A/N: So, here is the second half of the last chapter - LOL - that is the quasi last chapter! I won't waste your time on long lamentations about how difficult it is to finish a story; just read it! See you at the end of the chapter!
Sentenced to death II.
From the previous chapter:
"Hermione opened her mouth to whisper a question to the Potions Master, when he suddenly rooted to the spot, reaching out his hand as a barrier, which Hermione succeeded to run into just as he had assumed she would, and pointed towards the richly decorated balustrade that framed the half-landing of the spacious staircase.
The vast marble stairs that led to the heavy main entrance doors of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry shone whitely beneath the countless floating candles and the colossal, gothic chandelier.
There was an ankle, a single ankle, which could be hardy distinguished beneath the curvy shadows of the balustrade; it lingered there for a moment then smoothly disappeared.
Hermione voicelessly mouthed: Harry."
Snape didn’t have to read her lips to come to the same idea, wherever Harry was sneaking, Voldemort must have been around. Hermione wanted to have a closer glimpse at what was going on down there, but Snape unexpectedly pulled her roughly behind a suit of armour. He pressed her to the wall with a force that she could hardly breathe, covering them both with his dark cloak.
The next instant Hermione heard a horrendous noise, something like a hundred Sneakoscopes coming alive on a thunderous, rainy afternoon; she put her palms on her ears to preserve what was left of her hearing and wanted to flap down, but Snape’s body held her too fast to allow her any motion.
Her mind numbed at the alarum, but her heart raced frantically, threatening to burst; they have been discovered!
Nevertheless Snape gave no sign of panic.
“Potter,” he muttered to himself, “just as smart as ever. What a fool!”
He flattened them against the wall, with his wand at the ready, waiting with the motionless patience of a feline.
“Harry Potter I may presume,” drawled an extremely familiar voice as the clamour made by the Alarm Charm subsided. It made Hermione shudder.
“Oh, my dear boy, there is no point in hiding in such a cowardly way,” the Dark Lord proceeded, “you see, you have been cornered, besides, you don’t want to disappoint your friends, do you?”
On top of the stairs, which ended gracefully at the immaculate marble floor of the landing that used to give the house-elves constant work of mopping and polishing, appeared a cloaked form of a woman; this slender silhouette undoubtedly belonged to Bellatrix Lestrange.
From the dark corners and recesses of the corridor, opening to the flights of stairs that lead to the half-landing, Death Eaters emerged to Hermione’s great distress, and slowly moved towards the entrance; she realized that Snape’s miraculous foresight saved them by a hair from being discovered, but this realization didn’t bring the expected comforting effect; she shuddered with anxiety. Why were they hiding there still? They should do something at last! But her limbs remained stiff with terror.
“You see,” the sickly-sweet voice carried on, “You are surrounded. Come and face me like a man, like a man you will never become.”
Some of the raiders chuckled, which was followed by a moan.
“Don’t listen to him, Harry! Run!” This was a voice Hermione recognised at once – it was Ron Weasley. He bravely swallowed the moan, which erupted from his lungs as someone punched him by all appearances in the stomach.
She started and gave an attempt to free herself of Snape’s embrace; he squeezed her even harder, suppressing his growling.
“Just not yet. Not. Yet!”
She slackened, focusing every nerve on the sounds coming from the stair-case. Where were the others? Where was the Order? They must have been lured away from here…
“It-it-it is just Dobby, sir! Dobby is sorry, sir! He did not know that he must not come here. He didn’t mean to cause you trouble,” squeaked a tiny voice.
“What’s this?” snorted the Dark Lord.
“It is a school house-elf, sir,” whispered someone audibly in response.
“House-elves don’t go around sneaking just like that,” Voldemort told in a provoking tone.
“I know that one, my lord,” said Bellatrix, and Dobby emitted a small whimper, “That elf used to belong to Lucius, my lord, before Harry Potter freed him.” There was evident pleasure in the way she spoke. She knew well, why.
“Kill him!” Voldemort spat.
“CONFRINGO!” The blasting curse shot out of thin air, hitting a marble statue down at the end of the stair balustrade, somewhere near to where the Dark Lord’s voice came from; the explosion sent marble splinters all around the place, raining them down on the Death Eaters.
“Damn, Harry! That was stupid!” Hermione muttered to herself, fluttering with tension and impatience. Of course, being in Harry’s place, she wouldn’t have been able to let Dobby sacrifice himself for her either – for it was clear that the alarm was ignited by Harry and not Dobby, who hurried to his rescue -, but this way he exposed himself way too fast.
Just as Hermione feared; series of curses shot towards the stairs, where seemingly there was nothing but the jolly candlelight prancing on the steps, and poor Dobby. A muffled howl joined the bangs and hisses; Ron put up an insane fight to free himself.
A stunning spell hit Dobby, who was reluctant to Disapparate, which clearly indicated that Harry was nearby, and the little elf stretched out on the steps unconscious.
Hermione renewed her efforts to escape Snape’s steely grip.
“They will kill him! They will kill him!” she screamed in a hushed whisper, which Voldemort’s servants would have caught with ease nevertheless, if it hadn’t been for the turmoil of the fight.
“Shut. Up!” Snape shook her, grinding his teeth dangerously.
Hermione jerked angrily against the forcible embrace; she could very well understand Harry’s depthless intolerance towards his Potions Professor now; no doubt, he was the most cunning mind of his era right after Dumbledore, but unlike Albus, Snape managed to demonstrate it in a most maddening, unnerving way, which could well be regarded as his trademark.
What unknown sign he was waiting for Hermione did not know, but for a moment it seemed he had received it at last and resigned himself to move, when he stopped again listening keenly to a new sound.
“Shit,” was all he said.
Hermione didn’t have much time for wondering about the possible meaning of this exclamation; familiar whizzing noises and poignant stench filled the air, followed closely by various curses, causing elemental confusion among the followers of the Dark Lord; it quickly became clear that the attack came from the direction of the dungeons right from behind Voldemort, which apparently astonished everyone, including Ron, who emitted a sharp cry.
Those who were standing at the top of the stairs streamed down; some sending blind shots into the air ahead of them in the hope of accidentally coming at Harry, but apart from several hexes which ended up in their own comrades, none of them succeeded; others ran aiming at the fighters down below.
“The redheads,” Snape observed.
He gave her a sudden push.
“Now! Take your hood on and try not to attract any attention!”
She automatically followed his orders; reality blurred before her eyes and the noises melt into one throbbing, indistinct mass; her conscience registered the agile moves of her body with remote interest, albeit it was unable to account for the drive which directed them.
It could be called fear, but that would suppose the presence of feelings, nonetheless those were exactly the things which had totally abandoned her.
Snape pulled her with him, taking no heed of the bewildered tumult, which seemed to sustain its own havoc.
He adeptly declined any fight and shot only to clear their way downwards, which happened to be miraculously smooth.
“Stay behind me!” Snape’s warning was drowned by the noise.
Meanwhile the Weasley twins tried to gain as much advantage of their sudden and unexpected attack as possible, shooting further fireworks and bombs into the crowd, luring them further towards the dungeons, while Remus Lupin, judging by a series of painful cries coming from the Dark Lord’s vicinity, was trying to get near Ron.
“It’s the werewolf! Get him!” Voldemort screamed, realizing at last that his live bait was in danger. He grabbed the boy by the neck of his shirt and pulled him with him, his other hand held his wand at the ready.
Fireballs whizzed past them, blasting into the scurrying, hustling mob.
Hermione did not know how it happened, but all of a sudden she found Voldemort standing before her, dragging an already stupified Ron along the white marble; it looked most improbable, pretty much absurd, yet it was living reality.
Snape fired first.
He didn’t offer the urbanity of an emitted spell to his master, knowing only too well that the time he could save this way was most precious; it could buy him his life, or prolong it at least for a while.
Voldemort released his slackened prey as he swept a protection charm before him, acting merely on instinct, as his dilated pupils bespoke.
Snape’s second shot, which immediately succeeded the first one, must have been stronger, for Voldemort was knocked out of his balance even though his protection charm lasted.
To tell the truth, Hermione was intent to send a shot at Voldemort as well; she had jostled the handles behind her back, cursing herself for reacting so sluggishly, but the moment’s delay bore bitter consequences – Snape was deprived of the chance to shoot for the third time.
“CRUCIO!” Voldemort screeched leaping to his feet with miraculous agility.
“PROTEGO SNAPE!” Hermione cried pointing both of her wands at her professor. The curse was too strong to be dealt with by one wand, but this way she exposed herself to Voldemort; nevertheless, she could not afford refusing this risk.
Not until then did the Dark Lord awake to her presence. He straightened, looking down at the girl with obvious astonishment, which only moments later turned into fury.
Snape’s injury had finally taken its toll, his drained body could stand no chance against the powerful curse; he weakly gathered himself and shakily mounted on his feet, but the ashen colour of his face betrayed his helplessness.
Voldemort let his leer travel from Hermione to Snape. Hermione threateningly moved her both wands towards him. The noise seemed to subside around them, but it could have been only her imagination.
“You disappointed me, Severus,” he said, intently ignoring the girl, though Hermione was dead sure that he closely followed her every flicker from the corner of his eyes.
Snape concentrated hard to collect the remains of his power; he slightly swayed, but kept his spine straight.
“You helped the girl all along, didn’t you?” Voldemort murmured, not really intent to hear the answer.
“You know, Severus, I used to honour you for your cunning, now I see, I was badly mistaken. It hurts me, Severus, hurts me so much! All I see now is a pathetic old fool, who had fallen for a pretty little Mudblood and lost his senses, turning against his master.” He spat on the floor with disgust.
“EXPECTO PATRONUM!” Hermione shrieked in parallel to Voldemort’s curse. No one knew better that Avada Kedavra was an unblockable spell; there was no reference in the innumerable books she had read to someone ever using a Patronus charm against it, nevertheless at the farthest point of her dread and desperation the idea struck her as evident, though she cradled no hope for success.
Her wands almost cracked with the electricity of magic as they turned blue and hot, casting the spell.
The whitely shining otter that was supposed to take form whizzed past like a silver arrow, and smashed into the greenish ray of the deadly curse, exploding into a sparkling rain of silvery and green fire.
The heavy blow of the colliding spells thrust Snape across the hall straight onto the brightly lit stairs. He spread out there unmoving.
Everything slowed down to a snail’s pace before Hermione’s eyes; she watched with terror as the sparks left from her patronus and the curse dissolved in the air, and pain etched into her with venomous uncertainty – was there any possibility that Severus Snape was alive? Not knowing was thousand times worse than the final truth, no matter how terrible it was.
Voldemort was ready to cast the next annihilating blow, when a furious bluish glow erupted from Hermione’s wand, and despite his shield charm, Voldemort felt something hit him heavily in the chest. He staggered to recover his balance, with a stunted expression taking over his features.
“STUPEFY!” That last hex came from Harry Potter, who seemed to materialize behind Hermione from the air.
With merely an elegant flick of his wand Voldemort repelled the spell; his eyes lighted with radiant delight and his mouth stretched into an avid smile.
“Here you are at last!” he breathed sweetly.
Harry’s jaws jerked, but he said nothing, piercing his challenging look into his opponent.
Hermione was roughly pulled back to reality by Harry’s presence.
The vehement crowd, which until then had been nothing but a swarming, noisy mass on the periphery of Hermione’s consciousness, suddenly came into view and she discovered the familiar, lovely faces of her past; Minerva McGonagall surrounded by a nice bunch of ferocious were-wolves turned into a true she-devil, putting up such an ugly fight that she managed to clear the space around her within several arms length; Kingsley Shacklebolt despite the severe loss of blood was engaged in a desperate duel with Dolohov and Yaxley; Bill and Charley were unstoppably pressing forward towards where the Weasley twins got cornered; she thought she heard Arthur Weasley shout somewhere and she caught a glimpse of someone bearing close semblance with Professor Flitwick.
Undoubtedly the staff had joined the war.
But she could only care for Harry at the moment. He wasn’t supposed to be there now; it was too risky. Of course Harry must have seen it quite the opposite; he was desperate to position himself before Hermione.
“How lovely, it is!” Voldemort drawled in his favourite manner as the noise abruptly finished.
The fighters of the Order, who had finally awoken to the scene, stared at the trio with pure mortification, while the Death Eaters watched their Master with awe and slight hesitancy, holding back their breaths, fearing the minute possibility that the old prophecy would turn against him once more.
“Two against one, is that your idea of fair play, Potter?” he taunted the boy, whose glasses slipped low on his nose, as the suppressed fury made his body tremble.
“Go, Hermione. It’s between me and Voldemort,” Harry squeezed through his gritted teeth.
“Oh yes, Hermione,” he pressed her name, dripping with sarcasm, “forgive me for leaving you to the tender cares of Bellatrix, but Harry deserves all my attention, you see. I promise that after I’m finished with him, I will be more than pleased to deal with you.”
Bellatrix appeared out of nowhere before Hermione, dismissing any feeble attempt to show the same ironic politeness her master liked to entertain so much.
That turn of events made Hermione’s mind race at a frantic pace; the distraction caused by the presence of Bella could ruin it all; and with that thought about the plan the sharp pang returned to her heart.
“I’m staying,” she said firmly, and pointed her right wand at Madame Lestrange, keeping her other wand steadily in its former position.
“No, Hermione, go!” Harry hoarsely whispered, seething with fury and at the same time struck with earnest terror.
“You arrogant, daft bitch!” Bellatrix spat, ready to send a curse into the girl, but Voldemort stopped her with a short, commanding glance.
“Look what we have here,” he continued in his accustomed theatrical manner, talking to his confused audience with clear amusement, while travelling his searching leer along Hermione’s small frame.
“Bold, very bold, my girl” he purred undisturbed, but his eyes betrayed some inexplicable alarm, “throwing a challenge to me and Bellatrix at the same time. Never seen anything like that before.” He smiled. “Nevertheless, pray, tell me, how you wish to cast two spells at a time, my dear? Having two wands does not mean to have two brains.”
“CRUCIO!” he shrieked, drowning Bella’s same spell.
The only thing Hermione could earnestly say she liked in Voldemort was his perverse inclination for making pathetic speeches, and using redundant gestures; she had learned during her captivity that it afforded her time to think of her next act and to prepare for it.
In fact repelling both his and Bella’s curse didn’t challenge her abilities, but she preferred to give the false impression of coping hard with them.
In the background the fights by all appearances must have renewed for the noise of spells and curses filled the air again; she could tell that the Order put up a desperate fight to get nearer them.
Voldemort paused musing, and blocked Harry’s counterspells thrown at him and Bella with slight irritation, having lost his interest in his precious foe for a moment.
Bellatrix on the other hand got carried away, firing again and again – quite uselessly for all her curses bounced off Hermione’s strong shield, and hit some mesmerized observers.
“AVADA…” she screamed finally, having run out of any other ideas, when a she was roughly stopped by her master.
“NO!” he boomed, “Leave that to me!” he breathed with sickly pleasure.
Harry suddenly stepped before his friend, blocking her from Voldemort and Bellatrix. The Death Eaters, who were not engaged in fights, watched the scene motionlessly, knowing only too well not to interfere with Voldemort now.
“You have to kill me first, Voldemort!” he said in a clear, brazen voice.
“No, Harry,” Hermione squeaked, trying to push him aside, “no! It’s my duty! I have to do it!”
“Nonsense!” he snapped. Inside he cursed Hermione’s obstinacy, which had caused him so many headaches so far, and shook his head to vent his frustration, “No, Hermione!”
Hermione knew Harry well enough to tell that he had set his mind and nothing she sad would deter him from his will, so she thought better of that. It was only a question of timing. Perfect, precise timing, exactly as Snape would do it. She shifted hardly noticeably and waited with the patience of a serpent.
“So be it!” Voldemort raised his wand with apparent joy.
“EXPELLIARM…” Harry cast his spell a tiny fraction later.
The green flash swept away his spell, and pierced the bluish haze of some hasty shield charm, which dispersed in the air like sprinkling water.
Harry fell lifelessly back at once, pushing Hermione out of balance. His eyes vent glassy, and his limbs spread in absurd angles.
The Dark Lord watched his work with pure triumph – Harry Potter was dead.
Gasps, moans and joyful cries swept over the place, after the long reign of silence had broken. Those members of the Order who witnessed the event seemed to be too thunder stricken to react; they numbly observed the fervent rejoicing around them for a few seconds.
Hermione stirred and pushing Harry’s limp body off shakily stood up. She was white as a ghost, and compared to her paleness, her hazel irises turned darker than ever.
She raised her wands at Voldemort. An eerie kind of tranquillity descended on her, which shoved her anxiety and fright aside, like a blanket of snow that smothers the seething bustle of a crowded city. She did it.
The noises died away instantly. Bellatrix stole an apprehensive glance at her master, awaiting his further instructions or to see if she was allowed to strike, but his face made her tensely withdraw.
A soft, cold smile crept on Voldemort’s face. He narrowed his elongated pupils.
“I never have imagined what an inexpressible pleasure it would be to stand here, over the corpse of the world-famous Harry Potter… and now my joy is doubled. I will send you after him and your beloved Potions teacher, just to finish my work. The redhead will follow you. One. By. One. You. Will. Die!”
No expression ruffled Hermione’s smooth features; some unearthly clarity radiated from her. It was soon over now.
Voldemort pouted at her, which could have been a farewell gesture and cast the spell.
A blue-hot ray hit him squarely in the chest. He would have flown across the hall, had there not been a bunch of his followers crowded behind his back; this way he smashed into them, knocking a great number of Death Eaters to the floor.
Uproar of incredulity shook the walls.
The confused onlookers, after recovering from the first shock, found Hermione kneeling on the floor; her limbs trembled, and dark shadows hid beneath her eyes. She was weakly gasping for air, as if she had been struck by a Cruciatus curse, and the last fits of pain hadn’t fully subsided. Her strike was devastating, and just like in case of Nagini, it consumed her power, as well.
Now, she offered a ghastly view.
Lord Voldemort emitted a horrible moan, which frightened the people around him more than the fact of his defeat; they hastily shuffled backwards, pressing their hesitant fellows further away. It was difficult to tell, whether some sharp pain or the fury of frustration and fright had ripped the sound from Voldemort’s throat, but his body seemed to be whole; he clumsily mounted to his feet.
As Hermione raised her head, and looked through her dishevelled mane, she saw a fearful, contorted face – Lord Voldemort regained his composure and now, cautiously though, approached her. Neither he, nor Hermione could appreciate which emotion was going to win the fight within him, fear or rage; he looked to be fluctuating between the two.
Nevertheless, it was obvious that the blow, she had cast at the Lord, took a rather high toll on Hermione, and her weakness resolved Voldemort’s doubts.
He forced a mocking grin on his bloodless lips, mainly to assure his servants of his vantage.
Pointing his wand at Hermione again, he made a flicking move.
She tried in vain to withstand the force, which pulled her up in the air and kept her floating there powerlessly.
Voldemort slowly paced around her body, pondering and trying to gain time to understand the meaning of all this.
“Perhaps I have underestimated you,” he returned to his beloved drawling manner, “I thought you were like Potter. A big-headed, stupid teenager, but no, you are something different. We used to get on so well together, remember?” A beastly leer lighted his face.
“And then something happened. You disappointed me,” he said.
Hermione screamed, but her hands never released her wands, even though the bounding spell that held her did not allow raising them.
Voldemort removed the spell.
“Where was I?” he wondered. “Yes, the utter disappointment. But we are even now.” He made a small swishing move with his wand, which flung her across the hall, towards the stairs.
For a second everything went blank before Hermione, but the dogged resistance within her pulled her back. Not yet. Just not yet.
She made a hasty attempt to collect herself as Lord Voldemort advanced on her.
“GEROFF HER, YOU BASTARD!” bellowed a voice, rendered almost unrecognizable with madness.
Ronald Weasley, who had slipped out of consciousness after Voldemort stunned him, came back to life, acquired a wand in the chaos of confusion, and now charged at Bella, who was trying to keep him back, with such feverish obsession that he quite drained her of power.
“Your little hero is awake,” Voldemort murmured to Hermione, after casting a scornful look at Ron from the corner of his eyes, “well, Bella will take care of that.”
She stood up, quaking and raised her wands menacingly.
Before she could fire a curse, Voldemort swept them away with an irritated move.
He gritted his teeth with hatred, leaning close to her face.
“Die at last!” he growled.
“AVADA KEDAVRA!” A green light erupted from his wand again.
Suddenly something most peculiar happened – it was met by another glowing green beam.
The narrow serpent-eyes of Voldemort suddenly dilated to an astonishing extent and locked on an object in Hermione’s hand.
The brightly glowing wand of Slytherin pointed straight at him, emitting a forceful ray, which collided with his curse, and now they did something similar to what he had once experienced with Harry’s wand – they seemed to connect in their effort to distinguish each other.
There was a small serpent on the handle, which wrought gently round Hermione’s fingers and its diamond eyes pinned into Voldemort with malice.
The kind of feral panic struck the Dark Lord, which takes over cornered animals; he uttered a horrendous yell and with a maddened expression he stabbed forward with his wand.
The radiant ray of the curse violently jerked, like a wounded reptile and then suddenly burst, spitting green fire; the brunt of the blow hit Hermione hard and she flattened out at the bottom of the vast staircase with a moan; Voldemort staggered backwards bewildered by the impact, but he managed stay on foot.
Panic run through his veins, paralyzing his shaking frame – Harry was dead and nobody –nobody! – was supposed to take his place, to withstand the force of the only unstoppable and unblockable curse, the Avada Kedavra; not even Dumbledore could do that!
His hands trembled and his mouth became dry like desert sand. He felt broken and numb, the world swayed slightly before his eyes. The girl laid semi-conscious before him, beside her lay that hell-born thing – her third wand. Where did she get that from?
Nevertheless Voldemort’s dismay melted at once – at a closer look it became clear, the wand had split into two. The snake upon its handle moved no more, it was nothing but a battered piece of art now. He released a weak, tortured laugh, which only deepened the glumness of the moment.
As he slowly travelled his gaze along the hall, he became aware of the multitude of horror-stricken eyes, staring at him in the dead silence; no one moved, no one dared to triumph, nor dared anyone to emit any other sound; nothing but the gasping breathing of the crowd could be heard.
Ron gaped blankly before him, kneeling on the floor; heedless of the mortified Bellatrix, who was clutching his collar with her unfeeling, white fingers.
It seemed as if time had broken, and no one in the room could put its pieces together; though their surroundings had not changed, it felt that reality had slipped away, leaving them on no man’s land.
Voldemort turned his look back on the girl; she was on the brink of senselessness, perhaps she was dying.
The sickly smile returned to his wasted, pale face and it gave him a grotesque appearance; he had become nothing but a ghastly imitation of his former self, during these last few minutes. He had no idea of the bond that connected him to that wretched girl.
He strengthened his grip on his wand and stepping closer, he kneeled over Hermione’s limp body. Just how much he loathed her! She had humiliated him! She awoke such fears within him he had not felt since Dumbledore died! Yes, that’s what it was! She made him feel as if Dumbledore was still there with his witty little traps!
The tip of his wand pressed to her temple. With the surge of hatred and anger, his powers returned; only one thought ruled him – to terminate her, kill her, destroy her once and forever!
“NOOOOO!” Ron jumped up and ripping himself from Bella’s claws rushed at Voldemort, going berserk beyond the wildest imagination.
“AVADA KEDAVRA!” Voldemort boomed, swishing his wand at Ron.
It happened so fast that no one quite followed what happened.
Hermione’s hand stirred and then suddenly darted forward; a small black thing flashed in her fist and drew deeply into the exposed chest of the Dark Lord. A deep red current of blood ran down his shirt; it streamed gaily down to the white marble floor and slowly formed an inky pool.
His long fingers slackened, letting his wand fall with a clinking sound on the stone.
Incredulously he turned his face to Hermione; there was utter incomprehension and dread in his look.
She held the bloody handle of the sharply cracked wand.
“No…” he moaned in whisper.
He blinked twice as darkness descended on his eyes, and wavering a second, he fell on the floor with a hollow thud.
Someone shrieked. A deadly spell was cast. Something fell on the floor. She felt strong warm arms wrap her, quivering with tension and anxiety.
“It’s alright, alright now, love… It’s… it’s over… He’s dead… dead, you’ll be fine… Infirmary… I’ll take you…” Ron blabbered.
Everything blurred before Hermione’s eyes. Yes, it was over. Voldemort was dead. She knew it. She could feel it. But she would not go to the Infirmary. Not any more. She was dying. Her strength evaporated, she had perhaps minutes… or even less. Sweet Ron… But there was one last thing she had to do.
She struggled to her feet, shaking off Ron’s efforts to keep her down. There was no time to explain.
Chaos endeavoured the place. As the news of Voldemort’s death spread in a low, but unstoppably spreading whisper, most of the Death Eaters fell into panic, running for the main Entrance door. Only the most desperate fought here and there. Most members of the Order and the staff dashed into the opposite direction, and in this overall mess people collided, falling painfully on the floor.
Determination dragging her wasted body, Hermione headed up the stairs, pushing Ron aside, who tried desperately to keep her back.
One last thing…
“Let her go, Ron!” It was Remus Lupin, bloody and hardly recognizable under the deep gashes on his face and chest; he gently took Ron’s shoulder.
“What? What are you talking about? She’s… she’s…” Ron tried to get free of the kind, but strong grip.
“You have to let her go now. You’ll see…” Remus’ hoarse voice broke.
“Harry is alive! It looks as if he has been simply stunned…” The hysterical shriek belonged to Minerva McGonagall. Her clothes were ragged and sprinkles of blood shone like rubies on the rags of her emerald robes. “What is going on?” Her alarmed eyes slipped from the werewolf’s deformed face towards Hermione, who weakly fought for every step she made. Minerva gasped.
“She’s injured!” she cried, but Lupin held her back as well.
“Wait! Wait a little! She would never forgive you if you hindered her.”
“Hinder from what?” McGonagall blurted out.
Remus was spared from having to explain; Hermione slowly reached the body of Severus Snape and came down on her knees. She gently reached for his face, wiping his hair aside.
“I did it, the great Plan is fulfilled! He is dead. He is dead,” she whispered bending down to the man. His eyes suddenly opened. He looked unable to speak, but the depth of his black irises glowed. Blood was leaking from the back of his head, soaking his hair. Hermione pulled closer to him and placed a soft kiss on his dry lips.
The Transfiguration Professor stared at her flabbergasted.
“Remus, you will explain this to me,” she said in an unfamiliar, hoarse voice, unwittingly straightening her ruinous robes.
“Hermione!” shouted a familiar voice. Harry burst into their company, almost knocking Remus off his feet. “Where is she?”
Before anyone answered Harry turned to follow their gaze; he gasped very like Minerva when he spotted the scene, but unlike her, he gave Remus no opportunity to stop him.
“Hermione!” he cried, taking two steps at a time.
Harry came to a sudden halt within a few steps from her friend, challenging her with an inquiring look, which immediately turned into terror – all colours had escaped Hermione’s face and now she looked like she had risen from a coffin.
“What is it?” he jerked out; it stood for ‘are you all right?’, “What are you doing with him here?”
“I’m sorry, Harry!” she breathed faintly, the world started to fade before her eyes; it wouldn’t be long now, but she had done what she had to, at least.
Snape stirred in her arms. It helped her to regain her focus for a little while again. With inhuman effort Snape grabbed her cloak and pulled her in his arm; Hermione gratefully submitted to his will, but instead of a warm embrace she received something else - a painful sting in her palm.
She stared at him with incredulity and then the world around her made a fast spin and everything went black.
Harry dashed at Snape, before he could have realized what had happened; his fingers clutched around his professor’s neck.
Strong, tiny hands wrought around him, trying to pry his clasp open.
“No, Harry Potter! Don’t! Please, don’t!” Dobby squeaked, “You will kill Headmaster Snape!”
“That is exactly what I intend to do,” he rumbled.
“No, no, that’s bad! He helped Miss Granger! Look!” Dobby finally tore Harry off his former teacher and pointed hastily to the black form of a dead bird next to him.
Harry looked around with a vacant expression; there was no Hermione in the vicinity; nothing but a lifeless raven lay next to him. Dobby gently took the bird in his arms, and allowed himself a somewhat insane grin.
“Miss Granger! Miss Granger! Dobby has seen her!”
By that time Ron, Remus and Minerva approached them.
“I… I had no idea that Hermione was an animagus!” the Transfiguration professor halted.
“No! It’s Rowena Ravenclaw’s feather!” Dobby informed her.
“Rowena Ravenclaw’s feather?” Minerva exclaimed, “Merlin’s precious beard! It’s impossible!”
Ron rested his witless eyes on her. “Where is Hermione?”
“Rowena was an Animagus! The most powerful one, indeed! That feather of her was legendary – it could transform anyone…! But it was believed to be a mere myth… Dumbledore! You wretched old man! If it was you…” she swore as an idea slowly took form in his mind.
Ron stared at the bird suspiciously.
“Is that her? Hermione?” Harry asked the question, which revolved in Ron’s mind.
“It is,” Remus said with an astonished look on his face as he stared at the raven in Dobby’s arms. An idea struck him, for he suddenly turned and knelt next to Snape. After rummaging in his pocket for a short time, he retrieved a vial. He quickly uncorked it with one hand, and leaning over his former schoolmate, he dripped a little liquid in his mouth.
The Pepper-Up Potion hissed, but did not produce the usual fuming effects, nevertheless Snape’s breathing became firmer and more even.
“What is going on Severus? Answer!” Remus could not help shaking him slightly.
Snape took a deep breath and opened his eyes.
“The plan is accomplished, at last… Dumbledore, the old monster won… the feather occurred to me in the last minute, it was there in her pocket all along… so obvious… I hope it was not too late…” he whispered.
“What do you mean?” Remus asked, looking confused at Minerva, who painfully knelt down next to him.
Snape weakly smiled.
“Your wits… did not improve much… since your schooldays. Hermione mastered Slytherin’s art… ask Potter, he will know… With that she became connected to his power and thus to Slytherin’s only true heir, Voldemort…” he had to take a longer pause to collect his strength, “Slytherin’s power turned against itself. With Voldemort’s death… she was condemned to die as well… Rowena’s feather was her last chance…”
“It gave her Rowena’s power, which was the only thing that could level with the great Slytherin,” Minerva finished his sentence, absorbed in her own thoughts.
“Is she alive?” Snape asked, not betraying any emotion.
“And what about you?” Remus asked, “You have been hit by the Avada Kedavra!”
Snape let his lips curve into his usual smile.
“I would be dead if I had been, everyone know that much,” he rejoined.
“No,” Minerva shook her head violently, “Hermione couldn’t have blocked that! It’s impossible! No one, but Harry…”
“It surprises me Minerva how much you underestimate her,” he mocked.
There was a short pause.
“Then what happened to you?” Remus asked quietly.
“Nagini,” Snape said plainly, looking at his paralyzed hand.
Another pause followed, nobody could respond.
Wings fluttered behind them and ear-spitting croaking cut into the air and as they turned, they saw Dobby cope with the panic-stricken raven.
“Hermione has awakened, it seems,” Harry muttered.
“Looks pretty hysterical to me; yeah, it must be her,” Ron stated.
“Let her go!” Remus said.
The bird spread its wings, but instead of flying, it weakly plummeted on the stairs. Jumping on its legs, it clumsily hopped to Snape. Furious cawing escaped its huge beak.
“Take her away!” Snape commanded, furiously.
The raven started tearing its own feathers out with desperation.
“TAKE HER AWAY!” he yelled at the stoned group. To tell the truth the prospect of approaching and seizing a raging raven wasn’t quite appalling to them. Harry moved first.
“Miss Granger wants to tear Rowena’s feather out! No! She will die!” Dobby moaned.
“Hermione! Stop! That’d kill you! Don’t remove the feather!” he started, but stopped as he saw huge drops of tears in the animal’s eyes; the pieces had finally fallen together, “you… you… don’t tell me that you… you really care for this…” he was unable to finish his sentence. The sight of Hermione leaning over the lips of his Potions teacher burnt into his mind like a brand. “You can’t have… it’s insane, Hermione! Come, let me take you…” But Hermione was not an easy opponent, even being a raven.
She escaped from his hands with a smart jump, leaving Harry with nothing but some feathers.
Jumping aside she resumed tearing out her feathers, desperate to find the one, which kept her in that state. Remus seized her with a smart move.
“Snape is dying,” Ron suddenly said, pointing at the Potion’s teacher, whose head lolled senselessly sideways.
An awkward silence descended on them, only the noise of the maddened animal and the constant buzzing of the background could be heard.
“Nagini is a snake,” Harry said slowly.
All heads turned to him, mostly with an expression of confusion and pity.
“Why, it is, mate, indeed,” Ron patted him on the shoulder comfortingly.
“Just a huge, ugly snake like the basilisk,” Harry continued. Ron stared at him again, only a bit more alarmed.
“Kind of,” he blurted out in response.
“And Fawkes could heal Basilisk bites,” Harry went on with his musings.
“But there is no Fawkes here, Harry. Not any more,” This time it was Minerva, who answered; Ron had apparently run out of sensible responses.
“Sure,” Harry nodded, “But I’m here. And I have Fawkes tears in my blood.”
“Hate to say it, pal, but you’re off your hinges,” Ron consolingly remarked.
“To tell the truth, Harry, I have the same impression,” McGonagall added.
“Wait! What if he’s right,” Remus butted in.
“Remus!” Minerva gasped.
“Harry, are you sure?” Remus asked, “We are talking about Severus Snape.”
“He doesn’t deserve to live!” Ron exclaimed, getting really red in the face. “He killed Dumbledore!”
Minerva drew in a sharp breath.
“Yeah,” Harry muttered, “I know.”
“But he saved Hermione,” he continued after a short pause.
“You hate him!” Ron shook Harry by the shoulder, as he starting rolling up the sleeve of his shirt. “I hate him! He… he… you know… he took away my Hermione!”
“I know,” he agreed, but carried on; he swiftly rolled up Snape’s sleeve, and tore off the bandages. The wound was swollen and purple, and it oozed poison.
“Just a moment ago you were ready to kill him, mate! Not that I wouldn’t agree…” Ron said, unwilling to give up his point of view.
“I was,” Harry agreed.
He pulled out a small pocket knife and with a firm move he cut his arm. Blood trickled down his skin.
“But my father would save him, I know.”
“I hope you also know that Snape will hate you for this more than ever, mate. If it’s possible at all,” Ron concluded.
“I doubt that it’s possible,” Harry muttered.
He reached out for Snape’s arm. He let his blood drip on the bite. Snape’s injury was unattended for a lot longer than his own, besides, he was not Fawkes. What if his blood did not have the same effect? Anyway, there was no better solution at hand.
The raven meanwhile stopped destructing Remus’ clothes and her feathers and watched closely the ongoing events.
Nothing happened for a while; the tense faces slowly elongated with disappointment.
Remus gently reached for Snape’s pulse, and retreating sadly, he shook his head.
The dishevelled bun of Minerva McGonagall, nodded in reply.
Harry leniently drew his arm back. He stole a glance at Hermione, but seeing her glassy expression, he turned away.
Just when all hope was finally gone a sigh could be heard.
Slowly, the unmoving chest of Snape heaved, and his skin lost its parchment-like colour. He did not regain his consciousness yet, but his pulse steadied and the ugly purple colour of his wound, lightened.
“He’s alive,” Ron muttered, “Mate, you did it! If only I knew why,” he added
“Harry,” Remus started, but he couldn’t finish.
Minerva hastily scrambled to her feet.
“He’s alive! Let me take him to the hospital wing,” she said firmly, “Remus, bring Hermione.” She was about to start, when she abruptly turned.
“Oh, yes. You boys, too, come!”
She raised Snape’s body with her wand.
“Come quick,” she ordered, casting a last glance at the ruined hall, and moved briskly forward. Dobby obediently followed them.
A/N: So, here you are. Some of the myteries, like how Hermione managed to save Snape and how Harry survived the Avada Kedavra, will be explained in the Epilogue. And of course, there you will find hints about the future of our heroes.
I hope you liked this last chapter! Tell what you think! If you find any mistakes, let me know what they are, and I'll correct them.
Special thanks to my dearest beta, Whitney! See you in the Epilogue and my future one-shots! Love to all my Readers!