“I don’t know what to do.” Lupin curled into a ball upon the soft cushions of Harry’s living room sofa, in absent imitation of the frightened behavior of the wolf that shared his soul. “I never believed him capable of such cruelty . . .”
“And for all my disdain for the boy, neither did I,” Snape admitted. He and Lupin had been unceremoniously abandoned in Harry’s lavishly appointed chambers some hours ago, soon after Lucius Malfoy’s visit – it was a comfortable prison, to be sure, but the Slytherin in Snape couldn’t rest easily in his enemy’s territory. Lupin had napped, exhausted from the previous night’s transformation, but Snape hadn’t been able to relax enough to doze. And as dusk fell heavily upon Voldemort’s stone fortress, he wondered what would become of them.
He knew enough to be certain that the castle was almost empty; the Death Eaters, frustrated by their failure with Minerva and Tonks, would doubtless be on the prowl again tonight. Harry’s absence boded ill for the Light’s chances this night, for with Harry as their leader, Snape had little faith in even Dumbledore’s ability to keep Diagon Alley out of Voldemort’s hands. On the other hand, there would likely not be a better chance for them to stage an escape attempt.
He’d mentioned this to Lupin only an hour ago, and met with reluctant agreement. Lupin had wanted more time with Potter, and Snape didn’t blame him. It was difficult, even for him, to accept that the Boy-Who-Lived had fallen so totally to Darkness. But without a history of affection and worry clouding his perception, he had already realized the futility of trying to reform Potter. He’d recognized a general’s brilliance in the plot Harry had outlined for him last night; seen in Harry’s easy dismissal of Lucius’ fears for Draco their last hopes slip away. Harry was lost, had strayed too far from the boy he’d been to return to them whole in mind and soul. He’d chosen . . there was nothing Snape could do.
“Lupin . . . if we’re going to try, we need to do it now.”
Remus hesitated. He’d lost the boy once; had failed both Harry and Sirius too many times to count. The pack instinct inherent in his wolf form made him waver. The human mind he possessed told him that to stay was suicide, even while the wolf demanded that he stay with the last remaining member of his family pack. He believed in Harry, even now – he lacked the cynicism that had made Severus Snape such a successful spy. He didn’t believe Harry meant either of them real harm, but on the other hand, Dumbledore needed to know that Harry was alive and working with Voldemort.
At length he simply sighed and settled in a more comfortable position on the couch. “I won’t go. I can’t leave him alone again, Severus.”
“He’s not Harry anymore.” Snape hissed the words. “He is a Death Eater, and Voldemort’s only heir. I am sorry, Lupin – you may not believe it, but I am. But that doesn’t change the fact that the boy you knew has been dead for a long time.”
“I won’t leave him. If you’ll recall, it was our negligence that left him with no other choice but to join Voldemort’s ranks. I was foolish, to leave him with the Dursleys when he was a baby. It was crazy, to let him compete in the Triwizard Tournament his fourth year. But my stupidity in leaving him alone after Sirius was killed is unparalleled. He may be a Death Eater, as you say. But whether he is or not, I have to believe that there’s still something of Harry left in him. And if there is, I have to be here for him.”
Snape was quiet for a long moment before he nodded, albeit somewhat sulkily. “I understand your choice, Lupin. I assume you also understand that I, at least, have to make the attempt?”
“Yes.” And Remus said nothing more, refusing to voice his concern. He feared for Snape – feared that if Harry was placed in a position where his own life hinged upon his willingness to kill the spy, he would not hesitate. Intellectually, Remus understood that Harry was already a killer, many times over. But it would be something else altogether to destroy Severus. He wasn’t entirely certain what made it so different, perhaps merely the knowledge that while Harry and Snape had never gotten along, they had at least always agreed on the most basic of things – that Voldemort must be killed. Though, Remus mused with a faint smile, that hadn’t really changed. Harry still intended to murder Voldemort, even if not for the purest of reasons.
“Sometimes I wonder if I caused this . . . if what I did to him, to Black, made him what he is. I think I felt better when I believed him dead, because then I could only be blamed for his death, and not the deaths of the multitudes of people Potter has likely already slaughtered.” Snape’s voice was very soft. “And I have done many things I am not proud of in my life. But the thought that my hatred for James Potter has damned us all to death at his son’s hand is . . . unbearable.”
“I doubt it was you, any more than it was the rest of us.”
“Perhaps not. But I cannot be certain. It was really a nasty shock for him, I daresay, to learn that I was no true Death Eater, but a spy for Dumbledore . . . a realization that might very well have led to Potter’s defection. He hates me – you cannot deny that, Lupin – and right now hatred is all he has left. It might be enough for him, now, to know that he has chosen a side that is dedicated to my demise. Enough to know that he does not side with me . . . in anything.”
“I’d like to believe Harry is not so . . petty,” Remus offered.
“We all have to believe in something. Unfortunately, I believe that while Potter may be inclined to show some leniency toward you, I doubt his patience extends to me. If I fail, now, I will die. For all our sakes, I would prefer that it not be by Potter’s hand.”
“If he killed you . . . we would have to execute him. There would no longer be a chance of redemption . . not for Harry.”
Snape laughed, but cynically. “Execute him? If you could, Lupin, it would be only through his own will, and I won’t even speculate on how unlikely that is. He survived a childhood that consisted of nothing but pain and despair from the time he was a year old. If he was going to give up, just lie down and die, he would have already done so.” Snape shoved open a window, then paused and glanced back at Remus. “If he kills me – deny any knowledge of what I planned to do. It should save you, at least buy you time to worm your way back into his good graces.”
“Trying to save me, Severus?”
“We all have our little problems, don’t we?” Snape stepped over the window sill, shutting the window behind him, and vanished from sight.
“Potter!” Voldemort’s roar of rage had the closest Death Eaters tripping over each other in their efforts to escape his wrath, and in its wake came instant silence as every man present fell to his knees, some lying nearly supine on the cold stone floor in their efforts to escape his notice. Every man, that is, save one Harry Potter, who strode down the length of the hall with the confidence that can be borne only of power, and of will.
Harry’s hand was steady on his wand as he stood in front of Lord Voldemort, head up, every line of body screaming defiance. If this was to be a battle for dominance, he would win. There was no other option. And then he saw the man curled into a ball at Voldemort’s feet, and his eyes went black with fury. He took in the situation at a glance – Snape had attempted to escape, only to be caught and ruthlessly tortured, probably for some hours, before Harry had been sent for. That was unacceptable, for more reasons than he cared to consider. At any rate, the situation had to be rectified, and with that decision the reasons behind his choice promptly ceased to matter.
“My lord,” Harry said by way of greeting, his lazy drawl making a mockery of the title. “And Severus. My prisoner, if you’ve forgotten. Getting senile in your old age, Tom?”
“Perhaps you have forgotten who rules here.”
Harry considered that for a moment. “Oh, I didn’t forget,” he responded at last. “I simply chose to ignore it. Because you see, Tom, it has occurred to me that it is time for a few . . changes around here.” Harry slowly circled his former lord, deliberately giving his back to the Death Eaters. He trusted them to obey his wishes, not out of fear, but because they respected him. He’d learned a long time ago that terrified obedience was no substitute for true loyalty, and he’d employed that theory with Voldemort’s men. He believed he’d succeeded, was sure he held the upper hand – tonight he would put that certainty to the test.
“Changes.” Voldemort raised one eyebrow, mocking him. “I am your lord . . . the only change will be that instead of leading my campaign, you will pave the way for it . . . with your death.”
“Now, see, that attitude right there gets you into trouble every time. That superior, holier-than-thou attitude just pisses me off. And recently it has occurred to me that for an order that has dedicated itself to purifying the magical world, it seems a bit hypocritical that you, our great and powerful leader, are no more than a half-blood.” Harry heard the murmurs of agreement that rose from the men crowded into the room behind him, and continued. “To be honest, I have blood purer than yours. I am, in truth, a first generation pureblood – my mother might have been a Mudblood, but she was a witch nonetheless, and powerful enough to destroy your former body, magical improvements or not.”
He left Voldemort’s side and stepped up onto the raised dais on which Voldemort’s silver throne sat. “I have decided that you are no longer fit to lead our . . . crusade. Not when your own father was a prime example of the very thing we have struggled so long to destroy. I am afraid, Tom, that you’re going to have to go.” Harry seated himself in the silver throne to a chorus of cheers from the men below, and Voldemort edged away from them, returning his gaze to Harry in a vain attempt to hide his fear.
“You can’t do this.” And there was a hint of desperation in his voice. Harry didn’t have to resort to Legilimency to read the chaotic thoughts that raced through Voldemort’s mind, when his face was all-too-clearly broadcasting the most prominent -- sheer, unadulterated fear. And Harry gloried in it.
“Very well. If it is fairness you require, it shall be given, because I am, above all things, merciful.” The cruel smile that tugged at his lips made mockery of the statement, and the Death Eaters began a soft chanting that sounded very like Harry’s name. Harry snapped his fingers, and a table, complete with gavel, appeared beside him.
“Tom Marvolo Riddle – aka Lord Voldemort – has been proven to the court’s satisfaction, a fraud in the manner of his blood heritage, and an unfit heir to Lord Slytherin. And I, as presiding judge, hereby sentence him . . . to death.” He cracked the gavel down on the table, never taking his eyes off Voldemort’s. “Snap his wand,” Harry instructed the nearest Death Eaters, who obeyed with obvious relish, wresting the precious object from Voldemort’s unwilling hands and handing it over to Harry.
“As our new Lord, I believe this honor should be yours,” Lucius Malfoy said, almost reverently, bowing his head as he surrendered his allegience, along with the wand, to Lord Potter.
“Thank you, Lucius.” Harry rose, holding the wand between his hands, reveled in the encouraging calls of the Death Eaters – his Death Eaters, he thought in triumph – as he ceremoniously snapped the slim bit of wood and tossed the bits to the floor.
Severus Snape had at last managed to rose himself from his pain-induced stupor, just in time to hear the last of Harry’s speech and see Voldemort led away in chains to the very dungeons he’d once loved so much. He wasn’t sure who began it, but abruptly it seemed as if the entire room was chanting Harry’s name at the top of the their lungs. His eyes met Harry’s for a mere instant, and the anticipation he read in their green depths shook him to the core.
“Oh, God. What have we done?”