The Remains of the Prince
When the wind stopped, there was only silence.
Only the occasional hustle from downstairs indicating rodent inhabitants and the creaking of floorboards demystified the motionless, dusty gloom through which a single robed figure stepped into the dimly lit main room of the silent shack. Broken sunbeams shed some light on every dust particle in the room – over the carpet and the rampaged grandfather's chair, as well as the shabby grand piano in the corner, bleached by both, old age and dust – and made a recognition of changes within the familiar dwelling temporarily impossible.
The figure stepped forward slowly, distrusting, as though taking the former presence of great evil in this room as a reason to falter and consider each of her steps again and again. She was prodding some of the shabby pieces of furniture with her wand, tentatively, as though tempted to blast them away but not daring to.
"Where are you…" she muttered, her voice raw and damaged as after several hours' continuous crying. "He said… it must have been here…"
Another few steps took the woman, elderly in appearance but not yet old, towards the back of the room, where an overturned dinner table separated a corner from the rest of the room as though a living being had dwelled there, a long time ago, before the end of the war.
The woman's gaze glided over a few particularly nasty slashes in the grey armchair beside the barred window and then along the carpet where, with a muffled squeak of horror and pain, she discovered a pair of black wizarding boots covering the lifeless feet of a body attached to them.
The body, belonging to a man, was lying sprawled on the floor, slightly twisted, his black eyes staring emptily at the room's wrecked ceiling. Black and expressionless, as they had always been, but indicating, only just, that the last thing they had taken in had been of supreme beauty.
Severus Snape had died happy.
The woman sank to her knees and exhaled a small sound of despair.
"Severus!" she managed, her voice shaking uncontrollably. "Severus, I'm sorry! I am so sorry! If I had only known – if you had only let me know…"
Tears began to drop from her cheeks into her lap and a shaking, parchment-like hand glid over the motionless man's face, his chest, and eventually his arms.
"I spoke to Albus's portrait," the woman sobbed. "Straight away when I realised what Potter had achieved. To learn whether he would come back, you see…"
Her mouth formed a few more words, but her voice failed. Eventually, the woman was forced to content herself with stroking her colleague's pale hand, sobbing soundlessly, her mouth now merely forming the syllables of his name.
She took the greasy-haired head into both hands, pressing her face against what had once been a warm and comforting cheek… it still had not entirely cooled down… or had rigor mortis already passed? Impossible. Two hours since Potter's sudden and surprising revelation that Severus had, in fact, been the man she had always taken him for. Two hours since the news had reached Hogwarts's new headmistress's ear that Severus Snape had, in fact, been working for Dumbledore and, towards the end, his portrait all along.
Minerva pressed a hand against the younger man's chin, trying to move his jaw. It was perfectly flexible. She frowned. Her hand wandered along the pale face, found his eyes, and closed them easily. And yet, the eyelids were the first to yield to rigor mortis, sometimes only an hour after a person's death. There were spells, which prevented this, but people did not usually go through the trouble of casting them during a war. Fascinated, Hogwarts's temporary headmistress allowed her hands to wander over the pallid skin a little further down, having to replace her grip, a little firmer, under Snape's head.
Her little finger started tingling and Minerva blinked, again, in surprise. Ongoing magic in this room? Impossible. The enemy had left it long ago, as had Severus's life and soul through the most evil of all curses… And with the Dark Lord finished, who was there to maintain any magic cast on or around Severus's body?
Minerva peered alongside her arm at the part of the younger man's back just below her fingers, where blood began to ooze when she renewed her grip yet again. Aghast, horror-stricken, she tried to push him into a sitting position, her brain running wild with confusion. A wound? But the curse left no wounds. Left no sign at all of what had happened to the victim. And yet, here were several deep gashes, large enough to make anyone bleed to death within minutes, which had been clumsily healed by what seemed random bits of magic by either a very incompetent healer or, Minerva suddenly thought with an indescribable jolt of hopeful fear in her stomach, Severus himself, desperate to do something to make the blood flow stop.
The headmistress looked at her colleague's pale face once more, suddenly realising that, if the magic continuing to tingle around Severus's wounds was, in fact, his own, he could for all his current appearance be not as dead as it had initially seemed. Just for a second, her heart seemed to skip a beat at the shock and the sudden massiveness of thoughts racing through her thoroughly befuddled mind.
Then, everything happened very quickly. Minerva was not someone who hesitated in the face of imminent danger, of course. A Gryffindor tended to leap into action, whether such action was for the best or not. Severus needed help, regardless of how far he was already gone. If there was even the tiniest trace of a chance that it was blood loss the Dark Lord had intended for his least faithful servant, rather than the easy way of the Avada Kedavra curse… well, then she, Minerva, had to take it!
With sudden firmness, the shaking witch gripped her lifeless colleague's body, clasping his chest as though to keep him from drowning. She did not know how much time there was, but that there was time, perhaps enough to regain what the war had threatened to take, the headmistress refused to doubt. Snape's wounds were already leaking again when she took out her wand with difficulty and placed it squarely upon the younger man's chest, ready to disapparate.