Madness and Mayhem - Part IV
Chapter 33 - EM-E - Madness and Mayhem - Part IV
The students arrived back at school via the train on Sunday evening, in time for yet another returning feast. Their welcoming speech from their Headmaster was subdued but powerful. Dumbledore spoke extensively about fellowship and the common goal of reclaiming Wizarding Society. And in spite of his dire warnings to all students and teachers to be on the highest state of alert for anything out of the ordinary, their Headmaster still managed to suggest that they would each be stronger for being collectively part of a wholly unified student body. He followed this with a jovial announcement that quidditch would resume with a scrimmage match on that upcoming Saturday. Student heads turned to regard each other with oddly conflicted expressions.
"So, they found no sign of him?" Hermione asked quietly about Wormtail as she, Harry, and Ron tucked into their dinners, and only just managed to make herself heard over the loud murmuring from the students around them.
"Nope," Harry told her and Ron, "not that I got to participate, but Severus has been good about telling me everything." He wasn't used to referring to Severus out loud as his dad yet, and felt weird for not having done so just now. He shook his head at himself. "I'm still pretty worried about what will happen when 'ol Peter does reappear."
"As in, how will we bloody stop him?" Ron asked around a giant bite of roast beef.
"Yeah," Harry said. "Now that I can't speak parseltongue anymore, I can't make the diadem come off, if he's wearing it. He'll be unstoppable."
"What did you say to make it release from him the other night, or from that girl, Thora, on the first timeline?" Hermione whispered.
"I just said, 'open,'" Harry told her. "But I've never been able to hear myself speak in parseltongue, so I have no idea-"
"Sssyysthyyhhhethhhsshtheth," Ron said. When Harry and Hermione gaped at him with comically shocked expressions, he grinned. "That's what you said to the tap in Moaning Myrtle's bathroom."
"You've got to teach me that!" Harry said excitedly. "Only you could have remembered that after all this time, Ron!"
Severus watched Harry carefully over the week that followed. He sensed that the boy was off-kilter, but could not gauge the degree to which Harry's behavior could be considered abnormal for his circumstances. And, Harry was hardly acting in a manner that would cause many others concern. But Severus could see the inner struggle, and simply wondered if it paralleled his own emotional tussle. For Severus, the new reality of their legalized family bond was slowly permeating his conscious thoughts to the point that he found himself tempted to smile far more often than ever before. If this occurred in front of an audience, he would simply recall Arthur Weasley's declaration over lunch some weeks back, about the thrill of fear like none other that arose when ones child was in peril. That usually squelched the smile right back down.
Severus was due to feel that thrill again. The question, as always, was when?
"Are you even going to root for me?" Harry asked Severus over breakfast on Saturday morning. "I know it's only a scrimmage, but the first set is Gryffindor versus Slytherin."
"Uhmm hmmm," Severus hummed obtusely between sips of his hot coffee. He deliberately kept his expression blank as he studied Harry, and knew that in spite of Harry's outwardly nonchalant inquiry, that his son had a world of unfulfilled need in the realm of parental pride at his abilities.
Harry finally gave up, rolling his eyes and shaking his head as he returned his attention to his food. He knew his father was toying with him, so that must mean the infuriating older wizard would be watching him play. It's not like he's never watched me in the past, just that in the past, he probably didn't particularly mind if I fell off my broom or took a blow from a bludger.
Severus finally relented. "I have to show loyalty to my House, Harry," he chided. "Therefore, I will not partake in any chants that will no doubt take place in the stands. You will not hear, 'Go, Potter, Go! ' from me."
"Fine," Harry said in mock exasperation, but he was grinning down at his plate and struggling not to laugh at the exaggerated enunciation that used to make his skin crawl, but now rarely failed to crack him up.
"I'm looking forward to watching you play, son."
"Alright, Ron? No pre-game jitters?" Ginny asked her brother as they tramped down to the pitch after a pep meeting in the locker room.
"None," Ron told her with pure confidence. "I've got a whole new perspective on life, and also on what the word scary means." He glanced over his shoulder to make sure Harry was out of earshot. "You don't mind switching over to chaser, do you? It'd have been pretty harsh on Harry if he couldn't play today."
"Harry's the better seeker, Ron," Ginny said matter-of-factly. "I like playing chaser, anyway. Besides, Harry never should have been banned from playing in the first place. He's our seeker."
Harry sat hovering on his firebolt, watching the stands fill with student spectators. He could see Hermione easily, because she was seated beside Luna, who was wearing her giant lion-head headpiece. Neville was beside her, along with the rest of Harry's fifth year classmates. Most of the professors were out and seated among the students as well. McGonagall was seated in the row behind Harry's friends, next to Flitwick and Sprout. Severus and Lucius sat on the other side of the stadium, with a group of younger Slytherins, and seemed to be engaged in some sort of snippy commentary with each other. Wish I could hear that, Harry thought with amusement. Remus was seated with a group of seventh years from all of the houses. The four aurors were down on the field, one at each corner, each standing with a broom at his or her side, and keeping sharp watch, just in case. He could swear Tonks was alternating between watching the scene, and watching Remus. Madam Hooch was on the ground, checking the time. They had about five minutes until the game was to begin. Up in the broadcast booth, Lee Jordan stood with Dumbledore. Everyone was bundled up against the cold, but the circle of rosy cheeked faces turned towards Harry and the other players was a sight that always gave him a sense of pride…
...and debilitating jitters.
Pretty soon, this will be the worst kind of anxiety that I'll have to deal with, he promised himself.
"Ladies and gentlemen," Dumbledore addressed the crowd. "Welcome to the second half of the Hogwart's quidditch season. As you know, this is a scrimmage series. The teams will play in a manner of elimination. As Gryffindor and Slytherin lead the school in house points, they are first to play. The game will conclude when one team acquires one hundred fifty points. That winning team will challenge Hufflepuff. Ravenclaw will be the final contender. I wish each team the best of luck!"
"And here we go," Lee Jordon belted out over the magically enhanced loudspeaker, the crowd joining as the count went down, "ten…nine…eight…seven…six…five…four…three…two…one - BEGIN!"
A ROAR of the crowd amplified the adrenaline rushing through the players as each of them swept out into the open air of the pitch.
The game was going on in a frenzy beneath Harry, who'd taken to the sky after his first sighting of the snitch, but he'd lost track of it. He alternated between scanning the scene for the tiny, golden winged ball and watching his team swarm all around the Slytherins. Ron got in some great saves, but Slytherin's keeper was holding his own. Harry glanced up to check for the snitch again. Draco hovered nearby, also watching the goings on beneath them.
"We're neck and neck, Potter," he said. "Twenty points each."
"Yeah," Harry said in a flippant tone. "And we might just get to play the entire game without some sort of mayhem."
Draco snorted and started to chuckle ironically. But he grew silent very quickly when he noticed the odd ensemble of Fabian Smythe and Lawrence Langstrom, two of his sixth year housemates, and fifth year Hufflepuff Zacharias Smith strolling along the grounds, appearing to be headed directly to the center of the grass field below them. "You spoke too soon, Potter."
"Dammit!" Severus spat angrily, unconcerned that his lower year students had heard his explicative. "It's happening," he groused viciously as he rose to his feet.
Lucius was up as well. "Are they Imperioed, I wonder?" he asked, his eyes on the three invading teens.
"Those three are the ones who attempted to break into my stores a few weeks back. They're likely not who they appear to be," Severus said over his shoulder as he made his way to the emergency stairwell that lay within the tarp-covered pillars supporting the stands. He felt his best friend's hand on his shoulder.
"Severus, they have deliberate intentions," Lucius pointed out grimly. "They've literally captured their moment, in an arena that will provide a spectacular view for what is to come."
Severus flashed a look around the stadium, spotting Lupin. "The Wolf will be a target, as will you and I. And Harry." His coin alerted him to frantic messages overlapping among the coinholders.
The first was from Lupin …We need brooms
Then Granger …I'm betting they used Polyjuice Potion
Weasley …Langstrom and Smythe are in the stands!… which ones are the real impostors?
Then Dumbledore …Minerva, instruct the other professors to shield the students…keep them in the middle level of the stadium
Harry …I'm feeling terribly heavy. Bloody Voldemort Special! …Dad, one of them must have the diadem-
Draco …Father, I'll bring you my broom!
Severus (to Harry) …Shield yourself! I'll be right there!
Below them on the grass, the four aurors had recognized the unlikelihood of innocence behind the casual stride of the three students, who had come to a stop in the middle of the game field, and now stared collectively upward at the slowly descending and struggling form of Harry Potter on his broom.
"Accio firebolt!" Remus seethed in lethal fury, his rage enhancing his spell exponentially. He had visions of shattering specimen jars all over his office while his broom sought a violent exit to come find him. Damn Peter! Damn him!
A message from Severus made his coin vibrate.
…I will use lethal force on your former rat-friend, Wolf…. If you want him for yourself, well… may the most adept of us get at him first
Remus couldn't stop the feral grin that formed on his face as he spotted Severus and Lucius launching into flight from across the stadium. He shucked his cumbersome robes, tossing them aside. "Use full-bodied contego's! Watch out for the younger years!" he yelled over his shoulder at his NEWT students as he easily catapulted his jeans-and-jumper-clad form onto his speeding firebolt. "Do not attempt to engage with the wizards down there. Their magic is far beyond the scope of normal!"
He risked a spare second to glance around to locate Dora, and found her to already be on a broom, circling high above the perimeter to surveil for additional threat, while casting patroni to summon additional help.
Harry battled the heaviness pressing him down. It felt like someone the size of Hagrid had fallen on top of him in a dead weight, forcing his broom to lose height in spurts of deceleration that were quite unnerving. At least my bloody scar doesn't hurt! he thought frantically. His wild magic was humming, or rather, thrumming under his skin in his agitated state, but that only added to his frustration, because he'd yet to recover its use. Above, he heard Ron and Draco yelling at their teammates to head for the stands. Then he heard Ron call frantically at Ginny that she was going the wrong way. Harry could peripherally see the movement of the other flyers, their numbers decreasing from nearly a dozen other players to three adult wizards. Wait, no, only two adults were on brooms. Severus was flying on his own, and he was zooming towards Harry. One smaller flyer was still out there, but Harry couldn't turn his head enough to see who it was.
Harry was about fifty feet above the impostors at this point, and in what would now be the longest moment he could ever remember experiencing, he peripherally witnessed in simultaneous occurence:
…Remus and Lucius pointing the handles of their brooms at the field and bolting downward, only to be forced to rear back and shield frantically against the strike of a massive pulse of magic that was so strong, it wrapped around their full-body shields and swept past them to the stands.
…Severus being swept into the same stream and being taken way off course, only just managing to pull away in time to miss a collision with a huge steal beam that supported the structure of the stadium.
…Ron's voice, coupled with several other younger voices screaming, "GINNY!" and a small figure appearing to tumble diagonally through the sky toward the Polyjuiced impostors on the ground.
…Dumbledore's booming voice projecting outward from the stands, "ARRESTO MOMENTUM!" and the impact of the elder wizard's enormous magic only having just enough power to stop the youngest Weasley from splatting onto the field.
…Every one of the spectators in the stands was a sitting duck as the pulse of magic swept toward them with what looked like the power of an atomic bomb.
All of this registered simultaneously, and Harry had to drop his head against the heaviness again, but he heard Dumbledore's enraged and no doubt terribly powerful, "CONTEGO!" and sensed that the shield had blocked a great deal of the blast, but the stands still shook from its impact and people tumbled about like small dolls. Their screams of fear and pain were the catalyst that Harry needed to overcome his desire to succumb to catatonia.
He watched his newly adopted father struggling in another flurry of magic, as if the older wizard was stuck in the spin cycle of a muggle washing machine, and couldn't help but briefly entertain the paralyzing fear that he could lose Severus today. But then Severus escaped, and was flying toward him again.
"HARRY!" His father's guttural call permeated his senses. Harry could hear the panic in Severus' voice. Panic for Harry.
"I'm alright!" he yelled back. I'm just fine. I have to be. And now he was angry at himself for succumbing to his fear, and he let his temper burst through at the thought of that bastard Voldemort still being capable of causing this kind of destruction. And bloody Peter Pettigrew was channeling all of this. He looked back down at Zacharias Smith and watched his classmate's face laugh Wormtail's slimy laugh. That was when Harry realized that the other two sixth years had moved to flank Pettigrew/Smith, and linked their arms through his. The diadem was circling Pettigrew/Smith's arm, so those three wizards were combining a trifecta of Voldemort's power in their attack. He squeezed his eyes shut for just a moment and imagined a message he hoped with all of his might would transmit through the coin.
Severus nearly cried when he checked his coin to find Harry's message, a wandless one at that:
…Wormtail is disguised as Zacharias Smith… He's wearing the diadem again... the three of them are linked
Clearly Harry had tapped back into his wild magic.
But the relief was short lived when he registered the fleeting black streaks of newly arriving Death Eaters in flight. After Severus and Bellatrix, not many of the former Dark Lord's minions could fly, so that meant that these new arrivals must be Selwyn, Crabbe Sr. and Goyle Sr.
Severus next heard John Dawlish bellow out in terror, "MABEL!" and realized the auror's daughter was being held captive in the arms of none other than his former student, Kevin Sawyer, who had clearly been broken out of Azkaban, after being sentenced for the attack against Harry that had resulted in the death of Paloma Tso. Sawyer was on a school broom and his grasp on the Dawlish girl was precarious at best. Her father made an attempt to dart after Sawyer, but was hit with a terrible blast from one of the impostors on the ground, and it was clear by the way the auror plummeted to the field below that he was badly injured. Tonks managed to cushion his landing and rushed down to his aid.
Lucius found breathing to be quite difficult when doing so in a state of horrible dread.
This could very easily end in his own death, if not the loss of his beloved son, or dear friends. He could see Draco in the stands with his peers and the boy seemed alert and prepared to defend himself. Longbottom and Granger were nearby, and the three of them were taking a lead in directing other DA members to spread out and help where they could.
It's not enough, he thought grimly.
He scanned around and spotted Severus struggling to dart past the repeated magical blasts of energy that they all were barely able to shield against. Albus continued to be forced to defend the stands. Remus was showing signs of injury, having been knocked into a pillar a few short moments prior. When Lucius saw that Harry, and now young Ginevra Weasley were being directly targeted, he set his grim intentions to include addressing their safety.
The heaviness grew far stronger now, but instead of fighting it, Harry accelerated into it, and zoomed downward toward the evil teens and Wormtail. Harry was moving so quickly that blinking his eyes nearly took too much time, for he opened them again to see an impending impact with his classmate's doppelganger. I should plow right into his forehead, Harry thought, it's not Zacharias, but in the last fleeting second he pointed the handle of his broom at "Smith's" shoulder, fully intending to ram into the wizard who had betrayed his parents, and Sirius, at 50 kilometers per hour.
Zacharias/Wormtail grinned scornfully at Harry, sweeping Harry's old wand in an upward arc and casting a burst of explosive magic outward and away from himself, creating a wave of burning hot, crackling energy. Harry reflexively imagined his shield and he cast a contego, managing to protect himself from the heat, but not from the gust of forceful wind that sent him tumbling through the air, off and beyond the boundaries of the pitch, and back towards the path to the castle. He could hear people yelling his name as he realized he was going to slam bodily into the rocky terrain, and through the dizzying swirl of awareness, only just leapt from the broom at the last possible instant. His trusty firebolt recovered its balance and tilted upward in time to avoid a collision. Sirius was very much on his mind as he yelled, "Accio firebolt!" and watched it turn in a graceful, yet precise arc and head directly back his way. Harry jumped back on and set his sights on returning to the melée in progress.
But out of the corner of his vision, he saw… oh, Merlin no.
Bugger! She was barreling toward Harry from the direction of the gates. Wormtail's opened the grounds up again!
Harry flashed a look around and realized there were quite a few more intruders, many of them flying with far less stealth and grace than Severus, but they were their own brand of menace, nonetheless. Harry was on his own. Severus and the others were still struggling to break past the onslaught of magical force that continued to erupt from the combined power of the first band of assailants, and if Nagini gets to them, we're cooked!
Severus shook himself after a particularly nasty blast had shot him through the air yet again. He quickly got his bearings and noted several things at once: Order members had surfaced and were swarming among the teachers and students in the stands, Lucius was zipping towards him, and Nagini was moving rapidly toward the scene from the upper school grounds. And so was Harry. Even from this distance, Severus could read Harry's intentions, and the already fiercely paternal determination to end this for his son, and for them all, multiplied a thousandfold.
Clearly Lucius was of the same mind, because the blond wizard aligned his flight beside Severus' zooming form, reaching out a strong hand to clasp tightly onto Severus' shoulder. With one mighty mid-flight sweep of his wand, Severus managed to suck the pulse of furious energy from yet another Voldemort-powered deathly curse into his Pundulor omnes shield, as if it were a vacuum. He felt the powerful burst of Lucius' magic combining with his own as he cast a massive rupture back at the trio on the ground in the form of a hefty bombarda. The result was quite satisfying, catching the three by surprise and forcing them to briefly separate just long enough to disrupt their linked magic.
A virtual blur of activity followed, barely discernible to all who witnessed from the stands, and each participant in the action would later be hard pressed to relay anything more than his or her own individual contributions.
Harry zoomed back towards Wormtail and his cohorts, unable to concern himself with Nagini, or the newly arrived Death Eaters, or the fact that Ginny was lying on the grass by herself fifteen yards away from Wormtail, because all he knew was that he had to try to get the bloody diadem away from Wormtail. All would be lost if he didn't. And nothing would change to their advantage in the battle until he did. He hoped to Merlin he could say the command to open in parseltongue.
He heard a familiar scream - a young voice, from a terrified second year. Mabel! Oh, no. History had a strange way of repeating itself.
But he couldn't stop. He had to try this.
Just as Severus and Lucius hit the trio with their combined bombarda, and Wormtail-as-Zarcharias was knocked to the side, Harry was within striking distance to Wormtail…
…but no spells came to mind!
His eyes were on the diadem, which was clasped around Wormtail's arm.
"Sssyysthyyhhhethhhsshtheth," Harry struggled terribly with the phrase and knew he was garbling it.
Wormtail laughed and threw up a magical field around them both so that Severus and Lucius couldn't interfere. Or so he thought. Harry laughed right back when Lucius swept the field away with the contact of an easy contego. But something in the lethal glare Wormtail directed back at Harry turned his stomach, and the feeling only intensified as the effects of the Polyjuice potion began to recede. Zacharias disappeared, and now it was a visibly one-handed Wormtail who flicked his wand- Harry's old wand- and cast a silent spell.
The heaviness set in again.
In a panic now, Harry suddenly realized he was using his wild magic, because as Severus and Lucius were struggling not to collapse in his peripheral view, Harry was still at a point where he could use his wand. His scrambling mind raced to think of something clever to do next.
"Sssyysthyyhhhethhhsshtheth," he tried again.
"Poor, pathetic little Harry," Wormtail taunted with his creepy vermin grin. "Even with a new daddy you can't get the upper-"
Harry cast an Armis dicessum at the rodent bastard, his left hand waving over his head, annoying whistle tweeting through his lips, and his new wand rotating in his fingers and magically snatching his old wand from the nasty little rat's hand. Harry caught his old wand and snapped it in half. The satisfaction he felt at the way Wormtail's eyes bugged out nearly compensated for the vicious slashing hex that emitted from Wormtail's open palm a split second later, and got past Harry's hastily raised shield of wild magic. The shallow slice caught him from his right shoulder down to his left hip. It stung and bled instantly, but Harry didn't care. He opened his mouth to try to speak like a snake again.
The entire arena grew silent at the shocking, and incomprehensible sound of the Ronald Weasley's impersonation of Harry speaking in snake language as it BLARED at a deafening volume through the loudspeakers. Harry darted his eyes up to the announcer's podium to where his best friend had managed to reach the enchanted microphone, in spite of the constant bursts of magic that were banging people around and causing a riotous bout of yelling and screaming from the trapped students.
"SSSYYSTHYYHHHETHHHSSHTHETH!" Ron yelled again.
The diadem popped off of Wormtail's arm.
Nagini slithered directly toward it.
Dumbledore popped into the space opposite Wormtail, Gryffindor's sword in hand.
Harry whipped his head back to look at the very shocked and now very vulnerably wandless Wormtail, just as it registered that the disguises had also disappeared from the other two teens to reveal Rodolphus and Rabastan Lestrange. There was no question they were out for blood to avenge Bellatrix, and neither seemed to feel a need to worry about the giant snake in their midst as they attacked Severus and Lucius. Harry's instincts told him that Severus would grab him to protect him in the next instant, and he desperately tried to calm his mind to make room for another idea.
The diadem lay unattended on the grass.
Peter Pettigrew was taking steps toward it.
Dumbledore was raising the sword.
Time was not standing still. Nagini reared back, preparing to strike the Headmaster.
Harry imagined her mouthless. And she suddenly was! But Peter was a step away from the diadem horcrux.
Harry was a bit unnerved by the enormity of the bear-like form that he expelled from his wand, but it had exactly the impact on Wormtail that he'd intended.
The high pitched, girlish shriek of terror that wrenched itself out of Wormtail's throat, accompanied by a rapid transformation into his rat form, distracted everyone for a brief moment, even the snake, enough so that they all seemed to dumbly watch the large rodent scamper bouncily away in the direction of the upper grounds.
It was just about then that Harry realized he'd not kept track of Remus.
Severus absolutely could not believe what Harry had just managed to do. Merlin, how he loved that boy.
He slashed his wand to capture Rabastan's eviscerating hex, and swept it at Rodolphus, just as Lucius cast a simple Non musculi that rendered Bellatrix's husband defenseless against his brother's deflected hex. That was the end of Rodolphus.
Harry's bear turned on Rabastan just as Nagini punched her mouthless face into the circular form of the diadem.
Remus' state of mind was locked into the fury of focused, deep seated vengeance. The blasts of magic had ceased, leaving him free to race his broom right into the storm of frantic fighting, to seek out Peter and finish him.
The Order members and newly arrived MLE aurors had captured and contained nearly all of the assailants in the air and around the stands. And yet, Mabel Dawlish was still being held captive by Sawyer. She had somehow been the one victim that had been overlooked. Draco narrowed his eyes at his despicable former housemate, who was circling very close by with poor Mabel, in an apparent state of uncertainty of how to proceed, now that all of his Death Eater mates were out of commission. Draco caught Blaise's eye, and got an affirmative nod. "Goyle! Warrington!" he rasped at his teammates, both of whom were hiding behind the backs of seats in the next row over. "Hand over your brooms, will you?"
Draco next caught Granger's eye. "I could use a little help, if you will?"
As Draco and Blaise jumped onto the brooms and set off to zip around and corner Sawyer, Hermione pointed her wand at the escaped prisoner and yelled, "Cruciomort!"
Sawyer lost complete control of himself as he screamed and writhed in imagined agony. Mabel tumbled from his grip, but Draco was there and caught her before she'd dropped more than a couple of feet. Blaise did Sawyer the undeserved courtesy of guiding the flailing and screaming former student down to the grass where Kingsley Shacklebolt stood laughing heartily and ready to re-incarcerate him.
"Dad?" Harry called as Rabastan Lestrange fell from the long distance hex to his back, compliments of Tonks.
When Severus spun to face him, the boy pointed to Lupin, who was closing in on the escaping rat in an impressively rapid dive. In the periphery of that view, Severus watched Dumbledore change the angle of the sweeping strike of his sword into an upward motion, and just beyond that, he could see Lucius launching himself toward the youngest Weasley. Reality clicked in Severus' mind and he spun on his heel to grab Harry around the chest, while propelling them both into the air, and racing straight upward as fast as he could.
Beneath the two of them, Albus struck the snake, lopping off her head in a circular strike which ended nearly three hundred and sixty degrees around from its beginning, by stabbing the dislodged diadem at its conclusion.
"RRROOOAAAAHHHHHRRRR!" Voldemort's final roar of rage reverberated so powerfully outward, it reached the stands in the form of the sandy black smoke, and swarmed the inhabitants with aggressive, foul air.
"Blimey!" Harry could hear Ron's yell from far below them.
"BUGGER!" Harry yelled in exasperation, gripping his arms over his father's, which were circling him from behind, and were currently the only thing keeping him from plummeting to his death a hundred yards below. "Is it finally fucking over?"
"It might just be finally fucking over," Severus replied in a stunned tone. "Let us check on the wolf first." It was then that he realized he had Harry's blood on his sleeves. "How badly are you hurt?"
"It can wait," Harry said. "Remus first."
Severus landed and set Harry down a short distance from Remus, who was kneeling and sitting back on his heels near a prone, and very still Petter Pettigrew. Remus didn't kill him, Harry realized in surprise.
Harry took a few careful steps toward the last Marauder, a lump in his throat because he could tell that Remus had lost it in the aftermath of Wormtail's capture. He dropped to his knees so he could see the wan older wizard's face, and was greeted with reddened eyes and an anguished expression. "It takes an incredibly horrible person to be capable of that kind of betrayal," Harry said softly.
Remus looked away while he nodded in silent agreement, taking a long stretch of time to finally collect himself enough to look back over at Harry. "He took so much away from us, Harry," he said brokenly. "And I am feeling every bit of it at this moment."
Ron raced on his broom down to Ginny, who was still laying on the ground and being fussed over by Lucius Malfoy. He wasn't sure what to expect from that, but she seemed alright with whatever Malfoy Sr. was saying to her as he cast diagnostic charms over her. When Ron landed beside the two of them, he realized his sister was bleeding from some sort of injury.
"What-" he started, confused because he'd not seen Ginny take any curses. He could have sworn he'd watched Malfoy Sr. cast an enormous dome-like shield over them when Dumbledore had killed the last horcruxes.
"It's from the game," Ginny told him as she fingered the tear in the upper arm of her quidditch jumper. "Warrington is a ponce in most cases but he deflected a bludger right at me. Got me good."
Severus gave Remus a hand up and clapped him on the shoulder, holding his grip for a long moment before squeezing twice and releasing. He truly empathized with the depth of the other wizard's grief.
"I swear, Remus," Tonks said from behind Severus, "he'll be in an escape-proof cell for the rest of his life. We've got them all rounded up again. It's over." She'd made her way over to them, and was waiting to see how Remus would receive her.
Severus stepped away, not at all surprised to see the two of them embrace. He reached his arm out for Harry and hugged the boy into his side as they made their way back to check on the others.
The next hour was consumed with assessing injuries and directing St. Mungo healers to the worst scenarios, and from there, organizing transport up to the infirmary. None of the students had sustained bad enough injuries to be taken to the Wizarding hospital, but there were enough of them injured to require assistance in their care. Harry found himself separated from his dad for a little while, and was suddenly overwhelmed with an inability to decide what to do next. He backed away from the assembly of agitated wizards who were in the throes of processing the aftermath of what they'd just experienced.
"You're alright, lad," Lucius said from behind him, but he was turning Harry around and pulling him into an embrace. He gave Harry a warm squeeze and lay his cheek against Harry's temple, letting out a dramatic sigh before laughter overtook him. "Merlin, Harry, you have nearly managed to be my undoing. Casting Severus' bear was the quintessential act of true brilliance."
Harry had to give in to his humor, in spite of the rocky feeling of being out of balance that was creeping up on him. He hugged Lucius back and stepped away to smile crookedly up at the arrogant blond wizard. He held up his thumb and forefinger to show what he meant as he said, "I think I managed to mix in a little bit of wild magic."
"And then you used it to remove Nagini's mouth," Lucius said, his eyes creasing as he smiled broadly at Harry.
Harry had a sense of deja-vu, and his mood grew unsettled again. "I think everything is hitting me," he admitted.
Lucius nodded. "As it will likely do to each of us." He draped an arm around Harry and began to walk with him over to a small assembly of younger wizards that included many of Harry's friends, all of whom were inching themselves away from the scene and back up to the school. "I'll send Severus after you. You need to be healed, lad."
"I'm okay," Harry said and started to move away, but Lucius held onto him for another moment.
"Harry, I want you to know that I hold you very, very dear to my heart," Lucius said quietly, but with utter sincerity. "Severus was already considered family, and now by extension, but also by your own virtue, you are as well. If ever you were to have any need, I would go to great lengths for you. Please know that."
The sentiments nearly made Harry choke up. He nodded. "I feel the same way."
Lucius smirked, finally releasing him as he said, "Who would have thought, mere weeks ago, that we could have come through such atrocities with a bond as strong as family?"
The general consensus among students and teachers alike was that they all should take advantage of a warm shower, a dose or two of potions specific to their injuries or emotional distress levels, and if so desired, make their way down to the Great Hall for an informal dinner and opportunity to decompress among friends.
Severus had tended to Harry's slice wound as soon as they'd reached their quarters. When they'd had a decent stretch of quiet in the hex-free zone of their sitting area, Harry had been completely open to Severus about needing a chance to just be. "This is literally the first time I'm truly a normal kid with nothing more to worry about than school work," he'd told Severus after downing the potion he'd been given to heal his aches. "I've wished for it my whole life. And now I have it."
"I will go out of my way to let you have that, Harry," Severus had said before tilting his head back to swallow a second dose of pain reliever. He sank into his armchair and propped his feet up. "You may have the first shower, if you like. I'll ask for a plate of sandwiches to tide us over until we're ready to join the others upstairs."
Now it was half six, and Severus felt himself clenching, not only his teeth but his neck and shoulders, as he and Harry approached the Great Hall to have dinner with their friends. He knew he was about to generate a reaction at the sight of his attire, having been unable to bring himself to don robes, and having gone so far as to dig a pair of weathered jeans from his wardrobe to wear with a soft navy jumper over a white T-shirt. Even Harry had gawked at the outfit, but had quickly assured him he looked great. Severus wasn't entirely certain why he'd felt the desire to abandon every aspect of his usual clothing choices tonight, but imagined it had something to do with the sudden release from the heavy trap of Voldemort's terror-laden reign.
Severus stopped their progress just outside of the entrance. The hum of subdued conversation permeated into the corridor as he put his hands on Harry's shoulders and looked down at him. Harry was still very emotionally rattled, and he likely would be for a long time to come. There was way too much to process. "It's not just today's events, is it?" he asked his son softly.
Harry gave him a tiny smile and shook his head. "But I'll be okay. I've got you."
That brought a warm, albeit brief smile out of Severus. He circled his arms around Harry's shoulders and pulled him close for a quick hard hug, planting a kiss on the boy's temple before releasing him. "Yes, you do. And I love you quite fiercely."
"I sense that," Harry said, managing a grin. "I love you too, Dad." The words came out gruffly, but Harry didn't care. He also didn't let his mind wander along the path to the what if's, such as what if he'd had to go through all of this without Severus?
The already hushed room grew instantly silent at their entrance, and it seemed that all eyes had glued themselves to the two of them. Severus was instantly unnerved, and covered by draping his arm around Harry's shoulders again, scanning the room's occupants suspiciously. What in the world is this about? Those who were present, students and staff alike, were watching father and son with an assortment of expressions. Severus sought out the adults he was most comfortable with, but Lucius had yet to appear, nor had the Wolf. Harry was not making any move to join his friends, which continued to concern him, but truth be told, Severus did not particularly want Harry to leave his sight.
"Oh, Severus, there you are," Minerva said, sweeping toward him with an expression that appeared to be a battle between a concerned frown and smug satisfaction. "I didn't want to bother you with a message on the coin. Poppy has run out of the Incom Reductant Elixir, and St. Mungo's has already sent as much over as they dare. It seems that every injury amongst us is from the impact of those blasts. There are still scores of students awaiting a dose."
"I will brew more," Severus assured her briskly, relieved at the opportunity to escape the strange vibe in the room. "It's a simple enough concoction…" he paused as he glanced around the room, seeking likely assistants, and spotting Draco, Knott, Zabini, and Greengrass sitting near many of Harry's fifth year classmates. He met Draco's inquiring look and jerked his head for his godson to come join him. He did the same with the other three Slytherins, all of whom jumped eagerly to their feet. He was a bit taken aback when the Gryffindors stood as well. "And Miss Granger," he added before she could sputter her distress at not being included, "but the rest of you… Finnegan, we're trying to save lives." That got a roar of laughter and induced a beet red blush on Seamus' face. Severus could hardly feel apologetic, the boy was a pyrotechnical hazard in the potions lab, but he indulged the smirk that tugged at the corner of his mouth and that, combined with Weasley and Longbottom clapping Finnegan on the shoulder and encouraging him to sit back down with them, seemed to assuage the young wizard's ego.
"I could help, sir," Dean Thomas offered.
"Indeed," Severus agreed, "And Miss Patil." To Minerva he said, "It's a thirty minute endeavor. We should have enough at the conclusion to treat the others and replenish the stores in the infirmary." He turned to lead the fifth years back down to the dungeons, telling Harry quietly as he turned the boy to come along as well, "I would quite rather that you stayed in my company."
"Yes, sir," Harry told him in a congenial enough tone.
Miss Granger came over to Harry's other side to walk with him, so Severus removed his arm. He nearly jumped out of his skin when Minerva said from beside him, "I hope you are prepared for the impending hero worship, Professor Snape."
Severus stopped in his tracks and stared at her. Minerva stopped too, as did the students, who had been following behind them. "I find that prospect… unfathomable," he told Minerva.
"Professor Snape?" Knott asked with an uncharacteristically giddy undertone, "I just wanted to tell you that you were brilliant out there today." He turned to his classmates, "Wasn't he?"
A loud rumble of enthusiastic praise bubbled out of the fifth years. Severus gave Minerva a withering look when she covered her mouth to smother a laugh of delight. Merlin, help me.
"How is Albus?" Severus asked Minerva when all present each had a cauldron bubbling over a steady flame. Even the Deputy Headmistress was brewing a batch. Severus of course had half a dozen cauldrons cooking away. Hermione and Draco each had two.
Minerva lowered the flame under her potion and cast a modified tempus to set a timer for twenty minutes. "He's broken his arm quite horribly, but I believe he's finding it to be a small cost for the end result," she replied.
"Harry?" Dean whispered.
"Yeah?" Harry asked back, grinning at his friend. "It's not class, you won't get points taken for talking."
"Will you still have the DA?" Dean asked, still whispering, and seeming quite earnest with his question. "I really missed not having it in the past two weeks."
"I suppose," Harry said, thinking. "I'd skipped it this past week because I'd figured 'ol Wormtail had been hanging out in the ROR while we were in there, and it was just too creepy to go back." He looked around. Everyone else had gotten to the stage where they could let their potions bubble unattended. "Maybe now we could modify it to be about specific spells, and dueling, to stay fit."
"Do you think your dad would teach us to fly?" Dean whispered.
"Not. A. Chance, Mr. Thomas," Severus said.
Harry gave Dean an apologetic shrug, keeping the back of his head turned to his dad as he mouthed bat hearing.
The school had quieted down, with most of the students having headed up to their dorms by half eight. Some of the professors had gathered at their table in the Great Hall for a loose discussion about regaining a normal momentum of classwork and school activity as soon as possible. The following day was Sunday, and that should be enough unstructured time for frazzled minds to settle down.
Albus had joined them as they were disbanding and thanked everyone for their fantastic response to the school's emergency.
"I dare say I feel confident that we can finally look forward to a normal term, moving forward," he told them. "I will be announcing a delay in OWLs. We'll push them back by two weeks, so they'll fall well after the Easter holiday, and in the final days of the term."
It was nearly nine o'clock when Severus and Lucius headed up to the Room of Requirement to look for Harry and Draco. "Remus never materialized," Lucius commented. Neither one of them added the fact that Nymphadora Tonks had not appeared, either. "He has become a good friend. An honorable friend."
"Agreed," Severus said quietly. "Like you and I, he will require a long emotional convalescence from this wretched ordeal."
Lucius sighed and came to a halt. Severus stopped and faced him. "I will miss working so closely with each of you," Lucius admitted. "This has been extraordinary."
Severus nodded his agreement and turned to ask the Room for access to Harry.
Harry looked up to see an odd expression on his dad's face as he came into the room while Dean played Here Comes the Sun on his guitar.
"Ah, Severus," Lucius said with rich enthusiasm. "He's playing your song."
And when Dean had stopped playing long enough for Lucius to hand an acoustic guitar to Severus, Harry ducked his head to grin to himself. History definitely had a strange way of repeating itself.
A/N: And alas, we are at the end. Only an Epilogue is left.