9. Aedficium Erit In Orbe Ultima
14th February 1997
The seconds rushed past as Severus Snape's mind worked to keep up with his brain. He was still gazing at the cool globe of the moon, ignoring his surroundings. He didn't need to worry as the inhabitants of the Forbidden Forest knew him well enough not to consider him a midnight snack.
It had been right in front of his eyes all the time. Snape had been too blind to register it, though, searching for the wrong answers. The question was not how Voldemort managed to break into Headquarters, but how he had managed to make them believe it. Voldemort couldn't have breached Headquarters; it was just impossible. Nobody from the Order could have slipped Voldemort Dumbledore's note of where Headquarters was located, as it was always immediately burned after reading by newly introduced members. No, Voldemort hadn't been there, he only made it look as though. Snape had been present, had even been in Potter's mind, as the boy had the vision of Lupin's attack. But it had not been real, it had been fake.
Voldemort knew of Snape teaching Potter Occlumency, thinking that his servant hindered the boy more than helping him. It must have indeed weakened Potter temporarily, and it was all that it took for Voldemort to carry out his plan. However, he didn't do it alone. Someone must have helped him. Someone who had been at Headquarters when it happened. Someone with extensive knowledge of the Dark Arts. Or how to defend themselves against it.
Snape breathed in the crisp night air, ignoring the chill that seeped under his skin. He had an epiphany, but not one he liked very much. He couldn't believe he hadn't thought of it before. It should have been quite obvious, really. The idea of Voldemort breaking thorough Headquarters' wards was horrendous, but then Snape even suspected Dumbledore. And it had been Lupin all along. Snape wanted to laugh out loud, if it weren't so serious. Calm, well-mannered, nice, comatose Lupin! How dare he? Snape had even started to not feel his presence as unbearable. Once, Snape had been an impeccable judge of character, but that time was long gone. Now he was left in the cold; laughable excuse for a spy. He didn't fool anyone – well, apart from Voldemort, of course. Even the late Mrs. Black had played him for a fool. Her words were still fresh in his head.
'Now you got what you deserve! Die and join your foul friends!'
Snape knew that Mrs. Black had not been an actual follower of Voldemort, but she had known him, back in the days when Regulus had still been alive.
Tricked by a screeching painting, a calm werewolf, and by his own instincts. Snape felt awfully tired all of a sudden, getting back on track to Hogwarts. He couldn't yet think of sleep, though. He needed to inform Dumbledore. They had to take care of Lupin. It was a good thing Voldemort thought he was still in coma. That way he wouldn't become suspicious when the werewolf didn't report anything.
24th April 1997
Harry concentrated and chanted a hex. Once. Twice. The red light shot out of his wand, hitting the wall directly. Harry repeated the hex. Once. Twice. Then one hex rebounded, shot back and narrowly missed Harry's cheek. One. Two drops of blood trickled down.
It came all down to two. Harry hadn't even broken down once. Two curses, two plans, two years, two lives at stake – and only one to take.
After two hours of constant training (the number was really starting to irritate him), Harry needed a short break. He willed the Room of Requirement to transform back into a common room-like chamber. Even as he stretched out his hand, a glass filled with water appeared. He gulped it down quickly, choking and spluttering. Drying his chin, Harry plopped down into the nearest chair. One. Two breaths.
Harry was nervous, and it was easy to see for those who knew where to look. Sometimes, Harry's hand shivered so badly, he couldn't even hold his spoon at lunch. He'd taken on eating alone after a while. The pressure grew with each day, drawing nearer to the 24th of June 1997, which would mark exactly two years of Voldemort being alive again. On the 24th of June 1995, Voldemort had stolen Harry's blood to live again, and in two months, he would try to steal Harry's life. The 24th of June would go down in history; that was for sure. Either as the day the world ended (even if there weren't any people left to archive that information, then) or as the day Harry Potter defeated the Dark Lord for the second and final time by becoming a murderer.
Harry could honestly say that he wasn't looking forward to it.
24th June 1997
It was dinner time at Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. Roast beef, mashed potatoes, green beans and maize. It smelled delicious, though the majority of the student body appeared subdued, as if they could feel that something was in the air.
And suddenly, something was indeed in the air: smoke in the form of the Dark Mark floated above the Great Hall, easily visible through the magical ceiling. There was screaming and a few Hufflepuffs fainted, as Dumbledore and the teachers (minus Snape, who hadn't been present to begin with) tried to calm the shocked students.
Harry, who had been a nervous wreck since he opened his eyes that morning (after only two hours of restless sleep), almost had a heart attack as a hand settled on his shoulder. Too bad his heart didn't stop beating; then, at least, it would have been over already. Two months of knowing when Voldemort would try to kill you, unable to do anything but train and hope that you got stronger than him had taken their toll on the boy. Harry hoped that he was stronger; otherwise he wouldn't live long enough to ever experience a heart attack, which was something Harry found himself looking forward to, all of a sudden.
"Harry, it's time," Tonks said in a low voice. The boy took a deep breath, exchanged one last glance with Ron and Hermione, and then went to follow the figure of Professor Phasky out of the Great Hall. As Harry exited the hall, he also let a part of his anxiety behind. It was as if now that the moment had finally arrived, the situation itself became less threatening. Harry didn't even try to analyse this paradox.
Harry had always thought Remus would mentor him in the last weeks before the great showdown, but alas the last remaining friend of Harry's parents was still in this strange magical coma. Harry tried not to think of it too much. After defeating Voldemort ("Positive thinking!" Hermione told him repeatedly.), he would find the cure for Remus.
Loud voices ('War noises,' Harry thought, despondedly.) could be heard from a hallway in front of them, and Tonks pulled Harry quickly to the side. She morphed back into her normal self, the need for cover no longer important. Harry kept quiet as a Disillusionment Charm was put over them both as a small group of Death Eaters made their way past them. Harry balled his fists, breathing harshly. It was the hand, though, gripping his shoulder that prevented him from doing anything stupid like getting into danger before Voldemort was out of the picture. Harry thought he caught a glimpse of white-blonde hair, but he wasn't sure.
"Let's go," Tonks said urgently, and Harry let himself be led, glad that he wouldn't need to face off against any former peers.
"You know what you have to do, right?" Tonks said, giving Harry an encouraging grin, as if they were talking about cooking and not killing another wizard. "Just stay focused. Remember the spells, hexes and curses we trained, and everything will go smoothly."
Harry sighed, knowing that another Expecto Patroni incident, like it had happened two years prior, was impossible. One brother was going to kill the other. It remained to be seen who was Abel and who would be Cain.
"Are you ready?" Tonks asked, standing just outside the Room of Requirement, where everything would end one way or another.
"No," Harry said softly.
Tonks looked at him sharply. "There's no time for doubts or-"
"I'm not ready to die," Harry finished, equally quiet, shooting his friend a glance.
Tonks stilled, thinking for a moment. "Then don't," she said simply.
Snape cursed once more, as yet another syringe wasn't filled with the exact amount of tranquilliser he needed for Lupin. He felt his Mark burning on his forearm, beckoning him to join the war going on in this very castle. He needed to refresh Lupin's dose first, though, and as Lupin was moved to another Secret Room, only Dumbledore and Snape himself knowing the location, the Potions master was left with no choice but to do the work. The flaring pain in his arm that caused his unsteadiness was no help.
A low rustling sound behind him let Snape swirl around, fingers clamped around his wand and pointing more or less steadily at Lupin.
The werewolf didn't appear very coherent, judging by his expression of confusion and surprise at his surroundings.
"Vo-Voldemort," he croaked hoarsely.
"Your master," Snape sneered, "is not here." He watched in satisfaction as Lupin finally recognised him and the wand that pointing straight at his heart.
"Sev-" Lupin coughed, putting a hand on his chest. "Severus?"
"Don't overexert yourself," Snape said mockingly. "You will need all your energy for your trial. And now go back to sleep." He picked up the syringe – once again cursing the fact that werewolves couldn't be sedated by magic – and filled it; this time it went smoothly. Until Snape was in front of Lupin, who regarded him through dilated pupils. After-effects of the two months of forced coma, Snape knew.
"What?" the other man asked. "Why- Where is Voldemort? He was at Headquarters. He-"
"You talk too much, Lupin," Snape said, gesturing with his wand. "Now be quiet." As Snape made to insert the needle in Lupin's arm, Lupin struggled against the hold. "Hold still!" Snape snarled, injecting the needle with more force than necessary. Lupin cried out; a trickle of blood seeped out and trickled down.
"Sev-Severus," Lupin mumbled, voice getting lower with every second. His eyes grew heavy, as did his limbs, while the tranquilliser quickly took over. "Don't understand. Vold'mor' knew... knew Blacks... he knew where... before... before.."
Snape pulled the empty syringe out of Lupin's arm, scowling at the unconscious man in front of him.
'Before... before...' Before WHAT, god damn it! Snape was so sick of it: the insecurities, the lying, the spying. He was sick and he was tired of it.
"What do you want from me, Lupin?" Snape said, cleaning the blood from the used needle. "Couldn't you have stayed asleep one minute longer? I don't have time for doubts."
As the great moment finally arrived, Harry could honestly say that he wasn't impressed by Voldemort's sheer magical presence, radiating off him in great waves.
"Harry Potter," Voldemort hissed, not seeming surprised at getting ripped out of his surroundings into the Room of Requirement, at all. "What a pleasure to see you – one final time."
"I'm sure," Harry snorted under his breath, brandishing his wand. He needed to stay calm, remember Tonks' words, then nothing could go wrong. "How about we get this over with without the usual hour-long speeches?"
Voldemort's eyes flashed in amusement. "Eager to meet your destiny, are we, Potter?" He tsked softly, but readied himself for the duel, nonetheless.
Harry didn't reply, instead opting to concentrate all of his energy on the hatred, passion and fear he had gathered over the last months of his life. He could do it, he would do it.
In number twelve, Grimmauld Place, a door suddenly banged shut by an invisible gust of wind. A scrawny looking Phoenix screeched, but nobody heard. And as the bird burned to ashes, two wands followed its example.
Harry Potter stared at his sooty hands in absolute shock. A moment ago, he'd held his wand, the first curse on the tip of his tongue, and now there was only ashes covering his fingers. His wand had suddenly glowed and then burst into dust, just like a vampire getting hit by sunlight.
'I'm dead,' was the first thought that shot through Harry's head. Right before Voldemort let out a mighty roar that could have deafened him.
His hand was also covered in soot.
Severus Snape was hurrying down the hallways, dignity forgotten. The pull on his arm was getting weaker but the noises were getting louder, as he neared the Great Hall. As he rounded the last corner, Snape nearly collided with the chummy figure of Neville Longbottom.
"Pro-Professor Snape," the boy stammered. "I was looking for you. Professor Dumbledore said to bring you! You're needed!"
Snape nodded sharply and strived past Longbottom. Of course, Snape was needed in the hall. Dumbledore didn't need to send a search party – especially Longbottom.
"Stupefy!" Lupin's voice whispered from behind Snape, and a second later, a weight plopped to the stone ground. Snape whirled around, sneer firmly in place.
"Lupin!" he snarled. "Can't you hear or do you purposely ignore my orders by not staying underneath the blasted Invisibility Cloak?" He cast a glance at the prone boy – a Slytherin would have watched his back – before returning his glare to Lupin, whose head and right hand seemingly floated in midair.
"Next time, I'll remember," Lupin said calmly. "And if you wish to be stabbed in the back by another student, please let me know. I'm sure I can arrange something."
Snape exhaled harshly. "Hallucinations are a by-product of the tranquillisers."
"Severus?" Lupin said, indicating something on the ground. Snape barely reigned in the urge to roll his eyes, but followed the pointing finger. In Longbottom's hand was a knife.
Snape took one step back. What was the meaning of this?
"You should be more careful who you turn your back to," Lupin said quietly. "We are at war, after all. Neville could have..." He trailed off, staring at the prone boy in shocked surprise. There, right in front of their eyes, Neville's body thinned and lengthened, until he achieved the features of – Nymphadora Tonks.
Harry Potter again stared at his hands in utter shock. There was not much soot left, and the bit still clinging to his skin was soaked red. He had no idea whose blood it was, maybe Voldemort's, maybe his own.
Harry didn't feel anything. No pain, no happiness, no remorse.
The ground shook when Harry looked the body, which was really rather a carcass, of the Dark Lord over.
There were rips in the robes, and a crack in the wall.
There was blood trickling down the lipless mouth, and a destroyed chandelier.
There were handprints around the pale neck, and another earth-quaking.
And there was nothing in the red eyes, wide open and staring unseeingly at the ceiling, and Hogwarts collapsed.
Snape regarded the remains of Hogwarts Castle, once so proud and nothing more than a ruin. He breathed the foul air, saw the burning bodies, and wondered how he managed to stay alive.
He had often managed to do things against all odds, and now he had proven again that there was a reason why he was so important to – Dumbledore – against Voldemort. Not any longer, though.
Snape knew that sometimes it was not his skill but sheer dumb luck keeping him alive. Like this day. Rescued by Lupin, whom he had believed to be a spy against the Light. Doubts had saved him, in the end, and the knowledge would stay with him, even after the Dark Lord's evil manipulations were over.
Tonks would have killed him, after Snape himself gave his loyalties away. Lupin's condition was a trap, and Snape had traipsed right into it. Of course, Voldemort had known that Lupin would not stay in coma for very long, and after the werewolf had not been sighted for two months, he had known that Snape must have spilt his secret, and Dumbledore did everything to ensure the safety of the castle.
Snape couldn't have known that the vision he had seen in Potter's mind had been true after all. He hadn't known that Voldemort had been at Grimmauld Place before, before the Fidelius Charm had been placed upon it. He had known where to find it and he had seen everything that had been there already thirty years before.
Snape sighed and bent down to close Dumbledore's eyes. "Good night."
A/N: Everything that hasn't been solved (everything concerning Draco, mostly) will be in "Bad Boys", the Sequel.
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