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Chapter Twenty-Seven

It didn’t do much for Harry’s resolve in facing Voldemort once and for all to find himself being dragged with great haste down a dark passageway to the other side of the school by both Remus and Snape, with two Death Eaters on their trail.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Harry argued as he tried to free himself and shortly found himself being magically levitated at speed down the passageway whilst Snape shot spells over his shoulders at the Death Eaters. “What happened to facing Voldemort and not running away anymore?”

“I think we can put you in a better duelling position than behind a tapestry, Potter,” Snape snarled and knocked down the Death Eaters with a swift series of hexes. Only then did they stop running and Harry was lowered back to the ground. “Now come on, we don’t have much time.”

“Much time? We don’t have any time at all! All he has to do is walk into the Room of Requirement—” Harry began and was cut off by Remus.

“Yes, which is easier said than done, even with Voldemort’s powers, now come on, and we might still be able to get there before he gets inside.”

The door had broken open when they arrived back at the room, and by this point, Hermione and Bill were desperately trying to patch up the inside of the room with as many spells as they knew. The potion was being brewed further and further away from the door, with several shields around it and the Horcruxes were nowhere to be seen.

Outside the Room of Requirement, Minerva, Mad Eye and Kingsley were duelling another dozen Death Eaters, all of whom had appeared as back up once the other two had been magically disabled by Snape. Voldemort remained undisturbed as he blasted his way into the room and towards the pieces of his soul.

There was a mixed series of shouts from Harry, Remus and Snape as they appeared on the scene. Suddenly spells were ricocheting around the corridor and members of the Order and the Death Eaters were dodging them desperately. Voldemort remained unharmed by the spells that had been sent straight at him and derived some amusement from watching Minerva McGonagall leaping into a wall to avoid a redactor curse from taking her arm.

There was a final creaking and splintering of wood, followed by a brilliant flash of white light as the Room gave in. Voldemort marched straight into the room, leaving behind him the mêlée of struggling people. Kingsley was being driven back towards Remus, who quickly knocked him or her out with a series of fast hexes, leaving the four of them free to run after Voldemort.

“Stop him! The potion’s not complete!” Bill shouted as Voldemort advanced upon him and made a swipe at the bubbling cauldron with his hand. Hermione reacted quickly enough to magically move out of his way, but not fast enough to prevent Voldemort from seizing Bill around his throat and slamming him against the wall with unseen strength.

“Tell me where my Horcruxes are,” Voldemort growled as he stared straight at Bill who stared straight back, a vague expression of horror stuck on his face.

“Hermione, finish the potion!” Bill gasped before Voldemort tightened his grip. He turned his head to see Hermione fumbling with potions ingredients and shakily adding them to the cauldron.

Avada Ke—”

“Hermione!” Harry yelled, seeing Voldemort twist round. In one hand, Bill was pinned to the wall and gasping for breath, and in the other, his wand was pointed directly at Hermione. She stopped and stared up at him in shock, like a deer caught in the headlights.

Harry ran across the room and leapt at Hermione, just as the room flashed green, and everyone was momentarily blinded. When the lights had faded from their eyes, Remus breathed a sigh of relief to see Harry helping Hermione to her feet, both still alive and the potion still standing.

Suddenly shots fired rapidly at Voldemort, whose shield had been dropped to allow the casting of an Unforgivable. The Aurors had known this and were the ones from whom the spells flew. Bill was dropped in haste and collapsed on the floor, his hands over his head and his lungs dragging in air as all around him, the room erupted in light and noise.

Harry cast spells around Hermione constantly as Bill shouted instructions to her across the room and Voldemort was kept in check by the constant slew of attacks from Minerva, Mad Eye, Kingsley and Remus. Snape was watching over Hermione, with one eye on Voldemort, and Harry suspected that he was trying to get into his mind and inflict an attack in that manner.

In actual fact, he was entirely wrong. Snape wasn’t trying to attack Voldemort, but he was defending his mind against the shockwaves of pain that kept sweeping through his mind and sending him reeling. Voldemort was attacking mind after mind in the room, trying to find out where the Horcruxes were hidden. It was only when Hermione was suddenly knocked back off her chair and Harry felt something pressing within his mind that he realised what was happening.

And by that point it was too late.

Hermione was clutching her forehead in both hands and gasping for breath. There was nothing Harry could do; he didn’t know whether or not he could safely interfere with the spell and he didn’t want to send spells flying at Voldemort for fear that unsafe separation of his and Hermione’s minds could damage either.

And suddenly Snape was moving quickly over the cauldron, not bothering to look at the instructions on the table next to it. His fingers moved nimbly, chopping ingredients, and taking full advantage of the time he had to complete the potion as quickly as possible. Harry could only watch from behind, as his mind whirred for a way to help Hermione.

It did not appear that she would need any more help. Voldemort let her go and she dropped instantly to the floor. Harry turned round several times to find himself standing in the midst of complete chaos. He didn’t know how he was avoiding being hit by curses or attacked by Death Eaters, but somehow that was the case. Bill was still on the floor, moving towards Hermione’s limp form to help her. Death Eaters scrambled about, firing spells in all directions, none of which hit Minerva, Remus, Mad Eye or Kingsley. It was almost as if he and Snape were behind some kind of shield, preventing anything from striking them…

Harry turned to stare at Snape, who snapped at him without turning round, “You don’t think that if you could be seen, you’d be dead by now?”

Harry opened his mouth to reply, and then he did wonder why no one was aiming at him, and why Remus kept glancing around him and trying to fight away out of the increasingly crowded room.

“Where are we?”

“Where we’ve always been, in the Room of Requirement,” Snape replied and added more toads’ legs to the potion. It turned a bright red. “Though you really ought to know the power of Hogwarts when she’s needed by now. We’re hidden away in part of it so that none can find us, unless we need to be found.”

Harry stretched out his fingers, only to have them brush against some kind of thin, stretchy surface. It felt like they were inside a balloon of some kind.

“What’s a balloon?” Snape asked curiously. Harry whirled round to face him, wondering why and how Snape was in his thoughts, but too late. Voldemort was advancing upon them, and for a moment Harry forgot that none could see them and staggered backwards. Snape leapt away from the cauldron and dragged Harry towards the centre, just before he fell through the back of their magical balloon.

Voldemort stared straight through them and marched past, towards the back of the room. And even as he did so, a doorway began to materialise on the back wall. Harry stared at him, but the rest of the room continued to fight and to struggle. Hermione, despite Bill’s best efforts, was still unconscious on the floor. Snape glanced up at Bill and Hermione, waved his wand, and they both disappeared.

“To the Hospital Wing,” Snape said, replying to the question before Harry could ask it.

“And where does that door lead?” Harry asked. Severus stood up properly to see where Harry was pointing. It was the door through which Voldemort had just stepped.

“I have no idea, perhaps it’s where Hogwarts has hidden the Horcruxes,” Snape said, “I can’t think of any other reason that Voldemort would leave such a scene…”

And then they both froze. They stared at each other for a long moment. Then Harry was gone. Snape was too slow to grab the back of his robes and pull him back this time. Harry had leapt out of the bubble, to the astonishment of Minerva, who had been glancing around for him constantly. Snape turned quickly between following Harry and completing the potion, but he turned back to the latter. He was the only one who could finish it. None of the others stood a chance, and the Order would protect Harry. They had to.

It was with a sense of foreboding and mute terror that Minerva left the battling and sprinted through the room, like she hadn’t done in twenty years. She flew through the back door and found herself in one of the last places she had expected.

In the Forbidden Forest. This was one turn of events that Hogwarts had certainly planned well. It was silent when she arrived. She was in a small clearing of some kind, and she turned round to see through what she had travelled, it was a small archway, made by the branching of the trees. That was not particularly odd, but what was, was the source of light in that clearing. The rest of the forest was lit up by the dim light of the moon, but that particular area was lit artificially. By a single lamppost.

Minerva frowned slightly, trying to remember upon where she had heard of a lamppost in the middle of nowhere, lighting up an entrance. A book from her long since vanished youth, perhaps?

And then she saw it, a flicker of light within the darkness beyond. She quickly walked into the denser area of trees and vanished into the darkness. A light flick of her wand gave her a very soft light with which to light her way, and she slowly but carefully followed the light into the midst of the forest.

Harry was aware that he was surely still in some vast part of the Room of Requirement, so he was not in any real harm, surely? Would Hogwarts not protect him here, as best as she could? He didn’t know, but he wasn’t about to take any chances. Not when he was suddenly alone in the middle of the Forbidden Forest, or somewhere that looked very much like it. People were entering. He couldn’t explain how he knew, but he did. It was like an odd sense of hearing. He felt like he could hear people walking slowly into the Forest, yet, when he listened carefully, all he could hear was the sound of the wind rustling through the leaves around him and his own footfalls.

He was right however, people were walking into the forest. Though it might more accurately be said that people were sprinting through the Room of Requirement and through the door. Then they were stopping abruptly in the Forest and staring around them with a grim sense of horror. Remus was the next in after Minerva, and Kingsley and Mad Eye quickly followed.

Snape remained with the cauldron of the potion required to kill Voldemort once and for all. There wasn’t much else he could do. He was certain he’d be far more suited to whatever task Hogwarts had set on the other side of the room than the others, but no one else was able to make the potion. He had no choice but to stay there and help in any way he could.

Helping in any way he could really entailed knocking out any Death Eaters who came running through the door. In the beginning, there had been many, but now there were none. No more had appeared in the last ten minutes since the last of the Order had vanished through the doorway.

As if reading his mind, the Room of Requirement changed to suit his needs, at least the part of the room he occupied did. The door slammed shut and locked itself from the inside, and the cauldron expanded, with a larger, more powerful fire underneath it. The potion was bubbling nicely, and Snape realised that in the next few minutes it would be complete. Now all he had to do was to hope that Harry wasn’t being murdered a few feet away, and that Voldemort wasn’t happily plucking his Horcruxes from the hands of the Order.

The reality was far from that. The Horcruxes were placed in several places within the Forest and only the pure of heart would be able to find them and pick them up. Were Dumbledore alive to see it, he would have smiled; it was a similar adaptation to the magic he had weaved six years ago within the Mirror of Erised. The only problem lay in the fact that once the Horcruxes were picked up by a member of the Order, Voldemort could then simply take them away. And inflict death, naturally, upon the holder.

They were not particularly hard to find. Remus walked straight into Slytherins locket, hanging from a tree branch, and pocketed it quickly. That was the first one to be found. The next was the small phoenix, the same as those which each member of the Order carried around to alert the others to when one was in trouble. That was found by Minerva, who was running through the trees, away from an advancing light. Finally, the cup of Helga Hufflepuff was located by Mad Eye. All three had been found, and three others had been destroyed, so excepting the walking Horcrux, Voldemort, all that remained to be done was to destroy them.

Within this lay one problem. No one could find the way back out.

The lamppost marked the way back into Hogwarts, or at least the Room of Requirement. It had begun as the only light in the Forest, but as more people had arrived, more light had appeared. Now there was no way of finding out where to go and none had remembered to trace their way back inside.

Only one person had the confidence to stroll through the forest unlit. Voldemort had no fears of the school, but perhaps he ought to have had. The forest was not a dangerous place unless it was provoked into being so. Voldemort strode quickly through the darkness, unhindered by the wild trees and undergrowth and marched towards the nearest light. It was unfortunate for Mad Eye that he was the current owner of that light, and was brightening his path through the forest with his wand.

Stupefy!” The spell shot over Mad Eye’s shoulder, missing him by a fraction of an inch. He spun round instantly, and leapt behind the nearest tree to avoid the barrage of spells that shot his way.

Mad Eye raised his wand, readying himself to turn and fight Voldemort to the death. He leapt around the side of the tree. And then there was nothing. He spun round wildly, eyes darting around, and it was only when his vision settled back where Voldemort had been standing that he realised. Vines were slowly creeping back into the depths of the forest, and only a small tangled shred of a cloak could be seen between them. The Forest had Voldemort.

Lumus Solarus!” Mad Eye cried into the night. Dazzling light shot out of the end of his wand and across the forest. All within could not but mistake the light and the voice that had created it. Cautiously, footsteps grew louder as the Order surrounded Mad Eye and peered through the trees. It appeared to be him… but there was no telling where Voldemort had gone.

Mad Eye held the cup of Helga Hufflepuff over his head and the Order moved forwards. “Lights out. How else are we to see the way out?”

Remus anxiously turned the locket that once belonged to Salazar Slytherin over and over in his hands as all the lights went out around him. There was only one light left in the distance. That of the lamppost, and their way back to the Room of Requirement.

They scrambled back through the dark archway and into the Room of Requirement. They stopped suddenly as wands were pointed at their throat. They were surely defeated.

Before the Order, stood Voldemort and a row of formidable-looking Death Eaters. There was no sight of the potion, the Horcruxes or Snape. There was also no sign of Harry.

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