Severus Snape stood very still atop the high hill. His perch overlooked smooth, gray Scottish countryside where war had raged openly and constantly since the battle at the Ministry. Mist tugged at his robes. The dementors' clinging emanation reminded him of his next assignment; stealing Lucius out of Azkaban so the Dark Lord could exact his revenge.
Grawp and Hagrid fought on, against the thundering giants, all of them oblivious to Snape's presence. It was six against two, ideal odds for the Dark Lord's side. Even better, Grawp was a runt, and Hagrid, though half-wizard and in possession of his ridiculous pink umbrella, had been a demoralized wreck since Dumbledore's death.
This was one of those moments, one of those crucial, character-defining moments. Snape was fully capable of drawing his wand, charging down the slope, and beating back the giants. It would take a great effort, especially since Hagrid had just fallen to the ground, knocked out or dead from a blow to the head, but Snape was capable. Grawp was alone, desperate and howling. There were no Death Eaters here to witness Snape's treachery.
Snape took a few startled steps back, covering his mouth with the sleeve of his robe as he pulled out his wand, and cast a series of protective, isolating, and purifying spells about himself.
A Nundu had just arrived, sleek and hulking, from below a slight hill and patch of trees. Snape had only ever seen them in books, and the photographers had always maintained a respectful distance. It was more than a kilometer away, but Snape could see the powerful cords of sinew and muscle moving in its great, leopard-like body. Snape was puzzled momentarily by the giant riding astride the beast. Giants were tough, admittedly, but none could withstand the toxins contained in one puff of Nundu breath, and this animal was panting heavily.
Then Snape saw the giants down below fumbling to stuff bezoars and pickled mandrakes into their cheeks. The all-purpose antidote and leafy restorative, combined with the giants' brute strength, would keep them alive. But since when did giants think ahead of time? And Snape had never known giants to show any knowledge of Potions ingredients. Grawp stumbled and fell. The Nundu bounded across the wide expanse of trampled undergrowth, just barely within the giant rider's control.
Snape took a few more steps backwards. The fetid stench of the Nundu's breath was seeping through his invisible spellwork, pulsing hotly. It would be suicidal to stay much longer.
The giant riding the Nundu, somehow managing to steer by yanking on the creature's ears, swayed a little as he reached the group that had been closing around Hagrid. He spoke to them, and the rest of the giants began to shift back and forth on their elephantine feet, in an unusual display of nerves and excitement. Snape felt nauseous. The rider pulled again on the Nundu's ear and went back the way he came. The other giants followed.
He reappeared, coughing roughly. He would have to brew some sort of virus-fighting potion to counteract the Nundu breath that had taken hold in his lungs.
"What's wrong with you?"
Snape looked up at Draco. The pale boy was sitting on his narrow cot, in the room they shared in this stinking Muggle pit. "Nundu breath," Snape answered shortly.
Draco's eyes opened wide. "They have a Nundu?"
"We do, apparently."
Draco looked apprehensive. "I haven't heard anything about it. I'm supposed to deliver a message. He wants you to visit the Prime Minister again, and then," Draco swallowed and lost even more color, "proceed with rescuing my father."
Snape scowled. "He'll keep your father alive, Draco. With Potter loose and continuing in Dumbledore's footsteps, he needs everyone."
Draco's face crumpled. "Alive," he said bitterly. "Great."
Snape sneered at the pathetic, sniveling mess and prepared to leave. "If the Dark Lord asks, the giants are still cooperating. Hagrid is finished."
This cheered Draco. "How did they do it?"
"The way giants normally do," Snape answered coldly, and vanished again, to reappear inside the office of the Muggle Prime Minister.
Snape arrived in a column of fire; a custom the Dark Lord had requested he keep in order to impress upon the Muggles the fact that his side had more power. The truth was that the Dark Lord and his enemies were deadlocked, with heavy casualties occurring endlessly on both sides and scores of helpless people caught in the middle. One of Snape's duties was to convince Britain's Prime Minister that Muggles had no choice but to surrender, but the Ministry of Magic had foreseen such action and set up wards against the use of any Unforgivable Curses. There was usually a guard as well, but the Dark Lord only sent Snape to negotiate when he knew the post had been abandoned.
The Prime Minister, who had been frozen with shocked surprise during Snape's previous visits, barely registered Snape's arrival. He was dashing about the room, watching the television, fastening his tie, and speaking on the telephone all at once. "I'll call you back," he barked at the telephone, punching a button and looking at Snape expectedly. "Well," he started, sounding rushed and out of breath, "no need to convince me which is the winning side. You have the giants, right?"
"Yes," said Snape, a bit taken aback by the harassed-looking Muggle, who wasn't even maintaining eye contact, but was staring at the television set behind Snape.
"If you had told me something like this would happen…" the Muggle trailed off, still utterly fixed upon the loud, colorful device.
"What are you talking about?" Snape said harshly.
The demand brought the Prime Minister's attention back to Snape in an instant. "Why, this!" he said, gesturing at the television. "This massacre, this insanity coming out of the Bahamas."
Snape turned his back on the Muggle. He studied the screen for a moment, adjusting to the concept of live feed and voiceovers. Scenes of terrific violence flashed before him; Muggles were trampled, beaten, and drowned. The reporter named major city after major city, in countries all over the globe. The death toll was staggering. It was rising in leaps and bounds, more than any natural disaster had done, more than the Black Plague of the Dark Ages.
It took him several minutes to realize what he was seeing. Giants were the cause. Massive, powerful, and stomach-churningly ugly creatures were destroying everything in sight. Snape did not recognize any of them. There seemed to be hundreds of them, maybe even thousands, more than there had been for centuries. As the cameraman swung his camera from a family of Muggles being crushed to a shot of their murderer, Snape saw that these giants were unlike any he had come across. The camera panned up, past the sequoia-thick legs and impossibly huge torso, to settle on the giant's face.
Snape saw old, deep, cold intelligence shining through those wide-set eyes.
The giant looked down at the man filming him. Snape heard the Muggle's scream, loud and piercing, as the giant foot arced and punted the little man through the air. The scream was squelched the instant the foot made contact, but for a moment, the footage kept coming, giving Snape a glimpse of more thundering figures in the distance. Their size varied widely between slightly larger than the usual, twenty foot giant, and as tall and big around as a small skyscraper.
Their plan must have been to kill every living creature. As the news station fumbled to provide viewers with a different source of input, Snape continued to stare, unmoving. These giants were organized and intelligent. They weren't following the Dark Lord's orders to keep quiet, keep hidden just a while longer, and let the Muggles think up excuses for the deaths instead of taking up arms. Muggles were left in no doubt that war was upon them, and had begun to fight back already. The channel abruptly reverted to a local broadcast, where news of a military facility, executing their rarely-used emergency defensive strategy, was being reported.
Quite suddenly, Percy Weasley's face appeared on the screen. His eyebrows were worried and his face pale. "If any witch or wizard is watching, please report to the Ministry. I repeat, if any witch or wizard is watching, please report to the Ministry immediately." His voice was alarmingly shrill. "This is an emergency of catastrophic proportions and merits a momentary freeze on the Statute of Secrecy. He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named has achieved new heights of terror and bloodshed. The Ministry is planning a counterattack. Please report to the Minist –."
The input ended. Snape and the Prime Minister were left staring at static.
Snape felt strangely blank. A quiet buzzing was humming through his body, starting at his gut, for he knew, despite the sheer disbelief that the little Muggle box inspired, that something was deeply wrong. No matter what the Ministry believed, the Dark Lord had not allied himself with those giants. Snape would have known of it. He had risen greatly in the Dark Lord's confidence since his escape from Hogwarts the previous summer.
Snape turned away from the Prime Minister, who had turned to stare questioningly at him, and strode through the door. He walked through the house, earning several strange looks from sharply dressed Muggles, and continued down Downing Street. He heard sirens, somewhere in the distance.
The Dark Mark flared suddenly to life. Snape clutched at his arm, but continued down the street. A few Muggles shot his billowing robes questioning glances.
Snape was experiencing a strange, vague sense of premonition. He had had it only twice before; once, when the Dark Lord was rising to power and people were first beginning to disappear, and then later, not long after he had overheard the prophecy about Harry Potter. Acting on those instincts had saved his life before. He kept walking through London, staying far away from any place he knew to have wizarding activity. The sirens kept blaring.
The pain in his forearm gradually grew less. The Dark Lord rarely used the Marks to call his supporters. He preferred to deal in secrecy, meeting one Death Eater at a time. The only reasons for him to summon a large group of his followers would be an announcement, a celebration, or an emergency.
Snape turned a corner and there, next to a double-decker bus, far down the street, stood a giant. The giant did not look particularly disturbed by the sirens, screams, or the police cars. He was one of the different giants. Snape could tell because the giant didn't bother smashing the advancing police cars one by one. He picked up the bus, with tourists and all, and hurled it. The bus skidded down half the street, and in the aftermath of cries and shouting, the giant turned his sharp eyes to Snape.
Snape felt a gust of wind behind him, whipping his robes around boldly. He became aware that only wizards wore robes like his. Only a wizard would stand still and take stock while everyone else on the street ran around in a blind panic. And only a wizard would pose a threat to a giant.
He drew his wand.
The giant picked up one giant foot and placed in front of the other. He started walking slowly up the street, studying Snape closely, coldly calculating just how great a wizard he was facing. Snape had never seen anything like it. The giants' shoulders were level with the three-story buildings around him.
Snape lifted his wand, his mind racing with which spell to use, when to strike. The giant stepped on a Muggle who had been stupid enough to stay put. Snape knew he could be turned into pancake batter just as easily. Four more strides and the giant would be near enough for Snape to get a decent shot.
Three more and the giant could haul off and kick Snape, just as his brother had done that Muggle cameraman.
Two more and Snape could hex the soft area under the giant's jaw.
One more and the giant could swipe at Snape with one of those long arms.
"We're just trying to get this over with quickly –"
Snape disapparated. He didn't think, somehow, that sticking around to listen to the giants' reason for hostile takeover was a good idea. Snape had no doubt the giant would have popped his head off his shoulders after finishing with his apologetic gesture. Snape did not want to die without purpose on a street full of screaming Muggles. Coward or not, Snape had survived for this long. He would live a little longer.
Readers: So...this story's gonna be pretty different. Kyra's gonna take over the next chapter from Hermione's POV and I have NO idea what she'll do.
Kyra: Good luck! Call me to talk about it if you want!