Chapter Eight: The Sacrifice
Back inside, a quiet but deadly argument greeted them.
Rona had taken floor centre with Maman.
"You knew?" Maman clutched at her walking stick so hard her knuckles went yellow.
"Of course I knew! I also knew to the day when he turned against that putrescent pod of pus. I know who he is, which—"
"You know nothing, stupid child! You let him waltz in and out of the house, you let him teach my great-grandchildren Curses and God-knows-what foulness, and you say you—"
"I know him. He is my brother. I have known him since the night he was born and the Iceman and Solly brought him to this house with the blood of his dead mother fresh on him! My mother treated us like we were both her children and I never, ever saw anything wrong there! Mum loved Sev like he was her own, and now you—" Rona paused, choking with rage. "Damn you, damn you for sending him out there unprotected, and damn you, Wiri for not stopping him from going!"
Wiri cowered as his little sister whirled and pointed a shaking finger at him.
Rona spun to face Sirius Black, her face contorted with sick fury. "And damn you to every hell, Sirius Black, for forcing him to choose Voldemort when he was a boy because he had nowhere else to turn. You'd better hope," she hissed, "that the Dementors catch you and suck out your soul. Because if we make it through this night I will put your every aspect through such torments that they'll make the Cruciatis look like a romp in the park for what you have done to my brother."
"MUM STOP!" It was Chad. His face was streaked with tears but his hands were balled into fists. "STOP FIGHTING STOP FIGHTING STOP FIGHTING!"
Like a hammer on a crystal glass, it broke the tension.
Everyone stared at him. "We can't fight now. We have to stick together. Even if — even if Uncle Sev's gone, we still have to look after ourselves. All of us."
"He's right," Harry said. "Professor Snape told us to stay here. He's moved the wards from his house," he paused at Rona's sharply indrawn breath, "and put them around here. He's gone to create a distraction, but he won't need to bother if we keep yelling and attract every Death Eater in the area."
Four pairs of adult eyes glared at him, but Harry stood his ground, knowing he was right. He just hated the terror in Rona's eyes when he had said 'gone to create a distraction.' She had known instantly what Harry finally had to admit to himself: that Snape had gone out knowing that he would die. That Snape had known he would die ever since Sirius Black had shown up the unwitting carrier of a location spell.
That he cared less about dying than about Maman's opinion.
Oh Merlin, Harry thought. Another one who'll die because of me.
There was a terrible splintering sound.
For one heart-stopping moment Harry thought Death Eaters were coming through the wall. Then the cupboard door sung open.
Helen spat out the lock.
As she eyed the shocked gathering she looked angry enough to bite through metal.
"Don't let her go!" yelled Harry, remembering what Snape had told him.
Wiri grabbed the multi-coloured blanket from the couch and threw it — too late.
Helen spread her wings and glided out into the kitchen.
"Damn," Rona said with feeling. "You boys catch her. And be careful. She's in a hell of a mood."
Harry and Chad each took one end of the blanket. As they tiptoed into the kitchen Chad whispered to Harry, "I feel like some sort of apprentice matador."
Harry nodded, trying not to laugh. Not that Helen hadn't heard them coming — she was probably waiting somewhere where she could drop something on their heads. But by staying quiet he had a better chance of hearing how the argument was progressing in the living room.
He could hear angry voices, but they were whispering. Harry sighed and concentrated on finding Helen instead. One thing at a time...
They looked under the table. They looked under the sink. They looked in cupboards (Helen was clever enough to close them behind her), up in the shelves, behind the curtains and in the sink.
The kitchen was kea-free.
Harry pointed to one of the doors that was open a crack.
"Bugger. I think she's gone into Eru's room."
"She won't hurt him, will she?" Harry worried.
Chad shrugged, turning helpless eyes on him. "Hard to say. Eru's not in his right mind. What if he tries to use her like a teddy bear?"
Harry winced at the thought. "We'd better check."
Chad pushed the door open. It was dark inside. "Eru? It's me, Chad. Y' okay, mate?"
"Chad?" Eru's voice was sleepy.
"Yeah. How you feeling?"
"I don't feel too good. I keep seeing things. Bad things. Chad, make them stop."
"Shh, I will. Don't worry, it's just that you're sick. You'll get better soon and they'll all go away."
"No they won't, 'cos they'll have happened..." Eru sounded like he was going to cry again.
"Nah, nah. Hey, look who I've brought to visit you. Harry. He's come down to see how you're doing."
"Hi, Eru." As Harry's eyes adjusted to the dark, he could see Eru's bed. The small boy was swamped under a huge quilt. Eyes gleamed above him. By looking carefully just to the side of the eyes Harry made out Burd Helen perched on the headboard. "I can see Helen."
"Yeah. She came in and jumped on my bed." Eru giggled. "She pecked my nose and said 'hot,' then she jumped up there. She's in love with Uncle Sev so she thinks she's my aunty. But she knows how to stay the right size. If she marries Uncle Sev will she remember to stay the proper size, or will she try to get really big and crush me like the frogs keep trying to?"
Eru didn't sound good.
"Do you reckon Auntie Burd Helen will stay there if you ask her to?" said Chad. Harry crossed his fingers.
Eru sat up. Helen preened strands of his hair gently away from his sweaty forehead. "Chad, where is Uncle Severus?"
"Um... he's gone out."
"He doesn't have his wand."
"Yes he does," Harry said. "He always carries it." Hang on, didn't he leave it somewhere where he wouldn't unwittingly reach for it while he was sick?
"No," Eru said in a firm voice, "he doesn't." His voice rose. "Chad! He doesn't have his wand! The snakes will eat him if he doesn't get his wand!"
Chad sighed. "Eru, this is New Zealand. We don't even have snakes in zoos. He's fine."
Eru ignored him. His breathing was getting harsher. He reached into the drawer by his bed and pulled out a wand, which he showed to Helen. "Helen. Severus doesn't have his wand. Take my wand to him."
Helen took the wand very gently in her beak. When she twitched her head a few sparks came from the end. Harry and Chad, who had been preparing to rush forward and get the wand, paused. There was a strange gleam in the bird's eyes that wasn't entirely due to the sparks from the wand. Harry wouldn't put it past the kea to know a few spells.
That moment was all it took.
Eru opened the window, letting snow and a cold gust of wind in.
And letting Helen out.
She dropped the wand on her way out, to Harry and Chad's relief, and Eru's dismay.
"Burd Helen! Come back! Burd Helen! Uncle Sev needs a wand!"
But she was gone.
Eru was crying. Chad went over to comfort him. Harry sat on the end of the bed, watching the brothers. "She'll never find Snape," he said. "Even if she had his wand for him she'd never find him in all of this."
Chad nodded. "Especially if he's gone to the Taniwha's Pool. Not even Helen can find that."
Harry felt the first spark of hope for his Potions master. "Would he be safe there?"
Chad nodded again, but in the dark room Harry couldn't see his face to tell if his friend really thought there was anywhere Snape would be safe tonight.
It took several stories and Harry (to his enduring shame) had to sing the Hogwarts School Song, but eventually Eru was asleep again and Harry and Chad wandered back out into the living room. There seemed to be some sort of temporary armed truce going on between the three warring factions (Wiri was Switzerland) that had resulted in a frosty silence. Harry and Chad stood there awkwardly, until Chad broke the silence. "Umm — we'd better check that Solly's okay. He might have — I don't know, drunk all his water."
"The blanket could have slipped off," added Harry.
Rona looked thoughtful at the mention of Solomon. "All right," she said slowly. "But keep an eye out for each other. Come back and tell me if he's feeling better."
"Yes, Mum," said Chad quietly. "Come on, Harry."
Harry was very glad of the excuse to get out of the house for a bit. The tension inside was almost palpable. There was a white layer on the ground now that crunched under their feet. A snow-laden gust of wind tried to knock them over as they trudged to the cowshed and Harry re-wrapped his scarf, thinking about Helen as he did so, and hoping she had found somewhere safe for the night.
In a way, Harry thought dazedly as Chad opened the door of the shed, Helen had found a safe place.
"What the hell...?" Chad sounded just as stunned as Harry felt.
There, larger than life and glowing like the moon, was a transformed Solly. At least, Harry presumed it was the old pony. There had only been one little white horse in here, after all. But this — this was something else"
"Well," said Chad, sounding relieved, "at least Solly's back to normal. But you, Helen, what do you think you're doing?"
The parrot contrived to look both guilty and defiant and she sat high on the pony's neck. She was holding something in her beak.
"Lord," breathed Chad. "She's got Sev's wand. She must have seen him hide it."
Helen ruffled her feathers and bobbed up and down angrily. She squawked as Solomon tossed his head, and dropped the wand.
Chad lunged for it, but Harry was quicker.
Helen's claws were tangled in the pony's mane and she was swearing in Parrot.
Harry spun around, the wand in his hand, to see Chad aiming his own wand at Harry.
"Give it to me."
Harry shook his head, his heart thumping high in his chest. "No."
Chad's wand trembled. "I said give it."
Harry shook his head harder, backing away. "What would you do with it? Take it to Snape?"
Chad's mouth tightened in anger, and for a moment he looked a lot like his mother.
"That's what you were going to do, isn't it? Did you know Helen would go up to the cottage and get it?"
Chad sighed, his shoulders sagging. "I didn't know that. But — you remember that time we were talking about our mothers? How I said Mum would die for any one of her family?"
Harry nodded, feeling very uncomfortable at the memory.
"She wants me to tell her how Solly is. And like he is—" Chad waved towards the horse "— he can go anywhere. He can take her to Uncle Sev. And wherever Uncle Sev is, you can be sure he's thinking something similar to Mum, that he has to protect us by drawing Voldemort away from the house. So that means that Mum would be going up there where there are Death Eaters galore. She's tired and she's not thinking right. Sev wants her here, safe with us, but she's... I can't explain. She's ashamed of what Maman did. She feels like she has to redeem us somehow and... and she loves him very much. Maybe not more than she loves me and Eru, but she loves him as family and she'd do anything to keep him safe after all she's felt him go through the last year. Ever since they were sixteen she's been wanting to make his life right for him and, and, and she'd feel that they could fight Voldemort together better to protect us and... oh, this isn't the time to explain. Even if I could. Even if I really understood what it was all about." Chad looked hard at Harry. "But let me put it like this. If you could choose, what would you do? Would you let your mother die for you again?"
Harry flinched. "No. I'd" He lowered Snape's wand from where it had been pointing at Chad. He swallowed thickly. "No. I wouldn't."
"Then give me the wand."
By way of reply Harry tucked the disputed wand in his robes. "I'm going. You stay here."
Chad's face flushed angrily. "You don't even know where you're going."
"All I have to do is get on Solomon and—"
Chad smirked, something he must have learned off Snape. It was a Slytherin thing, certainly. "And what? You don't know how to ride a horse. But I do. If you get on Solly's back, all I have to do is whistle and he'll lie down and stay there."
It was Harry's turn to go red with anger. Before he could reply, Helen launched herself at him. "Hey!"
A flurry of feathers later and Helen was back sitting on the horse's head with Snape's wand in her beak.
Harry would have sworn on his parents' graves that she was smirking.
"Well," said Chad.
They both reached the same thought at the same time: each found himself looking down the wand of the other boy.
"Damn," both said before any real magic curses could be cast.
Then Chad started laughing. "We poor fools who are about to die..."
"I don't remember anything about fools in that quote."
"Then there bloody well should be. Come on, Harry. There's been enough fighting for tonight. Let's keep it for those who really deserve to have their arses kicked."
"Well," grunted Harry, as Chad gave him a leg-up onto Solomon's back, "I for one don't intend to die." He shifted around on the broad, white back. After moulting, the horse's coat seemed extra slippery.
Chad climbed up on a bale of hay then vaulted up behind Harry, reaching around his waist for a double handful of mane. "Good for ya. Hold onto that thought." He clucked his tongue and the reborn Solomon pranced out of the stable, two boys and a kea holding tight to the silver mane.
Harry wondered later if they left hoofprints. By the way Solomon seemed to fly over the snow, he doubted it. But whenever he dared look down at the flashing hooves he saw snow spraying out in glittering silver sheets. The moon was high in the sky and almost full. Everything was black or pale silver. The only light came from the moon and the speeding pony. The speeding, glowing pony.
"Won't they see us coming?" Harry whispered back to Chad. It seemed sacrilegious to speak any louder.
"No," Chad replied. "Solly doesn't want anyone to and he can put a bit of a glamour on himself and us. Just a little notice-me-not, but it's effective at long range. Still got your wand?"
Harry reached to check just in case. "Definitely."
"What's it best at?"
"Huh? Oh, I'm not really sure. It's got a phoenix tail feather as a core. I'm still working out what that means. What about yours?"
Chad drew it out of his pocket. "Fantastic for illusions, summonings, and psychologically based spells. The really ancient magics, y'know. Tanekaha wood. The core's three strands of plaited pooka hair."
"What's a pooka?"
"You're kidding me? What do they teach at your school?" Before Harry could snap back a reply, Chad continued, "Well, right about now we're sitting on a pooka. My wand's core was taken from his tail and the wood was taken from the tree my placenta was buried under."
"'Placenta'? Does that mean 'afterbirth'?"
Harry tried to think of something to say about placentas being buried under trees other than yuck, and came up a complete blank. "Pooka? so Solly's not a horse?"
"Sort of. I don't know much about them. Sev's never said how come his mum ended up with one. It's always been a bit of a — whups."
Solly's muscles bunched beneath them and the boys hung on tight as the pooka hurtled over a fallen tree. Helen was holding on with her beak, now, too. Harry winced a little at the landing and reminded himself to ask Hermione what she knew about pookas. If he ever saw Herm- He stopped that thought. He would see Hermione again, and Ron.
Merlin, right now he'd be happy to wake up to a bright new day and see Snape...
In front of them the silver ground gave way to a dreadful, blank, blackness. Harry shut his eyes and felt Chad's arms tighten around his waist in terror.
Solomon leaped into the void.
For a long second there was a horrible lightness in his stomach as if it were trying to come out his ears.
Then they landed.
"What in the name of...?"
"Lord! Aurors, Lord!"
"I wondered how things would get worse..."
Harry pulled his face out of the snow at this last, unpleasantly familiar voice. He smiled despite himself. "Professor...?"
The smile disappeared in the next instant as, "Ahhh," hissed a high, cold voice from nightmare. "I was just asking your dear Potions master where you were, and why, here you are. At my feet, no less. How blissfully ironic."
Sycophantic laughter at the words.
Harry looked up despite himself. Into the pair of red eyes that had haunted his sleep for years.
Voldemort. Surrounded by — let me see — oh, no more than half a dozen Death Eaters. Wonderful.
When Voldemort lit the end of his wand to better illuminate his new victims, Harry saw the black-robed figures with their white masks were arranged in a rough semicircle. In the centre the snow had been trampled around a shapeless black bundle. The bundle stirred, and Harry realised that he had found Snape.
The Potions master looked as if he had been badly made out of wax. His eyes were slightly unfocussed, and he swayed as he tried to sit up.
There is a smell to certain spells. Harry had smelt this one on himself after his last encounter with Voldemort. Cruciatis.
Snape stunk of it. "Professor...? Are you all right?"
"Oh, he'll be much better now that you have so kindly consented to join us. I won't need to torture him — well, not quite as much."
Again the laughter.
"Such loyalty from a Death Eater, Mr Potter — and not for me. How disappointing. He held out remarkable well on your behalf and here, all this time, I was thinking he hated you."
Harry wanted to say He does, but couldn't see how this would help anyone.
Nothing would have swayed Voldemort, anyway. The tall creature spun to the crouching Snape and lashed out with one booted foot, catching the man in the face and flipping him over on his back. Harry heard an enraged kea-squawk, but Voldemort ignored it, perhaps thinking it just another night creature.
"How delightful; you seem to have brought me another toy, Harry. I was rather hasty with the last spare you brought for me. My followers will take much enjoyment out of this one."
There was murmured agreement from the cloaked figures. When two or three made to step forward, Voldemort held up a hand. "No," he purred. "They are mine. Watch and learn."
Harry looked around. Chad was kneeling between Solly's forelegs, holding one wrist that looked sprained at best but possibly broken. He was staring at Voldemort in horror.
Snape lifted himself onto his elbows and tried to shake some of his hair out of his face. "That boy is here by mistake," he husked. "Let him go."
Voldemort crouched, briefly graceful in the motion, and peered closely at his renegade Death Eater. One claw-like hand reached out in a tender gesture to stroke clinging strands of hair out of Snape's eyes. Snape shuddered, but managed not to cringe from the touch. Harry tried not to gag at the thought of those mad, red eyes burning into him, but Snape's gaze didn't waver from Voldemort's face. Not even when the Dark Lord trailed a fingertip through the blood running from Snape's nose and brought it up to his mouth.
Voldemort licked up Snape's blood as if it were a new kind of nectar.
Harry could hear Chad trying not to vomit.
Voldemort spoke; softly so that Harry had to strain to hear. "Your blood is sweet to me, Severussss — Have your beloved potions imbued it with such succulence, or is it novel to you?" He dipped his finger again into the rivulet running down Snape's chin. "I will take my time in savouring it. I will see if Crucio brings out more of its subtle essences. If given gladly under Imperio, will it blend itself with Nagini's venom to raise me to new levels of invincibility... Although I cannot find another Potions master of your calibre, there are many who flock to my banner who will want to experiment with your life-essence.
"Perhaps I shall sedate you and keep you cocooned in my grasp while I encourage them to find out if your mastery can be bottled and transmitted to my faithful." He paused to lick his finger clean again. "Either way, my sweet-blooded Severus, your life will be lengthy and given only to my glory. So-oo," he continued more matter-of-factly, "why do you concern yourself with a pair of misbegotten brats when all you can achieve is yet another demonstration of my disappointment in you?"
"Because," Snape rasped, his voice long since gone under the Cruciatis, "I am obliged to give you fair warning. Those boys are here and protected." He still seemed to be having trouble focussing his eyes but maybe he was providing just enough of a distraction for Harry to get out his wand? Damn. It was caught in his pocket. Quietly, carefully, Harry's fingers set about untangling it from the material.
Voldemort chuckled and smoothed Snape's greasy hair lovingly. "Yes-sss. I can see what a good job you have done of protecting them. And are still trying to do."
He stood. "Do you really think I don't know about the message you sent to that old fool Dumbledore?" he snapped, his sibilant voice becoming more clipped. "He's hours behind us. Especially now that young Mr Potter and his little friend have, in a fit of youthful impetuousness, come to rescue you." He smiled at the frustrated agony that twisted Snape's face. "Still, boys will be boys. Let us make sure they never become men."
He turned his red eyes to Harry. "Your blood is in me. The counter-curse your mother provided is in me. No more wasting time. Time, Mr Potter, is no longer a friend to you." He lifted his wand.
Harry readied himself to dodge. His wand was ready in his hand — he just needed a distraction—
Snape grabbed at Voldemort's ankle and sank his teeth into Voldemort's his leg. "Aah!" The alarmed Dark Lord kicked out viciously. Snape yelped, his blood speckling the snow.
Harry threw a binding charm but it was blocked effortlessly. The feedback from Voldemort's wand stung Harry's fingers and spun Harry's own wand away into the snow.
Ignoring Harry for the moment, Voldemort snarled and kicked out at Snape again.
Snape caught the kick on his arm and tried to trip his assailant, but fell face-first into the snow at his feet as Voldemort stepped back easily.
In the whole world, the only colours were from Voldemort's eyes as he prowled in a circle, glaring down at the prone man, and Snape's blood, almost black on the snow. Snape coughed as if he were trying to bring up a lung. Harry's own ribs ached in sympathy.
Voldemort looked rattled. Quite probably no-one had ever tried to bite him before. "Enough of your antics, Severus! Avada Kedavra!"
A rushing noise accompanied by a flash of green that was now too, too familiar to Harry flew from Voldemort's wand towards Snape.
"No!" howled Harry, enraged. "No! I won't let you do that again!"
He felt something build up behind his scar until he thought his head would split. He almost wished his head would split, just to stop the pain. But in that moment before his head burst he somehow threw that power out from himself towards Snape.
A wall of red and gold light shot up around Snape and as the curse hit it, it rang with the pure voice of a phoenix.
The killing curse bounced away into the darkness. One of the Death Eaters cried out but was cut off abruptly.
With his stomach clenching and light-bulbs exploding at the backs of his eyes, Harry collapsed, bile burning the back of his throat.
As he fell he caught Snape's eye. The man looked as though he weren't quite sure if he was still alive, but knew that somehow Harry had had the power to save him. Harry tried to smile at him in encouragement, but his face was numb. It was as if all the power he had somehow found within himself to make that protective wall had taken the force from his muscles with it when it left his body.
And now he had no idea how to bring it back.
I'm sorry, he mouthed to Snape.
Snape closed his eyes and nodded. He rubbed his cheek against the snow and Harry heard him sigh.
All Harry could do was watch helplessly, tears burning in his eyes, as Voldemort stepped in for the kill.
Again he heard the words and the rushing sound. Again he saw the green light. He wanted to cry out but even his voice had gone numb.
There was the flash of red from the underside of a kea's wing. The sweep of air brushing past Harry's cheek as Helen, Snape's wand in her beak, swooped.
A sharp crack! that sounded like a stone breaking and the soft thump of a feathered body falling into the snow.
Disbelief. Utter, utter disbelief. No. That can't have happened.
I'm dreaming. Please, please, let me be dreaming.
Then there was the acrid ozone reek of anger rising from the ground.
The physical stink of this alien anger catapulted Harry out of his stunned numbness and into fumbling around in the snow for his wand. "Ah-ha!" As he gripped the smooth wood he felt the magic come back to him and, with it, his strength. Harry took a deep breath.
He heard two other voices along with his own shout: "Avada Kedavra!"
Saw three streams of green light shoot from Snape, Chad and himself towards Voldemort.
Saw Voldemort try to block three unblockable spells at once.
Felt the mist rise.
Saw the stars blotted out by a darkness that had been old before Night.
Heard the angry voice that made the hills tremble:
Who has spilled the blood of my child? Who has brought death to my home?
<< Back | Story Index | Next Chapter >>
Back to Top | Stories by Author | Stories by Title | Main Page