Chapter Forty-Five: The Seige of Hogwarts (Part Five)
Harry closed his eyes and pushed back against Snape through instinct, trying to get away. But the cords were still on tight, cutting into his arms, and he couldn't escape. Voldemort stepped forward, still smirking.
"Already scared... won't you even face me like a man, Harry? Is it so bad that you cannot even bare to look at me?" he whispered, in that cold, mirthless voice. "Perhaps, at last, you've realised what the rest of the wizarding world has known for years... I am not to be trifled with... such a good thing you've finally learnt your place..."
Harry did not look up. He stayed sitting, his head bowed, clenched up in fear, his heart pounding inside him. He felt Snape nudged against him, and the faintest little murmur inside his head. "Block your mind."
It was suddenly the hardest thing Harry had ever been asked to do. He couldn't wipe all emotion from himself, with the world's most feared dark wizard standing over him. He tried, imagining his mind encased in an impenetrable wall of steel, shutting him out from any invasion. He could feel himself shaking though.
"Shall I take him from the binds, my lord?" said Rookwood's voice, softly, dancing with glee.
"No... patience, Augustus... he is going nowhere..." There were footsteps coming towards Harry, followed by the hiss of a cloak dragging along the burnt grass, and then a shadow blocked his view. A cold, skeletally thin hand that felt as though it had claws grasped Harry's jaw, and forced his head up. Harry made one of the biggest mistakes of his life, by opening his eyes.
Voldemort was... indescribable. It went past words, past thoughts, past any emotion apart from fear and shock. Harry had never seen Voldemort up so close, and he never, ever wanted to again. The shape and structure of his face, his nose, his lips, his skin, it was all twisted out of any normal proportion, and there wasn't a single hint that this person... no, this being, had ever been a human. He didn't look like a person. He looked like a thing. A monster.
Except for the eyes. Harry found himself staring into those eyes, his own wide and terrified, struck dumb by how disfigured Voldemort was. He'd seen those eyes before, looking at him from the face of a sixteen-year-old boy. They were now scarlet, as though filled with blood, but there was something within them that reminded Harry so horribly of Tom Riddle. The sickening contrast of serpent and human made Harry feel nauseous, pinned in place by the look Voldemort was giving him.
A wide smile curled those thin, colourless lips, and Voldemort gave a soft chuckle, humourless, mirthless. He was so close that Harry could smell blood on the monster's breath, feel the air across his face from his words. "Such a stunned expression... anyone would think you didn't expect me here, Harry..."
Harry couldn't move or speak at all. He was so torn into by that look. It had suddenly occurred to him what danger he was in. Voldemort was a monster, he was the most feared person in the world, but all for the past year, he had been distant. Far away. Just a memory, just a threat on the horizon, but now, he was here, right before Harry, and he was no longer a memory. Harry had been dreading this moment for so long, but it had always been in the future. Always tomorrow. And suddenly, tomorrow was no more, but it was today, now.
Voldemort suddenly spoke again, saying words that made no sense to Harry, even though his eyes were fixed on Harry's face. "I thought I told you to call it off." He turned suddenly, and looked directly at Hagrid, and Kibbles. Hagrid was holding Kibbles by his collar, but very loosely, with the grip of somebody who was planning to let go very soon. Hagrid froze on the spot. Voldemort smiled slowly. "Rubeus... you've grown... even more..."
Kibbles replied to this, opening his mouth, showing dozens and dozens of pointed fangs, and he screamed, screeching and giving his horrible, quavering, keening cry, barely metres from Voldemort. Harry winced and clenched up at the volume, feeling as though knives were jabbing into his ears.
Voldemort, however, merely watched this with a cold look on his face. "Impressive," he said, vaguely, and his eyes flickered back to Hagrid. "Call it off. Hold it back. Now."
Hagrid's face twisted in anger, and Harry saw Hagrid glance at him, just once, before back to Voldemort. "If yeh can give me one good reason why I - "
"Or I'll kill it," Voldemort finished, softly. "And the boy. And I'll make sure you watch as I do..."
Hagrid considered this. Harry could see the cogs working in his brain. If Hagrid didn't call Kibbles back, Harry would die. With another glance at Harry, Hagrid curled his hands around Kibbles's collar, and pulled backwards hard, heaving the dragon away. "Come on, Kibbles... back..." Kibbles snarled and dug his heels into the ground, his hackles rising as he growled throatily at Voldemort, fighting Hagrid, his teeth bared. Hagrid gave a great tug, and pulled Kibbles back, making him rear onto his hind legs, his head stretching back to try and resist the collar.
Voldemort raised his wand, and pointed it at the soft, vulnerable skin of Kibbles's throat. Harry tensed up and went to shout out, to warn Hagrid, but Voldemort was faster. "Stupefy," he murmured.
A jet of red light rocketed out of the end of his wand, and before Hagrid or Kibbles realised what was happening, it struck. Kibbles gave a keening cry, and then toppled backwards, stunned, hitting the ground with an almighty crash. Hagrid stood frozen to the spot, Voldemort's wand now pointing at him. After a moment, he said, gruffly, though Harry could hear the fear in his voice, "It won' work. 'm a giant. Yeh can try all yeh want. But yeh can't stun giants."
"I would not waste a stunning charm on filth like you," Voldemort hissed. "But I won't hesitate to use a roasting charm on your little pet. Get back, and stay still, and quiet, and your beast will be fine."
The rest of the ministry weren't moving either, just standing still on the hillside, frozen to the spot. They all knew well enough that Voldemort did not bluff, and at the first sign of any sort of attack, Harry would be killed, and anybody within fifty metres too. The Dark Lord turned back to Harry, his fingers still curled around his wand, his eyes now full of anger and power. Harry struggled back against Snape, and his magical guardian pushed back too, trying to comfort him. Harry was too far gone for comfort.
Voldemort stepped forwards to stand over him again, glaring down at him, with those horrible red eyes. "But I can't promise the same for you," he whispered. "There is only one reason I have come here today... and if it weren't for that reason, I would not be here... to kill you, Harry... the time has come... you have been lucky for sixteen years now. Lucky as the fox is before the hounds. But not anymore. Sixteen years is a long time for me to think, Harry, and since our encounter last year, I have been doing a lot of thinking... between everything else... where do you think I have been for the last year, Harry? Can you tell me? Will your tongue work?"
Harry tensed up. He didn't want to answer at all. He didn't want to give Voldemort the satisfaction of meaningless banter, for he knew that today was the day that he would die. He closed his eyes and just shook his head.
"I have been having my year off, Harry... my year off before my work begins again full-time... and it begins here, today. Don't you see?" Voldemort smiled his cold, horrible smirk. "This is my true sign to the rest of the wizarding world that I have returned, and I do not intend to lie quiet. Last year, they finally realised that I am still alive and prepared. But today will go down in history as the day that I took to my throne once more, and started my conquer of the magical world."
"You won't," Harry whispered. His face was tightened in fear, though his mouth spoke of its own accord.
"Oh? Won't I?" said Voldemort. "How so?"
"People will fight you," said Harry, and he raised his eyes at last to Voldemort, his head still ducked, still tensed, though he hid his fear. He would face Voldemort like a man. If he were to die, he wanted his last words to be strong and fearless, spoken from the heart. He remembered Kainda with a pang, how his last words to her had been, and he knew that it was ultimately Voldemort that had condemned her to death. And Sirius, it was Voldemort's fault. Cedric Diggory. Kingsley. Dobby. "They won't let you take over," he snarled, his hands curling into fists. "They'll fight you, and they'll stop you. If a school full of children can put up this much of a fight, you don't have any chance."
Voldemort's eyes flashed angrily. His wand shook a little, and Harry was fully braced, fully ready to be killed. He went on blindly, powered by his heart rather than his mind. "Look at you! Look at your army! You've got a handful of Death Eaters, two vampires and dead Heliopaths! You won't admit it, and you won't even think it, but you've lost most of your empire today! And now, you've got your little troop of followers, and some little girl that likes drinking blood! You're pathetic!"
"Silence!" Voldemort hissed. He was trembling with rage, his hand clutched around his wand, shaking with anger. "Foolish boy! Is this all you think I have? Do you think that my army and my empire stretches to just this band of my loyal Death Eaters? No, boy... this is just a hint. A glimpse. If you think that I would send all my forces to conquer a school, you are GRAVELY mistaken! Granted, I underestimated, and should I do this again, I would include more Death Eaters - but there will not be an 'again'. Because no matter of the losses, this school will crumble before me, and the rest of the world shall fall in its wake!"
"You're wrong!" Harry shouted. "You're wrong! Look at all the people you've killed! Their families and their friends are going to hate you even more than they do now, and if they've got any decency, they won't lie back and let you take over! They'll fight you!"
"SILENCE!" Voldemort was shaking so violently Harry thought he would scream, his knuckles going even whiter than they were normally, his wand tip trembling hard. "Close your mouth, boy, before you say something you will not live to regret! You are the only reason I have not ordered a full-out massacre of this school and everyone in it, just on the possible, slim chance that one of my Death Eaters would make a mistake and kill you, when I am saving you to die at my own hand. And once you are dead, I will send my forces in, and every man, woman and child within that castle will be slaughtered like pigs!" He stopped, closing his eyes, and taking a slow, deep breath, quelling his rising anger. His lips were tight, his fists still clenched, though when he opened his eyes again, their fury was gone. "Perhaps you don't yet realise what I am capable of, Potter... what pain and suffering I can cause to you..."
"Cruciatus?" Harry snarled. "Just use it! I dare you! And I'll laugh in your face while you do, you can't hurt me!"
"Not you," said Voldemort, softly. His eyes flashed. "The greatest pain can only be inflicted on us when the people closest to us are struck." He gripped his wand again, and then stepped past Harry, his robe sweeping along the ground. Harry twisted, trying to see where he was going, but Voldemort had stopped very close by. Then Harry heard him whisper, quietly. "Severus... dear Severus... what went wrong?"
No, Harry thought. No, not Snape. No. He struggled, and opened his thoughts to say something, but Snape cut into his mind. "Do not move. Just sit still and be quiet, no matter what you hear." There was a soft out-take of breath, and a ripping sound, as Snape's gag was torn from his face. A few moments silence, and then Snape's soft, humbled murmur. "I do not know, my Lord..."
"Can't you take a guess?" Voldemort whispered. Snape did not reply. The Dark Lord continued, and Harry was getting more and more frightened, knowing what Voldemort was going to do. "You betrayed me, Severus... trying to save the boy... how heroic of you... I was watching, all along, Severus. You were in with Dumbledore all along, weren't you? A spy?"
Say yes, Harry thought desperately. Spit in his face. Laugh at him. But when Snape spoke, his voice was quiet. "I-... I am sorry, my Lord... I was planning to renounce him again, when you started your conquer, but - "
"No, Severus. You were not." Voldemort's voice was nothing more than a hiss. "Why must you lie to me? I offered you so much, Severus. Far more than Dumbledore and his little army of children could... and yet you chose the path of fools... and then lie to me. You were my trusted advisor... and yet you still betrayed me. Why?"
It was starting to rain now, and the sky was darkening over head, invaded by huge black clouds, the specks of rain pattering over Harry's face, though it hardly registered, as he heard Snape's frightened mutters. "I do not know, my Lord... I promise you, I beg you for mercy, my soul always remained in - "
"Liar," Voldemort hissed. "Liar. You know what happens to those who lie to me."
"Please... my Lord, I beg you, I never meant to - "
"Crucio!" Voldemort cried. Harry gave a yelp of, "NO!", but the spell had already struck.
Harry felt as though it was him being hit by the curse instead of Snape, as the screaming filled his ears, filled his very mind, tearing him apart from the inside out. Snape was jerking and convulsing, still bound to him, so the cords tightened even more and filled Harry with pain too, but the shrieks were even worse. They cut into him like knives. Worse than knives. Worse than the pain itself. Harry knew it would end soon, and the worst would pass, but no.
Voldemort was laughing. He raised his wand again, and cried, "CRUCIO! CRUCIO!", over and over. The screaming and shaking got worse. Snape was clawing at his own chest, trying to get the pain to go away, or to kill himself so that it would end, and the shrieks were filling Harry's very brain, very heart, the cords were digging into him and Voldemort was laughing, shrieking with laughter as Snape was torn apart by the curses.
And then it fell silent. The shaking stopped, and the screaming was suddenly quietened, leaving only haunted echoes in Harry's head. Snape was still. Very still.
Harry opened his thoughts, and started shouting into Snape's mind, calling for him, pleading with him to be okay, to say something. But there was no reply. There was no answering voice in his mind, not a movement from Snape, not a single sign to show that he could hear. Harry's mind's voice became tear-stricken, as the salty beads of prayer ran down his face, but Snape still wouldn't reply.
Voldemort stepped in front of Harry again, and the wand was still out, his face still twisted in maniacal glee, and Harry knew what was coming as he stared up into those reddened eyes. Snape was gone, and he would be too, taken within the same heartbeat. Harry looked around behind Voldemort to take his last look at life. The proud castle on the hill. All the ministry members. Mr Weasley, looking terrified. Kibbles had awoken from his stunning spell, held back by Hagrid, but Hagrid's eyes were full of frightened tears. Harry closed his eyes. He wanted to say goodbye. But there was no time.
Voldemort's wand tip swished up in the air, and fell, as Harry heard him cry, his voice full of triumphant glee, "AVADA KED-"
"NO!!!" Hagrid roared.
Kibbles gave a screech, and bucked to life, lurching free of Hagrid's grip and running full pelt towards Voldemort. Voldemort turned just as his lips finished the spell, though his wand no longer pointed at Harry. It was pointing towards Kibbles. There was a bang, a flash of sickening green light, and -
Kibbles hit the ground with a last, keening cry. The mud splattered all around, and the rain continued to fall, though the heavens seemed to open, as even the sky started to weep.
Harry heard Hagrid's howl of misery, and felt his heart wrench inside him. Hagrid dropped to his knees at Kibbles's side. His huge hands were shaking, and the tears were already falling from his eyes, as he reached out, and touched the bottle-green scales of his dragon's side. "K-Kibbles?" he choked. "Kibbles...?"
The rain was pouring so hard now that the light of the flames from the corpses of the Heliopaths was flickering, and dimming. Hagrid was staring at his poor dragon, with horror, fright, misery, all welled in his black eyes. "Kibbles... speak teh me... say somethin'..." He took a gulp of air. His voice was shaking so hard his words were barely distinguishable. "Kibbles... come on, b-boy... Mummy's here... s'okay... yeh'll be alright..."
Harry could actually pinpoint the very moment when Hagrid's heart broke in two. It was when the first clap of thunder crashed across the sky, the flames from the Heliopaths flickered violently, and the half-giant's face seemed to scrunch up with misery. He lifted his head, and gave a howl of pain that seemed to shake the very roots of the dying, burning trees of the Forbidden Forest. He clung to Kibbles, weeping into the scales of his side, as the rain just kept falling, and the fire kept dancing.
His anguished sobs cut every single person to the heart. "Mummy loves yeh, Kibbles...! I always will! Me baby... me Kibbles... m'sorry, Kibbles..." The tears were now rolling down his face into his beard, tears of pain, tears of longing, tears of crushed hope and pride, tears of knowing that there was nothing he could ever do to bring back the lost dragon he'd loved and cherished ever since Kibbles was the size of a terrier.
Hagrid's eyes, pouring with tears, turned onto Voldemort, and he spoke with the heart of man who didn't care if he died. He didn't hold back his words, and he wasn't bothered that the person he spoke to was the most feared wizard in the world. All that Hagrid's beetle black eyes now saw Voldemort as was the man who had senselessly killed the creature he loved like a child.
"Yeh MONSTER!" Hagrid roared, his voice torn in two. "YEH HEARTLESS MONSTER! HOW COULD YEH?"
There was another roar of thunder, and a clap of lightning lit the whole sky, the rain weeping harder than ever from the sky. The rumble continued, echoing out around the whole world, growing louder and louder, as though the earth itself was shaking with grief. People were starting to look up now. The roar was going on, and on, and louder and louder and greater in volume and size, and then, as another fork of lightning pierced the sky, there was a scream from one of the Death Eaters.
"DRAGONS!! THERE ARE MORE!!"
Harry looked up, and through the rain, he could see, etched against the black sky by flames, the huge silhouettes of Norbert and Sly. They were shrieking, roaring, howling to the heavens above. And Harry could hear them coming properly now. For the rumbling was not of thunder, or even just the lone two dragons. There were more. Surely fifty at the very least, and every single dragon that Harry could hear roaring and screaming their fury was coming right this way.
"WHERE ARE THEY?!!" one of the Death Eaters screamed, wheeling around wildly, his face full of fear. The other Death Eaters were yelling too, and starting to run for the grounds, as Sly and Norbert took off from the top of the battlements and came swooping down.
They were all sprinting for the gates, screaming with terror, tripping over their robes to get out of the grounds and apparate away. Voldemort was shrieking at them to stay and fight, but Norbert and Sly were rushing ever closer, their horrible keening cries louder than the rain and the thunder and the Death Eaters all put together. Sly was heading for Voldemort, her claws out, head ducked, her huge glittering golden horns directed right at him. He had to physically duck to avoid her, and as she swooped overhead, Harry felt as though a hurricane was passing by, rippling his hair and nearly lifting him bodily from the ground.
The ministry were running now too, stunning as many Death Eaters as they could before they apparated away, and quite a few were being caught. Norbert was after the ones that were getting away, great tunnels of fire bursting free from his mouth and roasting them alive in flames.
Voldemort's wide, red eyes were so full of anger and hatred that Harry thought he would tear himself limb from limb with the pure fury of his rage. He screamed, one long scream of defeat and utter loathing of life itself, before there was a great flash of scarlet light, and he was torn out of sight, torn from the grounds. Harry cried out to tell somebody he'd escaped, but nobody heard over the roars of the fifty dragons that were coming. He looked around wildly, trying to see where they were, even a shadow on the horizon, because it was so loud now that Harry was sure they must be close.
But then he realised that they were close. So close he could reach out and touch them. All huddled around Hagrid in a little group, tears streaming down their tiny faces, roaring with fury and misery for Hagrid and the dead Kibbles. Every single one of the opsittops was howling at the tops of their voices, and the volume they had built up was like nothing Harry had ever experienced. Stunned didn't even come close.
"Harry," said a voice in his ear, the speaker shouting, though hardly heard over the opsittops' roaring. "Harry, can you hear me?"
Harry turned his head wearily, and saw Mr Weasley looking down at him, his face full of fright. He could do nothing to speak, and so just tilted his head forward, resting it on the older wizard's shoulder, shaking with stress and fright. Mr Weasley wrapped an arm around his back to soothe him, then started working on the cords binding him to Snape. He had a wand, and so managed it far more efficiently than Dobby had tried. Dobby was dead though. And so was Snape. And Kibbles. Kingsley. So many other people. All dead. Harry felt tears of exhaustion staining his face, as Mr Weasley snapped open the last bond and separated the two wizards. "Come on Harry," he said. "Let's get you back to school."
"N-no," Harry said. And then, louder, more firm, "No... Snape..." He drew out of Mr Weasley's hold, and sunk back to Snape's side. The man was cold, deathly pale, very still. When Harry reached down, he touched Snape's neck, felt how icy he was, and was expecting the worse as he tried to find a pulse.
But to his great surprise, there was one. Faint, just pattering against Harry's fingers.
"He's alive," Harry choked. "Mr Weasley, he's alive... we've got to help him..." An idea came to mind, and he looked around, eyes wide. "M-my bag... my schoolbag... where is it?"
"Here," said Mr Weasley, kindly, quietly, taking something out from under his robes. "I managed to take it from one of the Death Eaters... but... why do you need it?"
Harry unzipped his bag, and dumped everything out on the ground. He shifted through the exercise books and stacks of parchment, shattering ink bottles, and then finally, he found it. The little velvet pouch that Snape had once handed him, and told him to only use in the cases of most dire emergency. This was one of those times, Harry thought.
He undid the drawstring, and plunged his hand inside, drawing out everything he could find. The tin of potions, the doubling coin, the poisoned chocolates... please, there must be something here... a bottle of ink that exploded if opened, a sachet of powder that could dissolve any metal... anything, anything at all... a beaker full of polyjuice potion, the poisoner's ring, a book that could translate any muggle language in history, a fake wand that reflected curses back on itself... please, please, anything... and then he found it, just at the bottom, a tiny crystal phial.
"A very powerful restorative," he remembered Snape saying to him, on that night so long ago, as he shook the phial in Harry's face. "Made of mandrake leaves, powdered unicorn horn, oil from a dragon's liver and the crushed roots of a very rare plant which only grows for an hour every twenty years."
Harry uncorked it, tilted Snape's head back carefully, and then drizzled the thick, gungy paste all over his throat. Please work, he thought, silently, biting his lip. Don't let him die.
A single silver spark danced out of Snape's pulse point, and flittered away into his chin, gone as soon as it had come. But then another came, and another, until the sparks were jumping from his neck and jittering all over, crackling and buzzing as they set to work. Some bounced into Snape's shoulders, his chest, up and down his arms, some into his forehead, a few even hopping the entire length of his body to sink into his ankles.
Harry was shaking with suppressed hope, watching the sparks gradually fading away, all absorbed by the Potions master's body. He knew that right now, he needed his magical guardians more than anybody else. The thought that one of them would die trying to save him, and that it would be Snape, was too much to bear. It would all just add up to one thing too many.
But slowly, gradually, Snape was coming round. Harry watched with bated breath as the older wizard's jaw creased in a frown and then his black eyes opened with a start. He sat up quickly, grasping his chest and staring around. His eyes fell on Harry, and he opened his mouth to ask, but Harry cut in with, "He used cruciatus on you... you blacked out I guess..."
Snape shook his head vaguely, and said, hurriedly, "The Dark Lord, Potter, where did - ... where on earth is that noise coming from?"
"The opsittops," Harry explained. He glanced over at Hagrid, his little huddle of opsittops, and Kibbles, still laid on his side, his magnificent scales glittering in the light of the dying flames, still flickering from the rain. "They... they're upset, because... because... well... Voldemort's gone, he just vanished when they started to roar..."
"And the other Death Eaters?" said Snape, urgently.
"Gone," said Harry.
Snape nodded, with a very numb, stunned look on his face, as though he truly wanted to believe Harry, but just couldn't. After a moment or so, his duty as a guardian seemed to kick in, and he said, vaguely, "I'm sure this will all be explained soon... back to the castle with you, Potter."
All the ministry members were starting to fight through the rain and the wind back to the school now. Looking up at the great castle, Harry could see it had taken quite a battering. Great chunks had been gouged out of the proud stone, and one of the towers was gone completely, yet another loss in the battle.
A magically magnified voice then called out across the grounds, a voice Harry recognised as Lupin's. "Everybody... please report to the Great Hall, at once... we need to... to do a role call and... assess the extent of the losses."
Dully, Harry registered that Snape and Mr Weasley were heaving him to his feet, both of them supporting him with their arms hooked around his back to keep him walking. He could hardly move properly. His legs felt like lead, as though the knowledge of how to walk had just been wiped cleanly from his body, leaving him empty, just a shell. All around, he could see the dying and the dead, Death Eater and ministry, and the landscape was permanently scarred with the evidence of the conflict. He could see a huge crater over by the gates, a grave to one of the charred, blackened skeletons of the Heliopaths. The cages of the vampires had been blasted open. One lay dead inside, burnt out of all recognition, and whether the creature had been burnt when alive or dead, Harry did not wish to know.
Snape reached out, and pushed open the doors of the entrance hall with one shaking hand. Harry's numb mind didn't even recognise where he was until he felt himself behind lowered into a seat at the Gryffindor table, next to Mr Weasley, and a steaming goblet was being pushed into his hands. He looked up, his eyes on the brink of tears, and saw Professor McGonagall, the right side of her face daubed with blood, handing him a beaker of something green. "Drink, Potter," she said, quietly.
He didn't argue, and just lifted it to his lips, his eyes fluttering, halfway between open and shut. It was vile, whatever it was, but Harry didn't really care. He would have felt better if it were poison.
"Good lad," she said, her voice still as hushed, as she reached out, and smoothed his fringe back from his scar comfortingly. "Is your vision okay, Potter?"
He nodded vaguely. Mr Weasley was patting his back, as McGonagall handed him a steaming beaker too. He looked around the room with his hollow eyes. Not many people were inside yet. The Hogwarts teachers, the ones who were present, were moving amongst the groups of people, handing out potions. He could see Professor Sprout trying to calm a group of third years up near the staff table, and from what he could hear, one of their friends was missing. He closed his eyes, feeling sick. He didn't know whether all his friends were okay. What if a Death Eater had gotten in through Alrister and Andralyn's shield? They would all be dead.
More people were struggling into the hall now. There were people who were badly injured, people who were dying, and then the Hogwarts students. They just came in, their faces blank and too numb with shock to show any emotion, filing down the aisles between the tables, sitting in their usual places, just staring forwards. Harry knew how they felt. It didn't seem real, none of it. He almost wished he could have somebody strike him, just for the pain, just to know that he was still alive.
Somebody from across the hall suddenly cried his name, as they were lead in, and he turned, just in time to see Hermione running towards him, her eyes full of tears. At the sight of her weeping, he felt the heat behind his eyes increase even more. Seeing logical, calm, no-nonsense Hermione crying just hit home to him how much they had lost, and how tired he was.
She grabbed him in a hug, tears pouring down his face, sobbing with relief. He didn't have the energy to hug back. He didn't think he ever would. Ron was with her, grasping Harry in a brotherly embrace, and then Neville, and Luna, and Ginny. They were all crying, as Professor McGonagall handed them potions, told them to calm down, wrapped her own shawl around Neville to stop him shivering. It was all a million miles away to Harry. He couldn't stop seeing Dobby, Kibbles, Kingsley, all of them die. So many people he knew. The people he thought were just too alive to die, as odd as it sounded. The tears were starting to fall now, as he just wept, silently.
He looked around at the hall. There were still people to come. They were all probably hiding in the school, shielded in teachers' offices, or making their way in from outside. They would come soon, and just stroll in through the doors, sit down at the tables with their friends, fill the massive gaps up and down every house table.
Until Harry realised they weren't coming. They were dead. His eyes scanned every empty seat in the hall. There were almost as many empty as filled, and he realised that they now had the ministry with them. So many Hogwarts students... all dead... all children. All innocent.
Lupin was standing at the front of the hall, very pale, holding long rolls of parchment in his hands. They were trembling softly, as in a voice that was holding back a thousand tears, he began to read the names of the Hogwarts students.
Name after name went by with no answer. The gaps grew steadily longer. Everytime there was a name called, and nobody replied, Lupin closed his eyes for just a moment and scratched the words out with a black quill. The Creevey brothers were both gone. People from the DA Harry had just begun to befriend. First years, second years, Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw, the whole of the seventh year Slytherins, all the girls from an entire class of Gryffindors. Lupin's voice got steadily worse, unable to hold a single syllable, as his parchment became more scribbled-out than marked present. There were only about thirty Slytherins left in total. And Malfoy, Draco, was not one of them. Hermione was sobbing into Ron's shoulder, as he cuddled her, comforted her, stroking her shoulder and kissing her forehead.
Finally, Lupin reached the staff, his voice shaking as much as his hands.
There was no reply. Lupin scratched out yet another name.
"Here," came Hagrid's tear-soaked grunt. Professor Sprout was trying to comfort him, but she was crying too.
Every other teacher reported present and alive, and the ministry came next. A lot of them were still alive. Still present. It was the children that had fallen. Harry could see why. There were only so many places you could hide in Hogwarts and not be found. The Death Eaters must have found the students easy-prey. Out there, tomorrow morning, there would be hundreds of letters going home to hundreds of parents, telling the deaths of hundreds of cherished daughters and sons.
Harry didn't listen to the list of ministry members. He didn't know the names, and didn't want to see the shocked faces of all the other adults standing around the hall as their friends and colleagues were announced gone. Until one name came up, that made Harry realise Mr Weasley next to him was shaking slightly.
The seconds of silence lengthened. Mr Weasley was shaking worse than ever. Finally, Lupin raised his quill again, scratched off the name. Mr Weasley put both hands over his face and stifled a sob in his palms. Ron and Ginny were hugging him, and he clutched them close to him, as the tears poured down his face.
"Here," said Mr Weasley, raising his tear-stained face to Lupin. "But by God, I wish I wasn't... how am I going to tell Molly? And Fred and George..."
Everybody lowered their heads at this. Lupin looked back at Mr Weasley, and nodded just once, his face showing understanding and silent sympathy. He turned to Dumbledore silently, rolling up the parchment. "All done, Albus..."
Every eye turned to Dumbledore. The headmaster looked to be in a similar state to Mr Weasley, just sitting in his chair, hands covering his face. It was a few seconds before he said anything, and when he did, though he spoke quietly, everybody heard. "Thankyou, Remus..." He lowered his hands, and stood up, looking out at everybody. His eyes lingered on the vast spaces where children had once sat and talked eagerly, happy, with their friends. More silent tears crept down his wizened face, and then, his heart seemed to break, as his face tightened in anger and sorrow. He raised a hand, just waved it over the hall, and summed up everything in two, simple, single words.
He shook his head, and paused, taking a breath, trying to carry on, but he couldn't. He just couldn't. McGonagall stood up, and gently put her arms around him, lowering him back into his seat. Lupin stepped forward, now securing the parchment rolls with black ribbons.
"I... I think that... there are no words to describe the scene around us now." He took a breath, steadying his nerves, tying the ribbon in a bow, dropping the scrolls to the floor. "There is no possible excuse for... for the loss of today. The world is alone tonight... and will be for a long, long time. I can't even begin to... to offer my sympathy, and my grief, and my comfort to the families who have lost loved ones today..."
The doors of the Great Hall then opened, and everybody looked around, their eyes all full of hope that it would be their loved one who stepped through. The disappointment that it wasn't broke every heart in the hall yet again. Harry couldn't see through the crowd, and just sat back, not wanting to get his hopes broken like so many others. He heard the dull, rhythmic clunk of a wooden leg on the floor, and another set of footsteps following. The crowd drew back. Hermione gave a stifled gasp into Ron's shoulder.
It was Mad Eye Moody, supporting a blood-soaked, shocked-looking Draco, hobbling across the floor to Lupin. "Present," Moody growled. Lupin nodded, and bent to the floor to pick up the parchment again and add the names back to the list. Moody took his arm from under Draco's shoulder, and said, "Go on boy... off to the house table."
Draco nodded numbly, turned, and made towards the extremely vacant Slytherin table, but Moody growled, "Not that house table boy...", reached out, and grasped Draco by the shoulder. He turned him round, and pushed him towards the Gryffindor table. "If there's anybody who deserves to be sitting there, it's this boy," said Moody, quietly. If he wasn't hacked to bits enough as it was, he was now missing most of his left earlobe, "There are a great many people here who would be dead right now if it wasn't for this boy. My only remaining ear included." He nodded to Draco. "Go on boy."
Draco, looking stunned, shocked, and as hollow as everybody else, walked numbly over to the Gryffindor table and sat down with Harry. Hermione was being soothed by Ron again, cuddled up to him, crying into his neck, and Ron was hugging her back. Everybody was just quiet for a moment, and Harry was aware of a great deal of people glancing at him. Or at what he thought was him, until he realised what they were in fact watching, as he saw Snape get up on the other side of the table, walking towards the windows.
He watched the Potions master heading down the table, and then placing his palms flat against the glass, gazing out at the grounds. Harry just thought he was reminiscing over the destruction, and thought nothing of it, until Snape yelped like a belted dog and wheeled around, sprinting for the doors.
Everybody jumped and stared, as he clattered through the doors, leaving them banging off the walls enough to shake dust from the ceiling.
Harry got to his feet, and hurried to the window, stumbling slightly as his aching legs threatened to collapse. He looked out, wondering what it was that had caused Snape to go running out... then he saw, just on the edge of the forest. It was Rookwood, and he was dragging Isabis by the throat. She was crying and struggling, trying to get free, but he just ignored her. Harry saw him lash out and strike her around the face, then drag her away into the forest.
"It's Isabis," said Harry, turning to every face now staring in his direction. "He's gone after her."
"There might still be Death Eaters in the forest, Dumbledore," said one of the aurors from near the door. "Shall we go and fetch him?"
Dumbledore shook his head, looking up, and his voice was now more composed, just hollow, empty of emotion. "No... he will not be stopped for any man. Even if you found him, he would not turn around and come quietly. Severus follows his mind and his logic, because there is no reason for him to follow anything else... and now that he has an excuse to follow his heart, nobody will be able to bring him back but his own realisation."
"What if he's killed?" asked one of the worried looking witches.
"Then it will have taken death to bring him to his senses," said Dumbledore, quietly. "Now..." He lowered his eyes to the table. "Heads of Houses, please take your students to the dormitories. Sarabi, could you see to Slytherin? Dreamless Sleep Potions are readily available from the Potions supplies... we shall sort all of this in the morning." He closed his eyes. "Goodnight, children. God Bless."
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