A/N This chapter is dedicated to Ilovechicken, for his/her polite reminder about posting this chapter. Looking forward to all your reviews.
“What do you know of your mother’s early life?” Snape asked quietly, his arms folded and his gaze focused on Harry.
“Excuse me?” he said incredulously, wanting to belt Snape for even mentioning her. To hear reference to her come out of Snape’s mouth was sickening. “What has she got to do with anything?”
“She has everything to do with it,” he answered cryptically.
Harry was gobsmacked, hastily trying to think of something he knew about his mother’s early life. “That’s funny, I don’t really know her thanks to you,” he retorted, remembering that it was Snape who had heard the prophecy.
Snape flinched at this comment, surprising Harry immensely. A moment later he strode over to the kitchen drawers, where he removed a large stack of parchment all bound together. He placed it on the bench and unravelled the string, stepping back and motioning to Harry that he should look. Feeling immensely confused, Harry cautiously stepped over and looked at the stack of parchment, surprised to see how old it was. He didn’t need a second look to know that the first piece was a letter, a date scribed in the top corner in perfectly neat writing.
Taking the top piece, Harry turned it into the light and began to read, his heart leaping out of his chest before he made it past the first line. “What the hell is this?” he demanded, looking up in anger. “Dear Sev, I miss you terribly?”
Snape was very quiet for a long moment, responding only when Harry repeated himself. Clearing his throat, Snape indicated to the rest of the parchment. “These are letters your mother and I exchanged throughout the school holidays.”
“They’re what?” Harry said angrily, putting aside the first letter and picking up the rest. His world seemed to have stopped again, each letter he picked up neatly address to ‘Sev’ and signed by ‘Lily Evans.’ Looking through them, he tried to take note of the dates, all of them dated as being in the early seventies.
“Your mother and I were great friends, for a very long time,” Snape began, his tone even and cool. “We were just children. As I’m sure you understand, not every childhood is as blessed as some. Your mother and I became friends before we went to Hogwarts, and it was I who told her that she was a witch.”
“She hated you!” Harry exclaimed, throwing down the letters. He didn’t want to even touch them. “You were a Death Eater! You’re the one who killed her!”
Snape showed no reaction to this outburst. “We were friends throughout our early years at Hogwarts, despite being sorted into separate houses.”
“She hated you!” Harry shouted now, not caring whether or not Tonks and Hermione could hear him. “You called her a Mudblood! You told You-Know-Who the prophecy!”
“Both moments, which I have deeply regretted for many years,” Snape replied calmly, which only infuriated Harry more.
“You expect me to believe this shit?” Harry asked, pointing to the letters.
“They’re all the proof you need.”
“Proof of what?” Harry asked, feeling as though the grimy walls were closing in on him. It made no sense to him, no sense at all. “What does this even mean?”
“It means that I loved your mother very deeply,” Snape said, finally showing a little anger in his words. He advanced a few steps towards Harry, making him back up against the bench. “And that even though my actions led to her death, I did all in my power to ensure that she would be spared.”
Harry couldn’t breathe for a long moment, the impact of Snape’s outburst finally sinking in. “You’re sick,” he said lowly, wanting to be sick himself. “You didn’t do anything for her, except make sure she died!”
“When I realised just what I had done,” Snape continued, regaining his cool exterior. “I begged the Dark Lord to spare her life, and he agreed. I then went to Albus, and I asked him to protect her, to protect all of you.”
“Don’t act like you did her a favour!” Harry shouted. “She’s dead because of you! How can you say you loved her?”
“Because it’s true.”
“You’re lying,” Harry accused with absolute certainty. Unable to take it any longer he headed for the kitchen door, set on leaving immediately.
Inexplicably, Snape beat him there, throwing his hand against the door and blocking Harry. “Just wait,” he said calmly, raising his hand toward Harry.
“Let me out,” Harry said lowly, taking a step back. He tried not to panic, tried to ignore the fact that his only viable exit was blocked, completely forgetting that he was armed while Snape was not. “I’m done talking to you.”
“Let me finish,” Snape said with unusual patience. He stepped away from the door and moved back over to Harry.
“No!” Harry said loudly, needing to put as much space between them as possible. His heart was pounding, his palms sweaty as he tried to manage the thoughts running through his head, to comprehend the earth moving revelations that he was being given. “You’re acting like you’re some kind of great protector for me, that I owe you something! I owe you nothing, and neither does my mother!”
Snape ignored this. “When she died, Albus knew that the war was not over. He knew the Dark Lord would return one day, and that you would be in greater danger than ever before. I committed myself to his disposal, and I committed to ensuring that you were protected from any danger that you may face.”
“Let me go,” Harry demanded lowly. “I don’t care what you’ve got to say, I’m done here.”
“We’re not done here, Potter,” Snape said calmly, though beginning to anger as he continued. “Dumbledore left you work to do? Well you’re not the only one. I have work to do too, and it’s not finished until I tell you everything he needed to. You’re not the only one who spent far too long in his office, listening and learning things you didn’t really want to know!”
Intrigue fluttered beneath his panic and desire to escape. “What do you know?” Harry asked after a long pause.
“Everything,” Snape stated, standing taller and folding his arms. “Everything you need to know in order to fully defeat the Dark Lord….I just fear that giving you this knowledge too soon will only make it harder for you.”
“You’re a liar.”
Snape regarded him for a moment, clearly having expected this demand. Very slowly, he slipped his hand into his pocket and withdrew a tiny silver vial. He tossed it to Harry, who caught it with ease.
“What’s this?” Harry asked, already knowing.
“Memories…there’s a reason you have Dumbledore’s penseive.”
“And what are these memories?”
“Proof,” Snape said, his voice so quiet that Harry almost couldn’t hear him. “Proof of what I’m about to tell you.”
Harry looked at the memories swirling around in the vial, finally realising why there was nothing in Dumbledore’s penseive that he hadn’t already seen. He considered them for a moment, remembering how Horace Slughorn had altered and falsified his memories with ease. A skilled wizard like Snape would be able to do that seamlessly. “What do you need to tell me?”
“You understand the way in which a wizards soul is damaged when he commits murder?”
“Yes,” Harry confirmed, still not looking away from the memories.
“Dumbledore believes, that the night that the Dark Lord tried to take your life, the curse rebound and struck him instead. Inexplicably, he did not die, rather his soul tore apart, and latched itself to the only living being in that house.”
Harry didn’t say anything, already knowing exactly what would come next.
“Part of the Dark Lord’s soul lives inside you. It gives you the power of Parsletongue, and it explains the connection the two of you share. While ever your beating heart protects that piece of soul inside you, the Dark Lord cannot die.”
Harry seemed to be listening to this conversation from far away, as though he were not really there. He studied the memories as he listened, and kept himself calm as he began to shut down. He couldn’t think….it was something he had considered before, but he had never wanted to consider the implications.
“You expect me to kill myself?” Harry asked sceptically, finally looking up.
Snape shifted uncomfortably, looking away from Harry’s gaze. “Wizards who attempt suicide are notoriously unsuccessful. But it would make little difference…Dumbledore believed that the Dark Lord’s true mortality would only be possible, if he were to destroy the living piece of soul inside you.”
“That makes no sense,” Harry argued, thinking back to the Horcruxes that had been destroyed by others.
“I happen to agree. But that’s what Dumbledore believed.”
“Have we finished now?” Harry asked impatiently, still not allowing himself to think too deeply.
Snape raised his eyebrows, surprised by how he was still desperate to leave. “If you agree to view those memories….to see for yourself that I am being honest.”
“I’ll do what I want,” Harry said sharply, pocketing the vial and heading for the door.
Snape blocked him again. “Would you like to keep the letters your mother wrote? I know you have very little of hers.”
“Burn them,” Harry snarled cruelly, pleased when Snape appeared hurt. “Now let me leave.”
Snape stepped aside and allowed him to leave. Harry didn’t look back, marching down the hallway and entering the front room where Hermione and Tonks waited for him expectantly.
“How did everything go?” Tonks asked in concern.
Abruptly, Harry realised she and Hermione hadn’t heard a thing, and he wondered if Snape hadn’t placed a Silencing charm around the kitchen in anticipation of an argument.
“Everything’s fine,” he said, focusing on keeping his voice calm. He didn’t need to let them know what was wrong. “Can we go?”
Tonks nodded, ushering Hermione to get to her feet. He spread the Invisibility cloak over the two of them and followed Tonks out the front door. Looking back, Harry saw only the empty hallway, Snape having not followed him out. Tonks closed the door and set off down the Muggle street, passing only a few houses before stopping. Turning on the spot, she checked their surroundings before inconspicuously offering her arm to Harry and Hermione, who took it quickly.
They apparated straight into the front garden, and Harry immediately whipped off the Invisibility cloak, pleased to see Tonks returning her appearance to normal. Hermione was looking at him critically, desperate to discuss what they had heard, to find out what had been said alone in the kitchen. For now Harry ignored her, knowing exactly what he needed to do most.
“Tonks,” Harry muttered, grabbing her arm as she made to follow Hermione inside.
“What is it?” she said in concern, turning back to him. She looked at him expectantly, she too wishing to know what went on between he and Snape.
“Can I see Sirius? Please,” he added urgently. “It’s really important.”
It was obvious by his tone that it was important, and Tonks immediately agreed.
“Just let me tell Remus,” she said hastily, popping inside for just a moment.
She returned quickly, and together they strode back out into the garden and apparated under the Invisibility cloak. Appearing in the familiar Muggle street, they looked around before removing the cloak and setting off, walking as quickly as they could. Harry could feel Tonks looking at him out of the corner of her eye, but he ignored her, trying to group and organise his thoughts and questions. If he didn’t think clearly, he would blurt out the wrong thing to Sirius, and everything would become worse than it already was.
Harry didn’t even realise they had reached the right house, let alone the front door, but a short time later Tonks was knocking loudly. Nudging him, she reminded him to take out his wand. The door opened, and they were greeted by Chief, the German Shepherd who was growling with his teeth exposed.
“Who is it?” came Sharon’s voice, though as the two times before, they could not see her.
“It’s Tonks, I’ve got Harry with me. Can he see Sirius, please?”
The door opened, Sharon Neil standing there looking at them with suspicion. “I wasn’t expecting anyone.”
Though she appeared non-threatening, her wand was clearly drawn by her side, and the dog did not cease his intimidation.
“I’m sorry, Sharon. Something’s come up. Please can we see him.”
She seemed to consider them for a moment, and she looked at Harry as her expression softened. Giving them a short nod, she stepped back and opened the door fully, raising her hand and quietening the dog.
“Come in, please,” she said, shaking her head when they offered her their wands. She closed the door behind them and headed for the stairs. “He’s upstairs. Make yourselves at home, I’ll let him know you’re here.”
Harry nodded gratefully, allowing Tonks to steer him through the house and into the living area at the back. Chief followed their every step, his nose pressed against the back of Harry’s knee as they walked. They entered the light and airy kitchen, so dramatically different to Snape’s that he began to feel dizzy.
“Do you want something to drink?” Tonks offered him in concern, making Harry suspect that just like Remus, she too had spent a great amount of time here.
He shook his head as he brushed his fingers through his hair. A soft scratching noise caught his attention, and he saw the dog standing by the back door, patiently waiting for someone to let him out.
“I’ll wait outside,” he said quietly, taking the opportunity to seek solitude.
Leaving Tonks standing in the middle of the kitchen, Harry pushed open the back door and breathed deeply, watching as the dog bounded out ahead of him. Letting the door shut, Harry stepped off the back porch onto the perfectly green lawn, linking his fingers behind his head as he tried to remain calm, tried to think of what he was going to say. Words formed themselves into a jumble, and Harry knew that if he didn’t get himself together quickly, he would make Sirius panic too.
He crouched down low and put his head in his hands, only just beginning to feel better as he began thinking about what Snape had said. A Horcrux? Him? He had wondered before if it was even possible, but Nagini was proof that that a piece of someone’s soul could be stored in another living being. Is that what had happened to him? Was that the explanation for his uncanny connection to Voldemort, for his ability to speak to Snakes? Had Dumbledore been preparing to tell Harry this himself? Getting to his feet unsteadily, he lost his breath as his heart began to pound. Where exactly was it? Was it in his chest, or in his head? Or was it simply there, waiting inside him until he was ready to be killed? That’s what Snape had said, right? Their entire conversation was a blur now.
Sirius’ shout roused Harry back to reality, and he could hear him bursting out the back door. He began to turn around.
“Tonks said you’ve been to see…” Sirius trailed off as Harry turned around, seeing how distressed he was. He swore, and came to a hesitant halt. He looked marginally better today, freshly shaved and showered, and no longer wearing the sling he had on yesterday. Despite the improvements, his face displayed the fear that Harry felt. “What did he say to you?”
Harry moved backwards, not wanting Sirius near him. It would be bad, it would be so wrong. He knew now, that he was a Horcrux. He felt incommensurably dirty, like he was going to contaminate other people with Voldemort’s soul. Sirius was at a loss for what to do, and so put his hands in his pockets and waited with baited breath, knowing that Harry would speak soon. Seeing this, Harry turned away for a moment and rubbed his hand over his face, trying to get control over his words, over what he needed to say.
“Was she in love with him?” he asked incredulously, turning back just in time to see Sirius’ look of surprise.
“In love with who?” he asked quickly. “Who, Harry?”
“Mum!” Harry exclaimed, no other explanation coming to mind.
“Yes!” he gasped in relief, getting his message across. “Was she in love with Snape?”
“Where the hell has this come from?” Sirius asked in disbelief.
“Is it true?”
“What? No, never! Why would you ask that?”
“He told me!” Harry exclaimed in disgust, not caring whether Sharon and Tonks could hear them. “He said they were friends, that he was in love with her!”
Sirius sighed, scratching the back of his neck uncomfortably. “Alright, yes, that’s true. But you’re over reacting,” he said hastily, seeing Harry’s expression. “They were just kids, mate.”
“So it’s true then?”
“Wait…” Sirius muttered, trying to keep up. “Yes, he was in love with your Mum, but she never returned those feelings. Trust me mate, she didn’t feel that way at all.”
“But he said-”
“Snape may have said, and wanted a lot of things, but your Mum didn’t love him the way he loved her. They were just friends to her, just like you and Hermione.”
“But I’m not in love with Hermione!” Harry shouted, wishing he could understand.
“Stop,” Sirius said firmly, taking a cautious step closer. “You’re getting all worked up over nothing. They were never anything more than friends. By the time fifth year finished, your Mum had stopped being friends with him anyway.”
Harry took a deep breath, swallowing painfully through his constricted throat. “Because he called her a Mudblood?”
Sirius shrugged. “I guess that was the last straw for her. She always defended him, but she couldn’t deny who he hung out with, and he never denied that he wanted to join the Death Eaters. Your Mum just couldn’t take it anymore. He hung out with kids like Avery and Mulciber, and he worshiped the ground Lucius Malfoy walked on. Calling her a Mudblood was just the final straw, she hardly spoke to him after that.”
“But he said-”
Harry hesitated, not knowing what else to say. “I don’t know…” he swore under his breath. “What about Dad?”
“What about him?”
“He was such a bastard to Snape! If he and Mum were friends, how could she have fallen in love with Dad after what he did?”
Sirius sighed patiently, knowing that they had had this conversation more than once over the years. “I know it’s easy to doubt someone when you don’t know them,” Sirius began calmly, wanting Harry to understand. “Yes, we were horrible to Snape. And yes, your Dad was a spoilt little brat who picked on others, but he grew up! We all did! Snape isn’t half the man your Dad was. Do you see Snape dying for his wife? For his son?”
Harry nodded chastely, knowing that his doubt meant he had greatly disrespected his father. He knew all this, he knew what his father was, but Snape’s explanation left him so confused...he didn’t know what to think.
“Snape asked You-Know-Who to spare her,” he said quietly. “I remember him telling her to move away.”
“Yes, I’m sure he did ask that,” Sirius commented sourly. “But don’t you see the difference between he and your Dad? What kind of selfish bastard would do that to someone he loves? Snape was only too glad to have you and your father killed, with no regard to how that would hurt your Mum. Even at fifteen, she knew exactly what he was.”
Brushing his fringe off his face, Harry nodded slowly, understanding what Sirius was trying to say. Slowly Sirius moved towards him, and not knowing what else to do, Harry allowed him to grasp the top of his arms in concern.
“What else did he say?” Sirius asked, squeezing his arms supportively.
“That Dumbledore was already dying. That he’d been cursed by a Horcrux.”
“Yes,” Sirius agreed with a flinch. Harry knew he was thinking about the Horcruxes he had destroyed. “Snape told us that too, just not the details.”
Harry sighed, feeling his control returning as he rubbed the back of his neck. He was exhausted, emotionally and physically. The small vial of memories Snape had given him seemed to burn in his pocket, tempting him to view them, to confirm that it was all real. Taking a deep breath, Harry looked at Sirius warily, knowing that he was being closely scrutinized.
“Come, sit down,” Sirius said, leading him back towards the back porch.
They sat down on the step, Harry putting his head in his hands for just a moment. He was startled when Chief suddenly appeared before him, nudging his knee impatiently. Looking up, he gave a short smile when he found Chief holding a tennis ball expectantly in his mouth. Glad for the distraction, Harry took the ball and threw it down the long yard, he and Sirius watching as he chased it down with speed a regular dog wouldn’t manage. Harry wondered if perhaps he came from a wizard breeder.
“What else is bothering you?” Sirius asked. “I haven’t seen you this upset since…well, you look pretty upset.”
Harry scoffed at this gross understatement. He was a Horcrux, at least according to Snape. And the proof was tucked safely away in his pocket…not that he was going to look. Knowing that he couldn’t say anything, Harry allowed himself a minute to concentrate on the dog, who had returned with the ball in record time.
“Just a lot going on,” Harry shrugged, throwing the ball again. “I know I overreacted, sorry.”
“It’s alright,” Sirius consoled, putting his arm around Harry for a brief hug. “I’d have reacted the same way.”
“How are you feeling?” Harry asked now, trying to turn the subject around.
Sirius nodded. “I’m alright. I showered this morning, and shaved,” he added. “A bit sore still, but at least I’m still here to be sore.”
“Yeah,” Harry nodded in agreement, his heart fluttering uncomfortably as he thought of Fred.
“What are you lot doing at the moment? How’s the baby?”
“Oh, you know…still a baby. We’re just hanging around…waiting.”
Harry shrugged. “I dunno…Ron and Ginny I suppose…I’m not really sure what’s happening next.”
Sirius cleared his throat, leaning a little closer. “You know, Mad-Eye and Kingsley still want to go ahead with Hogwarts…they’re talking about trying to evacuate later this week.”
“This week?” Harry exclaimed in alarm. “That soon?”
“Yes. He hasn’t said much in the last few days, but more students have disappeared. They’re trying to track down all the student timetables…figure out where everyone will be at what time. Minerva can only do so much from her end though.”
“When will they do it?”
“They’re thinking Friday, but likely not this coming one, there’s not enough time. Probably next Friday…that’s what I’m hoping anyway.”
“Friday’s convenient in terms of timetable…students are in class, they’ll know where everyone i-”
“No, I mean why are you hoping for next Friday?”
Sirius raised his eyebrows at him. “Couple more days to get myself together…find myself a new wand.”
“You’re going?” Harry questioned incredulously. “I know you’re feeling better, but you can’t go to Hogwarts!”
“Why? Are you worried about me?”
“Yes! Look at you!”
“Well, now you know how it feels,” Sirius commented, a self-satisfied smile on his face. “Now you know how it feels to be protective and worried for someone.”
“Over protective, you mean,” Harry muttered under his breath, understanding what Sirius meant.
“Maybe now you’ll cut me some slack? Let me worry about you a little?”
“I doubt that,” he replied uncomfortably.
Sirius chuckled softly, wincing a little. “Well, that’s what’s going on. If I were you, I’d be at Tonks like a Niffler in Gringotts. Make sure you’re involved, if that’s what you want. She won’t shut you out.”
“Is the Order trying to do that? To keep me out of things?”
Shaking his head, Sirius explained. “No, definitely not. They’re just not sure how much you want to be involved…they don’t want to over burden you.”
Harry scoffed again. “Tell them to pile it on…I’m gonna lose my mind soon…I just want this to be over.”
“Harry,” Sirius said softly, taking his hand. “It’s going to be all over before you know it.”
The intention behind Sirius’ words was lost on Harry, who immediately thought of what Snape had told him. If that was true, the war wouldn’t be over until he was dead. Someone else was going to have to finish the war….he wouldn’t be there to do it anymore.
Somehow he managed to nod, feigning confidence in what his godfather said. They sat in a comfortable silence for a little while, Harry finally getting himself together and allowing Tonks to take him home. It proved to be a long few days, Harry and Hermione hanging around at the cottage with only Teddy and Tonks to amuse them. As usual, Remus flittered in and out, Tonks making the occasional trip away to consult with someone for Order business. No one asked Harry about what Snape had said to him in private, or why it had upset him so much he needed to see Sirius. Perhaps they put it all down to stress, which they were all feeling after Malfoy’s attack.
No news came about the Weasleys, the Order leaving them alone in Scotland while they grieved for Fred. Even now, almost a week later, Harry tried desperately not to think about him, to pretend that he had never existed in the first place. But he couldn’t help but wonder about Ron and Ginny, hoping that they were okay. Selfishly, he wanted them to return as soon as possible, to reinstate some of the balance that had been lost. Even though he still had Hermione by his side, things felt completely out of place without Ron, as though they were intentionally casting him out.
Friday afternoon brought rain, Harry and Hermione sitting dejectedly in the lounge room trying to amuse themselves. Teddy sat in his little bouncer at their feet, fast asleep just like his mother, who was asleep in her room. Harry and Hermione were both on edge, knowing that Mad-Eye and Kingsley were stopping by in an hour or so, preparing to prepare them both for what was going to happen next Friday, when they would attempt to retake Hogwarts. Unspoken words sat on the tip of their tongue, both of them knowing that Nagini was the next Horcrux that needed to be destroyed, though Harry hadn’t told her about Snape and Dumbledore’s suspicions about himself.
He had no intention of telling Hermione at all, of telling anyone for that matter. The vial of memories remained on his person at all times, yet to be viewed in Dumbledore’s penseive. Harry made frequent excuses, that Hermione was around, that he couldn’t get to her beaded bag to retrieve the penseive, but he was desperately avoiding the memories at all costs. For now, the knowledge that he must die remained only a bad thought, not the truth, and Harry wanted it to stay that way for as long as possible. If he knew the truth and began to dwell on it, he feared that he might not muster the courage to allow his death at the hands of Voldemort.
It would make everything so pointless. How many times had he told Ginny that he was going this all for them? How many times had he wishfully thought of a future after the war, of watching Teddy grow big and strong, of walking hand in hand with Ginny in broad daylight? If he was going to die, he would never get any of that.
“What’s wrong?” Hermione asked sharply, detecting his depleting mood.
“Nothing,” he shrugged automatically, wilting under her glare. “I’m just tired.”
“Well go to sleep then,” she said patiently, looking as though she might stretch out on the couch for a nap herself. “You hardly sleep during the night, it’s no wonder.”
Checking his watch, Harry decided he had enough time, and so he got to his feet without another word. Ensuring that Teddy was going to remain fast asleep, Harry shuffled off towards the bedroom he was now sharing with Hermione, kicking off his shoes and crouching down. Reaching under the bed, Harry swore as he heard glass clinking, praying that Hermione wouldn’t hear. She already suspected enough already, and he couldn’t bear the thought of her lecture. Reaching further under the bed, he grasped hold of the bottle he was seeking, pleased with himself as he retrieved it and sat up.
Leaning against the bedside table, Harry checked that the door was closed before unscrewing the cap and taking a mouthful, relishing in the uncomfortable burn it brought. It soothed him like nothing else, and a few sips later he slipped it back into its hiding place and climbed onto the bed, falling asleep within minutes. Though his dreams were less frequent after a few mouthfuls of scotch, Harry still slept restlessly through the night, making up for his broken sleep throughout the day. He wondered if even Teddy slept more than he did.
When he began to rouse sometime later, Harry felt more peaceful than he had in days, and it didn’t take more than a few moments to realise why. Ginny sat beside him on top of the blankets, brushing her fingers through his hair as she tried to wake him. Groaning softly as he awoke, Harry looked up at her in surprise, wondering if she was real or just a dream.
“Ginny?” he mumbled, sitting up and rubbing his eyes.
“Hi,” she said quietly. “It’s the middle of the day, why are you sleeping?”
“Why are you here?” he countered, putting on his glasses and looking at her properly. She looked worn out, her hair messily tied back.
“What do you think?” she replied quietly. “I’m here for the meeting about Hogwarts.”
Harry didn’t reply to that, knowing that she had made her decision to come and assist the evacuation. She wouldn’t listen to him if she had made her decision, though a major part of him truly wanted her there. Trying not to think too much at the moment, he threaded his hand into her hair and kissed her gently, relishing in her return.
“How is everyone?” he asked when they broke apart. “How’s your Mum?”
“They’re alright,” she said noncommittally. She was frowning at him, licking her lips. Had she tasted the remnants of his afternoon drink? “As good as they can be, I suppose.”
He nodded in understanding, and was about to say something more when she kissed him now, deeper than before. He could feel the desperation that she was masking, and he held her close against his chest as they kissed, her hands clenching his shoulder.
“We should get out there,” Ginny whispered against his lips. “Kingsley and Mad-Eye are here…they sent me to wake you up.”
Harry nodded, sighing before he kissed her one more time. “Is Ron here too?”
“Yeah, and Dad.”
“Oh, okay,” Harry breathed, hastily turning away from Ginny and getting up. In a moment of cowardice, he didn’t want to face Mr Weasley, whose family had suffered a great loss due to their involvement with him and the war. Ron and Ginny were different he supposed, they he could talk to easily…but what was he supposed to say to Mr Weasley. In that instant, he understood Sirius’ trepidation about seeing Mrs Weasley. “Is he coming on Monday, too?”
“I’d think so,” Ginny replied, watching him pull on his shoes. Getting up also, she crawled off the bed to where Harry stood, pulling the blankets straight. Trying to look unconcerned, she leant back and looked as far under the bed as she could, and Harry knew what she was looking for.
“Come on,” he said sharply, taking her hand and tugging. “We should get out there.”
Still holding her hand, Harry and Ginny reluctantly emerged from their room and greeted Mad-Eye and Kingsley, who were standing at the kitchen table, sorting through parchment and maps. Mad-Eye seemed to scrutinise Harry for longer than necessary, but Harry ignored this, noting Mr Weasley’s absence. He found Ron quickly enough, sitting on the arm of the lounge talking to Hermione. Steeling himself for whatever Ron might be feeling, Harry and Ginny went straight over to him, catching his eye quickly. Much like his sister, Ron looked worn out and weary, as though he hadn’t slept right for a few days, which Harry supposed he probably hadn’t. Ron smiled in relief when he saw Harry approaching.
“Hey mate,” Harry greeted him.
“Hey,” Ron replied, pulling him into a tight one armed hug. “Heard you talked to Snape?”
Harry was a little thrown off by this, having not expected Ron to bring that up so quickly. “Err, yeah we did. He had a lot to say.”
“Sounded like he did,” Ron said, turning back to Hermione and giving her a subtle look.
Hermione gave a short, almost indistinct nod before turning to Ginny. “Come look at Teddy,” she said, looping her arm through hers and steering her off to Tonks’ bedroom. “You’ve got to see what he’s done to his hair today.”
Harry frowned, not understanding. “What was that all about?” he asked as soon as the girls were out of ear shot.
Ron grimaced, moving towards the front door and waving at Harry to follow him. Stepping outside, Harry made sure that no one was following them out before giving the garden a quick look over, sensing that Ron wanted to speak privately.
“We need to keep an extra eye on Gin,” Ron said lowly, his stoic behaviour not masking his true concern. “She’s not coping well…she and Fred were pretty close.”
“What’s she been like?” Harry asked, his heart plummeting.
Ron sighed, his eyes widening as he recalled the past few days. “She keeps flyin’ off the handle…more than you’d expect from her, even with all that’s going on. She keeps saying things she doesn’t mean, like she blames Sirius for Fred getting hurt.”
“She blames him?”
“Yeah, but don’t think too much on that,” Ron said hastily. “She knows it’s not true…made me promise not to tell you what she said. But she kept saying that he should have helped him more, that he gave up too quickly…but it’s not her fault she thinks that. Dad let me see Fred before we buried him, Ginny too…he would have gone …there was nothing Sirius could do, Mum says so herself…”
Ron trailed, catching his breath and looking at Harry with raised eyebrows.
“Why are you so worried about her?” Harry asked. “It seems pretty normal to blame someone.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know,” Ron muttered, and he bit his lip as though trying to figure out what to say. “You had to be there to know what I’m talking about, she’s not herself. Dad and I let her come to the meeting today, she’s just been on and on about wanting to see you…she’ll probably stay on here too.”
“Are you going back to Muriel’s?”
“Yeah mate,” he said apologetically. “For now anyway…Mum wants us all close. She knows we’re going to Hogwarts when we’re needed, but it’s best if we stay close for now.”
“What about Ginny? She seems pretty determined that she’s going too.”
Ron looked highly uncomfortable at this. “That’s up to Mum and Dad. Mad-Eye wants her to come…she’s the only one we know that has been in there with the Death Eaters, and is willing to go back. But it’s up to Mum and Dad.”
“Your Mum will say no, for sure.”
“Definitely,” Ron chuckled, a brief reprieve from his frown.
There was an awkward silence, Harry nudging the soil back into the garden bed and off the front path. “So, Hermione told you about Snape?”
“Yeah,” Ron confirmed, brightening at the change in conversation. “Reckons Dumbledore was already gonna croak it…shit, I mean was already dying.”
“Yeah, something like that,” Harry muttered.
“What else did he say?” Ron pressed.
“That he’s been helping us. Reckons he was helping me last August, when…well you know. Funny that it didn’t seem like help at the time.”
Ron raised his eyebrows. “He helped you then? He’s the one that put you there.”
“Yeah I know…but he also helped me escape, I just didn’t know it. And he helped me stay on the run…” Harry trailed off, not entirely sure why he was crusading Snape’s cause.
“So…what now? Is he part of the Order again? Do we trust him?”
Harry shrugged. “I dunno,” he muttered. If he admitted trust in Snape, then he admitted belief in what he told him about being a Horcrux, about the inevitable murder that he was supposed to allow.
Nodding slowly, Ron tried to appear nonchalant. “What else did he say?”
“That’s it, really.”
“Oh,” Ron said in disappointment. “Because Hermione reckons you two talked in private…that you were a bit pissed off after….”
“It was nothing,” Harry replied firmly, bloke code for ‘I don’t want to talk about it.’
Ron shrugged and gave a short nod, understanding what Harry meant and dropping the subject.
“So where’s your Dad?” Harry asked.
“He’s out in the back yard, talking to that Neil witch,” Ron replied, sighing before heading back to the front door. “Hermione tried to catch me up, but I’m still confused. Is she still a bitch?”
Harry shrugged his shoulders. “No,” he muttered quietly. She was looking after Sirius after all…she wasn’t obligated, yet she did anyway.
When they came back inside, Ginny was waiting patiently for him in the lounge room, immediately catching his eye. Teddy was sitting up in her lap, her hand behind his head as he looked around happily, completely ignoring the rattle that Hermione offered him. His hair was brown now, his pale pink skin looking rather brown in some patches. Smiling at her, Harry left her to it, wandering into the kitchen where Mr Weasley and Sharon Neil were coming inside. Tactfully, Sharon went over to the kitchen table where Mad-Eye and Kingsley were looking a little more organised.
“Harry,” Mr Weasley said quietly, pulling him into a long hug that rivalled his wife’s. “How are you?”
“I’m good, thanks,” Harry said politely, not knowing what he should say. Was there a right thing to say to someone who had lost a son? “How’s everyone doing?”
“Well enough,” Mr Weasley replied carefully, adjusting his glasses on his face. “Thank you for asking. We buried Fred the day before yesterday…we would have liked to have waited for Bill, but he only arrived last night. We’ve still not found Percy either.”
“Where was he buried?” Harry asked, finding a small amount of relief from the information.
Mr Weasley pursed his lips uncomfortably. “In Scotland, on Muriel’s property. It’s not ideal…Fred never liked the cold much, but he secretly adored his Auntie Muriel…when she’s lucid at least. Perhaps, later down the line we can organise differently for him…but this will do for now.”
Harry nodded. “How’s George doing?”
Mr Weasley hesitated, finally giving Harry a forced shrug that told him he didn’t quite want to talk about George. “Has Ron talked to you about Ginny? She’s not doing well. She wants to come back and be here with you.”
“Yeah, he did. He said she wants to help at Hogwarts?”
Giving a short chuckle, Mr Weasley raised his eyebrows. “Well, we’ll see about that after this meeting,” he remarked, putting his hand on Harry’s shoulder and steering him back towards the kitchen. “I think if we don’t start soon, we will see the ‘mad’ in Mad-Eye.”
Laughing politely, Harry followed Mr Weasley, relieved that their conversation was over. The small group arranged themselves around the table, moving away the chairs so that they could all fit comfortably. Standing by Ginny, Harry put his arm around her waist and stood close against her, almost feeling the relief she exuded by his gesture. He resisted the urge to kiss her, especially with her father standing on his other side. Instead he turned his attention to the kitchen table, his heart racing in anticipating as he looked over the student and staff timetables, the map of Hogsmeade and the Marauders map, which Hermione must have produced.
“Where did you get all this?” Harry asked Kingsley, picking up one timetable in awe.
“Minerva,” he replied. “And Severus. They know what we’re planning, they’re trying to prepare select teachers and students to help us from the inside.”
“So what’s the plan?” Ron asked enthusiastically.
Mad-Eye leant on his staff, his magical blue eye taking in each of them crowded around the table. “We’ll be doing this on Friday, one week from today. Once we’ve entered the castle, our first priority is to seal off all communication such as the fireplaces connected to the Floo, and the Owlery. That will be done in utmost secrecy. Second to that, we will simultaneously take control of each floor of the castle, the grounds and the dungeons. From there, we will organise students by year, and begin a slow evacuation throughout the rest of the afternoon and the night.”
“If all goes to plan,” Kingsley interjected softly. “Death Eaters on the outside will not know what’s happened until all students are safe.”
Harry frowned, glancing at Ron and Hermione. “That seems pretty simple, what’s the catch?”
“The catch?” Mad-Eye asked, looking grim. “The catch is that only twenty of us are actually going inside.”
“Woah,” Ron muttered, raising his eyebrows.
“There’re seven hundred and forty two students left in the castle!” Hermione exclaimed in surprise. “That means we are each responsible for evacuating…thirty seven people each. Not even accounting for the teachers”
“Or the House Elves,” Ron added, earning him a surprised look from Hermione.
“We know,” Kingsley hastened to reassure everyone “Remember that on the inside, we have the entire Dumbledore’s Army, and most of the teachers on our side. They’ve got their own jobs to do as well.”
“Dumbledore’s Army?” Harry said in disbelief, firming his grip on Ginny.
“Minerva got it up and running again,” Tonks said proudly.
“Alright, alright!” Mad-Eye cut them off grumpily. “Don’t start reminiscing. You lot only need to worry about yourselves! If you agree to this, you’ll have specific jobs to do, and we have to trust that you can manage to do them without running off course!”
Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny glared at Mad-Eye, making it clear that they could follow instructions.
“What do you want us to do?” Harry asked patiently.
Mad-Eye looked at them in approval, but it was Kingsley that answered.
“If all four of you are up for it, you’ll be entering the castle via the Honeydukes passage leading to the third floor, where the statue of the One-Eyed Witch has been restored. Like the other secret passages, Minerva and Filius have managed to unblock them. By four thirty in the afternoon, Dumbledore’s Army and the teachers should have secured the fireplaces, and two Order members will have secured the Owlery. That’s when we’ll make our move.
“At precisely four thirty, we’ll secure the Death Eater patrols on the third floor, where there should only be a small group according to Ginny, Minerva and the Marauders Map we have here. From there, we will split up, with two of you remaining with students on the third floor, while two of you and myself go down to the second floor. There we will meet Neville Longbottom and his partner, who should have secured the patrol on that floor. The final stage, will be to secure the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom, where I’m told Amycus Carrow will be teaching third years.”
“Carrow’s teaching?” Harry said in disbelief, looking to Ginny for confirmation. She nodded.
“Once Carrow is under control, and the third and second floors are also under control, we secure the students in their classrooms until precisely five o’clock. By then, the other floors, the grounds and the dungeons should all be secured, and it will be safe to move around the castle.”
“What happens at five o’clock?” Ron asked.
“We take the students down to the Great Hall. Now, we’re not expecting this to go smoothly. It’s going to be one hell of a ruckus. There’ll be excitemen, fear, not to mention students who wander off and those on free periods. All we need to do is herd the students down to the Great Hall. Send them to their house tables, where the teachers and Order members will try their best to take attendance, and to sort them into the year groups.”
“Why not just take them straight to the passages?” Ginny asked hesitantly. “Why waste time going down to the Great Hall and taking attendance?”
Sharon cleared her throat from the other side of the table, surprising Harry when she began to explain. “We need to do this in small stages. Mass transportation is difficult at the best of times, even more so when we’re trying to do it in broad daylight, in secret.”
“How are we doing it?” Harry asked, still surprised. He hadn’t heard Sharon speak that much in all the times he had met with her. “Getting them out, I mean.”
“We’ll take them one year at a time. Each house will go out through a separate passageway, and will meet a member of the Order such as myself, who will be waiting with a Portkey. We will take them to a safe house, and their escort will go back up the passage to retrieve the next year of students. Doing it slowly means that less attention is drawn to Hogsmeade, we can keep track of who has gone where, and the Ministry is less likely to detect unauthorised Portkeys”.
They each nodded in understanding.
“So the rest of the twenty entering will be securing floors?” Hermione asked, continuing when she got a nod of confirmation. “And some of the Order will be waiting in Hogsmeade? And the rest will be at the safe houses?”
“That’s pretty much it, Granger,” Mad-Eye commented.
There was a long, awkward silence, Mad-Eye and Kingsley having explained as much as they could for now. Harry bit his lip, glancing down at Ginny and knowing that she was more determined now than ever to come.
“What are the risks?” Harry asked tersely. “Aside from the obvious, I mean.”
“Aside from the obvious?” Kingsley smiled. “Well, the biggest risk is that we won’t seal off all routes of communication, and a like-minded student will contact Death Eaters. The Dementors might be stronger than our Patronuses, and the Ministry might detect the unauthorised Portkeys, and alert the Death Eaters.”
“And if any of that happens?”
Mad-Eye and Kingsley exchanged a glance. “If any of that were to happen,” Mad-Eye began. “We’d be stuck inside the castle without a hope in hell.”
“Well that’s nice,” Ron commented, clapping his hands together. “Like any other day at school.”
Mad-Eye rolled both his eyes in disdain, turning to the parchment on the table and beginning to gather it. “You don’t have to make your decision today, you should think about it overnight. This won’t be some simple school trip where we reminisce with our friends. It’s a dangerous operation where you might very well be putting your safety and life in the hands of the one beside you. There’s no room for sloppiness or heroics, no room for carelessness or-”
“We’re doing it,” Harry said sharply, making his anger clear. He knew Mad-Eye was still pissed at them for taking off the night they went to Malfoy Manor, but they weren’t idiots. He alone had faced danger worse than this.
Ron and Hermione nodded in agreement, as did Ginny. Beside Harry, Mr Weasley fidgeted uncomfortably when he saw his daughters nod, but he didn’t say anything.
“Alright then,” Mad-Eye replied, his tone equally sharp. He passed some papers across the table, showing Harry the rough sketches that had been drawn up of the second and third floors. “These are where we expect students to be. You three need to study these sketches, and prepare yourselves. All these students will need to be supervised while we wait for the castle to be secured.”
“We understand,” Harry said, relieved when Hermione took back the Marauders Map. “We’ll be ready.”
A/N In need of another fantastic reader to join me as I write, being a Plot Advisor. My current advisor is no longer able to help me out, and her help has been key to the last twenty or so chapters, so thank you very much to her.
What I need is someone to read chapters as I send them to you, and give critical feedback such as what was good and what was bad. You would need to answer all my pleas for help and guidance, and be full of ideas and critical thinking to plot out the soon to follow sequel. Yes, that's right, I have a sequel up and running already, and desperately need someone to bounce some ideas off. Someone who can promptly send me their replies would be greatly appreciated. Anyone interested should email me at email@example.com.
Thanks for reading this chapter, please do not forget to leave a review, and give thanks to my wonderful Beta reader and SPaG editor. Kudos.
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