He awoke in a scene so familiar to him it was almost as if he had wandered back into his past. He was expecting to hear the babbling concerns of the students nearby, inquiring as to the state of their friends, who had managed to badly burn an arm in a Potions mêlée.
First one eye, and then the other, they opened to allow the light to stream in. He shut them again instantly. He was certainly in the Hospital Wing; he could hear Madam Pomfrey wandering about, ordering children out, telling more stubborn ones to get back in bed. He wondered where he was, to be with them, yet not quite amongst them.
Severus opened his eyes again and stared round him. He dimly recognised his surroundings as part of the Hospital Wing which was usually reserved for the staff who may have fallen ill. Madam Pomfrey wandered in, took his temperature, told him to lie down and go back to sleep.
It was so much like being back at the school that he really didn’t want to fight her, but something was dreadfully wrong. He was in Hogwarts once again, but the last he remembered was being within Azkaban, and the pain. So much pain. How could he have come to be inside Hogwarts, and inside the Hospital Wing. Only Potter and a select few members of the Order would know that he was not the murderous traitor he had pretended to be so why would he be in Hogwarts hospital…?
Sad sickening thoughts filled him and he sighed miserably as he realised where he was and what was going on. This was all an elaborate trick. It had to be; there was no other way that he could enter the Hospital Wing. There was no way that Minerva would have allowed it, even if she did trust him, somewhat. There was only Harry who would, only Harry who would trust him not to murder them all.
Minerva walked into the room. It was exactly as he had expected. The questioning begun. The woman asked him questions about what was going on with Voldemort, asking about the prophecy, and in short, trying to gain as much information from him as she could. He held back, withholding anything and everything that he could. Admitting nothing, and denying everything.
By degrees, the Hospital image began to fade, and he heard the cold laughter he had come to resent from somewhere close by. He didn’t know whether he had passed or failed his latest test, but as magically inflicted sleep closed in, he found that he really didn’t care.
When he woke up some hours later inside his own quarters within the prison he began to realise that he must have passed whatever test it was that had been thrown so unexpectedly upon him. It had been the most elaborate so far, though one put upon Draco Malfoy had been interestingly intricate, but had failed to reveal much; he appeared as loyal as Severus did.
However, just because he had passed the latest test did not mean that he was beyond suspicion. On the contrary, it might mean that he was still under scrutiny. All he knew was that he wanted to get out of there as soon as possible. Ideally he wanted to get close enough to Potter again to exchange a few words but that wasn’t likely. Not if he was still inside Grimmauld Place and Hogwarts, though the latter might be possible to enter if a particularly effective distraction were to take place.
It was almost as if his iron-clad thoughts had been forced into. Moments later, an owl brought him a letter. It informed him in no uncertain words that there was to be an attack on the Ministry that night. For the first time it occurred to Severus that he might have been unconscious for days; it was not like the Dark Lord to decide upon attacks in an instant. He was one to think things over, and clearly this was not a spur of the moment decision. He supposed that he would just have to wait until the night and see what role he was to play that evening.
As it turned out, it wasn’t just the Order who had been sneaking people inside the Ministry for the evening, but Voldemort had been also. That meant by the evening came and darkness began to descend upon the country, there were almost fifty people wandering about the Ministry who were not meant to be there. The majority of whom were members of the Order, but almost ten of them were Death Eaters who had been placed inside to keep an eye on the goings on. Thankfully they couldn’t recognise a single member of the Order, despite mingling with them for hours at a time.
Bill and Ron left via the fireplace to Hogwarts, Remus taking a moment to wish Harry luck before he followed them through. The rest of them who would be going to the Ministry would be leaving in stages. Harry would be entering the building with Mad Eye, who would remain with him for the rest of the evening. Thankfully, this time Minerva had chosen the activation words for the Portkeys that the two of them would be using. They wouldn’t be disappearing during the night because Mad Eye had picked the most unlikely words at the time.
Harry watched as most of the people gathered in the room steadily disappeared until those that remained were only he and Moody. Finally, as the clock struck ten, it was time for the two of them to leave.
He wasn’t quite sure what he was expecting when he arrived there, perhaps a massacre, but he wasn’t expecting a silent building. There was barely any movement anywhere. At all. The halls and corridors were all silent, except for the occasional scuffling of feet.
“The battle isn’t down here,” Mad Eye told him, as they entered the Department of Mysteries and navigated easily to the rows and rows of prophecies that lined the walls and shelves of one vast room. “We’re here to attract Voldemort, if possible, and everyone else is fighting up in the rest of the building. More people are pouring in as we speak.”
“So it’ll just be the two of us and Voldemort?” Harry asked uncertainly. “What then?”
“There are about a dozen Aurors surrounding the room,” Mad Eye muttered, his voice barely audible even in the silent room. “Should Voldemort come wandering down this way, he’ll come alone. So it’ll be us, Aurors and Voldemort, and once he appears the two of us are out of here. We’re not risking you if we can help it…”
“Right,” Harry murmured. He could feel his heart beat beginning to quicken at the idea of facing Voldemort again. It had happened too many times in the past for him to feel anything other than fear now. The two of them walked around the room, occasionally speaking of neutral topics, but the silence began to stretch out as time went on. It was only when there was a particularly loud crash above that the two of them were on their guard.
The doors to the sides flung open and Voldemort strode confidently through the door. Wands were drawn and then, unexpectedly, Death Eaters flooded the room. Everyone had thought, from Voldemort’s past shows of pride, that he would want to face Harry alone. Unless he had known about the Aurors lining the room, which was entirely possible, he would not have arrived there with so many Death Eaters that night.
Then the fighting broke out. Voldemort seemed to have no desire to fight anyone himself just yet. He seemed content to watch Harry struggling against various Death Eaters with whom he was forced to duel. He had no chance to reach for the Portkey which hung inside his robes, and Mad Eye couldn’t stay close enough to him to protect him. The Aurors were all busy fighting desperately and more people ran into the room by the minute. Many of them were Order members who Harry had met, some he didn’t know, and some were close friends.
It was only when he had been hit by several curses and had lost part of his left arm to a redactor curse which had flown astray that Harry finally had chance to reach for his Portkey. He watched across the room as Mad Eye reached for his own Portkey at the same time and disappeared. Suddenly, from behind him, Harry felt someone grip onto him tightly and thrust something into his hand. Even as his own Portkey took effect, the other one did also. There was a strong battle of magic, and his own lost. He had no idea where he was going. All he knew was that someone was going with him.
It appeared that only Harry had been aware of his own disappearance however. When Mad Eye landed on solid ground in the kitchen of Grimmauld Place, his first instinct was to stare around for Harry. He wasn’t there. Minerva had set the Portkeys at the same time to go to the same location. Harry had reached for his and he had touched it, and then Mad Eye had seen no more. Unless more magic interfered with Harry’s Portkey then he should be there… Which meant something had happened.
Mad Eye growled and set his Portkey again, before he stepped through the fireplace and returned to the Ministry. This time the scene which met him was not the silent one which he and Harry had first found. There were people littering the floor, most of whom wearing Death Eater masks. Flashes of light, screams, and curses filled the air. He held his wand at the ready and ran back into the madness which gathered anywhere Voldemort walked.
The room was filled with people now. Most of them lying on the floor on top of one another as they tried to fight their way back up. The Order was clearly winning. The Death Eaters were falling back but Voldemort didn’t seem to care. At this point he had begun to wander aimlessly around the room, occasionally hexing or cursing one or two people. It was clear that the reason he had been there that night was to get hold of Harry, and no one was entirely sure whether he had managed to do so or not.
And suddenly Voldemort was leaving. Stalking quickly out of the room and the remaining Aurors scrambled to their feet and ran after him, spells shooting in all directions. The only ones that remained in the room were Mad Eye and the Death Eaters that had been a little too careless, lying on the floor, injured or worse.
There was no sign of Harry anywhere, and for the first time since Mad Eye had been out in a battle scene, he began to worry. Worry about what had happened to the boy he had been sworn to protect. It wasn’t so much that the order would tear him apart when he got home, but the knowledge that he was their only real hope. Part of him also felt an odd sort of emotion, as if he was somehow attached to Harry, as if he cared about the welfare of another human being. He pushed it away; Mad Eye didn’t care about anyone. He worked alone when possible. It was only the Order that kept him after Harry, and the last thing that he wanted to do would be to return to the house without him.
Two hours later, everything was over. Voldemort had been too strongly overpowered near the veil by thirty Aurors and members of the Order, and his own forces had dwindled to the point where he could not even think of overcoming them. No Death Eaters remained in the building to be identified; all had been removed somehow by Voldemort. Those who had been injured were being taken to St. Mungo’s, or to Grimmauld Place, if they were a member of the Order.
Mad Eye was the last to leave the building, after scouring every room for a sign of Harry. But he found none. It seemed that after he had reached for his Portkey, Harry had disappeared, and no one knew to where. The only option left was that someone else had interfered with his Portkey as he took off, meaning that he could have been anywhere.
He sighed and touched his own Portkey. “Table cloth,” he mumbled into the darkness as he disappeared.
“I’m so glad that you’re all right,” Molly cried as he landed in the kitchen. She had embraced someone tightly, and it appeared that whoever it was couldn’t breathe.
“So tell us all about it,” said Ron to whomever was being suffocated by Molly. Hermione stood behind him. Molly pulled away.
Harry stood in the kitchen, bloodied, tired, but nonetheless there, and alive. That begged the question, just how had he come to get there?
Back at Azkaban prison, Voldemort was pacing up and down the main chamber. Several of his inner circle had gathered to watch him do so, at the peril of their own lives. However, their forces had been so depleted that night that it seemed almost pointless for Voldemort to start killing his own men. That had never stopped him before, however.
Another one dropped to the floor. This one was standing right next to Draco before he’d fallen. Draco pressed his bandaged hands together, his eyes never leaving Voldemort in front of him. It had not been a particularly productive night, though the Dark Lord was keen to know just whom it had been to give them away.
“Someone in here informed the Order of my plans this evening,” Voldemort roared into the room. The Death Eaters gathered hid a collective compulsive shudder rather well. Still Draco did not move, still he stood as one amongst his equals. He was beyond suspicion. No one would ever know that he had been to Minerva a week ago to tell her of the news.
There was someone missing though. A slight gap where someone should have stood nearby, but closer to the Dark Lord. He wasn’t there; either he had chosen not to turn up, or he had been injured earlier on in the Department. But that could not have been right, Snape had not been sent to the most dangerous part of the Department that night. He had been a watchman, sent to ensure the Order would think nothing wrong when they arrived, and to alert the Death Eaters and Voldemort to any new arrivals.
It appeared that Voldemort had not yet realised that one of his nearest and dearest had not yet arrived, or had been too injured to turn up. But then Voldemort always knew which of them had been injured and would not be there that night. He usually announced it with a sense of disdain. He had not that night, which meant that he hadn’t yet realised that Snape wasn’t there. Draco hoped with a sudden zest that he had deserted; Voldemort would have a fit. And the man was quite clearly working for the Order, he still disappeared at intervals, rarely, but still did. Though at the same time, he had killed Dumbledore.
The idea of such a man deserting to the Order was an unlikely one, and yet, there could be no other reason for his not being there… But would he really go back to those who would hate him for the murder of their mentor?
Voldemort continued to pace, and then stopped abruptly. His alarming eyes scanned the crowd gathered around him. He spoke softly into the darkness but each and every single one of them gathered heard his words.
“Where is Severus Snape?”
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