February 17-18, 2001
Almost all the students at Hogwarts had left. After learning that Harry wouldn't stop them, the Slytherins immediately scattered; they grandly called this behaviour 'putting one's safety before matters of principle', arousing the lions' anger. Most of the Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff students also left, but more people chose to stay than Harry expected.
Almost every sixth and seventh year Gryffindor opted to stay, and the younger students who were unwilling to leave were chased off by one of George and Fred's pranks.
One after another, Aurors arrived at Hogwarts and were only allowed to enter after being looked over by Professor McGonagall. Parents also took the initiative to gather, whilst the doctors and nurses of St Mungo expressed their willingness for a no-camp rescue arrangement.
The entirety of Hogwarts stepped into a state of nervous anticipation.
"Harry, you need to meet the old bat- Headmaster Snape; Hermione asked me to tell you," Ron spoke their professor's name awkwardly, still unwilling to call him by the honorable title. But he had to admit, although he wanted to beat him up, Snape played an important role in this war.
Harry, though, was reluctant to see Snape.
He had to watch as the other pointed his wand at Professor Dumbledore and cast the Killing Curse. Although he knew the reason for his safe arrival to Hogwarts was because of Snape's contributions, he still couldn't counteract the conflict between them.
But he had to go because, at this moment, he needed Snape.
"I assume Mr Potter understands what the term 'on-time' means."
He had just stepped into the Headmaster's office before he heard the clear voice glide past his ears, like the cold scales of a snake wandering across his skin, causing a chill to run down his spine. During his time at Hogwarts, every time his name was spoken like this, severe trembles would overcome him.
"Professor Snape." The young man in his twenties pushed his glasses up a bit and stood in front of the Slytherin who'd barely changed. He looked directly at the frowning man frankly, with resentment, dissatisfaction, and reluctance. These emotions were too obviously expressed in those emerald-green eyes, leaving the Potions Master entranced for a moment.
The wrinkles between his brows deepened. "Still so impolite, Potter, you rascal!"
"You killed Dumbledore," the Saviour said stubbornly, face still pale. He watched the Potions Master aim his wand at the former Headmaster and personally watched as his admired Professor fell from the roof like a broken doll. Three years had passed, yet he still remembered the night of mourning illuminated by the glow of wands, still remembered the helplessness he felt after he lost his mainstay.
He even wanted to throw a Sectumsempra curse at him.
Snape waited for him fiercely, his long black cloak hanging down the stairs and shrouding him in darkness; due to the lack of sunlight, his skin was extremely sallow, making him appear extremely haggard.
"Use your gillyweed infested brain to think, Potter! Even Granger has managed to guess what you haven't! Has your Potter brain already degenerated to such a degree?" The furious man raised his voice, eyes widened, the bloodshot whites appearing particularly shocking under the light; his voice was sounding increasingly more downcast, whilst his manner was becoming increasingly more imposing. "If I held any malice against you, I'm afraid the Dark Lord would've already had his fingers around your neck!"
Snape turned around and returned to the Headmaster's seat; the portrait of Dumbledore behind it greeted him with a kind smile. "Don't be so angry, Severus."
Snape looked deeply at the portrait for a moment before turning his body around with a wooden expression to look at Harry. "You must listen very carefully to what I'm going to say next."
"I'm afraid my role in this war can't be understood by your low IQ, but you have to do what I say." The man stared blankly into the emerald eyes, speaking so quickly Harry could barely catch up.
Before Harry could nod to express his understanding, Snape had already continued. "As far as you know, the Dark Lord divided his soul into seven Horcruxes. Six Horcruxes, except for the few you destroyed, have been reabsorbed. The Dark Lord always believed he'd divided his soul into seven parts, as he believed 'seven' to be the most magical number. In fact, he actually split his soul into eight parts."
Snape pursed his lips and rose from his seat impatiently; he paced restlessly around the table. "On the day your parents died, when your mother used her life to create a protective barrier around you, the Killing Curse bounced back to the Dark Lord, causing a piece of his soul to tear away; the soul parasitised onto the only surviving being in the collapsed building."
Harry tried his best to sort out his thoughts to keep up with Snape.
"Potter…" Snape paused, looking equal parts exhausted and sympathetic, he concluded coldly. "You're the remaining Horcrux."
Harry stood there blankly, staring at him as if he didn't understand what he was talking about.
The last Horcrux?
"Yes." The tall middle-aged continued without the slightest hesitation, outrageously cold. "Potter, you have to be personally killed by the Dark Lord; this was specially ordered by Dumbledore."
Seeing Harry's dazed expression, the slightly-malicious elderly Slytherin automatically attributed it to fear, causing his lips to twitch in dissatisfaction; being as unkind as he was, he didn't forget to mock him for it. "Potter, don't be so cowardly! You won't truly die! The only thing the Dark Lord would kill is the Horcrux attached to you, so don't you dare hesitate!"
But the two of them knew how dangerous this situation truly was.
Because of the Horcrux, Harry would indeed be impervious to the Killing Curse, but to experience something that made life worse than death was something that - from ancient times to the present, from wizards to Muggles - would always be compared to a virus invading the body little-by-little. It couldn't take away life, but it could take away hope; reduce a person to a puppet, cause them to lose their perceptions.
The man seemed to understand his mockery wasn't made at the right time. He was silent for a moment before he turned his head and began to vent his anger.
"Dammit, dammit, Dumbledore!" Snape started to anxiously pace again, cursing and roaring like a wild beast. "I acted as a spy for him, lied for him, put myself in danger for him, but in the end he ordered me to send you straight into Voldemort's clutches to be slaughtered like a pig, and for you to come back after!"
What Snape was saying was no longer important to Harry.
Harry Potter was the eighth Horcrux, destined to be destroyed.
"Professor," he choked out quietly, "please don't tell Hermione and the others." Harry's face was still so pale and he was so thin the only thing left was his skeleton, but he still faced Snape with a smile. Although he was skinny, it wasn't difficult to find the soul illuminating his eyes. Snape was slightly confused; though facing death, the young man in his twenties wasn't showing a sliver of helplessness or bewilderment.
Harry's lips twitched. "You know, to be informed that your friend is a Horcrux isn't very pleasant."
He shrugged, pretending to be relaxed, and met Snape's deep eyes.
"I'm very sorry, Professor." The young man wanted to step forward and bow to the Hogwarts Headmaster - for the pain he experienced; for the infamy he carried on his back; for the injustice he suffered - to express his deepest respect.
Severus Snape hadn't endured any less than the Saviour. Needless to say, he was a well-deserved Slytherin; maybe his achievements couldn't be compared with Tom Riddle, but his faith had allowed him to long transcend the division between strength and weakness.
Snape looked at the young man before him, his features still immature with youth; watched him bow his head with sincerity; watched him walk out step-by-step with his spine straightened; the resentment brought upon by years of enduring humiliation seemed to gradually fade.
He finally understood why Harry Potter was titled the 'Chosen One'.
Snape rubbed the space between his brows, permanently creased due to long-term frowning.
Harry Potter, I'm looking forward to your return.
Harry Potter was feeling open-minded. No, not quite.
He'd simply gotten used to it.
The most frightening thing about death wasn't death itself; it was the confusion and despair that came from awaiting death. Harry had already experienced it once in 1946. To express it more casually, he'd already become familiar with it.
What made him truly unwilling was his near-future meeting with Voldemort.
A week ago, he'd firmly believed Voldemort was just another person wearing Tom Riddle's skin; a week later, Fate forced him to finally see through this deception.
He was going to be personally killed by Voldemort, he was… Going to be personally killed by Tom Riddle.
"Hey, Harry, where are you going?" Someone caught up from behind him and held onto his shoulders.
Harry looked behind him at Neville, who was half a head taller than him, and his expression relaxed. "Good evening, Neville."
Neville lost a lot of weight; his once-chubby face now had sharp edges and firm corners. In these dark days of escape, nobody could gain any weight.
"It's nothing. I'm going out for a while and will be back soon. Don't tell Hermione."
Neville watched Harry wave his hands before leaving to the back of Hogwarts suspiciously, and raised his voice to shout at him. "Be careful, Harry, the Death Eaters aren't far from the Forbidden Forest!"
"Understood!" The young man with tousled hair waved his hand again before putting them into his pockets; he walked slowly into the depths of the Forbidden Forest as if he was on a stroll. Like a promise, he shouted, "wait for me to come back!"
The night was growing darker. The trees towering over the ancient Forbidden Forest, but because of the winter chill they were left with no choice but to peel off their green leaves; their knotted tree trunks stood in strange postures, appearing eerie and ghostly in the dark.
The young Saviour walked forwards step-by-step. The wand in his hand was captured by Hermione whilst she was fighting against the Death Eaters, so the light he cast was wavering - unstable.