Strange Visitors From Another Century
Chapter Twenty-Eight: Reap The Whirlwind
I am so sorry for the delay; its been a very busy few months, and this was a difficult chapter to write. Thank you for all the reviews, alerts, and favourites, and I hope you enjoy this chapter.
William was dead.
Harry's friend was dead. The boy who had welcomed him into Slytherin and done his best to make them feel at home had died saving his life. Harry dropped to his knees. William's skin was still warm, and his messy blond hair fell forward into his face. If not for the thin trickle of blood coming from the corner of his mouth he might have been sleeping.
But there was no pulse, and no mischievously glinting blue eyes and Harry knew better.
Ron knelt next to William, but lowered his wand almost immediately. Harry didn't move. There was odd ringing in his ears. Maybe it was Hermione screaming. Maybe it was the rising tide of magic. Harry couldn't look at Slytherin. William shouldn't have been here. He never would have been of it wasn't for them.
The cold suddenly intensified. Harry tore his gaze from William's body to find that both Ron's and Hermione's Patronuses had faded in the shock. The Dementors started to advance again, and the blackthorn wand suddenly felt very hot in Harry's hand. He had had enough.
He thought of his friends, of Slytherin, of William, and without a word the stag exploded into life, bigger and brighter than ever before. The Dementors in front of them scattered but it wasn't enough. A second stag appeared, then a third, and it didn't seem to matter that they were only supposed to be good against Dementors because the Order were falling back under their assault and some had dropped their wands and were turning to flee.
Harry didn't give them a chance. His curses dropped them where they stood, and the rest fell to his friends. He didn't need to look to know which curses were Slytherin's. Within seconds they were the only conscious beings left in the corridors.
Only then did Harry lower his wand. His magic was still burning beneath his skin, making the aches from the Cruciatus Curse redouble in ferocity, and with nothing to unleash it on he felt like he could explode at any moment.
Everything hurt, but Harry looked round. Hermione stood just out of arm's reach. Her eyes were shining with unshed tears. Ron stood behind her, his face ashen beneath the freckles. Harry opened his mouth, found his throat wouldn't work, and closed it again. His vision blurred, then filled with bushy hair as Hermione threw her arms around him. Harry felt her shaking with sobs, and then Ron's long arms wrapped around the two of them.
"Why did he come?" he choked out. "He-why was he here?"
Hermione's grip tightened, but it was Ron who spoke, his voice cracking with grief, "Same reason we are. He wouldn't stay behind."
Bile rose in Harry's throat. This wasn't supposed to happen. No one else was supposed to get hurt because of him.
And it wasn't over yet. Reluctantly, Harry drew back. Almost immediately he wished he hadn't. Slytherin was standing over William's body, and though his dark hair had fallen forward to hide his face the magic crackling around him was expressive enough. Harry took a step back, and knew his instincts were spot on when Myrddin quickly waved Ron and Hermione back to join him and raised a silent shield.
They were just in time.
If Harry's magic had been an inferno, Slytherin's was the howl of a winter blizzard. There was a roar of magic that made Harry's sinuses throb and Ron cover his ears, then the air equalised with a deafening crack. Slytherin staggered before Myrddin quickly moved to support him, but when he raised his head his eyes were blazing.
"The last wards are down," he said. "Is everyone capable of Apparating to Hogwarts?"
Ron opened his mouth, but closed it again when Harry glared at him. Hermione glanced between the two of them, but it was Myrddin who broached the subject.
"Are you?" he asked bluntly. "I know the signs of the Cruciatus Curse as well, you know." Two sharp intakes of breath sounded behind them, but Harry refused to look round. Slytherin's eyes flashed, but Myrddin was relentless, "And Harry has been here for even longer. Hogwarts is in danger. The last thing we need is either of you Splinching yourselves."
"We won't," Harry snapped. "Neither of us were under it that long, and we need to get moving."
"I'm fine, Ron!"
"No, you're not!" Ron shouted. Harry drew in breath to shout back, but didn't get a chance before Ron whirled on Slytherin. "Neither of you are! You've both been tortured for fuck's sake, and I know you're not going to stop fighting and I'm not going to tell you to but you will let me fix you up before we go anywhere, is that clear?"
For a second, Harry could only stare, but the moment was broken by Slytherin's sigh. "Helga has trained you well."
Ron went bright red at the praise. "Yeah, she did," he mumbled. He shifted, the anger in his face fading to concern. "And she showed me this spell, she said it would help with the Cruciatus. I'm not as good, but it will help."
Slytherin hesitated, his eyes flickering between Harry and William's body, before he finally dipped his head. "Harry first."
Harry knew better than to even try protesting. As much as he burned to get back to Hogwarts and help, he couldn't fight both Ron and Slytherin. He held still while Ron cast the incantation, and couldn't suppress a gasp as a gentle warmth spread through his body, easing the residual pain from the Cruciatus and relaxing his muscles.
"Wow," he gasped. "Thanks."
This would have been good to have after the graveyard. Ron's ears blazed bright red and he quickly turned to repeat the spell on Slytherin. The Founder didn't visibly react, but he did reach up to grip Ron's shoulder.
"Helga will be proud."
"Thank you," Ron mumbled. He cast a couple more spells before Slytherin could argue, then stowed his wand away. "That's about all I can do right now."
"That's enough," Harry assured him. "I feel much better." He still hurt, but no more than a dull ache and that was nothing. He was strong enough to fight. Slytherin, though, shook his head.
"Harry, go with Hermione."
Harry stared at him, but the expression on Slytherin's face killed any protests he might have made. The older wizard was still looking at William. Harry swallowed, and took Hermione's hand. She was the best at Apparating, and he needed to conserve his energy.
Myrddin stepped up to touch Slytherin's shoulder. He handed over the staff and wands, and crouched next to William. "Go," he said. "I will bring him."
For a moment Harry thought Slytherin would protest, but his grip just tightened on his weapons. He took a deep breath, let it out, and turned to Harry. "If you-"
"Don't say it." Slytherin's eyes narrowed, but Harry met his gaze without flinching. "I can fight. I'm going to make them pay."
There were no further arguments. Harry took one final look at William's body, burning the sight into his mind.
They would pay.
Godric Gryffindor was no stranger to being outnumbered. Facing a threat with Helga, Rowena, and Safdar for back-up was actually far more than he usually had. Normally it was just Salazar... But Salazar was gone, and the thought provided enough impetus for his Blasting Curse to punch a hole through the nearest giant's chest.
The giants had been a surprise. Not as much as the werewolves, but enough for Rowena to raise all of the castle's defences. She had even suggested letting Issa out, but with Salazar gone even Helga had been a little wary of that idea. It didn't matter. The castle was secure. It would take more than the Order had gathered to break through. Godric had considered letting them wear themselves out, but there were two very good arguments against that. The first was that Hogsmeade was still vulnerable, and they couldn't let that be.
The second, and rather more pressing reason if Godric was being completely honest with himself, was that they had Salazar. And Salazar wasn't the only one who understood the need for revenge.
Another giant's head exploded, and Godric risked a quick glance round as he recognised the taste of the magic. He wasn't the only one out for revenge. Helga's face was ashen, but there was no hesitation in her movements. Helena fought at her side, and what she lacked in strength she more than made up for in ferocity. The two of them were unstoppable.
Fittingly for a Transfiguration specialist, Rowena had concentrated on the werewolves. It was impossible to tell whether the cursed creatures were there of their own accord or had had no choice in the matter, and so she had restricted herself to simply restraining them. One was buried up to his neck in the ground, another had had her limbs encased in stone, and even as Godric watched Rowena caught a third in a golden web of magic that left them unable even to snarl.
Godric hated seeing his friends fight, hated seeing his family in danger, but it was their choice and they were more than capable of taking care of themselves.
The students were another matter. They had heart, but that wasn't enough. Not for this. They were sticking in groups as much as possible, as Godric had told them, but he was still keeping a close eye on them. Castor and Pollux together were a force to be reckoned with, and the best of them by far, but this was a lot to ask of any of them.
An explosion sounded from Safdar's direction. The trolls that had been sent round to the rear wouldn't be a problem, leaving Godric free to turn his attention to the human enemies. The battle awen sang in his blood, but he forced it down. He couldn't lose control. Not when the stakes were so high.
Then the wards screamed a warning so loud that it almost made Godric lose his focus. Ice gripped his chest. There was only one person who could trigger that kind of alarm.
Godric decapitated another Order member and turned to see Rowena approaching, her face ashen with dread. "Godric, that-"
"I know," he interrupted, "and I will handle it. You stay with the students."
He didn't give her a chance to argue. He concentrated on the source of the alarm, forced the terror in Rowena's eyes from his mind, and willed himself away to appear on the other side of the lake. The sounds of the battle carried over the water, but Godric tuned it out in favour of raising the strongest shield he could.
He needn't have bothered. There were around four dozen Order members ranged before him, but though their wands and weapons were drawn, none of them moved to attack. Godric relegated them to a secondary concern, and focused his attention on the tall figure in front of them.
"You have seen better days, Jarlath."
He thought the expression on Jarlath's face was a scowl, but he couldn't tell for sure through all the scarring and he honestly didn't care. He knew what Salazar's magic was capable of. He was far more concerned with the runes carved into every inch of his bare torso, and the sickening stench of Dark magic. Godric raised an eyebrow.
"Aren't you cold?"
This time it was definitely a glare. "You would not be joking if you knew what I had done to your friend."
He was absolutely right. The bottom of Godric's stomach seemed to fall away, and he had to take a moment before he could reply. "And you have a poor memory if you cannot remember what happened the last time you hurt him."
Jarlath's jaw clenched, and Godric pushed more power to his shield. A couple of the Order members raised wands, but all backed down when Godric glanced at them. Godric bit back a snort with an effort. Cowards, the lot of them. Happy to curse helpless prisoners, but come face to face with an armed warrior...
Jarlath rallied though.
"If you want either of them alive, you will surrender."
Godric barked out a humourless laugh. "Salazar would kill me, and he's far more terrifying than you are." He flicked his sword up until it was levelled at Jarlath's chest. "We all know how this is going to end. Let's just get on with it."
The corner of Jarlath's ruined mouth tugged into something that vaguely resembled a smile. "If you insist."
He spat a word in a language Godric didn't care to understand, and the runes on his body blazed with a sickly orange light. At the same moment the Order members unleashed a flurry of spells that exploded against Godric's shield in a shower of multicoloured sparks. The shield held, but Godric knew what he was fighting and threw himself to the side.
A split-second later the shield shattered with a thrum that left Godric's teeth aching. Godric summoned another on instinct but kept moving, and his caution was rewarded when the second shield was destroyed with as little effort as the first. Another vicious curse shot past close enough to scorch his ear, and an unfortunate tree exploded into flames. Godric dived behind the shelter of a clump of rocks and swore. He had forgotten what fighting ritual-enhanced wizards was like.
"Where are you, Gryffindor?" Jarlath roared. "I thought you were a warrior!" There was a flash of light, and another bush burst into flames. "Come and out fight!"
Godric took a deep breath. He could handle Jarlath. He could even handle forty-odd Dark wizards. All of them at the same time might be a little more of a stretch.
But he didn't have any choice. He would do whatever had to be done. Godric closed his eyes, let the battle awen overtake him, and threw himself back into the fray.
The chaos of Apparation coalesced into the frenzy of battle, and Harry was throwing curses the moment he was sure he was upright. He recognised the robes and blood-red insignias of the Order, and his rage at William's murder flared up again, brighter and fiercer than ever. His Blasting Curse blew the nearest giant's head off, spraying blood over everyone unfortunate enough to be nearby, but Harry refused to let it register. If he didn't fight he would die, it was as simple as that.
And after what they had done to William, he was done holding back.
"Watch the werewolves!" Ron yelled, over the din.
Harry swore, and spun back to help his friend. He raised his wand, but before he could even begin to cast the werewolf in question was hit by three Stunning Spells at once and collapsed.
Harry's heart leapt. Hufflepuff and Helena were battling their way through the combatants towards them, a gaggle of bloodied students behind them, and it eased a little of the ache in Harry's chest. They were safe. No one else was dying tonight. He opened his mouth, but somehow Slytherin was in between them and Hufflepuff's eyes filled with such relief that for a moment Harry could almost forget that there was a war on.
Then he saw the streak of blood on Helena's cheek, and reality reasserted itself. They were still fighting for their lives. Hufflepuff's face was ashen, and Slytherin suddenly stiffened.
"Uncle," Helena gasped, but Hufflepuff interrupted,
"He's here, Salazar! He's here, and Godric-"
"Went off alone," Slytherin finished. His face drained of what little colour it had recovered, and he drew himself up. "I'll find him."
"Salazar!" Hufflepuff screamed, but she was too far away and at the same instant another werewolf launched itself at her with a howl and she had to switch her attention or risk her throat being ripped out.
Harry, however, had started moving the moment he heard Gryffindor's name. His fingers closed around his grandfather's arm, and for the second time in as many minutes the world dissolved into the vortex of Apparation.
Once again, they reappeared in the middle of a battle. Slytherin staggered, his eyes widening as he realised what had happened, but Harry didn't give him a chance to protest.
"I'm not letting you go off alone too," he said fiercely. "So let's just do this."
Slytherin scowled, but an explosion sent both of them ducking for cover. Harry stared round, suddenly taking in the dozens of Order members surrounding them. Most were focused on something in the opposite direction, but the smarter ones were already turning to face the new threat. Harry recognised a few faces and the white hot rage flared up again, but even as he raised his wand Slytherin swore and threw up a dome-shaped shield large enough to encompass the two of them.
"We don't have much time, so listen closely," he said. "Jarlath is close, I can feel it, but he's different. He's not like he was back there."
"So what?" Harry demanded. He flinched as curses burst against the shield, but the spellwork held and he refocused on his grandfather. "Gryffindor is here too, right? He can beat that bastard and we can handle them-"
"Listen, Harry. Yes, we can do that, but you must listen to what I'm trying to warn you about. Jarlath is dangerous. He has undergone rituals that kill almost everyone that attempts them, and the ones that survive become monsters. He's stronger, faster, more vicious, and his magical power increases enormously."
"Fine, I'll be careful," said Harry impatiently. "Now let's go!"
"Not until you swear that you will do everything in your power to avoid confronting Jarlath yourself."
Despite the urgency of the of the situation, Harry couldn't help the incredulous look he turned on Slytherin, but his grandfather's expression froze his retort on his lips. Even in the cell with the Dementors, he hadn't seen fear like this in Slytherin's eyes. Slytherin took full advantage of his silence.
"The last time we fought someone like this, we all nearly died. So stay with me, concentrate on the Order, and leave Jarlath to Godric." His lips twitched into a morbid smile. "He's the only one that stands a chance."
Harry held his gaze for a long moment, then nodded. Slytherin clasped him briefly on the shoulder, then dispelled the shield in a shockwave that knocked the front row of attackers off their feet and the two of them threw themselves into the fray.
Hermione finally understood what Harry was talking about when he described how he duelled. Every sense seemed to be working overtime in an effort to keep track of all threats and it was almost overwhelming. Hermione worked best when she was able to plan things out. The only plan here was to stay alive from one minute to the next.
Training took over. Stunning spells gave way to Blasting and Cutting Curses and no one who attacked her got a second chance. She had somehow lost track of Hufflepuff and the others amongst the werewolves and trolls and psychopaths trying to kill them, and for all that she had spent years at Hogwarts she was completely turned around.
Hermione ducked, and a Stunner shot past her ear to take out the witch charging out to her. Despite herself, a faint smile touched her lips. At least she had Ron. Even as she watched, her friend followed up with a Full Body Bind that took out another wizard, then shot her a forced grin.
"Nice night for a fight, right?"
"Lovely," said Hermione dryly. "Can you see any of the others?"
Ron shook his head. He twisted to try to see through the rush of crowds, just in time to miss the werewolf that sprang for his back.
Hermione grabbed his arm and pulled him back, firing the strongest Stunning Spell she could manage at the werewolf. The creature went flying back through the air with a yelp, and Hermione whirled on Ron.
"Be more careful!" she shouted. "I can't lose you!"
Ron's eyes met hers, wide and impossibly blue. "Hermione..."
She wrenched him to the side, and fired a Cutting Curse at the wizard who had been charging up towards them. Blood sprayed from the carotid artery and the wizard fell, and Hermione pulled Ron in what she hoped was the direction of the Founders. "Come on! We'll be safer with the others."
Ron didn't argue. He also didn't let go of her hand. He cast a silent Leg-Locker on a witch attempting to attack from the side, and Hermione finished her off with a Blasting Curse. Ron's grip tightened on hers, but he said nothing. Instead he threw up a shield in time to catch the next incoming curse, leaving Hermione free to retaliate.
"Nice one," Ron gasped. "Come on, we're nearly there."
Hermione didn't have the breath to reply. Ron's legs were a lot longer than hers. It was just as well they had all become so proficient with non-verbal spells. She kept up the attacks, leaving defence to Ron. She knew she could trust him to keep them both safe as surely as she knew her own name.
In turn, she wouldn't let anyone hurt him. Not again.
But it was dark, and they were surrounded by enemies of all kinds, and it didn't matter how good they were when they were still inexperienced teenagers. A mistimed dodge earned Ron a deep slash across the shoulder, and Hermione wrenched her ankle when she stumbled out of the way of an attacking troll, and for every bit of ground they managed to gain a dozen more enemies seemed to appear.
"Hermione," Ron gasped, as he hexed another Order member, "in case we don't make it out of this-"
Hermione spared a split-second to stare at him. "This is not the time, Ron!"
"What other time are we gonna get?"
Hermione bit her lip hard enough to draw blood. "We are getting out of this," she hissed. "And you will tell me afterwards."
Ron held her gaze for a moment that seemed to last forever, then his mouth twitched into the soft smile she loved so much and he nodded. "Deal," he said. He held out a hand, and Hermione took it gratefully. "C'mon. I think I saw Ravenclaw a second ago."
Hermione took a deep breath and refocused on the battle, trusting Ron to guide them in the right direction. His ridiculous height did have some advantages. She concentrated on the nearest lumbering troll, and felt an explosion of sparks on her other side as Ron shielded them.
"Oi!" he yelled. "You could kill someone doing that."
Hermione snorted a giggle, and the moment of levity left everything feeling sharper. She spun and cut down the witch who had attacked them, and another that was sneaking up on them, in one smooth motion. Ron caught another incoming curse, leaving her to refocus on the troll, and Hermione felt a surge of determination. They were going to make it through this.
"Blasting spells on three," she shouted. "One, two, three!"
Both spells hit the troll square in the chest. It let out a roar and toppled backwards, crushing a startled Order wizard beneath it much to Hermione's satisfaction. Next to her Ron snorted.
"Couldn't have planned that better if we tried."
"We're not out of here yet," Hermione reminded him. "Let's go. I think we're nearly back to the others."
But looking around, Hermione found her confidence faltering. She saw witches and wizards closing in from either side, but even as she calculated angles of attack she saw something else. Yet another wizard, approaching from the rear, wand in one hand and a vicious looking knife in the other.
A wizard that was aiming directly at Ron.
Hermione's body moved on its own and she threw herself forward. At the same time, a wandless Banishing Charm sent Ron stumbling forward out of the path of the curse. He crashed to the floor with a yelp, but out of harm's way, and Hermione desperately tried to follow up with a wandless shield.
But that many spells at once was too much even for her. The shield buckled, then there was a sickening crunch that drove every breath from her lungs. Her vision went white, and when she tried to suck in oxygen her muscles refused to work. Through the rising panic she found herself falling, and over the clamour of battle she heard a desperate cry.
Harry had harboured a not-so-secret desire for vengeance ever since he had watched Jarlath torture his grandfather. William's death had only fed the fire. Even after Slytherin's warning, Harry had quietly wished for a chance to take his own revenge on the man who had caused so much pain.
Then he had felt Jarlath's power. Harry was a good hundred metres from where he and Gryffindor were trying to kill each other, and yet the power of the magic they were channelling was enough to make his ears ring. Harry had never felt anything like it, and this was after spending months with the Founders. Slytherin was right; Harry would stand as much chance against Jarlath as he would against Voldemort.
But he could do something about the forty odd Order members that had been surrounding Gryffindor when they arrived.
On his own, Harry would have been quickly overwhelmed. Even with the blackthorn wand and fuelled with the pain of his friend's death, forty was a bit much for one teenage wizard, especially injured as he was. He wasn't the only one who knew that though. For the first time Slytherin had abandoned the Appararition-based fighting style he favoured and stayed at Harry's side, and secure in the knowledge that one of the most dangerous wizards Harry had ever met had his back Harry went on the offence.
It didn't matter that none of these people had killed William. They had kidnapped Harry and tortured Slytherin and tried to murder children and they were still the reason that William was dead even if they hadn't cast the curse themselves and they didn't deserve mercy. His injuries and exhaustion were forgotten. Curses flowed from the blackthorn in a constant, deadly stream, all Harry's trouble with non-verbal spells fading into a dream as he fell completely into the flow of battle.
Part of him wondered if he would regret this when the rage of battle passed, but that thought was quickly silenced. Right now, all that mattered was survival, and hesitating would only get him killed. Worse, it would get his friends killed too.
A deafening roar rang out from up ahead, and Harry flinched. Whatever had made that noise was not something Harry ever wanted to meet, let alone fight. The Order members slowed, quick looks passing between them, but Slytherin drew in a sharp breath.
"Godric," he whispered. "He needs help."
Harry's already racing heart rate shot up. "We'll fight our way through."
He didn't wait for agreement. The Order's attack had flinched and they weren't going to get a better opportunity. Over a dozen bodies lay on the ground. This was their chance to break them and get back to the real battle. Harry summoned up reserves he hadn't known he had and sprang forward, Blasting and Cutting Curses flying from his wand in an unbroken sequence. Slytherin was right on his heels, and if his spells were slightly slower than Harry's they caused far more destruction.
More bodies fell and the Order broke.
Their numbers decimated, their leader and support nowhere in sight, and faced with two furious and powerful wizards, the remainder of the intruders broke ranks and fled. Flushed with the heat of battle Harry started after them, only for Slytherin to raise a hand.
Harry froze, then spun back, furious with himself. There was a clear path to the two duellists now, and he wasted no time pulling Slytherin's arm round his shoulders.
"Sorry," he gasped. "Come on, Grandfather."
Slytherin growled something that did not sound complimentary, but pushed himself as best he could. Harry's own aches and pains were beginning to make themselves known again, but he pushed them down and forced his leaden limbs onwards. They couldn't stop now.
"Remember," Slytherin rasped. "Don't...don't try to engage Jarlath."
Another pulse of power left Harry's teeth aching, and he shuddered. "Don't worry about that."
Slytherin hummed slightly. The wind picked up, and when Harry cast a quick glance down Slytherin gave a shrug. "A precaution."
Harry certainly wasn't going to say no to some weather-based back-up, but the awful pallor of Slytherin's skin made his stomach twist. Neither of them were in great shape, and summoning storms wasn't an easy task at the best of times. Harry silently decided to try to keep Slytherin from directly confronting Jarlath too.
They rounded a pair of trees, only for Harry to drag them back under cover as a spell shot past his head. Slytherin cried out as the impact jarred his bad leg.
"Sorry," Harry said. He risked a quick glance out around the tree, and his jaw dropped.
He had seen Gryffindor fight before. The wizard was a legend for a reason. This, though, was something else. Every movement was perfectly placed, every spell perfectly chosen and leading fluidly into the next without a single wasted movement. His sword lay on the grass behind him, but the blood on the blade and the deep slash across Jarlath's hamstring showed that it had served its purpose. Its loss hadn't slowed Gryffindor down in the slightest.
And yet despite all his skill and ferocity, Gryffindor was barely holding his own. It was full night now, but Jarlath's body glowed with a strange orange light, and he was moving far faster than any human should be able to manage, especially with his bleeding leg wound. This close the sense of wrongness about his magic was even more prominent, and every spell he cast made the hairs on the back of Harry's neck stand on end.
"What is that?" he breathed.
In his mind's eye he saw Voldemort moving like that, using magic like that, and he wrenched his mind away before he could really start panicking. Voldemort was bad enough as he was. He glanced back at Slytherin, who had pushed himself up to lean against the tree.
"A highly unpleasant ritual," he said. "We will discuss it later. Godric can't keep that up forever."
"What can we do?" Harry asked.
Slytherin closed his eyes. The wind began to pick up. Harry drew in a sharp breath, and Slytherin's lips twitched into a weak smile. "I would not last long in my current condition either," he murmured.
Harry let out a breath. That was good. Unable to help himself, he took a step towards the two duellists. "What about Professor Gryffindor? If he's too close-"
"He won't be," said Slytherin. "He knows my magic. He will be ready." A sudden gust of wind had him leaning on the tree for his support, and he bit his lip hard enough to draw blood. Harry hurried to his side and found him shaking so badly he could scarcely stand.
"I can do this," Slytherin whispered. "It is the only thing he cannot block. I just...I just need to concentrate."
Harry nodded, and glanced back to check on Gryffindor. At the same moment Gryffindor's head turned in his direction, and he gave an almost imperceptible nod. It seemed Slytherin's faith in his awareness was justified.
But his moment of distraction had cost him. A curse broke through his defence and Gryffindor stumbled just long enough for a second spell to blast him off his feet.
Storm clouds swirled overhead but not fast enough. Harry reacted on instinct, and lunged out from behind the tree.
Jarlath's wand went flying through the air. The warlock spun round with a snarl, and Harry threw himself to the ground just in time to keep a blast of wandless magic from taking his head off. Jarlath summoned his wand back a split-second later, but by then Gryffindor was on his feet again and fighting furiously.
Harry didn't argue. Gryffindor was in full control now, and he was pushing Jarlath back towards the lake, leaving Harry free to sprint back to Slytherin's side. His grandfather had his staff raised towards the sky, jaw clenched in concentration, but his eyes were flashing with vicious satisfaction. The air crackled and Harry jumped behind him, just as Gryffindor cast a quick glance in their direction and threw up the most powerful shield Harry had ever seen. Jarlath spun round, his own wand flicking in the movement for a shield of his own.
Jarlath was fast, but he wasn't as fast as a bolt of lightning.
The roll of thunder that followed was deafening, but not loud enough to cover the warlock's screams. Harry clapped his hands over his ears, but the sound still burned its way into his brain. He was just glad he was far enough away to avoid the stench of burning flesh.
Jarlath had done horrific things, but to go through this again...
Then the last of the colour drained from Slytherin's face, and he swayed on his feet. Harry lunged for him, but Gryffindor moved at the same time and the three of them crashed to the ground in a tangle of limbs. Harry yelped as the breath was driven from his lungs, then Gryffindor caught both him and Slytherin into a crushing embrace.
"You're alive. You're both alive."
Harry half-expected Slytherin to pull away, but his grandfather sagged into Gryffindor's hold. Gryffindor gave a choked sob. "He told me-"
"Do not think on it," Slytherin whispered. "We're here now."
Harry nodded as best he could. William's death burned in his mind, but the words stuck in his throat. For this single moment, he allowed himself to rest in Gryffindor's arms and know that he was safe.
It was Slytherin who stirred.
"We need to burn the body," he mumbled. "If any of those markings are preserved and discovered-"
"I know," said Gryffindor gently. He still didn't let go until Slytherin squeezed his arm, and then it was with the utmost reluctance. He helped the two of them upright, and under the blood his face paled as he looked at them. "What-"
"Later," Slytherin whispered. "I...I would rather not discuss it more than once."
Harry nodded fervently, then promptly stopped when it mad his headache flare up again. He would rather wrestle a Skrewt than think about their captivity right now. Gryffindor's eyes hardened, but he nodded.
He started to make his way over to Jarlath's smoking body, wand still at the ready. Before he reached it though, Slytherin let out a hiss.
"What-" Harry began, but Slytherin was already spinning, wand raised and face white with fury.
Only to fall back with a scream as a flash of red light sent his wand flying through the air. He stumbled and would have fallen if Harry hadn't caught him. Gryffindor was running back towards them, but Harry's whole attention was on Slytherin.
"Grandfather? Are you all right?"
A low moan escaped Slytherin before he clamped his jaw shut. His hand was tucked against his chest, but Harry could see enough of the horrible way it was bent to know it was broken. Gryffindor planted himself in between them and their attacker.
"I know you're there," he snarled. "Make things easy on yourself and come out."
For a moment there was no response, then a familiar dry voice echoed through the trees.
"Your wards really are quite impressive. Very well."
Out stepped a single tall wizard. It was hard to tell in the dark, but then he stepped out into the moonlight and Harry's heartrate doubled as he recognised the man who had used Legilimency on him in the cell. His hood was thrown back now, and his bald head gleamed in the light.
Gryffindor drew in a sharp breath, but it was Slytherin's reaction that caught Harry's attention. His grandfather sagged against him, all the anger in his voice fading to dull resignation,
Ron reacted without thinking. The wizard who had cursed Hermione slammed into a tree hard enough to break bones, but Ron was already on his knees running diagnostic spells.
"Come on, Hermione," he shouted. "It's all right, you're gonna be fine." The spells flashed red, and he swore. Hermione managed a strangled gurgle, her fingers clutching weakly at his sleeve, and he caught himself.
"Okay, it's a bit nasty but you're still going to be fine."
Hermione nodded, then blood spattered from her mouth as her entire body convulsed. Ron swore, the strongest pain spells he knew flying from his wand as he tried to isolate the damage. "No no no, come on, Hermione, stay with me!"
"Ron-" Hermione began, but it degenerated into a choked cough and more blood and Ron paused just long enough to squeeze her shoulder.
"No, don't talk. Your-your lungs are hurt, okay, you've just got to keep breathing." Hermione's eyes drifted closed, and he shook her. "Hermione! Listen to me! For once, please listen."
Hermione's eyelids flickered, but her fingers brushed his hand. Ron choked back his own sobs, and forced his voice to work. "Keep breathing. You have to keep breathing."
Hermione didn't respond. Even the wet rasps of her breathing had stopped.
The sounds of the battle faded into insignificance. Ron forgot the danger, forgot that he was exhausted, and threw every scrap of magic he had at the woman he loved. Every spell he had learned that might possibly help poured from his wand, and when that wasn't enough he grabbed his willow wand and started casting with that too.
"Come on, Hermione! You survived a fucking Basilisk you're not dying to a stupid curse!"
Both wands were burning hot with the amount of magic he was channeling. Ron didn't care. Hermione was alive, her heart was beating, but her ribs were broken and her lungs had collapsed and Ron was good but this wasn't exactly something he had had a chance to practice...
The scream vaguely registered, but Ron was too busy draining the fluid from Hermione's chest cavity to pay attention. If he didn't get this exactly right he would do more damage and he couldn't-
A line of white fire blazed across his cheek and Ron threw up a hand on instinct. His vision went white as the heat and light overloaded his senses, but the spell was already pouring from his wand and if he stopped now he really would let Hermione die.
"Come on," he hissed. "Come on!"
The magic pulsed in just the way Hufflepuff had described, and Ron forced himself to release the spell. His vision was beginning to return, but although everything he had was focused on Hermione he didn't miss someone approaching out the corner of his eye.
"Will you keep it down!" Ron bellowed. "I'm trying to save a life here!"
Too late the voice registered as Helena's, but under the circumstances Ron had more important things to worry about. Magic was still flying around him, but Helena was here and he caught sight of one of the twins as they dashed past, and that was enough for Ron to return his all his attention to Hermione.
Hermione, who still hadn't moved.
Ron bit his lip hard enough to draw blood. He had done the spell properly, he knew he had. It had to work. It had to.
A tentative hand touched his shoulder. "Ron, I think you've done all you can."
It was the gentlest Helena had ever been with him, and at the same the worst thing she could possibly have said. He was jerking away before he knew what was happening. "Don't say that! She's not..."
Words failed him, and he whirled back to Hermione. His eyes were still funny, Hermione was just a blur, but he had to do something. There were more spells he could try, and he could find Hufflepuff and she had to know something else they could do-
And Hermione sucked in a desperate gasp of air. Her eyes flew open and she stared wildly around. "Wha - Ron?"
Then she broke into a weak splutter as Ron pulled her into her a desperate hug. Ron could hear Helena yelling and spells flying around them, but all he could do was cling to Hermione and thank every god he knew that the woman he loved still lived.
"You're all right," he whispered. "You're going to be all right."
Hermione drew back. She reached up to cup his cheek in a bloodstained hand. "Of course I am," she rasped. "I've got you."
Ron closed his eyes and touched his forehead to hers. "Always."
The sound of battle were fading. The werewolves had been captured, the trolls were down, and the remaining Order members were scattering. Ron could hear Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw calling orders and checking on their students, Helena and the twins hurrying about assisting them, but three voices were conspicuous by their absence. Ron drew in a sharp breath, and at the same moment Hermione tensed.
"Ron? Where's Harry?"
Harry was struggling to stay upright. He stood amidst the destruction Gryffindor and Jarlath had wrought, and all the fatigue of the last day seemed to crash down upon him. It was hard to tell if he was supporting Slytherin or if it was the other way round. Gryffindor was gasping for breath, but his wand was rock-steady and didn't waver from Zalasta's face.
Zalasta had yet to meet Slytherin's gaze.
"I thought you would have known by now."
Slytherin's good hand tightened on his staff. Harry knew it was the only thing keeping him upright, but now that he was over his shock his grandfather's fury only seemed to be increasing. "I did. I didn't want to believe it."
Zalasta sighed, spreading his arms. "What can I say? You knew what I was when you saved me."
"You bastard," Gryffindor snarled, but even as he raised his wand Slytherin shook his head. Zalasta's cocky smirk faded.
"For what it's worth, I'm sorry. But you barely beat Jarlath the first time round. I wasn't holding out much hope that you would be able to do so a second time."
"I understand," said Slytherin quietly. "Anything to save your own skin."
Harry stared between the two of them, unable to believe what he was hearing. "He's your friend? You were his friend?" he demanded, switching his attention to Zalasta. "You threatened to torture me!"
Ozone burned in the air, and Harry belatedly realised that he had just signed Zalasta's death warrant. Judging by the way Zalasta flinched, he knew it as well as they did. Harry still had questions though, and he whirled on Slytherin.
"But how? How did you know?"
Slytherin's eyes didn't leave his former friend's. "He is the only person who knew of my interest in Horcruxes. And he knew of my...protectiveness towards you."
Zalasta snorted. "Yes, young Edmund was most helpful. His Occlumency was nowhere near as good as the boy's, and that was after he practically told me his name. He gave me everything."
"Shut up," Gryffindor growled.
Slytherin's grip had tightened on his wand. "You never believed me when I said I hadn't made a Horcrux. And that first attack... It was after I visited you. I told you I was going to see Wulfric." An edge of self-disgust had crept into his voice. "I should have seen it sooner."
Zalasta shook his head. "I told you wasting your time on children would dull your edge."
"And yet look at who is still standing," said Gryffindor. "This time you chose the wrong side."
Zalasta's gaze drifted past them, and his face twisted into a strange smile. "Are you so sure?"
It was probably a trick, but Harry was too on edge to not check. He glanced round, and couldn't suppress a yelp.
Somehow, Jarlath was dragging himself upright. Harry took a step back. If the madman had looked terrible before, it was nothing compared to the burns that covered every inch of his body. It was a miracle, or a curse that he was still alive, and there was nothing but hatred in his one remaining eye.
"You," he spat. Blood dripped onto his chest as his ruined mouth tried to form words. "How...again?"
Slytherin stared at him for a long moment, then exchanged a look with Gryffindor. Gryffindor nodded curtly and he made a sharp gesture. Jarlath's neck jerked to the side with a dull crack and he toppled back onto the grass, finally dead.
Harry stood frozen. After the battle, after the whole hellish day, such a sudden death seemed almost anti-climatic. Gryffindor squeezed his shoulder with a sigh.
"He was dying. A quick death is more than he deserved."
Slytherin nodded, but then gave a sharp hiss. In the brief distraction Zalasta had vanished. Harry tensed, but Slytherin shook his head.
"Forget him. There is nowhere he can hide from me."
Harry shivered. Slytherin's eyes were chips of ice. Harry didn't give anything for Zalasta's chances of survival. Another time he might feel sorry for him, but his head was throbbing and Zalasta's betrayal reminded him too much of Pettigrew for Harry to be able to muster any sympathy.
He was far more worried about Slytherin. His grandfather was leaning heavily on his staff, and he had made no movement towards retrieving his wand. Harry silently summoned it himself, ignoring the amount of effort it took to do so, and was rewarded with an exhausted smile from Slytherin and an approving nod from Gryffindor.
"The rest of the Order are retreating," Gryffindor said. His head was cocked to the side as he listened to Hogwarts' report. "The werewolves have been contained, and Myrddin has dealt with the Dementors. Somehow." Slytherin gave a soft huff, and Gryffindor smiled. "Let me deal with the body, and then I will take you both back."
It was a mark of how draining the day had been that Slytherin didn't even try to argue. Harry leaned into his grandfather's side, as much to reassure himself that they were both fine as to give him some support.
"It's all over," he mumbled.
Slytherin hummed. "Indeed." He was silent for a moment, and his next words were so quiet that Harry had to strain to hear them, "I have never been more proud of a student than I am at this moment."
Warmth flooded Harry's entire body. He ducked his head, knowing his face was burning bright red, a blush that only darkened when Slytherin continued, "And I am honoured beyond words that you would accept me as family."
Harry coughed. "As far as I'm concerned, you're the only blood family I have living," he said quietly. "You're the only one I need."
He had Ron and Hermione and Neville and Luna and Sirius and Ginny and all the Weasleys and they were family, more family than the Dursleys ever were, and now he had a grandfather who would and had gone through hell for him. Even after the past day, the past months, Harry couldn't regret that.
Slytherin's eyes widened at his words, then some of the tension seemed to drain from his body. He leaned into Harry's proffered support, and didn't flinch when Gryffindor rested a hand on each of their shoulders.
"All right," he said. "Let's go home."
Apparition stole the last of Harry's strength. He staggered, but Ron was there, pulling him into a desperate hug and shaking so much he nearly pulled them both over, but he was alive and safe and exactly what Harry had needed. He took a moment to glance round, and saw Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff take Gryffindor and Slytherin into an equally fierce group embrace. They didn't look like they would ever let go. Hermione was sitting up just behind them, drawn and haggard and covered in blood, but alive, and her eyes lit up at the sight of him.
Hogwarts was safe. His family were safe.
Harry closed his eyes and surrendered to unconsciousness.
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