"Potter!" The name was a snarl from Severus Snape's lips. "I watched you die! THIS! THIS CANNOT BE!" Snape stared in utter disbelief at Harry, then glancing at the pile of rubble covering his body, he hatefully spat one word, "Duplikatus."
"Very good pro-fes-sor," said Harry putting all the disdain into the word professor he could muster. "I took a moment to consider my next move against Voldemort," said Harry, "but it appears that you have taken care of even that for me. Thank you very much. I'm afraid that I heard your plans for these people and I simply cannot allow you to complete them. After tonight, you will be known for the coward you truly are."
"DO NOT CALL ME COWARD!" screamed Snape, madness suffusing his voice. His hands were a study in speed. Like a shower of needles, sharp red lights shot at Harry.
"Your word, not mine," said Harry as he dropped into a fighting stance and easily countered the magic, turning the points of light into pink mist that dissipated harmlessly.
Snape did not circle as Voldemort had done. He stood motionless and contemplated Harry. "I have waited over seventeen years to see the fulfilling of Sybil Trelawny's prophecy. I have marked my time, acted my act, convinced everyone of exactly what they expected. I played one against another and did it so well that my controlling hand was never detected. I watched my every step to assure I was within the constraints of the Unbreakable Vow. Tonight, Potter, I fully expected to see either you, or Voldemort, prevail and kill the other. Now I find you have used me as your mahl stick. You allowed me to do your dirty work. You and I are not so very much different."
"Oh we are very different," said Harry, never taking his attention from Snape. "I've never killed anyone. I had parents who loved me. I have friends who are willing to help me even at the risk of their lives."
Snape grabbed the collar of his cloak and, tipping his face to the stars visible above, howled as he ripped his cloak down the front. "You Potter," spat Snape. "You think you have life figured out! I've seen inside your pitiful mind. You are so self-centred and arrogant that you think everything is about you. You think the world revolves around your needs and your desires. Well I have a revelation for you Potter. You are not that important. You were a minor part of a plan that I conceived upon gaining the remainder of that wretched prophecy from Sybil Trelawny. She did not go directly to Hogwarts after Dumbledore hired her to teach Divination, giving me a chance to waylay her and force the entire prophecy from her mind. I may have been a little too forceful in obtaining the memory because she was never quite right after our interview." Snape smiled a leering smile. "I had the full prophecy and saw a possibility of defeating Voldemort, through either you or Longbottom; and the prospect of gaining power and respect in both the "Upright" and the "Dark" realms. I played my part every day, with every breath, with every thought. You think I hated you! You think I hated your father! You think I hated Sirius Black! Those were mere contrivances woven into my overall plan, red herrings proffered to encourage others to attribute my actions to petty jealousy. Voldemort and Dumbledore alike expected me to continue to hate. Their expectations gave me cover, masking my true resources and plans. It made me appear weak and inconsequential. When Voldemort was broken the night he killed your parents, I knew he was not finished. The Dark Mark burned into my arm told me he was not gone. Now I know he is defeated."
With a quick motion, Snape pulled up his left sleeve. The Dark Mark was gone leaving a waxy white scar in its place.
Although interested in the unwinding of the tale, Harry did not divert his attention from observing magic signatures around him. "Let him talk," thought Harry. "I'll use the time to plan his defeat."
"I could not kill you because of the Unbreakable Vow Dumbledore extracted from me. I dared not attempt to kill Voldemort because the prophecy indicated that either you, or Longbottom had to kill him. I was never sure Voldemort chose correctly between the two of you, but I learned from his mistake in trying to kill you as a baby. I waited. I tested both you and Longbottom...harshly. I wanted to see if either of you showed dark magic prowess under duress. After Dumbledore's sneaking brother found me listening to Trelawney's prophecy, I shared just enough of it with Voldemort to allow him to make a fatal mistake. It was a near thing. Voldemort would have been killed by his own curse if it had not been for his Horcruxes. Horcruxes, of which I admit, I was unaware. I thank you, Potter, for finding out about them and destroying those bits of Voldemort's soul. The true irony of the whole tale is, that in the end, Voldemort was still killed by his own curse."
More to keep Snape talking than to gather understanding, Harry interrupted, "I suppose you want me to believe my fight for the Philosopher's Stone was your doing?"
"Quirell and the Philosopher's Stone?" Snape responded derisively, "I realized immediately that Quirell was working in league with Voldemort. Any doubts were quelled when Quirell tried to kill you during the Quidditch match. You held no threat in Quirell's attempt to acquire the stone. He had no logical reason to kill you, but you were in my sight and I had to protect you or die by the Unbreakable Vow. Yet, to allow my plan work, I had to surreptitiously help Voldemort regain his body. I could not be found principally involved."
As Harry gathered fine strands of subtle magic, he was surprised to see the same type of magic being gathered elsewhere in the room. Beneath the trapped DA members, small magic spells were gathering and winding their way sinuously toward Snape.
"The DA members are coming to my aid!" thought Harry. "They've found a way to get the magic past Snape's restraints!" He filled with pride over his friend's abilities as he watched magic strands cross the room and gently travel up Snape's body, curling around his arm and wand.
Snape, apparently oblivious to the magic beginning to gather on his robes, continued to talk. "Potter you recall me throwing you from my office during Occlumency lessons? I had to act. I had been misdirecting your instructions. My goal was to allow the Dark Lord access to your mind. If he found a method to kill you out of my presence, I would be released from my vow to Dumbledore. If you alerted the Ministry to Voldemort's goals and he was killed, I planned on taking control of the Death Eaters. Either way I was one step closer to my goal. But I was concerned that at some point Dumbledore would become aware of the inadequacy of my teaching. Fortunately for me, in your arrogance you did not confide your concerns to Dumbledore. Yet, I had to have a seemingly valid reason to end our sessions without arousing significant suspicions. My feigned longstanding animosity against your father provided me with perfect excuse."
"Are you going to try and convince me that you didn't hate both my father and Sirius?" asked Harry contemptuously.
"Oh I held no love for either your father or Sirius Black, but in the larger scheme of things, they amount to nothing," said Snape. "I will even grudgingly admit that because of them I was forced to study more diligently to avoid their juvenile tortures. One might even say that they made me who I am today."
The magic enveloping Snape was almost full, ready to be loosed. Harry dropped his gathering magic to see what his friends had in mind. As Snape talked on, Harry saw the magic grow and surge, it was only at the last instant that he recognized the pitch and hum behind the spell. He twisted to the side as magic surged from Severus Snape's wand and enveloped him. Harry found his arms pinioned tightly to his sides. He was completely unable to move.
"Once again I prove how utterly mundane is your mind Potter," said Snape with a smile of triumph in his voice. "I knew you placed great value in the abilities of your friends. I saw your arrogance as you trained your pitiful rabble behind Delores Umbridge's back. Oh yes, I watched you. Do you really think that you are the only one with a map of Hogwarts? Did you never consider how I arrived so quickly, to so many places, when you needed protection? I knew Barty Crouch Junior was at Hogwarts. My map told me so. I let him and Voldemort run their gauntlet, hoping one or the other would do away with you out of my sight. I even became careful of looking at my map, unsure of the Unbreakable Vow's effect if I happened to be watching if you were killed. Even then you managed to wriggle out of Voldemort's grasp and I had to reset some of my plans. That was probably the most dangerous time for me. I was not remotely afraid of Voldemort, but I had a decision to make; kill him, or let the plan continue to proceed? I acted the humble servant. I bowed. I groveled. I provided just enough information to subtly shape Voldemort's plan for your demise. And I remained undetected in my plotting. Dumbledore and Voldemort alike thought themselves my superior, my master. Both are now dead at my hand. You unwisely consider yourself my equal, and now I will kill you. Indeed, it is you who has made me see that I must kill everyone here tonight. I can readily contrive the necessary covering magic. The Ministry is easily duped. They believe whatever is on the surface, whatever most fully aligns with their pre-supposed position...Voldemort and his Death Eaters in a battle to the death with Harry Potter and his friends...Severus Snape coming in too late to save the brave youngsters but able to do away with Voldemort! What a story it will make. Of course I will leave magic traces in place indicating that I killed Voldemort. Little do I care if you become a footnote in history on my path to immortal glory as the greatest wizard who ever lived! I will even protect the secret that you are a lying sneak-thief. I came back to Hogwarts, disguised by Polyjuice Potion as Elphias Doge to retrieve my potions book. I found you had already taken it from my office. I went looking for you, but you had called all the staff to your aid in searching. I felt it imprudent to question you then. The loss of that book pales in comparison to ridding you from my life. I wanted you to know, that I know you are a thief, before you die."
Snape aimed his wand and silently stripped the wands from Harry's hands. With a malicious smile tracing his thin mouth, Snape held the wands momentarily in front of Harry's eyes and then, as he had done with Voldemort's wands, he dashed them to the floor reducing them to shards.
Harry looked from the remains of Greyback's and Lockhart's wands to Severus Snape's face. "You still have one chance. You killed Dumbledore, and for that you will have to answer to the Ministry, but you did kill Voldemort and I'm sure that will buy you tremendous latitude. On the other hand, if you kill everyone here, you will have no way out, your fate will be sealed. Consider the possibility of getting out of this with your name intact under sterling circumstance. Don't make the mistake Voldemort made of undervaluing life."
"Potter you insult me! You would have me believe that all of these would stand to my defense?" He gestured to the captives still held in his magical bonds. "You would stand to my defense? You whose hate I saw in your weak mind the night I killed Dumbledore. No Potter, it is not up to you to give me a chance. Your mawkish recollections of Dumbledore have addled your brain. There was a small moment that my plan was almost put away. Can you guess when? Probably not, but I don't mind sharing it with you. When I saw that my story of Sirius Black's capture would call into question Dumbledore's grip on his mental faculties, I was tempted to abandon my course. Go "straight" I believe it is called. Yes, if Sirius Black had been killed by the Dementors while he was still perceived as one of Voldemort's followers, if Dumbledore had been publicly disgraced for his trust in Lupin; then I would have been in a position to ask for, and gain, the Headmaster's position at Hogwarts. But you know what happened. You altered events did you not?
I could see it in your pitiful mind, but I could not expose you for fear of my overarching plan. So in reality, when I would have been content to let Dumbledore slip quietly from the stage of public life and retire to ignominy; you forced my hand. It was your meddling that ultimately led to Albus Dumbledore's death. Albus Dumbledore's death was your fault!"
Harry looked into Snape's cold black eyes and his mind flooded with sorrow at the revelation. Snape brought up his wand, and still smiling, he pointed it at Harry and said "Legilimens."
Sorrow, unending, unyielding sorrow, blanketed all of Harry's thoughts. Snape's mental pressure was immense. Harry felt as if Snape was trying to rip his brain from his head.
Snape lifted his wand and the pain disappeared. Stepping over one of the dead bodies littering the floor, Snape spat, "I will allow your death to be as quick and painless as possible Potter. You are no longer necessary to my plans."
Suddenly Snape reached out, grabbed Harry by the hair, and jerked him forward. Bound as he was, he struggled to maintain balance and then toppled. Snape brought up his knee and struck Harry full in the face as he fell. Harry careened sideways and landed bleeding on the floor.
"The Ministry would not expect Voldemort to kill you without torturing you first," said Snape. "This will give them evidence of what they expect."
Snape swung back his foot to deliver an additional blow. Harry twisted away from Snape, apparently trying to avoid the kick, but as Snape's foot came near, Harry pulled his arms up sharply. The unicorn hair woven into his jumper responded to his silent incantation and the magical bonds were severed as cleanly as if they had been cut with a sword. Harry caught the surprised Snape by his rising heel, and lifting sharply he overbalanced Snape, sending him crashing to the floor on his back. Harry arched his back, pushed off with his hands, and in a smooth motion sprang to his feet. Without pause, he reached inside his robes and withdrew both his and Dumbledore's wands. As Snape looked up he found both wands pointed directly at him; one at his head the other at his heart.
"Don't you ever know when you are defeated?" asked Snape as he wiped a trickle of blood from the corner of his mouth. "Your mind is a pitifully easy target for me. Physical acrobatics aside, you are no match for me. You don't have the stomach for killing. You can't possibly defeat me."
"I don't have to kill you. I just have to contain you until the Ministry arrives," said Harry with dead calm in his voice.
"Oh you will have trouble doing that," sneered Snape. "Legilimens!" he said, springing to his feet. Snape's eyes bored into Harry's eyes. The room was absolute silence as the duo conducted a terrible, silent battle. Viewed from the outside, the struggle had the appearance of a staring contest. Neither combatant blinked or wavered. Fully two minutes passed before any discernible change took place. Beads of sweat had broken out on both Harry's and Snape's faces. Their bodies began to tremble. Snape attempted to raise his wand, but as if invisible hands were there, the wand was forced back to his side. Snape tried to look sideways at the captives lining the walls, but his head was snapped back into eye contact with Harry. Silent tears began to slide down Snape's cheeks; tears that were mirrored on Harry's face.
The word echoed through the room. Hermione Granger was moving across the litter-strewn floor. "Stop it Harry!"
She walked up to Harry and tried to break his attention from Snape who now had a stream of blood flowing from his nose. "There has been enough killing tonight. Killing him like this is the gate to becoming like Voldemort!" She looked imploringly at Harry.
The word "gate" penetrated Harry's concentration. He was back at Hogwarts listening to the wisdom of Francois DePais. He heard DePais' caution that "the gate of the future turns on small hinges." Hermione's few words had reached Harry and he understood. He broke his gaze. Snape slumped to the floor barely breathing.
Harry looked about the room, blinking as if he were seeing it for the first time. He stowed his wands and rushed to a lone figure still lying where Voldemort had killed her. Harry knelt and cradled her in his arms; and then gently, he closed her eyelids over unseeing brown eyes.
"It's not your fault Harry. I think Voldemort picked her at random to begin his carnage," said Hermione as tears streamed down her face.
"She didn't really want to be here tonight," he said through sobs. "She only wanted to right a wrong Voldemort perpetrated on her family. I never wanted anyone to get hurt. Voldemort picked her on purpose. He knew she was ... "
Harry never finished the statement. He and Hermione were caught in a whirling vortex of magic. Severus Snape had regained his faculties and was standing triumphant, wand aloft in the centre of the room. He had enveloped Harry and Hermione in exactly the same kind of protective sphere that had initially been used against Voldemort and the Death Eaters.
"Unlike you Potter, I can be taught," ejaculated Snape with a wheezing sneer. "I will, in the future; if I ever speak of you, give you praise for your magical prowess for your age. I have learned from what you have done tonight. Now I believe it is time to separate the two of you and be done with this."
Making an intricate motion with his wand, Snape sliced the globe into two chambers, each holding one captive.
"Don't use any magic inside the sphere," Harry shouted to Hermione.
"Got it," said Hermione, lowering her wand.
"You still think to plan?" said Snape, a trace of mirth in his voice. "Potter, Granger, you are finished. I just need to make your deaths look plausible."
Snape surveyed the room totting his resources. "I have an excellent solution to our impasse," he said turning to Voldemort's body. We will go outside where the magic will be detected and investigated by the Ministry as soon as they are finished with the distraction of the giants. Those in the building will die here, but it will appear that you two chased Voldemort outside and were killed just prior to my arrival and ultimate undoing of Voldemort.
Snape made his way to the crookedly hanging tapestry concealing the exit to the narrow passage between buildings. He ripped the fabric aside and grasped Harry, Hermione, and Voldemort by magical thread and towed them from the building. Harry and Hermione floated a few inches above the ground, while Voldemort's body was dragged unceremoniously through the dirt and rubble of the room. Entering the empty passage, Snape sized up his options. Apparently coming to a decision, he separated Harry and Hermione by a space of about ten feet, with Hermione to the fore. He then set Voldemort's body blocking the exit between the buildings.
"Do you wish to know what will be said of your deaths?" mocked Snape. "I will make it appear that you, Potter, died cowering in a corner, while attempting to hide behind Granger for protection. That should take some of the gild off your reputation don't you think. Your last act to cravenly hide behind, rather than protect, your friend."
"He has more than one friend!"
The words came in a shout from the street-side entrance of the passage. A battered and bleeding Ron Weasley stepped into view, his wand aimed directly at Snape.
"You must be jesting Weasley! I had forgotten about you. But you always were the forgettable one of this trio, weren't you?" said Snape with derision in his voice. "You don't stand a chance against me. Potter is pathetic, what do you think that makes you Weasley?"
"A pure-blood wizard, and their friend," said Ron evenly.
"Potter's arrogant bravado must have rubbed off on you if you think yourself able to face me," laughed Snape.
"I don't delude myself to thinking that I'm your equal," said Ron. "But I think that together we are more than your match."
"Once again I'm astounded by the depth of your foolishness Weasley. You could have saved your own skin, gotten away from here completely. I saw what Voldemort put you through in Potter's absence. I never considered you would stay around after being released from that torture. You should have run, as far and as fast as you could, as soon as you had the chance. I counted on your naive testimony to back up my story to the Ministry. Imagine! Arthur Weasley's son backing my story! Well, no matter now, your friends are unable to help you," said Snape gesturing to Harry and Hermione in their golden bubbles. "You will all die tonight. Here in this garbage strewn alley. The photographs of your lifeless bodies will undoubtedly distress some of the Daily Prophet's more sensitive readers."
"You underestimate the value and strength of friendship," said Ron.
"Never having any friends myself, I feel no loss for that particular component of life," countered Snape. "Observe how easy it was for Voldemort to lure your friends here tonight to save you and your sister. And to what end, you both died here anyway."
"You may be counting your newts before they hatch," said Ron. "Friends don't come because they have to, they come because they want to. They come of their own accord and with no expectation of payment, no concern for their lives, with only a desire to help."
"You think that an admirable sentiment?" asked Snape. "It may be admirable to some, it is foolishness to me. Now you too will pay for your foolhardy decision to tarry."
Snape hesitated as he began to raise his wand. A movement behind Ron caught his attention. First one, then two, then a dozen members of the D.A. crowded into the narrow alley. Snape looked on in disbelief at the sea of raised wands confronting him. The look was immediately erased from his face and replaced by his familiar look of mocking aloofness. "Even together, you children can't possibly believe that you are a match for me!"
"A multitude of small forces brought to bear simultaneously on one point, can overwhelm a larger, stronger force," said Ron, with only the slightest trace of irony in his voice.
Snape looked as if he had been slapped. Hearing a Slytherin Rule of Confrontation quoted by a Gryffindor thoroughly unnerved him. Snape appeared to regain his composure quickly. "That only applies if the smaller force is coordinated and able."
"Oh, I believe you will find us well organized and magically able," said Ron. Assent was echoed in a murmur through the gathered D.A. members. Golden shields went up in front of each D.A. member, making an impenetrable barrier.
"I recognize an unwinable battle when I see one," said Snape, beginning to lower his wand.
"Look out!" shouted Harry still captive inside Snape's bubble.
As Snape's wand drew parallel with the ground, true to Harry's warning, he loosed tremendous magic at the foundation of the factory. The building cracked at the corner and began to slough off, great chunks of concrete and steel raining down on everyone. Protected by their shields, the D.A. members huddled together. Ron dodged debris, but seemed to be favouring his right leg. Snape ran straight away at those blocking his escape from the alley, but brought forward nothing magical. Instead he elbowed shielded individuals aside and broke into the street. Harry and Hermione were dragged along behind, still attached to him by his protective spell.
As they neared the chaos of golden shields now scattered about the entrance to the alley, Harry suddenly recognized the danger. "Cover your heads!" he shouted to the disarrayed group. All obeyed immediately, but when Hermione struck the nearest shield, the result was immense. The thread of magic holding her was broken. She fell sideways into the D.A. and came to rest lodged against Ron's guarding shield. The building, already weakened, collapsed atop Ron, Hermione, and the D.A., burying them under tons of rubble.
Snape sped on, dragging a battered Harry behind. Finally stopping, Snape faced Spinner's End at the cemetery. He crashed Harry to the ground. "Potter you are more trouble than you are worth. You and your interfering friends have used up much of the time I need to create my version of events. The collapse of the factory surely killed all inside but I can't leave that to the vagaries of chance. Although I personally detest the use of Inferi, Voldemort had no such compunctions. Inferi will dig out, and do away with, any left alive in the rubble. There will be no survivors tonight, well...apart from me, that is."
Snape severed the strand of magic attached to Harry but left him in his golden sphere. "I will release you to the furies of the Inferi. This will take but a moment."
"Severus, please. Don't do it," said Harry speaking quickly. "We may still be able to work out an arrangement to help you. If we act immediately, we may still be able to save the others. I know the pain you have endured. I have suffered the effects of the same treatment as I have grown up," said Harry glancing at the twisted remains of the factory. "There is still a way out for you, but if you attempt to summon Inferi, there will be no redemption."
"You offer me redemption! Do you think I seek redemption! Do you think you begin to fathom the depths of the pain I have suffered because of your short excursion into my mind! You know nothing. Your life was a princely upbringing compared to mine. You know nothing." Snape leaned against the stonework surrounding the cemetery, shaking slightly.
"I know that you were physically and emotionally battered by your father, that you have never gotten past the guilt you feel for not being able to protect your mother. I know that you desired recognition..."
Snape cut through Harry's words with a maniacal shout, "YOU KNOW NOTHING!" Snape's eyes searched the surroundings as if seeking a place to hide, a place of refuge or protection.
"There is still a way out," said Harry.
"You truly believe what you are saying, don't you?" panted Snape.
"Yes I do," said Harry with a tinge of encouragement in his voice. "I believe that there is always a way out, a way back."
"Well then you will die with that maudlin pronouncement on your lips. I have gone too far to ever be redeemed. There is no way back for me, only forward through the pain of my plans. I must cover my past to have any future." Snape sank, as if under a tremendous weight, to the ground near the cemetery's stone fence.
"You can't cover the past. The only way to be free is to confront your past, accept your mistakes, and commit to better choices in the future. We have never been friends, but I tell you this, if you take one more step on the path you plan, there will be no turning back."
Harry looked searchingly into Snape's black eyes. "We must act now!"
Snape seemed to steel himself as he struggled to his feet. "Possibly, under very different circumstances, we may have been able to learn from each other. I cannot bring myself to believe your words as anything more than sentimental drivel. I will not watch the Inferi kill you as I intended. You believe what you say. I wish...I wish I could believe you."
Snape hoisted himself over the low rock wall and set his feet squarely in the cemetery. He turned his back on Harry and raised his wand. The ground cracked open over at least fifty nearby graves. Some stone markers toppled into the widening cracks. The earth beneath their feet gave a sudden violent lurch. Snape had just begun to form the incantation to reanimate dead bodies when a blinding light appeared. Harry, still inside Snape's globe, shielded his eyes. There was a great rushing of wind and a ground-shaking thunderclap, then all was still.
Harry lowered his arm and was momentarily blinded by the brightness of Ogram standing before him in the air. She was more beautiful than anyone or anything Harry had ever seen. "What has become of Severus Snape?" asked Harry tentatively.
"The one who attempted to desecrate my charges has been borne home to his true family. He will, after proper atonement for his actions, experience love equate with the pain he has had to bear during his mortal sojourn. Weep not for those who go to a better place." With no further explanation, Ogram gathered into the light and vanished.
Ogram's dazzling presence, brief though it was, had weakened Harry beyond any test of wills or prowess he had thus endured. Suddenly he realized Snape's spell had ended. He was no longer fettered within a magic sphere. "Hermione!" he thought in panic as he attempted to marshal his strength. "If my sphere vanished, so did the one protecting Hermione! She'll be crushed in the rubble!"
Harry staggered drunkenly to the tangled pile of broken building. Raising his wand, he directed his remaining energy into an incantation to free his trapped friends. The contact with Ogram, combined with his desire to focus entirely on the removal of the heavy debris, consumed the last bit of Harry's energy. As he struggled wordlessly to maintain the incantation, Harry Potter fell insensate and unmoving to the ground.