The Unforgiving Minute

Prologue: Winding the Watch

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Pushing himself to his feet again, he staggered blindly toward Snape, the man he now hated as much as he hated Voldemort himself-

"Sectum -!"

Snape flicked his wand and the curse was repelled yet again; but Harry was mere feet away now and he could see Snape's face clearly at last: He was no longer sneering or jeering; the blazing flames showed a face full of rage. Mustering all his powers of concentration, Harry thought, Levi-

"No, Potter!" screamed Snape. There was a loud BANG and Harry was soaring backward, hitting the ground hard again, and this time his wand flew out of his hand. He could hear Hagrid yelling and Fang howling as Snape closed in and looked down to him where he lay, wandless and defenseless as Dumbledore had been. Snape's pale face, illuminated by the flaming cabin, was suffused with hatred just as it had been when he had cursed Dumbledore.

"You dare use my own spells against me, Potter? It was I who invented them – I, the Half-Blood Prince! And you'd turn my inventions on me, like your filthy father, would you? I don't think so…no!"

Harry dived for his wand; Snape shot a hex at it and it flew feet away into the darkness and out of sight.

"Kill me then," panted Harry, who felt no fear at all, but only rage and contempt. "Kill me like you killed him, you coward -"

"DON'T -" screamed Snape, and his face was suddenly demented, inhuman, as though he was in as much pain as the yelping, howling dog stuck in the burning house behind them – "CALL ME A COWARD!"

And he slashed at the air; Harry felt a white-hot, whip-like something hit him across the face and was slammed backward into the ground.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, pages 603 - 604

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Spots of light bursting in front of his eyes, scrabbling on the hard ground, Harry's hand closed over the smooth, familiar handle of his wand. Struggling, fighting to sit up, he heard a rush of wings above him and something enormous obscured the stars. Buckbeak had flown at Snape, who staggered backwards as razor-sharp claws slashed at him.

As Harry raised himself to a sitting position, his head still spinning, but his thoughts clear, he raised his wand. Red clouded his vision as one final time he locked eyes with the man responsible for not only Dumbledore's death, but his parents' murder.

"AVADA KEDAVRA!" Harry screamed, pouring all his hatred into the incantation. A soul-deep sickness penetrated his being as the bright green curse leapt from his wand.

"NO!" Snape screamed, terror in his eyes. Struggling against the angry hippogriff, he started to bring his wand up, but Buckbeak's head darted forward. The sharp beak clamped down on Snape's arm, trapping the wand against the creature's body. Unable to move, his eyes desperate, Snape thrust his wand deeper into Buckbeak's body and screamed. The hippogriff's upper body promptly exploded in a rain of blood, but his beak held firm on Snape's arm, holding him in place.

The malevolent green light struck Snape in the face, permanently etching a look of panic and terror upon his sallow features. As if in slow motion, Snape collapsed to the ground, his greasy, blood-soaked hair trailing slightly behind him.

Harry struggled to his feet, feeling completely numb. Slowly, as if emerging from a train-wreck, he made his way over to the still form of the former Potions Master. He lay face-up, his dark robes absorbing the gallons of blood spilt by the completely mangled hippogriff. In death, Snape looked anguished, as if he couldn't believe it had ended so quickly.

Harry felt like he should say something to mark the occasion, but his mind was blank. Dumbledore was dead, Snape was dead, and he, the one prophesized to defeat the Dark Lord, had just used the most heinous of all of the Unforgivables – the killing curse.

Still numb, Harry began walking back towards the inferno that had once been Hagrid's cabin. He supposed he should be feeling guilt about killing a man, but he felt nothing.

From Hagrid's cabin, an enormous figure emerged from the flames, a large dog slung about his shoulders. Harry felt a slight relief at seeing the gamekeeper in one piece, but the emotion was fleeting, quickly swallowed back up by the emptiness.

"Yeh all righ', Harry? Yeh all right? Speak to me, Harry…"

Hagrid's huge, hairy face swimming above him, blocking out the stars, Harry pondered the question for a moment.

"I'm all right," Harry said quietly, not quite knowing if his answer was true. "Are you?"

"Course I am…take more'n that ter finish me."

Harry allowed himself to be lifted up, and assisted Hagrid in putting out the fire that blazed through his cabin, his mind a blank, save for one burning question.

Would anything ever be the same again?

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