A/N: As I said before this has been a good ride. I hope you've enjoyed it as much as I have! Feel free to read my other work: In My Mind, it's SSHG as well. I'm also cooking up another story...which is partially to blame for my late updates. And now to close with One Word: Thanks.
It was 2:45 p.m. just minutes away from the final showdown between Severus Snape and Igor Karkaroff. Charlie seemed a bit on edge. But that was to be expected, they could only plan so much and there were a lot of variables left. They had no idea if he would be alone, or if Harry would even be with him. Hermione's brows knitted with worry. Above all else, she was worried about Severus. She hadn't seen him with such single-minded determinedness since the war. His eyes bore a darkness and his face was that a statue. He was fierce and unmovable and Hermione feared for him. Such hatred bore nothing but ill for all parties involved. To an outsider, he would look completely neutral, indifferent even. And that's what worried her the most. Because she knew that this was deeply personal for him. "Severus?" Her words cut the silence like a blade and she watched her husband tense momentarily. He looked up at her, eyes softening only marginally. In the corner, Charlie paused in his fidgeting, eyeing the both of them with concern. She flicked her gaze back to her husband. "Can I talk to you for minute?"
He looked like he wanted to say no, but Hermione's expression made him think better of it. "Make it quick." His tone was harsh, but she wouldn't hold it against him. Needing privacy they left Charlie and utilized the Headmaster's guest bedroom. The door hadn't closed when he turned on her. "What's this about?"
She frowned. "This is about me not wanting to let you get yourself killed by being ruled by your emotions," she spoke forcefully. "Severus, I understand what this man has done to you, to us, and our friends, but you can't let that blind you from the mission."
"The mission?" he raged, "Igor is a murderer. And he wants our son! Our son! If I don't stop him now, he'll just keep coming back. He's already attacking the people closest to us. And…" His voice trailed, losing some of its animosity. "And he hurt you."
Hermione moved to pull her husband into a tight embrace. "I know, Severus," she whispered. "But I'm alright. We're….we're alright," she cooed pulling back and placing his hands on the round bump of her belly. "And we all need you to come back home alive." She lifted her hands to his face. "I need you to promise me, that whatever plans of revenge you have-" He made a huffing noise, "Let. Me. Finish." She admonished and he reluctantly nodded for her to continue. "Whatever plans you have, you make sure to come back. You hear me? I refuse to lose you to that man."
Their foreheads touched and Hermione could feel his quick breaths on her face. It was with a low voice that he said, "I promise I'll come back to you. But I also promise to make him suffer."
"Of course. And I can hardly blame you," she replied. She kissed him, the saltiness of her tears flavoring her lips. "This isn't goodbye," she breathed, lips continuing to brush over his, "Just good luck. I love you, Severus," she said solemnly.
"I love you too," he answered and they just stared at one another allowing the silence to fill the space with the words left unsaid. He stroked her cheek reassuringly and as her eyes fluttered shut there was a knock at the door.
"Severus," Charlie's voice could be heard from the other side of the door. "It's time."
"Oh how the mighty have fallen."
It was these words that rang through the dark, dank cellar of Hog's Head. She was wearing bright fuchsia colored robes and she had her wand trained on the "Savior of the Wizarding World". Some savior. "Do you think the Greasy Bat will come save you, Harry Potter?" came the snooty tones of Rita Skeeter. "I mean, he's always hated you. But then again, he's likely to be playing nice seeing as he's fucking your whore of a friend."
"How dare you?!" Harry shouted wishing he could break the binds that confined him to his chair. Rita snapped.
"No, how dare YOU ignore ME! It was always 'Auror Potter is too busy to speak with you' or 'Auror Potter is in a very important meeting'." She ranted in a mock voice. "I made you famous! The least you could do was give me an interview, but no. Was it too much to ask for? I think not. And that little mudblood bitch and her damned jar…" Rita's wand sparked dangerously, but the witch calmed herself down. "Never mind all that," she breathed, smiling as she turned to gaze into Harry's eyes. "After my Iggy is done with Snape, we'll dispense of you and her too. But don't worry," she said leaning to whisper conspiratorially in his ear, "We won't touch your little redhead." Harry growled and Rita's head tilted back in an outright guffaw.
"You won't get away with this," Harry retorted and for a moment he saw a flicker of fear and sadness in the woman's eyes. But it was gone as soon as it came.
"News flash Potter," she answered, "we already have."
The sound of footsteps interrupted their conversation and Harry craned his neck to see Igor Karkaroff silhouetted in the doorway. "Get up." He commanded coldly and the ropes binding his legs dissipated from his body. Harry's first instinct was to run, but without a wand or the use of his hands his escape would be very short lived. No, he decided that he would bide his time and wait for a more opportune moment. "Come Rita," Igor drawled allowing his accent to thicken moderately. "We have a score to settle."
Hog's Head had been cleared out of its usual patrons, whether by contrivance or force Severus had yet to decipher. Since Aberforth had retired the newest owner could have any sort of leanings. Unfortunately, Severus hadn't been to this place since the war and had no idea what the owner was like. No matter. Igor was his main concern, crooked tavern owner or no. He had his wand gripped tightly as he and the polyjuiced Nathaniel approached the establishment. This was it, this was the endgame.
If Igor knew that they had arrived there were no outward signs of it. The main disadvantage of having Charlie disguised as Nathaniel was that Severus would have to secure the perimeter by himself. And heaven knows what awaited them inside. However before he could begin his investigation the doors creaked open and out walked Hogsmeade's bandit. The man was looking a little worse for wear. He was thinner than Severus remembered which was saying something. His hair was now a very dark brown-obviously an effort to appear younger. But his eyes were the same. Steely and unfeeling. "My, my, my," the man drawled. "I'm surprised. You're lacking your usual panache Severus. But seeing how you've delivered my son, I suppose I can forgive you."
Severus frowned. "Nathaniel isn't your son, Igor. Any hopes you have I suggest you rid yourself of them now. I just might let you leave this place with your life, if you release Potter. Immediately."
"Tsk, tsk, Severus. We wouldn't want to set a bad example for the little tyke now would we?" Igor replied with a nasty grin. He pointed his wand squarely at Snape in a threatening manner. "I don't have time for this," Karkaroff huffed dramatically. "Auror Potter is downstairs, now hand over the boy!"
Several things happened at once. Charlie, who was polyjuiced as Nathaniel, bolted from Severus's side, running past Igor's claws straight down to where he knew Hog's Head's cellar door to be. Severus, used Karkaroff's momentary distraction to cast a hex at the man. But Karkaroff was skilled in his own right and the little diversion wasn't enough to throw him off his game. He blocked Severus's hex and threw a curse of his own. The curse bounced of Snape's shield and landed on a table. Neither man cared that it had exploded, nor did they bother to bat at the wood that bombarded hem. No, these men only had one goal: to see the other man die.
Charlie wasn't having much luck himself. Yes, he had the element of surprise, but seeing Rita Skeeter towering menacingly over Harry was….disturbing. It was almost funny, how the three of them stared at each other dumbly. Harry looked angry and confused. Charlie was shocked and Rita, was as well. That lasted for all of six seconds and then Rita was casting a binding curse at him. Movement was a bit...different in his new body, but Charlie made the best of this deception. Lucky for him, it seemed Rita was reluctant to hurt her lover's son even if said boy was casting some pretty nasty spells. "Quit it you brat!" Rita huffed, as she deflected another hex. "Is this any way to treat your future mother?"
Her words fell on deaf ears and the polyjuiced Nathaniel continued his attack. Harry, in the midst of the struggle, broke free from his bonds. He tackled Rita to the ground and the two made short work of the snide reporter. "Those were some pretty advanced spells, kid," Harry panted, as he fished through Ms. Skeeter's robes for his wand.
The would-be Nathaniel chuckled, "I'm hardly a kid."
Harry did a double take, "If you're not Nathaniel, than who-Charlie?"
"What gave it away?"
"Your hair is taking on a redder tint, and well, Ron's not available. And I finally recognized your wand," Potter explained.
"Well, my job is to get you out of here-so we'd best get on with it," the ever-turning Nathaniel ordered. He pulled out the prepared portkey, but the look on Harry's face made him pause. He sighed. "I suppose we could go back upstairs and help Severus."
Harry looked pleased and Charlie just shook his head wearily. "All I know is, you better stay safe otherwise Ginny will kill me."
Racing upstairs, the two men, as the polyjuice had now completely worn off, saw Severus beating the snot out of Igor. They were both battered and bloody-rips throughout their clothing, although Karkaroff's was in a much worse state. Harry's bones chilled as he realized Snape planned to kill this man in cold blood. He ran towards the brawling men, pulling at Severus's shoulders. Anything to stop him from earning a one way ticket to Azkaban. "That's enough Severus!" He yelled trying to snap the dark man out of his bloodlust. It was hard, because regardless of being on the wrong end of the Potions Master's fist, Igor was still talking smack. Eventually it took both him and Charlie to wrench them apart.
Snape staggered back, clenching and unclenching his hands as he got in control of his rage. Karkaroff was struggling to sit up. With more calm than he had previously, Harry watched as Severus walked back to Igor. Harry cast a worried glance at Charlie and they both prepared to prevent him from doing anything foolish. Severus grabbed Igor by what was left of his collar and hauled him up into a standing position. There were face to face and his dark eyes were hard and cold. The words he spoke were in a tone so deadly, Harry found himself taking an involuntary step back. The room was still as Severus said his parting words: "You will remember this day," He sneered, "As you rot in your cell in Azkaban and you will wish that I had taken your life." He dropped him into a heap, kicking him as he swept from the room. Even with robes tattered as they were, Harry remarked that Severus Snape's gait was as elegant as ever.
Later, when recounting this story of how they had captured Igor Karkaroff, Charlie could be heard praising Severus's fighting skills with one word: