Chapter 28: The Final Battle of Hogwarts
"They wouldn't dare try the same thing twice . . ." Voldemort said, marveling at the very notion. At his feet, Snape was struggling to get up, and this time the Dark Lord let him and moved to the nearest window. He had better night vision than most, but his eyes weren't adjusted, and he could see nothing. Nevertheless something was making the hair on the back of his neck stand on end.
He turned back towards Snape who had managed to right himself with Amelon's help and leaned heavily against the wall where an ancient schematic of the castle was hung behind a pane of glass, hundreds of little colored dots scurrying across it. The Headmaster was tracing invisible runes across the map, activating the castle's additional defenses and setting off the alarms for the rest of the castle. Bloody fingerprints trailed wherever he touched.
"How many this time?" Voldemort asked.
"I don't know . . . they won't show up until they're within at least a hundred feet of the castle," Snape said breathlessly and closed his eyes tightly for a moment to clear his thoughts. Amelon, who was already studying the map, continued for him.
"If the black dots are the attackers . . . we already have some in the high towers. A little less than a dozen."
"The towers will all seal against intruders once the wards are activated, except for the dormitories, which won't let anyone not of the proper house in regardless," Snape said without opening his eyes. "All the entrances are sealed, along with any window large enough for a person to fit through."
Amelon sucked in a sharp breath, his own fingers suddenly hovering over the schematic as if searching for something. Or someone. They stopped abruptly.
"What is it, Amelon?" Voldemort demanded distractedly, half his attention already formulating the potential threat and how to deal with it.
"Lord Potter is still in the Astronomy Tower."
Voldemort stiffened and stalked towards them. He followed Amelon's finger to the little red dot with 'Potter' hovering beneath it surrounded by six nameless black dots and two orange dots. One of the orange dots suddenly disappeared, and the Dark Lord clenched his fists. He watched for several more seconds, and to his surprise the black dots moved away, congregating around what was the doorway that led from the Astronomy Tower and into the main building. Neither Harry's red dot nor the remaining orange dot moved. Had they been stunned? But then at least one person should have stood guard over them or tried to take them somewhere more secure. Did they think Harry was already dead? What was going on?
He turned to Snape, who had lurched away to order the portraits to gather information about the castle.
"There are no portraits in the Astronomy Tower," Snape said before the Dark Lord could ask.
"Is there any way in or out of there without deactivating the wards?"
"No . . . but—"
"There's another dozen coming through the portcullis. They've already torn down the wards there," Amelon interrupted. For the first time, his excitement had taken on a nervous edge. "More inside . . . no, they're on the roof of the South Wing. The courtyard . . . another tower on the east end . . . more crossing the moat . . . they just keep coming!"
"Where are the staff and students?" the Headmaster demanded, stumbling back towards the map. The little red, green, yellow, blue, and orange dots that had been relatively still only a few moments before were now swarming across the map, like bees in a hive. There were too many to keep track of individually, but the flowing swirl of color they made as they moved through the castle gave Snape a general impression of what was happening.
"Good . . . they're moving into position to defend the castle."
"Severus," Voldemort said, calling back his attention. "The Astronomy Tower . . . ?"
The Headmaster nodded without looking away from the map.
"There's no way in or out from there now for Harry, but the castle elves should be able to get to him. Hinky!"
The house elf appeared in the room in a frantic flailing of gangly limbs.
"M-m-master! The c-castle! It's-it's-it's . . . Eeekk! Headmaster, sir, you's is bleeding!"
"I am aware of the situation, Hinky. Mr. Potter is in the Astronomy Tower. Do what you can for him. That is your mission."
The house elf's eyes grew enormous, and she started to tremble, but she nodded her head just the same.
"Wait!" Amelon said, hurrying over to her. She flinched away as if expecting to be hit, but he only took out a wand from his pocket and handed it to her. "This is Lord Potter's. He will need it."
Hinky looked vaguely horrified at touching something as important as a wand, but sensing the urgency of the situation, she snatched it from his hand and disappeared. Amelon turned to Voldemort for some sort of instructions, the situation far beyond anything he was prepared for, but the Dark Lord was looking at Snape. The two wizards, only moments before caught in their own private game of betrayal and pain, sought a resolution without words and a truce without conditions. There was no time for them to negotiate. Eventually, Snape nodded.
"Where am I needed most?" Voldemort asked.
"The main entrance."
The Dark Lord nodded and made his way to the door, leaving Amelon alone with the headmaster. As he left, he heard Snape telling the Inquisitor to secure the door. He glanced back briefly, watching the staircase to the office turn and seal itself. Voldemort had a general idea of what the response to this sort of attack entailed. If things went according to plan, then Sentinel Seitler should appear shortly with reinforcements to protect the headmaster and the security wards that he controlled. Elsewhere in the castle, the students, staff, and other Sentinels were arranging themselves at the intersection of every hallway and staircase in the school, blocking off entrances without boxing themselves in, while the castle itself let its defenses pick off, disorient, and scatter the attackers. Alarms were sounding across Britain in Court offices and Culties headquarters, alerting the nation's defenses to Hogwarts' plight. In ten to twenty minutes, reinforcements would arrive to fend off the attack, and more would continue to arrive until the enemy was driven back or destroyed.
It had worked well during the first battle, but Voldemort knew things wouldn't go as smoothly this time around. He could sense the enemy was more formidable and better prepared. Already the enemy had breached some of the towers, something the Italians had not managed to achieve.
He took a deep breath, calling upon his magic and clearing his mind for the spells he would need. He reached out one hand to touch the cool stone, while the other drew his wand. Immediately, he felt the magic of the castle reach back to him. The magic seemed to shiver beneath his palm, in fear and rage and excitement. He knew this feeling. It was the same feeling he had known the day of the Solstice ritual, when he had returned to the castle to hunt the madman, Moody, his mind and body blazing with magic. It felt strangely muted now, without the extra power singing through him, but it was still recognizable. The castle still turned to him as a defender.
Softly, he began to murmur the beginnings of a spell.
Halfway down the corridor a row of windows exploded in a flash of glass and orange sparks, and a witch sprang through the opening. Behind her the wall of ancient stones suddenly seemed to boil, rolling into one another, the windows that had been there moments before swallowed up so that the hallway became a tunnel with only the wall sconces to see by.
She had just enough time to look around and spot him a few yards from her, her dark eyes fiercely seeking out an enemy, before the candles suddenly went out. He didn't know if she had seen him clearly enough to recognize him, but he was almost certain she knew who it was that killed her when his spell caught her, her blood and organs spilling out onto the stones at her feet.
An offering, he chanted, an offering of blood and magic.
Beneath his hand, the castle trembled, the fear from before replaced by hunger.
The alarm went off in Bristol just as Tom was pouring his second cup of coffee for the night and flirting with one of the mail room censors in the break room. Lestrange had gone home for the evening, leaving him behind to 'tidy up' the office. He'd handed the job off to one of the secretaries and used the opportunity to . . . make friends, as it were.
Tonight, it was Mindy the mail room censor, who was just bursting with gossip she wasn't allowed to talk about except of course to those of sufficient security clearance. Later, he would make a run to the barracks and play a few rounds of cards with Lestrange's personal guards to insure they continued to despise her.
Or at least, that had been his plan until the telltale gong of the alarm shook the entire complex, and he spilled hot coffee on his hand. He swore, dropped the pot, and ran for the door. In the hallway, witches and wizards stood frozen, looking upwards as if the sound were descending from heaven itself. Tom mentally sneered at them and hurried out of the offices towards the barracks. As he had predicted, Lestrange's personal guard, some thirty-odd men and women, were still awake and killing time with a game of cards or reading, only now their pursuits had been abandoned at the peculiar alarm sounding throughout the compound. They were familiar with most alarms, but they had been fighting in Germany when this sound had first been heard and didn't know its meaning.
"We getting an earthquake or something, Captain?" a soldier joked nervously as Tom burst through the door.
"No. You all have three minutes to get dressed and get your gear. That's an order!" he snarled.
They jumped at the command, abandoning their game and books to scurry into the rest of their uniforms and gather up their fighting gear. Tom waited impatiently form the doorway for them to be ready, eying the other barracks anxiously as lights were turned on and he could make out movement in the windows. Others were finally starting to catch on. He needed to get his troops ready and to the floo before any of the others.
The alarm was an opportunity, he knew it, but it could just as easily turn into someone else' opportunity if he didn't get his people out to the battlefield quickly.
In three minutes, the Culties were dressed and ready for battle, mentally and physically. It hadn't taken much for them to realize that they were going into a fight, and they were more than willing to get down to it. They had been frontline fighters in Germany before they had been pulled for the tedious and unappreciated role of General Lestrange's flunkies. Captain Stratus had been promising them for weeks that they had a greater chance of rising up the ranks by showing off their abilities at home than in some foreign field. The big wigs rarely left Bristol after all. It seemed it was finally time to find out if Stratus had been telling them the truth or not.
"That alarm you hear right now," Stratus explained as they made their way to the floo station between the barracks and the messhall, "is the alarm for an attack on Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry."
Someone in their column froze mid-step, earning a fierce slap upside the head when it caused the line to kink.
"This is the second time this has happened this year. First was by the Italians, as you probably remember, but the chances are this time it's the Germans. We do not know their intentions, and we do not know their numbers."
"Doesn't that just paint a cheery fucking picture?" someone muttered down the column.
"We're going to be the first in. We're going to take stock of the situation, and then I'm going to have five of you turn around and report to the five main branches what to expect. The rest of us are going to stay and make some noise."
A cheer went up. Making noise was something they were good at.
"Grab your brooms and move out. Our entry point is floo Station number nineteen."
They entered the floo station, a long narrow building empty but for the storage lockers filled with brooms on one side and the row of twenty or so large chimneys along the other. Despite the number available, they were restricted to only two floos at a time, making progress slower than Tom would have liked, but even so it took only ten or so minutes to get everyone through. He stopped the last Cultie in the line before he could enter.
"I want you to report to Lestrange," the captain said. "She should be informed of what is happening."
The Cultie grimaced.
"Someone's probably already told her by now."
"Nevertheless, Yavern, I want to make certain she knows where we went and why. I am making a judgment call in her absence, and I won't have us accused of insubordination later."
He doubted Lestrange would do any such thing, as she would be eager to claim credit for the quick action, but letting her own soldiers believe she would, and that he wanted to protect them from her supposed pettiness could only work in his favor. Yavern's brow lifted at the thought, then lowered, and he nodded sullenly. Tom patted him on the shoulder and turned to the floo himself.
"Floo Station Nineteen!" he shouted, and the sickening feeling of being pulled through too little space much too quickly washed over him. After a nearly half a minute, his feet hit the ground heavily and the momentum carried him forward so that he half stumbled out of the fireplace. The fireplace opened up into a large, one room shack. The place was dark except for the candle someone had lit near the door, but there was little to illuminate. A moldering cot was wedged in a corner, a work bench beside it. Ancient herbs and animal pelts hung on the walls, unrecognizable beneath cocoons of cobwebs and dust. A harsh, bitter wind blew through the empty windows.
Tom glanced about, but there was no one else there so he went outside. The Forbidden Forest lay to the right and back and the Shrieking Shack stood ahead of him. Trapped between these two ominous places, the little shack was almost guaranteed privacy, and on the other side of the shack was a little path leading down to the village of Hogsmeade and a good view of the castle little over half a mile in the distance. The Culties were waiting for him outside, rubbing their hands together and muttering spells to keep themselves warm. It was colder up there in the Northern Highlands than what they were used to down in Bristol. The eerie atmosphere didn't help much either.
"Helden went to scout ahead," a witch, Kettersby, said as he stepped out. Tom nodded and tried not to let his impatience show. He told them why Yavern wasn't coming.
"Poor bastard, I wouldn't want to be him when he gives that woman the news," the witch said pityingly. He merely nodded and left to make rounds with the others, making sure they were ready for a fight. Finally, Helden returned, running out from behind the Shrieking Shack as if he were being chased.
"Ah, hell! Ah bloody hell," he gasped as he came up to them. "It's bad, sir! It's really, really bad!"
"Calm down, Private. What did you see? Do you have an estimate on their numbers? Are there any in the village? Are they on brooms?" Tom demanded.
"There has to be at least two thousand, sir! Maybe more!"
Silence followed this statement. Even Tom was taken aback by the number given. He had to be mistaken.
"Get a hold of yourself, Helden. Where are they? How did you count them?"
"They're out over the castle, sir! I think . . . I think half are on brooms and half are on the ground. They . . . they're . . . They're trying to storm the place! You can see the lights when their spells go off!"
Tom tossed the wizard away and stalked around the shack to see for himself. Behind him, the Culties followed. He was barely around the corner when he saw the first tell-tale flashes of spellwork. Pinks and whites and violets reflected against the clouds above, followed by low rumbling like distant thunder. Once past the shack and standing on the edge of the hill, he could see the castle in full and barely managed to swallow a gasp. If anything, Helden's estimate was low.
Tiny black shapes swarmed around the castle like flies around a corpse, visible against the glow of the castle's torches and flashing lights of curses and charms. On the ground, the attackers were even more visible, crowding around the edge of the moat to cast blasting and fire spells at the castle walls and windows while others tried to force their way through the drawbridge and portcullis. They did not appear to have gotten in yet, at least not in any great number, but even a fortress like Hogwarts could not hold against a persistent enemy of that number for long.
"Shit," he muttered and took a deep breath.This was more than he had been expecting to find, but he couldn't turn back now. Hogwarts could not fall. He turned to the Culties. They were staring at the force before them with unabashed horror, their earlier enthusiasm for action dissolving.
"Mount up," he ordered.
"Captain, you can't be serious! We'll be slaughtered!" someone cried.
"Shut up! Do you want us to just let them take Hogwarts?" Kettersby snarled back. "There are over six hundred children in there fighting for their lives!"
"I've a little sister up there," a young wizard said.
"I've got cousins," said another.
"Shouldn't we at least wait for reinforcements? Getting killed won't help anyone."
"Enough!" Tom snarled. "This isn't a discussion. Get on your damn brooms. I have a plan."
Harry regained awareness with a shock and a hand over his mouth. He was lying on his side, cold stone beneath him and the creak of wood above. It was dark but for the slivers of light that slipped down from between the floorboards, and in that fractured light Harry could just make out the glimmer of silver fastenings of a Sentinel. But that form was just out of reach, so who had their hand over his mouth? It was large, rough, and smelled heavily of flour and onions.
There was a moment of confusion. What had happened? He remembered that he was about to attempt an animagus transformation, and now he appeared to be in some sort of crawl space with a Sentinel. He tried to reason out what had happened, but the only conclusion he could reach was that they were apparently hiding and if it was from whom he had seen in the telescope, then he was in a lot of trouble.
He lied there stiff and still, listening to the creak of footsteps above them and the familiar grumbling lilt of frustrated German being tossed about. When his captor was satisfied he would not try to speak out, they removed their hand and Harry took several deep shaky breaths and turned to see who it was. It wasn't the second Sentinel like he had half suspected. Even in the darkness, he could see the diminutive form of a house elf and the shine of its large eyes.
It crept over his prone body and sought out his hand in the darkness, its long fingers wrapping around his fingers gently before slipping something into his palm. Magic, familiar and warm, surged up his arm. It was his wand.
Quietly, he cast a Silencing Spell around their hiding space and the sounds from above died. He sat up as much as he could in the little space.
"Thank you," he said softly.
"It's a privilege to help a great wizard such as yourself, Lord Potter, sir," the elf gushed happily, revealing 'it' to be a 'she'. Despite her apparent pleasure at being of use to him, she still kept looking up nervously as if she expected discovery at any moment. He felt a little nervous about that himself. He crawled his way over to the Sentinel, and before he even reached out to touch him he could make out the coppery smell of blood.
"Hey, are you awake?" he asked, nudging a leg then quickly pulling away when it came back wet.
"He's in a bad way, sir," the elf said sadly. "The other one was already gone before Hinky arrived. You's was very lucky, sir. You was nearly crushed like them, but you was already lying down between them when the roof come down."
A shiver ran down Harry's spine. So he had yet another brush with death? Hinky hadn't said as much, but his survival seemed to have only been because of his smaller size and because the Sentinels' bodies had propped up the heaviest of the debris. He touched his exposed skin and tested all his limbs. Everything seemed to be fine. He couldn't find so much as a splinter.
"Bloody hell . . . how bad is he?"
At this, Hinky fell very quiet. It was as good an answer as any.
"What's going on? Have they gotten in the castle?"
"Hinky don't know, sir, but they ain't gotten in from here. The tower's done sealed itself. They's trying, but they ain't getting in that way. Not yet anyway."
"That's good," he sighed.
Hinky shook her head.
"That's not good?"
The house elf made a distressed little sound and nibbled nervously at her fingernails.
"The towers is all sealed, sir, so they can't get in, but we can't either. We is trapped here."
Harry swore under his breath. That was very much not good. They might hide there for a while, but for how long? Did anyone even know he was here? Someone must know if Hinky had his wand. Hadn't Amelon taken it? Did that mean Amelon had reached the castle before the attack? Was Voldemort with him?
"Is Lord Voldemort here?"
"Oh! Yes, sir! He is. He is sure to scare them away and rescue us!"
Harry felt a stirring of conflicted feelings. Voldemort being here was certainly better than him not being here, from a purely defensive point of view, but he doubted it would discourage the attackers. If anything, they might become more determined. No one could make a more worthwhile target than the Dark Lord. His destruction would almost guarantee victory for the Germans. Then there were his own personal feelings in regards to the other wizard. It went without saying that he would rather not be rescued by the man and once again be placed in his debt.
But thinking like that was stupid and selfish. There was more at stake now than his wounded feelings.
The Germans were going to take Hogwarts unless something was done, and his friends, classmates, and teachers were all in serious danger. There was no telling how far they would go. People would inevitably be killed in the fighting, but what would happen afterward? Would they execute all of the adults? Snape and the Sentinels at the very least. What about the students? Would they kill the more rebellious ones to make a point? Harry couldn't help but think of his fellow Gryffindors. Their reckless and defiant natures would make them prime targets. Then there were the Dueling Club members with their special skill sets and trained agression. What would happen to those who lived? Would the Germans try to hold them as hostages in the castle or try to take them back to Germany where they could be held for ransom?
Thinking of it all terrified and infuriated him.
Right now everyone was fighting for their lives, possibly dying, and what was he doing? He couldn't hide forever. He wasn't at all certain what he could do, but nothing wasn't an option. Even now, right above him, the enemy was trying to break into the castle, and not even Hinky seemed to think the defenses would hold up for long.
"Hinky, listen to me," he said, and of course the house elf immediately obeyed. "I need you to be very quiet. I'm going to take down the Silencing Charm. When I do that, I want you to watch after him." He pointed to the unconscious Sentinel. "No matter what happens, I need you to stay quiet and not interfere, understand?"
In the darkness, he could just make out the elf chewing her fingers again anxiously.
"Oh, sir, please don't—"
He removed the Silencing Charm with a flick of his wand, forcing Hinky to silence her protestations. Her hands were now clamped over her mouth as if to keep herself from screaming. Harry felt sorry for her but not enough to stop what he intended to do. Above him the sound of several Germans talking at once immediately filtered down.
"This is taking too long!"
"I'm working on it. Your griping isn't helping my concentrating."
"What's the problem? You were taught the spell!"
"Well, the old codger was wrong about it! There's another spell here. I've got to get through it before I can get to other! So shut up!"
Amelon had locked the door with magic when he left, Harry remembered. It was ironic that it should prove helpful in such a completely unrelated situation. Carefully, he sat up and twisted himself so that he could look up through a crack in the floor board. A Lumos Charm had been cast, and from his limited viewpoint Harry could see three people crowded together directly over where the Sentinel lay unconscious. There had been a fourth voice, but he could not see where that person might be standing.
Carefully, he lied down on the stone floor, and gripping his wand with both hands, he aimed it through the crack. The scars on his palm began to grow hot.
Magic surged through his scar and into his wand, adding more magical force than he had thought he could manage and more than he had wanted. The force of the Blasting Curse tore up the floor above him completely, smashed into the unsuspecting Germans, and through the wall of the castle. Harry found himself chocking on a rain of sawdust and splinters, and hurled himself upright. The Astronomy Tower was unrecognizable. Half the roof had collapsed inward, burying the furniture and telescopes in rubble and revealing an open sky with an army of witches and wizards flitting by on broomsticks. The giant astrolabe seemed to be the only thing that had kept the rest of the roof from coming down as well, and even that was now starting to tilt from the force of Harry's spell. The spell had also had the unintended consequence of shattering both Amelon's spell and the castle's defensive spell, tearing open a hole in the wall large enough to fit a small dragon through. The upside was that none of the Germans seemed to be alive to take advantage of it, and the wall itself was starting to close up on itself.
"Shit, shit, shit . . . Hinky! Get him inside!" Harry yelled, struggling to climb out of the hole. The tower shook, throwing him off balance and back into the crawl space. A flash of bright green light flared above him, and he felt the sharp burn of dark magic brush against his skin.
The Killing Curse.
The fourth voice.
The tower shuddered again and lurched sideways. It was coming down, and it was coming down now.
He threw himself to his feet, throwing out a Cutting Hex as he did. Again his scar flared hot and the magic surged stronger than he had intended. The Cutting Hex gave no light like some spells, but Harry could still see when the curse, which was useful for its wide arching sweep when aiming was difficult, struck the wizard by the sparks that flew as the curse tore through the astrolabe he had taken cover behind and through his body. For the briefest moment, Harry could see the stunned expression of the wizard as his head flew from his body.
Horror flitted through Harry and then left just as quickly. His mind and his body refused to stop and think of what he had just done. Survival was what mattered now.
"POTTER, SIR!" came Hinky's terrified cry as the tower started to tilt still further. He turned towards the opening and could see her standing just inside the opening with her hand held out to him, the Sentinel unconscious at her feet, and the wall closing quickly around them. He threw himself out of the hole and stumbled towards the opening, but the roof was starting to come down as the tower tilted and the astrolabe began to roll away.
He would never make it.
He turned again and rushed for the only escape available for him.
The sky and open air greeted him with a blast of icy wind and the terrifying thrill of falling. Behind him the tower was falling too, falling towards him, coming down on top of him. He thought of feathers and talons and his magical core, the world slowing down around him, but still moving too fast. He couldn't spare the concentration to fear whether he would be fast enough.
His magic was boiling beneath his skin, in his scarred hands, and the air around him. He reached and pulled and prayed and—
A hand seized his arm, jerking him around and onto the back of a broom. His concentration was shattered, and for a second time that night the animagus spell dissolved into nothing.
"I've got you!" the witch that had caught him crowed in German. "Hold on tight! I don't think I can manage that a second time."
Harry could only sit there, stunned. Had he just been saved? By a German? The broom swerved sharply to the left, startling him into grabbing hold of her so he didn't fall off. A ball of fire fell behind them, and he watched as it hit the ground and exploded, taking out several ground troops in the process. He looked upwards to see where it had come from.
The sky above was not the sky he had seen before. The moon was gone, and in its place was thick, roiling blanket of clouds rolling downwards. As he watched he could see flashes of spells and fire burst through the cloud cover and fall to the earth, where the magic exploded in fire or glass or some other nasty surprise.
"Bastards," the witch he held snarled. "Hiding like cowards! Mind casting a few curses up there while I steer? It's hard to dodge and cast spells at the same time."
Harry wondered if the woman was utterly starkers. Then he realized she thought he was one of her comrades. A quick look around revealed why. Everyone was dressed in black robes. So was he, the lighting was bad, and she hadn't had time to look at him closely before catching him in mid-air.
Well, that was . . . lucky?
"Are you awake back there? Now is not the time to space off, buddy."
Before he could think of a reply, she turned to see what was the matter. This time she was close and even in the flickering light, the trademark green glow in his eyes was unmistakable. She stiffened and then swung around to point her wand. He caught her arm and threw his weight to the side. Momentum and weight did the rest of the work, throwing them both from the broom. Screaming, she fell away, and Harry let her go, throwing up his hand to the sky.
He had not flown a broom in nearly two years and had not uttered that spell in even longer, but the broom came to him with a familiar slap to his palm and found its way beneath him as if it had always been there. His descent immediately stopped and instead he shot upwards, instinctively seeking out the higher vantage point just as he had in his Quidditch Seeker days. His eyes scanned the skies, now for curses rather than snitches, but the only danger came from the falling curses above which he avoided nimbly with only half a thought. It seemed, even now, no one had recognized him.
Above him someone was doing what they could to fight against so many. Should he go up there and see if he could help? He decided against it almost immediately. If the Germans couldn't tell the difference between him and they, then the chances were whoever was up there wouldn't be able to either. Should he sneak back into the castle? There was a secret entrance into Slytherin's lair in the Forbidden Forest he could sneak back in through. But that would mean stumbling around at night in the Forbidden Forest to look for the entrance, which he wasn't entirely certain he could find nor did he know if it would have sealed itself off like the rest of the castle had.
The towers, he realized. The invaders had nearly gotten through the Astronomy Tower's seal and only Amelon's additional spell had probably stopped them. They had said they knew the spell to get inside. That meant the towers were vulnerable, and at least some of them had been breached already. He could find a tower, get inside through there, and then seal it off again behind him. After that, he could tell Voldemort or Snape what he had seen and then work with everyone to drive out the invaders for good.
It sounded like a ridiculous plan even to him, but it was the only plan he had.
He pulled up his hood and began to circle the castle, hoping no one would recognize him if he kept moving. The hood wasn't going to do him much good against curses or the cold, but it might help him get close enough to follow through with his plan. Already he could see the Astronomy Tower was not the only one to have collapsed. The Arithmancy Tower and the Owlery (thank Merlin Elsbeth had remained at the werewolf colony) had also been destroyed, as if the castle itself were excising its vulnerable places away from itself. Gryffindor Tower still stood, and Harry could see spellwork not only being aimed at it but also spells being cast out from it. That meant it was still being held by the students. He looked for the old Divination Tower, long abandoned, and the West Tower where the Beauxbaton students had lived during the Triwizard tournament, but neither seemed to have been breached yet.
It wasn't until he circled around to the southeast end of the castle that he spotted the entry point. Unlike Gryffindor Tower with its spire roof, Ravenclaw Tower was designed as a watchtower with a large flat platform roof and only a hatch to lock out the intruders. As Harry watched, half a dozen Germans were casting spells on the hatch, while three times that number hovered around them in a defensive circle, and still more were trading curses through the narrow wandslits* in the tower wall with the students trapped inside. Despite the defensive position, the students couldn't aim at the main threat trying to smash in the roof above them, and the gargoyles that had previously guarded the tower had been obliterated already.
Harry began to circle the tower, careful not to appear too obvious or lose track of the curses still falling down from the cloud cover above. No one paid him any mind, but his heart was pounding in his chest. Hundreds, maybe thousands of witches and wizards willing and wanting to kill him were flying around him, oblivious. He might have laughed at the absurdity of it, but at the moment he was too sickened by what was happening.
Minutes stretched, and the battle continued on with a great deal of noise and movement, but not much change. The castle's natural and magical fortifications held most of the invaders at bay, while a few brave souls from within cast out curses from wandslits and broken windows, only to have a dozen counterattacks flung back. Curses continued to fall from the sky above, but there was no way to aim through the cloud cover, and the spells did little more than cause a little confusion below and take out the odd flying witch or wizard. The invaders congregated at the perceived weak points, as many as could fit in each nook and cranny and batted at the castle defenses, while those who could not find a particular target flew or ran back and forth to defend those who did.
Harry knew that he would be horrified later by the damage they were inflicting. Parts of the castle had already fallen into piles of rubble, and the Germans seemed intent on tearing it down to the very foundations. But grief was for off the battlefield. For now, he would need to rely on his anger and fear, and yes, his exhilaration.
The hatch into Ravenclaw Tower finally gave way, exploding upward and outward so that the spell casters were tossed partially aside. Harry didn't hesitate. Throwing himself forward, he aimed his broom for the now gaping hole in the tower. He drew his wand from his sleeve, mentally preparing himself for the maneuver that would spin him around to cast the Web Hex* at the open hatch and keep him from breaking his neck in the process. Curses cast from the castle defenders flew past him like a blast of heat in the icy air, tingling against his senses but never connecting as he flashed passed the invaders who seemed to be floating still around him.
Faster and faster, though there was little distance to go. He had to be the first through to close the entryway behind him.
From inside the dark opening in the hatch there appeared a red glow, and the scar in Harry's hand suddenly burned hot. Instinctively, he tried to pull up at the last moment but only managed to turn his body so the fire struck his side rather than his face. His broom and wand were torn from his grip by the blast and his body would have been thrown from the tower completely, if he hadn't hit the crenellations around its rim first. For a moment, Harry was too stunned to move. Shock quickly gave way to panic.
He let out a shout of pain and started to roll on the ground, struggling with his cloak until the burning material was finally torn off. Harry's face and hands stung, but didn't think he had been burned too badly. He crawled towards the edge of the tower and propped himself against the crenellations to catch his breath and gather his senses. Looking towards the hatch door, he could see flames still billowing out of it, and there was a sort of roaring noise to be heard through the ringing of his ears.
It seemed he had survived his second bungled plan for the night, and the Ravenclaws hadn't needed his help to protect their tower after all. He would have been proud of them if it weren't for the unfair resentment of being set on fire.
For a minute or two after the blast, which had stunned more than just Harry when it had gone off, no one paid the boy huddled atop the tower any mind. They were much too busy checking their people for injuries and trying to quell the magical fire to pay him much mind. But eventually, someone did notice him.
Harry turned reflexively. Three wizards standing at the edge of the tower stared back at him, their eyes widening in disbelief. Harry was suddenly reminded that he had just thrown off his cloak, and if his school robes weren't hard enough to miss, his face was damn near impossible.
Luckily, he was quicker to get over his surprise than they were.
"Accio wand!" he summoned even as he leaped to his feet. His body screamed in protest and his head swam, but he kept moving forward. The wizards who had spotted him lifted their wands hastily, but they were still recovering from surprise, and when they didn't let out a spell fast enough Harry rammed bodily straight through the middle of them, knocking all four of them over the edge of the tower. Harry's free hand was already wrapped around a broom as they went over, and he was flying away before anyone could think to stop him. There were shouts of protest over the terrified screams of the falling wizards, and Harry knew his ruse was over.
His makeshift disguise was lost. His attempt to enter the castle had failed. He had already been recognized and as soon as everyone else realized what was going on, it would be hopeless.
The only option left to him was escape, and it would be a miracle if he managed that.
He tried to rise higher, hoping to make a break for the cloud cover above, but he was already being pursued, and although he was a faster, better flier, he wasn't good enough to outfly half a dozen hexes at once. He had to fly lower to seek protection amongst the enemy, dodging around them to keep his pursuers from getting a clear shot. Witches and wizards swerved and dived around him, hexes shooting in every direction, not all of them aimed at him even if felt as if they were. His heart was pounding in his ears, and he was half deaf to the noise of the battlefield.
A wizard appeared just ahead of him, his wand thrown up as soon as Harry was in his line of sight, forcing him to turn sharply back towards the castle. Mentally, he swore. They had begun circling around to cut him off and there was no telling which wizards were targeting him and which were still oblivious. He was tempted to start throwing curses at everyone, seriously tempted, but there were too many, and it would only have made his situation worse.
He dove lower, turned sharper, flew faster, and tried to find an opening to break away. No matter what he did, he couldn't veer away to escape. Whenever he tried, the crowd thinned and the curses came raining down from every direction. He had to do something and quick. He had almost circled the castle, and the lake was coming up. There was no one on the water and barely anyone flying above it. He'd be an easy target.
He needed a distraction.
His eyes danced around the field looking for incoming curses and inspiration. They inevitably found their way to the castle entrance where hundreds of the enemy had amassed in their attempt to break through. He made a sharp turn and headed straight for it.
There were nearly a dozen wizards after him now, coming from every direction, trying to box him in, but he still had the instincts of a Quidditch Seeker, and twisted away or feinted or dodged everything they threw at him. There were too many close calls. Two curses thrown at him from either side forced him to duck dangerously low, his feet skimming the ground and bowling over an unsuspecting witch. An attack from directly to his left made him throw up a counter-curse and threw him off balance so that he nearly ran into the Whomping Willow.
But he reached the castle and turned to follow closely along the wall over the moat. He was exposed there, but there was no good place to aim at him except from directly to his right where he threw up the strongest blocking charms he knew. He raced towards the drawbridge, his wand up and ready. Curses and hexes pounded against his shields, wind bit against his exposed hands, but the scars on his hand burned hotter the closer death crept towards him.
He rounded the bend of the castle, and the drawbridge was in his line of sight, witches and wizards crowded tightly onto it. If he could have, he would have used the Old Magic. Something magnificent and terrible and awe-inspiring. The Old Magic was good for that. If you weren't in its path of destruction, and therefore dead, it would demand the attention of anyone there to witness it. It would have been a marvelous distraction as well as an attack.
But he didn't have the time nor the concentration to spare for it. He had to settle for an amplified Burning Hex instead.
And that was why he failed.
No sooner then he had released the hex, the witches and wizards on the bridge threw up a wall of shields. None of them would have been able to block Harry's spell on their own, but there were dozens, and as his curse struck the wall of magic it rebounded back towards him. Another wall of firewas speeding towards him.
His momentum was too great to stop or avoid the fire barreling towards him, so he threw himself off his broom and fell. When he landed, he thought for an instant he had hit the ground and been smashed to pieces, the violence of the impact was so jarring, but then it was the cold, wet rush of water that stunned him. His eyes were wide open as he stared above him at the fire burning above him through the distorted haze of lake water. He continued to stare as hesaml quickly to the bottom until his back and head touched the muddy bottom below.
He nearly gasped in lake water when he realized he might drown . . . again. He floundered for a moment to pull himself upright and struggle back towards the surface. He stuck his wand, amazingly still clutched in a death grip in his hand, in his mouth and swam as hard as he could for the surface. He could not swim directly upwards. Fire still burned at the surface of the water, and he was forced to swim much further to the nearest dark space he could see.
The water was freezing, a reminder of other, unpleasant memories and fears. The exhilaration of battle was washed away instantly, and in its absence the cold rushed in, stealing his strength and his senses. But he was still alive, so he struggled on, struggled to keep the darkness creeping in, from taking him completely, struggled to move leaden limbs, and struggled to keep from gasping lake water to drench the burning in his lungs.
He broke the surface, gasping air hot with fire and magic and swallowed a scream.
Above him it was dark, but loud and echoing with voices and the thud of feet against wood. He was directly beneath the drawbridge. The moat was fortunately shallow, and the gentle flow had pushed him to the only safe place for him to come up for air. The bridge was low and wide, meaning he was shielded from view from both those on the bridge and those on the shore. One side of the bridge was still burning hotly from Harry's spell, which meant no one was going to try looking in on his hiding space on that side, at least.
His senses dulled by cold and panic, it took him a ridiculously long time to figure this out. He still wasn't safe. He needed out of the water. It was killing him. Weakening him, pulling him back down to smother him. But he couldn't get out.
One side of the bridge was burning; the other left him exposed to the Germans. He had no broom. He couldn't apparate this close to the castle. If he tried to blow up the bridge above him as he had in the Astronomy Tower, he would be trapped under the debris and drowned. If he did nothing and just hid, he would either freeze, drown, or be found and killed.
It looked like it was going to be one of those nights.
"They have inside help," Amelon noted, his eyes flitting over the map, trying to take it all in. The number of the enemy was only half the problem. "They've found all the weakest points."
"I know," Snape said without inflection. He was still bleeding and hadn't been able to keep steady on his feet, but if he was concussed the Inquisitor couldn't tell. The Headmaster was currently seated at his desk, staring up at the gallery of paintings all around him. Most of the frames were empty, but occasionally a headmaster, red and puffing, would appear and tell him something about the progress of the battle and the condition of the students and staff. Amelon relayed what he could from the map. It was difficult. The castle was large, the occupants were numerous, and he was unfamiliar with both. Still, he could see things were going badly.
Snape took at deep breath and let it out slowly.
"Would you locate my wife, Inquisitor Amelon? She will be a violet dot like the staff. She should have been in the dungeons before the attack."
"Headmaster, this really isn't—"
"Inquisitor Amelon," Snape interrupted, turning his black eyes towards the other. Amelon could see murder in his eyes, and he suddenly remembered he had stood there while the Dark Lord had threatened to mutilate the other's wife. "There are six wizards currently headed in our direction with every intention of breaking down the door and killing me. I likely will not have the opportunity to ask again. You likely will not have the opportunity to look."
" . . . I don't know whether you're being a pessimist or a romantic."
Snape didn't reply, but Amelon was already looking. Fortunately, there were only a few violet dots to sort through.
"She appears to be going towards the infirmary. There are students with her."
"Collecting the wounded," Snape murmured to himself, then frowned. "Where is the Dark Lord?"
"He's only on the second floor."
Given the time that had passed since he left, he could easily have made his way to the main entrance and back again, but he was only halfway there. Amelon couldn't account for it, but Snape didn't seem concerned.
There was a sudden 'whoosh' sound, followed by a rapid drop in pressure that threatened to rupture their eardrums, and immediately followed by the office trembling. Dust rained down from the ceiling, and frames fell from the wall, smashing to splinters. Snape closed his eyes again and leaned back in his chair.
"They're here. Flip the map and hide if you can."
Amelon did as he was ordered and hid himself inside of an alcove off to the side of the desk, casting a spell to make the wall on either side of him appear smooth and continuous. It wouldn't stand up to a serious search, but if he were lucky they would never even think to look for him. Snape remained seated behind his desk, turned away from the portraits now in favor of the door across the room. Amelon watched transfixed as the Headmaster lifted his wand and slowly started to tap it against his desk, slow and even, like the ticking of a clock. Blood ran down the length of his face, dripping of the tip of his long nose and sharp chin, his expression frozen in a cold anger. He closed his eyes.
There was another 'whoosh', pressure drop, and shudder. Fifteen seconds later, it happened again only this time something gave. The magic broke and door burst inward, sending shards of stone and wood flying across the room. Dust and splinters rained down on the seated wizard, catching in his sticky blood and sweat.
"Surrender now or ve'll kill you," someone shouted in accented English from the other side of the gaping doorway.
Snape continued to tap his wand and said nothing. There was a drawn out silence where no one spoke on either side of the door, and only the shuffle of robes and the tapping wand could be heard. Finally, however, a figure appeared at the doorway, moving through the haze of dust into the room. Snape opened his eyes and stopped tapping.
Black eyes stared at the intruder, slightly older with dark hair and an aquiline noise more generous in proportion than his own. Blue eyes stared back. Their wands remained trained on each other.
"Do you surrender?" the wizard asked in a thick Italian accent, challenging him to decline. Snape was a Slytherin, however, and uninterested in games of bravado.
"And just who would I be surrendering to?"
The captain hesitated, caught off guard by the seemingly quick capitulation.
"And do you actually have the authority negotiate the terms of surrender?" the Headmaster asked skeptically.
"Then what are your terms?"
"You will surrender your wand—"
"For the school, you nitwit."
Mandalari scowled and his hand tightened around his wand, but he answered.
"You will order the students and staff to surrender, relinquish their wands, and gather peaceably in the dining hall. You will deactivate the castle defenses. Do this and you'll save lives."
"Whose lives? The student's lives? Or your lives?"
"You can't win this, but there is no reason more people need to die than necessary."
Snape let out a snort.
"You're dead, Mandalari. All of your people are dead, just like the last time you tried to take this school."
" . . . Obstringo!"
The Captain's binding spell hit dead center, trapping Snape rigidly to his chair and causing his wand to fall from his hand. He wasn't, however, fast enough to stop the Headmaster's spell. Rather than strike the captain though, the magic hit the desk, and from the center rose a black shadowy stain that radiated outwards. Within seconds the shadows had condensed into black tendrils that continued to creep their way off the desk and around the room. The tendrils slithered down to the ground, crept across the floor, up the furniture and walls, over the portraits and wall hangings, and beneath the rugs. The Captain stumbled away from the encroaching vines until he was backed all the way to the door.
"Enfeugo!" he snarled and waved his wand. The tendrils burned and writhed, turning to ash readily, but only on a small patch, and within moments more tendrils had grown to cover the empty patch again. Worse, the new growth immediately sprouted two inch long thorns that glowed faintly violet at the tips.
"Careful," Snape warned, frozen to his chair but looking unaffected by his defenselessness. "The thorns are filled with poison."
From outside the door there came a string of German, fast and angry, followed by another voice, and then there quickly drew an argument that reminded Snape like nothing so much as a flock of angry geese bickering at each other. Mandalari's expression darkened, and he snarled something that had all of them falling silent.
Snape smiled coldly.
"They sound rather high strung. Are they worried the Dark Lord will come back? It's a pity, you just missed him."
Mandalari froze, while beyond the wall several Germans broke out into excited conversation. It seemed at least one of them knew what he had said.
"Do you understand now?" Snape continued as if speaking to particularly dim students. "He's here in the castle. That's why you're all dead."
"You're lying," Mandalari said.
"Would I be this calm if I were?"
" . . . Why are you bleeding?"
Snape just continued to smile, the answer a secret he would gladly torment him with until his dying breath. Mandalari lifted his wand threateningly.
"Where is he?"
"Where he can kill as many of you as possible, of course."
The Captain turned on his heel and retreated the rest of the way out of the office and into the hall, where four German witches and wizards waited anxiously for him.
"I'm going to find him," he stated plainly in German.
"What about the rest of us?" a witch protested.
"The four of you will stay here and do what you can to deactivate the wards. I'm sure you'll manage to figure out something."
"You can't take the Dark Lord on your own!"
"I'm never alone . . ." he said, his free hand finding the crucifix and squeezing it gently. The witched wasn't impressed, but didn't bother arguing. There was no point arguing with fanatics.
"What about the Headmaster?" she asked instead.
"If you can't make him cooperate . . . kill him."
Harry could feel himself dying. The cold and weakness seeping into him was too familiar for him not to recognize it. He might have already drowned if not for the slight embankment of stones and debris against the castle wall, which had gave him something to stand on rather than swim. He was shivering so badly he had to holster his wand back up his sleeve or risk dropping it. A mere half foot above him, the bridge rumbled with footsteps and voices over the ringing in his ears.
If his own situation was bad, the castle's wasn't much better. He could feel the walls trembling just as his hands did, and it made his heart ache to think that they might fall together that day. On the bridge, the Germans cast spell after spell in unison, while those on brooms standing guard over them cheered and shouted encouragement.
Harry hated them.
Harry hated that he could do nothing about it.
Exhausted, freezing, and surrounded by the enemy, he could think of nothing to get out of his situation. His palm burned, ready to cast a spell, but he could think of nothing to cast. If he blew up the bridge above him it would collapse on top of him. If he tried to move from his hiding spot, he would become the target of hundreds of curses at once. His animagus form would drown if he attempted it here. Even warming charms were useless while submerged in water.
Merlin, he was tired.
He closed his eyes and rested his forehead against the stones of the castle.
"I'm sorry. I don't know what to do. I'm sorry . . ."
Beneath his hands the castle suddenly felt warm.
Oh . . . oh! The castle was alive. The castle had always been alive. He knew this. He had known this for years, had sensed it from the day he first saw it. It had been alive, but he had never felt it stirring like this before. He could feel its magic beating like heart, filled with so many emotions. Like a restless spirit.
"Please," he prayed. "Help me protect you. Tell me how."
The stones beneath his hand began to tingle with magic, but he received no answer. Perhaps there was no answer to give. Perhaps it didn't know. A violent shiver ran through him, and he felt his vision darkening. He tried again.
"Madris, please help me protect my home," he prayed, calling upon the older, wiser goddess. "I will make this castle your temple if you will only help me save it."
Water surged up from beneath, submerging him and pushing him upwards so that he knocked his head on the bridge above him. The water receded again, leaving Harry sputtering and floundering, and with a nasty bruise forming on the back of his head. On the right side of the bridge, the water was rising up from the mysterious surge, and above him he could hear shouts of panic. Even as he floundered frantically trying to keep his head above water, he suddenly knew what he had to do.
Harry's element was water, especially cold water. He knew one day it would probably lead to his death, but that had done nothing to diminish its affinity to him. Indeed, it had probably only strengthened it. It would serve him now.
Taking a deep, calming breath, Harry let himself sink below the icy waters. The water was no warmer than it had been before, and the burning of his scarred hand was the only heat to be found. He accepted it. Accepted the cold and the darkness and the crushing pressure. Accepted it and let it embrace him and let his magic reach out to embrace it in return. A current began to flow, circling him like the center of a whirlpool. Slowly at first, then faster and faster.
Harry reached deeply inside himself for his own magic, the scars' magic, Madris' magic, any source of magic he could draw upon. Even the castle's magic seemed to be flowing into him and then out of him into the frigid waters, making them boil and churn.
There were spells that controlled water, both ancient and modern, but he didn't know them. He didn't even know the names of the gods he might call upon for the answer, and wouldn't have dared try to summon yet another when his first prayer had just been answered. So in his usual, reckless fashion, he made a gamble that could save or destroy everything he was trying to achieve.
"Magic, do thy will."
The whirlpool collapsed, the water surged sideways, and Harry was swept away. Immediately, he lost all sense of direction as he went tumbling into the violent current. The water was boiling with magic around him, but still so cold and now threatening to smash into something and shatter him to pieces.
If he didn't drown first.
He could do nothing more except curl up, cover his head, pray, and try not gasp in a lungful of moat water in a panic. His head ached, everything ached, his lungs burned, his stomach churned, and there seemed to be no end to it. 'Live or die,' he thought wildly, but the thought would go no further. 'Live or die'. His choice or the gods?
Then it stopped as abruptly as it had started, the waters throwing him roughly to smooth stone and then withdrawing like ocean waves receding from the shore. The force of it made him gasp and choke on the mixture of air and water. He struggled to breathe in the air and cough out the water simultaneously, until he started to retch. When at last his struggles to breathe had been won, he rolled over onto his back and opened his eyes.
Above him he could make out a very blurry stone ceiling and large timber beams lit by torchlight.
He was in the castle.
He tried to move, to get up and look around, but all he managed to do was uncurl himself so that he lay prone on his back. His wet clothes felt like lead weighing him down. It was a struggle just to keep his eyes open, and there wasn't much to see. He had lost his glasses in the water. Despite all this, he felt rather pleasantly numb or partially drunk, and even the cold seemed somehow more bearable while lying inside Hogwarts.
He wanted to sleep. He had done enough, hadn't he? Everything he could, for better or ill. He didn't think he had anything else left to give.
Something grabbed his ankle and spun him around, then dragged him swiftly across the floor. Water Harry hadn't even realized he was lying in sloshed around him as he went. He turned his head just enough to see a dazed and wet German wizard attempting to climb to his feet as he passed by. At least, he thought it was a German. It might have been a Sentinel, it was hard to tell with them all wearing black. With a sense of detachment, he continued to watch from the corner of his eye as the same wizard was hit by a Cutting Hex and collapsed yet again. He hoped that was a German. He turned his attention to the foot he was being dragged by, but there was nothing to see. It dangled in midair by some sort of magic.
"Merlin, Potter, where the hell did you come from?" Angelina's voice demanded in exasperation.
His foot was dropped, and suddenly there were hands pulling him upright and faces hovering close enough that even with his miserable eyesight he was able to recognize some of them.
"H-hey," he greeted through chattering teeth. "D-did I m-miss any-anything?"
"We should be asking you that. How the hell did you get outside?" a boy asked.
With a bit of squinting and concentration, Harry managed to recognize Gerald St James, Ginny's jealous ex-boyfriend.
"There will be time for that later," Angelina interrupted, drawing back his attention. Now that he was concentrating, he could see she looked terribly pale and there was a dark smear of blood across her cheek and forehead. Her mouth formed into a hard line as she looked him up and down.
She muttered a spell and Harry was suddenly dry. Another spell and his clothes few warm, almost unbearable so, as if they had been left near a fire before he put them on. It felt wonderful, but it made him want to curl up on the floor and sleep more than ever.
"Angelina, slap me," he requested sleepily.
She blinked, and did as he said. The sting helped wake him a little.
"I'm here if you want another one," Gerald offered.
Harry forced himself to support his own weight and look around. Two other classmates had been holding him up, but retreated as soon as he proved he could stand on his own. He swayed slightly, but managed to keep his feet. He looked around to get an idea of what had happened.
They were in a large hallway just off the main entrance hall, which was currently flooded with several inches of water and littered with sopping wet witches and wizards, some struggling to orient themselves and others dead or unconscious on the floor. Students, many of them soaking wet themselves, partially hid themselves in adjoining corridors and took shots from behind pillars and statues at the Germans left vulnerable in the open space of the hall. Gargoyles and statues waded through the water, crushing and bashing the invaders with their paws and hooves, killing them remorselessly. Somewhere, someone was laughing hysterically.
A few feet away, he recognized the unmistakable stature of Professor Flitwick and another witch in a large brim hat that had to be McGonagall. There were other forms in dark uniforms around them that were probably Sentinels. Although it was difficult to tell, it seemed that Flitwick and McGonagall were casting some sort of spell that was draining the water out of the hall and using it to create an enormous ice dam in front of the gaping entrance, while the Sentinels protected them from enemy attack. As far as Harry could tell, his wild magic had caused the moat to leap its confines and flow straight into the castle, knocking down the remaining defenses and sweeping Harry and a number of hapless Germans inside in the process.
He was horrified to realize what he had done, accomplishing the very thing the Germans had been striving for. Fortunately, the teachers and students had been faster to recover from Harry's flood than the Germans and were already sealing up the opening once again. He took a step towards the professors, but was immediately overcome with dizziness. Angelina caught him, and to his surprise so did Gerald. He supposed their disagreements were too petty to bother with under the circumstances. The two put his arms around their necks and half carried him towards the professors. It was slow and awkward, and by the time they managed to cross the mere twenty feet, the professors had moved on from building the ice dam to fortifying with various charms and curses. Harry recognized only a few of them.
"I suppose we have you to thank for this?" McGonagall said by way of greeting. To his surprise, there was little accusation and more a grim sort of approval.
"Yes. I'm sorry," he said sincerely.
"Don't be. You've bought us some time despite yourself. I'm afraid it won't do us much good unless reinforcements arrive soon."
"Any sign of Lord Voldemort?" he asked. It was possible she didn't even know the Dark Lord was in the castle. Sentinel Seitler, however, answered for her.
"The portraits say he's coming in from the Headmaster's office, but he's taking his sweet time. It'll be over by the time he gets here."
Harry tried to think what could be taking the dark wizard so long. Could he have run into trouble on the way? Was he even heading this way? He might have some other scheme to oust the invaders that had nothing to do with holding the front entrance.
"We've held on well so far, but we can't hold out for much longer," Flitwick agreed solemnly. "There's just too many of them, and they know what they're doing. We're trapped here. There's no . . . Wait! Harry?!"
The dwarfish professor abandoned his charms in order to turn to Harry, seizing him by his robes and practically pulling him down to his level on his knees.
"How did you get out of the castle that day Lestrange locked it down?"
"Um . . . I . . ." He felt a natural reluctance to discuss the Chamber of Secrets, which as its name implied seemed best left just that. A secret. However, when Harry realized what Flitwick was getting at, his eyes widened and he felt some of his former energy returning. "There is a way out through the dungeons. There is a tunnel that leads into the Forbidden Forest."
Flitwick and McGonagall shared a look, briefly, before the Transfiguration professor went back to casting spells on the ice dam.
"Do you think you could lead the castle residents out?" Flitwick asked.
"I . . . yes. I think so." Yet even as he said it, something felt wrong. The entrance to the chamber might be reluctant to allow so many people inside, and the basilisk inside might not be too pleased either. She had grown significantly between his visits, and after all the time that had passed since he last saw her, she might well be bigger than him now and considerably more lethal. But what else could he do? This might be their only chance to get everyone out safely. They had to give it a try.
"Everyone is scattered around the castle . . . and then there's the injured," Flitwick said, mostly to himself. "We can probably get most of them out, but not all. There isn't enough time."
"Patronus," Angelina interrupted. "We can send out patronae to let everyone know to retreat to the dungeons. The portraits and the house elves can help guide them to the fastest, safest routes."
"Good thinking," Flitwick said, looking a little less grim. "We will try to hold them off for as long as we can. Ms. Johnson, gather the students you know who can cast a Patronus and have them carry the evacuation order. Mr. St. James, please inform the portraits and see if you can't summon some elves to assist.
"Sentinel Seitler, if you would be so good as to escort Mr. Potter to the dungeons to await the others. It's imperative that he get there safely to lead everyone out."
Harry almost protested to insist that he could stay and help with the ice dam, but realized that would have been stupid. He was magically and physically spent, and if he were killed or captured there would be no one to open the secret passage, send the away the basilisk, or show them the tunnel that led into the forest. Solemnly, he nodded and accepted Seitler's hold as Gerald and Angelina left to fulfill their own roles. Even as he did so a feeling of wrongness niggled at him.
Harry was too weak to do much more than hobble along with the Sentinel's support. If Seitler thought his role was less than he was qualified for, he was professional enough not to voice his opinion. They made their way towards the dungeons in silence, and despite their circumstances Harry found himself dozing off.
He was startled into wakefulness again when Seitler suddenly went slack and fell out from under his arm. The sudden shift in support and weight caused Harry to lose his balance and fall over on top of the wizard. He struggled to push himself up and off the man. Beneath him, Seitler didn't so much as flinch when Harry's elbows jabbed him in ribs or stomach. Before Harry could figure out what had happened, a hand appeared from behind him, seizing the collar of his shirt and pulling him up and away from his intended protector. Harry panicked and flailed, trying to pull free but only managed to tear his collar and pop a few buttons for his efforts. The hand released his collar only to grab his hair and yank painfully, forcing Harry to arch backwards and fall to his knees. He stared up blearily at the figure hovering above him.
"I know you," the man said in an Italian accent. "You're the devil's apprentice."
Harry grimaced and clawed at the hand with his blunt fingernails. The man hissed as he drew blood, but he didn't let go. Instead he shook his captive sharply, tearing loose tufts of hair as he did so.
"Where is your master?" the man demanded.
"Voldemort?" Harry scoffed defiantly. "Haven't seen him."
"Don't lie to me. I will hurt you."
"If I knew where he was, I would happily tell you, so you could go off to get yourself horribly killed. But I don't so I can't."
He was pulled roughly to his feet, his wand hand seized and pulled harshly behind his back. Harry grunted in pain, which only worsened as he pulled the tendons of his shoulder trying to keep upright and moving as the Italian wizard pushed and pulled him along.
"We will find him together then."
"Vere are de vards?" the witch snarled, leaning over the headmaster with obvious menace. Snape regarded her impassively from his fixed position in his chair.
"I'm sorry, but was that English? I can't tell."
She hissed in frustration and cast a Choking Hex. Snape stiffened but could do nothing else as he felt an invisible force squeezing his throat. He was only just starting to turn red from oxygen deprivation when another wizard who had been busy freezing the black vines, turned and cast the counter-spell. Snape made an effort not to gasp and merely took several deep breaths. The witch and wizard argued fiercely to each other in German for a moment, before the witch gave up and left the Headmaster to her colleague.
"Silly girl," said the wizard, a young blond man with a large scar across his nose. "You should never use that spell during an interrogation. She might have crushed your vindpipe and den how vould ve get our answers?" he asked congenially.
Snape knew he was in real trouble now. The witch wasn't particularly clever or inherently cruel, but this wizard was a different matter. He had worked with enough sadists during the last war to recognize one on sight. He had done well enough on stalling up to now. It took a ridiculous amount of time for the Germans to realize Freezing Charms worked better than Fire Charms on the enchanted vines, but even then disposing of the vines was still proving beyond them. With the vines in place there was no way to search the office properly. Drawers and cabinets were held shut, wall hangings were obscured, and furniture was fixed to the floor. The only real progress they had made was that while the Freezing Charms were in place they could walk through and the over the vines without being overwhelmed by them. Even then, it had taken two people at a time to keep the Freezing Charms going, while one wizard guarded the hallway, and the last was left alone to interrogate their prisoner. All Snape had to do was sit there and say nothing. It wasn't as if he had much choice in the matter.
"I prefer de eyes myself," the wizard continued. "Nothing induces a panic like de feeling of vuns eyeball bursting in its socket. People vill do or say almost anything to de save de other."
A thumb came up to press against his eyelid and pushed lightly. Snape reminded himself that eyes were easily replaceable and fell back on his training as an occlumens. He might not be in control of what happened to his body, but he could still control his mind enough not to panic. He would not break so easily.
The thumb pulled away. Snape opened his eye to see the wizard staring back at him with admiration.
"Not doing it for you, is it? Vell, dere's always my second favorite. De hands."
Hands were not nearly as easy to replace as eyes. It was why Voldemort had chosen them as the object of torment during his visit. Snape continued to keep his expression blank, but when the tip of a wand pressed into the top of his hand, the limb twitched against his consent. The interrogator smiled triumphantly.
"Yes, de hands den. Now, where—"
The scarred wizard spun around, expecting an attack but saw no one else. He demanded to know what had happened in German, and the witch replied rather frantically. Snape spoke French, not German, but he could follow the conversation enough to realize that the other wizard in the room had carelessly scratched himself on one of the poisoned thorns. The injured wizard couldn't explain this himself, because he was already on the ground, eyes rolling in the back of his head and his veins bulging in the same toxic hue of the violet poison. Seeing an opportunity, Snape spoke up.
"The antidote is in the cupboard in the black potions bag. He'll be dead in two minutes without it."
His interrogator looked startled, then suspicious.
"Vhat is de counter-spell for de vines? Dey're blocking de cabinet."
"Even if I told you, it wouldn't work for you. The spell is tied to me. Only I can cast the counter-spell. If you'd like to give me my wand—no? Well, then the clock is ticking for your friend . . ."
The wizard's expression twisted from its previous congeniality into a hateful sneer. He bit out a Punching Hex that left Snape's jaw aching and his nose broken. Yet more blood gushed down his face, and he wondered if he wasn't going to die of blood loss before he was forced to give anything up. It seemed too optimistic of a possibility to entertain.
For a minute or two, however, the two remaining Germans busied themselves with breaking into the cabinet. During this momentary distraction, Amelon finally decided to make himself useful, and cast the counter-spell on the Binding Charm, freeing the Headmaster. Snape threw himself to the ground behind his desk, and shoved his hands into the mass of writhing black vines. They yielded to him obediently, releasing his wand that had been dropped in the fight and hidden. Pointing his wand through the narrow opening beneath his desk, he didn't waste time with anything clever.
The curse struck the nearest set of legs, killing the target instantly. The witch fell dead. The remaining wizard shouted out a spell, and Snape threw himself away from the desk just as it was crushed into kindling from above. Snape wasn't quite fast enough. The curse caught his right leg before he could get away. For an instant he felt nothing, and then his vision went white with agony, and he cried out from the shock of it.
When he finally became coherent, a foot was on his wand wrist and the German wizard was staring down at him in absolute fury. Snape resigned himself to death, his mind settling on the only comforting thought thing he could think of. Voldemort would have no reason to harm Ira now, and Harry, reckless fool though he was, would make sure she was taken care of. He looked up at his death and glared back defiantly.
Blood sprayed, soaking him. He flinched, expecting yet more pain, but it wasn't his blood. His captor stumbled back, blood gushing from the open gash across his neck and chest. He hit the wall and would have fallen to the floor, but the black vines were already mover over him. They latched onto him and twined their way into ever available nook. The wizard let out a burbling scream as the vines found his open wound and slithered inside. Then he was dead.
Snape let his eyes close in relief. It was over. He had been rescued after all, albeit a little later than he would have preferred.
"Draco?" he coughed.
A presence came to kneel beside him, and when he opened his eyes again it was his godson staring back at him, paler than ever.
"Draco, hand me my wand," he said weakly. There was something he needed to do before he passed out from pain and blood loss. Draco did as he asked, although with some difficulty, as the vines were no more fond of him than they were the invaders. Eventually, however, he managed to free Snape's wand and shove it into his hand.
The vines writhed and withered, drying into fragile husks until they finally disintegrated into dust.
"Severus," Draco said, his voice steady even as his hands shook. "I'm going to get you out of here. The school is evacuating through the dungeons."
The dungeons are a very long ways away, Snape thought to himself.
"I'm sorry, Draco," Snape said, his vision starting to go. "I'm so sorry."
"Severus, don't . . . you can apologize later . . . when I know what the hell you're talking about."
"He's going into shock, Draco," another voice came, female this time. It must be Natalie. She was the only witch outside of the family who was afforded the privilege of using his godson's first name. "Move over, and I'll see what I can—"
Whatever it was she intended to do, Snape faded into the darkness before he could find out.
Harry wasn't sure how much more he could take. He was magically and physically depleted, ached everywhere, was still mildly hypothermic, and currently being held captive by the enemy. On top of that, Seitler was probably dead, and there was no one left to report his abduction or that evacuating to the dungeons would no longer work. He had never wanted a nap more in his life.
Oh, look, now there were stairs.
"No way," he said tiredly.
His captor tightened his grip on his arm and tugged it harshly at his refusal. Harry grit his teeth and rode out the pain.
"I can barely stand!" he protested. "How am I supposed to get up there?"
Not to mention it was the moving staircase, which in addition to its steep steps that wouldn't cooperate with their trying to move up while the castle's defensive wards were activated. It might very well collapse under their feet if they tried, just as the castle towers had.
"Why don't you ask your gods for strength?" the Italian asked contemptuously. Harry would very much have liked to have told him all the things his gods had done to help him slaughter his soldiers up to this point, but that was likely to earn him a dislocated shoulder or a spell right in the back.
"He wouldn't be up there anyway," Harry said instead. "He's not hiding from you. He'll take the main corridors and stairways."
"And you think I would trust you?" the man snarled in his ear.
Harry took advantage of his proximity to stomp on his foot. His captor let out a yelp of pain and lost his grip on Harry's hair but not his arm. Harry twisted around to face him and pull free, but the man still wouldn't let go. Snarling, the younger wizard tried to leap on him and knock him to the ground. The Italian, however, was larger and in better condition, and he fended off the clumsy attacks with a fist to Harry's gut. The Gryffindor collapsed and hung limp by one arm, gasping for breath and trying not hurl.
From up the stairs there came a shout of outrage, and Harry feared some young students had stumbled onto them. But it wasn't students. It was house elves. A male and a female, as best Harry could tell. The female was trying fruitlessly to hold her companion back.
"What the devil are those supposed to be?" the Italian snarled and dropped Harry in favor of pulling out his wand. As soon as he was released, the male elf snapped his fingers. A knight's helmet from one of the castle's many suits of armor appeared from thin air and rammed itself down on the wizard's head and spun around. The Italian wizard swung out both his arms blindly in surprise, and Harry rolled into his feet, causing him to trip and fall. Harry made a grab for the Italian's wand, but clumsy and weak from the gut punch, he couldn't get to it before the wizard started shouting out curses. Harry could barely recognize the words, muffled and distorted as they were by the helmet, but he scrambled away as quickly as he could.
Rough, brown elven hands pushed him to his feet and pulled him away towards the nook beneath the stairs. There was a secret passage under there, Harry remembered, but not where it led. Before he could be dragged away, he pulled his wand and tried one last curse.
The Numbing Jinx was not a very harmful spell, but it required little magic and left the target relatively harmless until something more powerful could be tried. Even this little bit of magic was beyond Harry at that point, and it sputtered and died at the tip of his wand. Unfortunately, the Italian spun towards his voice with his wand. The house elves let out shrieks of alarm and half hurled Harry into the passage under the stairs.
Something hissed unpleasantly behind them where the curse hit the floor.
The passage was dark, but the elves summoned lanterns, illuminating a narrow, twisting passageway draped in cobwebs. Harry followed the elves, who seemed to have some notion of where they needed to go.
"Thank you," he said. "You're the second and third house elves to save my life tonight. I don't know how I managed without you before this."
As predicted, the little bit of flattery pleased the elves to the point of embarrassment and made them more eager to help than ever. Their names were Moxy and Maggy, and they had been gathering up students for the evacuation when they came upon Harry and his assailant.
"Lord Potter, sir, is supposed to be in the dungeons. The Professors will be most worried," Maggy chided gently. "Maggy and Moxy will bring you safe and sound."
She patted his hand comfortingly, which amused Harry.
"I have no doubt, but can we stop for just a moment? My legs feel like rubber."
The elves looked nervous about stopping, but relented. He didn't have long to rest. The sound of running echoed loudly down the passage, and Harry surged to his feet and stumbled as fast as his legs could carry him. There were no forks in the passageway and no nooks to hide in. He wasn't fast enough to get away.
"Can we collapse the passage behind us?" he suggested.
Moxy spun on his heel and rushed back the way they had come. Harry could see he had been aptly named.
"Be careful, my friend!" Maggy called after him, her voice quivering. Harry made a small prayer for him. Surely if house elves had a patron goddess, it would be Madris, Goddess of the Hearth.
A moment later, there was an explosion, and the passage shook, raining down dust and dead spiders. Maggy whimpered nervously, but didn't stop.
They hadn't gotten far when there was another explosion.
"That wasn't Moxy," she fretted.
"I'm sure he's fine. He's a very brave, clever elf."
"Maggy isn't brave or clever. Maggy doesn't know what to do."
"Just keep running."
Yet no matter how much they ran it seemed the passage just kept going on and on, twisting so many times Harry was half convinced they were going in circles. Breathing became difficult and Harry slowed even more, and no matter how much Maggy tried to pull or push he couldn't go any faster.
"We're almost there!" she cried, only to let out a terrified shriek as she looked back towards him. Harry didnt need to look back to know what she saw. With one last burst of strength, he stumbled into a jog, reaching the end of the passage and flinging himself through the tapestry and out into a corridor. His legs gave out, and he fell and couldn't get back up again.
He was done for. Maggy cried and begged, but when that failed she hooked her hands under his arms and dragged him for all her worth. She made it a good twenty feet before their pursuer burst out from the tapestry after them, his expression murderous.
"Run, Maggy, get away from here," Harry gasped, but she ignored him and continued to drag him despite the futility.
"It's quite alright. I can take care of Harry from here."
Maggy froze. The Italian wizard froze. Harry blinked and choked out a laugh. He could hear the familiar rhythm of boots striding over stone, leisurely but powerful. Maggy very slowly and cautiously laid him down, and from his new position he could watch upside-down as the Dark Lord headed towards them. He was covered from head to toe in a layer of blood. The Italian had called Voldemort the devil, and he certainly looked the part now.
Harry had never been so happy to see him.
"Harry, it's good to see that for once in your life you've managed to not misplace yourself."
Harry just grinned and closed his eyes. Now seemed as good a time as any for a nap.
"And you . . . I know you, don't I?"
"Nulta neuro calmea! An Italian? Ah, I remember now. You're Mandalari, the leader of those Catholic vermin we drowned in the lake. Still alive? I suppose your god isn't entirely useless then. One out of two hundred was it? Not a bad score . . . for Him, at least."
Mandalari screamed in rage and let out a stream of curses, each more vicious than the last. Maggy trembled next to Harry, and despite his desire to escape into a rejuvenating sleep, it was impossible with so many deadly spells flying over his head. Voldemort cast shield after shield, counter-curse after counter-curse, over and over again until Mandalari finally seemed to catch on that this wasn't a fight he could win. The Italian made a rush for the secret passage. The Dark Lord finally grew bored of the game and made his move.
Harry's eyes flew open at the sound of screaming. He held his breath, but the screaming didn't stop. He didn't want to look. He didn't want to know, but his imagination was already painting the images in his mind.
"Tell me, Mandalari," he heard Voldemort say conversationally over the agonized screams. "Does this make you feel closer to God? To suffer as His Son suffered? I personally never understood the fascination, the reverence Christians put into His supposed sacrifice. After all, thousands suffered the same fate or worse before him, and thousands more after him. What made Him so much better than the rest of the demi-gods walking the Earth? Maybe, given your unique perspective, you'll be able to tell me when I get back. House elf, bring his wand. Harry, this is no time for a nap."
Harry made a distressed sound. He didn't think he could move. And he wanted to. He really wanted to get away from the screaming.
"I've got nothing left."
Harry's body spasmed uncomfortably, waking him physically and mentally from the sensory shock. Shaking, he rolled over onto his hands and knees. He was very careful not to look in Mandalari's direction. Voldemort looked down at him smugly beneath his sheen of blood like a mischievous red devil.
"Do you need another?"
Harry managed to get to his feet, swaying heavily like a new born foal taking its first steps. He still wanted nothing more than to sleep, but he no longer felt he would die if he didn't get it immediately. The pain wasn't exactly making him happy with his choice.
"Good. Now come along. We have an army to massacre."
As they made their way to the main entrance, Voldemort made a point not to mention Harry leaning heavily against his shoulder or his shaking hands, and Harry made a point not to mention that he positively reeked or ask where the blood had all come from. They made their way there, occasionally passing students running or limping in the other direction, occasionally carrying or levitating the wounded behind them.
"Where are they all going?" the Dark Lord queried.
"The dungeons. I'm supposed to be leading them out through the Chamber of Secrets."
Voldemort gave him a half confused, half exasperated look.
"You know it's called the Chamber of Secrets for a reason."
"Desperate times and all that."
"You wouldn't have been able to lead them out regardless. You do remember that magical contract you signed?"
So that was what had been bothering him before. He had completely forgotten.
"They'll be trapped down there."
"They'll be safe down there until I retrieve them. There's really no telling what's going to happen once the spell is released. It is imperative that you don't pass out."
The last part sounded vaguely accusatory. Harry glared back at him in resentment. It was hardly his fault that he was tired.
When they reached the main entrance, only Professor Flitwick and McGonagall were still there, even the Sentinels had gone. McGonagall spun around, aborting one spell in favor of another at the sound of approach. Voldemort raised his own wand in greeting, and she froze.
The way she said it made it unclear whether she was greeting the Dark Lord or letting out an exclamation. Harry realized seeing the Dark Lord covered in blood might not be as common of a sight as he was used to.
"Professors," Voldemort returned. "Leave."
McGonagall looked to Harry expectantly.
"That wasn't a request," the Dark Lord bit out.
"It's alright, Professor. We'll be along in a minute," the Gryffindor said, smiling weakly.
Her lips thinned into a grimace, but she nodded and gave his shoulder an encouraging squeeze as she passed. Flitwick toddled along after her, looking nervously over his shoulder until they were both out of sight. Harry turned his attention to the ice dam. For all the attention the professors had been giving it, it was already showing signs of strain. Lights danced from the inside, auroras of greens and reds and yellows, and it groaned ominously.
"Do you think it will hold long enough?"
Voldemort wandered into the center of the room where nearly a dozen bodies lay against the now bone dry floor. He picked a German who still appeared to be breathing and made a slashing movement with his wand. Blood flew out from the enemy in a great spray of red, soaking the Dark Lord anew and everything in a ten foot radius. Harry turned away and gagged. He didn't consider himself squeamish, but that was just too much. Even looking away he could hear when Voldemort repeated the process twice more.
"It should hold now."
Harry took three deep, settling breaths and turned back around. His heart leaped into his throat as he looked down to see the pools of blood disappearing into the creases of the stone floor, the castle itself greedily drinking it down. The ice dam was now a disturbing shade of pink. He shuddered at the sight.
"What are we going to do?" he asked, not wanting to linger too long on what had just happened.
"I have been feeding the castle the blood of its enemies since the attack. Twenty-four so far and there may be still more deaths upon the grounds. It has been absorbing the magic of the slain."
"Like the wall along the Forbidden Forest."
"Just so. We are renewing the castle's magic. Recharging it for one great spell to destroy its enemies, and once destroyed to make their strength its own."
Harry felt himself grow cold. This was magic of the darkest kind, and it was being brought into the closest thing he had to a home. And yet, if they didn't do it, he wouldn't have a home and almost everyone he knew would be at the mercy of the enemy.
"That, Harry, is entirely up to you. I will only be summoning the magic. You will be the one to form it into a spell."
Harry looked at him as if he were mad. The Dark Lord's bloody grin confirmed it.
"You don't expect me to do all the work, do you?"
"If by 'do all the work', you mean, 'kill everyone', then yes, yes I do," Harry said.
"I can't summon the magic and cast the spell simultaneously, nor can I gather the magic and cast the spell afterward. There's simply too much of it. This body, resilient though it may be, cannot hold that much magic all at once. I need you to shape it and release it as it comes."
The back of Harry's head where he had struck it against the bridge began to throb, a migraine building on top of everything else. All he wanted was to sleep. But he couldn't. He had made a promise to Madris, and he couldn't back away from it. More than that, the Dark Lord was relying on him. He was surprised to realize that still meant so much to him, after all the fighting and the resentment, it still felt like one of the most important things to him in the world. He let out a frustrated sigh.
"What should I cast?"
"Whatever feels most natural and can do the most damage to the enemy. I'm quite fond of fire—"
Harry hated the Germans for what they were doing to his home, but he didn't hate them quite that much.
"—But I understand water is rather more your element. Given the majority of the enemy is outside, I would recommend a weather spell."
"We have some of our own out there," he said, recalling the spells that had been falling from the sky. Maybe he could keep the spell low?
"They're soldiers. They know the risk."
Somehow, Harry doubted anyone would imagine a risk like this. But they couldn't afford to wait to be saved.
"What do I do?"
"There's a bench over there. Let's sit down."
The wooden bench was positioned at the far end of the entryway, directly across from the entrance, where a person might watch the comings and goings of the castle occupants. It felt very surreal to be sitting there with Voldemort to his left, staring at the ice dam with its pinkish hue and flashing colors, the dead spread out at their feet. He started to wonder if he actually had fallen asleep somewhere and simply not noticed.
"Your hand," Voldemort requested, and Harry offered his left hand to him without looking. He grimaced but didn't pull away as he felt the Dark Lord run a knife-sharp nail down his palm, opening the skin. Then he pressed their palms together, and Harry closed his eyes tightly and shuddered. Magic, his magic, flowed back into him, and with it blood that wasn't his.
"Ah... nn . . . uh, this is unpleasant," Harry gritted, his veins burning at the touch of the foreign something. "Bloody hell . . . are you sure this is safe?"
"If it were anyone other than you, they would already be dead. Since the solstice, however, your magic has saturated my blood. Your body should be able to tolerate it. I think."
"Medi-wizardry isn't my specialty. Hush, I need to concentrate."
Harry tried to relax, to concentrate on the almost hypnotic swirl of colors across the ice dam, to think of the only two weather spells he knew that he should use, anything except the toxic feeling radiating up his arm. The most distracting thought he could come up with was to wonder if he was going to die from the Dark Lord's faulty understanding of magical blood sharing, but at some point Harry had given up on the idea that he was actually going to survive the night, and it was a fleeting thought at best. Voldemort didn't offer anything else by way of conversation, merely fidgeted about and muttered something that sounded vaguely Gaelic.
Then the burning sensation in his hand exploded up his arm straight to his heart. He jerked and jumped away, but Voldemort refused to release him, no matter how hard he struggled.
"You're killing me. Let go. LET GO!" he screamed,
"Cast it out, Harry. You have to cast it out or it will kill you."
Harry's mind had flown to pieces with the pain and the panic. Now he frantically tried to pick out the pieces, looking for a spell, any spell to get rid of the magic threatening to tear him apart.
The magic went out like a wave, not through Harry's wand, but through his feet and back into the castle, and Harry suddenly felt himself expanding into the stones, the portraits, the near thousand souls, wizard and house elf and ghost alike, scattered throughout the building. He felt parts of himself missing, lost with the fallen towers and spires, its statues and armors shattered, the windows cracked, the dormitories burning. The spell released, pushing broken doors back into places, smothering the fires, putting back the fallen stone and mortar, mending up the torn tapestries, fixing itself . . . healing.
"Wrong spell, Harry,"Voldemort hissed angrily in parseltongue, drawing him back into his body. It was more bearable now that the magic was flowing through him and not collecting inside, but his heart still felt like it was trying to escape his ribs. What spell had he needed to cast? A weather spell . . . he knew two. What were they?
The Rain Spell. Sprout taught them in Herbology. So convenient for watering the garden. She would be absolutely horrified with him later, he thought vaguely.
"Nimbosio et nimbosio et nimbosio . . ."
His mind flowed back into the castle, back into the stones, and out again through the chimneys and the broken windows and rain spouts as a mist, quickly thickening into fog, then a cloud, soaking the air in icy droplets. He thickened and condensed until the air became too full and too heavy, and he fell. A thousand times he fell and then million and billion and then so much he could not be called rain but a waterfall.
"And thunder. Tonitrio . . . ," Voldemort goaded, his hissing tones echoing through him.
"Et tonirtio et nimbosio et tonitrio et nimbosio et . . ."
Hundreds of the wizards and witches, not of himself, enemies, pierced him, magic flung to cast him off, to shield themselves, to dry him up, to destroy him. Angrily, he threw his magic back with a roar and a crack and a flash of light that swallowed their spells and threw them from the air like children's toys.
"And hail. Grandonio."
"Et tonirtio et grandonio et nimbosio et grandonio et tonitrio et nimbosio et . . ."
From the ground, the witches and wizards threw up more shields, more counter-curses, more magic and desperation that struck him, scattering him into tinier pieces but never destroying him. Never stopping him. He gathered himself into an army and armored himself in ice, flinging himself in marbles and snitches and bludgers, and shattered them as they had tried to shatter him.
"And wind. Flabraborio."
"Et flabraborio et grandonio et nimbosio et flabraborio et tonirtio et nimbosio . . . ."
The wind blew up, but he had no control of it. Wind was a part of him and yet outside himself, shapeless and restless and everywhere. It came from between the rain and the thunder and hail. He could not hold it together like the rain or break it with the thunder or beat it back with the hail. It pushed him and threw him and spun him around. It smashed him through windows, tore up his shingles, and shook him like it wished to tear him apart.
"More, Harry. More."
There was screaming now, pain and terror, and the wind swallowed it and laughed.
"Too late. Let it go."
And Harry fell one last time.
Harry could hear again before he could see. There was deep breathing in his ear, and the sound of twigs snapping and snow crunching. He listened for a long time without understanding, but when his arm started to ache he let himself drift back into sleep.
He woke a second time when he felt himself being shifted, not roughly, but noticeably enough to make him aware that he was being carried piggy-back. Squinting his eyes open, he could make out trees, bare and black against the royal blue of the pre-dawn sky. A raven cawed, and Harry smiled. His brother lived.
"Hey, you awake?" someone asked, but he had already closed his eyes and drifted away.
Minutes, maybe hours later, the sound of crying drew him back to consciousness. The broad back he was resting against began to tremble.
"Sshhh . . . keep moving. It's alright, just keep going. It isn't much further," McGonagall urged, her voice drifting closer and then further away. He opened his eyes and peered blearily over the shoulder of the one carrying him.
"What's going on?" he mumbled. "Why does my arm hurt?"
"Don't try and move it," Goyle grunted. The Slytherin appeared to have been drafted to carry him. Harry decided he didn't want to know.
"Is it over? Did we win?" he asked tiredly, already feeling himself drift off.
"I guess so," Goyle replied noncommittally, and Harry fell back to sleep. For now, that was all that mattered.
Traditionally, castles had 'arrowslits' built into them so archers could fire out on the enemy with minimal exposure. The idea was adapted to Hogwarts.
A non-lethal Hex that creates a rather large sticky web when cast in a door or window. Notoriously difficult to tear down physically and magically. Potions are typically required.