“NO!” shrieked Hermione, and with a deafening blast from her wand, Fenrir Greyback was thrown backward from the feebly struggling body of Lavender Brown. He hit the marble banisters and struggled to return to his feet. Then, with a bright white flash and a crack, a crystal ball fell on top of his head, and he crumpled to the ground and did not move.
“I have more!” shrieked Professor Trelawney from over the banisters. “More for any who want them! Here—”
And with a move like a tennis serve, she heaved another enormous crystal sphere from her bag, waved her wand through the air, and caused the ball to speed across the hall and smash through a window. At the same moment, the heavy wooden front doors burst open, and more of the gigantic spiders forced their way into the front hall.
Screams of terror rent the air: the fighters scattered, Death Eaters and Hogwartians alike, and red and green jets of light flew into the midst of the oncoming monsters, which shuddered and reared, more terrifying than ever.
“How do we get out?” yelled Ron over all the screaming, but before either Harry or Hermione could answer they were bowled aside; Hagrid had come thundering down the stairs, brandishing his flowery pink umbrella.
“Don’t hurt ’em, don’t hurt ’em!” he yelled.
Harry forgot everything else: he sprinted out from under the cloak, running bent double to avoid the curses illuminating the whole hall.
“HAGRID, COME BACK!”
But he was not even halfway to Hagrid when he saw it happen: Hagrid vanished amongst the spiders, and with a great scurrying, a foul swarming movement, they retreated under the onslaught of spells, Hagrid buried in their midst.
Harry heard someone calling his own name, whether friend or foe he did not care: He was springint down the front steps into the dark grounds, and the spiders were swarming away with their prey, and he could see nothing of Hagrid at all.
He thought he could make out an enormous arm waving from the midst of the spider swarm, but as he made to chase after them, his way was impeded by a monumental foot, which swung down out of the darkness and made the ground on which he stood shudder. He looked up: A giant stood before him, twenty feet high, its head hidden in shadow, nothing but its treelike, hairy shins illuminated by light from the castle doors. With one brutal, fluid movement, it smashed a massive fist through an upper window, and glass rained down upon Harry, forcing him back under the shelter of the doorway.
“Oh my—!” shrieked Hermione, as she and Ron caught up with Harry and gazed upward at the giant now trying to seize people through the window above.
“DON’T!” Ron yelled, grabbing Hermione’s hand as she raised her wand. “Stun him and he’ll crush half the castle—”
Grawp came lurching around the corner of the castle; only now did Harry realize that Grawp was, indeed, an undersized giant. The gargantuan monster trying to crush people on the upper floors turned around and let out a roar. The stone steps trembled as he stomped toward his smaller kin, and Grawp’s lopsided mouth fell open, showing yellow, half brick-sized teeth; and then they launched themselves at each other with the savagery of lions.
“RUN!” Harry roared; the night was full of hideous yells and blows as the giants wrestled, and he seized Hermione’s hand and tore down the steps into the grounds, Ron bringing up the rear. Harry had not lost hope of finding and saving Hagrid; he ran so fast that they were halfway toward the forest before they were brought up short again.
The air around them had frozen: Harry’s breath caught and solidified in his chest. Shapes moved out in the darkness, swirling figures of concentrated blackness, moving in a great wave towards the castles, their faces hooded and their breath rattling…
Ron and Hermione closed in beside him as the sounds of fighting behind them grew suddenly muted, deadened, because a silence only Dementors could bring was falling thickly through the night, and Fred was gone, and Hagrid was surely dying or already dead…
“Come on, Harry!” said Hermione’s voice from a very long way away.
“Patronuses, Harry, come on!”
He raised his wand, but a dull hopelessness was spreading throughout him: How many more lay dead that he did not yet know about? He felt as though his soul had already half left his body…
“HARRY, COME ON!” screamed Hermione.
A hundred Dementors were advancing, gliding toward them, sucking their way closer to Harry’s despair, which was like a promise of a feast…
He saw Ron’s silver terrier burst into the air, flicker feebly, and expire; he saw Hermione’s otter twist in midair and fade, and his own wand trembled in his hand, and he almost welcomed the oncoming oblivion, the promise of nothing, of no feeling…
And then a silver hare, a boar, and fox soared past Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s heads: the Dementors fell back before the creatures approach. Three more people had arrived out of the darkness to stand beside them, their wands outstretched, continuing to cast Patronuses: Luna, Ernie, and Seamus.
“That’s right,” said Luna encouragingly, as if they were back in the Room of Requirement and this was simply spell practice for the D.A., “That’s right, Harry… come on think of something happy…”
“Something happy?” he said, his voice cracked.
“We’re all still here,” she whispered, “we’re still fighting. Come on, now…”
There was a silver spark, then a wavering light, and then, with the greatest effort it had ever cost him the stag burst from the end of Harry’s wand. It cantered forward, and now the Dementors scattered in earnest, and immediately the night was mild again, but the sounds of the surrounding battle were loud in his ears.
“Can’t thank you enough,” said Ron shakily, turning to Luna, Ernie, and Seamus “you just saved—”
With a roar and an earth-quaking tremor, another giant came lurching out of the darkness from the direction of the forest, brandishing a club taller than any of them.
“RUN!” Harry shouted again, but the others needed no telling; They all scattered, and not a second too soon, for the next moment the creature’s vast foot had fallen exactly where they had been standing. Harry looked round: Ron and Hermione were following him, but the other three had vanished back into the battle. “Let’s get out of range!” yelled Ron as the giant swung its club again and its bellows echoed through the night, across the grounds wehere bursts of red and green light continued to illuminate the darkness.
“The Whomping willow,” said Harry, “go!” Somehow he walled it all up in his mind, crammed it into a small space into which he could not look now: thoughts of Fred and Hagrid, and his terror for all the people he loved, scattered in and outside the castle, must all wait, because they had to run, had to reach the snake and Voldemort, because that was, as Hermione said, the only way to end it—
He sprinted, half-believing he could outdistance death itself, ignoring the jets of light flying in the darkness all around him, and the sound of the lake crashing like the sea, and the creaking of the Forbidden Forest though the night was windless; through grounds that seemed themselves to have risen in rebellion, he ran faster than he had ever moved in his life, and it was he who saw the great tree first, the Willow that protected the secret at its roots with whiplike, slashing branches. Panting and gasping, Harry slowed down, skirting the willow’s swiping branches, peering through the darkness toward its tick trunk, trying to see the single knot in the bark of the old tree that would paralyze it. Ron and Hermione caught up, Hermione so out of breath that she could not speak.
“How—how’re we going to get in?” panted Ron. “I can—see the place—if we just had—Crookshanks again—”
“Crookshanks?” wheezed Hermione, bent double, clutching her chest. “Are you a wizard, or what?”
Ron looked around, then directed his wand at a twig on the ground and said “Wingardium Leviosa!” The twig flew up from the ground, spun through the air as if caught by a gust of wind, then zoomed directly at the trunk through the Willow’s ominously swaying branches. It jabbed at a place near the roots, and at once, the writhing tree became still.
“Perfect!” panted Hermione.
For one teetering second, while the crashes and booms of the battle filled the air, Harry hesitated. Voldemort wanted him to do this, wanted him to come… Was he leading Ron and Hermione into a trap? But the reality seemed to close upon him, cruel and plain: the only way forward was to kill the snake, and the snake was where Voldemort was, and Voldemort was at the end of this tunnel…
“Harry, we’re coming, just get in there!” said Ron, pushing him forward.
Harry wriggled into the earthy passage hidden in the tree’s roots.
It was a much tighter squeeze than it had been the last time they had entered it. The tunnel was low-ceilinged: they had had to double up to move throuhgh it nearly four years previously; now there was nothing for it but to crawl. Harry went first, his wand illuminated, expecting at any moment to meet barriers, but none came. They moved in silence, Harry’s gaze fixed upon the swinging beam of the wand held in his fist. At last, the tunnel began to slope upward and Harry saw a sliver of light ahead. Hermione tugged at his ankle.
“The Cloak!” she whispered. “Put the Cloak on!”
He groped behind him and she forced the bundle of slippery cloth into his free hand. With difficulty he dragged it over himself, murmered, “Nox,” extinguishing his wandlight, and continued on his hands and knees, as silently as possible, all his senses straining, expecting every second to be discovered, to hear a cold clear voice, see a flash of green light.
And then he heard voices coming from the room directly ahead of them, only slightly muffled by the fact that the opening at the end of the tunnel had been blocked up by what looked like an old crate. Hardly daring to breathe, Harry edged right up to the opening and peered through a tiny gap left between crate and wall.
The room beyond was dimly lit, but he could see Nagini, swirling and coiling like a serpent underwater, safe in her enchanted, starry sphere, which floated unsupported in midair. He could see the edge of a table, and a long-fingered white hand toying with a wand.
Then Snape spoke, and Harry’s heart lurched: Snape was inches away from where he crouched, hidden.
“…my Lord, their resistance is crumbling—”
“—and it is doing so without your help,” said Voldemort in his high, clear voice. “Skilled wizard though you are, Severus, I do not think you will make much difference now. We are almost there… almost.”
“Let me find the boy. Let me bring you Potter. I know I can find him, my Lord. Please.”
Snape strode past the gap, and Harry drew back a little, keeping his eyes fixed upon Nagini, wondering whether there was any spell that might penetrate the protection surrounding her, but he could not think of anything. One failed attempt, and he would give away his position…
Voldemort stood up. Harry could see him now, see the red eyes, the flattened, serpentine face, the pallor of him gleaming slightly in the semidarkness.
“I have a problem, Severus,” said Voldemort softly.
“My Lord?” said Snape.
Voldemort raised the Elder Wand, holding it as delicately and precisely as a conductor’s baton.
“Why doesn’t it work for me, Severus?”
In the silence Harry imagined he could hear the snake hissing slightly as it coiled and uncoiled—or was it Voldemort’s sibilant sigh lingering on the air?
“My—my lord?” said Snape blankly. “I do not understand. You—you have performed extraordinary magic with that wand.”
“No,” said Voldemort. “I have performed my usual magic. I am extraordinary, but this wand… no. It has not revealed the wonders it has promised. I feel no difference between this wand and the one I procured from Ollivander all those years ago.”
Voldemort’s tone was musing, calm, but Harry’s scar had begun to throb and pulse: Pain was building in his forehead, and he could feel that controlled sense of fury building inside Voldemort.
“No difference,” said Voldemort again.
Snape did not speak. Harry could not see his face. He wondered whether Snape sensed danger, was trying to find the right words to reassure his master.
Voldemort started to move around the room: Harry lost sight of him for seconds as he prowled, speaking in that same measured voice, while the pain and fury mounted in Harry.
“I have thought long and hard, Severus… do you know why I have called you back from battle?”
And for a moment Harry saw Snape’s profile. His eyes were fixed upon the coiling snake in its enchanted cage.
“No, my Lord, but I beg you will let me return. Let me find Potter.”
“You sound like Lucius. Neither of you understands Potter as I do. He does not need finding. Potter will come to me. I knew his weakness, you see, his one great flaw. He will hate watching the others struck down around him, knowing that it is for him that it happens. He will want to stop it at any cost. He will come.”
“But my Lord, he might be killed accidentally by someone other than yourself—”
“My instructions to the Death Eaters have been perfectly clear. Capture Potter. Kill his friends—the more, the better—but do not kill him.
“But it is of you that I wished to speak, Severus, not Harry Potter. You have been very valuable to me. Very valuable.”
“My Lord knows I seek only to serve him. But—let me go and find the boy, my Lord. Let me bring him to you. I know I can—”
“I have told you, no!” said Voldemort, and Harry caught the glint of red in his eyes as he turned again, and the swishing of his cloak was like the slithering of a snake, and he felt Voldemort’s impatience in his burning scar. “My concern at the moment, Severus, is what will happen when I finally meet the boy!”
“My Lord, there can be no question, surely—?”
“—but there is a question, Severus. There is.”
Voldemort halted, and Harry could see him plainly again as he slid the Elder Wand through his white fingers, staring at Snape.
“Why did both the wands I have used fail when directed at Harry Potter?”
“I—I cannot answer that, my Lord.”
The stab of rage felt like a spike driven through Harry’s head: he forced his own fist into his mouth to stop himself from crying out in pain. He closed his eyes, and suddenly he was Voldemort, looking into Snape’s pale face.
“My wand of yew did everything of which I asked it, Severus, except to kill Harry Potter. Twice it failed. Ollivander told me under torture of the twin cores, told me to take another’s wand. I did so, but Lucius’s wand shattered upon meeting Potter’s.”
“I—I have no explanation, my Lord.”
Snape was not looking at Voldemort now. His dark eyes were still fixed upon the coiling serpent in its protective sphere.
“I sought a third wand, Severus. The Elder Wand, the Wand of Destiny, the Deathstick. I took it from its previous master. I took it from the grave of Albus Dumbledore.”
And now Snape looked at Voldemort, and Snape’s face was like a death mask. It was marble white and so still that when he spoke, it was a shock to see that anyone lived behind the blank eyes.
“My Lord—let me go to the boy—”
“All this long night when I am on the brink of victory, I have sat here,” said Voldemort, his voice barely louder than a whisper, “wondering, wondering, why the Elder Wand refuses to be what it ought to be, refuses to perform as legend says it must perform for its rightful owner… and I think I have the answer.”
Snape did not speak.
“Perhaps you already know it? You are a clever man, after all, Severus. You have been a good and faithful servant, and I regret what must happen.”
“The Elder Wand cannot serve me properly, Severus, because I am not its true master. The Elder Wand belongs to the wizard who killed its last owner. You killed Albus Dumbledore. While you live, Severus, the Elder Wand cannot truly be mine.”
“My Lord!” Snape protested, raising his wand.
“It cannot be any other way,” said Voldemort. “I must master the wand, Severus. Master the wand, and I master Potter at last.”
And Voldemort swiped the air with the Elder Wand. It did nothing to Snape, who for a split second seemed to think he had been reprieved: but then Voldemort’s intention became clear. The snake’s cage was rolling through the air, and before Snape could do anything more than yell, it had encased him, head and shoulders, and Voldemort spoke in Parseltongue.
There was a terrible scream. Harry saw Snape’s face losing the little color it had left; it whitened as his black eyes widened, as the snake’s fangs pierced his neck, as he failed to push the enchanted cage off himself, as his knees gave way and he fell to the floor.
“I regret it,” said Voldemort coldly.
He turned away; there was no sadness in him, no remorse. It was time to leave this shack and take charge, with a wand that would now do his full bidding. He pointed it at the starry cage holding the snake, which drifted upward, off Snape, who fell sideways onto the floor, blood gushing from the wounds in his neck. Voldemort swept from the room without a backward glance, and the great serpent floated after him in its huge protective sphere.
Back in the tunnel and his own mind, Harry opened his eyes; He had drawn blood biting down on his knuckles in an effort not to shout out. Now he was looking through the tiny crack between crate and wall, watching a foot in a black boot trembling on the floor.
“Harry!” breathed Hermione behind him, but he had already pointed his wand at the crate blocking his view. It lifted an inch into the air and drifted sideways silently. As quietly as he could, he pulled himself up into the room.
He did not know why he was doing it, why he was approaching the dying man: he did not know what he felt as he saw Snape’s white face, and the fingers trying to staunch the bloody wound at his neck. Harry took off the Invisibility Cloak and looked down upon the man he hated, whose widening black eyes found Harry as he cried to speak. Harry bent over him, and Snape seized the front of his robes and pulled him close.
A terrible rasping, gurgling noise issued from Snape’s throat.
“Take… it… Take… it…”
Something more than blood was leaking from Snape. Silvery blue, neither gas nor liquid, it gushed from his mouth and his ears and his eyes, and Harry knew what it was, but did not know what to do—
A flask, conjured from thin air, was thrust into his shaking hand by Hermione. Harry lifted the silvery substance into it with his wand. When the flask was full to the brim, and Snape looked as though there was no blood left in him, his grip on Harry’s robes slackened.
“Look… at… me…” he whispered.
The green eyes found the black, but after a second, something in the depths of the dark pair seemed to vanish, leaving them fixed, blank, and empty. The hand holding Harry thudded to the floor, and Snape moved no more.
THE PRINCE’S TALE
Harry remained kneeling at Snape’s side, simply staring down at him, until quite suddenly a high, cold voice spoke so close to them that Harry jumped on his feet, the flask gripped tightly in his hands, thinking that Voldemort had reentered the room.
Voldemort’s voice reverberated from the walls and floor, and Harry realized that he was talking to Hogwarts and to all the surrounding area, that the residents of Hogsmeade and all those still fighting in the castle would hear him as clearly as if he stood beside them, his breath on the back of their necks, a deathblow away.
“You have fought,” said the high, cold voice, “valiantly. Lord Voldemort knows how to value bravery.
“Yet you have sustained heavy losses. If you continue to resist me, you will all die, one by one. I do not wish this to happen. Every drop of magical blood spilled is a loss and a waste.
“Lord Voldemort is merciful. I command my forces to retreat immediately.
“You have one hour. Dispose of your dead with dignity. Treat your injured.
“I speak now, Harry Potter, directly to you. You have permitted your friends to die for you rather than face me yourself. I shall wait for one hour in the Forbidden Forest. If, at the end of that hour, you have not come to me, have not given yourself up, then battle recommences. This time, I shall enter the fray myself, Harry Potter, and I shall find you, and I shall punish every last man, woman, and child who has tried to conceal you from me. One hour.”
Both Ron and Hermione shook their heads frantically, looking at Harry.
“Don’t listen to him,” said Ron.
“It’ll be all right,” said Hermione wildly. “Let’s—let’s get back to the castle, if he’s gone to the forest we’ll need to think of a new plan—”
She glanced at Snape’s body, then hurried back to the tunnel entrance. Ron followed her. Harry gathered up the Invisibility Cloak, then looked down at Snape. He did not know what to feel, except shock at the way Snape had been killed, and the reason for which it had been done…
They crawled back through the tunnel, none of them talking, and Harry wondered whether Ron and Hermione could still hear Voldemort ringing in their heads as he could.
You have permitted your friends to die for you rather than face me yourself. I shall wait for one hour in the Forbidden Forest… One hour…
Small bundles seemed to litter the lawn at the front of the castle. It could only be an hour or so from dawn, yet it was pitch-black. The three of them hurried toward the stone steps. A lone dog, the size of a small boat, lay abandoned in front of them. There was no other sign of Grawp or of his attacker.
The castle was unnaturally silent. There were no flashes of light now, no bangs or screams or shouts. The flagstones of the deserted entrance hall were stained with blood. Emeralds were still scattered all over the floor, along with pieces of marble and splintered wood. Part of the banisters had been blown away.
“Where is everyone?” whispered Hermione.
Ron led the way to the Great Hall. Harry stopped in the doorway.
The House tables were gone and the room was crowded. The survivors stood in groups, their arms around each other’s necks. The injured were being treated upon the raised platform by Madam Pomfrey and a group of helpers. Firenze was amongst the injured; his flank poured blood and he shook where he lay, unable to stand.
The dead lay in a row in the middle of the Hall. Harry could not see Fred’s body, because his family surrounded him. George was kneeling at his head; Mrs. Weasley was lying across Fred’s chest, her body shaking, Mr. Weasley stroking her hair while tears cascaded down his cheeks.
Without a word to Harry, Ron and Hermione walked away. Harry saw Hermione approach Ginny, whose face was swollen and blotchy, and hug her. Ron joined Bill, Fleur, and Percy, who flung an arm around Ron’s shoulders. As Ginny and Hermione moved closer to the rest of the family, Harry had a clear view of the bodies lying next to Fred. Remus and Tonks, pale and still and peaceful-looking, apparently asleep beneath the dark, enchanted ceiling.
The Great Hall seemed to fly away, become smaller, shrink, as Harry reeled backward from the doorway. He could not draw breath. He could not bear to look at any of the other bodies, to see who else had died for him. He could not bear to join the Weasleys, could not look into their eyes, when if he had given himself up in the first place, Fred might never have died…
He turned away and ran up the marble staircase. Lupin, Tonks… He yearned not to feel… He wished he could rip out his heart, his innards, everything that was screaming inside him…
The castle was completely empty; even the ghosts seemed to have joined the mass mourning in the Great Hall. Harry ran without stopping, clutching the crystal flask of Snape’s last thoughts, and he did not slow down until he reached the stone gargoyle guarding the headmaster’s office.
“Dumbledore!” said Harry without thinking, because it was he whom he yearned to see, and to his surprise the gargoyle slid aside revealing the spiral staircase behind.
But when Harry burst into the circular office he found a change. The portraits that hung all around the walls were empty. Not a single headmaster or headmistress remained to see him; all, it seemed, had flitted away, charging through the paintings that lined the castle so that they could have a clear view of what was going on.
Harry glanced hopelessly at Dumbledore’s deserted frame, which hung directly behind the headmaster’s chair, then turned his back on it. The stone Pensieve lay in the cabinet where it had always been. Harry heaved it onto the desk and poured Snape’s memories into the wide basin with its runic markings around the edge. To escape into someone else’s head would be a blessed relief… Nothing that even Snape had left him could be worse than his own thoughts. The memories swirled, silver white and strange, and without hesitating, with a feeling of reckless abandonment, as though this would assuage his torturing grief, Harry dived.
He fell headlong into sunlight, and his feet found warm ground. When he straightened up, he saw that he was in a nearly deserted playground. A single huge chimney dominated the distant skyline. Two girls were swinging backward and forward, and a skinny boy was watching them from behind a clump of bushes. His black hair was overlong and his clothes were so mismatched that it looked deliberate: too short jeans, a shabby, overlarge coat that might have belonged to a grown man, an odd smocklike shirt.
Harry moved closer to the boy. Snape looked no more than nine or ten years old, sallow, small, stringy. There was undisguised greed in his thin face as he watched the younger of the two girls swinging higher and higher than her sister.
“Lily, don’t do it!” shrieked the elder of the two.
But the girl had let go of the swing at the very height of its arc and flown into the air, quite literally flown, launched herself skyward with a great shout of laughter, and instead of crumpling on the playground asphalt, she soared like a trapeze artist through the air, staying up far too long, landing far too lightly.
“Mummy told you not to!”
Petunia stopped her swing by dragging the heels of her sandals on the ground, making a crunching, grinding sound, then leapt up, hands on hips.
“Mummy said you weren’t allowed, Lily!”
“But I’m fine,” said Lily, still giggling. “Tuney, look at this. Watch what I can do.”
Petunia glanced around. The playground was deserted apart from themselves and, though the girls did not know it, Snape. Lily had picked up a fallen flower from the bush behind which Snape lurked. Petunia advanced, evidently torn between curiosity and disapproval. Lily waited until Petunia was near enough to have a clear view, then held out her palm. The flower sat there, opening and closing its petals, like some bizarre, many-lipped oyster.
“Stop it!” shrieked Petunia.
“It’s not hurting you,” said Lily, but she closed her hand on the blossom and threw it back to the ground.
“It’s not right,” said Petunia, but her eyes had followed the flower’s flight to the ground and lingered upon it. “How do you do it?” she added, and there was definite longing in her voice.
“It’s obvious, isn’t it?” Snape could no longer contain himself, but had jumped out from behind the bushes. Petunia shrieked and ran backward toward the swings, but Lily, though clearly startled, remained where she was. Snape seemed to regret his appearance. A dull flush of color mounted the sallow cheeks as he looked at Lily.
“What’s obvious?” asked Lily.
Snape had an air of nervous excitement. With a glance at the distant Petunia, now hovering beside the swings, he lowered his voice and said, “I know what you are.”
“What do you mean?”
“You’re… you’re a witch,” whispered Snape.
She looked affronted.
“That’s not a very nice thing to say to somebody!”
She turned, nose in the air, and marched off toward her sister.
“No!” said Snape. He was highly colored now, and Harry wondered why he did not take off the ridiculously large coat, unless it was because he did not want to reveal the smock beneath it. He flapped after the girls, looking ludicrously batlike, like his older self.
The sisters considered him, united in disapproval, both holding on to one of the swing poles, as though it was the safe place in tag.
“You are,” said Snape to Lily. “You are a witch. I’ve been watching you for a while. But there’s nothing wrong with that. My mum’s one, and I’m a wizard.”
Petunia’s laugh was like cold water.
“Wizard!” she shrieked, her courage returned now that she had recovered from the shock of his unexpected appearance. “I know who you are. You’re that Snape boy! They live down Spinner’s End by the river,” she told Lily, and it was evident from her tone that she considered the address a poor recommendation. “Why have you been spying on us?”