The chaos surrounding the final battle against Voldemort was beginning to die down and the wizarding world was returning to something approximating "normal" again – if you discounted the widespread loss of life. Something that Severus Snape was completely and utterly unable to do.

"Kill me like you killed him, you coward –"

"DON'T" screamed Snape "CALL ME COWARD!"

Was he a coward? Should he have stood up to Dumbledore or was he right about what needed to be done? Nothing that had happened since had illuminated Severus as to why Albus Dumbledore had decided that his death was necessary for success. The fact that they did eventually succeed didn't halt Severus' questioning of the decision, or of his – almost forced – acquiescence to the elder man's demand.

Now, standing before the White Tomb, Severus had even less understanding of it all. He had torn the Dark Mark from his arm, in a fashion. When Harry had finally conquered Voldemort, it had been Severus that had trapped and destroyed that seemingly omnipotent soul. He still felt it's presence every day though, no longer because of his guilt over past action or because of the ever present fear that he would be called back to Voldemort's side for another round of "Prove you love me – Crucio". He felt its presence because it was responsible, symbolically, for ripping from his life the one man who had made it possible for his last acts regarding Voldemort to have been light instead of dark. Responsible for it to be possible that he had done the ripping himself. He had killed Albus Dumbledore.

He didn't know when he had fallen to his knees before the tomb and for this moment he was less concerned about his image that ever. It was unlikely that he would be seen, in the dark depths of the night. School was not something that was currently on the agenda of the wizarding world, it would be soon but for the moment the wizarding families were snuggled in their homes counting their live blessings and mourning their dead. But if there had been anyone to see him, he wouldn't have cared.

He tried to refuse the tears, but as sob-free as he remained, the saltine droplets slid down his cheeks unchecked. He had kept the barriers up for so long, hidden himself behind his defences to the point where he wasn't even sure himself about who he really was. The bitterness and anger that ate him up when there were no more actions to direct himself into had almost convinced him that that was who and what he was – a cold, calculated manipulator destined to outlive those whom he manipulated. But that wasn't remotely true, he had always been the on who was being manipulated, he had always been the one trying to maintain an air of dignity and control in a life where he had no control and no choices either. With freedom came choices and making those choices necessitated bringing down some of the barriers. To make a choice he had to have a preference. There was no power to be sought, but power hadn't been his craving since he was a teenager. So his choices were about what he wanted. Emotions. Breaking free of his shell to properly feel again. It was unusual and difficult and did not feel remotely good, but that was a choice too – to go through this or decay in bitterness. In one way what he was doing was an easy way out, but he felt that he needed to do it.

He leant forward and stuck his trowel deep into the earth at the base of the tomb. Smoothing it over with his bare and soiled palms, he checked that no-one would be able to tell that he had filled a herb pouch and desecrated Dumbledore's resting place.

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"Those are restricted texts"

The librarian of Esylania's public library peered imperiously over her scant spectacles at him, her crowlike talons firmly melded to her skeletal hips. She reminded Severus of his mother, but he dismissed the notion with a barely suppressed shudder. Silently he passed her his credentials. She hissed briefly at the name but passed it back and tutted off on her way to annoy some other poor sod who might be interrupting the quiet calm of her desires. Severus went back to his books.

The hiss took more toll on Severus than others might have expected. The Ministry of Magic had "eventually" released documents filed with them by Dumbledore. As a one time Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, no-one had any just cause to doubt his word. The documents had been tested by every known (and secretly known) means, and had been proven to be true, just and genuine. The wizarding world knew the truth about Severus Snape. They knew he was much defiled. They knew his actions were, in law, the actions of Albus Dumbledore. They knew that Dumbledore had ordered him to kill him. But on the odd occasion when he allowed himself to be seen long enough to be recognised (damn the Daily Prophet and their war biography section), the revulsion and condemnation he briefly found in the eyes he avoided, ripped straight to his heart and bled him dry of hope. He was used to hate and preferred it to pity, but it still shrieked of misunderstanding. He had been quietly classed as a war hero, one who had acted above and beyond the call of duty, one who had helped to turn and win the war. The fact that he had been the one to ensure that Voldemort's soul did not return was skated over, mumbled or plainly ignored. Oh, there were medals – but what the fuck use were medals? He would be more bitter about it if he didn't agree with them; the same revulsion and condemnation met him every morning in the mirror.

So here he was, researching borderline forbidden texts and planning to do the unthinkable. One more journey to the dark side.

He snuck a look for the motherish dragon. She was hovering by some blonde haired teenager who was chewing on a "library-property" quill, in case he made some mark on the prized text. My God, it was a Lockhart text – not really worth the protective tutting. But Severus took his chance, slipped the book beneath his robes and swept out, dousing the library's anti-theft charms as he went. He didn't bother to put them back up. Maybe the damn spotty oik would pilfer the Lockhart book and save countless children from such brain-damaging nonsense.

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Diagon and Knockturn Alley were even more uncharacteristically quiet than usual. Many shops were still closed; some of their proprietors were no longer around to "open up", some were too distraught at their personal losses to care and some were black blinded out of respect for the dead (and some thought it looked better than opening up regardless – but who was he to comment?). The shop that Severus was headed for would not be closed though. His intimate knowledge of the persons proprieting down this predictably shady street informed him that this particular shopkeeper would make profit from anything – Severus wouldn't put it past him to return as a ghost and sell tickets to his own funeral.

He was not disappointed. Utilis Fungor almost slithered over the counter, his eyes immediately penetrating to Severus' core. He laughed, although it sounded more like a fat muggle wheezing asthmatically through mucus-ridden lungs. Severus didn't move, he didn't even need to speak – Utilis sloughed around his shelves gathering ingredients into a small wooden crate. After an interminable period he slid the crate onto the counter and raised lice-infested eyebrows to indicate that Severus should check the contents. Severus checked, nodded and waited as the legilimatic creature chewed on his yellowing tongue – apparently an important aid to addition. He rung up a figure on the till and Severus paid the extremely extortionate quantity of galleons to the shopkeeper who charged – not by item value – but by silence value. Utilis mentally read your shopping list but he also read "why".