Warning – this chapter is quite dark, and involves death, violence.
Chapter Twenty Eight – Life
Harry was beyond tired now. He was exhausted. An exhaustion that he could feel in his bones.
And yet, he couldn't sleep. The venom and cold kept him awake. If not for his massive reserves of magic, he would probably be dead... or not. Not until Voldemort wanted him dead. Which wasn't going to happen anytime soon.
Tired, sick and caught off guard, he jerked a bit before composing himself. Slightly, very slightly. Most people would have missed it.
"Harry, Harry, Harry...why must you insist on pretending?" Voldemort glided around the prone figure, stopping right in front of him. The red eyes bored into the electric blue orbs, as if he could look right through the mask.
Why indeed? Harry was tempted, so very tempted...
But he didn't. Of course he didn't. He was Harry-bloody-Potter, and he never gave in. He searched his brain for an answer, but the headache made it almost impossible to concentrate.
"Bite me," he managed finally.
Voldemort laughed, a high cold laugh that men had come to fear. "I won't," he replied. "but Nagini will. Again and again and again, till you give in. The circle has a betting pool, they wonder when you will give in. The stakes are quite high...one pretty redhead."
Again, he moved in response. It was slight, but again, Voldemort noticed.
"Why, is that love, Potter?" he sneered. "Do you care for the girl? How would you like her here with you? You can be prisoners together."
The bound man didn't move. Not even slightly.
The lipless mouth curled into a gruesome parody of a smile. "Give up Harry."
"Have you any idea at all, who might have stunned you?"
Draco shook his head, never breaking stride. He paced the length of the classroom, robes flapping about his ankles.
"Did you write another letter?" Snape asked him.
"No. I came straight down here. If I find out who stunned me..."
"Will you mention this attack in your letter?" Snape questioned.
"Do you think I should?"
Snape didn't show any outward expression, but inside, he heaved a huge sigh of relief. The boy trusted him completely. He could handle this.
"You should," he replied. "But the Dark Lord does not take kindly to failures, even something like this. Lucius will no doubt face the Cruciactus Curse..."
Draco paled, quite a feat considering how pale he already was. He licked is lips nervously. "If I wasn't to mention it..."
"The Dark Lord would never find out. Nor would anyone else, your father included. This is your mission, I will not interfere."
Draco wasn't that stupid. He understood Snape was offering to keep quiet about the attack, but Draco couldn't tell anyone about it, not even his father.
"Alright," the boy agreed.
"I called in an old favour, something I was keeping in reserve..." Dumbledore gestured to the door. "The man waiting outside is called Specter. He is an Unspeakable, and can help us do this. His particular area of expertise will be invaluable."
"How can we trust him?" Ginny questioned, her eyes narrowed at the Headmaster. She stood at the back, arms folded, unmoving.
"He has given me an Unbreakable Vow," Dumbledore responded quietly. "I trust Specter."
"You can take your trust and stuff it-"
"Ginny!" Hermione stood and walked to the girl. Lowering her voice, she grabbed the redhead's arms and looked into the brown eyes.
Her tone was urgent, insistent. "Look Ginny, I know you don't particularly like Dumbledore, and you're angry and anxious, and Harry's been captured, but we're trying to find a way to help him, and this Specter could be useful!" Hermione paused, out of breath. "An unbreakable vow is good enough!"
Ginny stepped around the girl and shook her head. "I want the vow sworn to me."
The twinkle had left Dumbledore's eyes. He gazed at her, a cold steel in the blue eyes.
"We are at war. You may not trust me, but I am not going to debate my decisions with you. Regardless, we have to act together here, and you are only making this harder. If we use Specter's talents, we can remove Harry from Voldemort's clutches."
Her lower lip trembled a bit. The silence stretched out between them, the tension rose.
Finally Ginny spoke. "We don't need to tell him anything. Just our aim, what sort of a magical construct we want. He doesn't need to know the details about Harry."
"She's right," Hermione piped up.
Dumbledore sighed. "If Specter does know the details, he will truly understand the gravity of the situation."
"We are wasting time." He had been silent until now, sitting at a side. Now Severus Snape rose to his feet. "We can tell the unspeakable the Dark Lord has uncovered one of your spies, and it is vitally important we get him back. Specter doesn't need to know the whole story."
"I am afraid he may not agree to help us without details," Dumbledore countered.
"Enough!" Ginny's eyes flashed with anger. "Harry is being..." her voice choked up, and she fiercely wiped away a tear. "He needs us. Call this unspeakable in, and tell him to give me an Unbreakable Vow."
"If he does not agree?"
Ginny folded her arms. "We don't give him the full details. If he still doesn't agree, we get rid of him and start working by ourselves."
"If only there was someone else who could..." Hermione's voice trailed off, and she smacked herself on her forehead. A little too hard maybe.
"Ouch, no wait-" she waved Ron away. "Ginny – Zamu and Marco! They'll help us!"
"And they know a lot of stuff. Whatever this Specter knows, I'm sure they'll know!" Ginny facepalmed herself. "Why didn't we think of this!"
Dumbledore leaned back, wrinkled fingers massaging an equally wrinkled forehead. "I am truly sorry... That won't work."
"What we're trying to accomplish, this is Specter's area of expertise. This sort of thing is what he has researched on. It will take time and energy to track down Marco and Zamu, time we do not have. Specter on the other hand, is standing right behind that door." He sighed and shook his head. "I'm sorry you do not trust me enough for this. But we must hurry."
That was all the warning he gave, before the door opened, and Specter walked in.
Hermione Granger. Often called the most brilliant witch of her generation. Scarily smart. Harry Potter was her best friend.
Albus Dumbledore. Bastion of the light. One of the most brilliant minds to ever attend Hogwarts. The leader against the dark for so long, it was almost time for him to put down the mantle. He had mistakes when it came to Harry Potter, and if presented with the chance, might even put the Greater Good above Harry once more. But he too cared for Harry Potter.
Specter. Unspeakable. A man who had researched magic for several years, a man with immense experience and knowledge. Seeing Ginny Weasley and Hermione Granger was enough for him to understand this involved Harry Potter. He did read the Prophet every morning, and knew these two names always went with Potter. He didn't know what to make of Harry Potter, but he owed Dumbledore. That and the redhead looked desperate. He didn't give an Unbreakable Vow, but he didn't get a lot of details either. He was going to help.
Severus Snape. Potions Master – not a title easily earned. Master Spy. He had the inside knowledge. A man who had mistakes, mistakes that had cost Harry Potter. Severus Snape hated James Potter, he didn't particularly care for Potter either. Until a few hours ago, he truly hated him. Now... he respected Harry Potter. He would do this.
Ginny Weasley. She was smart, not as smart as Hermione, but the redhead could think outside the box. Ginny loved Harry Potter.
The five of them sat around a round table. Ginny rose to her feet, a steely determination in her eyes.
To a person like Dumbledore though, a man who had played games of deception and manipulation for decades...he could see the barely held back tears. He could see that hope had almost deserted her. He could see the desperation. She was barely holding herself together. As much as it pained him to see someone so young in this state, she was performing admirably under the strain.
"We can do this. We have to do this." She took another breath. "The idea is simple enough. We need to create a nullifying field of sorts. We need to be able to clear a particular area of one particular ward. The anti-apparition wards."
"That cannot be done." Specter said evenly. He was dressed in blue robes with a hood and mask covering his head. Specter was short and stocky, with a surprisingly high pitched voice.
"The anti-animagus wards then," Ginny responded immediately.
Dumbledore leaned forward. "Animagus wards?"
Ginny hesitated, very briefly. "He can turn into a phoenix and flame out of there." This was not the time for secrets.
"It will be extremely hard," Specter warned, leaning back in his seat.
"We can do this," Ginny insisted. "She might be only fifteen, but Hermione here knows more about magic than most Unspeakables. And if you don't believe that..." she shrugged. "You're about to find out."
Dumbledore waved his wand, and a large chart flew over from the corner to spread out on the table. "I believe it is time for us to get to work."
It took the five of them fifteen hours to come up with a solution.
Fifteen straight hours of work, brainstorming, making models, discarding models. Dumbledore had broken out a rare bottle of Goblin Water. It was a non-alcoholic drink, which served as a stimulant. Magical coffee, if you will. It kept them awake.
"This is beautiful," Specter whispered, gazing reverently upon the small blue shard of ice that lay on the table in front of them.
The jagged end of the shard pulsed yellow and violet. A slight haze extended all around the small piece of ice.
"Beautiful," agreed Dumbledore. "Dangerous. What we have put together here, the knowledge - it does not leave this room. The penchant for misuse is far too high."
"Yes," Hermione agreed.
Snape didn't bother to reply. Specter nodded, slumping down in his seat.
Ginny nodded tiredly. She had barely contributed to the Shard itself, but had continuously provided encouragement and motivation, egging everyone on.
She knew they could pull it off – Hermione and Dumbledore were quite possible the smartest magical folk alive. Even without Specter they could probably have done it, but it would have taken a lot more time.
"Severus," she said. It was meant to be a question, it turned out like a statement.
Sometime over the past fifteen hours they had abandoned formal names, overcome barriers working together for a common aim.
"Albus?" Snape raised his goblet.
Dumbledore poured the last of the Goblin Water into it. Snape took a deep breath, exhaled, and downed the entire goblet at one go.
Hermione entered that very moment, levitating a steaming glass ahead of herself.
Wordlessly, she offered it to Snape. He almost smiled.
He took two large gulps, and the potion was gone. His face immediately screwed up in pain. Pepper-up potion on a stomach full of liquid was not the wisest course of action.
"Fifteen minutes," he said, and strode out of the room.
Fifteen minutes later, Snape met them in the Headmaster's office. He wore dark robes, the fingers of his right hand curled around a silver mask.
Dumbledore was arranging a slew of potions in an order, Hermione was shrinking them. Ginny stood by the window, looking out. Her posture was bent, but there was a fire in her eyes.
Specter was nowhere in sight.
Snape gathered the potions, storing them within his robes. Finally, he took a small black pouch containing the Shard, and pocketed it as well.
He was never one for sentiment, so he didn't bother to try. The others knew this, and responded in kind.
Hermione's face was lined with worry, as was Dumbledore's.
"Take care Severus," the old man said, no twinkle in his eyes.
Hermione said nothing.
Ginny turned to look at him, and her fierce brown gaze met his pitch black orbs.
"Thank you," she said, her voice steady, calm.
He nodded, and strode from the room.
A chill had settled over him. Icy claws clutched at his heart, his stomach was a mass of nerves.
But despite all that, Severus Snape felt a certain contentment in himself.
He had one too many bad decisions. He held grudges, had held onto his hate...
It seemed so trivial now, as he walked towards the edge of the wards. So petty.
Hindsight is twenty-twenty, he thought to himself, allowing a brief smirk to flit across his face.
His mind turned to the people that waited in the Headmasters office. They were so trusting, so ready to give him the burden. Dumbledore and Ginerva had handed him everything, everything. All he had to was tell the Dark Lord, and the war would irrevocably turn in one direction, and Snape would be right there, just behind the Dark Lord, right at the front.
The night was moonless, but cloudless. A blanket of stars stretched out overhead, and Severus paused, for the first time in his entire life to look up, and simply take in the majesty of the universe.
Another wry smirk, and he turned on the spot, vanishing with crack.
Silver mask fitting securely over his features, Snape began the walk down the long aisle. He ignored the few people he passed on the way, steeling himself, going through basic Occlumency exercises, bringing false memories to the front of his mind.
The doors were open. Snape walked through, and into the large chamber beyond.
The massive chandeliers emitted a dull oppressive green light. The chamber was almost entirely bare, a silver carpet extending along its length, ending at the foot of a throne.
It never failed to amuse him, just how cliché the entire setup was. The Dark Lord had probably found these settings prescribed in the handbook for evil overlords.
Bone white, skeletally thin. Black robes. Red eyes, slits for a nose.
Snape knelt, and kissed the hem of the Dark Lord's robes.
"Rise, Severus," the Dark Lord said softly. "What news do you bring?"
"Merlin is Harry Potter."
"Fascinating," Voldemort hissed, taking a step closer to his spy, the red eyes meeting black.
"He wants me to look out for him, he believes you might have him held prisoner."
Voldemort said nothing, still holding Snape's gaze. He inclined his head slightly, gesturing for the man to continue.
"He wants me to break him out."
Harry was unsure now. Unsure of what he was, where he was, what he was doing. Hallucinations danced through his mind when he closed his eyes. Sometimes, they persisted even when he opened them.
He was thirsty, so very thirsty.
Tired, so very tired.
He was nearing the end, he knew that. No one, not even Harry Potter could hold out against this. It was too much.
Footsteps. Voldemort glided into sight, his mouth twisted into a cruel smirk. And behind him, Severus Snape.
It took him more than a few seconds, but his mind finally managed to piece together that Snape was here. The Master Spy. Perhaps, help? His heart skipped a beat.
"Dumbledore has slipped," Voldemort hissed, advancing to stand just outside the circle of cold that surrounded Harry.
"Severus has informed me that you are indeed, Harry Potter. The old man has been quite anxious of late, unable to find his ace in the hole his saviour." Voldemort waited, but Harry said nothing, his addled mind slowly turning over, working out what that meant for him.
Had Snape deflected? No, he couldn't have. But he could have, maybe Harry had pushed him over. If that was the case, then it was over, Harry could not see how he would escape otherwise.
"You can drop the charade Potter. Drop your mask, and I will spare Ginny Weasley. You have my word."
Harry started, not expecting that. He tried to form a reply, but coughed, then coughed some more.
Voldmemort made a tutting sound, gliding forward to stand by Harry.
" Are you sick?" he asked with mock concern. Long, pale fingers splayed out, Voldemort rested his palm on Harry's chest, and pressed lightly.
His body was almost broken, the poison had shredded nerves. Even the slight pressure of the Dark Lord's palm sent shockwaves of agony through him. Blackness crowded his vision, and he welcomes it.
The lights grew dimmer, dimmer... and then Voldemort lifted his hand, and Harry teetered on the brink of consciousness for another few seconds, before coughing again.
"Bite me," he managed.
If anything, Voldemort looked even more pleased.
They left soon afterwards, both of them.
Harry tried to take slow deep breaths, but the pain and posion wouldn't let him. He groaned slightly.
"How about that, Potter makes a sound!"
The Death Eater, Harry didn't know his name walked around to stand in his line of vision. Voldemort had kept one guard to watch him all the time.
And then the man crumpled. Harry blinked. Was he hallucinating?
Severus Snape caught the man just as he fell, lowering him to the floor without a sound. He hurried over to Harry, snapping his fingers in front of the mans face.
"We have devised a way to get you out, but there's no time. You have to trust me."
Harry nodded, and Snape almost shook his head in wonder. The trusting fool.
The Potions Master worked quickly drawing a small collection of potions, and a black pouch. He unzipped the pouch, and withdrew a tiny shard of ice. The tip pulsed yellow and violet.
"This Shard will negate the animagus wards around us. I will stab you with this, it will absorb your blood in order to work. You will flame out using your phoenix form. Have you understood?"
"Shard?" Harry echoed weakly.
Snape cursed fluently, and repeated the instructions, a little more slowly. This time Harry nodded, and the blue orbs in his mask seemed to glow a little bit brighter.
Damn the boy. He did not know how to give up.
"Too weak to transform." Harry protested.
"That's what these potions are for. We have chosen a very specific sequence. First you will need to drink this –" Snape held up a large vial of brown liquid. "This is the antidote for Nagini's poison."
"Shut up and drink it." He had stolen it, along with the boy- no, man's - wands, just a few minutes before going to meet the Dark Lord. He hadn't bothered being careful either, they would know it was him, and they would know soon.
"The second I take them off, the Dark Lord will come running," Snape explained. "Can I get the potions into you first?"
The blue orbs faded for a second. Severus nearly had a heart attack. They flickered back to life, and Harry nodded.
"Pour them where my mouth should be," he instructed.
Severus did so, pouring potion after potion down the boy's throat. It was extremely dangerous, all these potions being used together one after the other, in Harry's current state. It could quite possibly - in fact it probably would - put him into a coma, less than an hour from now. But they had no choice.
A low rumbling reached their ears as he forced the final few potions into Harry's mouth.
"What's that?" Harry questioned, already sounding much stronger.
"A distraction," Snape answered. "Are you ready?"
Harry shook his head. "The potions are working...a few more minutes. My wands..."
"I have them." Severus removed two very familiar wands from his robe, placing them besides the Shard. One Deathstick, one Holly and Phoenix.
"Tell Dumbledore not to blame himself. It was my choice."
Silence, for a few seconds. Then Harry growled.
"No!" he said angrily. "I can get us both out."
"The second I remove the bonds, the Dark Lord will come here. The distractions I have provided are only taking him further away, delaying the inevitable by a minute or two. You need to stab yourself in the shoulder, above your heart. Flame to Dumbledore's office, they're waiting for you."
Harry said nothing, still shaking his head.
"Win the war Harry. Defeat the Dark Lord."
Harry said nothing, before finally nodding.
"I'm sorry," he said.
Voldemort felt the bindings being lifted. He paused, turned and began to run.
Hate, Anger...Rage boiled deep inside him.
Severus Snape would pay. His special store room had been broken into, the antidote stolen. Fireworks had led him a merry chase to the other end of his hideout. He had sent a few men to check on Potter the moment the fireworks had gone off, but Snape was more than a match for them.
And so he ran, gliding across the floor, his movements smooth, gracefully, inhuman.
He heard a scream, the sound of spellfire, away from where Potter was – no, had – been held prisoner, and veered off towards the sound of the noise.
He arrived just in time to see Severus Snape throw a Sectusempra at a Death Eater, nailing him across the chest. The Spy turned, saw Voldemort approaching, and ducked through the nearest door, narrowly evading the Dark Lord's Crucio.
"Find Potter!" Voldemort ordered. He would deal with Snape himself.
The wizard had boxed himself in, the door led to a room... there was nowhere to run.
Voldemort glided through the door, batting away a malicious looking curse. He raised a shield, absorbing two more spells, then batted away another two.
Severus was outclassed, and they both knew it.
And yet, there was a very strange expression on Snape's face. There was a smile on the man's face, and a- triumphant? – look in his eyes.
And Snape jerked out, prodding a long white thread with his wand.
Voldemort's eyes widened. Not thread - fuse.
The roof caved in. The last thing Voldemort saw before the destruction rained down upon him was Severus Snape, his eyes shut, wand abandoned, a look of utter calm on his face.
Whew. That was a really hard chapter.
For all those of you who love Snape – hey, the man went out swinging. He was – at last – at peace.
Thanks for reading, and do leave me a review telling me what you thought of it.
Again, it will probably be a while before I update next. My other fic, To Master The Dark is my priority. Do take a look at that.