Greyback's grating howls grew ever nearer beyond the doors. Amidst the uproar, Harry heard a muffled voice speak softly in a tone almost inhuman and, filled with incomparable dread, knew instantly that it belonged to Wormtail as it murmured, "Remus..."
Harry was lunging at the elevator doors when he felt two sets of arms seize him around the chest and yank him backwards.
"Harry, what are you doing!" gasped Hermione as she and Ron threw all of their weight into restraining him.
“Let go of me!" he hollered, thrashing against their grip. "I have to go back! It’s Lupin! He’ll kill him!"
"What are you talking about?" Ron yelled.
"Pettigrew is out there! His hand-" Harry pried Hermione's arms off of him. "His hand's made of silver!"
Not a second later, something the size of a small boulder drove into the sliding doors with a force that dented them inward, thick claws scraping and tearing at the groaning metal. The doors growing ever weaker as Greyback pounded relentlessly against them, it seemed the werewolf would surely burst through and feast on their bones. Harry barely let himself notice it.
"Harry, you’ll get yourself killed! Maybe Lupin won't die if you go out there, but you will!" grunted Ron as he wrestled vehemently against Harry's attempt to liberate himself, evidently unprepared for the sheer force with which Harry fought him.
But Harry was out of even his own control. He was beyond containing the violent desperation that had possessed him as he imagined what would happen if he failed to protect the last of his father's loyal friends. At that moment, painful whimpering and the sound of nails scraping against tile interrupted the barking outside the door, and above the tumult in his head, Harry heard himself repeating the words, "not him... not him too...."
“Two sandwiches short of a picnic,” muttered Malfoy, scooting anxiouslyout of the way as Ron threw Harry back against the elevator wall. Ginny glared at Malfoy's pale face as though nothing would make her happier than to beat him to a pulp.
Suddenly, all four of them froze. Beyond the sliding doors came an anguished howl followed by the sound of something heaving violently against the sliding doors and then silence. Straining to hear any indication of what had just happened, no one dared to speak.
It left a tremendous opportunity. This time, Ron momentarily forgot to hold Harry back when he leapt toward the exit.
“Alohamora!” Harry cried, and prying the doors apart with his hands, he stumbled out of Ron and Hermione’s reach, tripping onto the platform. Without thinking, Harry dove backward striking the ‘down’-button of the elevator with the back of his fist, and the dented doors squeezed shut behind him, the loud creak drowning his friends’ frantic protests.
Alone once again, Harry spun back around and stopped cold. There before his feet lay not Greyback the werewolf, but Greyback the man. Repulsed at the sight before him, Harry knelt down to inspect the body. Fenrir’s face was frozen in a vicious grimace, and lodged deeply into his chest was a silver blood-tainted object roughly the size of Harry’s hand. The werewolf was dead.
Suddenly, Harry heard quiet sniffling and whimpering several yards ahead of him, and looking up, he saw a broken figure kneeling close to where Lupin lay, still miraculously alive. It was Peter Pettigrew. Disbelieving his own eyes, Harry stepped over Greyback’s body and approached Wormtail slowly and noiselessly, holding his wand at the ready with both hands.
“Remus... my old friend,” whispered Pettigrew in a quivering voice. “My debt... my debt is repaid....”
Harry stopped in his tracks.
“I saved the boy.... Surely that should have been enough....”
Just then, Wormtail’s voice broke off and sensing Harry’s presence, he cast an oddly lonely glance in Harry’s direction, a dull glimmer in his tear-filled eyes. His right arm, now missing the silver hand once bestowed upon him by Voldemort himself, was tucked beneath his cloak. Harry stood frozen to the spot, his wand now aimed at Pettigrew’s heart.
Slowly, Pettigrew got to his feet. Blood seeping into his sleeve and cloak, he staggered several steps in Harry’s direction, teetering on his feet as he approached. Harry backed away in alarm, his mind racing to comprehend what had just happened.
“Harry P-Potter.” Wormtail spoke in a voice fraught with a pitiable meekness. “I must tell you.... You must know... before day breaks, he will return,” he murmured.
“What? What are you talking about?” asked Harry, taking a step back.
“The Dark Lord,” he whispered looking fretfully about him as he drew nearer as though the walls were eavesdropping on them. “Before daybreak, he will return. He means to kill you, Harry-“
Harry tightened his grip on his wand. “Tell me something I don’t know.”
“Harry, he brings with him a relic...” Wormtail stumbled forward.
“Don’t come any closer!” yelled Harry, his blood pounding in his ears. “What relic?”
Wormtail shook his head sorrowfully. “He means to finish what he started sixteen years ago,” he whispered, shaking from head to foot. “He will return with a relic.... It is precious to him.... You must leave this place!”
Suddenly, Harry understood what Pettigrew was struggling to say. “You mean,” he began slowly, “Voldemort means to make a Horcrux from my death… And now he’s found a vessel…”
"Escape, Harry! Save yourself as you once saved me!"
Harry shook his head, half-stunned. "I have to stay. I don't have a choice..."
For a moment, Pettigrew said nothing, but then, to Harry’s utmost astonishment, Wormtail buried his face in his hand and sank to his knees at Harry’s feet, sobbing pathetically like a child. “Oh, James… Lily…. What have I done? What have I done?” he wailed. “No mercy… there’ll be no mercy for me! Betrayed you and served your only son to the Dark Lord… all to save my own wretched skin, and what for? For you to haunt my waking dreams and torture me even in death-“
“Stop it-“ yelled Harry.
“For the boy to look hatefully on me with Lily’s eyes!”
“I said, stop!”
“How I wish now that it had been me who had died!” shrieked Wormtail in misery. Lunging forward, he gripped the edge of Harry’s cloak and looked up at him with supplicating eyes. “You’re the only one… the only one who can absolve me of my crimes now! Forgive me, Harry… or else, kill me!” To Harry’s horror, Pettigrew grabbed Harry’s hand and aimed the wand at his own throat.
“That will be enough, Wormtail.”
Both Harry and Pettigrew jumped at the sound of the new voice.
Out from the shadows walked Snape. His jaw was firmly set and he glared at Wormtail with palpable loathing. “I think you’ve said enough,” he repeated coldly.
Switching his pleading gaze from Harry to Snape, Pettigrew began to tremble and stutter. “P-please, Severus! The Dark Lord… he-he’ll feed me to the Dementors if he knew what I’ve done!”
“Still trying to save your own skin! Old habits die hard, don’t they Peter?” Snape sneered. “You are a coward and a traitor. There’ll be no Dementors waiting for the likes of you. Whatever retribution awaits you, Voldemort will let it fall swift upon you, of that you may be sure!”
“No, he won’t,” said Harry quietly.
Falling silent, both Snape and Pettigrew turned to look quizzically at Harry.
“He won’t lay a finger on you,” he continued in a cold, embittered voice.
Harry walked between them and stood rigidly over Pettigrew’s cowering form. “You betrayed my parents and they were murdered for it. It’s because of you that Voldemort came back. Hundreds of people are dead all because you were afraid to die,” asserted Harry. He snorted cynically. “And now you ask me for forgiveness or else I should kill you! After everything you've done, Pettigrew… I should destroy you. I’d have liked nothing better than to see you in the ground at Godric’s Hollow instead of my parents.”
Snape strode towards him. “Potter, you do not-“
“I’ll deal with you in a moment!” Harry snapped at him before turning his gaze back on Wormtail. He felt something painful squeeze his chest as he thought of his mother and father. “The thing is… I don't care if you're really sorry,” he murmured in a voice that mirrored the hollowness of his spirit. "I'm not like you."
Wormtail began to weep in anguish.
“You’ll have my forgiveness because you saved me from Greyback and warned me about Voldemort,” said Harry, “and because it’s enough for me to know that being a traitorous rat is worse sentence than any punishment I could ever hope to conjure. So go on. Run away. Wake up every morning for the rest of your life knowing how many innocent people have died because of you. I hope you never take another breath without being reminded of it!”
He raised his wand at Pettigrew once more.
“Now, get out of here.”
Wiping his eyes on his sleeve, Wormtail said nothing, but crawled away from them on three limbs, shrinking and diminishing as he went until he had transformed into his rodent form. Limping, he disappeared into the gutter, no doubt to join the rest of the rats in the sewers.
“I hope you’re feeling noble,” said Snape, casting Harry a scornful glance once Wormtail had vanished from sight. “You just released a black-hearted criminal.”
Harry turned on Snape, his wand raised. “Sorry, are you referring to Wormtail or yourself?” snarled Harry icily. “You’ll have to clear that up; I’d hate to make the same mistake twice and actually trust you.”
“Don’t glower at me, Potter. I’m the best ally you’ve got at the moment.”
“You?” Harry let out a derisive laugh, his eyes narrowing. “You set off the Dark Mark, drawing the entire Death Eater population to Kings Cross, and then you mysteriously disappear leaving us all to fight them or die. With allies like you, who needs enemies?”
“If I hadn’t set the Dark Mark, it would have been you and the Malfoys against a hoard of Death Eaters. The Aurors came because I drew them here,” remarked Snape, the corners of his mouth tightly drawn in irritation. “Besides, your ‘army’ as you call it has more than made up for the imbalance.”
Harry’s heart skipped a beat. He all but completely forgot his ire at the mention of the DA. “You’ve seen Dumbledore’s Army? What’s happened? ” he exclaimed. “What about the Aurors and everyone? Are they all right?”
Snape cast his eyes toward the ground and seemed to struggle with himself for a moment. “It was difficult to see from where I was,” he began. “Suffice it to say that the battle was nearly over and the odds were not in the Death Eaters’ favor.”
“Is anyone… dead?”
Snape said quietly, “People die in wars, Potter. Even young people.”
Feeling as though someone had dropped a hundred-pound weight into the pit of his stomach, Harry did not need Snape to explain what he meant.
With a flourish of his cloak, Snape walked towards Lupin’s body, a small green flask in his hand. Lupin’s breathing suddenly quickened and the low anxious rumble returned to his chest. Kneeling cautiously behind the werewolf’s head, Snape tipped the flask over his jowls, a blue frothy liquid spilling onto his tongue.
“What are you doing to him?” Harry asked, tightening his grip on his wand.
But Snape did not answer. Not a moment later, Lupin’s body began to convulse. He gave a great shudder and fell back, motionless.
“Lupin!” cried Harry.
Snape lifted a hand to quiet him. “Calm yourself; it’s Wolfsbane.” Recapping the flask, Snape got to his feet and aimed his wand at Lupin’s body. “Homorphus Mutatio!”
Before Harry’s eyes, Lupin changed back into his human shape, the wounds on his body fusing shut and healing leaving behind a host of flaming red scars to memorialize his injuries. The slow rise and fall of his chest indicated that he was indeed alive, if also unconscious. Harry sought another place to direct his eyes as Snape removed his cloak from his shoulders and draped it over Lupin’s body.
“He’ll be unconscious for only an hour, after which time he will wake and be slightly less tame than a lapdog,” muttered Snape as he pushed open Lupin’s eyelids with his thumbs and inspected the pupils diagnostically. “We must get him to the Portkey before then – it tends to be a rather rude awakening.”
“You know about the Portkey?” asked Harry.
“Standard procedure,” he said simply, and once he had secured the cloak around Lupin he aimed his wand once more. “Mobilicorpus.”
Lupin lifted off the ground and Snape jerked his head for Harry to follow him and began to walk back towards the shadowed concourse that led to the main platform, levitating Lupin’s unconscious form in front of him and lighting the path with his wand. Harry walked several paces behind thinking of nothing else but the DA and wondering who among them had survived… and who had not. He balled his trembling hands into fists and pushed them into his pockets.
“You still haven’t told me what to do with the incantation,” said Harry after several moments in silence had passed.
“I don’t see why I have to spoon-feed you everything, Potter. You have the answer already.”
“What? No, I don’t,” countered Harry, irritable and finally at the end of his tolerance of Snape’s cryptic talk. “For someone claiming to be on my side, you could afford to be more helpful-“
Just then, Snape stopped in his tracks and held a hand out, blocking Harry’s path. Somewhere beyond them where the light did not touch, someone one was crying out in pain. It was a sound that Harry knew well; it had sprung from his own mouth earlier that night beneath the light of the Dark Mark. Someone was under the Cruciatus Curse.
Quickly securing Lupin beneath the invisibility cloak behind a nearby wall, Snape and Harry ran in the direction of the noise, careful to tread quietly on the tile floor. It did not take them long to discover the root of the screams as they rounded a corner and found Bellatrix Lestrange torturing Neville Longbottom. Keeping discreetly hidden, they watched her, bruised and bloodied and donned in a stolen shield cloak, taunting Neville riotously as she mercilessly administered the Crutiatus Curse in the cold moonlight.
“Come now, halfwit, aren’t you interested in fighting back?” sneered Bellatrix as she lifted the curse long enough to watch Neville writhe weakly on the floor, blind and feeling around lamely for his wand which lay only inches from his right foot. His shield cloak could not block her attack. “You’re a tad too slow, Longbottom! Too weak and too scared! Not like me! Buried and left to die under metal and stone… and I can still destroy you like I destroyed your blood traitor parents!” Screaming with wild laughter, Bellatrix aimed again. “CRUCIO!”
Incensed, Harry instantly leapt forward and drew out his wand, but Snape caught him by the collar of his cloak and yanked him backward.
“Don’t be a righteous fool!” hissed Snape barely above a whisper. “Perhaps you fancy dying before the Dark Lord even arrives, Potter, but if I have anything to say about it, you will stay out of sight! It is out of your hands!”
Harry shook him off, staring at Snape incredulously. “I should’ve known. I should’ve stopped listening to you in my first year!” he hissed back, barely checking his words as they spilled furiously from his lips. “Neville’s my friend and I won’t stand by and let Bellatrix torture him so he can wind up mad in St. Mungo’s like his parents! Maybe if you’d ever had any friends you’d understand, but then, no one’s ever been worth a damn enough for you to want to save them!”
To Harry’s surprise, Snape raised his wand at him. “Expelliarmus!”
Harry’s wand went flying out of his hand and he heard Bellatrix’s cutting remarks come to halt. She had heard Snape disarm him.
“Who’s there? Show yourself!” she shouted, turning around and searching the shadows. Pushing Harry roughly out of the way, Snape stepped into the moonlight and met Bellatrix’s gaze. “Well, if it isn’t Severus Snape! Your timing is impeccable, as usual. How convenient for you to show up just when the Death Eaters are on the brink of defeat!” she spat. She swung her wand in Snape’s direction. “No matter. I’ll have your skin if the Dark Lord doesn’t get it first!”
“If you must know, the Dark Lord enlisted my services in a very important task. While you were lying under a rock, I was helping Lord Voldemort.”
Harry’s eyes went wide with shock and confusion.
Bellatrix shook her head distrustfully at Snape. “You’re a liar!” she hissed.
Snape merely laughed at her. “Envy does not become you, Bellatrix,” he sneered. “Nor does that ghastly shield cloak you’re hiding behind. Whoever you stole it from must be sorely missing it by now.”
“I assure you, he’s not,” she said with twisted smile. “He didn’t live long enough to see me take it.”
Neville lay curled in a heap behind her, his chest heaving as he fought to regain his wits. Hidden in the shadows, Harry looked on with an empathetic eye, feeling Neville’s suffering as though it were his own, and he cursed himself for not having interfered when he’d had the chance. He immediately searched the ground for his wand, and falling upon it at last, his heart sank at the realization that it lay at Snape’s feet where he could not retrieve it without being seen.
Meanwhile, Bellatrix was approaching Snape with murderous reproach.
“Tell me then. If you were helping the Dark Lord, where is he now?”
Snape didn’t flinch. “He is gathering the Dementors. They will finish what the Death Eaters couldn’t seem to handle under your faulty leadership.”
“Why, you impudent little-… Wait. What is that?”
Harry clapped his hand over his mouth to stifle the gasp as he followed her gaze to the spot next to Snape’s foot. Her eyes never leaving Snape’s face, Bellatrix bent down, picked up Harry’s wand, and held it in front of Snape’s nose. “You have your wand… I have mine… Longbottom’s is, for him, quite out of his reach. Whose might this be?” she murmured, her eyes fixed on Snape's non-plussed expression.
Snape glared at her but did not answer. Harry saw a muscle in his jaw twitch as though he were fighting to restrain himself.
“Whose is it?” she repeated angrily.
“That, Bellatrix,” began Snape in a hardened tone, “is the wand of Harry Potter.”
She gasped and snapped her head in Harry’s direction, though the darkness kept him hidden. Neville opened his mouth as if to shout in protest, but could only manage to let out a soft sob.
Snape turned his head towards the shadows and said disdainfully, “Where are your manners, Potter? Come and greet Sirius Black’s cousin.”
Seething anger burning at his eyes, Harry stepped into the light, utterly aware of his own defenselessness and hating Snape with every fiber of his being. He mechanically draped the skirt of his shield cloak over his chest and tried to reign in his thoughts enough to figure out a way to get his wand back and get Neville and himself out of there. He was sure there was a way; if only he could make himself stop thinking of how much better he’d feel if Snape and Bellatrix would do each other in.
“What is the meaning of this?” whispered Bellatrix, aiming one wand at Harry and the other at Snape. Again Snape waited to reply, an act that sent Bellatrix into a raging fury as she screamed, “Explain yourself!”
“Part of Lord Voldemort’s task,” said Snape in a distant voice, “was to find Potter and bring him to the Dark Lord when he arrives. Need I remind you that you are, at the moment, interfering.”
Her eyes shifted from Snape to Harry and back. “Interfering, am I? How do I know you’re not still Dumbledore’s pet? How do I know Potter here hasn’t become your new charge? Like the Malfoys!” Maintaining her penetrating focus on Snape’s stony glare, she took a swift step toward Harry, at which point Snape promptly stepped between them - an act that startled Harry and Bellatrix both.
“There,” she whispered, a grin spreading on her face. “I knew it!”
“What you think you know is of no interest to me.”
“Well, it should be! You’re a double-dealing traitor!” In mere moments, Bellatrix seemed to grow a foot taller – her bruised features grew sharper and more grisly as she began to back away from Snape, watching him with unbridled repugnance.
“Tell that to the Dark Lord when he discovers that you’ve thwarted his plans by making yourself a barking nuisance,” Snape retorted. “The boy is not to be harmed!”
“What difference does it make if Potter is harmed or not?” countered Bellatrix, her piercing gaze cold and unfeeling. “So long as he’s alive, Lord Voldemort shall have his quarry! It’s YOU who doesn’t want him harmed!”
Just then, Harry realized what Bellatrix was doing. He had once thought it impossible, but she was performing Legilimency on Snape.
Snape seemed to recognize his exposure and acted quickly. With a flick of his wand he cast Harry’s wand out of Bellatrix’s grip and before it hit the ground, Snape’s wand was at the ready, aimed at the spot between Bellatrix’s eyes. His face was ashen but fierce, as though somewhere within the last five seconds, he’d made a resolution with himself. Experiencing a sensation like a rush of blood to the head, Harry came to a staggering realization. Snape had finally chosen sides.
And Bellatrix knew it.
She flew at him with a passion, brandishing her wand like a dagger. Harry leapt out of the way as she cast a killing curse at Snape, which he narrowly dodged, instantly returning her attack in a flash of bright red light. Unexpectedly, she did not block it, but let it strike her shield cloak, and with a loud bell-tone, the spell deflected back at Snape, who barely escaped its blue trail as he dove to the ground.
She smiled coldly on his stupefied expression. “I guess I learned a thing or two while I was ‘lying under a rock’ as you put it,” she sneered. “I must say, you had us all fooled for quite some time, Severus! But I always suspected you – there was something amiss in the way you let Potter slip through our fingers time and time again! Well, now I have you both where I want you…” She raised her wand at him. “Where no one will hear you scream!”
Snape slowly got to his feet, watching her with a shrewd expression. Harry was frozen to the spot, he knew well the look on Snape’s face. He, too, was forcing his way into her mind.
“You overestimate your abilities, Bellatrix,” said Snape in a challenging tone.
“You’ll soon learn otherwise!”
Snape’s eyes floated to Neville, who had found his wand and seemed to be regaining his strength as he heaved himself onto his knees. Harry’s wand was now mere inches from Snape’s foot. Turning back to Bellatrix with a defiant gleam in his eyes, he snarled, “Do your worst.”
Watching Snape’s expression transform to one of resignation, Harry felt his heart splash into his stomach.
“SECTUMSEMPRA!” shrieked Bellatrix as Snape cried, “ACCIO WAND!”
Snape made no move to deflect her curse, but snatched Harry’s wand out of the air and flung it behind him. Harry caught it just before a spray of something warm and wet struck him in the face and the next moment, he saw Snape stumbling backwards, clutching at his chest. She had sliced him down the middle, and without hesitating Harry rushed forward and slipped his hands under Snape’s arms, catching him as he fell. Together, they sank to the floor.
Struggling beneath Snape’s dead weight, Harry thought that for the rest of his life he would always remember Bellatrix’s cruel laugh. “How lucky I was that Draco taught me that curse, Severus,” she shouted scornfully, pulling down the neck of her cloak to expose a faint scar. “Since you were Draco’s bound protector, it took only one guess to figure out where he’d learned it! You must be so pleased to see how effective it is!”
Snape sucked in ragged breaths of air, his arms wrapped tightly around his body. Harry finally recouped his composure enough to aim his wand at Bellatrix with one hand and held Snape about the chest with his free arm. She towered over them. “Stay back!” shouted Harry.
“Or what? You’ll kill me? Torture me? You haven’t got it in you, Potter!” she snapped.
“Don’t I? Malfoy didn’t learn that curse from Snape!” Harry yelled back, his hand now sticky with Snape’s blood. “He learned it from me!”
He instantly regretted the words as soon as he spoke them. Bellatrix squeeled with laughter. “Surely you’re joking! How ironic! How tragically poetic!” she shrieked. “What goes around comes around, eh, Potter? Who’d have thought you would’ve done in your very last defender!”
“Who will save you now?!” She grew jarringly still and focused on him with a deadly stare. “No one is left!”
Harry knew that he could not strike her with anything other than an Unforgivable Curse; her shield cloak would deflect any attempt he made to stun or disarm her. He faltered knowing there was truth in her biting insults. Did he really have it in him to take the life of another?
“If you kill me, you betray Voldemort,” Harry said quickly.
Bellatrix’s mouth curled into a wicked grin and she kneeled down, bringing her face close to his. “There are things worse than Death,” she whispered, “and when I’m through with you - if you’ve still a sane thought in your brain - you will be pleading for it. That’s when I’ll give you to the Dark Lord. I’m sure he will obligingly grant your request.”
She rose to her feet and aimed her wand at Harry. Feeling Snape’s breathing grow shallow beneath his hand, Harry struggled to dig in the deep recesses of his being for the desire to kill her. At once the wand felt loose in his fingers and perspiration began to slide down his temples, and as the hateful words materialized on his tongue, he squeezed his eyes shut...
Harry’s eyes snapped open. Before him stood Bellatrix, her face frozen in shock; her eyes wide and glassy, she swayed slightly before falling dead to the ground. Behind her stood Neville, his wand erect and expression fierce, hot tears spilling down his cheeks as he glared at Bellatrix’s body.
Harry could barely believe his eyes. He'd never had the chance to cast the spell. Neville had killed her.
As his eyes met with Harry’s stunned gaze, Neville seemed to return to himself, and exhausted, he promptly fell to his knees trembling. Harry looked on agape as Neville crawled towards him and Snape, the fire in his eyes extinguished.
“Well… done… Longbottom,” gasped Snape. Harry finally ventured to look down and saw that Snape was bleeding heavily. His face had turned a ghostly white and he was eerily calm.
“I went looking for you because I saw Snape arrive and I thought he was a Death Eater… only I didn’t know,” whispered Neville, his eyes glistening brightly even in the dark. “I’ve failed you, Harry! I couldn't save them! Susan… and Colin…." He buried his face in his hands. "And now Snape!”
Harry felt nauseous and guilt-ridden to the point he thought he could no longer stand it. Mr. and Mrs. Bones had now lost everyone. Colin Creevey, the boy whose attentions had once annoyed Harry, who had once regarded Harry as his hero, was dead. And now, Snape would die in his arms because one day a year ago Harry had decided to experiment with an unknown curse on a rival classmate. It seemed impossible that daylight would ever come again after tonight.
Neville began to cry. “I tried, Harry… I really tried-”
“Stop,” Harry managed to say, swallowing down his dread like poison from a cup and trying to be calm enough for them both. “You are a fine leader. You did as much as any of us would have done. This isn’t your fault, Neville. Do you understand what I’m saying to you? It’s not your fault!”
Neville buried his face in his hands. “I… I killed her…”
“No, listen to me,” said Harry, tears rising to his own eyes. “Bellatrix was going to torture me and she was wearing a shield cloak. You had no choice but to use an Unforgivable Curse.”
“Didn’t I?” whispered Neville miserably. “Didn’t part of me want to do it?”
“You… are not… a murderer, Longbottom,” murmured Snape suddenly. “You killed to defend another…. Greater wizards than you have done the same…. There is honor in that.”
Harry looked mournfully down at Snape’s weakening form, overcome with remorse. “Snape…. Forgive me,” murmured Harry shakily, “I didn’t know.... How could I know? I just - I didn't understand... I still don’t...” Stinging tears blurred his vision as he whispered, “Why?”
“Because... I have debts too...” he answered.
“What do you mean by-“
Snape cut him off. “There is something… something I must tell you… about the incantation.”
Harry fell silent at the urgency in Snape’s fading voice.
“A Horcrux… is made with… a spell… and an act… of murder,” whispered Snape. “The incantation… is a countercurse…” Snape fell into a fit of coughing and a gurgling sound began to emit from his chest.
Looking up at Neville’s ashen face, Harry said, “quick, find Hermione, Ron, and Ginny! Snape needs to get to the Port-“
Grabbing Neville’s sleeve, Snape stopped him. “No…. Listen.... The incantation… is crucial… but in the same way that a Horcrux is created… with a spell and a deed… so, too, must you commit an act…”
Aware of the increasing sense of dread in the space between them, Harry spoke softly, “What act?”
“You know that answer already,” he murmured. His body began to tremble beneath Harry’s fingers.
“I swear, I don’t-“
“Yes, you do. There is only one deed… that could cancel… what was created through an act of murder…” His voice stopped and he squeezed his eyes shut against the cold that was invading his body. “You would know this... better than anyone....”
And suddenly, waking at last to his nightmarish reality, Harry did understand. Snape recognized the comprehension in Harry’s face and as if seeing him for the first time, Snape’s countenance betrayed an inexplicable combination of fear and shame. He seemed to be looking at something beyond Harry’s face. It was as if he was seeing straight through him.
Harry merely stared back, his grief unutterable. Growing more rigid by the second, Snape moved his lips as if he was struggling to speak.
"What is he trying to say?" whispered Neville.
“Snape?” said Harry.
He brought his ear to Snape's mouth.
“Li-ly…” breathed Snape. His eyes rolled back, and the gurgling in his chest disappeared.
Harry knew then that Death had come. And Snape was gone.
In darkness Harry sat alone. Resting his head against a brick pillar at the platform’s edge, he gazed out into the heavens and brought his hand to his heart, vaguely aware of its slow beat against his fingertips. Snape’s body rested several paces away from him, Bellatrix lay beside him, and as Harry stared unblinkingly into the great beyond, he found himself emotionally flanked by the contrary visions before him. Death and destruction were all around and yet, at the sight of the vast expanse of stars and planets over his head, he imagined himself among them, a bright shining speck in the great beyond, and his spirit swelled. How much of his turbulent existence had been ordained by these very stars? They seemed so benevolent tonight…
Thus strangely enraptured, he did not notice when Ron, Hermione, Ginny, and Malfoy had found him at last.
“Harry…” said Ron in a tremulous voice.
Slowly, Harry turned to look at them.
“We’ve searched everywhere for you.”
"Let me through.” Ginny sprang forward and knelt beside him, her eyes sweeping over Harry’s body in search of wounds and injuries. As her gaze fell upon his face, she paused and her expression changed from one of concern to alarm.
“Harry,” she breathed, raising timid fingers to his cheek, “you’ve been crying.”
He said nothing but shifted his eyes to Snape’s lifeless frame. Hermione stood uneasily beside the body, a pained expression on her face. “What happened?” she said, her voice mingled with terror.
Harry forced moisture to his lips and in a raspy voice, quietly retold the events following their separation at the elevator: of Wormtail’s intervention, how Snape had reappeared and helped him care for Lupin, how Bellatrix had survived and was torturing Neville when they found her, how she had used the Sectumsempra curse to deal Snape a mortal wound and meant to torture Harry as well before Neville saved him. Not quite knowing what it meant, he spared them the detail that his mother's name was on Snape's lips as he died.
“I don’t believe it,” murmured Ron in amazement. “Neville using an Unforgivable Curse… The Killing Curse! Not in a million years would I have ever thought that was possible.”
Harry shook his head somberly. “He didn’t have a choice,” he said. “She was wearing a shield cloak. She’d have tortured me.”
“Where is he now?” asked Hermione.
“I’ve asked him to bring Lupin to the Portkey.”
Everyone fell silent. Harry’s gaze fell upon Malfoy, who had been quiet ever since they had arrived, and now sat beside Snape’s body facing away from them. Something in Malfoy’s posture stirred a dull pain within Harry, and his jaw tightened at the thought of what he was about to say.
“There’s something else,” he whispered. Noting the foreboding tone in his voice Ron, Hermione, and Ginny watched in trepidation as Harry sought the energy to continue. The sensation that he had come to realize was overtaking him was now unbearably heavy, and feeling as though an anchor were tethered to his limbs, he drew himself to his feet. “Before he died,” began Harry, “Snape told me something really important about the incantation. I think I know how it works now.”
Hermione’s eyes lit up and Ron let out gust of air, visibly relieved. Ginny alone remained stone-faced. “Well, that’s fantastic news, isn’t it?” said Ron, smiling hopefully.
“Come, Harry, what did he tell you?” said Hermione breathlessly.
Harry felt as though his insides were made of concrete. He could barely stand under the weight of it. Bringing a hand to his neck where the locket hung no longer, he swallowed hard and thought of where to begin.
“Snape told me the incantation is a kind of countercurse,” he stated as evenly as he could. “You use it to undo a Horcrux.”
“Well, that makes sense,” said Hermione. “Since a Horcrux is created with a spell, you need a spell to reverse it.”
Something in Harry’s chest was beginning to ache. “Yes. But that’s not all you need.”
They stared at him, puzzled. Even Malfoy’s ear was cocked in witness to Harry’s testimony.
“To create a Horcrux, you need a spell... but you also need a deed. An act of murder,” Harry explained in a far off voice. “The same thing goes for undoing one. The incantation alone is not enough. And Snape told me ‘there is only one deed that could cancel what was created through an act of murder.' At first, I didn't know what he meant....”
Ron looked markedly confused and Harry could practically hear the inner workings of Hermione’s mind as she riddled out what he was saying. Harry tried not to look at Ginny, but could not avoid her intensely bright eyes as they bored into him. Finally, he forced his eyes to the ground.
“He said I knew better than anyone what that deed was. And he’s right,” concluded Harry softly. “I know it from example.”
He heard Hermione gasp. “No. No, it can’t be…”
“A deed?” said Ron perplexedly. “I don’t get it.”
Suddenly, Hermione fell into a fit of sobs, ran to Harry, and threw her arms tightly around him. Harry returned her embrace, and filled with a sudden devastating sadness, he whispered, “You know… don’t you, Hermione?”
“Oh, Harry…” she choked through her tears, “it just can’t be! There must be another way!”
Ron looked utterly distressed. “What’s going on? What are you talking about?”
Hermione retracted from Harry and turned her tear-streaked face to Ron. “Don’t you see,” she wept. “The only deed that can undo what was made through an act of murder is an act… an act of…“
Ginny finished for her. “Sacrifice.” The monotone of Ginny’s voice sent a dark current through Harry’s body and their eyes locked.
“Sacrifice?” gasped Ron. He looked at Harry as though someone had just pulled the ground out from under him. “You mean you’re going to give yourself up? It’s ludicrous! You- you can’t! Snape must be wrong!”
“How can you possibly defeat Voldemort if you’re dead?!”
“I don’t know,” Harry answered, “but if the Horcrux remains alive in me, he’ll never be defeated, and that’s a certainty.”
Ron’s face was bright red and betrayed a fierce desperation that stung at Harry’s heart. Once covetous of his best friend’s fame and recognition, Ron seemed to finally understand the true price of Harry’s celebrity.
“What about the prophecy?” he demanded.
Harry resisted the sudden compulsion to laugh. “You know I don’t believe in divination, Ron. Dumbledore didn’t set much store by prophecies anyway.” His voice faded as he looked to the darkened skies over the rows of train tracks that stretched out into the city and disappeared into the urban wilderness. Drawing in a slow breath, he took a step toward Ron and laid a hand on his shoulder.
“This is what I think. I think it’s easy to believe that the cosmos is against you, especially if you’ve lived a life like mine. But if there is such a thing as destiny, Ron, I think it can only take you so far. Maybe it is fate that brought me to this threshold… but it’s my choice to cross it. Prophecy or no prophecy, it’s up to me to decide how this story ends. I know what I have to do now.”
Ron shook his head and sniffed, averting his eyes from Harry’s gaze. Just then, Harry felt something sharp and painful rise in his throat as he watched Ginny out of the corner of his eye.
"Snape said my survival was improbable, but not impossible," Harry offered, not quite convinced himself. "There may still be a chance for me..."
Tears streaming from her eyes, Hermione argued, “What if it doesn’t work? What if you die and Voldemort survives?”
Harry sighed resignedly. “Then he’ll be mortal.”
“You don’t mean-“
“Yes, Hermione. If I don’t make it, you’ll need to do all you can to finish him. Take this,” he said, soberly handing her his invisibility cloak. “You and Ron will hide underneath it. Before I… before it happens… I’ll weaken him as best I can. After that, if things don’t quite work out for me, you’ll have to-“
“No,” cried Ron, “we can’t fight him without you!”
“You have to!” Harry exclaimed with sudden fervor. “You’ve got each other, don’t you? That’s something Voldemort will never have! Strength in numbers! Wasn’t that what you were really trying to tell me before I left Gryffindor Tower earlier?
Harry paused and drew a deep breath. “I’m not scared,” he continued, smiling bittersweetly to himself. “I think somehow I always knew it would turn out this way. And anyway…” He turned away from them. “Some things are worth dying for.”
Harry's eyes sought Ginny's face, but found that she had suddenly disappeared. Seeing her shadow shrink behind a corner, Harry quickly caught up with her behind the ticket counter and was startled to find her facing away from him, supporting herself with one hand against the wall and holding the other tightly against her heart as if to spare it from bursting. She was crying in a way Harry had not seen anyone do before, as though her violent sobs were being drawn out of her by some merciless outside force.
"Ginny..." he whispered, reaching out a hand to her. She shrank from his touch.
"It's not fair," she wept into her sleeve. "It was hard enough getting through a year apart.... How can I possibly... if you…." Her voice stopped and another teardrop rolled off her cheek. "I just can't..."
Seized by his emotions, Harry did what he was certain he could never bring himself to do until Voldemort was dead. He took Ginny by the shoulders and turned her around, suddenly feeling the strongest he’d felt since Snape had told him the miserable truth about his scar.
"Not twelve months ago, at Bill and Fleur's wedding, you asked me a question," Harry said in a low voice, "and though I knew the answer then, I could not give it."
Ginny's eyes lifted and she stared at him wonderingly. He gently smoothed her paint-matted hair away from her face.
"Ask me again, Ginny."
She shook her head silently, tears free-flowing down her cheeks. “You don’t need to do this-“
"Yes, I do! Ask me now. Before anything else happens and we never get the chance again," he pleaded, drawing her close to him. "I promise you a different answer..."
Ginny closed her eyes, as though bracing herself for some world-shattering impact. Lips quivering, she spoke softly, "Do you love me, Harry?"
"Look at me." He lifted her chin that she might look into his eyes.
“I should never have waited so long to say this to you. Ginny, I….”
“I….” His voice clipped in his throat.
“Harry… are you all right?”
He had suddenly lost the means to answer her. At that moment, as though a knife were being driven through his skull, a searing pain worse than any he had felt before sliced through his forehead, and Harry sank against the wall, clutching at his head. He thought his scar would burst open from the sheer pressure of it.
Ron and Hermione flew to his side. “Harry! What is it?” Hermione cried.
“Voldemort… Voldemort’s returned!” hissed Harry in agony. “We need to find the DA! They have to get out of here! Come on!” Forcing himself into focus, he pushed himself off the wall, snatched Ginny’s hand and began running towards Platform 9 ¾. Malfoy stayed behind, and Harry did not object. He knew that Malfoy meant to guard the bodies.
When they arrived on the main platform at last, the battle was over. Only the DA remained, tending the wounded – aurors and students alike – guarding the prisoners, and nervously awaiting Harry’s return. As Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny raced towards them, Neville stepped forward, staring at them in alarm.
“THE PORTKEY!” Harry bellowed, legs feeling like lead as he ran. “GET TO THE PORTKEY!”
The pain in his head increasing, Harry stumbled and Ron quickly caught him and hoisted him back onto his feet.
“Harry, what’s happening?” cried Fred.
“Voldemort’s coming back!” shouted Ron. “Everyone onto the train, NOW!”
To Harry’s horror, no one moved. They were watching him, petrified, having not ever witnessed Harry in this condition, utterly incapacitated and broken beneath the pain in his scar. Harry let out a loud grunt as he pushed himself onto his feet and tried to mock some semblance of composure.
“Listen to me,” he gasped through gritted teeth, “Get onto that train before I Imperius you to the Portkey myself!”
Just then, an icy cheerless cold began to circulate within the station accompanied by a biting wind that swept in from the end of the platform where the tracks extended out into London. Harry’s eyes met with Hermione’s and their eyes simultaneously went wide as their breath rose in clouds of steam from their mouths.
“Dementors,” she whispered.
Everyone’s eyes rose to the ceiling, which since Harry had last seen it had garnered a gaping hole roughly the size of a small truck from when Greyback blasted a spell through the glass. Terror swept over him as something above eclipsed the last diminishing rays of moonlight and brought wintry darkness upon the platform. The Dementors were descending.
“We’re staying, Harry,” came Neville’s voice.
Spinning around, Harry cast a supplicating gaze back to the DA. “No…” he murmured in anguish. “Voldemort.... He brought them to finish you! This is my battle now!”
At once, Ginny took Harry by the shoulders and forced him to look at her. “You said it yourself. Some things are worth dying for,” she said, staring fiercely into his eyes.
"Not if it means you dying."
She smiled sadly at him and placed a hand against his cheek. "Strength in numbers, remember?"
Looking little like the young girl he had saved from the Chamber of Secrets, Ginny proceeded to throw her arms around him, holding him to her tightly, and for one blessed moment, Harry’s pain seemed to subside as he let himself feel her against him for what he hoped wouldn’t be the last time.
“You’re not alone, Harry,” she breathed against his neck. “You’re not alone…”
The Dementors began to float into the station, bringing with them the empty despair that now defined Harry’s existence. Instantly, they descended upon them to feed and the DA threw their wands up and readied themselves to cast their Patronus Charms in one final attempt to defend their futures. But before the Dementors were even in range, cold, cruel laughter reverberated throughout the station. It seemed to spring from every brick in the firmament, echoing like thunder amidst the freezing wind that whipped at their faces.
A deadly resolve coursing through every vein in his body, Harry smothered his pain in exchange for clarity and made his way towards the center of the concourse. The Dementors hovered overhead, waiting, as a familiar set of glowing blood-red eyes flickered in the shadows.
“Patience, my pets. You shall have yours, but first… I shall have mine.”
Voldemort had returned at last. And Harry was ready for him.