Chapter Thirty: Looking Fate in the Eye
Snape closed the door behind them. "Now. We need a suitable place to hide. This corridor is too narrow; there is nowhere to escape to quickly. If I remember correctly, we passed by a door labelled Secrets. I suggest there."
Harry nodded. He glanced up the corridor. "Which door is it?"
A tiny fire appeared in front of a door close by, as though answering his question. Harry rushed over, and pulled it open. The three hurried inside. The door swung shut slowly and gave a dull snap.
Harry found himself looking down a long staircase, into a labyrinth. The walls seemed to be endlessly high, and there were hundreds of paths leading in every direction. Everything around was dark. The labyrinth was so big, and stretched on so far, that it simply melted into the blackness. Harry bit his lip. "We'll get easily lost in there."
Snape shook his head. "Black and I both have enhanced senses of smell. We'll be able to find you easily enough. If you get lost, call for me telepathically, and I'll get to you as quickly as I can."
Sirius was bounding away down the staircase, taking the steps five at a time, rushing towards the maze. He looked as though he couldn't wait to get started. Harry had to admit that he found Sirius's enthusiasm and bravery very comforting. Snape nudged Harry down the stairs, and followed him. They both descended into the labyrinth, lower and lower. When Harry looked upwards, he could hardly see the tops of the walls. Sirius was waiting for them, tail wagging.
"Come. We need to get as far from the entrance as possible," said Snape. "There is only so much time before the D-... before Voldemort figures out where we are. Black? Get us lost, please."
Sirius jumped to his feet, gave a sharp bark, and then turned and ran off down one of the paths. Snape and Harry sprinted after him. They ran for what felt like half an hour, before Snape finally skidded to a halt.
"Black!" he called. "Back..."
Sirius came pattering over, and sat down, panting, tongue lolling out of his mouth. Harry sat down on the floor. He felt exhausted. Snape reached down, and out of sight of Sirius, ran his fingers over Harry's scar. Harry made an indistinct noise of thanks.
"Should we split up?" he said, panting.
Snape shook his head. "No. You are the target here. Once you are dead, the game is over. The same goes for Voldemort. There is nothing to be gained in separating... unless... one of us will have to stay with you, and the other could act as a distraction."
Harry felt a twinge. He didn't want to lose either of his battlers, and couldn't stand the thought of them killed, even if it was just until the battle ended. He knew it was for the best though. He nodded, silently.
Snape seemed to know what Harry was thinking. He crouched down next to Harry. "I shall go. Black will keep you safe. Stay here, and do not move until you have to. You should be sufficiently deep in the labyrinth to be safe, for at least a while. Keep your thoughts open to me."
Harry nodded. Snape stood up again, and a change came over him suddenly. His hair grew longer, in long dark tendrils around his shoulders, and his eyes gleamed red. Fangs inched over his bottom lip, and claws spread out from his fingertips. Snape the vampire appeared. He turned his scarlet eyes onto Harry, and then turned. He walked away without another word, heading into the darkness. After a while, his footsteps couldn't be heard anymore.
Sirius crawled over, and rested his head in Harry's lap with a small whine. Harry scratched him behind the ears. "I'll explain everything later. Promise." He looked down at his godfather for a moment of quiet, and then murmured, "I missed you, Sirius."
Sirius nudged into Harry's hand, and licked it affectionately. Harry smiled and tickled him under the chin.
Time started to pass. Harry found himself unable to tell the difference between an hour and a minute, as it all blurred together in a stream of thoughts and worries. The labyrinth was deathly silent, apart from the sound of Sirius's breathing. Harry was starting to worry. Snape hadn't contacted him since he left, and it must have been hours now. At that very moment though, Snape chose to break the silence. His voice spoke into the back of Harry's head, as though he was sitting right behind Harry.
"I'm here," Harry thought. "Where are you? What's going on?"
"Malfoy and Voldemort have split up," Snape's voice said quietly, quickly. "Malfoy is entering the labyrinth now. Shall I try and get rid of him?"
"Um..." Harry dithered. He had no experience of combat strategies at all. "No... try to stay out of sight. Can you tell where me and Sirius are?"
"Then... follow him, and only attack him if he gets too close."
"Tell Black to be ready, in case something happens to me. And if Black is gone... you're on your own, Harry. Just be prepared for something like that to happen. It's a possibility."
"Don't say that," thought Harry. He closed his eyes. "We're all going to get out of here. You and me and Sirius. And you're going to show me your library, and be my best man at my wedding. And be godfather to my children."
"What a life I have to look forward to."
Harry smiled. Sirius cocked his head, and made a noise of curiosity, but Harry said nothing for the moment. "I might even name my first son after you."
"Severus Potter. Mmm, classy."
"What's your middle name?"
"And I am to be godfather to this poor little individual?"
"Yep." Harry smiled again, as he heard Snape's noise of mild contempt. Sirius whined softly and licked at his hand. He glanced down at Sirius, and scratched him behind the ears again. "Where's Malfoy going?"
"In the completely opposite direction to you," Snape's voice said idly. "He couldn't be taking a much more wrong path."
Harry settled back against the wall, still petting Sirius gently. Perhaps all this wouldn't be so bad. If they got rid of Malfoy, then Snape and Sirius managed to nearly kill Voldemort, and Harry finished the job, it could actually be pain-free. It was odd though, Harry thought. Why would Malfoy be randomly searching the labyrinth, without Voldemort or any sort of communication with him? And where was Voldemort, anyway? The way things were going, it was almost like...
Harry sat bolt upright. His heart was pounding. "Severus!" he thought, desperately. "Get back here! As fast as you can! It's a trick! Malfoy's been sent to distract you, so – "
It was too late. Something moved at the end of the passage to their right. Harry turned, and only had a split-second to register Voldemort, sweeping towards them, before he was on his feet and running. Sirius was racing along behind him, barking like mad, and Harry was sprinting faster than he ever had done in his entire life. If he stopped, and turned around to fight, Voldemort would catch him and kill him. There was no time. All he could do was run.
He sprinted down every possible path that came to him, not caring where it led to, as long as he could keep running. He could hear Voldemort behind him, and Sirius running at his heels. More footsteps were coming to, from far away, and then something hit the wall next to him hard. Harry screamed and covered his neck as he ran. He couldn't stop and see what it was. All that mattered was getting far enough away.
But then there was something up ahead, something grappling over the top of the wall and flinging itself over in front of him. Harry recognised Snape before his eyes had even adjusted. He ran, terrified, clawing at the air in a desperate attempt to get to his guardian. Snape grabbed Harry and pushed him behind, stepping in the way. Voldemort was advancing down the passage. Sirius was at Snape's heels, hackles raised, barking viciously and spraying spit everywhere in his fury.
"Get out of the way, Severus," hissed Voldemort, in his high, cold voice. His eyes were fixed on Snape, full of fury and hatred. "Stand aside."
Snape did not move. His shoulders were hunched up, his claws curled and ready, as tense as a cat about to spring.
"Stand aside," Voldemort repeated. He reached up with a twisted hand, and moved it as though to sweep something aside. Harry saw Snape tense again, as though pushing back against an invisible force.
Snape raised his hands, and pushed them outwards. Voldemort stiffened this time, and visibly had to push against Snape's force. "Go," Snape growled.
Voldemort held out his own hands, and stepped forwards. Snape moved passed Sirius to approach him. Harry made a grab for him, but the great black dog nudged him back. It reached up, and grew into Sirius the human, holding Harry back. "Don't," he said. "I've seen this before."
Harry watched, as Snape and Voldemort both walked towards each other, hands still outstretched. A deep purple glow was radiating off both. It was growing stronger and stronger as they got nearer and nearer, until they were almost touching, and the glow was leaking out into the air like poison through water.
"What's going on?" Harry said desperately, trying to watch past Sirius, who was still pushing him away.
"It's a psychic struggle," said Sirius. "Like locking antlers, with the mind... get back, Harry, come on..."
The glow was so intense that Harry could hardly see Snape or Voldemort anymore. He could feel pain, white-hot pain prickling across his scar, searing inside his mind, making him cry out. Sirius shouted as well, and there was a great rushing sound from the purple glow. It vanished instantly, and Snape was expelled backwards, physically lifted off his feet and flung through the air. Harry rushed forward and moved to catch Snape. Both tumbled to the floor in a heap. Snape fought his way up to his feet again, panting. Voldemort was smirking.
"I always did enjoy our little struggles," he said, his eyes flashing. "It was all a game once, Severus... do you remember?"
Snape made towards Voldemort again, snarling, but Sirius grabbed him and hauled him back. Harry and Sirius both held onto Snape. Voldemort's eyes had turned onto Harry now.
He lifted his hand, and beckoned. "Come here, Harry... let's see how well your precious guardian has taught you..."
Sirius grabbed Harry by the back of the neck, and held him still. Snape was stepping in front of Harry again, blocking him from view. Voldemort was smiling at him.
"Harry... why do you hide, behind other men? You are grown now... you can fight for yourself... are you going to let them stop you proving your worth?"
Harry looked up at Snape. Snape met his eyes. In that one moment, though no words were passed, they both decided. Snape put his hand on Harry's shoulder, and brought him forward. Harry stared into Voldemort's eyes. The moment he felt those splayed fingertips rest on his temples, his own eyes fell shut, and he delved into his mind. He could feel Severus's conscience rushing in too, merging with his own, replenishing power to his mind. The dulled sensation of heat came through his body, as though breaking through barriers in his nerves, and welling in his fingertips, growing slowly hotter and hotter. Harry raised his hands. His eyes didn't seem to work, and he sensed the fire growing at his fingers more than saw it. It was filling the passageway.
And then it erupted, left him, rushed out of his body in a stream that seemed to blow the whole atmosphere to pieces. It roared through the passageway, feeling every corner and then centring on Voldemort, in a whirlwind of flame and fury. Harry was shaking. He couldn't hold this much longer. Finally he gave way, and fell backwards. His eyes opened again. Everything was swaying in a haze of heat, rising upwards and trying to escape the labyrinth. Voldemort fell to his knees at the end of the passage, seething with pain, covered in burns.
Snape and Sirius both grabbed Harry around the waist, and dragged him away. They ran, half-carrying him and half-dragging him, getting more and more lost inside the twisting tunnels of the labyrinth. When Harry could feel his legs again, he started to run too. After long minutes, they finally stopped, and fell against the sides of the maze, panting. Harry fell again. Sirius picked him up, and then rounded on Snape.
"What in the name of Merlin were you doing?" he snarled. "You nearly killed him!"
"Sirius, don't," said Harry. He felt exhausted, and drained, but more from the running than anything. He staggered between Snape and Sirius. Both of them moved to grab him and hold him up. "Just don't fight between you... please... I'm not hurt... and we've stopped Voldemort, for at least a while..."
Snape nodded. He didn't look at Sirius as he scooped Harry over, and rested him against the wall. He reached into his robes. "Damn it... I don't have my drafts..." He sighed, and pushed Harry's hair off his forehead, running a thumb over his scar. Harry felt himself calmed, instantly, but Sirius made a low growl and snatched Snape's hand away.
"Get off him."
Snape didn't argue. He just took his hand off Harry's forehead, and turned away. Sirius glared at him.
"Maybe we should go back," growled Sirius. "Finish him off. If he's lying there on the floor, this is the perfect opportunity."
"And how are we supposed to find our way back to that exact place?" said Snape.
"Follow the scent of burning flesh," Sirius shrugged.
Snape scoffed. "No. We need to get out of this place, as quickly as possible, and find somewhere else to hide. A better tactical position. We're going to get nowhere, running around this maze like rats in a muggle laboratory." He gave Sirius a contemptuous look. "Stay here, and watch him."
Snape stepped up to the nearest wall, stretched out his hands, and placed them flat on the smooth surface. His claws dug into it, creating tiny cracks, and Harry watched in amazement as he managed to climb upwards. He moved quickly and elegantly, so in less than a minute, he was standing on top of the walls. His balance seemed to be perfect too. He walked along the thin surface, gazing into the distance, and didn't even sway.
"The exit is a long walk from here," he called down, his voice echoing around the walls. "In a northerly direction, I believe." He turned, spread his arms, and jumped gently off the edge of the wall. Harry gasped. Snape landed cat-like on the floor, and straightened up, not even moved by falling so far. "We shall head in that direction. If we stand guard on the staircase, we will have the best position."
They walked, in near silence, through the twisting corridors of the labyrinth. Snape went in front, and then Harry, with Sirius following behind and keeping a hand on Harry's shoulder all the time. Several times, Snape went climbing up the walls to check how far they were from the stairs. At last, after what felt like hours, they found the steps and went up them slowly. Snape and Sirius sat at the top, with Harry between them. Harry was nursing his ankles. They felt very painful, from walking so far through the labyrinth.
Sirius chose this moment to speak up. "So. Tell me what's going on, why don't you?"
Snape gave a rather melodramatic sigh. "There is nothing ‘going on', Black. Dumbledore chose me to look after the boy and act as his guardian, seeing as though you were no longer around."
"Yeah," said Sirius, vaguely. "Now why don't you tell me what's really going on?"
"This is neither the time nor the place," said Snape. "Just trust that you will understand soon, and my feelings towards Harry are nothing less than... benign."
"Why doesn't that make me feel any better?" Sirius mused.
Snape tutted. He reached out for Harry, took his hair off his forehead, and started on his scar again. Harry felt himself sink a little and nudge closer through instinct. Sirius just watched, glaring. He clearly saw that it made Harry feel better, and so didn't complain, but he was very obviously not happy.
"It's a calming method," said Snape vaguely. He rubbed his thumb over the scar again. "If you wish for him to sit here scared out of his wits, and pained by his ankles, say the word and I will stop."
"Since when did Dumbledore put you in charge of molly-coddling him?" Sirius growled.
"Since the Potters died," said Snape coldly. "Just to alarm you further, Peeves the poltergeist also has similar rights to him, and Pettigrew would have been chosen had he not defected to the Dark Lord."
"Nobody ever said Dumbledore makes perfect decisions," said Sirius.
Harry was quiet, and looked rather dazed. His ankle was tingling ever so slightly now, as though Snape's contact with his scar was healing him a little bit. He hoped that Sirius would understand. Through the last months of school, people had driven him crazy quoting things about the guardian bond at him, but suddenly, he almost wished that Sirius had read the article from the Prophet too, just so he wouldn't have to explain it to his godfather.
Harry was just relaxing completely, and starting to feel even hopeful that they would be victorious, when a purple flash burst at the entrance to the labyrinth below. They all cried out and ducked, shielding their heads, as a roaring crimson flame burst up before them, surging up the staircase. Sirius grabbed Harry around the middle and dragged him away from the flame. They crashed through the doors, and started to run. Sirius was far faster than Harry, and kept shouting over his shoulder to him, urging him on, but Harry was slowing. Finally, half-way down the corridor away, he stopped. He turned.
"Severus?" he shouted. There was no reply. "Sirius, I'm going back for him!"
Sirius was shouting at him to stop, but Harry didn't care. He was running again, but back towards the room, his feet drumming on the floor. He found the door within moments of skidding to a halt, and shunted it open.
A horrible scene met his eyes.
Malfoy had Snape by the arms, and had curled a fist in his hair, pulling his head back and stretching his throat out. Voldemort was there, with a knife. In the split second it took for Harry to register what was happening, Voldemort raised the knife.
Harry found himself running, and shouting. He didn't know what he was planning to do, and all he was relying upon was an utter miracle.
Perhaps it was his lucky day, or perhaps fate was kind to the good, for Harry suddenly started to feel heat surging up in him. It was like anger, in a physical form, making him hotter and hotter until it was expelling from his whole body in the form of huge, roaring black flames. He saw Voldemort turn, his mouth open his panic, and Malfoy dropped Snape, turning to run, but Harry was too fast. He leapt into the air, his arms fastened around Snape, and then he was lifting upwards, soaring out of the towering inferno of fire and smoke pouring out of him and swamping everything in a tide of flames. It went roaring down the staircase, and spreading outwards rapidly, becoming far hotter than normal fire.
Nothing could have survived the blast when the fireball suddenly erupted, and filled the entire cavern with a noise like an entire planet shaking apart. Out in the corridor, Sirius heard it, and he knew where Harry had gone. With a cry, he started beating on the door, praying for it to open.
"Harry!" he was roaring, "HARRY!!"
Heat was pouring from the room in waves that simply stole the breath from under Sirius's nose. He choked, as it turned into billowing black smoke, strangling him. He backed away, and hit the opposite wall. The smoke continued to furl outwards. It spread out down the corridor, as though racing the air to the end. Sirius got up on his feet again. He had to keep trying. If Harry was in there, trying to get out...
He threw himself at the door, and hit it hard. The wood creaked a little. He braced himself and slammed against it again, and again, until his shoulder was aching and bruised, but he kept going. Finally, after nearly a minute of battering it, the wooden splinted. Sirius punched his fist through. The heat inside was incredible, like being in the very heart of a fire. He knocked into the hole again, widening it, kicking and breaking away the wood, until he could climb through the jagged opening.
It was like stepping into hell on earth. Fire surged above him, reaching so far into the darkness that he couldn't see, and only a single spot of floor was cleared of the flames that circled around it. In the space were four things. There were bones, blackened and charred, scattered everywhere across the floor, and close to the largest pile was a dark chunk of rock, about the size of a fist. It glittered ominously as Sirius looked at it, though his attention was caught immediately by the two bodies lying side by side in the middle of the circle.
It was hard to tell who had been protecting who. Harry was clutching onto Snape, who was shielding him back, one hand woven into the black hair on the back of his head. Sirius dropped to his knees, shaking.
"Harry," he croaked. Harry didn't make a sound. Shaking from panic, Sirius tried to prize them apart, but Harry's grip was just too strong. Sirius reached under Harry's chin, and pressed his fingers all over his neck, trying to find a pulse point. There was no answering beat of Harry's heart. Sirius whimpered. At times like this when the man had failed, the dog took over. He reached out and tried to find Snape's pulse, but there was nothing there.
Sirius looked around at the flames and the burnt skeletons. Had Harry and Snape done something? Some kind of explosion? That would make the bones on the floor those of Voldemort or Malfoy, but... Harry and Snape had therefore given their lives, to get rid of Voldemort.
Sirius closed his eyes. Heat was now building behind his eyelids, from frustration, of not knowing what he could do. He reached out to Harry and put a hand on his neck, just in case he had missed it, but the pulse wasn't there. There was nothing anybody could do. Sirius let out a howl of rage and misery, that rang over the flames and seemed to make them burn even more ferociously. Sirius gave another cry of anger. Harry hadn't deserved to die, and neither had Snape, even if it was to get rid of –
He stopped. For a moment, he had felt something on Harry's neck, like a single, frail beat. He pressed his fingers closer. For a few long moments, there was nothing.
But then again, and more desperate this time, more stubborn, there was one tiny beat. Sirius reached out and grabbed Snape's neck. He was shaking as he prayed for the pulse to come again.
It did. Both pulse points, at exactly the same time, beat together. Sirius was shaking even harder. Another beat came, and then almost immediately another, and another. They were slow, and weak, but they were there. Oxygen, Sirius thought, they needed oxygen. He reached down, and grabbed Snape and Harry, dragging them outside. As he passed the black stone, he picked it up, thinking that Harry might have dropped it. He got them both out into the corridor, which was quickly clearing of smoke. The moment the fresh air hit Harry, he started to hack and cough. Sirius thought he could cry.
"Harry!" he said frantically. "Harry!"
Harry coughed and shuddered as his body expelled the smoke and heat. His arms tightened instinctively around Snape. Harry's throat felt red raw, and his whole body ached as though it had been badly burnt, but he knew he was alive. Snape was moving too. The professor started to cough in the same way as Harry, clutching at his throat with one hand, the other still weaved in the hair at the back of Harry's scalp. Sirius was shouting with joy, and jumping up and down. He only stopped when he stood on Snape, who dug his boot into Sirius's calf-muscle and brought him to the floor.
"Black!" he choked. "Desist!"
Sirius was grinning. "You're alive! We're all alive!"
"Where's..." Harry croaked. He stopped, and swallowed, and tried again. "Where's Vol... Vol... Voldemort?"
"He's dead," said Sirius. He was smiling almost maniacally now. "Don't you understand? We're alive, and they're dead! Do you know what this means?"
Harry's face slackened. For a moment, joy and excitement rushed through him so strongly that he couldn't speak, couldn't think properly. "We've won," he whispered. "He's gone... he's gone! HE'S GONE!!"
Madam Pomfrey had found Harry and Snape first, quiet and cold, slumped against each other in the hospital wing. She raised the alarm, and within an hour, everybody of any importance at all was summoned. There was Dumbledore, and Professor McGonagall, Professor Flitwick, Professor Lupin, Madam Sprout, Professor Alrister, Draco, Ginny, Neville, Luna, Ron, Kainda and Hermione both crying, Mr and Mrs Weasley, Bill Weasley, Charlie Weasley, Hagrid, Peter, Fred and George, and they had even tried to convince Uncle Vernon into coming, but he was having none of it, and told Professor Pebblebank in the disguise of a saleswoman to get off his lawn.
It had now been several long hours since Harry and Snape were found. Bill Weasley explained to them all that time moved differently in the mind, as it wasn't a physical state, and couldn't be measured. He explained it in greater detail but nobody really grasped the concept, so instead, he started chanting prayers from an Egyptian book and sprinkling dried flowers over Harry and Snape. Draco had tried to help, and must have said something wrong, but they managed to managed to turn him back from a scarab beetle into a human fairly soon, and there was no harm done.
Kainda was still looking very bleary-eyed. She and Hermione had used up nearly a whole box of tissues between them, and Mrs Weasley had helped them along significantly. Everybody was very stony-faced and pale, even Dumbledore and the twins. Bill took another pinch of dried petals, and scattered them over Harry's sleeping face, starting with the next chant. He was just halfway through the first line, and Hermione had reached for another tissue, when Harry suddenly bolted awake with a startled cry. Everybody jumped, and Hagrid knocked over a bed as he did. Bucket shot from Luna's arms and went racing away down the ward, as Harry fell back into his bed, choking.
"What's wrong with him?" squealed Hermione, hands over her mouth.
"He's suffocating!" cried Ron, before leaping on Harry, and grabbing his fringe, clearly going for mouth-to-mouth. The shock made Harry cough even harder, and expel a large clump of dried flowers in Ron's face. "Eurgh!" he shouted, wiping it off his nose. "Harry, you prat, what are you doing?"
"Harry," said Dumbledore seriously. He was standing by the side of Harry's bed, and watching him with a very hopeful, almost desperate expression. "What happened to Voldemort?"
Harry paused. His mind was whirling. What happened to Voldemort was so marvellous, so fantastic, that he was scared if he said it aloud it would no longer exist. He looked up at Dumbledore. "I... he's gone..." His face split into a smile. "He's gone," he said again.
Everybody started clamouring for explanations, chattering as one, offering Harry water and fresh air and food. Harry was just starting to feel drowned by all the noise, when the door opened and everybody fell silent as they turned to see who it was.
A pair of heavy brown boots thunked gently on the floor, as the visitor stepped inside and closed the door with a quiet snap. Harry's eyes were wide, and his mouth was open. For a moment, he was sure that he was seeing things, or he was still trapped in his mind.
Sirius grinned. Everybody was staring at him in alarm. "Winners live," he said, grinning wider than ever. "Losers die."
"Sirius?" said Lupin quietly. He was walking over, tentatively, as though he didn't dare to believe his eyes. "Sirius, is that you?"
"Moony..." Sirius approached Lupin, and grabbed him in a very tight hug, holding onto him like a long-lost brother. Lupin returned the embrace. Sirius was laughing. "Come on! What are all the stony expressions for? Anybody would think something terrible had happened!"
"The thing is," said Draco, coolly, "we don't actually know what's happening at all really."
Sirius was walking over to Harry, slipping through the small crowd. He sat on his godson's bedside, grinned, and ruffled his hair, beaming around at everybody. They were all still staring. Sirius looked at Harry, smiling. "Well, Harry? How about you tell them all what happened?"
Harry did. For the first time, ever, he spoke without worry of being called a liar or disbelieved. He told them everything, right from when he first saw Khepri in his dreams up to leaving the psychic battle. They all listened, watching him closely, not asking questions until he was completely finished with the whole story. When he ended, and just smiled at them all, they burst into talking, asking questions and chattering wildly.
"But... so he's gone?" said Ron. "He's really gone? Forever, you mean? No more Voldemort at all?"
"Nope," said Harry beaming. "He's gone forever. It's all over."
Kainda was gazing at him with even more tears welling in her eyes. He smiled to her, and opened his mouth to say something, but next second, she had practically pounced on him and grabbed him in hug so tight it took the breath from his lungs. "I'm so sorry," she gasped. "I didn't believe you, and you've been through all this, and now you've gotten rid of You-Know-Who!"
Everybody else started talking again, about how brave Harry must have been, asking yet more questions and clamouring to hear more details. Harry glanced through the crowd, and spotted something that made his heart sink a little. He held up his hand.
"It wasn't just me," he said. "More people helped too." Everybody glanced instinctively at Sirius, but Harry shook his head, looking through the crowd. They all turned to look too.
Snape sat in the opposite bed where he had been put by Madam Pomfrey, just watching them all silently. As they stared at him, he raised an eyebrow, but said nothing.
"Professor Snape helped," said Harry. He glanced around at them all. "He did just as much work as me, if not more."
A few mumbles broke out, but they died away quickly. Snape was still quiet. "No matter, Potter," he said, with a fake sigh. "I would so hate to steal the glory of you and Black, after all."
Harry noticed the subtle tone in which Snape said, ‘and Black', and figured out its meaning instantly. He reached out a hand to Snape. "It's not just our glory. It's your glory too."
Snape paused. Harry could see indecision in his dark eyes, before he stood, and walked over silently. He sat on Harry's right side. Harry spotted the wary glance he gave to Sirius as he did.
"I don't want you both fighting over me," he said sternly. "Please... we don't have to fight anymore. There's nothing to fight about. Voldemort's gone, for good, and he's never coming back... the wizarding world should stop fighting because of that, not start all over again."
Peter was gliding forwards, and sitting on the end of Harry's bed, ghostly and shimmering white. He was smiling at them all. "He's right," he said quietly. "Why are we all still here, demanding answers and arguing? The Dark Lord's never going to come back again. We can live in safety and peace. Isn't it something to celebrate?"
"And quite right he is," said Dumbledore. He was smiling now, his blue eyes twinkling behind his half-moon spectacles. "You know, I do believe a wonderful way to start the festivities would be some sort of huge party with a great deal of loud music and unhealthy food. I have been planning a surprise end-of-term celebration for a while now, because of the total number of house points generated by the school, and I'm sure nobody will mind having it a little earlier than planned." He stood up. "Minerva, Severus, Flora, Filius, kindly go and wake the students in your houses, and bring them down to the Great Hall. Alrister, could you please alert the house elves to prepare a large quantity of snacks? Arthur, I would appreciate if you could go and inform the ministry of what has happened. Remus, Sirius, please take the students to the Great Hall and begin the celebrations. We have a lot to get through." His eyes twinkled. "I will be with you as soon as I can, once I have sorted out a few things."
Sirius was grinning wider than ever as he helped Harry out of bed, and found him a dressing gown. Lupin took all the other students down to the Great Hall, and Sirius waited while Madam Pomfrey checked Harry over and declared him healthy. Once he was allowed to go, Sirius put an arm around his shoulders and led him out of the hospital wing.
"So," he said, smirking. "What sort of a state have you left my house in, Harry? Full of takeaway boxes and lingerie, hmm?"
"Oh no," said Harry, laughing.
"How disappointing," said Sirius with another grin.
They stepped into the Great Hall, to find Fred and George conjuring life-size dolls of Voldemort, and attaching them on strings to the ceiling. Ron, Hermione, Draco, Kainda, Luna, Neville and Ginny were all waiting as Sirius and Harry stepped into the hall. They were all smiling from ear to ear. Very soon, the hall started to fill with people, all of them in their pajamas and looking dazed.
"What's going on?" said Ernie Macmillan as he hurried over, pulling a dressing robe around his shoulders, and trying to sort out his hair. "Has something bad happened?"
Harry and all his friends just laughed. Soon the hall was nearly full, and everybody was wondering the same thing. Tables appeared laden with the most wonderful food, but nobody ate; they were far too busy asking one another if they knew what was happening. Before long, Dumbledore had stepped into the hall, and raised his hands for quiet.
"May I have your attention for one moment, please?" he called. Everybody went silent, and turned to look at him. He smiled around at them. Joy and laughter was brimming in his bright blue eyes. "I have wonderfully good news to tell you all. For tonight, a precious gift has been brought to our world – the gift of peace. Lord Voldemort is no longer among us. Tonight, the terrible evil which has plagued us for so many years now was finally destroyed." He raised his arms. "We are free once more."
The hall burst into noise. Everybody was shouting, grabbing each other, jumping and laughing and talking. Music stared from nowhere, and soon people were eating and dancing joyously. Every now and then, the doors would open, and another ministry official would come running in to talk to Dumbledore in an excited voice, a smile all over their face. Harry found himself telling the story of what happened over and over again, and every time, he felt a warm glow of joy and utter happiness when he finished.
The party went on all night, and nearly all of the next day, as more and more people arrived. They brought food and drink, and all of them were hugging each other and laughing and joking. Harry eventually had to be dragged out of the hall by a concerned Peter, who was worried about some amber liquid the twins kept giving Harry, and how he got louder and friendlier with every glassful.
The next day, the Daily Prophet was full of nothing but joyful and ecstatic messages of love and peace from the whole wizarding world, announcing an end to terror and fear. Somewhere in the middle, a single page was devoted to the article, "FUDGE SACKED IN HARRY-POTTER-MURDER-SCANDAL – Arthur Weasley Tipped as Next Minister". On the Monday of the week after that, a new story adorned the front page, "THREE HEROES TO BE GIVEN THE ORDER OF MERLIN – Sirius Black, Severus Snape and Harry Potter to Be Presented with Highest Honour", and it was barely two weeks after that before Harry was entering the Main Hall of the ministry headquarters. He was wearing new dress robes, and as he stepped in, camera flashes went off all around the room. He grinned at all the reporters, all his friends in the front row, Mrs Weasley sobbing into her hankie with joy. Sirius was following on his left and Snape at his right. All three of them approached Mr Weasley, who stood at the very front, with their three medals next to him on a box. The hall burst into applause and joyful cheering and clapping as Mr Weasley beamed, shook their hands, and pinned the Order of Merlin onto their robes. As Harry looked out over the sea of people, all cheering and applauding, he realised he had never felt so happy and proud in his whole life. The entire room seemed to glow with harmony around him. He grinned, and waved out at everybody. The whole world smiled back.
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