|a deadly, poetic infection (sappholococcus) wrote in hp_traditions,|
@ 2008-05-27 12:21:00
|Entry tags:||pg, severus/harry|
Happy Traditions, darkladyvamp!
Title: The Cleansing of Albion
Gift for: darkladyvamp
Warnings, angst, but has a happy ending, I promise! Character death, some violence
Summary: When the war ends, not everyone wants the killing to stop.
Read it here or at Livejournal, and be sure to leave feedback for all of our lovely participants!
Harry Potter saw it, but his senses refused to believe it. For those first few seconds shock was the only thing that registered inside his mind. It was those precious few seconds that nearly got him killed; for in wasting time being astonished by the sight of a man’s dead body hanging naked and upside down from a huge tree, he lost track of his surroundings.
The shout caused Harry to react instantly. Luckily, his instinct served him well. The next thing he heard was the sound of a spell hitting the tree he’d been staring at mere moments before. Lying prone on the dirt, Harry mentally kicked himself for allowing his mind to be distracted by the admittedly appalling sight of a dead man hanging in an otherwise peaceful forest. That had been the only opening his enemy had needed, and if it hadn’t been for his lover’s shouted warning, he would now be as dead as that poor bastard hanging from the tree. He breathed a prayer of thanks to whoever was watching over him, and then nearly laughed aloud. The only being who was looking out for him, the only one who had been protecting him for years was Severus Snape.
As if thinking his name had been a summons, Severus crawled slowly towards him and stopped when they were scant inches from each other. Harry could see the glitter of his dark eyes and the barely expressed fear in the tightening of his mouth.
“Are you trying to get yourself killed?” Snape asked; his whisper filled with fury.
“I was kind of distracted by that dead guy,” Harry replied dryly. “That’s not the sort of thing you see every day, you know. Since the war ended three years ago, I didn’t expect to find crazy people killing total strangers just for fun out here. Did you?”
Snape glared at him but said nothing further. They both stiffened as the sound of crackling leaves and twigs reached them. Harry shivered. Lying in a ditch in the middle of a December afternoon trying to stay hidden from an unknown assassin was not his idea of a good time at all. They’d needed the herbs, though, so he’d gone with his husband of two years out of an instinct he could not name, but refused to ignore.
“I missed!” a harsh voice whispered angrily. “Did they come your way?”
“No, another voice replied. The second voice had a tinny quality about it, and Harry realized that the second speaker was somewhere far enough away from their present location that he and his comrade had to use some sort of communication device.
Severus made a very slight gesture, no more than a tilt of his head, but Harry understood its meaning instantly. He nodded, and began crawling silently backwards.
When he reached the other side of the tree, he found that his view of their enemy was unimpeded. He glanced to his left and saw his partner lying nearby, his still form barely visible. Their eyes met, and Harry raised his right hand, his pointer finger curled inward slightly and the other fingers folded into a fist. He raised his eyebrows.
Severus understood the signal. He knew that he didn’t have a clear shot at their foe, but Harry, apparently, did; so he nodded his permission and then watched as his husband raised his wand and silently waited for the right moment to strike their enemy down.
Time was on Harry’s side. Even if the man pivoted quickly and was able to spot them, he wouldn’t be able to take aim or do any damage to either of them before Harry killed him. Harry’s mind rebelled at the idea of killing a man who had his back to him, but he knew that the man wouldn’t have hesitated to do the very same thing, so he winced, took a deep breath, and then let his will build until it reached the point of no return.
“Avada Kadavra!” he cried. His voice filled the quiet forest and seemed to be the only sound for miles around them. The body of the man fell dead with a soft thud and silence returned to the glade once more. Harry rose from his place of concealment.
“I hate doing that,” he said quietly. “Why won’t the violence just stop!?”
He realized that he was trembling, but before he could burst into hysterics, Severus reached him and grabbed him by the shoulders. He stared unflinchingly into Harry’s eyes, and that familiar gaze brought Harry back to their surroundings.
“You may fall apart and indulge in Gryffindor theatrics once we get out of here.”
Severus’s whispered comment calmed him like nothing else could have. He nodded, bit his lower lip, and smiled a bit ruefully. His husband’s blunt sarcasm might have distressed most people, but to Harry, it was an emotional refuge for his battered soul.
“Sorry about that,” he muttered, still smiling at the older man. “I’m fine, now.”
“We have to find the other man before we can safely leave,” Severus replied, ignoring his husband’s apology. “He has to be close by. Since he hasn’t heard anything from his partner, he’s probably going to come looking for him soon if he hasn’t started already.”
Together, they followed the tracks of the magical signature that’d been left behind thanks to the communication device their unknown assailant had secreted in his cloak. A simple spell allowed the second man’s magical signature to be traced, because the device had been used very recently. As they came closer to the spot where the second man was hiding, Harry felt his heartbeat picking up speed and his mind beginning to clear.
Suddenly, Severus placed a hand on his right elbow, causing Harry to freeze where he stood. Slowly, ever so slowly, he carefully put his foot on the ground and redistributed his weight. No leaves or dry twigs crackled under his foot, much to his relief.
It happened quickly. One moment he and Severus were standing stock still in the bushes, and the next, they were being confronted by the man. Harry heard him coming towards them at a run, and knew that they’d been seen. He raised his wand, desperately not wanting to kill again, but unwilling to allow himself or his husband to come to harm.
Time seemed to slow for Harry. He noticed everything around him. The smell of the forest was dry and cold as it continued to protect itself from the winter. His heart was pounding so loudly that he wondered if Severus could hear it. Severus stood beside him, wand raised, legs slightly bent, muscles relaxed yet prepared to move in whichever direction he needed to. Harry’s mind held on to that image as the man broke through the final layer of brush that separated him from them. As Harry watched, Severus flicked his wrist and a patch of leaves in front of the man suddenly acquired very sharp edges. The man fell to the ground with a cry, and then froze as he realized that he’d been caught.
His wand had fallen to the forest floor just out of his reach. Without thinking about it, Harry used his foot to pull it towards them. When it was far enough from the man for him to do so safely, he bent and picked it up. He stared at it for a long second, and then his mind began to register his surroundings in a more normal manner.
He snapped the man’s wand, but wasn’t really surprised when he came to his feet in a fluid motion with another one in his hand. Before Harry could react, however, Severus was already there. The deadly spell hit the man full in the chest and he went down for the final time. The thud that heralded their second assailant’s death sounded like a small earthquake to Harry, but he forced himself to put his emotions aside for now.
“We need to get this man’s body to the Ministry,” Severus said softly.
“Harry! Severus, it’s great to see…” Hermione’s voice trailed off into silence as she saw the body they were levitating just behind them. She blinked, and then gestured for them to follow her without saying another word. Her fast reaction relieved both men.
“There’s another man lying dead in the forest where we were looking for stuff for Severus’s potions,” Harry told her quietly. “He killed a third man and he’s still hanging upside-down from a tree. We just found them purely by chance, you could say.”
Hermione sighed and opened the door to her small office. She’d been working for the Department of Mysteries for several years now. It had been with their help that Voldemort had finally been killed for good, and she had enjoyed the research and pressure to succeed so much that she’d stayed there once they’d finished school.
She carefully conjured up a narrow bed that reminded Harry of the ones in the Hospital Wing at Hogwarts and then simply stood gazing as Severus dropped the dead man on its surface. Her dispassionate assessment was made in silence, but she missed nothing.
“What’s this mark here?” she asked. “I’ve never seen it before; have you, Severus?”
They all stared at the man’s chest. Hermione had magically removed the man’s robes and shirt, and had found what looked like a tattoo of a lightning bolt which had been bisected by a black line. As Severus stared at it, he began to curse fluently in English, German and Russian. It was quite obvious that he didn’t like what he was seeing, but Harry had no idea of the significance of the mark until Hermione gasped and then paled.
“H-Harry,” she stammered. “I think… I think that’s supposed to be the symbol of your scar. If I’m right, that line could only mean one thing. I think Severus agrees with me.”
She stopped speaking, but new that her friend had missed it. Severus stopped cursing and turned slowly to face his husband. The look on his face made Harry’s heart start to pound as it slowly dawned on him. This mark symbolized his death. Clearly, another group of fanatics was trying to kill him. These people were serious enough about it to mark the members of their organization. Harry’s knees buckled and he sat down quickly.
“I won’t let this happen,” Severus snarled. His voice was low and full of dangerous fury.
“None of us will, Severus,” Hermione assured him. “I think I may have a way to stop it.”
He raised his eyebrows in a silent command for her to explain. She suppressed the urge to smile and quickly outlined her plan. As they listened, Harry saw his husband’s eyes taking on a scary gleam of purpose and ruthless determination. It made him shiver.
“If we do it correctly,” Hermione concluded, “I think we can eliminate the entire group by purifying this one man through his mark. Since there’s no risk because our test subject is dead, we shouldn’t have any objections from the Ethics committee, either.”
“I don’t understand,” Harry said. “How do you think that getting rid of this mark will lead to the other people involved in this group being purified as well?”
It’s a new ritual I’ve been researching. It’s based on an obscure ritual of cleansing that used to be performed by the Druids of Ancient Britain. I’ve modified it a bit.”
“It’s brilliant,” Severus murmured half to himself. “I think it might work.”
Harry’s eyes lit with an emotion Hermione had never seen there before. It was the purest form of joy she’d ever observed in her entire life. Severus’s almost absentminded comment had pleased her, but it had clearly done more to Harry. She smiled in return.
“Thank you, Professor,” Hermione replied formally. “I appreciate your confidence.”
“Humph!” Severus muttered, glaring at the floor as if it had offended him.
Hermione and Harry exchanged a look, but neither of them dared to laugh aloud.
Three days later, they tried the ritual for the first time. After placing the body they brought to the Ministry under a preservation spell and recovering and preserving the second body just in case, Hermione gave them the written steps to follow. She and Severus went over the entire thing, looking for flaws and consequences of performing such a risky bit of magic. Between Hermione’s need to be safe at all costs and Severus’s propensity for thoroughness and precision, they felt fairly certain it would succeed.
The first body was placed on a clean table face up. The runes were carefully drawn by Hermione and checked over by Severus. Harry shivered as it occurred to him, yet again, that the runes had been painted in his blood. Severus called it the main component of the spell. He explained that as the conductor for cleansing, his blood would cancel the magic of the original mark. Unfortunately, it would also kill the people who bore that mark.
As the runes began to glow with the power from Harry’s magic, Hermione and Severus started to incant the complex spell. Rather than Latin, the words they were speaking were an odd form of English. It sounded almost like Spanish to Harry’s untrained ear. Hermione assured him, however, that it was supposed to sound that way. The original Druids, she’d told him, were Roman citizens at one time. So the ancient Saxon English sounded like an odd cross between old Middle English and Italian. Harry listened; fascinated by the rhythmic chanting. It made him want to bounce on his toes or dance. There was an almost frantic urgency to the beat that reminded him of Latin music.
The chanting reached its climax and the runes began to glow brighter and brighter. Harry continued to stare at them, mesmerized by the sight of the pulsing, ever brightening glare of the living components of the spell. When they grew too bright to look at, he turned away. Suddenly, he realized that Hermione and Severus were looking at each other. As he glanced up at them, he realized that they were starting to become concerned.
“What’s wrong?” he asked; hearing the shrill, panicky tone of his own voice.
“I’m not sure,” Hermione replied. Her voice sounded bewildered and a little frightened.
“It isn’t enough,” Severus murmured flatly. “The spell needs more power.”
“More? Does that mean you need more blood from me?” Harry asked frantically.
Severus just stared at him. His expression was so utterly closed off and still that Harry felt his knees grow weak. He didn’t like the look of hopeless anguish he was seeing.
“Harry, my love,” he said softly, “the spell needs much more blood than you can safely give. We can cancel it now if we’re careful, but if we continue, it will kill you.”
Harry gasped in horror. He didn’t want to die; yet he knew that he could not let these people continue to do what they were doing. If he did, another Voldemort would be born. Hermione had speculated that if that happened, the new dark witch or wizard would have more of Harry’s power than Voldemort had ever possessed because of the magic the original caster had used in the first place. Harry couldn’t allow that.
After a long, drawn out silence, Harry spoke softly but firmly. His mind was made up.
“Professor Dumbledore once told me that death is just the next adventure. If my death is what it’ll take to stop this…” He left the rest of the sentence hanging.
“No! God damn it! No!” Severus roared; startling Harry and Hermione with the passionate intensity of his furious denial. “There has to be another way!”
“We have less than five hours to come up with it, then.” Hermione replied dully. “If we don’t move the spell one way or the other by dawn, we’ll lose control of the magic.”
Severus closed his eyes and sank into a chair. Hermione and Harry did likewise. As Harry watched, Severus’s face went completely blank. His eyes stared into the middle distance, but Harry couldn’t even begin to guess what he was thinking. A half an hour passed in uncomfortable silence as Hermione read and reread her notes; looking for the flaw they hadn’t anticipated. Severus, meanwhile, was frantically riffling through dozens of huge books in a desperate attempt to put off the inevitable. Harry slowly realized that giving his life would be the only way to stop the spell. As another quarter hour passed, he became convinced of that fact. He would have to find a way to convince them, now.
His voice broke a very thick silence and caught the attention of his husband and his best friend instantly. When he realized that they were staring at him with such naked, desperate hope, he stammered, but forced himself to continue speaking.
“I have to do this,” he said. “If I don’t, we all know what will happen. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I simply sat back and did nothing just because I was afraid to die. Look at it this way,” he rushed on. “I’ll die for something worth while.”
“Harry, if there’s another way,” Hermione began; her voice trembling with emotion, “shouldn’t we try to find it? We still have time to attempt something!”
“Hermione, we’re running out of time, and we all know it. In less than four hours we won’t be able to do anything at all. Who knows when this crazy witch or wizard intends to complete this ritual and come after me? This has to be finished tonight.”
“Severus, surely you have some ideas, don’t you?” Hermione cried angrily.
“If you don’t mind, Mrs. Weasley, I’d like to be alone with my husband for a half an hour or so. We need to discuss some things in private before we finish this.”
“What? You’re going to let him go through with this? How can you do such a thing?!”
Severus exploded once more. This time, there was something almost uncontrollable lurking just behind his anguish and rage. It was frightening to see.
“Damn it, Woman! I have no choice! Harry is right. We don’t have enough time to modify this ritual or work on creating another one! If you truly think that I’m doing this merely to appease my husband, you’re wrong! I don’t want this anymore than you do, but I’m willing to lend my strength to my husband’s resolve. I’ll give him all I can for as long as I can give it. Can you say the same? Are you willing to do as much, Hermione?”
Her eyes filled with tears and she began to sob. Harry rushed around the table and took her into his arms; feeling horrible for doing this to her, to them both. Hearing Severus call his friend by her given name had shocked him as much as it apparently shocked her.
After a few minutes, Hermione pulled away from him, looked directly into his eyes, and smiled a sad smile. “I once told you that you were a great wizard, remember?”
Harry felt his throat tighten so much that all he could do was nod and blink back tears.
“I haven’t changed my mind about that,” she continued. “I love you, Harry, and so do the Weasleys. Do you want me to tell them anything? You don’t have time to write them a letter, but I can give them messages from you if you want me to.”
“Just… Just tell them that I’m so sorry that I hurt them. Let them know that I had to do this, and t-tell them all that I love them very much and am glad they made me a part of the family. Tell them not to stay sad for too long. Life needs to be lived.”
“I’ll tell them,” Hermione promised tremulously. “Let me know when you’re finished talking with Severus,” she added; bringing him back to the task at hand.
Once they were alone, Harry faced his husband and could no longer hold back his tears. As his chest hitched, Severus reached out and roughly embraced him. Harry returned the tight hug; desperately hoping that Severus could understand everything he was feeling. As they continued to hold each other, he realized that Severus understood the words he couldn’t bring himself to say. Neither of them knew how to deal with such open emotions out loud, but both of them understood on a deeper, more intense level, what each meant to the other. His heart pounded with anxiety as Severus stepped back
“I l-love you, Severus,” Harry whispered. “Please, please don’t ever forget that. Try not to close your life and mind completely against the joy around you. Don’t let your grief rule you. If you do, I’ll come back to haunt you for the rest of your life. If you thought I was annoying when I was your student…” He couldn’t finish his sentence, but his shaky smile and the look in his eyes said it all for him. Severus’s laugh was bitter.
“I’ve never said it, my Harry, but I’m sure you know that I love you as well,” Severus murmured softly. “I simply cannot bring myself to think past this moment; however.”
Harry nodded his understanding and rested in his husband’s embrace for a little longer. Then, though no more words were spoken, they both pulled back from each other at the same time. Harry crossed to the door and opened it. He stared in surprise at Hermione, Ron, Ginny, Bill, Fleur, Charlie, Tonks, Neville, Mr and Mrs Weasley and the twins.
“I can’t do this alone, Harry,” Hermione said. “It’s only fair for them to be here, too.”
“Come in,” Severus replied, speaking for Harry and gently ushering his husband back into the room. The family filed in quietly, seeming to sense that Harry would not allow himself to be talked out of this. They all hugged him tightly, each one whispering words of love and reassurance in his ears as they did so. When that was done, Hermione took a deep breath and went to stand opposite Severus. Since they were the original casters of this ritual, they were the only ones who could be inside the newly made circle.
“We’re going to have to use the second body,” Hermione said quietly. “This one won’t hold the power of the spell for a second time. Would you get it, Professor?”
Harry was amazed at how steady her voice was. He was relieved that she had found a way to put aside her feelings for now. It made this a little easier for him to bear.
“Right,” Severus replied; walking to the corner of the room where the other body lay wrapped in a black cloth and still under the preservation spells he’d cast.
He levitated it onto the table after Hermione finished the banishing and cleansing rituals. Then, he stepped back and waited. Behind him, Harry could feel the warm presence of his family. Beside him, Severus stood; giving him strength to do what they all knew had to be done. Across from him, his best friend stood ready to perform the spell that would ultimately kill him even as it set Wizarding England free from another mad witch or wizard bent on taking Voldemort’s place and ruling the wizarding world.
Harry climbed onto the second bed Severus conjured and closed his eyes as his husband rolled up his sleeve. He barely felt the small prick as his vein was opened and the blood began to flow. He heard the chanting begin once more and forced himself to relax.
Soon, he could no longer make sense of the words or the rhythm that had seemed so compelling earlier. They faded and echoed into silence, but he was beyond caring. The sound of horses and a hunting horn filled his ears. Harry blinked and sat up, frowning in confusion. Had something gone wrong with the ritual again? Was he dead?
“The sound of rapidly galloping horses grew nearer, and Harry rose slowly to his feet. Where were Severus and Hermione? Where were the Weasleys? Where was he? All of these questions fled from his mind when he saw the group of horsemen round a bend and stop at the top of a hill not far from where he stood blinking in the light of a new dawn.
“Thou art not the one I seek!” the man leading the group called to him.
Harry stared back at him, not knowing how to respond. Before he could start to panic, however, the man slowly rode closer to him and stopped when they were about ten feet apart. Harry saw that the man had horns on his head. He wondered if he was dreaming.
“I’m sorry,” Harry replied; feeling lost and unable to think of anything else to say.
“Art thou the one sent to cleanse the land?”
“Um… I think so,” he replied. “I don’t want a witch or wizard to turn into another Voldemort. I just want Wizarding England to have time to heal from the war.”
“Aye,” the man murmured half to himself. “Thou art truly the one. What art thou willing to do in order for this wish to come to pass?” the man asked solemnly.
“I’m willing to give my life,” Harry said. His voice held much more strength and confidence than it had mere moments earlier. The confusion he’d felt was gone.
“Thy life is not mine to take. I have many other lives to gain tonight.”
“I don’t understand,” Harry ventured. “Did my family have time to finish the spell?”
“The magic of which thou doth speak hath taken its course. Those who would have done a great evil and wounded the land with thy blood have journeyed to their eternal rest.”
“Oh,” Harry cried, his eyes widening with relief and joy. “I’m so glad!”
“Thou must return to the land of the living now, child. Thy sacrifice is no longer necessary. Thy family awaits thee with joy and great hope. Wilt thou return?”
“Yes,” Harry responded firmly. “They need me, and I want to be with them for many years to come. How may I get back to them?” he asked uncertainly.
Before the man answered, however, Harry heard the song of a phoenix. He raised his head and listened to the beautiful notes as they floated on the air towards him; leaving him feeling relaxed and happier than he’d ever been for the first time in days.
“Follow the song,” the man with the horns on his head called softly. Then, he was gone.
Harry didn’t take time to wonder who that man had been or even if he had conjured him from the depths of his own mind. Instead, he reached out a hand and felt something tugging at him from all sides. He gasped and cried out as his body seemed to spin out of control. Then, his eyes popped open and he realized that he was alive once more.
The shouts of joy and hugging went on for a very long time. Though Severus stayed beside him through it all, Harry could feel his husband’s need to be alone with him. The women were all crying, and even Ron started blinking rapidly and staring at everything except his family. Finally, Molly seemed to sense Severus’s need. She spoke firmly.
“I think Harry and Severus should be left alone now. We know Harry is all right. Let’s go home and give them some privacy. Tomorrow we can celebrate,” she said.
They all laughed and nodded. Severus had to endure one last round of hugging, but finally, after one long look from Molly, he was alone with his Harry.
“What happened?” he asked softly. “You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to,” he added. “If you’re too tired, I can wait until tomorrow to hear your story.”
Harry smiled and reached for his husband’s hand. Severus sank down onto the bed beside him, and he told the older wizard everything. When he finally finished speaking, he frowned in concern. Severus was looking at him strangely, but he didn’t know why.
“Do you realize who that man was, Harry?” he asked finally. His voice was tinged with awe. The tone of his husband’s question caught his attention and made him curious.
“No, I’ve never heard of or seen him before. Do you know who he was?”
“Unless I miss my guess,” Severus replied; still speaking in that reverentially soft tone, you spoke with Herne the Hunter. He was the ghost that the men and women who were involved in this insane ritual were trying to summon. I believe they tried to harness his power by re-enacting his death scene. I thought that the dead man hanging from the tree seemed familiar to me, but I couldn’t figure out why that was until I was helping Hermione research the counter spell we ended up using. Instead of allowing his power to pass to the idiot who tried to harness it, he chose to use your blood to divert the magic and block the summons. It’s only a theory, of course, but I can’t think of anything else that would make sense under the circumstances. Now, you need some sleep.”
Harry laughed weakly and nodded. His eyes drooped shut and his mind began to drift. Before sleep took him, however, he felt his husband stretch out beside him. He heard a door open somewhere and dimly remembered that they were in Hermione’s office.
“Don’t floo us,” Severus murmured wearily. “We’ll floo you before we leave.”