Harry screamed. The force field around him sparked a bright green, with glowing lances of energy striking at him. Voldemort threw back his head and laughed loudly, the slightly hissing tone sending chills up the backs of all who heard.
"Come!" the Dark Lord mocked as Hermione fell away from the force field, tears streaming down her face. "I invite you all. Come and try to rescue your darling hero!" Ron shrieked in rage and threw himself at the sphere. The energy surrounding Harry turned a bright orange as the young Weasley impacted, flinging himself several meters away. Ron groaned and was still.
"No!" Harry sobbed. "Stay away, all of you, please! Don't hurt yourselves for my sake. It's what he wants!"
The Order members stood with wands drawn, facing down a squadron of Death Eaters. Not a single curse was fired. They all knew that Potter was the main event. The outcome of everything hinged upon the fate of the Boy-Who-Lived, whose time seemed to have finally run out.
Dumbledore approached, the twinkle in his eye replaced by fathomless sorrow. "Harry, my boy," he sighed, reaching up to touch the field. A spark shot towards his hand, singing it. He lowered his hand and bowed his head, looking defeated. Molly leapt towards the glowing sphere, and Lupin barely snagged her arm in time. "It's no good!" he said in a choked voice, his own face damp. "Charms and curses are useless, and physical contact is even worse. We must find another way."
Voldemort fairly crowed. "You see?" He smirked at Harry. "No one can help you now. All those years ago, your mother gave her life for you. Her love permeated your very bones and kept me from harming you, until recently. Now I have exposed Love for the sham that it is. Love does not heal and soothe. Love is pain and destruction; love is the knife that twists. Feel how it hurts!"
Molly tore free and beat her fists on Harry's prison. The smell of charred flesh filled the air. Harry pressed his hands against the glowing interior, his vision distorted with tears. "Mrs. Weasley, please stop! Go and save yourself. There's nothing you can do for me now."
Molly looked over her shoulder with a crushed expression as Dumbledore lead her away.
Tonks cursed. "No, I refuse to believe it! We should be able to do something!" She raised her wand and sent several hexes towards the sphere. It promptly contracted and began squeezing its occupant. The young Auror dropped her wand and covered her face, weeping as the Death Eaters laughed and cheered. Shackebolt aimed his wand at the nearest masked figure, but he was easily neutralized. Victory was as good as theirs. Their Lord was merely toying with his prey until he headed in for the kill.
Severus stood by impassively, watching as if the entire scene was a play in which he did not take part. He saw Harry suffering as his friends and mentors tried time and again to free him. This, then, was what happened to fools who wore their hearts on their sleeves. This is what happened to those who allowed love to cloud their judgment. This is what happened when attachments and affections formed. He was above such things. He had never needed anyone but himself, no matter how his lonely heart protested.
"Enough playtime." Voldemort raised his wands, and Order members and Death Eaters tensed in unison. This was it. This was the moment of truth, where the tide would turn, for better or worse. And it was painfully obvious who would win.
For nearly twenty years Snape had skulked in the shadows, a double agent abused and mistrusted by both sides, carrying on by sheer will and the knowledge that he was needed. He had worked alone, waking from his deepest nightmares to the solitary company of his own rapid breathing, trusting no one with his private triumphs and failures. The life of a spy was a lonely one, but it was a life that Severus was uniquely suited to. Now it was time to shed his role and act. But for which side's benefit? Voldemort and the Death Eaters had accepted him and allowed him to practice his craft unfettered, but they had also betrayed him, turned his dreams into something perverted and sick. His bones still ached with the uncounted rounds of Cruciatus that he had suffered.
But what of the Order? Even after proving himself over and over again for over two decades, he was still not trusted. That he did not mind so much. It was his job to blur the lines, for every action to have a double meaning. But still, he risked his neck on a daily basis where the smallest slip could doom them all. The least they could give him was a bit of respect. But no, it was always "Snivellus" this and "greasy git" that. Honestly, the Death Eaters treated him better. At least sometimes they appreciated his efforts.
He stepped forward, and all eyes swiveled to him. This was an unexpected twist to Voldemort's little game. Several Order members raised their wands, prepared to strike in case he turned out to be on the wrong side after all. Their faith was so heartwarming he might just cry. "Ssssnaaape! Get back in formation!" The Dark Lord hissed.
No, you scaly bastard. Never again.
As if in a trance, he reached up to touch the energy sphere. He grimaced. It hurt, but it did not burn or lash out the way it had for the others. He pushed, straining with all his might. It felt as if a thousand needles were pricking at him, and a cold fire squeezed his heart. And then he was in. The circle swelled outward, and as he embraced the Potter boy it shattered in a thousand flying energy banners.
Voldemort stood gaping. His plan had been perfect! How could it be? How could one of his own thwart him so thoroughly?
As the sounds of furious battle raged overhead, Severus lay immobile. So it was true, what he had suspected all of his life. He saw a jet of green light streak toward him, and he welcomed it with a glad heart. At last it was over.
A grey haze hung over the battlefield. The side of Light had won, but just barely. Harry wandered amongst the wounded and dying, seeking. He knelt down beside the still Potions Master, taking his hand. A wrinkled hand fell on his shoulder, and he did not need to look up to recognize Dumbledore at his side. "His loss is the most tragic," the Headmaster said heavily, sounding every bit as old as his years.
Harry looked up at him. "I don't understand, sir. How was Snape – Professor Snape – able to free me when no one else was?"
"Voldemort has never truly understood the character of Love. He hates it and fears it for its unknown power. He is quite correct that your mother's love has protected you. He also fears the kindliness that I and others feel toward you and sought to exploit it. He turned your best defense into a weapon that would hurt you and those that cared for you. I have to admit that it was an ingenious plan."
Harry looked back down on the still figure of his professor, features relaxed and at peace. "So that's why Snape was able to save me? Because he doesn't like me?"
"It's much more complicated than that, Harry. As I said, Voldemort hates love in all forms. It was not enough to prevent the ones that love you from saving you. The spell he used was ancient and forbidden." A tear tricked down the old man's face. "It could only be broken by someone who has never felt love of any kind."
Harry removed his robe and placed it over the fallen. The Killing Curse had killed the man's body, but lack of love had smothered his spirit long before. He hoped that Snape would find a better place in the afterlife than he had known here.