last public execution of the wizarding world was held in 1763. A Lestrange.
No wonder, then, that the ceremony was twenty minutes over-run and counting.
The seats are old, and wooden, heated by a midday sun. Under his fingernails splinters flake from the soft wood. His robes are tight round his neck. He has a headache, and chills alternate with a hot flush that sweeps from ankles to hairline. Hate is a physical presence, a weight in his belly like a six month child, a humour crawling through the veins of his hands and the beat of blood in his heart, slow and vengeful.
- We couldn't be more conspicuous if we had a dark mark over our heads.
Beside him Hermione sits silent and straight-backed as an Easter Island statue. She looks faintly nauseous.
- Do you think they'll get on with it in my lifetime?
Hermione shifts in her seat. The stand is rough built, the banners hanging limp in the midday sun. Half the wizarding world stands at their feet, chatters, hisses, plays cards. There is no shade.
- Where do you think Remus went?
Tonks' hair, incandescent pink, highlights the crowd, five rows down. There is an empty seat beside her.
- Shut up.
Hermione says. Her voice is tight and strained. She doesn't look at him: her hands twisted, tight, in the fabric of her robes.
Twenty feet below, Fudge argues with an usher, inaudible, his mouth opening and closing like a feeding carp. His hands flutter through sheaves of paper. There is a microphone at the front of the stage, and a rack of seating where Ministry officials sit, dark suited, and a gallows. There are fifteen aurors, robed, and a brazier, for some reason known only to the Ministry, and a cage, and in it two figures, one standing, one slumped against the knees of his companion. Neither have moved since the cage was levitated to the back of the stand by three aurors and a tense Under-secretary.
- Haven't you any idea how wrong this is?
Hate shivers his skin.
Fudge flings up his hands: papers skim the wooden planks of the stage, flutter against the dark-clad legs of the Ministry staff, float down onto the heads of the crowd. Heads begin to turn to the front: Arabella Figes puts down her knitting. The Acting Minister stalks to the microphone, taps it impatiently with his wand.
- Wizards and Witches, Ladies and Gentlemen.
Fudge says, his voice higher than it ever sounded on the radio messages from the London Headquarters.
- I welcome you here today for the final resolution of the second war against the Dark Lord. According to wizarding tradition and in compliance with Ministry statutes 17.5, Containment of Magical Impurity, and 21.74, Disposal of Dark Materials, sentence will be carried out on Snape, Severus, formerly of Hogwarts Academy, and Malfoy, Draco, of Greater Malfoy under Lyme.
- For the crimes of murder, attempted murder, use of the Dark Arts..
Fudge's voice, never inspired, is reed-whistle thin in the hot air, but the crowd is silent, anticipatory.
The prisoners in the cage do not react. From where he sits Harry can see Draco's hair, longer than it was ever at Hogwarts, messy as a stray Persian's tail. Draco's head presses against Snape's knees, their only point of contact. Very occasionally, Draco will shiver. Snape has not twitched a muscle in the last fifteen minutes, just stares, inscrutable, over the heads of the crowd.
- ..I hereby sentence Malfoy, Draco to hang by the neck until he has died. This sentence to be witnessed and approved by all. If there is any just cause or impediment to this sentence, speak now.
Silence. Then someone in the crowd hisses. Someone else. And the sound spreads, builds, flings itself at the stage, rolls over the wooden rails and the seats and the Minister and the cage and out to the low hills and the sea beyond.
Fudge waves his hands at the crowd, frowns.
He says, inaudible.
- Quiet, quiet!
Hermione's hands twist, are held still by an effort that turns her knuckles white and deepens the frown line between her eyes.
The crowd does not silence. Fudge, eventually, turns and gestures at the waiting aurors. Wands out, they surround three sides of the cage, five feet away from the bars. Draco does not look up. The side of the cage facing the crowd, nearest the gallows, dissolves. Snape's head turns to the sound. His hands are manacled, held stiffly in front of the long line of his white robe, held just above his student's head.
The crowd has begun to chant Draco's name.
Draco does not move. His eyes are closed. Snape watches something far away, over the heads of the crowd, something only he can see.
The first of the aurors sends a golden spark at Draco's knees. The boy twitches convulsively, pulls himself further against Snape's knees. He may be crying.
Another shot. Draco's mouth opens. He might have wailed.
Golden sparks against the cold iron of the cage. Snape bends his head. His hair, lank, elf-locked, falls down over his face: Draco looks up. Snape's hands move, rest lightly against the boy's hair: his long fingers curve round Draco's cheekbones and wipe the tears from his skin.
Harry remembers a train, a child, misplaced curses, a dead man. Several dead men.
Draco drags himself to his feet: Snape's hands fall. He stumbles, walking to the gallows, but he stands for the noose, does not close his eyes as it tightens round his neck. When the floor drops from beneath his feet he does not scream, hanging, kicking, his face suffused, red for seconds, and darkening. Hanging does not break the neck but rather suffocates. Draco is four minutes, dying.
His body hangs for ten, to be certain, before it is cut down.
Harry watches Draco die.
Then he watches Snape.
Draco is almost incidental. Snape: Snape he could eviscerate with his own fingernails, tear out the man's tongue and burn it in front of his eyes, set him to walk over molten steel, pin his entrails to the wall like decorations and make him delineate the patterns with a quill of steel on his own flesh. Snape Harry hated with a selfish and possessive passion.
Harry has been leaning forward in his seat since Draco's body had been removed. He wants Snape to see him. He wants to be the last thing Snape sees in this world or out of it.
But Snape's eyes are looking, again, beyond the crowd, out into the sky, the wide blue of it deeper and stronger than ever Harry's hate.
Fudge, at last, holds up his hand for quiet and is obeyed.
- For the crimes of murder, attempted murder, use of the Dark Arts
- For the murder of Albus Dumbledore
- For conspiracy to murder Sirius Black
To number Snape's crimes, four minutes and twenty eight seconds. Harry holds his breath. Fudge's voice rises with each statement, until at the end he is nearly shouting, against the rising whispers of the crowd.
Harry's hate is a living thing, twisting in his stomach, lifting the hairs on his arms, crowding his throat, heavy and hot as a unspent thunderstorm.
- I will teach you how to stopper death.
Fudge's voice almost inaudible over the noise of the crowd.
Hermione's hands twisting in the folds of her robe.
- I hereby sentence Snape, Severus to hang by the neck until he has died.
- I trust him.
- This sentence to be witnessed and approved by all.
- Don't call me coward.
- If there is any just cause or impediment to this sentence, speak now.
- I trust him.
And Harry, flushed with power.
Powerful enough that it is easy for him to stand, to project his voice across the sound of the crowd, to startle Fudge into silence.
- I want him. He's mine to kill.
Harry, the hero the wizarding world adores, Harry, headstrong, spoilt, angry, Harry, whose every wish is fulfilled, every desire met, every whim indulged, every statement pronounced as law.
Silence. Fudge's face, white. Hermione, standing, shaking, her hands gripped on Harry's arm. Snape's eyes.
- He's mine, Fudge. By Sirius's death, by Dumbledore's, I have prior claim on this man.
Fudge turns round. The Ministry staff shuffle, consult, concur. One by one, on the stand, gray heads are nodding. Fudge gesticulates. A Wizard in an eighteenth century wig stands, bows, and makes a brief and inaudible presentation.
Snape watches the sky.
Another Ministry Wizard stands.
Harry's palms are sweating.
- What are you doing?
- Shush, Hermione, please.
Fudge drops his paperwork and stamps on it.
Someone in the crowd calls out Harry's name. And someone else. A teenager screams.
Harry gathers up the fabric of his formal robe and maneuvers past Hermione's knees, past George's, down the narrow steps. He vaults over the rail and down to the ground: walks towards the stage. The crowd parts for him. Fudge looks over his shoulder, his face strained.
Hate caresses the chambers of Harry's heart.
At the foot of the stage a hand on his arm: Remus.
Fudge spins round, taps the microphone again.
- You might need this.
The crowd takes a breath.
Something heavy, cold, twisted, pressed into his hand.
- Prior claim has been made and recognised. In the case of Wizengamot versus Snape -
He looks down
- possession is, by law, precedent Brown versus Lamont, 1875-
It is Padfoot's collar.