A/N: Halloween is hardly ever a reason to celebrate in the Land of Potter. Here, though, I hope we can change that. Just a little. Happy Halloween.
doom: fate or destiny
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
31 October 2002
"I'll be fine, Hermione. Neville. It's necessary that it happens this way." He blew out a breath and glanced beyond Hermione's shoulder to where Severus Snape waited. Tension radiated from the Potions Master in nearly visible waves. "Truly." Extending a hand to Neville, he nodded. "Thank you for being willing to fight."
Neville Longbottom grimaced. "Sword of Gryffindor worked before. I imagine it will again." He touched the hilt of the ancient weapon that was strapped to his hips. "You're sure, Harry?" he asked for what had to be the fifth time since night fell over Hogwarts.
Harry smiled a little. "I am."
He turned then to Hermione and felt his heart turn over at the strength and caring he saw in her fierce brown eyes. Seeing her again, after what had happened in her fourth year, he'd about doubled over in shame and regret. Looking at her, a man would never know that she was scarred by dragon fire from her shoulder blades to the backs of her calves. Because of him, more or less. And nothing he could say or do could make up for that. "You're sure you're up for this?"
She scoffed, a smile quirking her lips, her gaze softening. "Of course. You've trained us well, Professor Potter, and between Nev and me, we've got your back."
"Potter. If you're quite finished?"
Neville shook his hand again and Hermione hugged him in the way that only she could. "Please, be careful. And stay away from fire," he whispered over her head, briefly indulging in a quick inhale of her scent. She smelled like chocolate and cinnamon, for she'd been baking recently. The House-Elves gave her access to their ovens, which was high praise for them.
"You've the wand?" she asked him just as quietly, her arms still around his waist. His heart raced just a bit, despite what was about to come.
"Yes. You've my cloak?"
She laughed and pulled lightly away from him to stand by Neville's side. "I do. I've been studying it the past few days. Did you know it was adjustable?"
Shocked, Harry just stared at her. "No! And all this time I've just been . . ."
Neville chuckled and smoothed a hand over Hermione's hair. "This one, you know, never satisfied with how things are. Always after to make them better." Hermione blushed and Neville grinned at her. "It's true!"
Hermione rolled her eyes. "All right. I know we have to get going. Now, remember, Harry. This is all a play. Theatre. Please, know I don't mean any of the things I've got to yell at you, all right?"
Neville, expression serious, nodded his agreement. "We've rehearsed, so you've got a good show coming." He slid a glance to Snape. "You as well, Severus."
The dour man sighed in a dramatic manner. "Imagine my excitement. Can we get on with it? I cast the Notice-Me-Not a while ago and there are," he said, taking a long breath, "hordes of young people out there, celebrating and making, as they say, merry. Let's not take any chances."
"Right." Harry swallowed and blinked as the secret passage in which they had been meeting became transformed.
Neville and Hermione were creating a festive, Halloween ball scene in this tiny place. Two tables popped into existence, torches and candles flared with charmed illumination, and music drifted unobtrusively, as if a band were playing on the other side of a large hall. Then, with sweeps of their wands, both Hermione and Neville were garbed in fashionable—yet still professor-appropriate—formal robes. Neville looked every inch the Scion of House Longbottom in black silk with a white vest and tie. He had been rather a clumsy, chunky boy when they'd been eleven, but clearly that had changed. Harry felt mildly envious, even though he was supposed to be preparing for the evening's confrontation.
He let the envy fester; it would serve him well in the next few minutes.
Hermione conjured a mirror and checked her hair. After adjusting a curl, she offered the mirror to Neville, who basically ignored it with the confidence of a man who knew he had nothing to alter. More of that insidious jealousy wormed its way into his awareness. Hermione . . . well, she matched Neville in all particulars, from her comportment to the elegant white accents on her black silk gown.
Perhaps something of his inner turmoil was visible to her. She smiled gently at him, and he tried to smile back, but it was hard, for suddenly, ten years seemed to blow between them. Ten years where he had fled, trained, been educated, fought, and even hidden when absolutely necessary. Ten years in which she had stayed, endured pain and suffering, endured losses incalculable, been shut up in a castle, but still . . . she smiled. And baked. And developed good relationships with so many people.
"You're kind of amazing, Hermione. Did you know that?"
She blushed and shook her head a little. "Not really. Just doing what I can. So. Remember, this is a play. So," she went on, reaching into a little beaded bag she carried. "Here you go. A bottle of Ogden's Finest."
He laughed abruptly, taking the heavy bottle and settling himself at the nearest conjured table. For the sake of their "play" Hermione and Neville went to the other one, sitting and exchanging quiet words that he couldn't hear.
And then, it started. He poured a shot of firewhisky and downed it in one swallow. It hit him hard—he was not a drinker, but he had actually done a couple of shots this past week so as to prepare himself—but he waited until the pleasant burn began and licked his lips, sinking into his chair.
Hermione rose to her feet, her back stiff. "I have to, Nev. I have to talk to him." Harry watched her from hooded eyes as she approached his table. Candlelight caught the gold in her hair and even with a disdainful curl to her lip, Harry thought she was beautiful. "What are you doing?" she demanded, her voice harsh but quiet. "You're supposed to be a chaperone!"
"It's Halloween," he reminded her, pouring out another shot of firewhisky. "The anniversary of my parents' deaths, Hermione. How can I play chaperone?"
"The same way I am," she snapped. "My parents are dead too, remember?"
He blinked up at her, cringing inside, but outwardly trying to appear apathetic. "At least you had time with them," he reminded her.
She bristled and flicked her hand so that her wand appeared. She whispered a soft incantation that muted the music and Harry imagined she'd done a muffling charm so that they wouldn't be overheard. "It's your fault my parents are dead! Your fault the Death Eaters showed up at my house after fourth year. After that bloody Tournament!" With a pass of her hand, she all but shouted, "Finite!" And there, before his eyes, a word appeared on her inner arm.
His blood froze in his veins as he stared at the word, angry and red even yet, that marred the skin of her arm. But then he remembered what she had said: "This is all a play. Theatre." Okay, so she put this on her arm to show him for the play. He had to believe that.
"What the hell?" he demanded, coming slowly to his feet, sipping barely from his glass.
Neville crossed the floor and put his arm loosely over Hermione's shoulder. "The Death Eaters did that, Harry," the other man said when Hermione couldn't seem to look at Harry. "They killed her parents, made her watch, and then carved that into her arm."
"To remember them by. That's what she said. To remember them by." Hermione waved her hand and the word disappeared. "So don't sit here and wallow in your Ogden's," she said, lifting her head again. "It's your turn to work. Neville and I are going to dance."
At that, Neville Longbottom escorted Hermione Granger to the space between the tables and the music grew a bit louder. Harry watched them, his gut churning in horror at even the thought of Hermione having to watch her parents be murdered. He knew they'd been killed—it was horrible and he'd sent her a letter despite what Sirius had directed—but that she'd been there? She'd never told him.
"Don't they look charming?" Severus Snape's dark, sneering voice interrupted his fraught musings. "You know, they've been close since you left school. Ten years, I think it's been?"
"Shut up, Snape," Harry snapped before drinking the rest of his shot. "Just. No." With a practiced move, he slammed the glass on the table, turned on his heel, and left the carefully contrived ball scene.
Severus Snape followed him. "Potter."
In the dark corridor, near the door that would lead outside, Harry turned about once again. "What? What could you possibly have to say to me?" he asked, snapping his holly wand into his right hand.
Snape lifted one brow. "Petrificus Totalis."
Even though Harry had known it was coming, he was still vastly disconcerted to be petrified by Severus Snape. The Potions Master then confiscated his wand and tucked it into a pocket of his heavy robes before sneering. "Well, well. I never thought I'd see the day, Potter. Come, I've someone outside who is eager to meet with you again." With a nonverbal cast, Severus had Harry floating in what the younger man believed was a Mobilicorpus, accompanied by a Notice-Me-Not. The two of them left Hogwarts through a hidden passage, out through a door, and into the dark, cloudy night.
Harry first sorted his mind, for it was all he could do. His body was bound, but his mind was free to set up his Occlumency shields, whilst leaving the most recent scene in the faux Halloween Ball intact and on display, as well as his feelings of envy and regret.
He hid the scenes that came before. The one with Severus was particularly dangerous, so Harry tucked it far, far away.
The Potion Master's private lab was incredibly clean. Almost as if it were in a sterile Muggle hospital. Severus Snape dominated the room by virtue of his robes and the dark power in his gaze. "Potter."
"Snape. Thank you for seeing me. You've met with Albus?" Harry had not presumed to do so much as lean on a worktable, so he stood near the door, hands in his pockets so as to be as humble and non-threatening as possible. At Snape's nod, Harry continued. "Good. So the plan is for you to tell him that I'll be here, coming back to teach—"
The older man flicked a bit of lint from his sleeve. "Yes, yes. So much we know already, Potter. And I am to keep an eye on you, waiting until you're vulnerable, which I would guess to be on Halloween, as you're as maudlin as Black and likely have been having an annual pity party."
The words had been careless and perhaps cruel, but Harry had seen the brief flash of grief in Snape's eyes. He didn't blame him for it; he was just grateful he hadn't been under Snape's tutelage for all of his education. "Precisely. So you'll find me and take me out and . . .? How do you plan on notifying him?"
With a smirk, Snape said, "Morsmordre. It will be the ultimate declaration. I do anticipate he will bring an audience, so be aware."
"I'll have one as well. Thank you. Until Halloween, then."
So far, Harry reflected as they made their way to the Forbidden Forest—which was the most concealed location Harry could have chosen, as well as being far enough from Hogwarts proper to keep the students unaware, and far enough from Hogsmeade to keep the villagers safe from becoming collateral damage—the plan had been going as predicted. He'd met with Neville as well, weeks before.
Over bottles of butterbeer in Harry's quarters—Harry hadn't chosen to bring all his home furnishings, so he was basically living Back to Basics as if he were a Muggle uni student, though he was a professor—Neville and Harry had made an effort to catch up on one another. Ten years was a long time, though, and Harry knew that neither of them were being entirely open.
That was fine. Harry wasn't prepared to bare his soul to anyone. At that time, he'd been back at his old school for perhaps a month, and learning how to be a good Defense professor had taken a lot of his time.
"So what do you want from me, then, Harry?" Neville had asked with a lopsided smile. "Sounds like you've trained enough to be a one-man war."
Harry had felt himself blush. "Not really. I have been trained to defend myself, though, and to bring the fight to one wizard in particular."
"The Dark Wanker." At Harry's nod, Neville sighed and swirled his butterbeer bottle in the puddle of condensation that had formed on the small square table in Harry's living space. Light from the smokeless candles reflected artistically in the moisture as he did so. "We've not had the best education in D.A.D.A., Harry. But, my gran has let me learn to fence, so I've got that handled." Harry cocked a brow at him and Neville chuckled. "No, really. Hermione as well. She felt it would be wise to have a back-up plan."
The other man's admiration of Hermione Granger was clear in the warmth of his brown eyes, but Harry didn't say anything to that. He merely asked, "Back-up plan?"
Neville took a long swallow of his drink. "Yeah. It's been hard for her, as Muggle-born, you know. She's basically been stuck here in the castle, because the Dark Wanker has been after trying to arrest witches like her. Either to accuse them of stealing magic or to give them to, to one of them for, er, entertainment." Both men blushed brightly, but Harry could see the fury overtake Neville. He felt an equal anger in himself. "So, she stays here. Safest place for a witch in the United Kingdom, yeah? You know they won't even let her sit for any of her masteries? That's why I took her in to my House, by the way. In case that gets back to you."
It felt as if a rock had settled in Harry's midsection. "Pardon?"
Neville asked silent permission before Summoning another drink from the collection along one wall of Harry's room. "I talked to my grandmother and told her I wanted to bring Hermione into House Longbottom to give her some form of magical protection. That was after, you know, the Tournament. Her parents . . ." Neville frowned and took three long pulls on his butterbeer. Harry felt ill as regret consumed him almost entirely. "She told you about her parents?"
"Briefly. I had heard, you know. Sent her a letter and flowers and all . . . the proper thing, but I couldn't do more. Sirius just about hexed me when he'd found I did that much. He was really worried we'd be found, you see."
"Oh, I can believe it. And I know why. The headmaster spoke with me and Gran. We know . . . all the reasons, really." The men sighed in tandem, which had made Harry smile for a moment. "So. Yes. I'm with you. So is she. Hermione, I mean. Gran, too. The woman was a bloody fine duelist, you know. She's kept at it."
"Good. Sirius and Remus are coordinating with the Aurors and some others, as well. What I'd like most, from you and Hermione, I guess, is to give me a reason to get 'careless' with my drinking one night so that I can be taken to—what did you call him?—the Dark Wanker. And I'll need someone to have my back."
"Done and done."
"Severus. Is that you?"
The harsh, aspirated challenge came from somewhere ahead, and Harry couldn't see if there was a face or mask attached to it. He guessed they were at the boundary to the Forbidden Forest, though.
Snape stopped their forward momentum. "It is. And I've brought company for the Dark Lord."
A sudden flurry of motion could be heard and Harry did a quick check on his shields once again, reminding himself of the Elder Wand that he had secreted in a seam of his formal ball robes. He'd "won" the wand from Albus Dumbledore himself over a year ago, in a formal duel in front of witnesses. Albus had made him work for it, though the outcome had never been in doubt. The Elder Wand responded to Harry's own magic brilliantly, but he rarely used it. It was what he might call a secret weapon.
Responding likely to some silent signal, Severus removed the disillusionment spell with a careful utterance of "Finite." As Harry still couldn't move, he resigned himself to being towed to a place before Riddle without benefit of being on his feet. Dumbledore had indicated Snape was trustworthy, and indeed all had gone well to date, so Harry did his best not to add the worry of imminent betrayal to everything else.
Tom Marvolo Riddle, also known as The Dark Wanker who called himself Lord Voldemort, was ahead somewhere. And he was going to endeavor to put paid to the account of one Harry James Potter. Again. Because it didn't work on Halloween in 1981, it didn't work in 1992, and none of the Death Eater Wannabes who had tracked him, Sirius, and Remus down in the past few years had been able to pull it off, either.
Tonight, though, Harry was determined to put paid to Riddle's account. No "third time lucky" for that wizard.
Trees. Foliage. Dark shadows came between Harry's vision and the lighter gray clouds that stirred listlessly far above. The chill in the air was not entirely due to the change of venue, he believed.
Bloody hell! Dementors!
He couldn't protest. Couldn't say a thing. Couldn't even cast his Patronus. All he could do was hope he was wrong.
Somewhere, not far from where he was, Sirius and Remus would have likely already gathered and Disillusioned a prime cadre of Aurors. They would be on hand to take down the Death Eaters (aside from Snape).
Somewhere, somewhere close he hoped with everything he had, would be Hermione and Neville. Hidden under his cloak.
He liked that, deep down. It meant that, in some way, he could help to protect her now when he hadn't been able to do it before.
Shit. Show time.
Snape dropped to his knee. Harry could see him do so. Harry was at that time lowered to the ground, which made him feel slightly less vulnerable. Around them, he could hear the movements of many people, whispering, muttering.
"Boy Who Wished He Lived."
"Where's he been?"
"Last piece of this bloody puzzle."
"Here he is, my lord. As promised." Severus's voice was no less deep, no less compelling, Harry thought. Not in the least subservient, but then he was bringing his lord a prize, wasn't he? "Moping over his mum, deep in a bottle of Ogden's."
Laughter followed, which he did not appreciate, but he let it flow over him. He had a prophecy to fulfill, damn it.
"Ah, of courssssssse he wassssss. And now, he can prepare himself to see them again. Release his binding, Severussss."
"Finite Incantatem," the dark man said.
Harry rolled over and up immediately, pretending to go for his wand. Severus sighed dramatically. "Foolish man. I took it, remember?"
Harry then met the blood-red eyes of his mortal enemy: Tom Riddle. The man didn't even look human and Harry wondered how they had brought him back. Did they use a snake? "Tom," he said, his voice firm. "How are you?"
Wands flew out all around them, but the noseless, lipless wonder across from him held up a skeletal hand. "Away, with the wands. He is mine. Remember the prophecy. Mine! Legilimens!"
Harry flinched, but he knew he'd prepared adequately as Riddle could be felt, a cold malevolence seeping into his head where part of his spirit dwelt. It was sickening, but it was also reassuring. Even as Riddle was thusly occupied, Harry heard a slithering sound nearby. A hissing that he completely understood.
The familiar. Snape had warned them long ago about the familiar. Nagini was her name. Intruders, the snake called. I smell them!
But no one understood, for Tom Riddle's entire awareness was surrounded by Harry's mind. He'd practiced for years. The memories he allowed to ripple above his shields. The memory of his mother crying out to spare his life. The memories of being on the run. Of having to abandon Hermione to the Tournament even though he wanted nothing more than to return to her, because his most constant friend was in danger. The memories of being hexed by a lucky Death Eater four years ago. And . . . the final memory.
"It's your fault my parents are dead!" Neville taking Hermione from him to dance. The jealousy that seethed under his skin, making his fingers twitch.
Human! I will kill—!
The snake called for her bonded wizard, but it was too late! She was, aside from Harry himself, the very last horcrux.
Riddle felt that, Harry was sure, and he jerked himself with a violent shriek out of Harry's mind. "What have you done? What. Have. You. Done!" He spun, his robes flying out about him. "You! Find them! Find her! Find Nagini or the one who killed her. Now!"
Snape regained his feet and stood just behind and to the left of Harry himself, one hand on Harry's shoulder. This kept him out of the fray with a purpose, for all the other Death Eaters immediately scattered into the murky depths of the forest. Harry's heart lurched for Neville and Hermione were close and he didn't know, now, what would happen to them.
Still, it was his moment and he had to make it count, so he shut his mind and drew the Elder Wand. "Tom! Expelliarmus!" And he cast a powerful Protego about himself and Severus Snape.
Riddle was prepared, though, for he had brought another wand himself. Even as one went flying, the other came into play.
Harry didn't wait to see what kind of messy end Riddle had planned for him. With a broad, but correct, motion of his wand, he shouted, "Diffindo!" while simultaneously casting wandlessly about him and Snape to shore up against any physical attacks.
"Avada Kedavra!" Riddle began before the cutting hex took full effect.
"Shit!" Harry cried, but he held on, for if he died, the final horcrux would as well.
A voice, somewhere a voice, a feminine voice, called, "Harry! No!"
And he felt the world slip away from under him. But he tried to smile, for he knew that voice. And she would be safe, now. Safe. Safe with Neville.
"You can't die, damn you. No, no, no!"
The demand was breathless, rhythmic, like the—the compressions on his chest. CPR. Someone was giving him CPR.
"Now, breathe, Neville."
Neville? His name was not Neville. It was Harry.
A mouth covered his and air was forced into his body. Harry felt it, but wasn't breathing. Heard it, but his heart wasn't beating. He was there but not there and it was dark and loud.
"No. No. No. No. Live, Harry. Live! Talk to him Nev, after another breath."
Air pushed in again as his chest was pushed in and let out. Then, Neville. Neville. Oh, Neville! So the girl with the rhythm was Hermione. Had to be.
Neville spoke. "I got the snake, Harry. With the sword. Like you said. And all the Death Eaters swarmed like, like acromantulae. It was creepy, but good, because we knew they were getting away from you."
"And we came back to you and, and Riddle, Harry." Her words were measured, pushed, with the compressions. He tried to answer, but he couldn't. He had no air. He had no blood. He had only that weird, imperfect presence. "Neville told me the prophecy. Breathe!"
Neville picked up the tale, Harry heard, whilst Hermione continued to work on him. "And Severus . . . Severus was standing over you. Wand out. And the Dark Wanker trying to heal his neck from where you'd hexed him, Harry. And Severus cursed him with something that made his whole body open up and bleed. Everywhere."
"He's. Dead. Harry. You can't die. No. No. No."
So, he hadn't killed Riddle. Snape had. The idea was amusing, if ironic, and Harry could laugh as he felt his mind go light, airy, as if a great weight had been lifted from it. From him. And he . . . could . . . breathe.
"Ow," he whispered.
The compressions stopped.
"Severus Snape, Hero of Halloween," Hermione read the following morning, fluttering the Daily Prophet with an impatient gesture. They were sitting at the Head Table, which was sparsely populated as many revelers from the previous evening's ball hadn't made an appearance yet. No lingering decorations lurked in the corners of the room; the house-elves had cleaned everything to a polish.
Severus Snape was being fêted in the Slytherin common room, so he wasn't there for comment.
Harry downed another potion—Poppy Pomfrey had insisted—before pouring himself another cup of tea. "He did the job, Hermione." He watched her read the article, enjoying her frown, the way she twitched her nose and glared expressively at the paper. "It's good. He can be the hero and I can . . ."
She shifted her focus to him in a heartbeat. "You can what?" Her whole body stilled and even the paper didn't rustle in her grip.
He set down his cup carefully, his gaze not leaving her face. "I can just be a professor, now?" It came out like a question, because he honestly wanted to know if that met with her approval. If he, if he himself met with her approval.
After the defeat of Tom Riddle the night before, they'd gone back to the castle, leaving Sirius and Remus to watch over Riddle's corpse. Neville, Hermione, Severus, and Harry himself. All to the Hospital Wing. Severus was declared fine, despite the ruination of his lower left arm. It could be repaired and would be. The Dark Mark was cursed, after all. Neville left them as well, claiming exhaustion. He took the Sword of Gryffindor with him.
And Hermione stayed. She was drained. How long she had been working on him whilst the Aurors had hunted stray Death Eaters, he would never know.
Harry himself had needed Skele-Gro, for the force of her compressions had cracked two of his ribs. He never thought of complaining.
"Thank you," he'd murmured as a potion sent him to sleep. "Thank you for saving my life."
"Now we're even," she'd muttered in return.
Neville hadn't stayed with her last night in the Infimary. Nor had he joined them at their end of the Head Table this morning. He'd smiled at Harry in an encouraging manner before piling breakfast on a plate and disappearing from the Great Hall.
"You're a wonderful professor, Harry," Hermione assured him, rustling the paper again before folding it and setting it up to read whilst she finished eating. "I know I've learnt a great deal in just two months. I imagine our students will do likewise."
"And maybe you can get your masteries, now," he said, going along with her calm demeanor and snagging more bacon rashers from a central plate. "Neville said you'd studied."
"I want proof that the Ministry is cleared out, first," she insisted, tapping her fork on the edge of her plate it what appeared to be irritation.
Sirius and Remus entered the Great Hall then, and his godfather gave Harry a little lift of a brow, as if in silent query.
Harry blushed and shook his head.
Well, go on! Sirius's expression seemed to say.
They'd been teasing him since he'd settled in Hogwarts at the end of August. "Are you going to ask her out? She's not married Longbottom, has she?" And so on. He'd ignored their pushes because he'd had a job to do and she had appeared to be content with Neville. Except, it wasn't exactly as it had appeared, was it?
C'mon, he told himself, taking a fortifying sip of his cooling tea. You faced The Dark Wanker last night and he's dead now. And Neville has obviously left the field open.
"If you aren't ready for the Ministry, might you be ready for, say, Hogsmeade?"
She blinked at him over a piece of toast. "Hm?"
"We, er, didn't get to do any of that stuff, you know, before."
She swallowed her food and licked at her lower lip before half-turning in her seat to stare at him. "Harry? Are you asking me to go to Hogsmeade with you like a couple of third years?"
He almost said that he was, but he took a moment and decided to jump in with both feet. So he took her hand, ignoring his godfather's flashing grin down the table. "How about like a couple of professors, instead?"
She blushed, but grinned and nodded. "I'd like that."
"By the way, thank you," she said, still holding his hand.
He squeezed her hand but didn't drop it yet. "For what?"
"For coming back to us." Her expression was serious, solemn. "I wasn't sure you'd want to. I mean, your parents are on the other side."
"But you, you're on this one."
"And so are you. We're finally in the same place."
He chuckled and squeezed her hand again before letting it go so he could drink his tea. His heart was pounding and he was grinning like an idiot. Sirius and Remus certainly were.
And Hermione? She was smiling beatifically, even at the Daily Prophet. "Two days," she murmured.
His smile was beatific as well.
Halloween, a day he had always dreaded, would now be a day of new beginnings. For on that day, he had fulfilled a prophecy, even it had been by dying, got rid of that damned horcrux in his head, and he'd found a new reason to live.
Perhaps next Halloween, he'd have something amazing to celebrate.
A/N: Imagine that. :)