Chapter 30: Through the Looking Glass
Harry stood up and paced around the room. Getting Voldemort to come after him wouldn't be much of a problem, he was sure, and he knew that he would have no trouble entering his enemy's mind or fighting him there. But he hadn't had time to consider how the Death Eaters might complicate matters. How many were there? Would he see them in Voldemort's mind? Would he know when each died? What if he had to fight them? Dumbledore hadn't been very specific about what "drawing on their life force" would actually entail. If only they'd had more time…
"Here you are!" Ron said, interrupting Harry's thoughts as he, Ginny and Hermione came in.
Harry looked at them, surprised and delighted to see his friends. "What are you three doing here?"
"You didn't think we were going to stay at school after everything that's happened, did you?" Ginny said with mock indignity. "We went to talk to McGonagall as soon as Day left. We told her that we absolutely had to come and see you."
"We expected her to put up a fight about it," Ron said. "But she just stared at us for a minute and then said yes, that'd probably be for the best. She sent your and Snape's things with us, too. Your trunk's downstairs."
"Thanks. I'll probably need it. How's everything at Hogwarts?"
"Fine," Hermione said with a smug smile. "Day's going to think twice before trying to ransack the castle again."
"You should have seen it, Harry!" Ginny said, grinning. "The suits of armor were chasing Day's people through the halls. The carpets kept tripping them and the staircases were so agitated that they actually threw a couple of the Aurors over the banisters."
"Peeves was brilliant, too!" Ron added excitedly. "He snuck up behind Day and poured an entire vat of gravy on him." Ron grinned. "That's when Day finally decided to shove off."
Harry laughed, then grew serious once more. "How's Dumbledore?"
Hermione sighed. "We don't really know. Madam Pomfrey and Professor Flitwick won't let a soul near him and there's been no news."
Harry bit his lip and nodded.
"Harry, what's going on?" Hermione asked, growing serious as well. "Why did you lie to us about going to see Professor Snape this afternoon and where were you all evening? You scared us all half to death."
Harry stared at his friends who were watching him expectantly. So much had happened in the last few hours that he hardly knew where to begin. At the beginning, he supposed.
"Remember how I went to see Dumbledore about the spell Voldemort used to become immortal?"
"Of course," Ginny said. "But you told us that everything was all right. You said that you didn't have to die."
"I don't have to die, but that doesn't mean that everything's all right."
In a halting voice, Harry told his friends about his last conversation with Dumbledore and was grateful to see that all three were as shocked by the revelation as he had been.
"Does Professor Snape know?" Ginny asked.
Harry nodded. "Dumbledore told him this evening. Anyway, that's why I left. I just needed to get away for awhile."
"Harry, this isn't your fault. You know that," Hermione said. "And I'm sure that Professor Snape doesn't blame you."
"He doesn't, but that doesn't really help."
"Maybe there's another way," Ginny said.
Harry shook his head. "Even if there were, there's no time to find it. There's a good chance that Dumbledore's not going to survive and the Order are convinced that if he dies, Voldemort is going to move to take Hogwarts. We can't let that happen. I have to stop him."
Ginny, Ron and Hermione stared at Harry.
"Stop him?" Ron said. "You mean that you're planning to go after him?"
"When?" Ginny asked.
"Tonight, tomorrow, as soon as I can manage it."
"What?" Ron exclaimed. "Just like that?"
"Are you sure you're up to that, Harry?" Hermione asked, sounding nervous. "Holding your own against Voldemort is one thing, but if he's drawing on the life force of all of his Death Eaters too? That's something else."
"If I can't manage this now, I never will! The longer I wait, the more Death Eaters he's going to recruit. I'm never going to be better prepared and he's never going to be any weaker. Besides, I'm ready to get this over with."
"You'll manage it just fine, Harry," Ginny said, sounding remarkably confident. "And you won't be alone."
"That's right," Ron said determinedly. "We're going to be with you and we'll do whatever we can to help."
"Whatever it takes," Hermione agreed and Harry smiled, more grateful than ever for his friends.
"Harry?" Remus had appeared in the doorway, smiling tiredly. "Everyone's here. We need you downstairs."
There were far fewer people gathered in the dining room than Harry had expected. Snape was there, of course as were Moody and Tonks. But Kingsley Shacklebolt was the only other Auror present and the only other Order members at the table were Fred and George who were looking far more serious and mature than Harry would have thought possible.
"This is everyone?" Harry asked incredulously.
"The time it takes to come to a consensus tends to be inversely proportionate to the number of people attempting to arrive there," Snape said. "Since time is of the essence, the fewer individuals involved in this discussion, the better."
"Which means that your friends shouldn't be here, Potter," Moody said.
"Minerva sent them," Remus said. "She thought that Harry should have his friends with him."
"That's fine," Moody said. "But they're not members of the Order."
"Neither am I," Harry said.
"You're an exception, Potter."
"So are they," Harry said firmly. "I trust their opinions. If you want me here, then they stay too."
Harry and Moody glared at one another, but Snape spoke up at once.
"This is not a point worth arguing," he said impatiently. "Sit down then, all of you, and let's get to business."
Moody scowled as Harry and his friends quickly took their seats. Once everyone was settled, Snape began again.
"You all know why we're here. The time has come for Mr. Potter to face the Dark Lord and we need to devise a viable plan for him to do so, preferably one that can be executed within the next twenty-four hours."
There was dead silence in the room as everyone glanced at one another, then Remus cleared his throat and continued.
"We've been planning for this, in principle at least, for some time. Harry and Dumbledore have been working closely together all year and we're confident that they've devised a way for Harry to defeat Voldemort. For this to work, however, we need to lure Voldemort out into the open. Our best hope of doing so is to convince him that Harry has found a weapon that can vanquish him and is going after it. He'll then come after Harry."
"How are we going to do that in a day?" Tonks asked. "We can't very well send him an owl."
"By convincing his own spy," Snape said, giving Harry a meaningful look.
"Kreacher," Harry said. "Of course! He must still have Sirius's mirror. We can use the ones we have to stage a conversation for him to overhear. He'll tell Bellatrix Lestrange and she'll tell Voldemort."
"That's assuming they don't know that we know that Kreacher has Sirius's mirror," Ron said.
"They don't," Snape replied. "Bellatrix has been chafing at the lack of information from her spy for months. She will jump at the chance to pass anything on to her master."
"All right," Shacklebolt said. "That's the how. Where then? It has to be some place where the public won't be endangered."
"It has to be somewhere defensible, too," Moody said. "You-Know-Who isn't going to come alone. He'll have his Death Eaters with him and things are likely to get messy."
"The Department of Mysteries," Harry said. He spoke with such conviction that everyone looked at him in surprise. "It's away from the public and it's secure. Plus it's the only place that Voldemort will believe might hold a weapon that could defeat him."
Moody nodded thoughtfully. "Those are good points, Potter, but getting into the Department of Mysteries is going to be tricky. Day's Aurors are on watch at the Ministry around the clock and they take the job seriously."
"If they're going to be in the way, we can get rid of them," George said. "They have orders to arrest Harry and Professor Snape, plus I don't reckon they'd mind catching the rest of us doing something illegal. All we have to do is convince them that Harry here and a majority of the Order will be engaged in seditious activities far from the Ministry at the appropriate time. Day won't be able to resist coming after us."
"How would you be able to arrange that?" Remus asked.
Fred and George both grinned.
"As luck would have it, we happen to know Day's right hand man very well," Fred said.
"And Percy's as gullible as they come," George added. "We can convince him of anything and he'll pass it on to Day."
"He's been after us to develop some new surveillance equipment for Day's Aurors for a month," Fred continued. "We've been putting him off, but all we need to do is Floo him and say it's ready and we want him to come over for a demonstration.
"It would be a huge feather in his cap," George said. "He'll jump at the chance to come. Then we just have to let him overhear Fred and me discussing your top-secret meeting."
Fred shrugged. "Piece of cake."
Ron shook his head. "But when Day arrives at this supposed meeting, it won't take him long to realize that we aren't there and go back to the Ministry."
Fred shrugged. "Then we'll have to plan a warm welcome for him, won't we?"
"We can't spare enough members of the Order for that," Shacklebolt said. "It would take a dozen of us at least to create a big enough diversion to keep Day's people tied up that long."
"But we don't need members of the Order," Ginny said. "After what Day did at Hogwarts, I know at least a dozen students who'd like nothing better than to get back at him. We can keep him busy."
Harry nodded. "That'll work."
"It's certainly the best plan we're going to come up with on short notice," Remus agreed.
"We'll plan for tomorrow night, then. Midnight." Harry said. "Fred, George, can you be ready by then?"
"Yeah, no problem," George said without hesitation.
"I'll round up the DA, Walter and Jeremy, and anyone else I can think of. We'll be ready."
"I'll tell Professor McGonagall what you're planning," Remus said. "I wouldn't want you all getting detention for sneaking out of school."
"Tell her that we need the mirrors from Dumbledore's office, too," Harry said.
Hermione spoke up. "Ron and I can get those."
"We'll make sure that the rest of the Order is ready," Tonks said, nodding at Moody and Shacklebolt.
"Good," Remus said. "That should do it then."
With the meeting clearly adjourned, everyone rose from the table. Hermione and Ron said hurried farewells and left as Fred and George came over to Harry.
"We wish we could be with you at the Ministry, mate," George said.
"Yeah, we wouldn't mind having a go at a Death Eater or two," Fred agreed.
"The rest of the Order can handle the Death Eaters. I need you to keep Day out of the way."
George grinned. "We will."
"So tell us, Harry," Fred said, dropping his voice conspiratorially. "How are you planning to do in old What's-His-Name?"
Harry's eyes automatically flickered towards Snape who was talking with Remus across the room. "I can't tell you that right now, but I'll explain everything later."
George clapped Harry on the shoulder. "We'll swap stories when it's all over then. We plan to have some brilliant ones."
The twins left and Harry turned to Ginny who had come to stand beside him. Wordlessly, she hugged him and he held her close.
"It's going to be all right," Harry said.
Ginny smiled. "I know." She kissed him deeply. "I'll see you soon."
Ginny turned away and Harry watched her leave, then another voice drew his attention.
"Notify me if there is any change in plans," Snape was telling Remus. "Otherwise, I will contact you to keep you apprised of their activities as best I can."
"Good luck, Severus," Remus said. "We'll see you at the Ministry."
Snape nodded curtly and turned to go.
"You're leaving?" Harry blurted out.
"Of course. Someone has to keep watch on the Dark Lord's followers to ensure that the bait is taken and that all progresses as we hope it will."
"Aren't you coming back to headquarters at all?"
Snape shook his head impatiently. "No, Potter. Not if you wish to stay informed of what your enemies are doing." He started to turn away, but Harry pressed on.
"Will I see you at the Ministry?"
Snape stopped and looked back at Harry. Their eyes met and this time Snape answered slowly. "Most likely not. We will all be rather busy, I imagine."
Harry stared at the man. So this was it. Snape was going to walk out the door and when he did, Harry was never going to see him again. It was just like Cedric and Sirius who had been beside him one moment and gone forever the next.
But it didn't have to be that way. He had the chance this time. He could say a word to acknowledge all that he and Snape had been through together, say thank you or goodbye, say something. And yet he couldn't. The words were all stuck in his throat in a hopeless jumble and not one would come out. All he could do was stare numbly at Snape.
"Potter, do you honestly believe that there is anything you need to say to me that I don't already know?"
Snape's manner and words were impatient, but there was an uncharacteristic gentleness to his voice and Harry couldn't help but smile at the man's uncanny ability to judge what he was feeling.
"No, sir. I don't suppose there is."
"This is not the time for doubt or regret," Snape continued. "You have but one duty now and you must focus on it to the exclusion of all else. Do you understand that?"
Harry took a deep breath and nodded. "Of course I do."
"Good. Take this." Snape pulled a small vial from his pocket and handed it to Harry, who frowned at the potion.
"If you have ever heeded one word I have said, do so now," Snape said. "You will need to be at your best if you are going to engage in mental sparring with the Dark Lord. That means well rested. This is a mild calming draught which will allow you to relax and sleep naturally. Take it."
Harry nodded. "I will. And don't worry, sir. I'll finish him."
Snape held Harry's eyes a moment longer, then nodded, satisfied. He turned on his heel and with a swirl of robes, swept out of the dining room.
"Wait! Professor!" Harry called, racing into the hall after Snape.
"Potter, what is it?" the man asked in annoyance.
Harry didn't answer at once. Instead he went to his trunk which was still sitting by the foot of the stairs and pulled out his Invisibility Cloak. He held it out to Snape. "Take it. I'm not going to need it. You might."
Snape stared at Harry in surprise, but took the proffered cloak and tucked it into the pocket of his robes. He gave Harry a small smile. "Thank you, Potter. That will prove very useful indeed."
With a final nod of farewell he left. Harry stood in the middle of the hall staring at the front door until a hand settled gently on his shoulder. He looked at Remus who was watching him closely.
"Are you all right, Harry?"
Harry nodded. He couldn't bring himself to explain what was troubling him.
"That was a fine thing you just did. It will make Severus's job considerably easier, I'm sure. Now, come upstairs. Severus is right. You need to sleep."
Harry kept his word to Snape. Despite his raging emotions, he took the potion the man had given him and went to sleep. He awoke mid morning feelingly rested and alert as well as hungry. The sandwiches he'd eaten the night before really hadn't been much of a supper. Harry went down to the kitchen where he found Remus, Ron and Hermione waiting. Hermione was poring over a sheet of parchment.
"What's that?" Harry asked.
"Our script," Ron answered, rolling his eyes. "Hermione wants to make sure that we say all of the right things to Kreacher."
Harry laughed. "You're joking."
"We have to do this right," Hermione said. "If Kreacher doesn't believe us then we're sunk, aren't we?"
That was a good point. "All right. Let's have a look then." Harry sat down beside Ron and Hermione and they began to rehearse their lines while Remus made breakfast for Harry. It proved to be harder than Harry had imagined. Hermione was the only one who didn't stumble over the words and Ron was having a particularly hard time.
"Ron, you need to sound more natural!" Hermione complained.
"How can I sound natural when I don't even know how to pronounce that word? I don't talk that way! Besides, you've given yourself all the good bits. I sound stupid."
"Well then, change it!" Hermione said, throwing the script down in exasperation. "But we don't have all day!"
Remus smiled as he set Harry's breakfast down in front of him. "Let me have a look at it." He took the script and quietly reworked it while Harry tucked into his sausages and eggs.
By the time Harry was finished, Remus was too. He'd pared down the dialogue considerably and after a bit of practice, they were ready for their performance. Remus handed each of them a mirror. Harry took a deep breath and began.
"Ron, Hermione, can you hear me?"
"Yes, Harry, we're here," Hermione answered.
"Is everything ready on your end?"
"Yes. Ginny's rounding up the DA now. They'll be able to get Day's Aurors out of the way tonight and keep them busy while we sneak into the Ministry."
"Harry, are you sure that this thing will finish Voldemort?" Ron asked.
"Positive. We just have to get into the Department of Mysteries and find it. But once I have it, Voldemort's as good as dead. Meet me at the Ministry at midnight."
"We'll be there," Ron said.
Silently, Harry, Ron and Hermione handed their mirrors back to Remus who put them back in the black bag and tied it tightly shut. Then he grinned. "A brilliant performance! Now we wait to see if it worked."
Luckily, they didn't have long to wait. Within half an hour, a silvery Patronus in the shape of some sort of bird arrived with a short message. They've taken the bait.
Harry was relieved to know that their plan was working. Unfortunately, he now had nothing to do but look forward to facing Voldemort. Ron, Hermione and Remus tried to keep him occupied, but he had little interest in playing games or even talking with anyone for long. Mostly he prowled around the house and waited for news which happily came frequently.
Kingsley Shacklebolt, Tonks and Moody each checked in every hour using clever devices Fred and George had invented which were rather like Sirius's mirrors only without the picture. Each device looked something like a piece of purple broccoli and cheekily announced the name of the person calling. Harry couldn't help but laugh the first time he saw Remus talking to what looked like an odd colored vegetable, but the devices were secure and obviously useful and Harry soon got used to them.
Shortly after one o'clock Fred and George reported in by Floo. They'd had complete success. Percy had come by their shop and overheard their staged conversation about the fictitious gathering of the Order of the Phoenix. He'd been so excited that he'd only glanced at the useless invention they'd trotted out to demonstrate. He'd ordered twenty of them and then practically tripped over himself in his hurry to be off.
Ginny reported success as well. She had recruited fifteen of their fellow students who were gleefully looking forward to showing Ian Day a night he wouldn't soon forget.
Snape's Patronus also arrived regularly to keep them abreast of news from Voldemort's camp. The evil wizard would definitely be at the Ministry that night along with all of his available Death Eaters.
Harry felt slightly amazed. By all accounts their plan was working brilliantly. So far nothing had gone wrong. Harry allowed himself a wry smile. Now all I have to do is defeat Voldemort.
Many miles from Grimmauld Place, Snape sat in a Muggle pub, eating a light dinner. Everything was going according to plan. Bellatrix had fallen for their ruse as had the Dark Lord and the Death Eaters were preparing to hit the Ministry just after midnight. Snape would continue to monitor their activities, but mostly this entailed a great deal of waiting.
Normally, Snape had endless patience when spying on his enemies; like a spider sitting in the center of its web, waiting for the twitch of a silken thread to betray its prey. But now he felt restless and dissatisfied. All of this waiting gave him far too much time to think
Facing certain and imminent death had had the unfortunate effect of making Snape introspective. It seemed to demand a totting up and accounting of his life and try as he might, he couldn't tear his mind from the task. He would be awarded the Order of Merlin, posthumously, he was sure, and touted as a hero. His name might even merit a fleeting mention in a history book some day. At one time, not long ago, that would have meant everything to him. Not now. Again and again Snape caught himself reviewing some past event in which he had been invariably wanting in either common sense, common decency, or both and these preyed upon his conscience.
Snape glanced around the crowded pub for something to distract him from his thoughts, but all he saw were people laughing or talking quietly with their companions. He gritted his teeth in anger. He had spent his whole life watching such scenes, but had somehow never managed to participate in one. Even during his days at school when he had finally found acceptance among some of his fellow Slytherins, he had still felt awkward and had certainly never shared any genuine camaraderie with them.
Snape scowled as several men at a nearby table laughed loudly. Friendship: it always looked so easy and yet the ability to form that most basic relationship had forever eluded him. He had given up trying long ago and, being a pragmatist, had convinced himself that he didn't need what he couldn't have. But that had been a lie and he could no longer ignore the ache in his heart or pretend that the desperate loneliness wasn't real.
Snape felt a stab of resentment. It was all Potter's fault that he was sitting here feeling sorry for himself, of all things. Well, perhaps not all Potter's fault. Dumbledore had certainly had a hand in it. But it was the boy who been assaulting his emotions for months, tearing away at his careful defenses and awakening in him this need that he couldn't meet. He simply didn't know how.
He had cared for so few people in his life and yet every time he had opened his heart it had only brought him grief. As a young child he'd watched his mother die and take with her the only love he had ever known. It wasn't until he'd come to Hogwarts and met Lily Evans that he'd found that same sort of acceptance. She had been his only real friend at school, but he'd lost her twice, both times through his own stupidity.
Then there was Dumbledore. Snape wouldn't have called him a friend, exactly; more like an eccentric grandfather. But Snape had never doubted that the old man's affection for him was genuine and he missed him fiercely now. He was sure that he wouldn't have felt so alone if he could have poured out his disturbing feelings to Dumbledore. But that wasn't possible. Like his mother and Lily, Dumbledore was very likely to precede him into death.
Which brought him back to the only other person who had ever managed to sneak inside his emotional defenses – Potter. Against all reason the boy cared for him and Snape cared just as deeply for the young man who had come to remind him so much of Lily. Whatever he had once seen of James Potter in the boy had been superseded by the relentless understanding that stared at him out of those green eyes every time Potter looked at him. Lily had been just the same. Even when she had been furious with him, she had always understood and cared and even after they stopped speaking in fifth year, he had known deep down that that hadn't changed.
Snape shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He had repaid Potter's consideration no better than he'd repaid his mother's. Dumbledore had been right. He should have been honest with the boy. It was cowardly and selfish of him not to tell Potter the truth and Snape hated himself for it. But he couldn't do it. Not now, not when death was looming before him and there was no one else to shed a tear on his behalf.
Snape closed his eyes, suddenly overwhelmed by despair. But he took a deep, calming breath and shoved his roiling feelings away. He was still a pragmatist and it would only be a few hours, he told himself. Just a few hours more and all this misery would be over. He could surely keep his emotions in check that long. Snape took one more cleansing breath, then with grim determination headed back out to check on the Death Eaters' activities.
The wait at Grimmauld Place had seemed interminable to Harry, but at last word came from Kingsley Shacklebolt that the Aurors were pulling out of the Ministry. Ten minutes later the final signal came and at ten minutes to midnight, Harry, Ron, Hermione and Remus Apparated to the street outside the Ministry of Magic. They appeared next to the old call box which was the entrance to the Ministry and Harry could just make out the other members of the Order hidden in the darkness. One of them approached and Harry smiled as he recognized Tonks.
"Everything's secure down below," she said. "You're clear to go in."
"You three go ahead," Remus said. "I'll be down in a few minutes."
Harry nodded and he, Ron and Hermione stepped into the call box and dialed the automated Ministry receptionist.
"Please state the purpose of your visit," the courteous, female voice said.
"Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger; we're here to defeat Voldemort," Harry answered.
A moment later, three badges appeared. Harry took his and read it as the lift carried them underground.
Saving the World
More Order members were waiting in the atrium when Harry and his friends arrived and they were already taking up defensive positions in anticipation of the assault by the Death Eaters.
Harry turned to find Moody stumping towards him.
"We just got word from Snape. The Death Eaters are on their way, so you need to get moving and be quick about it."
Harry nodded and hurried over to the lift with Ron and Hermione beside him. He pulled open the grille then looked at his friends.
"Good luck, Harry," Ron said, holding out his hand.
Harry took it and shook hands feeling slightly awkward at the unfamiliar gesture. "You too."
"Two dozen Death Eaters just arrived on the street," a wizard called out. "They're engaging our people." The wizard frowned, listening intently to one of Fred and George's purple broccolis. "More are arriving. We aren't going to hold them upstairs for long. Get ready!"
Hermione hugged Harry tightly then shoved him into the lift. "Be careful, Harry!" she called as the gold grilles closed and the lift lurched into motion. It began its descent and Harry watched his two best friends disappear from sight as he sank into the depths of the Ministry: one floor, two, three. The lift's progress was agonizingly slow and Harry's heart was pounding, though he wasn't sure what frightened him more, the prospect of facing Voldemort or of having his friends overrun by Death Eaters. Over the noise of the lift, Harry heard a shout from above, followed by another. Four floors; five; six. Many more shouts, fainter now, reached Harry down the lift shaft along with the unmistakable sounds of battle. Harry swallowed hard, and clutched the grille, willing the lift to move faster. What if Voldemort had already Apparated to the Department of Mysteries? What if he was waiting for Harry just outside the lift? Seven. Eight. Harry whipped out his wand and brandished it before him as the lift jolted to a halt. Nine. Harry yanked open the grille and dived out of the lift, rolling to a crouch with his wand at the ready.
The long corridor was empty. Harry stood up and looked around warily, but there was nothing but deathly silence to greet him. Taking a deep breath to steady his nerves, he started down the hall towards the lone black door, moving faster and faster until he was running. He slowed as he reached the door which swung open at his approach. Harry peered into the circular room beyond, ready to jump back if he were attacked. But like the corridor, the room was empty. Harry stepped into the room and eyed the array of identical black doors in front of him.
He didn't know which door led to which of the various rooms nor was he even sure where the best place would be to face Voldemort. But he had an idea which he hoped would work. The last time he'd been here when he'd been chasing Bellatrix Lestrange, he hadn't known the way out, but the proper door had opened when he'd asked. He wasn't sure if the room might help him this time, but it was worth trying.
"I'm here to defeat Voldemort. Which way should I go to do that?"
To his surprise and relief, a door to his right swung open. Harry stepped through it and found himself in a room which he had never seen before. The entire room was made of white marble. White candles burned in golden sconces on the walls, bathing the room in a soft, warm glow. Beyond this, the room was empty and yet somehow, Harry felt encouraged being here. It was the same sensation of hope and joy that he felt when he heard Phoenix song and he felt his anxiety fade away to be replaced by calm determination.
At that moment, a searing pain shot through Harry's scar. He blocked the pain automatically as he whirled around to face the still open door. Voldemort was standing there and gave a cruel, high-pitched laugh.
"Is this the 'weapon' you thought to use to destroy me, Harry?" Voldemort asked contemptuously, stepping into the room. "Love?"
Love? Yes, that was what he was feeling, Harry realized, glancing around. Could this be the room that had been locked the last time he'd been here? The room that Dumbledore had said held a force more wonderful and terrible than death?
"Ah, you disappoint me, Harry," Voldemort continued, shaking his head, sadly. "You are as great a fool as Dumbledore and I so hoped that you would be more of a challenge."
Harry locked eyes with his enemy and smiled. "Don't be too disappointed yet." He plunged into Voldemort's mind before the wizard could react to stop him and swept away all awareness of the physical world for both of them.
Harry had been in Voldemort's mind once before, but Voldemort had been unaware of him then. This time Voldemort fought his presence. A thing, snake-like and malevolent lashed out at Harry from the recesses of Voldemort's mind, but Harry had had months of experience at this. He dodged the attacks and dived towards the depths of Voldemort's subconscious, feeling his enemy's fear and rage escalate with his descent. At last he broke through the last of the mental barriers and the landscape of Voldemort's mind opened up before him.
Harry gasped. The scene was surreal. He stood on a broad plateau that formed the top of an impossibly high mountain which seemed to overlook the whole world. The sky above him was black and it seemed to be night, yet the land around him was as bright as day, lit with a cold, unnatural light. Voldemort stood a few feet away and seemed equally astonished by their surroundings. His nostrils flared as he slowly turned to take in the panoramic view. Then he let out a soft, contented chuckle that made Harry shudder.
"So, you have learnt to reach into the very depths of the mind. Well done, Harry. Very well done, indeed. But you will find no advantage here. Look around you. You see how great I have become."
Harry looked around, but he saw nothing great in the scene before him. The land was barren and desolate and surrounded by darkness on all sides. It was bitterly cold and yet there was no snow or even patches of frost because the land was parched. There wasn't even a hint of life. None of this bothered Voldemort, however. He had paced to the edge of the plateau and was gazing out past the darkness at the surreal vision of the world gleaming in the distance. He spread his arms wide and laughed in exaltation.
"You see it, Harry? The whole world lies at my feet!"
Harry approached Voldemort warily and followed the wizard's gaze, but all he felt at the sight was an overwhelming sense of loss. Far away, beyond the darkness surrounding the mountain, the whole world was indeed laid out before him. But it was so far away. To stand here alone in this desolate place and to behold it: all of life, forever out of reach – this wasn't greatness, it was hell.
Harry stepped closer to the edge of the cliff and looked down into the vast, dark chasm. At once he jumped back, instinctively recoiling in horror, though from what, he couldn't have said. Harry inched his way forward to peer over the edge once more. The cliff was sheer, plunging straight down into a sea of darkness that separated this mountain from the distant world. But Harry knew without knowing how that this wasn't simply the darkness of night, hiding the landscape miles below. There was a terrible cold emanating from the chasm that made the frigid plateau seem balmy by comparison. Harry recognized the sensation. It was the same chill that came over him whenever a Dementor was near, but magnified a hundred fold.
Harry felt an overwhelming sense of revulsion and despair wash over him. He was certain that there was no life within the darkness. In fact it felt as if there was nothing there at all, as if stepping off the cliff one would simply fall endlessly into a bottomless, icy void. Harry couldn't suppress a shudder of horror at the sensation, but Voldemort didn't seem affected by the dark chasm at all.
Worse, Harry realized, he didn't seem the least bit affected by Harry's presence. He certainly wasn't in pain. Was this because of his bonds with his Death Eaters? That couldn't be right. He had suffered excruciating pain when he tried to possess Harry two years previously.
Then a horrible thought occurred to Harry. Could they have been mistaken? What if it hadn't been his presence that had caused Voldemort's pain at that time? If not then he had no hope of defeating his enemy. He had absolutely no chance of standing against the wizard without that advantage. What would happen to his friends then, to all of the people who were counting on him to end Voldemort's rein of terror?
As remorse welled up in Harry's heart, he felt the mountain tremble beneath his feet. Voldemort's face contorted in pain and he turned on Harry with a snarl. "Stop!"
Of course! Harry realized, remembering the long-ago scene in the Ministry's atrium. Voldemort had had no trouble possessing him. It wasn't until he'd thought of Sirius that the evil wizard had fled from him in agony. It wasn't his presence, but love that Voldemort couldn't bear. That realization made Harry's heart leap and suddenly memories sprang up in his mind. Laughing with Ron and Hermione, sitting by the lake with Ginny, Sirius laughing at Grimmauld Place the Christmas before he'd died. Another Christmas surrounded by the Weasleys at the Burrow. Memory after memory flashed by and with them his love for his friends welled up until he ached with joy and gratitude for them.
"NO!" Voldemort cried out in agony. He pointed his wand at Harry, but Harry nimbly dodged the curse as his heart continued to swell with emotion. Voldemort fell to his knees, screaming and writhing in pain, then he reached towards the sky and let out a cry of pure fury.
Four streaks, like shooting stars, shot through the inky black sky and four Death Eaters appeared in front of Harry. They looked around, clearly dazed at suddenly finding themselves in this strange place.
"Kill him!" Voldemort shouted.
Confused though they were, they recognized their master's order and turned towards Harry, but Harry was ready. As the Death Eaters raised their wands, he waved his hand and a high stone wall appeared directly in front of them. A moment later the curses they'd been aiming at Harry slammed into the lower part of the wall which buckled. The whole wall collapsed directly on top of the Death Eaters, burying them completely.
There was complete silence as Voldemort stared in astonishment at the pile of rubble where his followers had been a moment before. Then he looked up at Harry and his eyes narrowed appraisingly. With a wave of his hand, two more streaks crossed the sky heralding the arrival of two more stunned Death Eaters. These men however appeared behind Voldemort and he made no move to call them forward to face Harry. Instead he got slowly to his feet, eyeing Harry malevolently. Harry thought of his friends once more, but this time the evil wizard evinced no pain. His lips drew back in a dangerous smile as he raised his wand.
"That won't work this time, Harry. Not while my servants are with me."
"Then I'll have to make sure they don't stay long."
Harry had barely finished speaking when an arrow pierced the back of one of the Death Eaters. The man gasped and pitched forward, dead. A moment later his companion had joined him. Voldemort whirled around to face this unexpected threat, but his curse was too late to catch the Centaur who galloped away across the plain.
The dead men vanished and with a growl of frustration, Voldemort snapped his fingers to summon two more to take their place. Then he turned back to face Harry and he was no longer smiling. "You do seem to be full of surprises, today, Harry. Perhaps this won't be as dull as I had feared."
Harry raised his wand as well and gave his enemy a grimly determined smile. "Count on it."
Snape could hear the fighting one floor above him as he strode purposefully along a deserted hallway having used Potter's Invisibility Cloak to slip past the battle raging above. He was not avoiding the fight; in fact he longed to join it. But first, he had a task to perform: one he was not looking forward to.
He could have avoided it, of course, easily. After all, he was the one who had contacted Lucius and arranged to rendezvous. But he owed Lucius this. Whatever it might mean for the Dark Lord to claim the soul of one of his followers, Snape was certain that it could never be called freedom. He had promised Lucius freedom and Snape kept his promises.
Snape opened the door and stepped into the Ministry's private library, a large, well appointed room lined with mahogany bookshelves and littered with rich leather sofas and chairs: exactly the sort of luxury that Lucius had always loved.
Snape raised his wand and surveyed the room cautiously. "Lucius?" he called quietly.
The man stepped out from behind a large, ornate bookshelf, his eyes darting around to ensure that Snape was alone.
"This is madness, Severus!" he hissed as Snape crossed the room to join him. "Dumbledore is at death's door and now Potter is supposed to have a weapon that can defeat the Dark Lord? What game are you playing, now?"
"No game, Lucius. It's true. Tonight the Dark Lord falls. Potter will defeat him."
Snape spoke with such certainty that for a moment the other man simply gaped at him in astonishment.
"I see," Lucius said at last. He raised his chin in his habitual, imperious manner. "Remember your promise to me then, Severus. I have done what you've asked of me."
Snape smiled. "I haven't forgotten it. You will have your reward soon. But there is one more thing that must be done. Potter is in the Department of Mysteries. The Dark Lord will find him there and it is essential that they not be disturbed. The Order are defending the entrance to the lifts in the atrium, but there is another way down: a staircase, seldom used. Few are aware of it and we don't want to draw attention to it by sending a team to barricade it. Nevertheless, it needs to be guarded. I need your help to do so discreetly."
Lucius nodded. It was an innocuous task, far safer than dodging curses upstairs. "Where is it?"
Snape pulled a detailed floor plan of the ministry complex from his pocket and laid it on a nearby table. He stabbed a finger in the center of it. "Here, next to the DPS offices."
Snape stepped back as Lucius bent over the table, squinting at the cluttered floor plan. He raised his wand, but before he could speak the curse, he caught the soft click of a door closing. Snape whirled to face the telltale sound, startling Lucius who straightened up and brandished his own wand.
"Severus, what –"
"Shhh!" Snape scanned the room, all of his senses alert. Then they both heard the slight rustle of movement on the other side of the tall bookcase next to them accompanied by nervous breathing. Someone was trying to sneak up on them and was failing. Snape and Lucius exchanged a bemused look then Snape stepped silently to the end of the bookcase and waited. When he judged the person to be just on the other side, he jumped out, seized the intruder, who gave a startled yelp, and yanked him out into the open. Lucius and Snape had their wands trained on the newcomer instantly, but they didn't curse him. Instead they simply stared in astonishment.
"Draco?" Lucius said, lowering his wand. "What in Merlin's name are you doing here?"
Draco stared in wide-eyed confusion at the two men. "Father? But, I thought – You were supposed to be – what are you doing with him?" Draco finished indignantly, glaring at Snape.
Lucius stepped forward and seized his son's arm. "I don't know how you got in here or what you think you're doing, but we are in the middle of a battle and this is no place for you. Severus, we have to get him out of here."
Draco wrenched his arm away from his father and stepped back, glaring at him in disbelief. "Severus?" Draco looked at Snape then back at Lucius with dawning understanding. "You're working with him? You're helping him after the way he betrayed you?"
"We do what we must to protect our interests and survive, Draco. I should think you would have learnt that by now."
"But he's on the other side! He's working with our enemies!"
"Draco, don't be a simpleton! We are at war. Allegiances shift. I am doing what is best for our family."
"Draco," Snape said. "How did you find us and why are you here?"
Draco waved his hand impatiently. "Kreacher got me into the Ministry through a back entrance and I used some new tracking charm that Aunt Bellatrix taught me to find you." Draco looked back at his father. "She told me that you needed my help. She said you were in trouble."
"And so he is, Draco."
Snape and Lucius both whirled around at the sound of Bellatrix Lestrange's voice behind them, but there was no one there. Ventriloquism! Snape realized at once. He turned back, but in their momentary distraction, Bellatrix had stepped out from behind the bookcase. She grabbed Draco and pressed her wand to the startled boy's throat.
"What a lovely confession, Lucius," Bellatrix said, her eyes glinting with malicious glee. "I knew you were in league with Snape. All those pathetic excuses for why you couldn't find him."
"Bella!" Lucius started to take a step towards her.
"Stop where you are." Bellatrix jabbed her wand more deeply into Draco's throat and Lucius froze.
"Throw down your wands, both of you," Bellatrix ordered.
Lucius tossed his wand to the floor at once, but Snape only glared furiously at the woman and Draco.
"I will kill him, Snape," Bellatrix said, coolly.
"Severus!" Lucius hissed.
Snape sighed impatiently and threw down his wand. "This really is becoming tedious, Draco."
Bellatrix smiled triumphantly and relaxed her hold on Draco, though she continued to point her wand at him. "Do as I say, Draco, and you will have your share of the credit for capturing these traitors; enough to redeem your family name and spare yourself and your mother reprisals for your father's treachery. Defy me, on the other hand, and you will die very unpleasantly. Do you understand that?"
Draco swallowed and nodded.
"Good." Bellatrix shifted her wand away from Draco to point at Snape. "Now to settle an old score. I have waited for his moment, Snape. I have dreamt of it. I only wish that I had the time to properly punish you for your treachery. Unfortunately, killing you will have to do."
"I thought you were going to capture them?" Draco asked nervously.
"There's a battle going on, in case you haven't noticed, Draco. This is no time to take prisoners. But have no fear. Under the circumstances, our Lord will not be displeased to see this traitor dead."
Draco paled and looked wide-eyed at Snape as he realized what his aunt was about to do.
"You've longed to be a Death Eater, Draco," Snape sneered, though his eyes remained fixed on Bellatrix. "Now you can see first hand what it's like."
"Yes, he can," Bella said with a smile. "Avada Kedavra!"
"No!" Draco knocked Bellatrix's wand aside and her spell went wide. At the same moment Snape dived for the floor and yelled "Accio!"
With a snarl of rage, Bellatrix shoved Draco away and brought her wand around to point at Snape just as he caught his own wand.
Snape's curse hit Bellatrix squarely in the chest and she crumpled to the floor, dead.
There was a moment's frozen silence, then Snape got to his feet and regarded the dead woman. That's one Death Eater Potter won't have to worry about. He glanced at Draco, but the boy wasn't looking at him or his dead aunt. He was staring past Snape with a look of horror. Snape turned to follow his gaze and saw the second body lying on the floor.
"Father?" Draco whispered. "Father!" Draco pushed past Snape and fell to his knees next to Lucius. "Father, please! Father!"
Draco let out a wail of grief and burst into tears, burying his head in his father's robes. Snape looked down at the boy, then gazed at Lucius whose sightless eyes stared back at him.
Two, Snape counted automatically, then he looked back at Draco who was sobbing inconsolably. Snape sighed wearily. He didn't have time for this, but he couldn't leave the boy in such a state. If nothing else, he owed it to Lucius to try to keep the boy from doing anything else stupid.
Snape knelt down. "Draco –"
"Leave me alone!"
"Draco, listen to me!" Snape urged.
"It was my fault!"
"No it wasn't! It was Bella's fault. She used you to get to your father. The blame is hers alone. Now listen! The one thing your father wanted more than anything was for you to be free of the tyrant who has claimed our lives. That is why he chose to risk his life to turn his back on the Dark Lord. For you. Therefore, you owe it to him and to your mother to stay alive.
"You should be safe enough here, but do not leave this room. If any of the Dark Lord's followers find you, tell them that you rashly came here in the hopes of aiding their cause. Tell them that you met your father and aunt, but that I attacked you and killed both of them. The Death Eaters should be more than happy to leave you here while they go in search of me.
"If, on the other hand, any members of the Order of the Phoenix find you, tell them the truth: that Bellatrix lured you away from school and that you are here because you believed that your father needed your help. You have committed no crime and the Order will protect you if you let them. Are you listening to me?
Draco nodded and sat up. "Yes."
"Good." Snape rose and turned to go.
"I was wrong about you," Draco said.
"No, Draco. You were wrong about yourself."
Snape left the boy to mourn his father and stepped out into the empty hallway, once more. That hadn't gone exactly as planned, but close enough and at least he hadn't had to kill Lucius. Thank you, Bella, Snape thought with a small, ironic smile, then he grew serious once more.
He had discharged his last personal duty and was now free to turn his attention to the main task at hand. Somewhere in the bowels of the Department of Mysteries Potter was locked in a mental duel with the Dark Lord and the odds were not in his favor. Snape was determined to shorten those odds and he knew what needed to be done. He had realized it the moment that Dumbledore had explained how the Dark Lord had achieved immortality. There were scores of Death Eaters, all of whom would have to die in order for Potter to defeat his nemesis, and it was ludicrous to expect him to fight them all or to hold out until they were dead by the Dark Lord's hand. Clearly he needed help.
Snape had considered bringing this up with the Order, but none of them were the sort to kill except as a last resort. He hadn't been convinced that an explanation of Potter's abstract predicament would be enough to overcome that reticence and in any case he hadn't been anxious to explain it. The Order had never accepted him as one of their own and he wasn't about to give them new fodder to judge him, much less pity him.
Instead, he'd left it to Potter to choose whether or not to reveal the details of what it would take to defeat the Dark Lord and predictably the boy had chosen to keep quiet. So be it then. He would do the job himself. Robes billowing behind him, Snape stalked away to join the battle.
It was both the toughest and strangest battle Harry had ever fought. Here, on this surreal mountaintop, he was using both conventional magic and the creations of his imagination to hold Voldemort at bay while whittling away at his Death Eaters. Luckily, the Death Eaters themselves were proving more of a liability for Voldemort than a threat to Harry. After his initial incaution, Voldemort had realized that he needed to protect those who were defending his soul, but Harry made this nearly impossible to do for long. Again and again he conjured poisonous snakes and other deadly creatures to attack them.
Voldemort couldn't defend his Death Eaters and fight Harry at the same time, so he attempted to distract Harry and prevent the attacks by sending his own creations against his enemy. Voldemort had proved a quick study in mental dueling and had rapidly come to understand the rules of the subconscious world in which he and Harry fought. He still lacked experience, however, which Harry reckoned was the only reason he, himself, was still alive.
With practice, Harry had learnt to conserve his mental energy by using the simplest means to either attack or defend himself. Voldemort, by contrast, was flamboyant, conjuring the most fearsome and amazing of beasts to set against Harry. But not only did this sap his strength more quickly, such indiscretion had also cost the lives of some of his own followers.
Harry almost felt sorry for the Death Eaters. He was used to dodging and fighting a host of fantastic beasts and plants in a mental landscape where anything could happen. They weren't and half a dozen had fallen prey to their master's own creations. The last two had died when the dragon Voldemort summoned to attack Harry descended upon his followers instead after Harry conjured several fattened sheep beside them. But with each mistake, Voldemort was learning, making it harder for Harry to maintain the upper hand in their duel. Harry could feel the battle shifting in Voldemort's favor as his initial advantage began to slip away. He only hoped that Voldemort would run out of Death Eaters before he ran out of ways to keep his enemy off guard.
The atrium of the Ministry of Magic was a wreck. The Fountain of Magical Brethren which had been rebuilt in the wake of the last Death Eater incursion, was once again little more than a pile of rubble. Scorch marks blackened the walls and debris was strewn everywhere from the furniture and decorations which had been blasted apart in the battle between the Order of the Phoenix and Voldemort's followers. However, neither the battle nor the destruction had remained confined to the atrium. They had spread throughout the main floor of the labyrinthine Ministry complex.
From the moment that Snape had joined the fray, he'd been in the thick of the fighting. It seemed that every Death Eater present wanted the honor of killing him, but so far he'd managed to best five of them.
Six, he corrected himself as another Death Eater fell to the floor, blood spreading from the wound Snape's spell had caused. Snape shoved his hair back out of his eyes and looked around. He had chased his latest opponent into a long hallway, several galleries over from the atrium and he could no longer hear the sounds of battle. Frowning impatiently, he headed back in search of more adversaries.
He found them in the hall just outside the DPS main office. Six of them came sprinting around a corner and slowed in surprise at the sight of Snape. They only hesitated a moment, however, then they all raised their wands. Snape reacted instantly. He blasted the heavy wooden doors to the DPS office and darted inside, just avoiding the curses aimed at him.
The public showcase of Ian Day's power was opulent. The office consisted of a large, circular room with two large marble columns supporting a ceiling adorned with gold leaf and painted with pastoral images. Luxurious antique carpets covered the polished wood floors. Statues and coats of armor stood in glass cases around the room, interspersed with wing chairs, sofas and stately mahogany desks. A reception desk which could have been mistaken for a judge's bench stood on a dais towards the back of the room and in front of a set of ornate doors which undoubtedly led to Day's private office.
Snape took in all of this in a moment as he dived behind the nearest desk then turned and threw a curse at the Death Eaters as they rushed into the room. He missed and just managed to roll out of the way before six curses reduced the desk to a shower of splinters. He scrambled behind a chair and then made a dash for one of the columns, barely reaching shelter as another curse sizzled past him.
Snape risked a quick glance at his enemies. The Death Eaters were moving apart in an obvious attempt to encircle him. Snape hurled a curse to his right and one of the chairs burst into flame causing the Death Eaters creeping towards him on that side to jump back. Then he took aim on the left and shattered one of the display cases sending shards of glass and twisted pieces of armor hurtling towards his enemies. The Death Eaters on that side swore loudly and dived for cover. But this was only a momentary respite, Snape knew. He couldn't defend himself against this many Death Eaters for long and knew with cool certainty that he wasn't going to survive this battle.
Snape smiled grimly to himself. I did tell Potter that I intended to die fighting. He gripped his wand tightly, gathered himself and was about to step out to confront his opponents when a curse hurtled past him. This one however, hadn't come from the Death Eaters, but had been aimed at them instead. Snape looked around in surprise to see Lupin peering out from behind a nearby statue having apparently slipped into the room through the back doors. The man grinned.
"Mind if I join the party?" he said, blocking a curse from one of the Death Eaters.
"As a matter of fact, yes!" Snape hissed, hurling two more curses at the Death Eaters. Having prepared himself to die, he felt perversely annoyed with Lupin for intervening. "I don't need foolish Gryffindor heroics. I can handle this myself."
"Six to one odds is a bit much even for you, Severus."
The statue Lupin was hiding behind was shattered by a curse and he quickly ducked behind a desk. Snape waved his wand and an arm chair flew into the air and slammed into two of the Death Eaters, knocking them down.
"I can manage without your interference!" he snarled. "Get out of here before you get yourself killed."
"Now who's being a foolish hero?" Lupin retorted. He waved his wand and one of the antique carpets bucked, pitching the unlucky Death Eater standing on it to the floor. It then proceeded to roll up, engulfing the man.
A curse hit the column Snape was hiding behind sending splinters of marble flying. Instinctively Snape turned his head away and caught a movement out of the corner of his eye. He glanced towards the back of the room.
At Snape's warning, Lupin leapt aside. The desk he had been hiding behind cracked in half and collapsed. Two more Death Eaters had arrived, slipping in through the same rear doors Lupin had used. Snape hurled two curses at the newcomers and two more at the Death Eaters in the front of the room. He hadn't bothered to take aim. The curses were only meant as a diversion as he sprinted across the room and threw himself behind a long sofa.
Lupin had already taken refuge there and gave Snape a wry smile. "This is getting worse instead of better." He flicked his wand and a large desk slid across the floor and came to rest in front of the sofa, reinforcing their makeshift barricade. At the same time, Snape took aim and dropped one of the Death Eaters with a curse. But the others were too well hidden to attack. They let loose with curses of their own which battered the desk and ripped holes in the wall behind Snape and Lupin, showering them with debris.
The two men ducked lower.
"How many do you suppose there are?" Lupin asked.
"Too many," Snape said, sourly.
"I was afraid you'd say that."
"There might be a way to take them, though," Snape said, pointing at the nearest marble column. "If we were to hit that with Reducto curses, we might be able to bring it along with that entire section of the ceiling down on top of them."
Lupin looked up and nodded. "That might work. Of course it might also bring the rest of the ceiling down on top of us."
Snape looked at the man in exasperation. "Have you a better suggestion?"
"No," Lupin said with an easy shrug. "I just wanted to be sure that you'd thought through the consequences."
"Of course I have and I think we're out of options."
More curses ripped large holes in the sofa and reduced the desk to a smoldering wreck.
"I think you're right. On three then? One. Two. Three."
Twin curses lanced out and shattered the nearby column. It collapsed along with a significant portion of the ceiling sending up a thick cloud of dust. Coughing, Lupin waved his wand and a stiff breeze swept through the room clearing the air. He and Snape stood up and surveyed the room in silence. There wasn't a Death Eater left standing. They were all buried under the pile of stone and plaster.
What does this bring the death toll to? Snape wondered. But as he did, the Dark Mark on his arm flared to life wiping away every thought with searing pain.
Remus was both relieved and appalled by their success at killing so many Death Eaters. Nevertheless, there had been no choice.
A gasp to his left made him glance at Snape who was clutching his left forearm in evident pain.
"Severus? What is it?"
Snape didn't answer. Instead he let out a strangled cry and collapsed.
"Severus!" Remus dropped to his knees beside the man and turned him so that he could look at Snape's face. What he saw wasn't encouraging.
Snape's eyes were glazed and unseeing. His body was rigid and convulsing in some sort of seizure, his breathing was labored and he was clearly in agony. Remus bent close and called urgently, "Severus! Can you hear me?"
Snape's eyes rolled back into head and he emitted a terrible rattling sound from deep in his chest. "Severus!"
Remus reached for Snape's throat to feel for a pulse, but he could feel only the faintest flutter beneath the pale skin. The man hardly seemed to be breathing at all now. Remus felt a dull ache in the pit of his stomach. He'd lost his closest friends, watched comrades fall in battle, yet it never stopped hurting. It didn't help that he had no idea what was wrong with Snape. He would have sworn that the man hadn't been hit by any curse, but what else could have caused this?
Remus's thoughts were interrupted by the groan of shifting stone and he looked up. While destroying one of the two load-bearing columns in the room had initially only brought down part of the ceiling, gravity was now lending a hand with the rest of it. Remus glanced towards the safety of the doorway, 30 feet away. He'd never get Snape there in time, but he couldn't leave the man.
A loud crack drew his attention upwards once more, just in time to see a large chunk of the ceiling directly overhead give way.
Harry wiped sweat out of his eyes. Even conserving his energy, he was exhausted and knew that he wouldn't be able to keep fighting much longer. He had lost track of how many Death Eaters had died so far, but it was surely more than two dozen. How many more can there be? he wondered as he watched Voldemort kill an Acromantula the size of a large dog with a flick of his wand. Harry waved his own wand and two more of the creatures, each a bit smaller than the last scuttled forward to harass his nemesis.
Voldemort had stopped conjuring beasts to kill Harry. He had come to realize the futility of that strategy and was now intent on murdering Harry himself. This had forced Harry to change his own tactics. Voldemort was far more dangerous than even the most fearsome beast which meant that instead of attacking the Death Eaters, Harry was now forced to put all of his effort into staying alive. Every beast, plant or inanimate object he conjured now served only one purpose: to distract and delay the enemy bent on killing him.
Luckily, Harry knew that he wasn't fighting alone. Though he was no longer actively attacking the Death Eaters, a number of them had nevertheless appeared, only to collapse and vanish for no apparent reason. Harry could only surmise that they'd fallen victim to the battle with the Order of the Phoenix and he felt heartened knowing that he and his allies were working together despite fighting on very different battlefields. Harry's heart swelled with admiration and gratitude for his comrades and he felt a familiar shudder run through the ground. At the same time, Voldemort winced in pain and with a snarl of frustration kicked the smaller Acromantula across the dusty ground.
The latest of the Death Eaters Voldemort had summoned had died, Harry realized. In trying to evade Voldemort, he had lost sight of the man and wondered what had happened. Perhaps the elusive centaur that was still at large had picked him off, or perhaps he too had been killed by the Order. Then again, he might have simply faded away. Harry had seen that happen twice. Two of the Death Eaters who had eluded Harry's creatures had nevertheless faded, becoming increasingly transparent and ghost-like until they had simply been gone – used up.
A silvery streak shot across the sky and coalesced into yet another stunned Death Eater. Harry's Acromantulas advanced on the man, but Voldemort turned them to dust with a wave of his hand.
"Pay attention, you fool, and defend yourself!" he snarled at the confused man who cringed and glanced around wildly for some other threat.
Voldemort turned towards Harry, baring his teeth in pure hatred. The ground had ceased to tremble and Harry backed away from his adversary. He concentrated and a thick wall of mist sprang up between them, blocking him from Voldemort's view. And in the few moments it took the other wizard to dispel the fog, Harry turned and ran. Unfortunately, Voldemort's plateau wasn't very large, nor did the barren terrain provide any likely place to hide for long.
Harry was approaching the cliff and turned left to cut across to the opposite side of the plateau, but a curse shot past him, forcing him to swerve back towards the cliff once more. He tried to dodge left once more, but this time a dense hedge of sharp, six inch long thorns appeared, blocking his way. Voldemort's cruel, high-pitched laugh made him whirl around to face his nemesis, realizing too late that Voldemort had herded him into a trap.
"You see, Harry, I have learnt to play this little game of yours," Voldemort said, smiling in triumph. "I confess that I have found it quite entertaining indeed and I must thank you. I don't recall anyone having ever been able to amuse me as much. But in the end, you were always going to lose. I am the master now."
Voldemort flicked his wand and Harry collapsed in pain as the Cruciatus curse hit him. He screamed, writhing helplessly, but just as he was sure that Voldemort was going to torture him to death, the pain ended.
"You see, Harry, how foolish you were to think that you could defeat me."
Harry closed his eyes, focusing all of his concentration and waning energy on one thought. He was rewarded as a section of the vicious hedge exploded, shooting its deadly thorns in all directions. Voldemort blocked the barrage instinctively, but his Death Eater was not as lucky. Harry opened his eyes in time to see the man pitch forward onto the ground, several of the dagger-like thorns protruding from his back.
Voldemort's lips drew back in fury. "You will pay for that, Harry."
Harry knew that was true. He had no more strength to fight or even to run. He felt weary regret wash over him. He'd done his best, but it hadn't been enough. I'm sorry, he thought. At that moment, the ground lurched beneath Harry and Voldemort doubled over in pain as if someone had punched him in the stomach. He staggered and a look of surprise and fear crossed his deformed features. He looked up at the sky, waiting, searching.
Please let them all be gone, Harry thought desperately as he dragged himself to his feet. Please don't let there be any more.
But even as he pleaded silently for relief, a silver streak lanced across the sky and a figure appeared lying on the ground next to Voldemort. Harry's knees nearly buckled again. It was Snape.
The pain was the same. Even after 20 years, Snape recognized it. He could almost smell the trees circling the clearing, feel the chill of the air and hear the fire crackling nearby. The night he had received the Dark Mark had been one of the worst of his life, but the pain now was even more horrible. The invisible chains tightened around his soul with the greedy, grasping finality of an old debt come due.
Dimly through the pain he could hear the sound of his name being called and he became aware of someone bending over him. It was Lupin. The man's face, streaked with dirt and sweat was only inches from his own and held a mixture of fear and worry which Snape realized was directed at him. But he couldn't respond. He was trapped in a nightmare and could feel the icy malevolence of the Dark Lord's mind reaching out for him. Desperately he fought to free himself, but it was no use. His consciousness was dragged from the physical world down into darkness where something grotesque was waiting. It lashed out in pain and fear like a wounded beast grasping at Snape's soul. Snape shuddered in horror at the thing which wound around him like a giant snake, suffocating him.
Agony flooded through him and he writhed in the creature's clutches. The pain was beyond bearing and made him long for death or oblivion. Anything would be better than this. Then without warning, the creature was gone and Snape felt himself hit solid ground. Then he looked up into the pitiless red eyes of the Dark Lord.
"Well, well, Severus, how nice of you to join us, at last. I have been so looking forward to seeing you again."
"Leave him alone!" Harry yelled.
Snape and Voldemort both looked at him. Snape shook his head in warning, but Voldemort merely smiled.
"As many of my Death Eaters as you have killed, Harry and yet you wish me to spare Severus?" he said. "He is the last of those who pledged their souls to me – the only one who stands between us now. Don't you wish to kill him too so that we may face one another as equals?"
Harry looked at Snape then back at Voldemort.
"No?" the evil wizard asked pleasantly. "Perhaps a little incentive then." He pointed his wand at Snape. "Crucio!"
Snape screamed and collapsed, writhing in pain.
"Stop it!" Harry yelled.
Voldemort lifted the curse and Snape rolled to his knees.
"Well, Harry?" Voldemort said amiably.
"Potter, stop wasting time," Snape gasped. "Do it!"
Voldemort regarded Harry with contempt. "Weak! You are so predictably weak. Look at him, Severus. How could you ever have believed that such a weakling would defeat me? Such talent and potential you had and you wasted it for this?"
Voldemort flicked his wand and Harry fell to the ground, dazed, as though he'd been punched. He shook his head to clear it and looked up to see his enemy looming over him.
"I could kill you with a thought," Voldemort hissed. "And had you the strength to kill Severus, I would have ended your life quickly. But now I think that I shall do it slowly. After all, Harry, you have taught me that anything is possible here and there are so many possibilities I can imagine."
Voldemort raised his wand once more, but Snape launched himself at the wizard. Voldemort was ready for the attack, however. He whipped his wand around and Snape was knocked to his knees once more. Before he could move, shackles appeared around his ankles, binding them close together while manacles appeared to bind his hands. Snape struggled against the fetters, but they held him fast and at last he gave up struggling to glare up at Voldemort with pure loathing.
Voldemort chuckled. "Such spirit, Severus. I had so been looking forward to torturing you. It's a pity I won't have the time to do so properly, but even the greatest wizard in the world can't have everything." Voldemort laughed again. "Perhaps I will simply have you watch while I torture Harry instead."
Snape spat on the wizard towering over him. Voldemort's eyes flashed menacingly, then narrowed shrewdly. "So, Bella was right. You do care for him."
Voldemort's mouth twisted into a cold, cruel smile. "You are as weak as he is. Perhaps then, before I kill you both, I will tell Harry whom it is that he has sacrificed everything for. Don't you think he deserves to know, Severus, after all these years? Shall I tell him then, which clever spy of mine thought to eavesdrop on Dumbledore that night at the Hogshead and faithfully brought me word of the prophecy?"
Voldemort glanced over his shoulder. "Can you guess who it was, Harry?"
His face was alight with malicious triumph whereas Snape looked as though he might either faint or be sick at any moment. Harry gazed at them both and felt his stomach clench horribly.
"It was you?" he asked Snape in disbelief.
Snape closed his eyes and nodded, then hung his head in defeat. The hopelessness of the gesture was immediately familiar to Harry and his shocked disbelief turned instantly to understanding. Finally everything made perfect sense. The dark figure he'd spent so much time chasing through Snape's mind, that ominous incarnation of Snape's darkest secrets, always silent, always watching – it was the Spy. That was the truth that Snape couldn't bear, the great crime for which he couldn't forgive himself.
"Yes, Harry," Voldemort said. "Severus is the architect of all that you have suffered. He sealed your fate before you were born, yours and your parents."
He looked back at Snape. "So much pain… so much guilt..." Voldemort's snakelike nostrils flared as if drinking in the scent of Snape's anguish. "You see what Dumbledore's vaunted love has wrought, Harry. Nothing but misery and defeat.
"Severus threw away everything I had offered him. You have thrown away your one chance to make me mortal. And your dear mother threw away her very life."
"She didn't throw her life away!" Harry yelled. "She defeated you."
"A temporary setback only. I hold the key to immortality, Harry. When I have killed you, hundreds will offer themselves to me and I shall live forever, invincible."
"You call this living? You're already dead! Look around you. Do you know what this is? It's your soul. Look at it! It's barren and dead and you're all alone. That's what your hate and vengeance have done to you. All immortality has bought you is an eternity of solitude in a desolate prison."
Voldemort bent down and seized Harry's collar, pulling him up until their faces were only inches apart. "My name will still be feared when yours has been forgotten a thousand years."
He shoved Harry back to the ground and straightened up. "And now, I will finish what Severus started."
Voldemort raised his wand then hesitated, a look of confusion on his face. Harry smiled. He knew that Voldemort was sensing what he had already felt. The ground was trembling again and with every passing moment, the tremors were growing more violent.
"Dumbledore was right," Harry said. "Love is stronger than hate."
The look of confusion on Voldemort's face turned to terror and he looked around wildly. "No! It can't be. This can't happen!" He whirled towards Snape and seized him. "You're still alive!"
The tremors had become an earthquake. Then with an earsplitting report, the ground split apart. Cracks appeared and rapidly widened into deep fissures as the plateau began to break apart.
"NO!" Voldemort shrieked in fear and pain. He shoved Snape away then turned on Harry who had got to his feet. Harry jumped aside and the jet of green light shot past him. He slashed his wand through the air and Voldemort stumbled backwards. But though Voldemort was clearly in agony, he was still the greatest Dark wizard of the age. With a wave of his hand ropes appeared and bound themselves tightly around Harry, pinning his arms and legs. Harry lost his balance on the now violently shaking ground and fell. As he struggled to free himself, Voldemort raised his wand once more, but before he could curse Harry he was tackled from behind by Snape who had managed to hoist himself to his feet despite his shackles and the heaving ground. The two wizards landed in a tangle and Voldemort let out a snarl of rage. He tried to push Snape away, but Snape held on with ferocious determination and they rolled away from Harry, continuing to wrestle with each other.
Harry struggled futilely against his bonds for a few more moments before he remembered where he was. He relaxed, focused all of his concentration and the ropes vanished. Then he scrambled to his feet and hurried after Snape and Voldemort who had come perilously close to the cliff's edge as they fought.
Harry felt a stab of fear for Snape and as he did, the ground gave a particularly violent lurch. Harry was thrown forward and hit the ground hard. He looked up. Snape and Voldemort were only a few yards away, but new cracks were forming in the ground around them and as Harry watched, horrified, the whole section of the cliff beneath Snape and Voldemort began to sink. Harry scrabbled forward on his hands and knees and grabbed Snape, pulling him away from Voldemort and the crumbling cliff. But Voldemort seemed half-mad. With a snarl of pain and fury, he lunged for his opponent, seizing Snape's legs just as the cliff gave way.
There was a deafening roar as countless tons of rock sheared away and plunged into the chasm below. Harry lay flat on his stomach, his arms locked tightly around Snape's chest to keep him from being dragged over the edge of the cliff by Voldemort who was now dangling in midair, screaming in pain as he held tight to Snape as well. But the weight of both men was more than Harry could support. He could feel himself being pulled closer to the precipice and desperately dug his heels into the ground to stop his slide. Then he looked past Snape and Voldemort into the vast, black chasm itself and suddenly he understood what it was.
Just as Dumbledore's garden ended at a cliff overlooking an ocean which represented death, so too, this cliff represented the boundary between Voldemort's mortal life and what lay beyond. Only it wasn't death yawning there, greedily waiting to swallow them all. Voldemort had used the essence of the Dementors to forge the chains that had bound his victims and granted him immortality. But it had chained his soul as well to something far worse than death.
Harry felt pure terror course through him. He gasped and reflexively tightened his hold on Snape. Snape who was trying to simultaneously keep from falling and shake Voldemort loose glanced up at Harry, then looked over his shoulder and let out a sharp hiss. Even without benefit of Dumbledore's lessons, he clearly realized what lay beneath him. Harry didn't know if Voldemort had worked it out or not. It was impossible to tell if his shrieks of pain and fear included any awareness of the danger to his soul.
There was a deep rumble and cracks appeared along what remained of the cliff's edge. Harry felt the ground shift and sink ominously beneath him.
"Potter, you have to let go," Snape whispered.
"This whole ledge is going to give way. You have to let go. Do it! Now!"
Harry didn't answer. He tightened his grip on Snape even more as the ground shifted again.
"Potter, let go!" There was desperation in Snape's voice now and he struggled to pull free of Harry's grasp.
"Stop it!" Harry cried, clinging tenaciously to the man. "You'll fall!"
"Potter, don't be a fool!" Snape snarled furiously. "You'll fall too!"
"I don't care!"
Snape looked at Harry with a mixture of wonder and exasperation.
"I don't care," Harry repeated defiantly.
Snape's expression softened. His eyes held regret and a tenderness Harry had never seen in them before, but no fear. Then he smirked slightly. "I do. Expelliarmus!"
"NO!" Harry screamed, but it was too late. The spell broke his hold on Snape and flung him back from the edge of the crumbling cliff. Harry could hear Voldemort's high-pitched shriek of terror falling away as he plunged into the abyss along with the last person he had bound to himself. He and Snape were gone and as the last of Voldemort's screams died, the tortured landscape around Harry vanished.