The first attack shocked them all. Remus was in class, teaching second years about Cornish pixies, when a blast of pure rage shook the building. Children screamed and Remus was nearly knocked off his feet. Fear-induced adrenaline immediately filled him and he yelled at his charges to get away from the windows, then took off running. Another blast hit, and several students who had spilled into the hallways were sent sprawling, but his agility kept him on his feet and moving.
Minerva came out of a classroom ahead of him, her eyes wide with shock. "This is impossible. The wards..."
Remus just shook his head, his face grim, as he hurried for the main staircase. As he dashed down the stairs, he watched in horror as the main chandelier fell, sending burning candles scattering. A young girl's robe caught fire, but another girl managed to put it out, as students scrambled away from the spreading flames. He reached the bottom of the stairs just as Severus was exiting from the entrance to the dungeon. They looked at each other, bleak fear reflected in both sets of eyes, then quickly extinguished the fires.
Suddenly Severus grimaced and grabbed his arm, shoving the sleeve up to reveal the Dark Mark. It was glowing, dark and malevolent. "They're here."
"Impossible," Remus replied, swallowing hard. "How..." Staggering to the front doors, he shoved them open, and nearly collapsed in horror at the sight before his eyes.
Dozens of robed and masked Death Eaters were streaming through the open gates of Hogwarts, their way unimpeded. Behind them came a swarm of Dementors, even from a distance their mass bringing despair and emptiness to those on the steps.
But what nearly destroyed him was the girl standing at the top of the steps, wand raised, arms wide as she called the whirlwind and broke the defenses from within.
Remus felt Severus come up behind him, felt the other man's dismay and shock echo his own, heard him murmur, "I didn't know," then saw him raise his wand. He grabbed Severus' arm, pushing them both back inside.
"You can't, Severus." He could see the conflict in the potions master's dark eyes. "We need you now more than ever. You have to be with them."
"No, Lupin. No."
"Yes, Severus, you must," came from behind them, as Dumbledore, looking much older and more tired than any had ever seen him, staggered towards them. The headmaster looked...haunted. "I never expected...Not this..."
"We must send for help."
Dumbledore nodded at Remus. "I have. With the wards down they can apparate directly here. I..." He looked towards the open doors, saw the force massing against them and heard the vile laughter of the girl on the steps, and staggered again, his face going pasty. "I failed."
Severus saw him start to fall and caught the venerable wizard before he could hit the rubble strewn stone floor. As Remus started to reach for him, as well, Severus shook his head and gestured towards the doors. "I'll get him to safety. Go and stop this, Remus."
Nodding, the smaller man pulled out his wand and headed for a secret exit into the courtyard, saying silent prayers that Dumbledore would survive. They would never win without him.
By the time he reached the exterior of Hogwarts, the grounds were filled with Aurors and others on the side of light. Remus caught a glimpse of Sirius in canine form taking a bite out of a Death Eater. Behind him, Harry and Hermione stood back to back defending themselves well against various curses. His analytical mind quickly took in the rest--Molly and a group of healers dragging the fallen to the edges of the battleground, Tonks leading a charge of Aurors against the Dementors, patroni spilling from their wands, a group of seventh year students rushing from the castle to join the battle.
From the shelter of one of the many hidden entrances to the school, Severus watched the slaughter, unable to help either side due to the lies binding him. Dumbledore had ordered him not to fight for their side, and he knew the Dark Lord would want him to maintain the lie as well. So, like many of the Slytherins, he was pretending self-interest and awaiting the end of the battle.
Others were out there, though, fighting, some...dying. He'd watched half a dozen of his students fall, and another half dozen join the Death Eaters.
More fought on the side of light, though, the four houses of the school finally united. He was proud of them.
He hoped they'd survive so he could tell them.
Such a waste, a horrible waste.
And all because none of them, not even Albus, had seen the corruption in their midst. Everyone had looked to his own house for evil. No one had given a thought to Gryffindor.
Twenty five feet in front of him Ginny Weasley floated almost delicately to the ground next to her latest victim, a seventh year from Ravenclaw who bled from mouth, ears and nose. Ginny caused hemorrhages in the girl's brain until she could no longer scream anymore and simply died.
Severus felt pain in his fingers and looked towards the source. His hand was clenched around the stone arch, his nails torn as his fingers dug into the soft stone. Cursing, he examined the damage as blood dripped down his hand, staining his robes. He'd never felt more helpless in his life, and he knew he should go help in the infirmary or somewhere, but...someone had to watch. Those in the battle were too busy to see it all.
So, he would mark the fallen and note the courage and treachery.
Outside, the battle was reaching a high point, everyone now fully engaged in the fight. There were screams of pain and the shouting of curses and hexes. Magical energy crackled in the air and a purple haze was covering everything. In the center of things was Potter, his two best friends beside him, the three of them doing considerable damage to the horde of Death Eaters they faced.
But they didn't have that killer instinct.
Not yet, at least.
Severus knew they'd find it or die. This was open war and it was kill or be killed.
As twilight fell, the battle finally ended, leaving the grounds torn, the building in partial ruins, and bodies everywhere. A hazy smoke lingered, mingling with the sour aromas of death-- blood, bodily waste, fear.
Nominally the Order and the Light had won, but the cost...
Stepping out of the archway, Severus glanced down at a group of children who had died at his feet, too young to protect themselves, in the wrong place, at the wrong time, and felt his heart and soul shatter.
While the ground was strewn with the corpses of numerous Death Eaters, there were too many children. Way too many.
This hadn't been an attack only on the Order and Dumbledore, but on the children.
"Where were you?" came the snarled, furious question from the young man stumbling over bodies to reach him, wand raised.
Severus turned to face Harry, a part of him hoping to be struck down by that righteous anger. "Coward," Harry screamed, moving faster, as behind him limped Miss Granger, leaning heavily on Mr. Weasley who bore a deep wound on his shoulder but still held her up.
Before Harry could reach him, Lupin stepped in front of him. "Harry, stop. Calm down."
"Don't tell me to calm down," Harry retorted, but did stop a few feet from the two older men. "He did nothing!"
"On Professor Dumbledore's orders. On my own. Harry, we need him where he is, more so even now."
Unwilling to take anymore of that attitude, Severus drew himself up coldly and sneered, "So sure of yourself as usual, Potter." He turned to Remus and moderated his tone. "Lupin, I'm going to check on the headmaster." With a slight nod of his head, he turned and strode back into the building.
The infirmary was overflowing with the wounded and dying, and healers and anyone able to wrap a bandage, scurrying around trying to help. In a far corner lay the first to have fallen, tucked beneath a warm blanket, his eyes closed, his face still bearing signs of stress. Minerva sat at the headmaster's side, stroking his motionless hand.
"Oh Severus, why did this happen?" she asked, not even looking up at him but knowing he was there.
"They attacked us where they knew it would hurt the most," he replied evenly, although his heart thudded painfully in his chest. "How is he?"
"Poppy says he'll recover in time. He was trying to use his own life force to protect the children and it was too much for him."
Taking the seat opposite her, Severus gazed solemnly down on the one man who had always believed in him. "What happens next, Minerva?"
"I don't know. I guess...the school closes and the surviving children return home. I expect the Ministry to descend at any moment." Tears sparkled in her eyes. "I can't believe we lost so many of the little ones. How could they kill children?"
"Because they knew how deeply it would hurt us. During the last war, outside of the Muggle attacks, they killed mostly adult wizards. The demoralizing effect of killing children may destroy any possibility of us winning."
"Don't say that!"
His lips twisted into an unpleasant and cold grimace. "One of us has to be a pragmatist. The Dark Lord lost dozens of supporters today but we lost our future."
Slowly she nodded and blinked away the tears before they could fall.
Lupin and Tonks joined them, both looking incredibly tired, their faces smudged with smoke and grime.
"The Ministry has arrived," Remus said softly. "As has the train. A group of Aurors are shepherding the children who were unhurt and those who are able to be moved back to London. The Ministry has stopped the parents from apparating here to collect their children, but we've received hundreds of owls, and...we're not sure what to do with the deceased."
"How many did we lose?" Minerva asked, dread in her voice.
Remus opened his mouth to answer but nothing came out and he swallowed hard.
"Over a hundred and fifty children," Tonks finally filled the silence, a tear sliding down her dirty face. "None of the Order, but at least a dozen Aurors. They didn't lose anywhere near enough." Angrily she swiped away the tear.
Minerva had paled at the revelation of the number and slumped further into her seat as the horror overtook her. "How can we recover from this?"
Severus wasn't sure they could, but this time he kept his mouth shut and focused his attention on the headmaster. The man had never looked old before. Frowning in concern, his analytical mind went through a variety of potions as he tried to think of a way to help bolster the man's strength.
Potter might be their great champion but Albus Dumbledore was their leader and without him, they were lost.
As he turned his attention back to the quiet conversation between Minerva, Lupin and the young Auror, and saw a delegation of Ministers approaching, the Dark Mark suddenly leapt to life on his arm again, making him wince and clutch at the stinging skin.
"Severus?" Remus asked, his eyes narrowing shrewdly.
Cursing under his breath, Severus rose. "I must go." He rounded the bed and Remus stopped him with a gentle hand on his shoulder.
"Tread carefully, my friend."
"I always do," Severus replied gruffly, as always disquieted by anyone's concern for him. Lightly shaking free, he turned back to Minerva. "I'll send a batch of Corroboric Potion in a day or two for Albus. I have most of the ingredients on hand." And could get the rest from the Dark Lord's stores.
"Thank you, Severus."
With a nod and a swish of his robes, he strode past the Ministers and out of the infirmary.
The Dark Court was a hive of activity and celebration despite the number of Death Eaters bearing bandages and healing wounds. Severus stood in the entrance letting his eyes roam quickly, noting who had survived. Lucius, naturally. Draco, thankfully. Narcissa stood next to her husband, her hand on the sleeve of his coat, barely touching him, but all her attention was on her son standing across the room with some of the younger Death Eaters.
He looked lost.
Dragging his attention away from his nephew, Severus noted that all the inner circle had survived, most unscathed. They were too shrewd to become cannon fodder.
As he stepped into the room, the Dark Lord entered from his suite, Ginny Weasley on his arm. The girl looked nothing like her former self--dressed in a skin-tight emerald green silk gown, wearing a silver serpent choker twined around her neck, her hair in a pile of curls atop her head, she looked like she belonged here more than anyone else in the room. When she smiled wickedly at her Master, a shiver went down Severus' spine.
How could he have missed her turning?
"My friends," the Dark Lord boomed out, silencing the crowd. "The war has begun with a great victory. We have taken a large bite out of their future and swallowed it whole. Mourn your fallen companions but celebrate with me the arrival of new friends." His hand swept to a group of older children, those from Hogwarts who had turned to the Dark. "We have our own future here with us now."
There was applause and cheering. Severus automatically joined the applause, his eyes still taking in every corner of the room, his quick mind making mental notes.
"Tomorrow will be soon enough to begin planning our next strikes. Tonight, enjoy my hospitality and know you have earned my highest regard."
More applause and people turned back to their conversations, the spread of food and drink. As Severus moved towards the center of the room, he caught the Dark Lord's eye.
"Severus, attend us."
He approached the throne, bowing his head in deference. "My Lord."
"You didn't participate in the battle?"
"No, my Lord. I felt it prudent to maintain my disguise until I spoke with you. Naturally, I didn't participate on the other side, either. They are unaware of my skills at fighting and rely on me only for my potions." He made sure to inject a note of derision in his voice but didn't go so far as to snort.
"Fools," Ginny crowed as she leaned against the throne, one hand idly caressing her Master's shoulder. Severus wondered for a moment if the two were lovers, and then nearly shuddered in horror at the thought.
"But well organized fools, my dear." Voldemort turned a calculating eye on his Potions Master. "Even devastated by this first strike, they are formidable. I've given your situation much thought, Severus, and while there are benefits to you remaining where you are, I've decided I need you at my side full time." He leaned forward, a twisted smile on his face as he hissed, "You were a glorious killer when you were young, Severus. I would see you in that role again."
Feeling something go as cold as ice inside himself, Severus forced a brief smile to his stiff face and bowed his head again. "As you wish, my Lord."
Voldemort sat back, satisfied. "Expect an owl tomorrow with directions for our next council of war." Severus nodded and took a step back, only to halt as the Dark Lord continued, his voice light but menacing, "And, Severus? I will expect your lovely wife to attend as well." Severus froze, eyes widening a fraction. "Her sight will become more useful, Severus, or she will become a liability, and you know what I do to liabilities."
The desire to leap on the perverted, twisted creature calmly threatening his wife flooded Severus with adrenaline, but he forced himself to remain calm, and nodded again, too afraid that if he opened his mouth, the killing curse would be on his lips.
A wave of Voldemort's hand dismissed Severus and he turned and strode back across the room, his face betraying nothing of the hatred and fury boiling inside him. His fellow Death Eaters instinctively moved out of his way until he was nearly at the door and Draco stopped him. The boy had a look in his eyes that Severus only ever saw reflected in his own mirror.
"Professor? Do you think...Would you mind if I came to visit in a couple of days?"
"You're always welcome, Draco." The relief and need on the boy's face hit Severus hard and he nodded. "Goodnight, Draco."
Severus swept past him and into the relative quiet of the corridor. Stepping through another set of doors into a garden, he drew his wand and disapparated. He desperately wanted to go home, but the Order needed to be informed of his new position...and the threat to Lilith.
Entering Grimmauld Place, he immediately noticed the stark difference between the headquarters of the Light and that of the Dark. The house was full of people, but there were no celebrations, only quiet mourning. The scent of freshly brewed tea mingled with fire whisky and blood. As Severus walked into the kitchen, he saw defeat on too many faces.
This would never do.
Sirius snarled at him until Remus gave him a dark look. Potter glared at him and Severus only smirked back at the boy.
They were both so predictable.
Arthur came over to him. "Severus, you've been to His Court?" At Severus' nod, he swallowed and fidgeted and finally asked, "Was she there? Did you see her?"
Nearly a father himself, Severus felt an unusual compassion for the man, confused and lost over his only daughter's betrayal, and he softened his reply. "I'm sorry, Arthur. Yes, she was there, at His right hand. I'm sorry I never saw it."
"None of us did," Arthur replied, his voice shaky, tears glinting in the corners of his eyes.
A moaning whimper came from across the room and Severus saw Hermione go to Molly and try to comfort her. Bleakly he wondered if the family would ever recover from such a betrayal.
Remus came over to them. "The school's been evacuated and Professor Dumbledore moved to a safe house with Poppy and Minerva looking after him. The Ministry is attempting damage control and failing."
"There's no way to spin this," Hermione said, using a Muggle term, as she joined the group, having turned Molly over to Bill and Fleur. "They were unprepared, despite all our efforts over the last four years to get them prepared." Her voice grew colder as she spoke and she crossed her arms over her chest as if to hug herself against her own internal chill. "They thought the wards were impenetrable."
"No one could have foreseen what happened, Hermione," Remus said softly, glancing quickly to Arthur who just looked stricken.
"Lilith might have," growled Sirius as he rose with a clatter of his chair. "If she wasn't locked away somewhere, useless to us."
Remus sighed and rubbed a tired hand over his face as Severus stormed past him to confront his nemesis. "You would put this on her?" he snapped, getting in Sirius' face.
"I put it on you, you son of a bitch," Sirius hurled back. "How long have you been spying at Voldemort's Court and you didn't know about Ginny?"
Severus' controlled reply dripped ice. "The Dark Lord keeps his secrets well."
"She's been here," Ron said slowly. "She knows where we are." He lifted panicked eyes to the others from where he sat slumped at the table.
"Her invitation's been revoked," Remus explained kindly, wincing as Molly moaned again from the far end of the table. "And the wards are being strengthened as we speak. They'll know the house is here but won't be able to see it or enter it. We need to be careful about ambushes when we leave."
"There may be a way to physically shift the house to another location," Hermione said slowly, her analytical mind working quickly through ideas.
"In the meanwhile, safe houses have been arranged for everyone. No one should return home. Ginny knows we're all the leaders and she knows where we all live."
Everyone nodded reluctantly at Remus' statement.
Harry looked up from his cold and untouched cup of tea. "If we're at war now, shouldn't there be armies and stuff?"
"I'm afraid you're looking at the generals, Harry."
"I was afraid you were going to say that."
"It's not going to be a real war like World War II, Harry," Hermione explained. "More like guerilla warfare."
Severus finally turned away from glaring at Sirius. "The Dark Lord's forces number around three hundred wizards, plus the dementors. There are others scattered across the world but I believe the battles will be contained to Britain. Of those wizards only about thirty are high ranking Death Eaters, His equivalent to all of you. You nearly match them in numbers there."
Remus turned shrewdly narrowed eyes to Severus. "We, not you."
"You," Severus replied shortly. "The Dark Lord has ordered me to join Him fully, to give up spying on you."
"Well, that's a relief." Tonks flushed as everyone turned to look at her. "Er, sorry, that didn't come out right. I mean, you've had to give him some info on us, right? Now you don't."
"True, and, obviously I shall do my best not to harm any of you when we face each other in battle," he replied, his voice finally betraying some of the strain he was under.
Arthur was the one to go to him. "Severus, you don't need to do this."
"Yes, I do. More so now that the war has begun. While we may be nearly equal in numbers, the Order in no way matches them in ruthlessness. I'll do my best to relay information of future attacks to you, but the Dark Lord has always held his cards close to his vest. I don't know how much warning I can give you. And, there is something else." He gave Sirius a hard look before turning his back on him. "The Dark Lord demands Lilith attend the next council of war. He has...threatened her if she doesn't provide him with more concrete visions than she has."
Severus refused to look back at Sirius, but addressed them all, his voice again like ice. "She may have to give something away. I won't risk her life to protect any of you."
Silence fell for a moment, punctuated only by Sirius' ragged breathing, until he cursed again, "And yourself, Snape? We know you'll do anything to protec t yourself. Does that include letting Voldemort kill her?"
"Sirius, that's not fair," Remus protested, then closed his mouth at a hard wave of Severus' hand.
"No, Lupin, let him continue to see me as the child I once was. It's so obvious he's stuck back there in our past. He's certainly acting like the teenage brat we all suffered with and I'm not going to waste another breath trying to make him see the truth." As he spoke, he drew his wand from his robes. "Unless she had a vision, Lilith has no idea what happened today. I need to return home and tell her, prepare her for what is coming."
With that, he strode from the kitchen and a dark smile crossed his face at Black's shout for him to 'get back here', but it only lasted for a moment. As he crossed the threshold and the house vanished behind him, Severus frowned in worry. How was he going to prepare Lilith to give away any secrets of consequence?
It went against her very nature. He just prayed that her maternal instinct outweighed her Gryffindor stubbornness.
Still, it was going to hurt her, and, more and more, Severus didn't want anything to hurt her.
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