Thank you to my wonderful friend and mentor Cecelle for her advice and proofreading. I also thank Purpleygirl for her advice.
The battle was over; the day had been won by the power of Light.
"The dead can wait; bring the injured first," a harassed Madam Pomfrey had ordered, seeing another body carried into the castle.
It seemed to Harry that he walked among the rows of injured for hours. There were so many wounded that they were lined up on cushions on the hard stone floor. Occasionally someone would reach up to him with a weak hand. He'd kneel beside them for a few minutes, offering encouragement.
Members of the staff of St. Mungo's had been called to assist the harried school matron after the last of the Death Eaters had been rounded up the Aurors. After several hours hard work, they removed the last of the injured.
Finally, the exhausted young wizard was alone at last. He leaned against a wall and slid down to the floor. His head fell forward. He desperately wanted to sleep, but something—some thought kept trying to eke its way to the front of his jumbled mind.
Head bowed down, Harry heard the movement of fabric very close to him. Looking up, he saw a drained Madam Pomfrey staring intently at him.
"Where is he?" she asked.
Confused, Harry tried to clear his befuddled mind.
"Where is the Headmaster?" the witch asked.
"He died last year," the young wizard said.
"No. Where is Professor Snape?" she insisted.
That unattainable thought finally crystallized.
Wearily, he pushed himself up off the floor and led the school matron out of the castle and across the grounds. Taking out his wand, he directed a branch to a knot on the Whomping Willow. The limbs stilled.
"He never liked it here," the witch said so softly that Harry almost missed it.
Madam Pomfrey picked up the hem of her skirts and stepped into the opening. The young wizard saw her wandlight as she disappeared into the passage.
Mentally shaking himself, he dropped into the opening and hurried to follow the glow of the wand in the witch's hand. Out of breath from the pace Madam Pomfrey had set, Harry followed her up the stairs.
Severus Snape was lying on the floor, his congealed blood surrounding his head in a grotesque halo. The black eyes were still open, looking up into the void. I should have closed them, Harry thought regretfully.
"Oh, Severus," Poppy moaned. She sank to her knees beside his body. She closed his eyes with one hand and allowed her fingers to stroke his cheek gently.
Harry watched as her fingers found the mortal wound. He wasn't prepared to see her shoulders shake silently.
With a shaky wave of her wand, Madam Pomfrey conjured up a stretcher. The witch's hand shook so violently that Harry moved to point his wand at the body, lifting it gently onto the pallet.
"I felt him die," she said sadly.
"What?" Harry asked, glancing at the still weeping matron.
Reaching up, Poppy pulled a silver hair comb from her messy coiffure. As she held it out to him, Harry saw an etched pattern on the ornament—a doe running.
Shocked, Harry glanced up at Madam Pomfrey before returning to study the comb.
"Professor Dumbledore gave this to me when You-Know-Who began to rise again. He said it was to alert me if someone needed my help," she said ruefully. "It didn't take me very long to work out that it was keyed to only one person—Severus. Albus knew he was far too proud to admit he needed help. I also noticed that it did something Albus had maybe not intended. It told me of his emotional state. I felt every bit of distress and anguish last year when he…when he…" she stifled a sob.
"Dumbledore didn't think I'd know where this little decoration came from. I did. Your mother showed it to me on her seventeenth birthday. She came in, ecstatic, and showed it to me," Poppy said with a thick voice. "She told me she found it wrapped in silver tissue paper at the bottom of her book bag."
Harry turned from the trinket for a moment and wiped his eyes.
"A doe was my mother's Patronus," Harry said, and swallowed deeply. He looked back down at Snape.
"He never received much respect when he was alive; he certainly has earned it in death," the witch said emotionally. She brushed Snape's hair from his closed eyes.
"I'll see that he's properly buried," Harry said gently.
Madam Pomfrey didn't reply; she seemed lost in her own thoughts. They walked in silence to the castle, the stretcher floating between them. As they entered the building, he heard gasps of surprise, and saw hostile looks aimed at the body he moved through the entry.
Harry's caught Kingsley Shacklebolt's attention and waved him over.
"I would like you to do something for me," Harry began, forestalling all questions.
Then, becoming aware of the sudden silence in the cavernous space, he visualized a mental Muffliato before speaking further. What he had to say, was strictly between Kingsley and himself.
His brief conversation completed, he turned back to the witch and motioned her to precede him up the stairs and down a hallway. Coming to a divide in the corridor, she turned in the direction of the infirmary.
"Do you think, as a headmaster of Hogwarts, he should go back to his office until…" he began to say, and then found himself unable to continue. He squeezed shut his eyes, willing himself to remain in control of warring emotions.
"No. He wasn't happy up there," the witch said. Harry felt Madam Pomfrey's hand touch his shoulder comfortingly. Inhaling deeply, he turned away for a moment before acknowledging the kindness of her gesture.
They continued down the passage until Harry could see the double doors of the infirmary.
Walking in, he looked around the familiar space. It feels like a lifetime ago that I was last here, he thought to himself.
When he heard Madam Pomfrey gasp, he turned sharply, suspecting some threat. Harry followed her gaze to a platform draped with a Slytherin flag.
"The house-elves must have…" Pomfrey said thickly.
Silently and slowly, the young wizard lowered Severus Snape onto the bier.
With a flourish of her wand, the witch conjured a bowl of water. Then, taking a pristinely white handkerchief from one of her pockets, she dipped the linen into the water and moved closer to the platform.
"There may still be venom…" Horrified, Harry reached out to stop her.
Madam Pomfrey brushed past him. She unbuttoned a few buttons, peeled back the robe's high collar. Slightly stunned, Harry watched as she slowly and deliberately began to clean the blood from her colleague's face and neck. Her caring hands rinsed the cloth in the basin many times; the residue tinged the water: at first a pale red, before it finally became a deep crimson.
The sight and smell of the blood caused Harry to swallow deeply against his stomach's queasiness. He forced himself to look at anything other than the dead man.
He watched the school matron vanish the contents of the bowl with a sharp wand wave and then refill it with fresh water. Madam Pomfrey made another sharp wand motion, and the bowl grew larger, with a small depression along one edge.
Realizing that she intended to wash the blood from the black hair, Harry lifted Professor Snape's head. The tactile memory of slugs came to the front of his mind. His vision darkened, and he struggled to avoid thinking of what he was holding.
"You knew him a long while, didn't you?" he asked, hoping he didn't sound as tremulous as he feared he did.
Poppy began to free the black hair of the sticky blood. Harry bit the inside of his mouth and closed his eyes.
"I've known Severus since he was a first year. He wasn't much to look at even then, just a stringy little thing. He seemed to wear a constant scowl. I often wondered what his first years, before he came to Hogwarts, were like. He seemed to have so much trouble finding a place for himself. He just never seemed to grasp how to make friends—good friends." She sighed. "Did you know his father was a Muggle?"
Harry nodded his head sharply, not trusting himself to speak.
"His father was very hard on him; he thought he could beat the magic out of his son. I think you understand." Madam paused in her ministrations and gazed off into the distance.
Harry looked at Poppy and nodded his head.
"Not that Severus' life was a great deal better here at Hogwarts. He was far too bright for his own good, and that made him seem even more peculiar to the other children. – Can you imagine what his life would have been like if his heritage had been known? His house members were already intolerant of his friendship with your mother. He would have been even more of a target had it been general knowledge."
My dad and Sirius would have definitely used it against him, Harry thought silently. He screwed up his face, trying to pretend he couldn't smell the blood.
"I think Lily was the one bright spot in his life at school. Yet that friendship, on your mother's part, dwindled and died. – It was commonly assumed that Severus came to Hogwarts knowing a phenomenal number of hexes. He didn't; he was a fast learner though," Poppy said. She softly stroked Snape's cold cheek. "What a temper you had, Severus! Combine that temper with your quick study of hexes, and you found yourself trouble quite often, didn't you?"
Harry's eyes flew to the school matron's face, as she began speaking to the man lying on the platform. He watched as she carefully carded her fingers through Snape's hair while she rinsed it.
"I saw your face when the Headmaster praised you for something. You really only wanted someone to pay attention and approve of you, didn't you? Sometimes I wish he'd have told you more often how he much he valued your advice and friendship. He was so tickled when he showed me that pair of socks you gave him that last Christmas—the striped ones with toes knit into them.
"I'm not denying he was often unfair to you. He did have a nasty habit of embarrassing you in public. Do you remember how upset you were when he contradicted you in front of the Minister of Magic and Harry about Sirius Black? He said … Well, I was a fool for having trusted his opinion more than my own intuition. I was wrong and for that I am sorry.
"Do you remember when you had to stay in the infirmary your first year?" Madam Pomfrey continued her intimate conversation with the body, before she suddenly looked up at Harry. "Take Severus' head, won't you?"
Harry carefully lifted Snape's head, lowered it back onto the platform and then looked at the too still face. The scowl was missing, as were the lines between his eyebrows. Snape looked—well, as though he were sleeping. Harry immediately thought how stupid the thought sounded.
The witch looked at Harry. "He'd been hexed in a very humiliating place and had to stay in the infirmary for a week. You can imagine, he wasn't a very good patient. For two days, no one came to visit him. Then, on the third day, in walked your mother, blowing on her knuckles, her hair pulled back into a messy plait, and her robe all akimbo".
There was a small smile on Madam Pomfrey's face as she spoke. Harry couldn't help but smile a little, too.
"She said, 'I finally managed to corner James Potter, and I punched him on the nose for what he did. May I visit with Severus awhile?' I came out a while later and there she was, sitting cross-legged next to him on the bed. Their heads were bent together as they laughed and ate Chocolate Frogs."
Harry glanced down at Severus Snape again. He couldn't imagine Snape ever laughing. Still, he reminded himself, he couldn't imagine that his own mother had once been a good friend of his menacing Potions professor.
"I know that Professor Snape was—fond of my mother," Harry said cautiously.
Madam Pomfrey Vanished the filthy water and soiled handkerchief with an efficient wave of her wand.
"Did he ever talk about my mother…?" Harry asked hesitantly.
"No. Though I know he deeply missed the loss of your mother's friendship. Don't place all the blame on her, Harry. Boys and girls mature at different rates, and sadly Severus was more emotionally immature than most boys. – All the same, I want you to know that he was inconsolable when your mother was murdered. I sat with Severus for three days; he was nearly mad with grief. He never forgot the brightest spot in his life."
Harry looked down at the Potions master's body. "I know. I asked Kingsley to arrange, with the vicar in Godric's Hollow, for Professor Snape to be buried next to my mother. It's where he always wanted to be," he said.
And Madam Pomfrey cried.