Harry, Ron and Hermione leapt from their seats and ran for the door to the Charms classroom immediately. Neville took just a moment to appear beside them, wand drawn. Their reflexes had been honed by months of training, and a part of each longed to use their skills. The yelling was coming from outside the castle, and the fear and panic was unmistakable.
The four reached the main doors to the castle as a group of students came running through. Hermione tried to stop them for information, but Harry spotted black robes rushing from behind them and shouted to his friends.
Ducking behind the archway, Harry hit the lead Death Eater full in the chest with a blasting curse, sending the man cartwheeling back. A second wizard appeared, this one walking more cautiously. Harry tried another blasting curse, but the Death Eater blocked it. He returned fire with a curse of his own, but it was deflected before Harry had a chance to respond. Flitwick stood beside him.
"I'll handle this, Mr. Potter. You and the other students go into the main hall. They'll have need for you if anyone enters the castle."
"No," Harry replied quickly, taking a moment to throw a petrifying spell at the advancing wizard. The Death Eater blocked it easily, along with the Expelliarmus that quickly followed. "Everyone, go with Flitwick to the main hall. Whoever's coming doesn't know it's more than just me here. If I surrender to him, he'll probably take me to Voldemort right away. The longer this goes on, the more this will look like a trap."
"Are you sure about this, Mr. Potter?" Flitwick asked. His friends just watched him in silence. They had all promised that when the time came, they'd let him make this decision.
"I am. Let them think I'm a coward turning myself once I saw Hogwarts isn't safe. He's coming faster."
Harry took a single potion from his belt and drank it in a single gulp, then handed the belt to Ron. The group left him alone, though Harry knew how hard it must have been for them. "Thank Merlin Severus isn't here."
Harry stepped out into the open doorway, arms held wide and his wand visible.
"I'd like to speak to the Dark Lord," he called out to the Death Eater before the other wizard had a chance to blast him.
"Take me for a fool, boy?" The masked wizard called back. Harry recognized the voice from the many meetings he had spied upon through Voldemort's eyes, but he could not associate a name. It did not matter anyway.
"Take my wand, then. But hurry. The teachers will be here soon." He was going to add that Voldemort probably wanted him alive, but the Stupefy hit him square in the chest first.
Severus took the stairs up from the Potions classroom two at a time. The Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff third years he had been teaching were heading to the Great Hall as ordered. Severus's only thoughts were of Harry. He knew the Death Eaters would do as much damage as they could to the school and its students, but Harry was surely the target. Rounding the corner, he nearly collided with the Granger girl.
"Harry?" Severus asked, scanning the corridor beyond for a sign of the boy. He noticed Weasley coming up behind, holding one of the potions belt. That was all the answer he needed.
"Harry asked to talk to You-Know-Who," Granger said. "I don't know who he asked. They're all wearing masks. But they're gone. Professors Flitwick and McGonagall are at the front doors. They said more teachers were coming to help them. They sent us with everyone else to the Great Hall. Neville went there to find the Headmaster, but we came looking for you instead."
It took all of his years of practice to control his fear and push it aside. There were still sounds of fighting, so the battle had not ended with Harry's disappearance. He took the belt from Weasley and strapped it around himself just higher than the one he was already wearing. "Stay close to me. When Harry calls, we won't have much time. Remember your training," he said to them both. "Jones and I have drilled as much into you as we can. Trust in that." The pair nodded, looking terrified and determined.
"Where did they come from?"
Granger replied that the first shouting had been from outside. He considered their next move when a messenger spell sped to him.
"Death Eaters in the Owelry. Come," Severus ordered, breaking into a run, expecting the two to follow him. They were halfway to the stairs to the tower when a blasting curse sent shards of the stone wall between him and Weasley. Ducking into a niche in the wall, the three huddled close as another spell flew past.
"Go on," Granger said quickly, casting a spell blindly down the hallway. "I'll catch up." Keeping low, she peered down the hallway and let fly a string of hexes. A shouted curse suggested a hit, but another blasting curse crashed into the wall near them. Granger cast a shield spell and held it across the hallway. Severus grabbed Weasley's arm and started running.
"Wait!" The boy yelled. "Hermione!" Severus yanked harder and looked back in time to see a spell bounce off the shield and crash into the wall.
"She'll be fine, you idiot. You won't be if I have to drag you all the way to the Owlery."
They reached the staircase and Severus did not slow his pace as he started climbing.
"We're not supposed to split up," Weasley argued. "When we trained-"
"When we trained, Harry was there to be protected," Severus shot back with a bitterness in his voice he had not anticipated. He stopped and turned to Weasley. "Plans change. One thing that has not: if you run into a Death Eater, it's kill or be killed. Do you understand?"
Ron looked taken aback for a moment, then recovered, straightening his back and nodding.
Footsteps from above caused them both to press against the wall. Severus considered their position. There was little room to maneuver on the spiral staircase. There was nowhere to hide that would not be exposed once the Death Eaters came closer. He pulled a large bottle from his potions belt and held it for Weasley to see, trusting him to recognize it. Ron responded by pulling out a small vial from his own belt, which Severus identified as the antidote. Taking his own dose, Severus waited until the first booted foot came into view and pitched it as far up the stairs as he could. It shattered against a wall, and within second the first body came falling from above and crumpled to a heap just a few feet ahead of the pair.
"I'll finish up here," Severus said to Weasley. "Go back to Miss Granger and see if she still needs help. If not, I'll meet you both at the bottom of the stairs."
Whether he had some sense of what Severus planned and wanted to be away from it, or he wanted to go help the girl, Severus did not know. Either way, he did not argue as he turned away and hurried down. Severus listened carefully for sounds of anyone who escaped the sleeping potion. It was lighter than air and the tower had only a few, very small windows. He expected by now even the owls were asleep.
Creeping up the staircase with his wand in one hand and his knife in the other, Severus came across a total of six Death Eaters. Four he knew; the other two looked young enough to have been Durmstrang students. He cleanly slit their throats and left their bodies piled in the Owlrey.
Downstairs, he found Weasley and Granger waiting for him. "She took out three Death Eaters in the hallway," Weasley boasted. Granger looked troubled, though, and Severus suspected she had been forced to kill at least one of them.
"You or them, Granger," Severus said, simply. He led them back to the Great Hall where he knew Albus and whomever he had managed to call from the Order would be waiting. Harry's plans notwithstanding, Albus and the faculty had been expecting an attack from the Death Eaters for years and everyone knew their role.
In the Hall, the students were seated along their tables, but facing out on the benches to make a quick evacuation easier. Several wands were pointed at the group as Severus followed the two students in and pushed the door closed again. He noted Longbottom and the Weasley girl's wands among them. To his left, Lovegood sat at the edge of the Ravenclaw bench closest to the door, her wand also in hand. Severus expected Granger and Weasley to return to their house, but they stayed close to him as he strode down the center aisle to the dais where Albus stood. The rest of the faculty was spaced evenly along the walls and between the Houses' tables.
"The Owlery is secure," Severus told Albus. "I have sealed the hatch from below. Send someone with a strong stomach to clean up." He knew Albus would understand. "There are three more in the corridor south of the tower as well. Miss Granger dispatched them."
"Good work, Miss Granger," Albus said. Granger barely nodded in acknowledgement. "I believe the danger has passed, then. At least for now."
"Headmaster?" Weasley spoke up. "How did they get in? Is Dean. . ."
"Mr. Thomas is, to the best of my knowledge, safe and sound in Ministry care. I'm afraid the attack began at Hagrid's hut. A griffin came in last night favoring a leg. Hagrid was nursing it back to health."
"A griffin?" Weasley asked.
"Of course," Granger answered, looking more herself. "A spell that powerful would need something powerful to drain. A wizard, or a magical creature."
"Quite right," Albus said. Severus felt himself losing patience with the magic lesson. He knew he could do nothing until Harry called for him, but the knowledge that he could do nothing just made things that much harder.
"We'll need to find out how they made it into the Owlery," Longbottom added, surprising Severus who had not even noticed him approach.
Albus dispatched Tonks to investigate, knowing she would do whatever was needed to be done with the bodies in the tower as well. Moments after she left, Severus's arm began to tingle.
Harry regained consciousness, sore from head to foot. He blinked, trying to get the world around him into focus before realizing that his glasses were missing. Fighting the urge to panic, Harry lifted his head off the stone floor and tried to get his bearings. The room he was in was lit but just barely. Ahead of him was a doorway but he could make nothing out beyond it.
Rising to his knees, he could see the magenta and gold blur of a carpet spread in front of him, and beyond that the outline of a dark table. He recognized where he was. He was in what he had come to refer to as Voldemort's study. It was where the Dark Lord spent most of his time, and Harry knew it well. With his wits returning, Harry quickly turned his thoughts away from those dangerous memories and concentrated on wondering where Voldemort was.
He was not in suspense very long.
"Mr. Potter," Voldemort's voice hissed from behind him. "I went through so much trouble breaching Hogwarts's wards, just to find you wanted to come here all along." Harry spun and made a show of searching his robe pockets for his wand.
"Ah, what is a wizard without his wand, hm?" The Dark Lord asked. Harry could see him holding something up, he assumed it was his wand. Voldemort whispered something too quietly for Harry to hear and tapped his own wand against Harry's. Sparks flew and a screeching sound sent chills down Harry's spine. "The famous matching wand. Ollivander will regret making a twin to my own wand. But it no longer matters, does it?" Harry could just make out Voldemort as both of the Dark Lord's hands wrapped around the wand. A soft snick followed by the rattle of wood against the stone told Harry of the last moments of his wand. Despite all the self-control he was exercising, Harry could not hold back a small gasp.
"Now, tell me, Mr. Potter. Before I give you the death that is so long overdue you, what exactly do you think you can offer me? I assume you wish to beg for your life."
Harry brought all of his Occlumency training to bear as he responded, "A trade."
Voldemort laughed. The sound of it chilled Harry. "And what can you offer that I cannot simply take?"
"Me. Not just my life. I'll take the Dark Mark." Harry forced the words out. He was terrified, and balancing his thoughts between what he needed to say and what he could not think about was nearly impossible.
"You have my curiosity, Mr. Potter. Congratulations. Few who beg for their life live long enough to hear me refuse. And what do I give up in exchange for seeing Harry Potter become one of my Death Eaters?"
"Snape," Harry responded. This has not been a part of the plan, but Harry had to improvise. He needed something Voldemort would believe even through Legilimancy. "Remove the Dark Mark from Severus Snape and put it on me."
"You assume I can remove it," Voldemort responded, and Harry panicked at the thought that their assumptions had been wrong. He had no time to dwell on it, though, as the attack on his mind came almost immediately.
His mind filled with images of Snape, Dumbledore, his friends. He tried to block out as much as he could, but he let some of his feelings for Snape surface. The pressure on his mind increased, became unbearable, and his shields nearly broke. In desperation, Harry threw his most cherished memories between himself and Voldemort. The night Severus had told him he was welcome to his rooms whenever he wanted; the first time Severus kissed him; their first night together. Then everything stopped.
"Touching. My dear Severus has convinced you that you love him in order to free himself. He always played his parts well. No one knows the depths of his treachery as much as I." Voldemort made his way across the carpet to the single chair Harry knew was in the room. "I, and only I, can remove the Dark Mark from one of my own. But he will die with my Mark upon him." Despair filled Harry as Voldemort continued. "As will you."
Magical bindings wrapped tightly around Harry as he was pulled closer to Voldemort. It worked, then. At least the part that mattered did. Harry had the presence of mind to activate his bracelet just as he came within reach of the Dark Lord.
The pain was exactly as bad as Harry remembered. For a brief moment, Harry realized that the Limbless's Draught must be working. Hermione had pointed out that, unlike a regular Marking, Harry's had a chance of sending all of the pain of the spells back into Voldemort, who would in turn send it back into Harry. Even Voldemort, who seemed to enjoy his victim's pain so much, would notice when the agony intensified as it looped over and over through the Mark and Harry's scar. That was why Harry had taken the pain potion just before surrendering to the Death Eater. Relief that the plan and worked only lasted a moment, though, before the pain blocked everything out.
A kick in the chest brought Harry back to his senses. He had not lost consciousness entirely, but his arm burned as if on fire. Voldemort stood above him and the second kick took him square in the face. He knew his nose was broken, but he could do nothing but call out in more pain.
"And now, Mr. Potter, you finally die. I regret that I will not see Dumbledore's face when he finds his last hope dead and bearing my brand. If he survives my Death Eaters of course. They are quite anxious for his blood."
Harry's mind raced. He had assumed Voldemort would want to kill him quickly after Marking him, but he had hoped for enough time to finish his plan.
"My Lord!" Someone called from the doorway and a masked, robed form entered to quickly prostrate itself before Voldemort.
"What is it?" Voldemort screamed, his wand hand pointing at the intruder. Harry knew from experience that the man would pay for interrupting him, regardless of why.
"We're under attack, sir. The Order of the Phoenix-"
While the Death Eater spoke, Harry wasted no time. Reaching inside his robe, he found his other wand, the gift from Severus he had at first been so disappointed with. He had moved it from his wrist, instead strapping it to his side along his ribcage to hide it better in a search. Wand in hand, he peeled his sleeve away from where it had stuck to the open wound of the Dark Mark and muttered the unbinding spell.
The pain in his arm was bad, but nothing like during the Marking. His scar, though, burned as bad as it ever had. Harry prayed that his guess was right, and his hated link to Voldemort would protect him from what he had just done rather than kill him like a regular Death Eater. More importantly, he hoped the magic would use the scar and the Mark to find the other linked runes on the arms of the other Death Eaters. It was a huge gamble, but runes bound and controlled, and perhaps they were all bound through Harry's connection to the Dark Lord. If they were not, then all of this would be for nothing.
Not far away, the unknown Death Eater gasped and gripped his forearm. "I'm sorry, Lord!" Harry's heart jumped as he wondered if the pain was coming from what he had just done, or some punishment Voldemort was putting him through.
"Show me your Mark," Voldemort demanded, his voice too calm to indicate he had any idea what Harry had just done. "If the Order wishes a battle, we shall have one. Let them face the full strength of my force. We end this tonight."
The Death Eater knelt and presented his arm, pulling his sleeve back while his arms still shook from fear. Voldemort grabbed the man's wrist and yanked it up, twisting the arm in ways Harry knew had to be painful. Light flared from the tip of Voldemort's wand as he stared at the man's forearm
"What have you done?" Voldemort turned on Harry. "How have you done this?" He shoved the man's arm at Harry, dragging the rest of the Death Eater along. Without his glasses, Harry could not see enough to tell if the Mark was gone or not, but Voldemort had already given enough of an answer.
Harry screamed as the curse hit him. His back arched as his whole body tensed under the pain. It only last a few moments before the Dark Lord broke the spell, his attention turning again to the door.
"Wormtail," Voldemort began as something too small and distant for Harry to identify sailed through the air. It hit Voldemort before he could raise his wand, but seemed to have no effect. A wave of odor assaulted Harry, causing him to cough and his eyes to water. Like a mix of rotten eggs and burning plastic, the caustic fumes cause both Harry and the Death Eater beside him to wretch. Voldemort raised his wand hand as recognition came to Harry. He knew that smell. It was one of many Severus had forced them to learn. Smells of the potions at their belts.
In a single movement, Harry stood and swung his wand at Voldemort. "Incendio!" he called out. The ball of flame struck Voldemort just a moment before a second ball of fire erupted from the doorway. Harry pushed all of the magic he could find in himself into the stream of fire that engulfed the Dark Lord. Harry's screams joined Voldemorts as the flames coursed over him.
Harry was jostled awake. He was being carried at a run, though he had no idea where he was or where he was going. His eyes now open, he could see the blur of a robe covering one of the arms holding him. Beyond that, everything was dark. Harry had no idea if they were still inside or even who was holding him. He wondered if he was better off struggling or pretending to still be unconscious.
"It's okay, Harry," a voice said roughly between uneven breaths. "It's over." Though the words were right, Harry did not recognize the voice of the speaker and started to struggle to free himself.
"Dammit, Harry, I've got you. I'm not giving you up, so stop fighting."
"Who are you?" Harry demanded, still trying to free his arms, his legs kicking out weakly. He had no energy left to fight, but that had never stopped him before, nor did the pain throbbing in his left arm.
"Who do you think it is? Ms. Granger isn't the only one who can make Polyjuice, you idiot."
"Severus?" Harry asked, his voice wavering, losing what little force he had been able to put into it. The man holding him stopped running.
"Of course," came the soft reply.
"I can walk," Harry said. "Maybe even run if I need to."
Severus lowered Harry's legs and supported him while he stood up. "Good," Severus added. Harry had a hard time connecting the scratchy, nasally voice with his Severus. "I should have picked someone stronger. It's not far to the others." The man who was Severus but looked like Wormtail pointed and Harry could see a dim light further on.
"We're still in his dungeon. The Order is unsure how many Death Eaters are here now, so we are taking no chances. Neville, Ron and Hermione should be guarding our escape, while Albus and the others took the offensive. We're leaving immediately, and will leave the rest to the Order."
"Okay," Harry said, gripping the man's robes. "I can't see anything, though. You'll protect me if there's fighting." It was neither a question nor a command, simply a statement.
Severus took Harry's arm and let him through the hallway. If anyone was fighting, they were doing it quietly. Severus left Harry a few steps behind as he peered through the doorway, then quickly came back to retrieve him.
"Harry!" Ron shouted as they stepped into the room. Harry could see a red-topped blur running for them before he was swept into a bear-hug. "It worked! You're brilliant!"
"Ron!" Hermione called. "Put him down! Harry, Professor Snape, what about You-Know-Who?"
On hearing her words, Harry realized he had never asked Severus whether this was a victory or an escape.
"Dead," Severus replied confidently. "Nothing left but bone and ash."
"Bone and ash, you say?" A voice Harry identified as Dumbledore's asked from a dark corridor. "Where are these bones?"
Severus pointed back down the hallway. "You will want to make sure they are indeed his, and that there is no chance of his having survived."
"Quite right," Dumbledore replied. "Severus, Ron, Hermione, Neville, take Harry back to Hogwarts and have Poppy check on him." He pulled Harry into a hug. "Good job, my boy."
"Albus," Severus interrupted. "What about-" He pointed toward a dark blur in the corner that Harry could not make out.
"Ah," Dumbledore replied. "Well, it seems to me that that's Mr. Longbottom's decision. We'll discuss it back at the castle. For now, though, Harry's the priority."
"Agreed." Severus walked Harry out of the room and into another, explaining that the building and area was warded against Portkeys and apparating.
For the last time as a student at Hogwarts, Harry woke up in the infirmary with his friends anxiously waiting around him. Severus was noticeably absent, and Hermione explained that he had been there for some time but left after announcing he needed to brew something that would not wait. While Severus was gone, Harry had everyone tell their stories. He found out, to his amazement, that he had not encountered the first group of Death Eaters. Ginny and Luna had been in the greenhouse when the attack came. Professor Sprout had led the students back to the Great Hall at the first sign of trouble, but when three Death Eaters had intercepted the group, Ginny and Luna blasted them. Neville said he had stayed in the Great Hall during it all until Severus yelled for him to join them get Harry.
"They made us stay behind," Luna added. "When Professor Snape said you needed them, they made me and Ginny stay in the Great Hall. But that's okay. With most of the teachers and Aurors going to look for you, someone had to make sure there were no Death Eaters left." Her soft, lilting voice belied the courage and strength beneath her words.
"I'm surprised they let any of you come help me," Harry admitted.
"They didn't really talk about it," Ron said. "Snape said you needed help, then he yelled out for us, the Headmaster, and most of the Order members to grab hold of a Portkey. It happened so fast, mum and dad didn't even realize what was happening. Snape had them stay behind to help guard the rest of the students."
Harry laughed. "I bet he did it to bug your mum."
"I did it," Severus said, stepping around the curtain that separated Harry's bed from the rest of the room, "because your friends had trained for what we were going into, and their parents had not. I have already told them as such."
"And mum took that as an answer?" Ron asked, eyes wide.
"Of course not. I'm never to be in the same room with you again. And I should be locked up for taking three children with me to face a horde of Death Eaters."
"What'd you say to that?"
"I agreed. It seemed simpler than arguing with her."
"Huh," Ron said. "I should try that."
With Ron pondering a new approach to his mother, Severus turned to Neville. "Mr. Longbottom, a moment of your time?"
Neville nodded, looking as if he had expected to be summoned. They stepped across the room, too far for Harry to hear, but still within sight. They spoke for several seconds. Neville nodded once, then held his face in his hands as he began to cry. Severus reached out one hand awkwardly to touch Neville's shoulder. Madam Pomfrey rushed into view and hugged the boy. With a glare, she shooed the relieved-looking Potions Master away. From where he has in the bed facing out, Harry was the only one to see what had happened.
Severus returned to him, sweeping his robes around the friends huddled around Harry and sat in the chair at Harry's side. With Severus came a faint scent, one familiar to Harry though he could not place it. Whatever it was, it smelled pleasant. Luna sniffed at air, then leaned closer to the Potions Master, still testing the air.
"Oh my," Luna said. "Bellatrix is a squib now, isn't she?"
Harry was perplexed, and Severus glared at the girl.
"What makes you say that?" He asked her.
"Chocolate and hazelnut," she replied.
"Nutella?" Harry asked. Everyone but Hermione looked at him like he was speaking gibberish. "I guess wizards don't eat Nutella," he said lamely.
"It's what Squink smells of. Squib Drink. It's a very rare potion. My father says no one alive is skilled enough to make it."
"For once, your father is wrong," Severus said, not unkindly. "It's both difficult and dangerous to make, and must be administered within moments of its brewing or it loses all effectiveness. Which is why, I suspect, the Dark Lord never took up my invitation to stay in my workroom when I was brewing for him. Anyway, with Lestrange already in the dungeons-" he let the sentence end itself. "As Mr. Longbottom saw earlier today, she has driven herself madder than she had driven his parents. Once the Mark faded and the Dark Lord's death apparent, her insanity took a more ferocious turn. I suspect he will not want to discuss it, but you all have a right to know. He asked that she be kept alive, as death is a mercy she does not deserve. I have simply made sure she can do no more harm."
"Sounds like justice to me," Harry observed. Pitying Death Eaters who enjoyed what they did in Voldemort's name was hard enough for him. He could find no compassion at all for the woman who had tortured his friend's parents and killed Sirius.
After Harry's friends left, Severus sat on the side of Harry's bed, holding Harry's hand in his own while he checked him for every spell he could think of. "I'm fine, Severus. Really. I wasn't there very long, and he only cast Legilimens and Crucio at me. Well, that and the spells for the Dark Mark. For the record, it is worse when he casts it on someone who's Marked."
Harry's eyes shot open wide as he remembered the Mark. "Is it gone?" He pulled his hand free of Severus's and pushed his sleeve back. Wincing in pain, he realized that regardless of the magic involved, his arm had still been burned and branded. The flesh of his forearm was blackened and peeling, though the healing potion Pomfrey had given him had begun to repair the worst of the damage. Harry looked over at Severus and saw a flash of sorrow in his eyes for the briefest moment.
"Severus?" Harry asked softly. "The Mark? I know what I did worked, but—is it gone?"
Severus folded his arms in front of him and simply shook his head. "It is faded. But it remains."
"May I see it?" The question was unfair and he knew it. Severus would want to spare Harry from his failure, but he would not refuse Harry.
Severus slipped his sleeve up just far enough for Harry to make out the faded outline of part of the Mark. It was certainly far less noticeable than it had been even the day before, but it was still there. Harry sighed.
"I'm sorry Severus. I promised to get that off you, but I couldn't."
Severus stared at him for a moment, his eyebrow lifting disdainfully. Then he sighed. "I'm in love with an idiot."
Harry felt the warm flush blooming up his neck and face. "You are?" he whispered.
Severus cupped his face gently in one hand. "Quite."
Harry struggled to sit up to kiss Severus, but his robes and the blankets conspired against him. Luckily, Severus leaned down to spare him the effort and captured his lips with his own.
"I love you, too, Severus."