For all Joy wants Eternity
Chapter Twenty Two
'Tell him that werewolf friend of yours has never left the boy's side all evening.’
Nothing but a dark void. Cold indifference, bare of any emotion. An emptiness that bore its own hidden power. That enabled him not to break under the impact of what the Dark Lord's last sentence implied. That allowed him to immediately dismiss the innumerable possibilities and images that should have flooded his mind at those words, not letting even one of them get as far as his inner eye. Glorious, infamous insensitivity. Blessed, abhorrent cold-heartedness. The only resort, the only retreat, the only way to withstand.
The only way.
He had not endured and won the fight for his mind against Voldemort mere minutes ago only to tear down the barriers of his Occlumency now all by himself, due to his feelings and fear for Remus, by giving in to a new quality of despair and guilt. Giving Potter and his assignedguardian for the night away had been his very own, deliberate choice, and all that was left for him now was to do everything in his power to see to it that his betrayal had not, in th end, been in vain.
So ever since the meaning of Voldemort's last order to Wormtail had buried itself in his brain, Severus had struggled to collect all of his concentration, to clear his mind from everything except a strict focus upon whatever might come to pass. Very gradually, very slowly, the spy fought his way back to the unwavering resolution that he had felt earlier this evening, to the degree of will power that had burned within him not even an hour ago, to the brightly flaring determination with which his entire being had sung. All the time painfully aware of two red eyes still drilling into his own. Of two hands that were still upon him and of the closeness of the only body that did not smash his physical and mental being by its proximity.
Of the Dark Lord’s most powerful mind that could attack him again at any second.
The profound silence that fell after the trap door magically snapped shut behind a hastily retreating rat grew more intense by the moment. Though Severus was not able to detect anything like the former onslaught on his mental defences right now, the vivid force with which Voldemort's eyes were penetrating him made the spy's insides shiver, left him wondering how much of the attempt to regain his composure he would need for the remainder of the night as his former master labored to perceive his thoughts. The fact that the claw-like fingers on his back had begun to slightly caress the stiff muscles between the younger Slytherin's shoulder blades, drawing small circles with slow, languid strokes, only fueled the sickening uneasiness the spy felt. Unable to break from the tight grip of Voldemort's eyes, knowing very well that he'd better not try to anyway, Severus felt doubt exploding inside him, followed by a mighty surge of panic that he'd probably failed after all. He well recalled the Dark Lord's remark towards Pettigrew, the short affirmation of his, Severus's, returning to grace that he had paid such a high price for, but still, still...
Being completely transfixed by his former master's gleaming stare, struggling with fear and his attempt to focus at the same time, Severus was not able to tell how much time they had already spent standing close in complete silence, when the Dark Lord's visual focus suddenly seemed to drift away from him. It was not that his former master's eyes had left his own, but the red glance had become distant, almost a little blurred. For a few heartbeats, Voldemort's features went completely blank without showing the slightest flicker of emotion, before suddenly pure triumph split that lipless mouth into one of the cruelest smiles Severus had ever seen dawn on that hated face, while the red slits lit up with malicious joy and the horrible head was thrown back. And Severus simply knew, knew with piercing certainty that right now, that very moment Potter must have fallen into the Death Eaters' hands, the scar on the boy's forehead was seething with the vicious euphoria that rang out in the Shack as Voldemort's devilish laughter filled the air.
Unable to close his perception to the horrible certainty of triumph radiating from the Dark Lord, Severus tried to make use of not being the center of Voldemort's throttling attention and felt how his entire being slightly relaxed, now that the pressure of those burning eyes had left his consciousness for a few seconds. The Slytherin desperately fed on those unexpected moments of freedom, well aware that all he could do was to continue gathering his energy, to strengthen his composure - and to wait.
Not that Voldemort would have given him much time.
'This more than pleasantly inspiring togetherness we were allowed to share will come to an end soon now, my sweet snow white.' With all its terrible force, the Dark Lord's glittering red stare fixed itself upon Severus's eyes again, drowning them in its scrutiny. 'We'll have company in only a few minutes.'
The shimmer of amusement that had crept into Voldemort's glance burned right down to Severus's soul. With only the slightest inclination of his head, the Dark Lord leaned forward a little, just enough to lightly move the tip of his pointed tongue across the spy's lower lip.
Mentally clenching his fists, the younger wizard put all of his re-wakening will-power into keeping up his apparently unmoved façade, as his former master withdrew with a sardonically tender smile.
'As much as I regret losing sight of those lovely features of yours, my dear Severus, the upcoming events will demand an appearance adequate for the circumstances.' A bony hand elegantly pointed to the younger Slytherin's cloak and mask which still lay on the floor where they had fallen after Voldemort had removed them earlier. 'I don't want Mr. Potter to feel we would think him unworthy of being treated with anything but the utmost respect. So I suppose we should honor his presence by confronting him fully dressed.'
Severus would have slapped himself had he been able to. How could he not have been aware of the fact that he had been about to face Harry Potter unmasked in only a few moments, a fact that would most surely influence how the boy would handle his probably final encounter with Voldemort? It would likely be the last chance for Severus himself to interfere with what was to come. So much depended on this confrontation, actually everything depended on it, but how was he supposed to influence any of the upcoming events if he was not capable of realizing the most obvious things, let alone taking them into account... ?
Still silently cursing his pathetic state of mind, Severus managed a dutiful nod.
'Of course, my Lord.' The spy was already reaching for his wand, when Voldemort's soft voice stopped him from summoning cloak and mask.
'No magic, Severus.'
The younger Slytherin froze. For a split second, his glance darted in disbelieving bewilderment to his former master, who lazily leaned against a wooden beam in the wall, arms folded across his chest, eyes glittering, a small smile playing around his mouth. For a heartbeat, all of Severus's pride rebelled against the degrading order he had just received, before he finally lowered his head in another small bow of compliance and put his wand away, silently accepting the Dark Lord's wishes. Very slowly, the spy turned and moved over to the pile of cloth that was his cloak still laying on the floor, along with the loathed mask. Painfully aware of what Voldemort wanted to see, Severus knelt, letting the fingers of one gloved hand curl around the black collar, taking up the mask with the other. All the time feeling a thoroughly amused glance on the back of his neck.
The cloak's weight descended upon his soul as soon as it touched His shoulders. Feeling the familiar dark grip of his past claw at his heart, Severus closed his eyes and silently counted to three before he finally turned around again.
Voldemort still rested against the opposite wall, still smiled in that most frightening way. Fighting down a vicious shiver that threatened to give his state of mind away, the younger Slytherin forced his reluctant body to comply with necessity, brought himself to hold that mocking, red glance for an instant before he submissively bowed to the Dark Lord one more time, offering the mask in one slightly extended hand.
'If my Lord would be so generous as to honor me with his support...'
With his eyes still obsequiously fixed on some point on the dusty floor, Severus was not able to visually perceive either the deepening of Voldemort's smile or the intensification of the malicious glitter in the Dark Lord's stare, still he felt the small hairs on the back of his neck rise in response to his former master's growing amusement, which was now mirrored in the low voice as well.
'How could I possibly refuse a request like that?' The spy retained his submissive posture, so only the low sounds of a robe rustling over the floor told him that Voldemort was slowly drawing nearer. 'Rest assured this will be *my* pleasure, my dear Severus.' The voice dropped to a soft purr. 'Stand straight.'
Even as he lifted his head, Severus felt the wooden mask leaving the loose grip of his fingers. Only for a few seconds after he and the Dark Lord had made eye contact again was the spy's vision dominated by the sight of his former master's ghostly skull, strangely illuminated by the light of four flickering torches, before a wooden shadow rose between them and slowly descended on the younger man's face. Severus's visual world was reduced to the weak brightness that entered through two almond-shaped slits, while he listened to the Dark Lord's softly murmured spell, which locked the darkness in place for good.
And then the rhythmical knock at the trap door cut through the thick silence.
The boy's chest was moving heavily in an obvious attempt to calm his erratic breathing. Both hands were clenched into fists so tight that the white knuckles were clearly visible, and the green eyes behind his broken glasses burned brightly with fury and defiance. Apart from a long scratch running over Harry Potter's left cheek and his hair looking even more dishevelled than it would have after the wildest game of Quidditch, no external signs indicated that the boy had just been captured during a magical fight. Not having moved since he'd been pushed up the entrance and into the Shrieking Shack, Potter was still standing where Pettigrew had left him to give the Dark Lord his report, all flaring rage, all bristling contrariness, all bright courage.
Safely hidden behind the protection of cloak and mask, and grateful for it for once, Severus watched the boy struggle to accept his obvious helplessness while Wormtail handed a wand over to the Dark Lord with a bow, before he turned and left the Shack through the main door, letting a cold breeze in as he went.
Voldemort's hand closed around the slender piece of wood with something one might have called a caress had it not been the Dark Lord's bony fingers that gently glided over Potter's wand from tip to base. With an annoyingly slow movement, the wizard who had once been Tom Riddle lifted his head to meet the furious glare of the Boy Who Lived, and a smile contorted his horrible face before he spoke.
'Before I welcome you properly, there's something I need to make you see, Harry.' Voldemort took one step in the boy's direction. 'I want you to know, and you will learn within the next hours, that betrayal is among the most painful things that one can experience.’
Severus’s insides flinched at the innuendo in Voldemort’s words, but the Dark Lord was already going on.
‘So I'm sure that you’ll very soon fully understand what I have to do now.'
Severus could sense how confusion mingled with fear flickered through the boy's aura. A strong premonition took hold of his own consciousness, and a powerful feeling of dark expectation made his eyes narrow behind his mask.
The Dark Lord took another step towards Potter.
'Of course you remember this wand of yours being guilty of high treason, don't you, Harry?'
Severus only understood when his former master's hands slowly wandered to the ends of the wand they were holding and lifted it until it was level with its wizard's eyes, eyes that told that Potter himself hadn't comprehended yet.
'And surely you understand that I cannot allow this treacherous brother to betray its twin ever again.'
Severus could see realization widening the boy's eyes when it was already too late. There had only been the slightest movement of Voldemort's hands, but the sound of Potter's breaking wand ripped through the air with a violent crack that cruelly echoed from the ruined walls, and the spy knew then that if wood could scream, this was what it would sound like. Still trying to get his desperately reeling mind under control, perfectly aware of what was about to come, Severus tried in vain to tear his eyes away from the scene before him. Obviously relishing every single moment, Voldemort let two of his bony fingers gently close around one of the wounds he had just inflicted on Potter's wand and begun to pull, slowly, gradually removing its magical soul, until he held a still beautifully shimmering, long feather of red and gold in his hands.
Feeling how his own features set into a fierce grimace, Severus only marginally perceived the boy’s desperate gasp and the Dark Lord's soft laughter. Had the Slytherin had the slightest hope before that Voldemort's morbid self-importance would trick him into delaying the inevitable, into not being able to resist the tempting opportunity to toy a little with his victim before going for a lethal blow, the Dark Lord had just taught him otherwise. Destroying another wizard's or witch's wand was not something Voldemort usually resorted to. He was Slytherin's Heir after all, and no matter how cunning and sly the Dark Lord might be, there was still a very dark kind of pride in him, a pride that simply forbade depriving one's counterpart of his magic in as pathetic a way as that.
But this had not been about leaving Potter utterly helpless. This was Voldemort's way of making sure to never encounter again what had already defeated him once. After already having overcome the barrier Lily's protective emotions had erected around her son, the Dark Lord chose the most simple and effective way to eliminate Priori Incantatem once and for all, gradually stripping the boy of all the weapons and defences love and life had equipped him with, one after another.
And it was beginning to show as well that Voldemort had no intention to play whatsoever, but to make sure this would indeed be his final confrontation with The Boy Who Lived.
With a forceful jolt ripping through him, Severus felt his brain kicking in and the spy taking over again, the part of him that had struggled to protect the one supposed to defeat the Dark Lord for so many years now in his very own way. His thoughts, which had been racing behind his eyes began to arrange, to order, to develop threads of possibilities and different strategies, showing optional outcomes, lining out priorities. More than grateful to have full access to his rational abilities again, the Slytherin let himself be led by the familiar patterns forming in his head, fully trusting his mind to take him where he needed to go to realize. To see. To recognize the one chance he must have to interfere.
But all the mental paths in his head led to the two pieces of broken wood that were still in one of the Dark Lord's taloned hands, now being slowly extended towards Potter in a mock gesture of offering, and with a smile dripping with cruelty. Telling Severus that his former master had not entirely lost his interest in toying with the boy at all. And as if he didn't want to lose any time confirming the spy's suspicion, Voldemort slowly raised his hand holding the Phoenix's feather. Cocking his head slightly, the Dark Lord caressingly drew the soft, quivering former core of Potter's wand down the boy's cheek.
And then his former master's soft voice crept over the Slytherin’s skin.
'I'm sure you crave having your wand back, don't you, Harry?'
A distant fraction of his mind winced at the purposeful ambiguity of Voldemort's words, but the rest of Severus's head was ringing with realization. With the one clue he had needed to begin. With the fact which he couldn't believe he had not grasped until now.
The fact that now that Potter's medium of magic lay broken, soulless and dead in the Dark Lord's hands, there was only one wand left in this room that could enable Potter to challenge the Dark Lord magically.
Severus didn't lose any time, didn't let the briefest of thoughts so much as touch the image of Potter using his wand, an idea that would have left him nauseated at best under ordinary circumstances. Still, he had learned a long time ago that there was nothing like that when dealing with the Dark Lord in general, and he knew that this night in particular didn't allow the slightest hesitation from either of them. This was not a night of second chances, nor a night for second thoughts, but one that asked for quick and flawless action.
So Severus had contemplated a dozen possible alternatives of how to grant Potter access to his wand within a split-second. And had discarded every single one of them just as fast. All it had taken was one closer look at the scene before him, and the Slytherin felt a cold breeze freezing his insides. The boy and the Dark Lord were still standing face to face, Potter still caught in Voldemort's acid stare, still trembling slightly under that horrible smile and the tormenting touch of his destroyed wand's core whispering over his left cheek. His staring eyes seemed to have doubled in size and had gone completely blank, just as Potter's face was plain of any expression. The boy's mouth was hanging slightly open and his lower lip had begun to tremble...
Severus knew those signs only too well. The Slytherin had enough experience with this particular, most powerful Legimens to tell that he was witnessing the side-effects of a severe attack on the young Gryffindor's mind. He was also only too aware of the boy's poor capabilities when it came to Occlumency. Potter by no means possessed the slightest chance to fight the Dark Lord's intrusion, and only Salazar himself knew what kind of damage Voldemort was about to cause in that vulnerable young spirit.
Severus felt the first heralds of despair re-waken somewhere in the back of his own mind. The boy's entire body had begun to violently shake, and all of the spy's instincts screamed at him that it would be too late very soon. Whatever the Dark Lord was trying to achieve here, Potter's physical reactions to those attempts, as well as Voldemort's deepening smile, spoke for itself, and the Slytherin felt how he, the boy, all of them, were running out of time. He needed to act. He needed to act now. He simply had to somehow get Potter out of that trance of horror, needed Voldemort to let go of the Gryffindor for at least a moment. There had to be a way to get through to the boy, to let him know he was not alone, to rekindle something like hope, to remind him that they were all still depending on him. That they still needed him...
Another knock sliced through the shivering silence that had fallen since the Dark Lord's last words, cast in the same rhythmical pattern as all the other knocks before. But this one did not come from the trap door to the tunnel. This time, someone asked to be let in at the main door to the Shack, and the request was heavy with urgency, clipped in a strange breathless way. Severus could literally taste the alarm that sound carried into the room, could feel immediately how each nerve of his tense body began to shiver with reflexive strain. Like crackling whispers of wildfire, the message crept through his body with unbelievable speed and reached his mind before the last knock had finished ringing through the air.
Something in Voldemort's plan had gone wrong. Terribly wrong.
The Slytherin struggled for control to restrain himself from inhaling on a triumphant hiss as he saw his own premonitions reflecting on his former master's face. With a murderous look in those red eyes, the Dark Lord slowly turned from the dis-wanded boy in front of him and fixed on the closed entrance for a few moments as if to suck the message waiting on its other side through the wood by the mere force of his burning, acid stare, before he took several strides towards the door which complied with the short, but forceful wave of Voldemort's hand that still held the Phoenix's feather, and opened with a tormentingly squeaking sound.
Severus's skin began to bristle with the familiar first hints of too much physical proximity as two Death Eaters entered with the cool night air, one of them immediately falling to his knees before his master, pressing his brow to the hem of Voldemort's robes, all the time panting frantically, but apart from that completely silent. Not giving Severus the slightest clue about which of his 'colleagues' he was watching prostrating himself at the Dark Lord's feet. Whereas the slightly whining sound of the other's voice revealed his identity at once.
'Forgive the intrusion, my Lord, but MacNair just arrived with most important information...'
'I see as much, Wormtail.' Voldemort's voice, crisp with coldness and scarcely hidden threat silenced the other man at once. 'Now would you kindly refrain from stating the obvious so MacNair can actually deliver what he has to tell.'
With several small bows and mumbled excuses, Wormtail withdrew to a position near the door, while Voldemort turned his eyes back to the crouching figure on the floor that now began to hastily report in a low, soundless voice. And though being the spy he was, he definitely should have listened carefully to MacNair's monologue, Severus hardly noticed when the words 'disaster' and 'St. Mungo's' made it through to him from the other Death Eater's wild whisper.
His entire attention was engaged elsewhere.
It was as if Potter had woken from some kind of enchanted sleep. The boy's wildly blinking eyes had regained some life of their own again, and from the initial confusion that dawned on the young Gryffindor's face to be replaced by gradually growing awareness only shortly after, Severus could tell that Potter had managed to shake off the mental claws his mind had been caught in only moments ago. Or rather that Voldemort had actually left the boy alone, for the time being. Regarding how Potter had done during their Occlumency lessons, the probability that the boy had managed to push the Dark Lord out of his mind by his own unaided effort was less than not existent...
The spy’s next thought and the daring idea it implied hit him with a force that almost made him gasp.
A quick glance towards the door told him that Voldemort was still busy getting even the tiniest bit of information out of MacNair. Yes, this *was* his chance, all he needed was the Dark Lord's attention focused on someone completely different, and the fact that his former master was most obviously in an extremely foul mood right now only served his own intentions. With rage and fury fogging the Dark Lord's perception, distracting him for a few more moments, he had a chance. He only had to take action now.
And very slowly, very carefully, Severus gradually moved into Harry Potter's visual field.
The growing closeness to the boy already began to affect him. Each cautious step towards the Gryffindor was punished by waves of panic that rolled over him in crushing surges, and still Potter showed not the slightest sign of having noticed another Death Eater approaching him. Already feeling blood trickling down from where his teeth were burying themselves deeply into his lower lip, Severus cursed the Gryffindor's stubbornness in all the tongues he knew. It was simply impossible that Potter was still oblivious to his presence, and if that brat would not look up this very moment...
But he did. Just when Severus was sure he was unable to take one step closer to the boy, those green eyes finally lifted to meet his masked glance with a fierce, open stare that was gleaming with contempt.
The Slytherin reacted immediately. If Potter gave their little interaction away by just one wrong movement that would give rise to Wormtail's attention, by only one word that might cause Voldemort's suspicion, they'd both be irrevocably lost. They'd all be. So without losing any time at all, Severus let all of his Legimency slam full-force against the Gryffindor's mind as soon as they had made eye contact. Silently praying to all the forces out there to let the boy realize. To make him understand and recognize who it was penetrating his thoughts.
To make him recognize him in time.
Some part of the spy's consciousness noticed the traces that Voldemort's mental onslaught had left inside the boy's head, open slashes that felt like raw, moist flesh wounds under the demanding touch of his groping thoughts, and for a very short moment, Severus wished he did not have to add to the horribly painful experience this must have been by attacking Potter's mind himself. Still, the sheer necessity of this desperate action made the spy forget about any kind of protectiveness that might sabotage his determination. Pursuing the risky plan that had formed inside his head only moments ago, Severus continued probing the boy's thoughts, desperately hoping Potter would recall this situation and remember their Occlumency lessons, as well as the familiar structures of the mind currently intruding into his.
The Slytherin sensed the sudden understanding within the boy's spirit before he saw it dawn in the eyes in front of him. A questioning thought emerged from somewhere in the boy’s consciousness, but Severus felt how Potter perceptibly relaxed, could sense how realization began to dominate the other’s mind. A little surprised at the relief that rippled through the Gryffindor's aura, Severus didn't allow himself the slightest satisfaction, but prepared himself to go on with what he knew was their only chance to get through this night alive. A very distant, but still attentive part of his consciousness perceived how at the other end of the room, Voldemort had begun one of his dreaded monologues about being disappointed with his Death Eaters’ performance. The spy knew that very soon, the Dark Lord would vent his anger on the still kneeling messenger in a much more painful way than this verbal one was, a fact that would buy them a little more time, time he intended to make full use of.
Not loosening his grip on the young Gryffindor's mind for even a second, Severus began the complicated task of communicating his plan. He was a much more skilled and powerful Occlumens than a Legimens, and the fact that he could not use his wand here without drawing Wormtail's, or worse, Voldemort's, attention didn't make things easier. Grateful that Potter had obviously grasped the crucial meaning of this, not fighting his professor's mental intrusion at all and keeping perfectly still as he was, the Slytherin sent his strategy along the bridge between their minds, encoded in images, sounds and emotions. He was very aware that Potter, after years of sharing visions with Voldemort, had much more experience receiving messages like that than he himself had sending them, but this was something he was actually counting on. And when he felt the complete bewilderment that had crept through the Gryffindor's mind only moments ago change into startled, outright refusal, Severus realized that the boy had understood.
It was true that he was asking much. He knew how frightening the whole plan must seem to Potter right now, and the positively terrified look in the boy's eyes that usually were shining with so much defiant confidence told the spy loud and clear what the Gryffindor thought about the role the Slytherin had assigned to him in this deadly game. Still, the spy couldn’t believe that Potter actually seemed to think he had a right to *choose* here. Unable to hold back the hot anger that suddenly boiled up inside of him, Severus felt every single muscle of his body tense with the attempt to not let his fury show. How dared this arrogant brat refuse to take his place in these events? There were so many people in this war risking their lives, overcoming barriers that seemed to be insurmountable, and doing what had to be done despite shivering to the bones when only thinking about what was demanded of them! And here was the Boy Who Lived, the savior of the wizarding world, *refusing* to take responsibility, to take his place in the only plan that would help them out…
Knowing there was no time for the luxury of either giving in to his fury or trying to *convince* the boy, Severus forced himself to relax. With one quick glance at the door, he assured himself that Voldemort was still taking his wrath out on MacNair, before he concentrated all of his attention on the task at hand and on the mind again in his hands. If Potter was not able to realize by himself that he had to overcome his childish fears for the sake of all of them, he needed to take more drastic measures.
He’d most certainly have no qualms whatsoever about doing so!
The first images the Slytherin sent the boy's way showed nothing more than a burning Diagon Alley and a destroyed Leaky Cauldron, but when he continued with Hogsmeade in bright flames, Severus could already feel Potter's weak attempt to escape those dark visions of a possible near future should they fail tonight. Still he received nothing but the Gryffindor's mentally declining his plan, maybe even a little wilder than before, and so the spy saw no other choice but pushing Potter further into the consequences of his refusal. Evoking the next images was painful, but not difficult at all, for they were part of his own nightmares for years: Hogwarts, partly destroyed, its corridors, classrooms and halls scattered with the dead bodies of colleagues and students alike. He was mentally dragging the young Gryffindor through the castle, let him stumble over bodies, anonymous ones at first, but the shock that erupted within the boy as Severus made him run right into the massive corpse of Hagrid told the spy that he would have to exploit the strong and powerful emotional bonds Potter had established during his time at Hogwarts if he wanted to get somewhere. Without the slightest hesitation, Severus hurled the boy into the Headmaster's office, let him touch the blood-stained feathers of a lifeless Fawkes, made him turn over the mangled corpse of Albus Dumbledore so he had to take a look into the empty eyes behind broken spectacles. Trembling inwardly with the horror and sorrow those visions gave rise to within himself, the Slytherin was perfectly aware of the small plea for him to stop that quivered through the boy's mind, but Severus had no intention whatsoever of letting him off the hook, not before he had Potter’s full, genuine consent to what had to be done. And if the boy needed the full scale of terror to finally *see*, the spy felt more than happy to present it to him right here and right now.
He could feel Potter's mental resistance grow as he confronted him with Visions of the Gryffindor common room, where the Fat Lady’s portrait over the entrance hole hung completely destroyed, allowing the boy enough of a glance inside to get an idea about what was awaiting him. Easily overcoming Potter's frantic attempts to struggle against the mind that was pushing him forward, Severus flung the boy through the entrance and into every Gryffindor's lair. Ignoring the profound sorrow and despair he could feel flooding the other's mind, the spy directed Potter's gaze over the forms of his housemates' dead bodies, let him recognize Longbottom and Finnegan, and finally forced the boy's sight over to the cold, dark fireplace, where he let him make out a glimpse of red hair right beside bushy curls among the motionless, lifeless corpses...
Potter's silent scream ripped through their mental connection, echoed in both of their minds with powerful resonance, pulling them both out of the visions of sheerest horror they had just shared. Only by summoning all of his strength and skill did Severus succeed in maintaining his hold on the boy's mind that was still vibrating with pain, terror and fear - but as well with brightest, purest rage. And even though the Slytherin knew that a great part of that fury was directed at himself right now, he was also well aware of this burning anger being the basis for what Potter still needed to accomplish tonight.
And suddenly, Severus couldn't help but perceive the complete lack of the former firm refusal the boy had met his strategy with only seconds ago. Feeling the powerful force of hope conquering his entire being, Severus re-focused on the Gryffindor's green eyes that were glittering with tears and concentrated once more on the mind within the grasp of his own.
The wild relief that welled up inside him when he made out Potter's agreement to his plan amid the chaos of the boy's emotions almost made Severus lose their mental connection, but their mutual consent seemed to have created its own bond. The spy felt how determination and will-power were exchanged along the bridge between their minds, how resolution multiplied, how strength and power built where before there had only been despair, how they both prepared for and came to terms with what they had to do. And when he knew with absurd certainty that both of them were ready, all he did was send out a single word to the waiting spirit of his ally.
In the back of his head, Severus registered the first screams of MacNair under a Cruciatus, but the greater part of his consciousness focused on forcing himself to lower his own mental defences and draw back a little from Potter's mind at the same time to make things easier for the boy. Silencing the small whispers of doubt that were reminding him that Potter had done this only once, telling him how stupid he was to expect the boy to manage a second time on command and not on raw, spontaneous reaction, the Slytherin lowered his head and simply waited.
He felt it immediately when it finally happened. Just as he had felt it only once before, during their Occlumency-lessons, when the Slytherin had realized how his grip on Potter's mind had been broken, how the boy had struggled free from the foreign force in his head - and how he had made use of the still existing bridge between them to enter Severus's head himself. Just as he did now.
The Slytherin sensed the boy's initial confusion and disorientation, knew that this was perfectly normal for one who was not used to spending his time inside other peoples' minds. But Potter would have to do much more than simply be present in his head...Mentally drawing a deep breath, knowing perfectly well how aware the boy would be of that, Severus closed his eyes and performed his last duty in this macabre game, banishing all of his pride, which screamed loudly in protest. Kissing the most sacred aspect of his being good-bye, the Slytherin deliberately, voluntarily submitted to the consciousness that had taken hold of him, handing all of his mind, all of his thoughts and secrets, all of his emotions and all of his body over to the Boy Who Lived.
Neither of them would have enough time to adapt to this completely new situation that they found themselves in. They'd also never know what exactly triggered it, but they were suddenly facing a wildly screaming Peter Pettigrew, waving a shivering finger in their direction, yelling warnings at Voldemort who was still looming over a whimpering MacNair. Still struggling to regain control of themselves, they had to watch the Dark Lord turn towards them, see how the horrible head inclined a little in a questioning gesture, how their former master took a slow step towards them, asking something, but nothing could have been less important now that they were caught in their own frantic efforts to get a hold of the only wand at their disposal. Watching Voldemort drawing even nearer, hearing him repeating whatever it was he had said before, they finally felt their shivering fingers closing around the warm surface of a slim piece of wood. Joining in a mutual scream of relief, they felt how their arm gradually lifted, saw Voldemort's eyes narrow to gleaming slits, heard Wormtail's scream of warning. Sudden understanding blazed from the red stare that had caught hold of their own eyes now, and they could see the spark of genuine fear that glittered in the Dark Lord's gaze, could hear the howl of desperate fury that rang through the Shack as Voldemort raised his own wand, and they knew he would be too late. Filling the entire room with the powerful sound of their own roaring voice, conjuring their own magic before he could so much as react, they sent the green stream of light from the tip of their wand directly towards the center of his chest.
Pain beyond description reached for him as soon as he saw the Killing Curse drive into his former master's body. The three marks on his chest seemed to have caught fire, a snare of searing acid was cutting into his heart and head, and his thorax was exploding with caustic flames over and over again. Completely paralyzed with an agony that threatened to drive him out of his mind, Severus sank to his knees, his mouth open with a soundless scream that would have torn down the Shrieking Shack had it not been silent.
Somewhere in the heat of the torture that raged inside him, he knew he would not be able to last much longer. He wasn't sure whether he would die or simply lose his mind, but he needed to let go, he couldn't hold on anymore, his body and soul were breaking, and the simple attempt to keep them from doing so was driving him mad with pain. He would have to give in soon, but not before he had finished this. There was still one thing left to do, and with all the strength he could muster, the spy forced his collapsing mind to focus one more time, to concentrate on this final task, to give one additional, final evidence of its Slytherin determination.
So before the world went black around him, Severus Snape pushed the Boy Who Lived out of his head, with one last excruciating cry ringing aloud through the Shack after all.
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