June 10, 1:30 PM, Troll Room, Hogwarts
I was so tired.
So very tired. I thought, feeling the weakness ensnare my body, driving its tendrils deep into my very bones and immobilizing me with the promise of endless rest. Why am I even doing this?
An hour ago, I could have answered that question with ease.
Now that I was wounded, alone and cold in this dark, and damp place, I wasn’t so sure anymore. I regretted pushing Tony and Su away, despite knowing how dangerous it was for them to follow me.
Even if it was the right move, it still felt like the wrong one. I hissed as I felt a stabbing sensation through my shoulder for a few seconds before the pain let up, leaving me even more tired than I was before.
I let out a silent chuckle, wincing at the pain again. Still the same fool I’ve always been, huh?
I had seen a lot in my previous life. For a solid chunk of it, I lived in a part of the world where might makes right, and had thus seen many instances of violence on a level most others could not begin to fathom.
However, I had been smart, even back then.
I did not participate in the… festivities, such as they were. I also made sure I was never a target of one, either, avoiding such confrontations like the plague.
Neutrality was at the core of being for so long that it almost felt inborn, at times. So, why was I delving deeper through this horror show of a dungeon?
What did it matter if Quirrell got his hands on the Philosopher’s Stone? Who cared if he ratted me out to the authorities?
Try as I might, I could not answer these questions. Maybe I had been holding onto consciousness for nothing. I could be too stubborn for my own good, sometimes.
I should sleep. I thought, ignoring the cries of the small part of me telling me to get up and fight. I’m just so tired.
The sly voice, for once, said nothing.
This was what it wanted, after all was said and done. It didn’t want me interfering in events here, but merely to safeguard my existence through whichever means it deemed necessary.
That much, I was able to glean from the various conversations I’d had with the entity which took up residence within my mind— or soul, whatever.
“Zero!” Someone called out to me, but my mind was so foggy that I didn’t register the sound until it had been repeated twice more.
My clouded, black eyes opened with deliberate slowness, seeing nothing but a massive blur of darkness before everything began to drop back into focus, including the sound of the person in front of me.
“Wake up, Zero.” The person said again, and I looked up to see a concerned, somewhat familiar face.
That voice… I blinked a few times before realizing who it was before me. “Helena… Hey.”
“‘Hey’?” Helena Ravenclaw glared down at me, an angry blush of bright red weaving its way through the woman’s gray complexion. “That’s all you have to say to me?”
I exhaled, keeping my breathing nice and slow. “What else is there… To say?”
Helena’s glare softened as she floated down to eye level with me. “You… You’re not going to tell me to go back?”
I gave another silent chuckle before groaning and twisting my head as the stabbing pain made itself known again. “No.”
It was then that she got a good look at my injuries.
“You’re hurt.” Helena said, her anger forgotten as her eyes were drawn to my swollen shoulder. “How bad?”
“… Not bad enough to be dead, at least.” I said. “And I don’t think this is the sort of thing that’ll kill me.”
She stared at me for a second longer before nodding.
“So, get up.” Helena said as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. “You want to stop Quirrell, don’t you?”
The woman’s mood swings were very strange, at times. I supposed it was only natural; a ghost experiencing life in limited ways was bound to get a little loopy from it all.
“Yes.” I said. “But I’m not so sure I can. It hurts.”
A long silence passed before Helena spoke again.
“I see.” She said, floating closer to me. “You are feeling scared and lost again.”
I turned my eyes away from hers, but the woman continued to float in a way that let her match my line of sight. “You are filled with indecision and hesitation, aren’t you? It’s clouding your better judgment.”
I smiled through the pain. “You know me so well.”
“Indeed, I’ve learned much in the months I’ve known you, my friend.” Helena said, giving me a smile. “You’ve taught me what it means to be alive again— how it feels.”
I felt the warmth radiating towards my face as Helena’s hand hovered over just above my cheek. With half-lidded eyes, I leaned into her touch and froze at the sensation.
The palm of her hand felt real, solid; my eyes opened to full, and I saw Helena’s face, radiant and smiling at me with a confidence I just didn’t feel.
“Yes.” She confirmed, caressing my cheek for a few moments before she drew her hand away. “I can touch again. Thanks to you.”
“W-When?” I said, looking at her hand in wonder. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“You are wary of me.” Helena said, shaking her head as I tried to speak. “No. Don’t deny it. I know it’s true. We are two souls separated by great, almost unfathomable barriers, and I understand that.”
“There is no need to say anything, my friend.” Helena said, taking my free hand in her own. I watched as her fingers laced themselves with mine. “I may not have the strength to lift you to your feet, but I can do this much, at least.”
I stared into her eyes for a long moment before smiling. “Thank you.”
Feeling sorry for myself wouldn’t accomplish anything. I needed to get up.
I pressed my back against the wall, grunted and planted both feet into the floor, pushing myself up, but the pain in my shoulder made itself known, and I lost control over my limbs, falling back down and sending a jolt of pain through my rear.
“Come on, Zero.” Helena said, and her grip tightened around my hand, lifting it up. “Get up!”
I swallowed and nodded before trying again.
My muscles protested harder, unwilling to comply with my demands.
I still have things to do. I thought. I can’t let Quirrell or Voldemort get in the way of that.
With another grunt, I pushed through the weakness and threw my entire being into it. The inside of my mind echoed with a single mantra, repeating itself over and over.
—up. Get up. Get up. Get up. Get up.
It didn’t matter whether this body was not made to handle this level of stress. It didn’t matter whether it’d be easier to keel over and let the pain rule over me.
The seconds continued to pass as I exerted myself and I felt the sweat collecting all over my body, drenching my clothes and making me feel even colder. Still, with a final grunt, I managed to get the job done.
I was back on my feet, once more.
“You did it.” Helena said, looking both happy and concerned with me as I drew my hand away from hers. I leaned against the wall, pressing my hand against the cold surface to help keep my balance.
“Yes.” I breathed, taking a shaky step forward before I stopped to stare at my shoulder. I needed to fix it, but I needed to figure out how to relax my muscles enough for it to work.
And then it came to me. I turned my gaze to Helena. “You mind giving me a hand?”
“It would be my pleasure, Zero.” The woman replied with another radiant smile.
I smiled back, happy to at least have someone here with me.
Same Time, Final Room, Hogwarts
This was proving to be one of the hardest fights in his life.
Severus did not take a moment to marvel at the progress of a foe he had once considered far beneath him in terms of magical prowess, because every instant in this fight counted.
With a single motion, Professor Snape blew the ceiling up and directed the chunks of stone and rubble to swirl around Quirrell. Within an instant, Quirrell blew the rocks away, taking care not to strike the Mirror of Erised, which had been shunted off to the side of the room the moment the duel had begun.
Sectumsempra. Snape incanted in his mind and slashed his wand at his foe, filling the large room with a flash of white as he intended to tear the man apart.
Quirrell smiled in reply, Summoning some of the rubble back to him with a dismissive swish. The Dark Curse tore right through the rubble before reaching Quirrell, but the spell only grazed the man’s sleeve, flying past him and tearing a gouge into the stone wall behind.
“An interesting spell.” Quirrell said, praising the Potions Teacher’s skill and technique. “I gather that my arm would not have healed from a cut like that, had I let it hit.”
Severus did not answer, instead maintaining his offensive. He had no time to waste, for the effect of the restorative potions running in his system was running out.
His battles with Hagrid’s pet Cerberus and one of the Trolls had not been clean, and the less said about that damn chess set, the better.
He had been forced to ingest a few Potions to strengthen himself as well as his reaction speed just to be able to get through the obstacles in a timely manner.
Severus cursed himself for his lack of preparedness before he focused this anger on his enemy.
All or nothing.
Severus locked eyes with his enemy even as he moved forward, casting a spell and probing Quirrell’s mind in the same move.
Severus smashed the probe against the man’s mental defenses, flooding Quirrell’s brain with an amalgamation of Quidditch terms, Potions ingredients, and random nonsense in an attempt to destabilize him.
Quirrell took a step back from the psychic onslaught and held his head, leaving him open for attack.
Severus launched a Stunning Charm, in a bid to force the man to use a Shield Charm to bat it away. To his delight, Quirrell did just that; a translucent barrier of white appeared, absorbing the jet of red light with no issue.
Professor Snape cast his next spell, twirling his wand in a spiral before snapping it forward. Caligona.
A miasma of vomit-green light burst forth from Severus’ wand, latching onto the man’s shield. Quirrell panicked and extended the Shield Charm’s range to cover him from all sides.
I’ve got you now. Severus thought with vicious intent as he enacted the next stage of his curse. Strigasa!
The spell infused itself into the shield, turning yellow for a moment before forcing the shield to vibrate. Soon after, Quirrell began to writhe in place, unable to bear the shrieks Severus could only imagine he was hearing from within the confines of his own Shield Charm.
It was a spell he had devised the year before; its purpose was to turn a person’s Shield Charm into a weapon against them. It seemed as if it were a great success.
The Shield fell straight away, and Severus winced as the last of his sound-based spell echoed across the chamber and made him shake in place. He realized with a start that his potions were finally beginning to wear out.
Snape was at the end of his rope. But he was almost there. Just one more spell and it’ll be over…
Sectumsempra. Severus sent another white blade of Dark Magic at Quirrell, intent on killing the man and ending the duel, there and then.
But, through the pain and disorientation, Quirrell leapt to the side on instinct, saving his own life in the process— though at a cost.
The man’s left arm split away from his body at the shoulder, and Quirrell screamed in pain, though he still held onto his wand, getting up with a will that both frightened and intimidated his opponent.
Professor Snape stifled the urge to curse. He had hoped that this would be enough to take the fight out of him.
Still, it was only a matter of time, now.
Quirrell thrust his wand forward, but Severus had already moved to the left, crashing his Shield Charm against Quirinus’ Bone-breaker Curse, sending it flying into the wall, where it cracked the stone.
Severus parried a few more curses before snapping his wand at Quirinus. Thin, snake-like cords burst from the end of Severus’ wand and twisted themselves around Quirrell’s body, forcing his hand to point straight down.
Still, he did not let go of his wand.
Quirrell grimaced, twisting his wand with a small movement of his fingers. The man’s bindings morphed into three vipers, and Severus heard something which caused him to pause in his spellwork.
It was a hiss— a familiar one he had not heard since his days as a Death Eater.
The snakes wound themselves around Quirinus, staring at Severus with a gaze so intense that he was forced to take a step back.
This… Severus thought with no small amount of apprehension. I’ve seen behavior like this in snakes. They answered only to one man.
With both quickness and prudence, Professor Snape scanned his surroundings for the source of the hiss, for he had not seen Quirrell’s mouth move.
Where did the sound come from?
Quirrell had not been idle in that time, forcing his wand against his shoulder and burning the wound closed with a monumental shriek of pain.
Snape moved to stop him, only to have a bout of dizziness stop him in his tracks. His exhaustion was catching up to him.
“Impressive that you have managed to do this much damage to me, Severus.” Quirrell said after he calmed down, getting Professor Snape’s attention. “What with your… Previous altercations.”
Severus curled his lip in disgust. “Two Trolls and a large dog are not enough to stop me, Quirinus.”
“Of course.” Quirrell waved his words off. “I did not expect them to stop you, Severus— merely to wound you.”
Severus did not even twitch, but Quirrell shook his head in amusement. “I’ve been watching you. You are already losing control of yourself, while I can still fight.”
Severus opened his mouth to point out the man’s recently lost limb when Quirrell stepped forward, his wand launching another salvo of spells. He moved as if he felt no pain at all.
Severus gathered all of his remaining strength and banished his spells to all corners of the room, launching a curse of his own through the gap in his enemy’s defenses.
Two of Quirrell’s new snakes launched themselves at the spell, absorbing the impact with a small explosion, leaving nothing but a red mist in the spell’s wake.
Snape stepped to the right to cast another spell when he felt a sharp pain in his right leg. Seeing the snake there, Severus Vanished it before driving his hand in one of his pockets and forcing the bezoar he kept with him at all times down his throat.
“Very quick thinking.” Quirrell praised the man. “But it will not save you here, Severus.”
Severus opened his mouth to reply when he felt his leg seize up. He dropped to one knee and struggled for a bit before he lost feeling in his left leg as well, laying him out on his back.
“It has merely delayed the inevitable.” Quirrell said, moving towards the Potions Professor with his wand drawn. “You have done well, all things considered. Your skill is commendable, your knowledge is almost without peer, and its application is exemplary. Such a waste to see it used to further another man’s ends.”
Severus tried to move his wand, wanting to curse the man where he stood.
“And why?” Quirinus said, kicking the wand out of Severus’ slowly moving hand and sending it clattering far out of his reach. “Why would a man with such skill in the Dark Arts forsake it all? For Dumbledore, of all people— the doddery old fool who hoards more secrets and limits the education of his students at every turn.”
Severus did not give the man an answer, instead sending him a glare with black, hateful eyes.
Quirrell reacted with an amused, but pained smile before he shook his head. “How far you have fallen, Severus. The tales I heard of you painted the figure of a powerful man, steeped in the Dark Arts and with potential to someday become a Master of the craft. Well, you have proven your power, at the very least, I suppose. Still, with the Stone, a new arm is but a trifle.”
Severus tried to struggle as Quirrell pointed his wand at his face, but to no avail. The snake’s venom may not have killed him, but it had paralyzed him and left him totally helpless.
This was it. This was how Severus was going to die. It was not how he expected it to go. He had thought he’d die fighting against Voldemort, when the time came. Side by side with Dumbledore, he thought he would at least make the man who ruined his life pay with his own, but it seemed that this wasn’t how it would end.
“Finish him.” Severus heard the familiar voice again.
“Of course, Master.” Quirrell said and opened his mouth to say the two words which would end Severus’ life, only to jump back as a jet of red light sailed over him.
Who…? Severus thought in confusion as he turned his eyes to the entrance, seeing a wizard stepping down the steps. He could not make out the wizard’s features from this distance and his skewed angle of view, but as the newcomer approached, Severus realized just who it was. “…Clarke?”
Adam said nothing as reached the bottom of the steps, staring down at Quirrell with neutral, black eyes.
“Adam Clarke.” Quirrell greeted the boy with such familiarity that it drove a chill down Severus’ spine. “So glad you could join us, finally. What took you so long?”
Adam didn’t answer, instead moving towards Severus and roving his eyes over the man’s form. “What did you do to him?”
Quirrell smiled his horrible smile at that. “Oh, nothing serious. A little bite from a snake. He’ll be just fine.”
“…Right.” Adam said. “Professor. Can you speak? Blink once if the answer is yes.”
“You…” Severus struggled. “You need to… get out. Clarke.”
But Clarke shook his head. “Afraid I can’t do that. I have a promise to keep.”
He waved his wand, sending Severus over to the wall closest to him and placing him in an upright position. “You stay right there, Snape.”
Snape stared at the boy’s back, shocked at his casual use of silent spellcasting. He knew Adam was a talented wizard, but he never thought that the boy would have improved so much in such a short span of time.
“A promise, you say?” Quirrell said with curiosity. “So you have received my letter at the Three Broomsticks, after all.”
“Oh, yes.” Adam said, and Snape wondered just what the Hell was going on. Were the two in league with each other? “I see that you’re missing an arm. I suppose you wish for me to lend a hand, as it were?”
Could Adam also be after the Stone? Severus thought with a jolt of fear.
He had always thought that the boy was strange. Something about him always seemed off. He was a child, but he moved with the care Severus expected from a person who was fully aware of what their body was capable of.
They were the movements of an adult far beyond someone of Adam’s years. He would have attributed it to the boy’s upbringing, but Severus had never met any other orphans with such a degree of self-control, both when it came to managing his motor functions, and when it came to regulating his own emotions.
Though he was far above his peers, even Severus himself was not so masterful of his own senses as a child.
“And yet you brandish your wand at me with hostile intentions.” Quirrell said, his face expressing both annoyance and amusement at the boy’s attempt at humor. “If you are answering my summons, then should you not be standing at my side?”
“I am answering your summons.” Clarke said as he stepped into a stance. “Just not for the reasons you think.”
“Oh?” Quirrell said, getting the gist of it. “I see. Then, shall I divulge to the good Professor here how it is exactly that—”
“I’m the one who killed Auror Turner.” Adam said with that same, eerie and calm tone of his. “And now I’m going to kill you, Quirrell.”
Snape’s only thought was: