Everyone who had been part of The Burrow's ward casting quickly returned to Hogwarts, summoned by one of the alarms Dumbledore had set in the forbidden forest.
The only exceptions were Professor Flitwick and Molly Weasley who had both remained behind to prepare the house for casualties.
'We are going to use The Burrow as a second evacuation point for any Order members that are injured,' Remus explained to the curious teenagers.
'That way we are taking some of the pressure off the hospital wing.'
Harry paled at the thought that there might be that many people hurt. The group gathered in the Great Hall, watching as dozens of witches and wizards Harry had never met before poured into the room through one of the floos. Some of them wore the red cloaks of the Auror Core, others badges of rank from some of the Mastery programmes the Ministry ran.
Severus grabbed Harry's arm and pulled him towards the large doors. 'It's time Harry, as we discussed.'
Harry nodded nervously and allowed himself to be pulled away, relieved when Ron and Hermione hurried to run beside him. Over his shoulder, he saw Neville join the twins around one of the tables, remembering they had been given the task of recording all of the events from the safety of the Castle.
The plan was to keep everyone underage under the protection of the Wards, while the adults went out to meet the threat beyond the edges of its cover. The Death Eaters would not be aware that the wards had only been shrunken in by a hundred yards or so and remained intact. It would mean there was a secondary line of defence if the worst happened and all of the Order members fell.
Harry shuddered at that thought and felt Severus's hand tighten its grip in response.
'Are you all right?' the older man asked quietly and Harry nodded.
'You will be safely tucked away in the Astronomy Tower, Harry. With luck, he will not even realise you are here.'
'It's not me I'm worried about,' Harry said sharply and Severus sighed.
'You can't control what happens today,' he stated simply and softly. 'You can help enormously with the Hallows, but that does not mean this is your battle alone.'
Harry swallowed and concentrated on climbing the narrow, steep stairs that led up to the tower, Ron thundering behind him.
They reached the open viewing platform to find Dobby setting out a circle of padded chairs looking out over the forest. Each chair had a blanket draped over the back of it. A small low table held a large pot of tea and a plate of cakes.
Harry shook his head at the weirdness of the moment.
'Just missin' the popcorn,' Ron muttered and Dobby squeaked before clicking his fingers. A large bowl of steaming popcorn appeared and Harry found an hysterical laugh building in his chest.
'Just like the Emperors of old,' Severus said dryly. 'You can direct your troops while chomping on a chicken bone.'
Harry sobered and scowled at the man darkly. 'Sitting here in comfort, watching everyone I care about rush into danger is not my idea of a good time.'
Severus smiled gently at the young man, before opening his arms.
'Come here,' he said and Harry stepped forward, allowing himself to be drawn close.
'I promise I will do everything in my power to come back to you safely,' he whispered into the teenagers ear. 'Just know that I am very proud of you and will be a great deal more focused knowing you are safely tucked up here.'
He drew back slightly and looked down into the young man's anxious face. '...and as for the chairs and blankets, well, the sun will be setting in an hour or so and you will be glad of them then. It's purely practical. We have no idea how directing the Hallows this way will affect you. You will need to stay warm, hydrated and may need to rest.'
Hermione moved into Harry's field of vision as she patted his arm in support.
'We will take good care of him Professor Snape,' she said quietly and the man gave her a searching look.
'I know you will Miss Granger; there are no two people I would trust more with this duty.'
Ron blushed a bright pink and looked down at his feet while Hermione beamed happily.
'Mr Longbottom will be joining you shortly as well. He will be setting up a monitoring prism up here that will record everything that happens below.'
'Just think,' Hermione said breathlessly. 'Today may go down in the history books as the final showdown between Voldemort and Dumbledore.'
'Yeah, hopefully for the right reasons,' Ron said darkly and Harry shuddered again.
Severus pulled Harry in for another tight hug and then stepped back to regard the boy seriously.
'Promise me you will stay here,' he said seriously and Harry straightened and met the man's eyes, his expression fierce.
'I can't,' he admitted and Severus's expression darkened, his mouth opening to argue when Harry cut him off.
'I would just be lying if I promised you. I will promise that I will stay here unless it looks like there is no choice or it has all gone wrong.'
'If that happens, you will retreat to The Burrow,' Severus said harshly, his voice holding a hint of command.'
'I can't promise that,' Harry said candidly, holding the man's eye and Severus deflated visibly, his hand coming up to rub his eyes tiredly.
'Child,' he whispered. 'You will be the death of me.'
Harry flinched at that, feeling Hermione grab his arm in support. 'We will retreat if it looks unsafe,' Hermione promised. 'But you can't ask us to ignore what might be happening to any of you.'
A soft cough sounded behind them and Harry turned to see Remus and Neville stood behind them, Neville holding a large oak box in his hand.
'Are you ready Harry,' Remus asked quietly, his eyes burning orange in the evening sun.
Harry nodded and fingered the stone at his neck. 'Should I start now?'
Remus smiled softly. 'Just your parents and Sirius to start with. James will direct you from there.'
Harry nodded and stepped away from the others, pulling the leather pouch free from the stone and allowing it to settle against the hollow in his throat. He closed his eyes and gently pulled his parents and Sirius through the veil.
He opened his eyes to find the three of them standing in a semi-circle around him, all dressed in formal robes with swords on their belts. His eyebrow's rose at that.
'Swords?' he said dryly and Sirius chuckled.
'We can't actually direct magic here, and besides,' he added with a wink. 'This will look more intimidating. Spectres' with swords!'
Harry chuckled at the mischievous delight on Sirius's face before someone clearing their throat behind him reminded him of the other people present.
'Oh, er, sorry,' he muttered before touching a finger to the stone and concentrating on bringing his friends and guardians into the spell.
He heard Hermione gasp and Ron's muttered 'Bloody 'ell,' behind him. It was one thing hearing about the stone, but quite another experiencing it, he supposed.
James Potter turned so he was addressing the whole group. 'I would love to just sit and get to know you all but we have a short window to get everything in place. Harry, I need you to focus on opening the veil as wide as you can and I will call forward everyone we need. I suggest we direct them to arrive on the lawn and it's best if only you can see them just now.'
Harry took a deep breath and moved over to the railings where he could see the lawn. This sounded tricky and he wasn't sure how neatly he could do it. Severus moved up behind him, laying his hands on his charges shoulders.
The weight was surprisingly comforting and Harry felt a little of the tension leave. James came to stand beside him and lightly gripped Harry's hand, the older Potters skin still feeling cold and permeable.
Harry was aware of the others lining up along the railings to watch but tuned them out to focus on the stone at his neck. He imagined the veil opening like a massive stone door, larger than the doors to the Great Hall.
'OK Harry, I'm going to start bringing people through now.'
Harry nodded and focused on keeping the opening steady as one by one, transparent figures appeared on the grass below. Some of them looked familiar, others not at all but they all wore formal robes and had a weapon of some sort in their hands or on their belts.
When the number hit 50, Harry stumbled, finding his legs shaking beneath him. He kept his focus on the door, allowing Severus to lower him into one of the armchairs and wrap a blanket over his legs.
Hermione knelt beside him and gripped his hand tightly.
'I wish we could see what's happening?' Ron grumbled and Harry felt a smile lift the corner of his mouth. Ron was reassuringly predictable, even in the midst of preparations for battle.
Harry reached out and grabbed Ron's hand, allowing himself a moments distraction to draw Ron into the working.
'Bloody freaking hell!' Ron exclaimed before leaning dangerously over the railings to look at the small army gathering on the lawn below. 'Did you just put out a general invitation for a scuffle?'
Ron directed the question at Sirius who was stood nearest and the man laughed.
'Everyone down there lost their lives to a living Death Eater.' Sirius explained gently. 'The plan is that they will all position themselves in front of the one who killed them so that when Harry reveals them it will cause a distraction.'
'Distraction!' Ron exclaimed. 'More likely a bloody heart attack. It's brilliant!'
The collection of witches, wizards, squibs and muggles continued to grow below until Harry felt his whole body was being drained of every ounce of energy.
'I can't...,' he muttered. 'I can't... hold any more,...you have to stop.'
James gripped his hand tightly as he directed his attention to the portal.
'OK Harry, focus on the door closing tight.'
'Harry shuddered and mentally closed and locked the door to the other side, sighing in relief as the feeling of strain lifted from him. He was still aware of all the ghosts gathered but with the doorway home closed, the feeling of having to hold them in place lifted.
'Better?' James asked quietly and Harry nodded.
'Much,' He said with relief; extremely glad of his friends around him.
Severus knelt down and laid a hand on his knee, speaking solemnly and quietly.
'I must go join the others now Harry. Be careful and don't do any more than is safe. We don't know the repercussions of using the stone for something this significant.'
Harry watched the robed man walk away, a feeling of dread in his stomach. He really didn't know if he would survive losing his guardian. The Death Eaters would be out for Severus's blood, perhaps even more than Harry himself after his betrayal.
A warm hand squeezing his distracted him for a moment and by the time he glanced back both of his guardians were gone. James and Lily both leant over and dropped a kiss on his hair before also moving away.
'We will see you soon darling,' Lily said softly before taking her husband's hand and dragging him reluctantly away from the group of teenagers. Sirius stood silently, staring at Harry, his eyes bright. Harry expected the man to make a joke or pull him into a hug, but Sirius just stood there.
After a moment's pause, Sirius nodded and turned away, striding back to the towers steps with tears pouring down his face. Harry shuddered, gripping Hermoine's hand tighter than ever.
'I have this horrible feeling that I'll never see them again,' Harry whispered and his friends drew in closer, Ron's hand coming to settle on his knee.
'Even if that's true, at least you know they will be waiting for you when it's your time.' Neville said softly.
'Which won't be for a long time yet.' Hermione said sternly. Ron snorted in amusement.
'Yeah mate, can I make a request for no bloody heroics today? If you go running off like an idiot, then we have to follow you and Mum will bloody kill me.'
The youngsters all laughed and Harry smiled sheepishly, feeling the weight of today's responsibility settle over him. It was true that his friends would follow him anywhere and indeed had on many occasions. He sighed and closed his eyes, leaning his head back against the padded seat. He made a silent promise to himself that today he would be careful and do his very best to not put himself or his friends in any danger.
He watched as the others got settled in their chairs, pulling blankets across their own knees. It was starting to get chilly he realised. Neville adjusted one more a dial on the recording device and came to join them, pouring himself some hot tea.
A moment later, their numbers grew again as Tonks appeared beside them, followed quickly by another chair.
'Are you staying here with us?' Hermione queried and the purple haired auror nodded.
'Yep, I'm going to be the communication link between the others and you lot up here. My magic is still playing up a bit so I'm not back on active duty yet. At least not officially,' she added with a wink.
'When will it start?' Neville asked nervously and the auror laughed.
'It already has! There are minor skirmishes going on now in the forest and on the East side of the castle. We have dropped the wards back by about fifty metres, so the Death Eaters think that they are already inside the perimeter. There are a handful of aurors and a few members of staff mounting a pretty feeble defence. Just enough to keep them busy but not realise the forces we have here.'
'How many wizards do we have? Ron asked before yelping as he received a swift kick in the knee from Hermione.
'I meant witches and wizards of course.'
Tonks chuckled. 'Of course you did Ron. There are about a hundred and fifty from the Order and friends of the Order; around eighty aurors and then some of the upper years.'
Harry startled at that, his eyes flying open. 'Some of the students are here!' he exclaimed with concern and Tonks nodded.
'Yep, there's you lot of course, and the head boy and girl and a whole much of Ravenclaw seventh years who are helping in the infirmary.'
'I didn't realise how much work had been going on behind the scenes,' Ron admitted, thinking of all the parents who would have had to give permission.
A loud boom made them all jump and Ron ran to the battlement to look down.
'Came from the forest, can't see a bloody thing.' he muttered with frustration.
A silver wolf fluttered into view and floated to Tonks where it muttered quietly.
She frowned and nodded before whispering something back.
'There are about five hundred Death Eaters surrounding the castle now and you-know-who has arrived. He is waiting back in the Forest' She knelt beside Harry and smiled at him warmly. 'How are you doing Harry? Are you OK holding all those spirits in place?'
'Yeah, it's OK now the portal's closed. I think it's going to be hard revealing them to everyone at once. Has our side been warned?'
'They have, just not in too much detail. They think it's some special magic of Hogwarts. They all know that you are controlling things but think it's because you can attune. Dumbledore personally warned anyone who might see family members down there.'
'Blimey, I hadn't thought of that,' Ron muttered. 'My uncles might be down there!' Ron nearly fell over the railings, leaning over to see, until Hermione grabbed his sweater and pulled him back.
Over the next twenty minutes the sounds of a serious wand fight started to echo around the grounds until eventually those watching from the tower could see the flashes of light.
'They are getting close to the ward barrier now,' Tonks informed them, her face scrunched in concentration. 'I believe Dumbledore plans to reveal himself at this point. We are hoping it draws Voldemort out.'
Everyone except harry leant over the edge to watch. 'There he is!' Ron shouted and Harry's heart jumped, thinking that Voldemort had arrived until Ron continued.
'Blimey, he's wearing those bright orange robes he wore to the Christmas ball last year. Is he hoping to blind Molyshorts or what?'
Harry relaxed back in his chair, realising that they were talking about the headmaster. He desperately wanted to attune to the castle so he could see what was happening but worried he might lose focus on the spirits he was holding down on the lawn.
He could feel them beginning to move and get into position, each of them finding the one who had robbed them off their life. Would his parents stand in front of Voldemort himself? Would Sirius look for Bellatrix? He imagined she might have a long line waiting to get their hands on her.
'It's incredible,' Hermione said breathlessly as she watched several of the battles below. Harry felt his frustration grow as he sat trembling in the comfy armchair. Dobby had appeared and begun draping warmed blankets over him which only made him feel more trapped and disconnected from the battle.
Tonks was pacing back and forth muttering communications to a indistinct silver mist that surrounded her and Harry realised that this must be some variation on the Patronus that he hadn't seen before.
Neville was furiously adjusting dials on the recording device and pointing it in various directions as different battle began. Hermione was passing him tools whilst Ron just seemed to be jumping up and down in nervous excitement and fear.
'Charlie!" he cried and Harry's heart nearly exploded through his skin in panic.
'Did you see that blaster?' Neville replied. 'I bet that's the one he taught Ginny.'
Harry couldn't bear it any longer and almost without thought reached out to the Castle, her energies coming into sharp focus.
He cried out and bent over as a multitude of images overwhelmed him, every single line of energy suddenly clear. He could see the wards and the tendrils that reached deep into the earth. He was aware of every brick, every stone, every single creature that walked the halls. He felt a small spiders fear as it ran from a rat in the basement. He could see the position of each person and their movements.
The sense of overload faded as the castles energy flooded into him, taking over and holding the spirits firmly in her grip. Harry sighed in relief, becoming aware of Hermione's urgent tone beside him.
"Harry! she repeated and he forced himself back to his surroundings. Ron held one hand between both of his, Hermione knelt beside him, her hand gripping his arm. Tonks was knelt in front of him, her hands resting on his knees.
'...Yes Severus, he's coming too now. He looks better...yes...I will keep you informed.'
Behind her Dobby stood calmly, with a knowing smile on his face.
'It is alright young Miss Tonks,' he said in his strange clipped tone. 'The castle is helping Master Harry find his strength.'
Harry nodded and spoke hoarsely. 'Yes, she's helping. I feel much better now.'
'Harry, it's almost time.' Tonks said softly. 'Are you ready?'
Harry nodded, his gaze unfocused as he concentrated on the spirits below. They were all in position now and Harry could see the brilliance of the plan. The Death Eaters were battling just a few aurors and Order members, unaware of the large numbers of witches and wizards waiting in the wings. They were only a few metres away from the wards edge with no idea that several hundred spirits awaited them.
Harry felt the anticipation of the spirits and shuddered. Now that he was attuned, he could feel how the discomfort of Hogwarts, the very wrongness of the dead encroaching on the space of the living. It took all Harry's willpower not to rip the stone from his neck and send them all back through the veil. None of them should be here.
A squeeze on his knee brought his attention back to the auror who was knelt before him. Her hair had gone grey and a single tar ran down her face. He frowned and then panicked as he realised that she was still listening to the battle through the aurors communication system.
'Who?' he asked hoarsely and she swallowed.
"Remus,' she whispered and all of the teenagers gasped as Harry tried not to double over in grief.
'Is he, is he...?' Ron trailed off and Tonks shook her head.
'I can't...I don't know yet. I have to focus on...,' she stopped and listened sharply, her wet eyes finding Harry's and he knew it was time.
"Now!' she said firmly and Harry closed his eyes, using every ounce of his strength and concentration to bring each single person in the grounds into the working. He felt the shock run through the crowds below on both sides. He felt those that instantly fled, some dropping their wands as they did.
He was aware of the aurors appearing on the edge of the grounds, disarming and arresting those who thought they were safe, and the terror and anger of those who stayed to fight, completely unsure how to fight a ghost with a sword.
The spectres fought fiercely, but strategically, taking a step back with each blow. They were leading the remaining hundred fighters closer and closer to the wards. Harry nearly vomited as he felt the two fragments of Voldemorts' souls step out of the forest and onto the grounds. Nagini slithered beside her master.
Harry felt the world tilt as Hogwarts reacted to the unnatural presence and many hands lowered him to the ground. He was vaguely aware of a hand stoking through his hair and someone's fingers pressed around his wrist, feeling his pulse.
He felt Hogwarts disgust and rage as the Death Eaters approached her wards. They were nearly there! So close.
'Get... them...ready...' he gasped out and heard as Tonks began rattling instructions into the mist. He saw the remaining warriors of the light position themselves along the battle lines and felt as the first Death Eater touched the wards, joined just seconds later by dozens more.
The air filled with screams as they were trapped, the oath spoken months earlier by children strengthening the wards to a point where they ripped the Dark Mark from the flesh of those caught in its power.
Voldemort roared in rage and Harry felt his gaze move in anger to the headmaster who stood calm and ready to engage in battle.
Knowing that the wards were being taxed to their limit, as was the stone, Harry felt as his strength drained along with theirs. He instinctively knew that the wards would soon fail and that if he were still attuned, he would die with them. Right now though it was hard to separate the stones energies from that of the castle.
He focused back on the battle and found that a third of the enemy were disabled. Another third were trapped by the wards while the last bunch were outnumbered three to one by those who had poured out of the castle.
'Tonks...,' he gasped. 'I have...to let them go...'
She talked urgently again to her invisible listeners and then squeezed his knee gently.
'Anytime Harry, it's OK. We can take it from here.'
Harry almost sobbed with relief and pulled the stone from his skin, feeling as the hundreds of spirits were ripped from this world to the next. He apologized silently to his parents and Sirius; the abrupt transition could not have been comfortable.
The cold of the stone floor began to register on his back as he deliberately withdrew from the Castle and awareness of the battle below. Voldemort and Dumbledore had engaged now and the Castle almost sang with awareness of the battle.
Harry allowed his eyes to drift close and succumbed to the exhaustion that flooded him. He could only have been out for a few moments but by the time he came around his position had changed drastically. He was wrapped securely in a wad of blankets and propped up against something warm. Both of his hands were held by others and he was almost certain someone was gently rocking him.
He cautiously reached out with his senses and re-attuned to the castle. The battle below still raged but the numbers were severely reduced on both sides. The opposing forces of dark and light were still dominated by the battle between Dumbledore and Voldemort and many's attention was directed that way.
He felt where a few weak patches has developed in the wards, but overall the castles defences seemed to be stronger. Now that there no longer hoards of Dark Marks caught in her web, it seemed that Hogwarts was under less strain.
His attention shifted to a weak spot in the lower basement and his breath caught.
"Nagini!' he muttered, feeling the hands tighten around his.
'Harry?' Hermione's voice whispered tearfully beside him.
He forced his eyes open and frowned at the panicked faces around him. He realised that Hermione and Neville each held a hand and it was Ron's chest he was leant against. His friend had pulled him into his lap and had his arms wrapped around Harry's torso, holding him upright.
'Nagini has got into the Castle,' he whispered hoarsely. 'She's in the lower basement beside the old broom store. She's heading towards the circular staircase the bloody baron likes.'
Tonks voice was heard in the background as she related the information, before she knelt back beside them with a frown. There is no one free to go after her so I will have to leave you.
'You're going after her?' Harry asked sharply and she nodded.
'Yes, we have to get her. She's the last...you know.'
'I'm coming too!' Neville stated firmly and Hermione nodded before looking to Ron.
'I'm not leaving Harry,' Ron said fiercely, his arms tightening around his friend and Harry felt a lump grow in his throat.
'I'd help..but...' Harry trailed off helplessly and Tonks patted his leg.
'You're not going anywhere for a while Harry. You need to recover. I shouldn't be letting any of you come but truthfully I may need the help.'
Hermione knelt over and kissed Harry on the cheek, before doing the same to Ron.
'Take care of him,' she said tearfully and Ron nodded.
'Be careful,' he replied. 'I can't lose you too.'
Harry watched with frustration as the others hurried away towards the towers stairs, before Ron's words penetrated.
'Who did you lose? Who's...'
Ron's arms tightened again and he swallowed before replying. 'We saw Percy and Fred go down. Percy was moving but Fred...it looked like, we think..'
Harry turned slightly so he could see his friends face, his own chest hurting with the thought that the Weasleys' may have just lost two of their son's.
'Ron,' he murmured in sympathy and the other boy gave a helpless laugh.
'There's nothing we can do about it here. It seems to be going well at least. I think we are winning. How are you feeling? That was pretty awesome you know, what you did with the stone.'
'Thanks. I feel OK; a little shaky still.'
'Just stay still a little bit. You'll feel better if you eat something.'
Harry allowed himself to relax back into Ron's arms and accepted the hot chocolate that Dobby held to his lips. To his embarrassment, he couldn't actually hold the cup, his hands were shaking so much.
They three of them stayed crouched on the floor like that for twenty minutes whilst below them the battle continued. Dobby kept re-warming the blankets and shoving food and drink at them both, until Harry felt strong enough to attempt to stand.
He stood gripping Ron's arm until the world settled and sighed in satisfaction.
'Much better,' he confirmed. 'The others have almost reached Nagini's position. 'Shall we follow them.'
Ron frowned. 'I don't know. Maybe we can move closer? That way we can help if needed?'
Much to Dobby's distress, they left the shelter of the tower and slowly made their made down the tower, Harry hugging the wall to keep himself steady.
Harry tried hard not to think about what was happening below; the fact that Percy, Fred and Remus may already be dead. He had no idea where Severus was or what his friends were now facing.
As they descended the stone steps, he took a moment to regroup before reaching out and again attuning with the battle below. He had to know what was happening. It was time to finish this one way or the other.
A/N - You will be glad to know the next chapter is nearly finished as I wrote the final battle in one go. See you soon