Chapter Twenty-Five - All Fall Down
Montague was already speaking when Harry tore through the side door. “… Confirmed fifteen on the ground with an undetermined number in the air. We think they’re using Portkeys.” Harry slipped in next to a determined-looking Sirius. He tapped his godfather’s Nimbus 2001 with the Firebolt. Sirius gladly exchanged them, handing the Nimbus to Vector who swapped it for her Cleansweep Seven. “Several of the airborne units are wearing invisibility cloaks. We’ve got someone on that but, until we can get a tracking charm on each of them, for god’s sake watch yourselves.” The Auror paced, his pitted green cloak billowing ominously. “We predict at least one more wave…”
Sirius’ attention was focused on Harry. He nodded at the 10K. “Give that one to Rolonda,” he whispered, “she’s in charge.” Harry scowled at him.
“What am I supposed to use?”
“You’re not going out there.” Sirius looked more surprised than anything. “You’re going back to your—“ Harry growled.
“Raise your hand if you’ve killed any Dark Lords.” He slung his cloak over his shoulder and lifted a hand to neck level. Sirius’s mouth went hard.
“I’m going out there.”
“Harry—“ Harry realised that neither Remus nor Professor Sprout was present.
“Outside.” The restrained growl of Sirius’ voice, the vengeful glint in his eye, said it wasn’t by choice. Harry gripped his broom tighter. “I can’t lose you, too.”
Harry stared at the 10K; his gaze fell on the compass. It pointed towards the ceiling, the sky. “I can’t sit back and let them find Sev again.” He was very aware of the abnormal warmth radiating from the tense bodies around him, of the mercurial fall of fabric from his shoulder, of the way his heart was fluttering too fast to complete a beat. Sirius stared at him. After what seemed like a very long time he nodded once and looked away.
“Go inside at the first sign of trouble.” They both knew he wouldn’t.
“You’re all authorized to use extreme force, up to and including the Unforgivable Curses. Wherever possible our people will take the brunt. Good luck.” The Auror marched out of the Hall, Flitwick, Sinistra, Trelawney, and Arcadia close behind.
“Mount and go!” Hooch took to her Nimbus 2000 and sped towards the windows at the top of the Hall. Harry threw on his cloak and followed, pressed tight against his broom to get through the smallest of the windows, beating her outside. He rose high above the castle and gaped. Black, hooded figures spotted the ground. He couldn’t see a living Auror anywhere. A few of them in ripped white robes, and a couple of Death Eaters, lay on the ground in crumpled heaps. One Auror was a twisted lump in a black pool of blood. Two Death Eaters scouted around the greenhouses like hungry hyenas on a dying calf. Harry could barely make out a swarm of students inside greenhouse two. Strange, shifting movements blurred the mottled ground and caught his eye – camouflage robes. An Auror and a Death Eater circled each other. The Auror threw a hex—
And the Death Eater just vanished.
Oh, shit. This was not going to be easy.
McGonagall, Sirius, Vector, and Hooch swooped in formation and broke off, chasing the three visible mounted Death Eaters. An pulsing red beacon missed him by inches; seconds later an Auror did the same thing in hot pursuit. York. Several more Aurors were in the air. Their robes were still white; only the ground force robes shifted and blended with the earth. Harry set his sights on the greenhouses and swooped towards them. He caught a flash of Uden – nobody else could be that small – crouched on the ground, scanning the skies. She raised her wand and shouted, and another pulsing red beacon appeared. She started to mutter something into her wrist but was forced to stop and fire when a somewhat surprised Death Eater appeared in front of her. A flash of green light and the hooded figure crumpled. He thought he heard her chuckle.
When he got closer Harry saw Remus and Sprout with wands raised, challenging the Death Eaters around the greenhouse. The masked figures were playing with them. Sirius and Vector wove overhead, hot on the tail of one of the red beacons. Harry heard excited laughter. A bolt of violet struck out from Sirius’ wand and the Death Eater’s broom exploded. He crashed, shrieking, into greenhouse three. Harry took aim at one of the Death Eaters targeting Sprout and Lupin. “Avada Kedavra!” It felt strange to use the curse again. With a distinctly feminine cry the figure fell. He peeled off to avoid being targeted. The other Death Eater disappeared. Three more swarmed in too quickly to pause.
It soon became clear to Harry that the ground forces were slowly but surely being overwhelmed. Even twenty or more invisible trained killers couldn’t keep up with an apparently endless barrage of identical opponents who could vanish at will. Harry noticed something, though. They reappeared in the same spots. There was little way to tell which one appeared where, though. Montague had said they might have Portkeys. What if the Portkeys simply dropped them back in the same location rather than loop through an origin point? He scanned the ground. Uden was circling two of the monsters. He dove, and sent a vicious Lethargus Hex at one of them. It hit its intended target rather than the Auror. Harry breathed. Too, too dangerous to use the Killing Curse with all the motion down there. The other vanished. He swooped and hovered long enough to hiss, “They’re reappearing in the same spots.” She nodded.
“Triggered Portkeys, one drop point each. Probably wands. They don’t plan to lose.” A beacon rushed over his head and he latched onto it, Uden shouting into her wrist, “We have additional confirmation, triggered Portkeys, attempt to disarm. I repeat…” He heard a scream behind him and glanced back. He choked. Professor Sprout lay on the ground. Harry could make out some of the students’ faces. They were screaming, or crying, or staring in shock. Ginny hugged a little girl with long, black braids. Nadja. Remus stood his ground, stiff with single-minded hatred. He took down another of the Death Eaters. A tight pack of the bastards was getting close to the castle doors. They were flanked by several more flickering in and out – the second wave had to have hit, as many as there were – acting as a shield. One of the masked fringe suddenly lost his wand and rose into the air at high velocity; he tried to cover his face with his hands just before he slammed headfirst into an overhang. Harry’s stomach turned at the choppy ooze seeping from his skull; he hit the ground with a thud. It did little to slow the onslaught.
A rush past him nearly sent him off his broom. There were more in the air, still cloaked, still lethal. Harry tried to find Uden, but she was nowhere to be seen. He circled. A sudden flash of light sent one of the airborne Aurors crashing into the side of the school. He saw an invisibility cloak flap up for an instant, and gold glinted in the sunlight. Growling, Harry aimed his wand at the glint. “Accio cloak!” It flew off and he caught it. The Death Eater looked around in surprise. His hood slipped. A quick flash of white-blonde hair and billowing cloak and he pushed his broom to the limit. Harry, still unused to the 10K, matched it as best he could. He was vaguely aware that two red beacons were swooping in from the front – they must have seen where the cloak went. Harry flattened himself against the handle. The Death Eater shouted something at the beacons and they broke off. The voice belonged to Draco Malfoy.
The vendetta coursing with Harry’s blood doubled in on itself. He kept as close on the other 10K’s tail as he could, but Draco had much more practise keeping the broom steady than he did. Harry aimed as well as he could and fired a bolt of violet. It went wide. Harry cursed softly and tried to change position. He didn’t notice his own invisibility cloak flapping up at the front until it flew off. He caught it but was fully visible. Draco glanced back and spun to a halt. He charged. Harry tried the hex again but Draco was too close. He pulled off, fighting with his cloak, dropping Draco’s. He fled. A few vague shouts, and Death Eaters flanked on him. Barely in time he rolled towards the ground and pulled up at a steep angle. Two hexes crashed exactly where he’d been. One ricocheted and a Death Eater froze. Body bound, he plowed into the lake. Harry flinched. They meant to take him alive. Several Aurors joined the fray. It was quite obvious who the primary target of the Death Eater attack was. Only a few of the flying units were bothered with anything besides Harry. He leaned forward and outstripped them all.
The 10K kept up right behind him. He shifted up, Draco followed. He rolled to one side, and the other broom circled around him as he went. He flew a complex pattern over the school, weaving in and out of towers. Harry found himself over the Quidditch pitch. “Looking for a Snitch, Potter?” Malfoy yelled. Harry responded with a Cruciatus Curse over his shoulder. It missed. Suddenly, something heavy and metallic whizzed past his ear. He looked down, and saw Uden release the other Bludger. What the HELL? He dove, rose, twisted, looped, trying to avoid the hunk of iron. Something smacked him in the arm. He looked over and grasped the Beater’s bat in his off hand. The Bludger came for him, and he pounded it as hard as he could behind him. He glanced down again; Uden was already gone. Another Bludger came at him and he stopped suddenly, spinning and sending it flying towards Draco. A massive explosion sounded from the castle. Both of them froze, and looked towards the sound. Thick, black smoke billowed from the middle of the burning roof. One of the towers crumbled before his horrified eyes. Severus! Harry felt sick. In the distance he heard cries of shock, a few shouts from teachers and Aurors alike. Swallowing, he turned his gaze back on Malfoy.
“Goodbye, Draco,” he hissed and raised his wand. A Bludger came at him and the Killing Curse hit the bleachers. They caved in. Harry sent the ball flying and tore after Malfoy. Several of the airborne Death Eaters were being surrounded. A flash of violet light, and York’s yelp was silenced by a sickening splat. Sirius snarled and took a swing at the attacker. It threw the woman off-guard. Blood poured from beneath her mask. Her wand fell to the ground. Harry followed Draco frantically. The 10K was so fast he could barely keep hold with his legs alone. Why, oh, why had he stopped flying for so long? They changed direction suddenly several times, eventually meeting the Bludgers again. Harry shot them at Draco’s head. It was far more satisfying than a curse.
Glass shattered far below. Harry looked down to see greenhouse two laying in wreckage. A huge green shard pinned one of the seventh years through the gut. The two Death Eaters were dueling with Remus and Uden. One of the panicked students below threw a curse at Irene’s opponent but missed. It hit the Auror in the back and she staggered, clutching her chest. The Death Eater started to aim. A green bolt shot across the grass and he crumpled. Lupin turned back just in time to take a bolt of blue to the throat. “REMUS!” Harry forced himself not to dip down. He had to stay on Draco. Blinded by sunlight-shattered tears he upped his speed. A childish array of voices spouted a plethora of hexes far behind him. Harry was so close to Draco he could have grabbed his broom—
He spun. One of the other Death Eaters had managed to sideswipe him. Harry tried to wrest control of his broom but a hand on the tail held him back. He threw a “Crucio!” over his shoulder, only to have another set of hands grab him. Another Death Eater tried to untangle his rigid legs. Hands, everywhere. Panic started to settle over him. Not now! He couldn’t handle it now! But the hands were very real, as were the masks, and their voices were as solid as flesh. From far away he heard a shout at Sirius to stop, he’d hit Harry. Someone plucked the Beater’s bat from his hand and cracked him across the shoulder blades. Harry clutched his wand close, crying out in pain. They started to pull him off his broom, clutching, gouging, clawing. He felt his robe rip—
A collective shriek and various hasty orders went up as the first Death Eater went crashing into Hagrid’s house. Animalistic grunts went through the pack as it scattered. Something huge churned the air, unseen, chasing down Death Eaters. It whinnied demonically. Grendel! Harry clutched his broom with his free hand. He leaned forward and wrapped himself around the shaft; it didn’t even occur to him that he was an easy target. The hands, the hands took too damned long to go away. Chill wind worked through the rip in the back of his robe. He whimpered. This wasn’t how it was supposed to happen. He was the boy who lived. He was the hero of Hogsmeade. He was everything he loathed about himself, and there wasn’t a fucking thing he could do to show it.
His eye caught on the smoking remains of the castle. They would have Severus by now, if he had even survived the blast; god knew what they were doing. But maybe not. Maybe, just maybe, the bastards hadn’t gotten that far yet. He might still be able to take his, Sev’s revenge. Panting and slightly wobbly, Harry looked around for a flash of gold. He caught it and, ignoring the agony across his back and under his skin, shot after Draco once more. They curved sharply over the pitch. Draco tormented him, weaving through goalposts, giggling, dragging him along only for Harry to bank out and lose pace. One of the Bludgers caught up with them. Harry turned sharply and accelerated; he was just behind Malfoy. He heard the Bludger whistling just behind his ear. It was going to take his head off. He gritted his teeth. Malfoy threw a curse behind him. Harry ducked and slowed. The Bludger whizzed barely past his head. He spun and smacked the iron ball hopelessly towards Draco with his broom tail. It plowed into the back of Malfoy’s skull. Gore spurted from perfect-pale hair. Draco let go of his broom, gagging. His fingers twitched horribly. A convulsion washed over his body and he tumbled, down, down, over a hundred feet, seizing and retching and rolling and wracking, and crashed into the Quidditch pitch. A heavy red mist rose on impact around his twisted body. Blood seeped heavily and stained the last traces of snow. Harry watched. He felt nothing.
The battle still raged. Harry peeled away from the pitch and joined the phalanx led by Madam Hooch. They drove, formation, into a cluster of Death Eaters trying desperately to regroup. On the ground the Aurors and remaining teachers had gained the upper hand. Acrid black haze filled the air. MacAmhaoir, the gamekeeper, was guarding a group of captured Death Eaters, wand in hand and a satisfied sneer on her face. Fang cowered behind her legs. Two seventh years, flanked by several other students with wands ready, supported Lupin’s body and gradually dragged him towards the castle. Several more lay, unmoving, in the glassy wreckage. Harry prayed that was blood and not red hair. He saw something out the corner of his eye. Harry aimed and an escaping Death Eater fell off his broom, clawing at his mask. He swooped down with the rest of the phalanx, skimming barely twenty feet off the ground. They were chasing the few remaining mounted Death Eaters towards the Forbidden Forest when the Bludger knocked him cold.
“It’s just not going to be the same without you.” Harry flashed Irma an apologetic smile as he gathered up his cloak for the last time. It was a bit chilly, for April. The tenth. Again.
“I can stay if you want, but I don’t think you’d really want me flying around in here.” Irma chuckled.
“Shoo. If things don’t work with the Cannons you’re more than welcome back.” Harry paused. When the Hogwarts Express arrived the next evening to return students from Easter holidays he’d depart with it. It was an intimidating prospect. Going into the world after eight years inside the safe walls of the castle made his guts turn to water. There wasn’t anything left for him here, though. Irma moved to give him a hug; Harry backed off, looking sheepish. She smiled sadly. “Well. Maybe another time.” He nodded. She looked at the clock. “You’d better get moving. I expect you’ve got a lot to do tonight.”
“Yeah. Erm, I think I’m going to go see…” he trailed off. She looked a bit sad, but hid it well.
“We’ll miss you, Harry.”
It was an unusually long walk out. Harry paused for a moment coming down the main staircase to glance up. Really, there wasn’t any difference between the new roof and the old one. The stairs themselves had held up surprisingly well. A few traces of oily soot still clung to the walls. Hell of a legacy, that. When he pushed the door open he found Ginny sitting cross-legged, cloak wrapped around her, Christmas sketchbook settled in her lap. She’d stayed over the holiday on Poppy’s order, and to keep Nadja company; Nicky’s family had insisted he come home. It made sense, really. Everyone was still pretty shaken up. “How’s it coming along?”
“Eh.” She held up the sketchbook. Harry stifled a snort.
“You’re getting better.” She grinned wickedly and shifted a little. “Still sore?”
“A little.” She hadn’t been out of the hospital wing that long, only about a week. Considering most of the flesh on her back had been sheared off he wasn’t surprised. “What’re you doing out here? I thought you had to pack.”
“I just wanted to visit… y’know. First.”
She nodded. “Going to be at dinner?”
He shrugged. A sharp, cool breeze cut through the front of his cloak and he wrapped it tighter. “See you later.”
“See ya.” He left her hunched over the sketchbook. The sun lurked low on the horizon, transforming everything in sight to shifting gold. It looked rather warmer than it felt. Harry took the long way around. He spotted the headstone well before he reached it. Gold tinged the edges of the dark grey granite, brought out the sharp-cut letters on its face. Harry knelt beside the grave. He spoke softly.
“Hey. I just wanted to let you know tomorrow’s the day. The Ministry’s given it the all clear. Um, Karkaroff’s still on the loose but they don’t think he’ll give anyone any problems. I’m not worried – he’s a wuss. Um, I heard back, made the Cannons’ reserve team. I guess they were desperate – I’m still nowhere near playing condition. Ron’s already begging for tickets.” He smirked. Ron had asked for tiny Cannons’ robes as a baby present; Hermione just rolled her eyes. “Um, Sirius says the house’ll be finished by end of summer. He’s going to Godric’s Hollow with Remus after term to finish it up. I think they’re still planning to live there summers, too. Erm… that’s about it, I guess. It’s kind of weird to be leaving. Don’t know if I’ll ever be back. I’m going to miss you.” Looking at the slight mound with its dusting of young grass made him realize how much his life had changed in the last year. Harry felt a tear slide from his eye; he pushed it away. A spot of lichen was growing on the rough top of the stone. He started to scrape it off, then thought better. It was appropriate, in its own way.
He’d woken up in the hospital wing. Remus, who’d taken rather a nasty Lethargus Hex, was still comatose when he did but regained consciousness within the week. The werewolf was more than a little miffed to learn Irene had left without so much as a “thank you”. Sprout was dead, as were Sinistra, Castrus (the Ancient Runes instructor), Filch, seven students, several house-elves, York, and more than twenty other Aurors. The explosion… well, Harry was especially fond of that one.
Severus, being the resourceful Slytherin he was, had mixed two quick cauldrons of Incendius Solution and Counter-solution. He’d waited calmly at the top landing of the main staircase. When the Death Eaters stormed the castle he’d tipped the Counter-solution over them first. It took a moment to figure out what the oily, saffron liquid was. The lot of them looked up just in time to see the Incendius Solution hurtling down.
The resulting fireball took out part of the roof.
As Professor Snape had warned them, never, never, ever pour your Incendius Solution on your Counter-solution. Poor Neville’s eyebrows took months to grow back.
Harry smiled a little sadly. Sunset was making way for dusk and a chilly spring breeze blew through his robe. He really ought to get inside. Not just yet. He wanted a few more minutes in the air.
Slow footsteps came up behind him, from the back of the castle. “And where, may I ask, have you been?”
“Hey, Sev.” Reluctantly, he pulled himself up from Hagrid’s grave. Every day since Poppy let him go he’d come to visit, if only for a minute. He really ought to have asked Professor Longbottom for some flowers. Carnivorous ones. “Oof.” He stretched mightily. Another day of sitting in the library when he should be on the pitch was rough on the muscles. He was still getting back to form. “I just got off work a little while ago.” Severus grunted.
“You promised you’d help pack.” Harry held up his hands.
“I know, I know. I just wanted to see Hagrid before, y’know. Don’t know if there’ll be time tomorrow.” He rubbed the stone next to the Forbidden Forest quickly and followed Snape back towards the castle. Sev’s fingers were stained red. So were his lips. Harry chuckled. Severus looked indignant and quickly tried to hide his hands in his robe.
“I was accosted,” he snapped.
“Uh-huh. And I’ll bet Nadja had to force them down your throat, too.” Sev growled.
“You can do all the packing by yourself, you know. As if I should do that kind of work in my condition.”
“Hush. Did you leave me any?”
“Why should I? You’re supposed to be in training for that silly game of yours. Unless the Cannons really want a twenty stone Seeker.” Harry blew a raspberry. Sev looked insulted.
“Greasy bastard.” Snape sniffed.
“Obnoxious, annoying, immature, greedy—“
“Okay, I get the point!” Harry couldn’t hide his smirk.
Ginny was still sitting outside in the fading sunlight. Her head was lowered over the sketchbook. The pink tip of her tongue stuck out between her teeth. Her posture was a bit strained. All things told, if she hadn’t tackled Nadja that shard would have cut the little girl in half. Sev cleared his throat. She looked up, startled.
“Give it here, Miss Weasley.” He held out a hand. Nervously, she obeyed. Severus raised an eyebrow at what was, quite clearly, a portrait of him complete with beaky nose blistered and eyebrows singed off. They’d almost grown back. It was a bit ironic that the Unicorn Blood kept him alive through the blast. “Charming. Your technique has improved. Unfortunately.” She barely caught the book as he tossed it at her. Harry giggled. Ginny looked innocent.
Harry and Sev walked a respectful distance apart. “Have you even started?” Severus shook his head. “You’ve had all bloody day!”
“I was rather under the impression you were going to help me.” Harry groaned. He decided to change the subject.
“What did Poppy say this morning?”
“Nothing is certain yet.” For just over three weeks now, Severus had been taking two sublingual drops of potion twice daily. He wouldn’t let Harry touch the vial. He still looked the same, still had frequent attacks. It was a good thing Poppy had shown Harry how to give injections, just in case – even if Sev wouldn’t shut up about him fainting the first time he tried it. Harry noticed he was rubbing the crook of his arm.
“Did you have another one?” Severus made a noise. “Did it work?”
“Eventually.” That could mean anything. Well, if nothing else, perhaps they’d stolen a few extra weeks. “You talk too much.”
“Sorry.” He kept his mouth shut. They passed a few students who’d stayed over break, most of whom greeted them. The pupils on the whole were generally impressed at the amount of sheer damage Snape caused. Once the soot-greased library reopened, Potions books took an unprecedented upswing in popularity. It did a little to restore his reputation from “DANGER, RUN FOR YOUR LIFE” to “creepy Potions master, do not poke with sticks”. In some ways it even made him an idol. There was just something inherently cool about a teacher who— Harry felt a long, cool finger stroke the back of his hand. He gasped. The hands tried to find him. Even through death, they tried to find him. He squeezed his eyes shut.
Tentatively, he wrapped his trembling fingers around Sev’s hand. It was cool, and in its own way comforting, and clutched back a moment later. And it might be there a lifetime, or it might be gone tonight. Hands still rushed from the darkness of his mind but he kept walking, kept walking, kept trying to push back the unseen insects crawling over him. Harry tried desperately to focus on the present. What would become of them was anyone’s guess but, for now, those long fingers felt right against his skin.
THE END (I mean it this time!)
A/N: I know, I know, Voldemort apparently didn’t go through the same symptoms as Severus when he took Unicorn Blood all that time. I have a few theories on this.
1. Voldie was so far from human by that point that it didn’t affect him negatively.
2. It did, but the snake venom it was mixed with slowed the poisoning process, or counteracted the venin itself in a way that would have been lethal to a normal person. That body was then destroyed when Wormtail cast the resurrection spell and the effects weren’t transferred to the new one.
3. Little Tommy Riddle was still having a temper tantrum after all those years. It’s been stated more than once that he was virtually immortal and could pursue it again. He was living in the past anyway, so how do we know it didn’t?
There’s a bit of a mental nosh for ya…
As for why the Death Eaters were so much more dangerous after Voldie died, eh, it all has to do with elevating a fallen leader to god status. They were turning into a cult, and a nasty one at that. Sorry it was confusing – I was going for implication rather than outright declaration. I guess understatement has its limits. *grin*
And to everyone who got this far: THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU. Seriously, the support you’ve shown through reading, comments, and emails has done more to encourage me to take this little hobby pro than all the writing teachers I’ve ever had. *shy little smile* You honestly have no idea how much that means.
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