at Pettigrew's limp form in disgust before turning to secure Lucius.

As such, he had a split second warning before the spell hit him, sending him careening across the clearing to crash painfully into a tree. He thought he felt something snap and was subsequently rewarded by a bright flare of pain, proving his suspicion. As he slumped to the ground, he could barely hear the others yelling over the ringing in his ears. He hazily saw James scrabbling at Pettigrew while Sirius shot a stunner at Lucius, who deflected it easily and focused on James as he finally managed to pull his wand from Pettigrew's pocket.

Sirius launched a volley of spells and James joined him but Lucius evaded or deflected all comers and cast a spell that Severus had only read about. A concussive shockwave emanated from Lucius' wand, slamming through the clearing, splintering branches and smashing into the Gryffindors, knocking them off their feet. That particular spell took a lot of power and focus but Lucius was obviously injured enough from earlier that his range wasn't very large and the effects had almost dissipated by the time the spell reached Severus.

The ringing in his ears slowly began to subside, allowing him to hear what was going on. Sirius lay sprawled not too far from him while James had landed closer to Lucius. Severus felt his stomach lurch as the Death Eater reached for Potter, clearly intending to complete his task. They were outmatched. He could see Sirius stirring but not quickly enough.

Where the hell was Remus with Dumbledore?

Severus really didn't want to duel Lucius Malfoy.

James who had evidently been feigning unconsciousness, weakly batted Malfoy's hand away and unsteadily pointed his wand but whatever he cast was absorbed by the defensive spells woven into the Death Eater robes. With a mocking laugh, Lucius planted a vicious kick in his stomach and watched him curl up in agony.

Severus seriously did not want to duel Lucius Malfoy. Unfortunately, he'd learned from an early age that life rarely gave you what you wanted. But it wouldn't be a true duel; he'd just be acting as a distraction, buying time until Remus brought Dumbledore. And he would. Severus had no doubts on that—just in his own ability to live long enough to get rescued.

oOo

Remus followed Dumbledore and Hagrid as they led the way into the forest. Hagrid was a little unsteady after his 'sampling' of the eggnog but no-one knew the forest better. Remus was just glad that they were finally moving. The Headmaster had grasped his panicked garbled tale almost immediately but Slughorn had gotten in the way, acting offended at the slur against his House and reminding everyone within hearing distance of the importance of the Malfoy family and their continuous generous donations to the school.

As Dumbledore mobilised the Professors and sent Madam Pomfrey to ready the Hospital Wing 'just in case', a move that had Remus shivering, Horace Slughorn had stuck to the Headmaster's side, hampering his movements, his outraged complaints drowning out orders and reports. In the end, Dumbledore had snapped, telling his Potions professor in no uncertain terms that while he was not accusing the Malfoy family of anything and had no vendetta whatsoever against Slytherin House, something was clearly wrong and as Headmaster he had a duty to protect the students in his care—and considering the fact at least four, perhaps five, were currently roaming around the Forbidden Forest, he would very much appreciate the man's silence and co-operation.

Only Dumbledore could make a polite explanation draw metaphorical blood and Slughorn rapidly deflated, mumbled something about making sure Madam Pomfrey had all the potions she required and hurried off. Everything went much smoother after that and within minutes, they were off. Remus had vehemently refused to be left behind and Professor McGonagall insisted on joining them, as this little adventure was composed mostly of Gryffindors. Slughorn didn't reappear or show any concern for the Slytherins allegedly wandering around the forest—apart from how they might alienate the affluent Malfoy family. Remus suspected that he didn't want to risk setting foot in the forest, which was absurd seeing as how Dumbledore was with them, but he wisely kept that suspicion to himself.

Hagrid was confident, even if he was slurring his words, that he knew the clearing that Severus had described. It was reasonably close to the forest edge, shouldn't take too long to reach it—and of course, he knew a short-cut that would shave at least five minutes off the trek.

Remus just hoped that Sirius and Severus had managed to make it in time.

oOo

Severus learned several rules necessary for his continued survival quite quickly.

Never goad a Malfoy.

They're a proud, rigid bunch who don't react well to implications of inbreeding, low intelligence and L'oreal.

Never goad a Death Eater.

They're a psychotic, fanatical bunch who don't react well to slurs against the Cause, the Dark Lord's origins (Severus honestly couldn't believe he'd dared) and their overall dress sense.

Never goad either/both of the above when they've a head injury that unhinges their reason.

It increases the likelihood of a painful death.

oOo

He broke them all—spectacularly.

Unfortunately, he hadn't really had a choice. Lucius' only interest had been in obtaining Potter; he'd simply brushed off Severus' attempts to engage him. Which had elated his Slytherin sense of self-preservation, he'd tried after all—no-one could blame him for backing off now. Unfortunately Malfoy's blasé dismissal also pricked his Slytherin pride and after that there was nothing for it. If there was one thing that Severus hated, it was being ignored.

Sirius and James were less than helpful, both groggy and disorientated, bleeding from the ears and nose from that shockwave spell. Not that Severus was worried about them or anything, it was just the fact that he hated having a slightly deranged Death Eater, with a personal reason to hate his guts, ignore him.

No, really.

So when Lucius pounced on the semi-conscious James, Severus reacted. No-one could use words like he could. He had obnoxious sarcasm down to a science.

He started talking; in sneering, cutting tones, syllables practically dripping poison, using words like knives.

And now Lucius' remembered fury over his protégé's betrayal was stoked higher by his contemptuous, irreverent statements and blatant disrespect.

Severus was in constant motion, aiming for his bare face, hands and neck, the only parts unprotected by the armour-like robes. They weren't foolproof of course, if Severus was a bit older and more experienced they'd only be a minor annoyance but as things were, he had his hands full blocking and dodging Lucius' unrelenting volleys.

They'd both gotten some decent hits in, Lucius' hands were continuously burning, only without any obvious flames, his face was covered in weeping boils leaking acidic pus and Severus was fairly sure that he'd succeeded in temporarily blinding one eye. His opponent didn't look like an angel anymore.

Severus, apart from an already broken rib, was bleeding heavily in various places, had a dislocated shoulder and suspected that his right leg was fractured. And he was slowing down. He couldn't tell if it was exhaustion, blood loss or a mixture of the two but he was going to lose. Not that there had ever been a chance of winning. A quick glance told him that James and Sirius had recovered somewhat and had managed to drag themselves as far away from Lucius as they could manage. They were watching the battle with wide eyes and a stubborn set to their faces. He had a sinking feeling that they were planning something stupid, though at this point he was hardly in a position to throw stones. Severus found himself cursing Dumbledore's arthritic joints and wishing fervently that he would hurry up. Parrying a slicing curse from Lucius that would have taken his arm, he felt the last of his strength leave him.

He fell to one knee, gritting his teeth as his leg screamed at him and raised his head to glare at his opponent. There was no way he'd allow himself to die with his head bowed. That is, if Lucius was merciful enough to simply kill him.

So it was a surprise to see, instead of Lucius' triumphant sneer of victory, two Gryffindors, swaying and leaning against each other to remain on their feet, stagger between him and the reaper.

To say that he was a bit shocked would be like saying that the ocean is a bit wet. There was something else too, a rush of fierce deep emotion at the sight of those two voluntarily standing between him and death but it was quickly eclipsed by a white-hot anger. Ignoring the pain he pushed himself to his feet, gripping Sirius' shoulder with his good arm to situate himself between them.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" he hissed furiously. "You idiots!"

"What, you think we'd let you have all the fun?" Sirius responded cockily, obviously trying to hide the fact that he was on the point of collapse. On his other side, James flashed him a devil-may-care grin. The effect was somewhat muted by the blood smearing his teeth.

"Well yes, I suppose this has been fun," Lucius drawled, attempting to sound nonchalant but his pinched expression told of the pain he was hiding. "However I'm afraid that my patience has run out. Potter, you'll be coming with me."

Both Sirius and Severus spat out incensed, incoherent denials.

Lucius' ruined lips lifted in a horrible parody of a smile. "You two are surplus to requirements," he stated flatly, raising his wand.

James, Severus and Sirius blasted him with three different curses simultaneously just as a booming voice echoed through the clearing and the night lit up, blinding them even as they fell, the wind knocked out of them. After that, it was simply too much effort to get up.

Severus heard snatches of talk, a sudden crack of apparition and a familiar soothing voice telling him that everything was going to be fine. As much as he wanted to snap at such an absurd assertion, he found that he didn't have the energy.

"...shut up Remus."

A/N: The end is nigh! Just the epilogue to go!