Chapter Twenty-Five

Five years had gone by since the time Snape, Tarquinius and Arenwald had walked out of the Grimmauld Place. In those hard years the wizarding world had changed greatly. Harry Potter had grown up, had matured faster thanks to the constant strain of the raging war though in Severus's eyes he remained the same old brat he had been at Hogwarts. He had had the "honour" of meeting the "hero" a few times. Dumbledore. Dumbledore had aged considerably, he wasn't as strong physically as he used to be, yet he was invaluable in leading the Order, his mind never showing any signs of his old age. As its result, Severus was now slowly walking through a snow-covered field near his home, all by himself, pondering the last five years.

Hiding had he been, far away from the British Isles, and he had grown tired of it. Those years had exhausted him more than spying or Dark Lord's mind games. Of course, he was still of help to the Order with his Dark Arts and Potions skills, but being unable to spy, he often felt useless. That's why, despite his father's and Arenwald's pleas, he had made up his mind and had returned to England to participate in Dumbledore's final plan. Of course, it wasn't without difficulty and the two men – or rather one man and one vampire – had yet to discover him gone. But he had had enough of hiding and he was prepared to finally stand up against his former master and … die. He entertained no illusion as to his survival and he was certain that the moment he had stepped a foot into this land, the Dark Lord knew. That was what he had persuaded himself to believe, though deep in his heart he realised he hoped that Dumbledore's plan wouldn't fail. Would the Dark Lord fall into their trap? He was to be the bait; he was to lure him out of his lair for his former master hardly ever took part in the battles. How was Potter supposed to kill him if he never entered into the fights?

From the moment he apparated into England, he felt watched – by eyes evil and eyes good – and wondered whether there would be time for him to witness the Dark Lord's death or to see his father again.

As the old Snape Manor came into his view, he stopped in his tracks and listened to the unnaturally quiet afternoon. Was he important enough for the Dark Lord that he would come personally to accomplish his revenge and kill him? Rarely had he avenged himself personally, usually he delegated the task to his faithful Death Eaters. But since he had spent so much time playing his games with him – and that was personal enough – Dumbledore believed he would come, he wouldn't let this chance fly away.

When he was going to walk on, the silence was disturbed and Severus found himself inside a circle of his former companions. All clad in black they looked like ravens in the brightness of the winter afternoon. They stood motionless and quiet with wands pointed at him and eyes cruel, darkened. However, they were without their Lord, noted Snape with disappointment, the Dark Lord hadn't arrived. Yet none of them moved or said a word, waiting they were. Suddenly he was certain that the Dark Lord would come. What an honour to have his former master himself deliver his revenge! Once again, Albus Dumbledore had been right – Voldemort's pride had been hurt by his escape. Those five years that he went by uncovered must have hurt his pride even more. Despite the situation Severus couldn't help not to smile and he noticed how the Death Eaters' eyes hardened by seeing it. He sneered at them, but before he could tell them anything, the sound of someone apparating interrupted him.

There he was and as he approached, the Death Eaters bowed deeply to him. Up and down did he look Snape and smiled in satisfaction while he touched Snape's cold cheek. "How have you been, my broken one? Have you slept one single night in those long years?" he whispered icily and Severus felt coldness wash over him as he shivered.

Severus didn't reply, he just looked into the brilliant red eyes and waited.

"Why are you here, my child?" asked Voldemort, his eyes boring into Snape's, "Do you seek death? It is far from your nature to put yourself in danger like this."

"Living in hiding has exhausted me, my Lord," said Severus simply while he was wondering when the Order would appear.

"Obviously you are tired of living too. This in not you, Severus," hissed Voldemort, yanking Snape's hair, "to wish for death. What is it you want? Do you want to lure me into a trap? When will Dumbledore come? What's your plan? You can't kill me, no one can."

A smile crept to Snape's face, "I apologise for disappointing you, my Lord, but you're mistaken. No longer are you immortal," he sneered and added in whisper, "your horcruxes have been destroyed. You are as mortal as anyone of us."

For a moment all colour drained from Voldemort's face, then it returned and he laughed dryly. "My Severus, too often have you deceived me with your manipulations. But what is this? Have you lost your slyness? Can you think of no better lie? Something that I would actually be able to believe in?"

"I wonder, what is the best punishment for a filthy little traitor like yourself?" hissed Voldemort, "Should I crucio you to death? Should I ruin that brilliant mind of yours by this curse? Should I leave you to your former companions to do as their please?"

He gripped Snape's thin wrists and drew him to himself. "You're trembling, my dear child. Have Dumbledore forgotten to come to your aid? Has his plain failed?"

Although Severus knew that Dumbledore would certainly come, he was also well aware of the risk and the possibility that he might be late. Acting quickly, Snape snatched his wrists away from Voldemort's iron grip and pulling a dagger from his boot, he stabbed it into Dark Lord's arm. Much to the dark wizards' astonishment blood soaked their master's sleeve, falling drop by drop to the ground where it stained the whiteness of snow with its shining redness. Death Eaters froze in horror as they saw their immortal lord bleeding and cry in rage. Bleeding he was, he who was immortal, he who had sacrificed his soul to eternal life and glory. With another furious cry he lunged at Snape, threw him to the ground and pushed him deep into snow, hands at his throat. Snape struggled desperately against the skeletal, but strong hands and sighed in relief when he heard the sound of wizards apparating. However, before he could throw the Dark Lord off himself, something hard hid his temple and darkness descended upon his consciousness.

§§

Members of the Order threw themselves into battle with Harry and Dumbledore rushing to where Voldemort had stood up. The Headmaster winced at the sight of motionless Severus in snow and Voldemort's cruel smirk, but in spite of his distress, he began invoking an ancient spell, calling upon Lily to come from the world of shadows to aid her son in his most important battle.

§§

"I'M GOING TO KILL THAT MAN!" shouted someone and Severus cringed at the harsh sound, wincing as darkness veiling him was lifted slowly. Bright light assaulted his eyes and he flinched as powerful arms crushed him to some wide chest. He moaned in pain as his injured temple hit a hard button and he nearly went insane when he saw, far far away, the unmistakable shadowy figure of Lily Evans. He must be imagining things… he must be dead despite the pain he felt.

A heavy hand was rubbing his aching back too strongly and he was cold, so cold he was freezing, and then there were warm hands caressing his cheek with a sudden gentleness.

"How could you do this, Severus!" cried his … father? "Is this a Slytherin behaviour, putting yourself in danger like this? Have you and Dumbledore gone mad?"

"We couldn't… use Harry…" mumbled Severus, "too risky and … Where's…?"

"Dead," replied another voice and Snape looked up into the smiling brown eyes of Remus Lupin.

"I… I do not… believe it," whispered Snape, now remembering the plan they had with Dumbledore and ancient magic as he staggered to his feet gracelessly, "Where is he?"

"Everything's going according to our plan," said Lupin, grinning wildly, "Harry's got a wonderful power inside himself, ancient magic's working well…"

Snape scowled at him and looked around at the two fighting sides. The Dark Lord might be dead (but then why wasn't his Dark Mark gone?) but the Death Eaters wouldn't succumb to Aurors so soon.

Without any further words, Severus ran through the battlefield to the place where Voldemort and Potter had been fighting. There his eyes fell at the utterly exhausted Dumbledore breathing heavily on the ground, shocked Potter and … and the Dark Lord himself. In spite of the news he was still alive, his breathing faint, dying. Next to him Lucius was kneeling, his grey eyes filled with shock and disbelief and something akin to… sadness? Severus knelt to him and watched warily the once powerful wizard fading away. 'How have the ancient spell worked?' he wondered, seeing no visible injury in Dark Lord's body.

"My cunning little traitor," laughed Voldemort grimly, his trembling fingers touching Snape's cold cheek lightly, "I do… hope you knew… no rest or peace… in hiding. Do not… Lucius… do not let him be in peace… never, never."

"Take him with you, my Lord," whispered Lucius viciously as he bent to Voldemort's ear, "You haven't broken your bond completely. Take him down with you, the traitor."

A horrid smile crossed Voldemort's ghastly features as he pulled Snape to himself with inhuman strength. A cry swept through the wizards around when Snape fell to the ground and transparent cords appeared to bind him to his former master. Forgetting his exhaustion, Dumbledore jumped to his feet, shouting orders to prevent Voldemort die with his spy.

Fortunately, the Dark Lord was weakened too much to take Snape with him though he didn't let him go.

"I can't," he moaned hoarsely as magical cords were fading away, his voice tainted with fear of the near death, "you will… revenge me… Lucius."

Lucius nodded as the last sigh escaped through Dark Lord's parched lips and turned his grey gaze to his cousin who said quietly, "It is finished."

§§

Although the noise of a wild celebration reached Snape too, it didn't make him join the party, he preferred to sit in an armchair near a burning fireplace, all by himself, listening to the happy noises coming from downstairs and pondering recent events. He had reasons to celebrate too – Dark Lord was gone and his name was cleared – after many years he was finally free from his master and yet the melancholic mood wasn't about to leave him. In one hand he held a crystal glass of finest firewhiskey and in other, a trembling one, a deadly poison design to leave hardly any traces, killing quickly and painlessly. It was one of his most brilliant creations, originally meant for him in case he would find himself back in Azkaban. He hadn't been imprisoned, thanks to Albus, but he had another use for the poison. In his brooding he hadn't noticed the vampire enter the room. During the five years he had spent in hiding, Arenwald had often come to visit him and although Severus was still wary of him, he had treasured those hours of friendly and intelligent discussions when the vampire would break his loneliness for a while.

"Why," Arenwald asked simply.

"You will never understand," sighed Severus, toying with the small vial, "Never. You may accuse me of weakness or even of foolishness, my friend, but I shall do it."

"I shall never call you weak," objected Arenwlad, "nor foolish. What you are to do is an act of mercy and forgiveness. But I must warn you. If anyone sees you…"

"Then I shall never have the opportunity to enjoy my freedom, I am well aware of this risk," smiled Severus and added, "But neither shall I enjoy it were I to let him suffer. Excuse me now, duty calls me."

"Be careful," called Arenwald, his eyes following Snape's departure with worry, "take care, my friend."

§§

On the next day, when most of the wizarding population was attempting to cure their hangover, news of Lucius Malfoy's death in Azkaban made it to the front page of Daily Prophet. "Lucius Malfoy Found Dead!", "Malfoy Escaped the Dementor's Kiss" and similar titles were the news of the day. As Severus was returning to Snape Manor with his father, a good half of the Order was parting with him with a suspicious glare. Snape paid them no attention. With Voldemort gone, this strange – never known before – lightness descended upon him. At first it had been hard to believe the Dark Lord dead, but with his Dark Mark disappearing all the bonds fell off him and peace settled upon his soul. For the first time in his life he was looking forward to return to Snape Manor and start a new life – that of a scholar and Potions researcher – working on his own with a few talented apprentices. And among the glares directed at him there were gazes filled with pride and admiration and those were enough to make him happy for they belonged to people he himself admired.

But first he would go to Lucius's grave to put flowers there and he would have to make sure that Draco would be alright and his father would have something to do too.

THE END

Author's notes: It took a long time to update this story, didn't it? I can't even write down all the reasons and apologies, the most important would be that I've been swallowed by 'real life' and somehow it filled my mind with other things than writing. I suppose I had a writer's block too and now when the final chapter is written, I don't feel satisfied with it. It might be because I'm rarely satisfied with what I write, but also because I could have lost contact with this story during those months and it was quite difficult coming back to it. I know I haven't described Voldemort's fall with much detail, but that's something I can't imagine how it will be done. Yet I hope you'll enjoy it and I'll be able to continue on my other story called 'Amaurotum'. Thank you very much for all those you have reviewed by story, you don't know how happy and grateful I am for all the reviews. :-)