Chapter Forty-Two: The Seige of Hogwarts (Part Two)
Everybody looked around in surprise at the noise. It seemed to be coming from all around them, just a constant rumbling growl. Harry couldn't help but edge a little closer to Peter and Snape. It sounded almost as though a motorway was suddenly running over the ceiling, but then, another odd noise joined in. It was a squelching, splattering sound, some very thick liquid boiling and gurgling around. And then a scraping. Scrit scrit, scrit scrit.
They all screamed as there was suddenly a loud crack against one of the stone walls, followed by another, as something hard was battered against the rock. People were drawing away from the noise quickly. They were all too frightened to realise what it was that must be going on to cause the sounds. And when they did, it was far, far too late.
Snape realised first. Harry heard his curse, as he wheeled around, drawing his wand again and pointing it somewhere in the blackness. "Lumos portal," he commanded, and instantly, there was a rush of flames and a doorway burst into the visible spectrum, the doors creaking outwards to open a long stone corridor back into the school.
Every face turned to Snape, and Harry felt a rush of cold, sickening fear as the Potions master cried, "What are you waiting for? Out, get out!"
It was at that moment that there was a heart-stopping, blood-curdlingly loud CRASH from the far wall, and stones started to fall, clattering against the dark floor, and the room was flooded by the amber glow of fire. Everybody screamed and went sprinting for the door, fighting with each other to get out, as more and more stones began to rain. Harry turned and started to run, but Snape grasped him by the back of the neck and snarled, "Lumos office portal!" There was another roar of flames, and a door flickered into life for only a few seconds, as Snape elbowed it open and almost bodily flung Harry through. Harry wheeled around, and yelled, "No, RON!!", as Snape sprinted through and went to shut the door.
Snape snarled, "There isn't time!", but he hadn't even gotten the words out of his mouth before Ron, Draco, Hermione, Ginny, Neville, Luna, Peter and Alrister came pouring through into the office. Snape slammed the door after them, locking it forcefully, and then dragging iron bars down from the ceiling. He buckled them into place, sealed them with a charm, and not a moment too soon. There was a roar of screams that instant as the far wall apparently came crashing down completely. Harry felt the temperature shriek skywards, heard people rushing inside the dungeon room, people rushing out, the chanting growing louder. He shuddered, and clamped his hands over his ears to try and block everything out.
Snape muttered something, and everything was cut out, as the silencing charm spread over the room. Ron managed to sum up the situation perfectly, as he slumped down one of the walls to the floor, and just sat there, staring forwards with a sort of blind horror. "I don't believe this."
"Get up, Weasley," said Snape, brusquely, grasping Ron by the arm and trying to haul him to his feet. "This is no time to try and play the exhausted hero."
"Screw that!" said Ron, angrily. "We're all going to be dead heroes!"
"No you are not," Snape hissed. He managed to drag Ron to his feet, and gathered a fistful of his robes, using his leverage on Ron to glare right into his eyes. Harry didn't know how Ron could keep glaring right back - most people ran screaming from the room at such a look from Snape. "This school has faced far more terrible things than a handful of Death Eaters and fire! Stone, if you did not know, does not melt, Weasley!"
Alrister grasped Snape by the back of the neck and hauled him back, looking angry. "Get off him, Snape, it's not your place to go around bullying the students."
Ron slid smoothly to the ground again, apparently unaware of it at all until he hit the cold floor with a thump. Snape, still caught in one of Alrister's huge hands, was unable to do anything but just stare hatefully.
"Will everybody be alright?" said Hermione, quivering in the corner and staring at through the window at the hellish landscape beyond.
"They'll have found shelter," said Alrister. "I'm such the teachers will have been able to drive some of the Death Eaters back at least."
"And what about the Heliopaths?" asked Ginny.
"Well... you can all do water charms, I presume," said Alrister. They nodded. "Good. Forget them, don't be an idiot and try to put out a Heliopath with one little water charm. Just throw your wand at its eyes and run."
Snape muttered, "Alternatively, just insult its mother and jab it with a flammable material - it will do you as much good as following any advice given by Alrister." He shrugged himself free of Alrister's grasp, and swept over to the window, glaring out into the grounds. "We're surrounded... on all sides. Damn it all... there's no way we can fight them off. We're going to have to wait for help from the ministry of magic."
"We're going to die," Ron concurred.
Ginny began to cry. Hermione and Luna both hugged her, as Harry, Draco, Ron and Neville all swapped looks. Their situation seemed rather hopeless. The castle was under siege from Heliopaths, giants, Death Eaters and vampires, and what was Dumbledore's Army? School children, and a handful of teachers. Harry looked around at the people in the room, the most important ones in his life, and he realised that if a Death Eater burst in now, they would all just be slaughtered.
"We need to get the children somewhere safe," said Alrister, clearly thinking the same things as Harry. "Where's the nearest fireplace? We could use the floo network to get them out of the school."
"Several corridors away," said Snape. "And I don't carry any powder... I believe that there may be a jar in the store cupboard three doors down. But there's no way we can leave this room. The Death Eaters will be looking for hostages, and the one student we least want to be taken as a hostage happens to be in this group."
Harry saw everybody glance at him, and suddenly, he felt awfully like the king in a game of chess. Were Voldemort's forces perhaps looking for him already? Searching very room, killing anybody who got in their way...
"We could run," suggested Draco, with a raised eyebrow.
"We'd never make it," said Hermione, still trying to comfort Ginny. "The Death Eaters have all got their wands... they've probably been told to show no mercy. If they see us trying to run somewhere, we'll be killed. Especially if Harry is with us."
"Wait... Peter!" Harry turned to the ghost, with wide, hopeful eyes. "You can tell us if anybody's coming, can't you? You know, you know everything about the castle!"
Peter nodded solemnly. "Mmm, I do... there's a Death Eater patrolling this corridor now. If we even open that door, he'll be onto you like a crup on a kneazle."
"We need a distraction then," said Harry. "If you flew out there, and lured him away, we could all get to the fireplace."
"Nope," said Peter, shaking his head. "I'm in solid form now, Harry. I'd have to open the door, and he'd search the room anyway. Death Eaters aren't stupid."
Harry opened his mouth to protest, but then shut it again. He couldn't think of anything to counter this. Peter was right. There was no way out of the room, and it looked as though they would just have to sit tight and wait. Harry slumped against a wall, mentally preparing himself for a long, hard wait - when something came into his vision that made his heart stop. There was a wand tip pointing right between his eyes.
He looked up, stunned, sure this was a joke, and saw Snape looking down at him. He tensed up. "Professor? Why - what are you - "
"Snape, leave him alone," said Alrister, wearily. "This is no time for jokes."
"Don't move," snarled Snape. His dark eyes glanced at the Pure Arts master. "None of you. Or I'll kill him. Consider this the end of the line."
"But - " said Hermione. She was staring between Harry and Snape, horror-struck. "Professor, you can't - !!"
"Give me one good reason why not," said Snape, quietly.
Harry was still convinced this was some kind of joke. He edged away, nervously, expecting Snape to suddenly laugh and tell them all how wretchedly gullible they were, but the Potions master did nothing of the sort. His wand tip was still between Harry's eyes, and he growled, "Stay there, Potter... you're going nowhere..."
"What are you playing at?" said Harry, now frightened, trying to back away.
Snape smirked. "You think this is all a joke?" he said, in that quiet, maniacally cruel voice. "I don't see anybody laughing, Potter... now... none of you move at all. Get against that wall." He glanced to the far wall behind his desk. "Now."
"You traitor," Ron whispered. He was very white. "I knew it. I knew it all along. You haven't converted to Dumbledore's side at all, have you? You're still a lying, vile - "
"Ron," Hermione moaned. "Don't..."
"Listen to her Weasley," said Snape. He raised one thin black eyebrow. "And how clever of you to notice... no... I never converted. Dumbledore is a trusting fool of the highest class... all it took was a few confessions, a few pieces of information, and he was protesting my innocence before the ministry. Even let me stay on to teach... even in close-quarters with Potter. Think about it. If an ex-Death Eater came to this school, and asked for a position that he knew would involve him teaching Harry Potter, how many of you would give him the job?" He snickered softly, his dark eyes flashing. "Incredible, isn't it."
Harry stared back into the eyes of his friends, all watching him in silence. Peter was quivering with fright and hovering between the wall and the desk. Alrister looked furious. His fists were clenched, and his teeth gritted. "You dog," he snarled. "Dumbledore's only mistake was trusting you."
Snape chuckled. "Yes, it was, wasn't it? How convenient that his 'only mistake' will lead to his downfall." He shot out a hand as Harry tried to edge away again, and Harry choked, as those cold fingers curled around his throat. Snape gave a minute hiss of pain, relaxing his grip. "Stay still, Potter... don't make me hurt you."
"This is impossible," said Harry. He was staring at Snape with wide-eyes now, shaking with fright, the wand tip still trained calmly between his eyes. "The bond! You can't do this... it wouldn't let you, it just wouldn't."
"No, it doesn't," said Snape, smirking. "That's where my bad luck is coming from. Don't you see? Why would ancient wizards put so much time and effort into protecting a single marriage? The bond knew I was planning to betray you, and it gave me warning signs. Dumbledore really should have noticed, though he didn't. The old man is going senile... so obviously. Admittedly, adultery does come with a price, though nothing as severe as what I was facing."
"You haven't been helping me with occlumency, have you?" said Harry, shaking with anger, feeling heat behind his eyes. "All through fifth year, you were opening my mind more... Ron said you were. And I ignored him! I trusted you!"
Snape chuckled softly again, as cold and deathly as a breath of ice. "Clever boy, Potter... indeed correct. And I may add that you are a terrible legilimens... it was easy to fool you into believing you were doing well this year. I just used a very weak legilimens curse on you, getting progressively simpler, until you were convinced it was your own success at occlumency that was stopping me entering your mind."
"What about the Risotta?" said Harry. "You saved my life with that draft... and if you hadn't given me it, I would have just died. And you could have killed me when I was in the hospital wing, and it would have just looked like I'd died from the poison."
"Think about the prophecy, Potter..." said Snape, lazily. "The Dark Lord must kill you by his own hand, or your death will mean nothing. He will still never reach full power. He doesn't know this... but I do. I knew I couldn't kill you myself, or your death would be meaningless... now." He used his grip on Harry's throat to slide him along the wall to the door, his wand still pointed in Harry's face, steady as a rock. "The rest of you, in front, now, and through that door. If anybody makes even the slightest hint that they're going to try and help Potter, I'll maim him so grievously he won't even be able to scream."
Silently, the group of people walked to the door. Hermione paused before it, her hand quivering on the handle, before she eased it open. There was instantly a shout, and footsteps heading towards the room, but Snape called out to the approaching Death Eaters.
"Hold your curses! I have the Potter boy here!"
A young Death Eater pulled the door open, and stared in, seeing Snape with Harry by the throat. A horrible, wicked smirk curled his face. "I knew it would be you who got him, Sir... the master will be pleased. Bring him this way, the Dark Lord is expected out in the grounds soon, with the Heliopath leader."
"I shall take them to the Great Hall," said Snape, lazily. "I do not want to give the boy any more chance to escape than is necessary, and he could easily slip away through the crowds."
Harry glanced up at Snape's face as the treacherous professor said this. Why the Great Hall? Surely Snape could just have Voldemort brought here, to his office.
"I don't think that's such a good idea, Sir," said the other Death Eater, with a painful expression. "The master wants Potter outside to him when found, nowhere else. Explicit orders, Sir."
Harry saw an odd flicker pass over Snape's face, but it was gone within half a second. The Potions master sneered. "Did you not hear me? The boy will escape. Surely, the Dark Lord would rather I kept Potter in a secure environment, rather than have him escape."
Harry was starting to wonder. It was a very stupid thing to doubt Voldemort's explicit orders, and Snape should know that. For another thing, it wouldn't be that hard to keep a good grip on Harry whilst leading him outside. And... Harry realised that he was still clutching his bag, and in there, he had all sorts of methods for escape, things that Snape had given him personally. Snape wasn't an idiot. He would have taken it off Harry, if he really wanted to render the group harmless.
"But... Sir... the Dark Lord - " quivered the young Death Eater.
"Very well!" Snape snapped. "Take the spares, make sure they don't try anything. I shall stay at the back with Potter."
The Death Eater nodded, and then dragged the other prisoners through the door, his wand drawn from up one black sleeve, trained on the group closely. "Move," he commanded. "No fast moves, head out for the entrance hall." They all started walking, and once or twice, Ron and Hermione looked back at Harry with wide eyes. Snape still had that tight grip on his throat, and it looked as though he wasn't going to let go. Harry saw Ron hesitate, looking scared, and then he mouthed, simply, "Bye..."
Harry felt a sting at that, and he whispered it back, then Ron was pulled out of sight down a side passage heading for the entrance hall. Snape, to Harry's great surprise, murmured, "Very well done, Potter..."
"What?" said Harry, staring up at him, though Snape was keeping his eyes averted and counting doors.
"Don't be an idiot, boy..." said Snape, quietly, as he pulled Harry over to one of the doors and wrenched it open. "Floo powder..."
"What are you going to do to me?" said Harry, with wide eyes, desperately struggling against the Potions master's hold.
"Send you to the Weasleys," said Snape, distractedly. He was still clinking through various jars, until finally, he found one he needed. "I'll tell them you escaped... the Dark Lord will blame Kensington, for making me drag you all the way through the school... yes..."
"But..." said Harry, worriedly, still finding it hard to swallow. "Voldemort actually wants me, you realise? You just made some big confession, if you forgot."
"Then I'm a liar," said Snape vaguely, as he unscrewed the lid of the jar. "I had to make your school friends believe I was really turning you in... none of them can act."
"So... you're not on Voldemort's side."
Snape gave him a very patronising look. "Use your brain, Potter! The only way I could get you out of that room was if you were under the guard of a Death Eater. I was lying... but it's all gone wrong... I expected him to let me take you all to the Great Hall, and there's a particularly large fireplace there... damn, damn it all... I shall send you to the Weasley house, tell Arthur what is happening, while I go and track down the others..."
"You screwed up," said Harry, worriedly. "Voldemort's now got all my friends, and Alrister, and Peter. And they're all hostages. Dumbledore won't let them all die, and I'll end up traded to Voldemort in exchange for all their lives. You've just made things worse."
"I have not," Snape hissed, angrily, as he scooped the powder into his pockets and gave Harry two handfuls just in case. "The highest priority of every person in this castle is to get you to a safe place."
"Oh, so it's great if every single other person here dies, but as long as I'm fine?" said Harry, getting equally angry. "I don't care about me, I want to save my friends!"
Snape looked as though he would throttle Harry, grasping him by the arm and leading him down the corridor. "Listen to me, Potter, and listen well. You - are - a - sixteen - year - old - adolescent. NOT a trained wizard. You do not have any extraordinary skill, or luck, and the only thing you are is foolish! Just one of those Death Eaters could kill you without blinking, and there are hundreds, boy! If you don't realise - "
"Ah..." said a soft voice, suddenly interrupting from down the corridor. "Snape... what a pleasant surprise..."
Harry looked up at the owner of the voice, and choked as Snape's arm instantly coiled around his neck and grasped him tightly. The Death Eater just languishing on the corner was fairly tall and thin, his face covered by a mask, though Harry had heard that voice before.
Snape's eyes narrowed visibly at the sight of the other man. "Mmm. Indeed," was his brusque reply. "Potter, come with me, and no false moves."
As Snape turned to go, the Death Eater chuckled softly and stepped forward. "Oh, going so soon? I wanted to talk to you... don't you even have time for an old school friend anymore?"
"The Dark Lord needs this boy immediately," said Snape, coldly, though he stopped where he was and glared at the Death Eater with such hateful eyes that even Harry was taken aback. "I have no time to stay and banter with you."
A vague memory was stirred in Harry's head at how Snape had spat that last word, remembering a time when the Potions master had spoken about somebody in just that tone. But then, it had been "him" rather than "you", but Harry realised exactly who it was under that hood. Snape would only spare such a vile tone of voice for such a person.
"You're Rookwood," said Harry, staring at the man in surprise.
A smile curled Rookwood's thin lips. "Oh... how nice... your little friend knows me, Snape. Yes, boy, I am." He reached up with one long-fingered hand, and peeled the material away, revealing his thin face, and greasy brown hair. The sneer on his lips made Harry's stomach boil. So this was the man that had killed Draco's father. Rookwood didn't seem to have any time for him though, and instead turned to Snape. "So... tell me, Snape, old friend... you wouldn't have seen my wife around anywhere, have you? She's been absent without leave for a few weeks..."
"Isabis?" said Snape, raising one eyebrow. "Why should I know where she is? Surely, Rookwood. I thought you had the brains to keep checks on your own family members."
"Yes, I do..." said Rookwood, in his dangerous voice. "The thing is, I'm wondering exactly what it is on my wife that you've been checking yourself."
Snape gave him a look of deepest disgust. "Never one to let go of the past, are you?" With that, Snape turned, and still dragging Harry by the throat, started heading off towards the Great Hall.
Rookwood called after him, but made no effort to follow. "I know she's here, Snape. I will find her. And I'll have your head mounted on my wall when I do."
"Mmm," Snape droned, disinterested.
Without another word passed between the two Death Eaters, Snape swept Harry down a side corridor and away. Harry noticed that Snape was wearing a look of deepest hatred. For something to say to break the silence, Harry said, quietly, "Could do with a bath, couldn't he?"
A very smug smile curled Snape's thin lips. "Indeed. Now... Potter... a plan. Our long term goal is to get you out of the school, and once you've done that, fetch help. The ministry of magic would be the best possible choice, but if not, any adult wizard will do. The Great Hall will be the best place to smuggle you out of the castle... but how to get there... we'll need to pass through the entrance hall."
"Won't they be guarding the entrance hall by now?" said Harry, worriedly.
"Mmm," Snape muttered, quietly. "More than likely, but we have to take the chance that our path isn't being watched."
"Can't we just double back and go to the other room with the fire?" asked Harry.
Snape shook his head. "Rookwood will be watching that corridor closely, and we need to arouse the least possible suspicion whilst doing this."
"Can't we just kill Rookwood?" asked Harry, hopefully. "I've got that ring in my bag, you could shake his hand and just kill him, just like that."
The professor gave a barely audible huff of laughter. "Potter, that has been my greatest ambition in life for twenty years. And as appealing as the idea is, no. Not today. Our aim is to have as few casualties as possible... the last thing needed is for a full-scale war to break out."
They passed by a window, and Harry made the mistake of glancing outside. The Death Eaters were still chanting, now holding flaming torches, and the horrible Heliopath skeletons of fire were standing up on the hills, surrounded by yet more Death Eaters. Harry swallowed, and then said, sagely, "I think it already has, Professor."
Harry saw Snape's black eyes travel out of the window too, and following the professor's gaze, he saw one of the caged vampires howling with frustration, as the Death Eaters purposely cut their hands and held their bleeding palms up to the creature, laughing. Snape winced a little. "Senseless."
"Where are the necromancers?" asked Harry, glancing around the masses surrounding the castle.
"A necromancer is hardly any different from any other human," said Snape, calmly. "It is a gift that some possess, and some do not. I doubt that the Dark Lord would risk any of his precious pets on the battlefield."
"What about the vampires?"
Snape's eyes flickered to the one being taunted by Death Eaters. "He isn't a completely pure blood vampire, and is therefore unfit in the Dark Lord's eyes."
"But... vampires are registered as beings, aren't they? Not beasts? So why have they got him in a cage?"
"Think about it, Potter... Death Eaters believe that muggles are beasts. Any living creature which is not a pure-blooded wizard is marked instantly as unfit, and vampires are no exceptions."
Harry was by now frightened but enthralled in the vampire, and had more questions to ask, but Snape held up a hand and swept Harry down a side corridor. "No more questions, Potter, the castle is under siege. There will be time for questions far later. For now, concentrate on staying silent and being a good prisoner."
"I'm not a prisoner," said Harry, stiffly.
"Jacardia," Snape muttered.
Harry jumped as the collar buzzed angrily against his neck. "Ow, don't!"
"Then obey me," said Snape, simply. They were now at the doors leading into the entrance hall, and from there, it was just across the room to the Great Hall, and safety. Harry was definitely un-nerved by the chanting of the Death Eaters, and the constant fiery roars from the Heliopaths, but for some reason, he did not want to be sent through the fireplace. He knew that once he was through, he was on his own, and it was up to him to save every person within the walls of Hogwarts.
He hesitated, but Snape had too. He turned to Harry, and surveyed the younger wizard for a moment, and Harry couldn't pick out a drop of emotion from those cold black eyes. "If I die, Potter, get to the fireplace," said Snape, quietly.
"You won't die," said Harry, quite shocked at the idea of being killed just crossing the entrance hall.
"Just listen," said Snape, and yet again, there was that serious tone that made Harry very uneasy. "If I am killed, get to a fireplace, and get out. I would suggest the atrium at the ministry of magic, Grimmauld Place, or The Burrow. If we are seen crossing the entrance hall, and it looks as though we will be lead outside, I will loosen my grasp on you, and you have my expressed permission to use physical force on me to get free. Then run to the Great Hall, and get out."
"You want me to pretend to hurt you?" said Harry, startled at this. He'd never, ever thought he would hear Snape ask such a thing.
But Snape nodded, simply, and then said, sounding so grave Harry felt as though they were at a funeral already, "The next steps you take could be the most important of your life." He looked slightly ill for a moment. "All this year, I have tried to teach you the importance of some things, and the unimportance of others. I have told you how important it is that you not put yourself in danger, and yet you still do, and I have come to realise that nothing I do will ever stop that. I have told you time and time again how you are just one young wizard, and I've come to realise that you will never accept this. Perhaps it is for the better. However... I'm about to swallow my pride, Potter. I hope you're taking this seriously."
Hearing Snape's tone of voice, and seeing the grim look on his face, Harry was taking this incredibly seriously. "I am," he said, quietly.
"Good..." Snape put a hand on his shoulder, and Harry felt a wave of guilt as yet again, he imagined Snape as an uncle, giving him advice, like any other family member would give their young relative. "At this moment in time, you are the most important person in this entire universe. The fate of life as we know it could well rest on you being able to get into the Great Hall. Do you understand me?"
Harry nodded silently. Snape moved forward, grasped him gently by the throat and held him in a fake grip. The Potions master reached out and pushed the door open, then lead Harry silently out into the entrance hall, and the most tense walk of his entire life.
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