A/N: Okay, I made a big mistake in the last chapter, but it was mine, not Snape’s. It was pointed out that the Draught of Living Death should be either pink or clear – I don’t have my book to check exactly, it’s packed somewhere – and the Lexicon doesn’t indicate either for the final color. Urgh! Sorry about that.
Disclaimer: I own nothing; it all belongs to J.K.Rowling. I’m just borrowing the characters to play with for a while. This is for pleasure only, no profit is being made, and no copyright infringement is intended.
Ginny watched in horror as dozens of masked and cloaked Death Eaters appeared outside the gates of Hogwarts. She stood frozen, mouth gaping as more and more of them appeared, cackling and shouting rude comments about the destruction of the school. Hagrid grabbed Hermione and her and roughly pulled them both into the trees alongside the Hogsmeade path. Ron and Draco quickly followed, both wide-eyed, as well.
The gentle spring breeze fluttered her hair as Ginny tried to calm her racing heart. The stone she wore around her neck had been oddly warm all evening, and it now felt as if it was burning her skin. She didn’t have time to ponder it, however. Brushing the distraction from her mind, she turned helplessly to Hermione.
“We have to warn everyone at the school,” Hermione said, her voice a strained whisper. “They have no idea what’s about to happen.”
“We’ll never get through that group undetected, Hermione,” Ron said grimly, watching as the Death Eaters began firing spells at the gate. All the color had completely drained from his face.
“Unless… Yes, I think I can do it,” Hermione said, mumbling as she moved away from them.
“I hate when she does that,” Ron said under his breath. “Where do you think you’re going?”
“Attackin’ the school! I ne’er thought I’d see the day,” Hagrid said, shaking his head sadly.
“Just stay there,” Hermione said, waving her arm to indicate they should stay down. “I’ll be right back.”
“What is she going to do?” Ron asked.
“Who cares?” Draco said, tugging on Ron’s arm. “What about Pansy? I thought you were in a hurry to stop Potter.”
“I’m not about to let my entire family be slaughtered, Malfoy,” Ron said hotly. “Your mother is in there, too, you know.”
Malfoy paled. “I’m well aware of that, Weasel…thank you very much. That’s why I think we should hurry.”
“We don’t even know if Pansy is with Harry, Draco,” Ginny snapped. “For all we know, she could have been the one to lead those Death Eaters here.”
“She never would have done that knowing I was still here – or her family, either,” Malfoy snarled.
Scowling, Ginny turned away and folded her arms across her chest, knowing he had a point. No matter how much of a cow Pansy was, she did care for the prat. Still, Ginny couldn’t help the nagging feeling that there was something odd about both Harry and Pansy being missing.
“Perhaps they’re attacking because they’ve already caught Potter,” Draco said coldly. “Maybe they were waiting outside the gates and grabbed both him and Pansy when they tried to leave.”
Ginny whipped her head around, her throat closing as her heart attempted to leap out of her chest. “They don’t have Harry,” she said, her voice strained.
Still, Malfoy’s words rang in her head. Could it be true? No. Harry wouldn’t have brought Pansy with him if he was going to the Ministry. Perhaps he and Voldemort were already engaged in battle, and that’s why the Death Eaters were here. She still didn’t know where Pansy fit into it.
“Ron,” she said, clutching his arm so her nails dug into his skin.
“That’s enough, Malfoy,” Ron snapped, stepping in between Draco and her. Ginny could see the worry in his face, however. She wasn’t the only one alarmed by Malfoy’s words.
She saw the bright, gleaming shape of Hermione’s Patronus as it burst from the trees further down the road toward Hogsmeade. It soared over the heads of the surprised Death Eaters, zoomed through the gates, and continued traveling towards Hogwarts. Just as the otter appeared, Hermione emerged from the trees behind them.
“Good girl, Hermione,” Hagrid said.
“You sent them a warning,” Ron said, smiling.
Hermione nodded. “I’ve seen Harry do it. It was amazing. I told it to wait until I got away before sending the message, and it did,” she said, speaking very fast.
The gathered Death Eaters began firing into the woods where the Patronus had appeared. Angry voices shouted into the night air, and the group split into two, one running down the road to search the trees for whoever had cast the spell, while the other continued the assault on the gates.
“I sent it to Professor McGonagall. She’ll get everyone moving here. We’ve got to Apparate to the Ministry,” Hermione said.
“Yeh go on ahead,” Hagrid said. “I’m going ter keep a watch here and help ter defend the school.”
“Hagrid, you can’t go up against all of them alone,” Hermione said, grabbing Hagrid’s hand as if to pull him away.
Acrid smoke filled the air, and the visibility was dimming due to the vast number of spells being fired. The haze in front of the gates appeared to shimmer slightly, flickering bright flashes of light every few seconds.
“Don’t you go worrying ‘bout me, Hermione. My skin’s too strong fer them to hurt. The wards around Hogwarts have weakened since Dumbledore…well, since…” Hagrid said, nodding and clearing his throat.
Hermione swallowed and nodded to show she understood what Hagrid meant.
“I don’t think they’ll hold fer long,” Hagrid said. “If they fall before the Aurors arrive from the castle, I’m going ter try and stall ‘em.”
“Hagrid,” Hermione pleaded, still tugging on his arm. “Even your skin isn’t tough enough to last against all of them.”
Excited shouts could be heard in the distance. Ginny couldn’t decipher the words, but she could feel their excitement. They were getting close. She clenched her eyes tightly, saying a silent prayer that her family would be all right.
Hagrid put his massive hands on Hermione’s shoulders and pulled her into a fierce embrace. “I appreciate yer worry, Hermione, but I’m going ter do what I have ter do. We all have a part ter play. Yeh go help Harry. He needs yeh more than me.”
Ron swallowed heavily, pulling Hermione away. “Take care, Hagrid,” he said, nodding.
Hagrid returned the nod, firmly shaking Ron’s hand while holding his solemn gaze.
Ginny couldn’t contain the sob that broke from her chest. Flinging her arms around Hagrid, she hugged him tightly. “Stay safe, Hagrid.”
“Yeh, too, Ginny,” he said, patting her on the back and nearly knocking her to her knees. “He’ll need yeh most of all when this is all said and done.”
Ginny nodded, tears streaming from her eyes.
“Let’s get on with this,” Draco said, and Ginny thought even he sounded a little choked.
A low rumbling sound suddenly filled the air, quickly gaining volume until the roar was so loud that Ginny had to block her ears. A great gust of smoke billowed into the air, and the gathered Death Eaters began to cheer. A volley of spells hit the iron gates in tandem, causing the massive structure to shudder before finally tilting and falling backwards with a massive clang.
When the dust settled, the gate was on the ground, and Hogwarts was wide open to attack.
Hermione grabbed Ginny by the elbow, and Ron did the same to Draco. Nodding at one another, they all Disapparated with a loud crack as Hagrid bellowed a roar of combined grief and rage before charging into the fray.
The only sounds in the dimly-lit chamber where Harry was being held were the steady, almost-annoying drip of water against the stone, and the insidious pant of Voldemort’s breathing. He was excited and obviously enjoying Harry’s predicament. The sweet taste of victory shone in his unnaturally red eyes, and his tongue flicked out to lick his lips in anticipation.
He stood in the doorway, arms folded, his wand held casually in his fingertips, as if unconcerned that anything could possibly go wrong. He watched eagerly as Snape moved closer to Harry’s immobilized form.
Harry struggled in vain as the thick black liquid filled his mouth. Snape’s spell had his head pulled back and his mouth pried open, paralyzing him. Try as he may, he was unable to clamp his jaw shut. His only method of delaying the inevitable was refusing to swallow, but even that grew more difficult as Snape continued to pour the syrup-like potion.
It tasted bitter, and the foul stench made him gag. Tears leaked from the corners of his stinging eyes as he fought to keep his throat closed, feeling his panic rising inside him like a crescendo. Dark hopelessness clawed at his consciousness, whispering that it would be so much easier to simply give in and swallow. He wouldn’t have to struggle anymore…
Harry shook himself mentally, refusing to travel down that dark path. Instead, he thought of his mission, and the people he sought to protect. They were a fierce group of fighters, and none of them would ever give up and simply allow Voldemort to win.
With a hollow pang, he remembered the look of determination on Remus’s face before he had stood against Voldemort. Remus had sacrificed himself so the rest of them might live – Harry had to live for the same reason. He couldn’t allow Remus’s loss to have been in vain. He couldn’t allow the rest of them to suffer the same fate, because Voldemort was certain to go after those who had been most loyal to Harry.
With renewed determination, Harry once again tried to overcome the spell. His entire body began to shake with the effort, but slowly, imperceptibly at first, he began to feel sensation returning to his limbs. It started as a tingling that gradually grew into a burning sensation covering his entire body. Without understanding exactly how it had happened, he suddenly realized that he could move. Snape’s brow furrowed in confusion as he became aware of the fact that Harry had broken the Binding Spell.
“What is it, Severus?” Voldemort asked, sounding uncertain for the first time since his arrival. He took several steps closer to try and see over Snape’s shoulder. “What is happening?”
Before Snape had time to answer, the entire chamber began to shake with the raw power of Harry’s unleashed magic. The phial in Snape’s hand shattered, sending small splinters of glass flying and cutting into Snape’s hand. The remainder of the potion spilled onto Harry’s shirt.
Using Snape’s moment of confusion to his full advantage, Harry pulled himself into a seated position and spat the entire contents of his mouth into his former professor’s face.
“I may be ready to go – ready to die to end this – but not yet,” he snarled, slamming his head forward to bash against Snape’s. The impact was so quick and so hard that Harry saw stars. The roaring in his ears increased, and he had to blink hard against the darkness threatening to consume him.
Not expecting the blow, Snape flailed backwards and stumbled into Voldemort with the force of his momentum. Harry’s surge of power again shook the room, causing bits of stone to crumble and fall around the chamber. Voldemort was knocked backwards through the cavernous door, just before the archway collapsed with a thunderous roar. Snape fell to the ground inside the chamber, his head striking the cold stone floor and leaving him momentarily stunned.
As quickly as he could, Harry tossed his legs over the side of his makeshift coffin and rose unsteadily to his feet. The room spun alarmingly, and he had to grab the edge of the box for balance. It was all he could do to keep his stomach’s contents from spilling. His leaden limbs felt weak and unresponsive, and his vision was blurred. The stone inside his rope bracelet was burning hot against the tender skin on the underside of his wrist, but he welcomed the pain, using it to help him clear his mind.
He had to get his wand and get out of here. He reached out with his senses, and his heart plummeted when he detected that familiar hum of anti-Apparation wards. He should have known that Voldemort’s fortress wouldn’t be without them.
How else was he to escape? He wouldn’t last long in his present physical condition. He hadn’t swallowed any of the Draught of Living Death, but some of it must have been absorbed into his digestive track because he felt thoroughly awful. He was worried about how long he could manage to keep his tenuous grip on consciousness. Even now the black spots in his vision appeared to be growing and filling in the gaps.
Still, he had to do something. He couldn’t simply stand here and wait to fall over. Taking a shaky step forward, he reached for Snape, who was still sprawled on the floor. The Potions master must have sensed Harry’s plan because he kicked out, knocking an already-shaky Harry backwards.
Snape crawled backwards, reaching for his wand, barely leaving Harry any time to grab for his own in order to escape. As Harry’s adrenaline began to pump, it seemed to clear his head and brought some strength back to his weakened muscles.
Snarling, he lunged for Snape, determined to get his wand.
Ron, Hermione, Ginny and Draco arrived at the Visitor’s Entrance to the Ministry a moment after they’d left Hogwarts.
“The wards went down. They’ve got Hogwarts,” Hermione said, sounding panicked.
“I know,” Ron replied, putting his hands on her shoulders. “We have to trust that the Order and the Aurors can handle things there, Hermione. We have to help Harry.”
Ginny’s eyes widened in surprise at watching Ron take charge, and Hermione easily listen to him. When had her brother become such a strong man?
“You’re right,” Hermione said, pulling herself together. “Come on, it’s this way.”
Hermione led them toward the battered telephone box and hurried inside. Ron and Ginny quickly followed, but Malfoy stopped outside.
“You must be joking,” he said, staring incredulously at the other three crammed inside the box.
“Either come with us or don’t, Malfoy,” Ron said irritably. “It makes no difference to me, and I don’t mind the big old target on your back out here in the open.”
Malfoy blanched, and he quickly crammed inside with the others. Ron didn’t appear to mind the close quarters as he had Hermione pushed against one side of the box, but Ginny was crushed between Ron and Draco and couldn’t move lest she’d have to touch either of them further.
“Hurry up and dial, will you?” she snapped.
“Hang on, I can’t quite reach it,” Ron said, elongating his words as he reached for the receiver.
“Ow!” Hermione yelped, rubbing the top of her head.
“Sorry!” Ron said, gasping. “Got it.”
He dialed the number, and a cool female voice filled the telephone box.
“Welcome to the Ministry of Magic. Please state your name and business.”
“Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger, Ginny Weasley and Draco Malfoy,” Ron said, his lip curling slightly on Draco’s name. “We’re here to stop Harry from doing anything stupid.”
“And to rescue Pansy from Potter’s mad ideas,” Draco said, glaring at Ron.
Four badges slid out. Hermione grabbed them and distributed them as the telephone box began to descended.
“Visitors to the Ministry, you are required to submit to a search and present your wand for registration at the security desk, which is located at the far end of the Atrium,” the female voice said.
Ignoring the voice, Ginny glanced at her badge. It read: Ginny Weasley, Rescue Mission. She shuddered as an eerie foreboding washed over her. At the same moment, the stone she wore around her neck flared painfully, causing her to wince and pull it away from her skin. Harry had to be okay. They couldn’t be too late.
Ginny struggled to hold her emotions in check. Harry wouldn’t like to see her falling apart when they found him. Tears always panicked him. She’d never had much patience for girls who cried, either. Perhaps it was because she had six brothers and had always been determined to prove she was an equal. She gritted her teeth, struggling not to shout in fury over the slowness of the lift.
“Why are we at the Ministry, of all places?” Draco hissed, sounding very nervous. “The Dark Lord is in control here, now. It’s undoubtedly crawling with Death Eaters.”
“Bit late to think of that now,” Ron replied.
Ginny knew he was trying to act unconcerned for Draco’s benefit, but she could see the tenseness in his shoulders and the way he was using his body to keep both Hermione and her behind him.
When they reached the Atrium and the door opened, they were stunned to find it empty; even the security desk was unmanned. Once again, Ginny was eerily reminded of her previous nighttime visit to the Ministry.
“There’s no one here,” Ron said blankly.
“Of course,” Hermione said.
“Of course what?” Draco snapped.
“He sent his forces to Hogwarts,” Hermione said, sprinting towards the golden gates of the lifts that would take them into the bowels of the Ministry.
“Where are we going?” Draco demanded.
“Department of Mysteries,” Ron said, and the lift began to lower.
“How do you know Potter is here?” he asked.
“I’m hoping he’s not,” Ron said grimly.
“And if he isn’t? What do we do then?” Draco asked, his voice rising. “We can’t go back to Hogwarts, and they’ll all come back here when the battle is finished.”
“You seem ruddy certain that they’ll win,” Ron said, scowling.
“We’re here,” Hermione said, putting a halt to the brewing row. “I need to go to the room with the Veil.”
Ginny watched as the doors in the circular room spun. When it stopped, the door in front of them sprang open. She remembered being shown how to work the doors as they left the Ministry that night with Professor Dumbledore.
Holding her breath, she tried to sprint into the room but Ron held her arm firmly, not letting her rush ahead. When they tiptoed inside the room with the Veil, they found it silent and empty.
“Where is he?” Ginny asked, perplexed.
“I dunno,” Ron replied, wildly turning his head from side to side. He held his wand at the ready, but it was for naught. They were the only ones in the room.
“So now what?” Draco asked, staring at the Veil curiously. “Do you have any other ideas where Potter might have taken her?”
“He didn’t take her anywhere,” Ginny said hotly, rounding on him. Her temper was ready to snap, and she had the perfect target.
“Draco, exactly what did Pansy say when she locked you and Dudley in that classroom?” Hermione asked, puzzled.
“She said that she had something important to do and that she’d be back,” he replied, shifting his eyes.
“What else?” Ginny demanded, drawing her wand.
“Put that away,” Draco said, taking a step backward.
“She’s very worried about Harry, Draco,” Hermione said, sounding bored. “I wouldn’t push her. You’d better tell us everything.”
Draco stared warily at Ginny, keeping a close eye on her wand. “I did tell you,” he insisted. “She didn’t say anything else about locking us in there.”
“But she did say something else?” Hermione asked. “What are you hiding, Draco? We all have to work together if we want to get out of here and help Harry and Pansy.”
Ginny was surprised to see color suffuse Draco’s cheeks. “It really wasn’t anything. Just something about a private celebration when she returned.”
“A celebration?” Ron asked sharply. “What does she want to celebrate?”
“She just meant some time alone,” Draco said, raising his eyebrows. “Don’t you and Granger ever spend any time without Potter in the room?”
“She had something she wanted to celebrate?” Hermione asked, ignoring Draco’s comment completely while Ron’s ears grew dangerously red.
“Mind your mouth, ferret,” Ron said, glaring.
Hermione brushed him aside with a wave of her hand, her eyes wide. “Draco…have you noticed any other strange behavior from Pansy recently?” she asked urgently.
“I heard you two arguing over the fact that she’s been disappearing a lot,” Ginny said.
“Oh, no,” Hermione said, moaning.
“What is it, Hermione?” Ginny asked, fear clawing at her throat.
“What if we’re on the wrong track altogether?” Hermione wailed. “What if Harry wasn’t the one who decided to go after Voldemort at all? What if Pansy was the one to take Harry?”
“What are you on about, Granger?” Malfoy demanded, his voice wavering slightly. “Pansy wouldn’t have taken Potter anywhere. She had nowhere else to go.”
“I think Pansy might have been in contact with Voldemort,” Hermione said, clutching Ron’s arm tightly. To Ron’s credit, he never even winced as her nails dug into his skin.
“You’re mad,” Draco said, shaking his head.
“Harry mentioned something about finding her in the Owlery,” Ron said, paling.
“And Voldemort has wanted to take Harry prisoner for months, now,” Ginny said, gasping. Her tenuous grasp on her emotions slipped, and she had to blink the tears from her eyes.
Ron’s comforting hand grasped her shoulder, and she clung to it as if it were the only thing keeping her afloat.
“That would explain what Pansy wanted to celebrate,” Hermione said, breathing heavily. Ginny could see that she was trying to work it out logically, but her fear was beginning to overwhelm her, as well.
“She wouldn’t have done,” Draco said, but his face had paled considerably.
“She’s trying to save you,” Ginny whispered, as two fat teardrops leaked from her eyes and dripped slowly down her cheeks.
“He’ll kill her,” Draco said, shaking his head. “He’ll never let me go – that’s not how his operation works.”
“If Voldemort has him–” Ginny said before her aquamarine stone flared with burning heat once again. Hissing, Ginny grasped it tightly in her hand, feeling a wave of intense pain, fear and desperation wash over her. The overwhelming sensations dropped her to her knees.
Ginny! Help, me!
She could hear his voice as clearly as if he was standing next to her.
“Ginny! What’s wrong?” Hermione gasped, kneeling next to her.
“Harry!” Ginny whimpered.
“What’s happening?” Ron asked, bewildered.
“My necklace,” Ginny gasped, trying to control the nausea sweeping over her. “It burns.”
“The one Harry gave you for Christmas?” Ron asked. “Why does it burn?”
Harry’s words about the Merpeople legend that the Aquamarine stones helping lost lovers to find one another suddenly played in her mind. Her eyes met Hermione’s, and she knew the older girl was thinking the same thing.
Trying to manage the panic growing inside her that she was now certain wasn’t entirely her own, Ginny clasped the warm stone in her hand, shut her eyes and called to Harry in her mind.
The gaping wound on Harry’s arm left a trail of blood across the floor as he lunged for Snape. He could hear a low growling behind the fallen stones and knew he only had a moment to spare before an enraged Voldemort would burst into the chamber. He had to get his wand before that happened if he hoped to have any chance at all.
As if knowing what Harry wanted, Snape rolled to the side, reaching for the pocket where Harry’s wand was hidden. Harry grabbed Snape’s arm and slammed it into the ground before he could grab it. Scrambling, he crawled over Snape’s legs, pinning him to the stone floor.
Snape grunted in pain, raising his own wand with his other hand. “Diffindo,” he snarled.
A deep slash appeared across Harry’s outstretched palm. He ignored it, and finally grasped his wand with his bloody hand. The stone inside his rope bracelet once again seared painfully and before he knew what was happening, brilliant color exploded before his eyes.
Voldemort’s howl of rage echoed in his ears as his world began to spin. He had to shut his eyes against the fury of color, and he barely had time to register what had happened before it all faded, and he once again was locked in battle with Snape.
He was dimly aware of the difference in the floor and the absence of the dank, musty smell, but he remained focused on only Snape. They each had a tight grip on Harry’s wand and rolled on the floor in a vicious tug-of-war.
“Reducto,” Ginny’s voice snarled, shocking Harry.
“Expelliarmus,” Hermione said.
Harry’s wand flew from Snape’s startled grip as the force of Ginny’s spell hurled the startled Potions master away from Harry, depositing him in a heap near the Veil.
Harry’s jaw dropped as his senses reeled. He was back in the Department of Mysteries. He was here – in the same spot where he last saw Sirius. His breath caught painfully in his throat as he became aware of the distant whispering behind the gently fluttering curtain.
“Harry!” Ginny cried, throwing herself at him and nearly knocking him over. His body was weakened, and he had to clutch her for support. He felt as if she was somehow suffusing her strength into him through her embrace.
By the horrified expression on her face, he knew he must look a right mess. Hating the tear tracks he could see on her cheeks, he grabbed her head and tangled his fingers in her hair. Leaning over, he kissed her fiercely. If this was to be the end, he preferred his last memory to be of her sweet kiss rather than Snape’s ugly face.
Harry held up his bloody hand, and Hermione silently tossed him his wand. By this time, Snape had rolled to his feet, brandishing his own wand.
“Very clever, Potter,” Snape said, sneering. “Although I’m certain it wasn’t any of your doing, else you would have escaped much sooner. The Dark Lord will not be pleased, but you won’t get away for long. He’s determined, and your little friends won’t be able to resist him forever.”
“Stupefy,” Ron bellowed, but Snape easily moved to the side and the spell harmlessly flashed against the wall.
“You’ll have to improve your technique if you ever expect to battle me, Weasley,” Snape said.
“Incarcerous,” Harry bellowed, and thin, snakelike ropes flew from his wand, attempting to bind Snape’s hands.
“Serpensortia,” Snape hissed, Transfiguring the ropes into snakes, which harmlessly slithered around his feet.
Harry watched as several of them slunk through the Veil, its ratty curtain billowing in the still air. He had to shake himself of the memories threatening to overwhelm him. He could hear that faint murmuring of voices behind it and knew he couldn’t be distracted by it.
“You hear the voices?” Snape asked, cocking his head to the side.
Harry’s eyes widened in surprise.
“Yes, I know about the voices,” Snape said, rolling his eyes contemptuously. “I’m surprised you can hear them, however. It’s usually only those with superior magical talent – of which you obviously have none. Then again, it’s been suggested that those with questionable mental stability are also able to hear them.”
Harry blasted several more Curses at Snape, all of which were easily deflected.
“Sectumsempra,” Snape said vindictively.
Harry managed to dodge the curse but felt the rush of air as it zoomed past his ear. Snape jumped off the dais and moved to the steps that rose in a ring around the room. Harry climbed after him, trying to keep his own body between Snape and the others. Ron, Hermione and Ginny kept their wands pointed at the pair, waiting to see what would happen. Draco had taken cover, but Harry could see his blonde hair peering at them from behind the dais.
“Supposedly, the voices are the trapped souls who’ve gone through to their death. Your dearly departed godfather should be one of them, rotting just out of reach,” Snape said, his eyes glittering malevolently.
“Diffindo. Silencio. Impedimenta,” Harry shouted, rapidly firing at Snape, who kept backing away.
Harry was growing winded, and the climb up the stairs made his muscles groan in agony. Snape’s cruel words incited the fury of Harry’s friends, and they quickly joined the fray. Ron and Ginny both fired a barrage of Hexes and Jinxes towards their former teacher, but he was able to shield himself.
“Incendio,” Hermione hissed, setting the bottom of Snape’s robes on fire. She was the first one to actually hit him with something, and Snape was obviously surprised. He quickly doused the flames but began to struggle against the combined attack.
“Four against one, Potter?” he asked, sneering as he panted. “How like your father you truly are.”
“You didn’t seem to care much about a fair fight when we were back in Voldemort’s lair, and it was about sixteen against one,” Harry said, gritting his teeth.
“Sectumsempra,” Snape snarled again, and Ginny gasped, slapping a hand to her shoulder to stop the sudden rush of blood.
Harry’s vision went black with rage, and he fired a powerful Blasting Curse that hit Snape full on, sending him flying through the air. He landed in a heap on the stairs, gasping.
“Stupefy,” Harry said.
Snape’s head lolled to the side, his wand rolling uselessly out of his slackened hand, clattering on the floor beside him.
Harry’s knees gave out, and he slumped on the stairs, panting heavily. His vision blurred, and his tongue felt too big for his mouth. He kept shaking his head, trying to dislodge the cobwebs that were surrounding his brain.
Ron rushed toward him, pulling him to his feet and helping him to descend the stairs while Hermione moved to check on Ginny. Ron sat Harry down on the bottom step beside the girls, and Harry leaned on him heavily.
“You got him, mate,” Ron said shakily, never removing his arm from around Harry’s shoulders. “Kind of ironic that the impulsiveness that he always gave you a hard time about was what did him in at the end.” Ron tried to laugh, but it was forced, and his eyes traveled worriedly over Harry’s wounds.
“I’m all right,” Ginny snapped as Hermione quickly healed the bleeding gash on her shoulder.
“You’ll need dittany on that, or it will scar, despite Snape’s skill with that Curse,” Draco said, finally joining the group.
“Thanks for all your help,” Ron spat, still supporting Harry’s weight.
“Snape would have killed me on the Dark Lord’s orders. I wasn’t about to take that risk for you,” Draco said, sneering. “Where’s Pansy?”
“Ginny,” Harry said, gasping and ignoring Draco completely.
“I’m all right,” Ginny said, reaching out to grab Harry’s hand. “I’m better than you, that’s for certain. What happened?”
“Where have you been, Potter? Do you know what happened to Pansy?” Draco demanded again.
Harry nodded wearily. His legs were growing heavy, and he was finding it difficult to breathe properly. Even though he wanted nothing more than to lie down and rest for a bit, he suspected his inactivity was causing his system to further absorb the small amount of the Draught of Living Death that he’d ingested.
Pushing off Ron and leaving a bloody handprint on his shirt, Harry forced himself to his feet and began to shakily pace.
“What are you doing, Harry?” Hermione asked. “Sit down and let me heal that cut on your arm.”
Harry looked down and noticed that his left sleeve was drenched in blood. Despite the fact that his fingers still tingled numbly, he’d forgotten about the wound.
“You can heal it,” he said, wheezing, “but I can’t stay still. It gets worse when I’m still.”
“What gets worse?” Hermione asked, following him as she tended his arm.
“Ran into Pansy just outside the forest,” Harry said, blinking rapidly. “She said she was looking for Draco.”
“She knew where I was,” Draco replied tightly. “She locked Dudley and me in a Charms classroom.”
Harry nodded. “She pulled a wand on me. When I disarmed her, I discovered that her wand was a Portkey.”
“A Portkey?” Draco asked, sounding both alarmed and impressed. “So, she’s still in the forest then?”
“Where did it take you?” Ginny asked, grabbing the hand of his uninjured arm and pacing with him. When she felt the blood on his hand from Snape’s Hex, she mutely held it towards Hermione to be healed.
“To Voldemort,” he replied. “Pansy followed us there. She’d made a bargain with Snape and Voldemort to spare you in return for handing me over to them.”
Draco blanched. “The Dark Lord would never agree to that.”
“No,” Harry said simply, stopping and staring at Draco intently.
“He killed her then?” the Slytherin asked in a strained whisper.
“He reneged on his deal, then offered her a place in his ranks. She said not without you, so he killed her,” Harry said, squaring his jaw. He knew he was hurting the other boy, but he felt he had to show him the callous truth. It was Voldemort’s way or no way. There was no in between.
Draco dropped his head, clenching his eyes tightly.
“I’m sorry, Draco,” Hermione said, her eyes bright. She gently reached out and placed her hand on his arm.
Draco nodded, firmly setting his jaw. His voice shook as he spoke, “She wanted us to have a chance for a future.”
“By sacrificing Harry,” Ron snapped, apparently unable to accept any grief over Pansy.
“She did the wrong thing, and I’ll never forgive her for putting Harry through this, but I can understand her desperation,” Ginny admitted grudgingly, her eyes sweeping over Harry.
“Voldemort wanted to keep me safe but out of the way,” Harry said. “Snape brewed the Draught of Living Death, and they forced it down my throat.”
“What?” Hermione shrieked.
“I spat it out without swallowing, but I think some of it was absorbed anyway. I don’t feel so good,” Harry said, listing to the side.
Ginny caught him and propped him back up.
Draco’s head snapped up. He seemed stunned by the fact Harry was given the Draught and remained consciousness. “That’s not good,” he said. “You’ll probably not recover from that. The antidote is supposed to be given instantaneously and all in one dose.”
“Thanks, Draco,” Harry replied dryly.
“How did you and Snape get here, then?” Hermione asked. “Did your stone somehow tell you where we were? Ginny’s has been burning all evening.” Her curiosity about the stones was visibly battling with her concern over Harry’s condition.
“I don’t know how that happened,” Harry said truthfully. “My stone was burning, too. I panicked after Snape had given me the Draught, and I somehow broke the bonds that were holding me and got away. Snape and I were fighting over my wand on the floor of the cavern one minute, and the next minute we were here still fighting. The stone must have transported us like a Portkey.”
“That’s not possible,” Hermione said, shaking her head. “It’s just a legend, and it’s only supposed to help you find one another. You must have Disapparated.”
“No. It definitely had something to do with the stones,” Harry said, shaking his head. “Voldemort was furious. I heard him bellowing when we disappeared. There were Anti-Apparation wards all over the place.”
“Yeah, but it’s not like you haven’t done things that were supposedly impossible in the past,” Ron said, shrugging.
“I don’t know,” Harry replied. “We don’t have time to figure it out. Voldemort sent his troops to Hogwarts. He probably went there looking for me after I disappeared. What are we doing here, anyway?”
“We thought you might have slipped away from us to take on Voldemort alone,” Ron said sheepishly.
Harry looked away from them all, unable to deny he’d thought about doing just that.
“I thought so,” Ginny said, scowling.
“The Death Eaters were already at Hogwarts when we left,” Ron said. “Hermione sent a message to warn them.”
Harry sighed heavily, his eyes roaming around the silent room and stopping to rest on the Veil. He could still hear those odd, distorted whispers behind it. He was here. This was it. The time to act and end it all was now.
“Harry, you’re not in any condition to do this,” Hermione said as if reading his thoughts.
“I have to, Hermione. We won’t get a better chance,” he replied.
Hermione looked around the room helplessly before returning her gaze to him. Her lower lip trembling, she nodded. “I’ve stopped the bleeding on your arm, but the wound is really deep. Madam Pomfrey will have to set it properly.”
“Right,” Harry replied, his throat raw.
He knew he should take a moment to tell them how much they’d always meant to him, but he couldn’t manage to get his mouth to form the words. Instead, he just stood there – feeling stupid – and swallowing repeatedly.
Before he had long to contemplate it, however, his scar felt as if it had been ripped open with blinding pain. Bright shards of light pierced his field of vision, and he had to wrap his hands around his head to hold it together. He dropped to his knees, convulsing yet still trying to maintain control.
“Harry!” Ginny yelped, and he felt her cool hands on his forehead.
“Voldemort,” he gasped. “He knows I’m not at Hogwarts. He’s looking for me. We have to do this now. I need to show him where I am.”
“I can help you do that,” Draco said suddenly, surprising them all.
“What do you mean?” Ron asked, moving to stand protectively in front of Harry.
“You obviously still can’t shield your mind against Legilimency,” Draco said, rolling his eyes. “Snape proved that.”
“But he got Snape, didn’t he?” Ron asked belligerently.
“Eventually, I suppose. If you think you can manage to stall the Dark Lord until you get angry enough to do something, go right ahead. Perhaps if he just kills one of the Potterettes,” Malfoy said, jerking his head towards Harry’s friends, “that would do it.”
“No!” Harry said, suddenly sitting up straighter and blinking through the pain in his head. “Okay, Draco. We’ll try this together. What do we have to do?”
“Let me into your mind. I’ll direct your thoughts in order to project where we are to Voldemort, and I’ll try to help you shield them once he arrives,” Draco said, swallowing heavily.
“Why are you so willing to help now?” Ginny demanded.
“He killed Pansy, and I’m ready to be free. If this works, I can get on with my life while I still have it,” Draco snapped.
Harry groaned again as he felt Voldemort’s cold tendrils attempting to coil around his brain. “Now. We have to do it now,” he said, gasping. “Ron, Ginny, Hermione, conjure some heavy stones to use as shields. They can absorb the Killing Curse when he starts using it. Conjure several in the room and practice doing it quickly. Each will only shield you from one Curse, so you’ll either have to find or conjure another after yours is destroyed.”
“Create a large one for me, too,” Draco said. “If the Dark Lord realizes what we’re doing, he’ll go after me. He’ll be puzzled over the fact that Harry is suddenly able to shield his thoughts, but it won’t occur to him right away that Harry would willingly let someone else in his mind since he would never do so.”
“Do it,” Harry said, grabbing his head again.
Draco nodded. “You’ll have to look in my eyes and just relax. Think about this room, and I’ll help project the image to the forefront of your mind.”
“When he gets here, Harry, everything will happen fast,” Hermione said. “I’ve spoken with Professor Dumbledore about something, and you’ll just have to trust us.”
“Trust you with what?” Harry asked, alarmed.
“That we love you, and we know that you love us, too. Keep concentrating on that when you’re dueling,” Ginny said, kissing him softly on the lips.
“I love you, too, Ginny,” he whispered.
Ron silently squeezed Harry’s shoulder, his solemn expression saying more than words ever could.
“Focus on the love you feel for us,” Hermione said urgently. “Trust us.”
“This is all sickeningly sweet, but we’re running out of time,” Draco said.
Ginny gave Harry’s hand a final squeeze before joining Ron and Hermione to help create obstacles.
Harry stared into the gray eyes of his school rival. In the end, it came down to trust. Harry didn’t trust Draco, but he didn’t think the Slytherin fully trusted him, either. They did understand each other enough to know that they both wanted the same thing. Maybe being able to set aside their differences and work together was part of the final test.
“Let’s do it,” Harry said, taking a deep breath and looking directly at Draco. He felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end.
“I’ve been in your mind before, Harry. Nothing has changed about that,” Draco said, surprisingly gentle.
Harry groaned as his head seared painfully. “There’s more in there this time,” he said vaguely.
Draco frowned, puzzled. “Just push the thought you want to the forefront of your mind. Legilimens.”
Harry felt the familiar invasion, and he tried to will his body to relax, despite his tension. His forced prone position allowed the poison in his system to further absorb, causing his legs to feel stiff and heavy. Memories flashed fast and furious, and he struggled to keep the image of the Department of Mysteries in the forefront. He felt Draco’s presence pushing it and knew instantly when Voldemort had successfully invaded.
Voldemort grasped onto the image, and Harry began to laugh maniacally as he felt Voldemort’s triumphant glee. A wave of nausea rolled over him as the foreign presence pulled out of his mind. When Voldemort finally released him, Harry leaned over and promptly retched, spilling the meager contents of his stomach all over Draco.
Harry nodded curtly. He knew there had been a risk of Draco learning about the Horcruxes when he allowed him access to his mind, but supposed it didn’t matter now, anyway.
“You’d better take cover,” Harry said softly.
Draco swallowed audibly. For the first time in Harry’s memory, the blonde boy appeared at a loss for words.
“Good luck,” he finally whispered, before turning and quickly ducking behind one of the stones.
It was odd, but Harry thought he actually sincerely meant it. There was no time to contemplate Draco’s motives, however, as a piercing stab of pain erupted along Harry’s scar.
“He’s here,” Harry said, limping away from the dais. His previous fear, exhaustion, and trepidation over what was about to come melted away. He was ready. He felt as if he’d been battling his whole life for this moment, and he was ready for it – come what may. Voldemort was no longer a man, but a monster, and he needed to be terminated before he killed anyone else.
Harry’s heart pumped fiercely in his chest, causing the effects of the Draught to recede. He quickly scanned the room, noting with satisfaction that Ron, Hermione, Ginny and Draco were all covered – even Snape’s prone form was well hidden by the stairs surrounding the dais.
His scar seared, and the temperature plummeted as Lord Voldemort strode confidently into the room, his grotesque face twisted with rage.
“I must admit, Harry, it has been a long time since anyone was able to impress me,” he hissed, slithering into the center of the room, his crimson eyes flashing.
“You’ll find that you’re no longer dealing with a child that you snatched from a school yard,” Harry replied, calmly moving to face his foe.
“Point taken. I should have killed you straightaway in that graveyard,” Voldemort said, perusing Harry appraisingly. His red eyes were glowing with an intense hunger, and his tongue darted out, snakelike, wetting his lips.
“You tried,” Harry said.
“I wanted your death to become my showpiece. My grand welcome back into the Wizarding world. I should have simply eliminated the obstacle. I won’t make that mistake again,” Voldemort replied, baring his teeth. “Crucio!”
Harry was ready, and he quickly dove out of the way. “So, you’re ready to kill me now? I thought you wanted to stow me away somewhere safe,” he said. “Reducto.”
The corner of the stairs exploded, hurling debris towards Voldemort, who quickly raised a shield.
“That was my original plan before you incapacitated my Potions master. No, Harry. I’m going to make you bleed like the worthless human you are, and then I’m going to dispose of you. I am Lord Voldemort, and I will find another way to survive. You thwarted my attempt to get the Philosopher’s Stone, and now you’ve destroyed my precious Horcruxes. You will pay for that, and I will devise another way.”
Voldemort blasted a quick string of curses at Harry, each of which he managed to avoid. Harry returned fire, but nothing appeared capable of breaching Voldemort’s shield. Some of the boulders placed around the room were beginning to crumble under the fury.
“Your feeble attempts at Occlumency appear to have finally yielded some results,” Voldemort said, narrowing his eyes.
“So…you know I’ve got all the Horcruxes, then?” Harry asked, desperate for a distraction. He was sweating profusely from the exertion but knew Draco was still managing to keep the shield in his mind.
“Lord Voldemort knows everything,” Voldemort said smugly. “Right down to the fact you are trying to distract me from knowing there are others in the room with us. There,” he said, blasting the rock hiding Ron.
“And there,” he said, destroying the one shielding Hermione.
Hermione quickly created another to duck behind, but Ron delayed in order to be certain Hermione was covered.
“Avada Kedavra,” Voldemort shouted, aiming the deadly green light at Ron.
Ron froze, his eyes widening. Without thinking, Harry leaped at his friend. His body sailed through the air, impacting with Ron, and bringing them both to the ground with a crash. The sickening snap of a bone was clearly heard in Ron’s wrist as they landed. They ducked and quickly rolled to their feet, a groaning Ron noticeably helping Harry.
Voldemort blasted the two of them with a barrage of curses as each boy tried to shield the other. Finally, Ron grunted in pain when a curse hit its mark. Harry shoved him toward another boulder.
“You already knew about the diary,” Harry said, panting as Ron slumped, unconscious, behind the rock. “That was the first one.” He fired a powerful Stunner that Voldemort blocked, but for the first time, his shield flickered.
Voldemort’s eyes widened, and he paused before taking a step back.
What had Hermione said? Concentrate on the love he felt for them? Professor Dumbledore said it was his unknown power, and it did appear to strengthen his Curses.
“The diary, yes. My sources tell me that you destroyed it in order to save your little girlfriend. I believe she’s over there,” Voldemort said, blasting away the rock hiding Ginny.
Ginny shrieked and scrambled out of the way. Voldemort followed her with his wand, repeatedly firing spell after spell. Ginny kept dodging and firing back uselessly, and Harry could see she was growing weary. His own spells did nothing to deflect Voldemort’s wrath. He appeared to grow stronger, as if feeding off Ginny’s fear and Harry’s desperation.
“Not her,” Harry growled, a great rage blooming within his heart. He fired a Cutting Curse that tore into Voldemort’s side, drawing first blood. The voices behind the Veil grew louder, and the room brightened slightly.
Voldemort stopped, his eyes widening in shock as he stared at the blood seeping through his robes. Drawing his lips back and baring his teeth, he quickly fired a rapid series of spells toward Harry – like a wire short-circuiting on the ground.
Harry hissed in pain as a Curse sliced into his arm, reopening the wound Hermione had treated for him. Blood gushed from the deep cut and flowed down his arm, slackening his hand. Glancing down briefly, he was certain he could see a white hint of bone showing.
“I also know exactly how you’re managing to shield your pathetic mind from me,” Voldemort snarled, aiming his wand and destroying the boulder shielding Draco. The boy froze, his eyes round before he leaped to his feet and tried to run. “Extispex.”
Draco collapsed, shrieking in horror as blood rapidly spread across his abdomen and his insides began being expelled through a gaping wound. Draco’s horrible screams filled the cavernous room until Hermione, apparently unable to take it any more, cast a spell of her own.
“Petrificus Totalis,” she shouted.
Draco’s body stopped writhing and remained motionless on the floor, his entrails piled in front of him. Harry felt the last link between his mind and Draco’s snap.
Voldemort turned his attention to Hermione. “Crucio,” he shouted, and Hermione dropped to the ground, screaming in agony.
Gritting his teeth, Harry fired a Reductor Curse that blasted Voldemort off his feet, ending his attack on Hermione. Harry continued his rapid volley with Voldemort and the room was alight with spells hitting the walls. From the corner of his eye, he saw Ginny pull Hermione behind a large boulder.
“That’s for my parents,” Harry snarled, hitting Voldemort with a Cutting Curse, “and that one’s for Sirius.”
Each time he aimed a spell, Harry put the name of a victim to it. The room in which they were standing brightened each time, and with a shock, Harry realized the light was coming from the Veil. The voices were loud and overlapping, and he didn’t understand how the others couldn’t hear them.
Voldemort appeared slightly alarmed by the light and sound, and distressed by Harry’s success in hitting his mark. Harry thought it must have been a long time since Tom Riddle had endured the pain of being Cursed. Harry lost his train of thought as a painful Stinging Hex struck his thigh.
“So…your plan is to tug me through the Veil with you, is it?” Voldemort asked, regaining some of his bluster. “That’s not going to happen today. I can accommodate you, however,” he said, lifting Harry’s body in the air and flinging it toward the Veil.
Harry managed to land and right himself before he reached it, his fierce desire to protect his friends ringing in his head. He fired a Bone Breaking Curse at Voldemort and was shocked to see his enemy stumble and fall.
In fury, Voldemort fired the same curse back at Harry, who felt the bones in his injured arm and the attached hand shatter. He was weakened and bloody, but it heartened him to see Voldemort in the same condition. This was it; it had to be done.
Focusing with all this might on the love he felt for his friends and his desire that they should have a peaceful life, he fired a Reductor Curse that catapulted Voldemort onto the dais where the Veil stood.
“That was for Remus; and that one’s for Bertha Jorkins. D’you remember Bertha? You left her body to rot in the woods. She’s been avenged,” Harry spat, moving down the steps and closer to the dais. The unearthly light filled the room and began to glow even brighter.
He felt Voldemort’s insidious presence inside his mind – searching – seeking to know which Curse Harry was about to use. As Harry filled his mind with the love and great emotion that he had for his friends, he felt Voldemort recoil, his grip on Harry’s mind weakening until it finally snapped altogether.
The light and voices from the Veil were obviously frightening Voldemort and throwing him off his mark. This was Harry’s chance.
Limping, Harry stepped onto the dais, preparing to charge and ram both Voldemort and himself through the Veil. Before he could do it, however, shouting from the girls stopped him.
“Harry!” Hermione cried. “Use the Curse. The one Moody says you can do, but you didn’t think you could.”
Harry’s brow furrowed with confusion, irritated by the interruption. He barely managed to raise his shield as Voldemort hurled another Cutting Curse at him.
“Do you trust me, Harry?” Hermione asked softly, although he could hear her clearly despite the noise in the room.
There was no question – of course he did. He’d promised to listen to her during the battle, understanding that there were things she couldn’t forewarn him about lest Voldemort see it in his mind.
Ginny moved out from behind the rock beside Hermione, and with Chaser precision, tossed something directly to him.
“Use the Curse,” Hermione repeated as the object flew through the air.
Although his broken arm hung uselessly at his side, Harry instinctually raised his wand hand in the air and caught the tiny golden object before turning his wand on a still-shaken Voldemort and hissing, “Avada Kedavra.”
Immediately as he uttered the hateful curse, his head was ripped open with agonizing pain. A crushing sensation overwhelmed him, dizzying and disorienting him. He felt as if a part of him was being torn asunder. Memories, feelings and emotions swirled, making him feel sick and dropping him to his knees. An unbearable cold consumed him as a sickening, squelching sound filled his ears. His eyes rolled in his head. He was being torn apart. He wasn’t even certain who he was. The wind howled, and his vision began to dim.
As Harry slumped to the ground like a puppet whose strings had been cut, his hand uncurled around the object Ginny had tossed to him. The golden Snitch that had rested in McGonagall’s office – the one Ginny had caught to win the Quidditch cup in the last match before Hogwarts had closed – flew from Harry’s hand. It rose in the air gracefully, fluttering momentarily, before turning and hurling itself through the Veil, as if it had been Charmed to do so. The Veil fluttered briefly and the voices rose in crescendo before finally falling silent. The light around the Veil slowly began to dim.
At the same moment that Harry realized he’d created his own Horcrux, he saw Voldemort’s snakelike eyes widen as he was struck in the abdomen by the spell hurled from Harry’s wand. The madman’s red eyes dimmed as he crumpled to the ground, lifeless. The many transformations that he’d undergone melted away, leaving the ravaged but unmistakably once-handsome face of Tom Riddle – a dead man, and no longer a monster.
The room was utterly silent and still.
Suddenly, Harry saw Snape’s bruised and battered face rise from the steps. His eyes weren’t quite focused but still held a vindictive gleam. His gaze wandered dispassionately over Voldemort’s still form before he warily raised his hands when Harry pointed his wand. Harry could barely make sense of anything, but he was certain that Snape expected to die by his former pupil’s hand.
But Harry lowered his wand, gasping in pain.
“There’s going to be celebrating and victory speeches, and they’ll probably even name a holiday after me,” he gasped, slurring his words. “I’m certain I’ll hate all of it, but there’s one thing that it’ll make it all worthwhile – and that’s knowing that you’re going to hate it more.”
Snape scowled, shakily pulling himself to his feet and raising his wand. Harry simply stared, unable to muster the strength to be alarmed.
“While you are most likely right that the deluded fools will heap more unearned glory upon you, it’s a pity that you won’t be around to hear any of it. How pathetic to survive the great battle, only to be struck down afterwards because you were too weak to raise your wand,” he sneered.
Harry expected to see a burning green light hurtle towards him, but instead a rushing mane of bright red hair blocked his vision. He heard the swoosh of a curse before a mass of mucus-covered bats exploded from Snape’s nose.
“Expelliarmus,” Ginny snarled, and Snape’s wand flew into her outstretched hand before she cast a Binding Spell on him. “Silencio,” she hissed, cutting off his sneer before it could start. Using her wand, she tightened Snape’s bonds until he was gasping with pain.
She then dropped to her knees beside Harry, cradling his bloody head in her lap.
“Oh, Harry, look what he did to you,” she said, sniffling and wrapping herself around him like a bandage.
Harry wearily shut his eyes, sinking into the warmth of her embrace. It was over. He’d done it. He could rest at long last.
“Stay with me, Harry,” Ginny pleaded.
Harry’s eyes fluttered, but his limbs and eyelids felt like lead. He tried to smile but failed. His vision slowly began to dim and finally faded to black, blocking out the voices as the curtain finally stilled.
A/N: This idea occurred to me when I first started toying with the idea Harry was a Horcrux, and how he could kill Voldemort. I haven’t seen it done yet, but I really think it could work. What do you think?