Snape made no motion as he heard Harry walk away. To be honest, he didn't have the strength, even if he'd wanted to move. The boy had been a thorn in his side for the past seven years. Now everything the older man had worked for was on the boy's shoulders. It was a humiliating irony. Dumbledore would be pleased, though. He had carried out his last command. Severus only hoped it would be enough. He could do nothing else now. He felt the snake's venom paralyzing him, leaving him unable to breathe. He only hoped he would be allowed to see Lily in the afterlife. A faint fluttering sound reached his ears as even that faded to nothing.

A loud, keening cry was the next thing that reached the former spy's senses. To his surprised, Severus discovered he was breathing. He slowly opened his eyes and blinked. He had never expected to see the Shrieking Shack in the hereafter. The keening cry struck his ears again and he winced. He turned his head. A flash of red met his eyes. "What -- ?" he muttered, scowling. He sat up and looked around. This time, he found an explanation for the ear-piercing sound. A vividly red bird stood next to where his head had lain.

The realization struck him like Potter's Impediment Jinx. He was still alive. The Dark Lord hadn't successfully killed him after all. "Thank you, Fawkes," he whispered, getting to his feet. His wand lay where he had dropped it when Voldemort had dropped Nagini's cage onto him. Severus stooped to pick it up. He ran down the stairs and into the tunnel. He had to get back to the school as soon as possible. No matter what Dumbledore said, he had no intention of letting Lily's son throw his life away, not to mention the other students or professors who would undoubtedly have stayed to fight. He disillusioned himself as he ran. Both sides would kill him if they saw him.

The former professor ran the short distance from the Womping Willow to the castle. To his surprise, he saw no Death Eaters around the school. Severus raised his wand toward the nearest school window. "Muffliatto, Diffindo," he whispered, watching the glass shatter and fall to the floor with a loud crash no one else would hear. He climbed through the window to be greeted by the sight of Bellatrix Lestrange's dead body. Relief flooded through along with heightened urgency. So far, their resistance seemed to have been successful. Yet how much time had passed since he had given Harry those memories? Severus left the body and ran on.

The sounds that greeted his ears as he approached the Great Hall were quite different from what he had expected. The fighting was learly over, for there were no spells being shouted back and forth. Neither, however, were there the sounds of raucous celebration that would have accompanied a victory by the Death Eaters. Cautiously, he glanced into the large room. Voldemort's body lay on the floor. Students, teachers, and Order members gathered in mingled triumph and grief. Yet there was no sign of Harry among them, either living or dead.

Severus slipped away quietly. Without thinking about it, he turned toward the Headmaster's Office. He must not have been watching where he was going, for he found himself falling against the wall. A brown-haired boy stood staring at him. Knowing it was now pointless, Severus quickly undid the Disillusionment Charm and held his wand at the ready.

"You!" the boy exclaimed angrily. "You double-crossing, treacherous snake-lover!" His hand moved toward his wand. "I should kill you now instead of letting the Order do it!"

"You really don't want to do this, Longbottom," Snape replied darkly. "If you were correct, I could have killed you by now, or worse."

Neville resolutely pulled out his wand and pointed it at Snape. "Expelliarmus," he said, his voice low and deadly.

Severus hastily erected a Shield Charm as his former student spoke. "Impeditmenta," he whispered, unwilling to use a more aggressive spell without need. Not for the first time, he wished he could disapparate on the school grounds. To leave, he would have to turn his back on the boy who was still clearly determined to detain him until someone from the Order arrived to arrest him. He dodged a Trip Jinx and sighed. "Stupefy," he said firmly and watched as the young man sank senseless to the floor.

He grimaced distastefully. Somehow, the ex-spy doubted this duel would improve his standing with the Order of the Phoenix. At least, it would seem, Harry had not shared those memories with anyone else. Not yet, that is. A sudden thought jolted through him. Had Harry kept them to himself simply because he had died before he'd had the chance to tell someone?

Severus strode away from the unconscious student and walked toward the Slytherin common room. If Kreacher was still alive and at Hogwarts, that would be the most likely place to find him. That elf, of all people, would be the most likely to know if Harry lived and least likely to kill Severus on sight.

Severus glanced around the green-lit room. At first, there was no sign of the crusty, stubborn elf. The Potions Master turned to go up to the boys dormitory. Just then, a loud crack announced the arrival of a house elf and triumphant cheering identified the elf as Kreacher. Severus spun quickly and faced the elf. "Kreecher, is Harry still alive?" he asked, urgency making his voice sharper than he intended it to be.

Glee erupted on Kreacher's face, causing the Potions Master's gut to clench. "Master Harry lives!" the house elf crowed. "Master Regulus would be pleased that Kreacher's master has avenged his death. Master Harry is almost as good a wizard as Master Regulus was!"

Severus released the breath he was holding, hiding his surprise. "Good," he said evenly. "Tell him to meet me at Spinner's End, Kreacher. Tell him and no one else."

The elf eyed him cautiously. "Perhaps the Headmaster should tell Master Harry himself," he countered.

The professor took a breath, forcing himself to stay calm, not to react. "I would if I could, Kreacher," he said with restrained impatience. "I don't have time to find him before I leave. Oh, and Kreacher, please tell him to keep those memories secret."

After a moment, Kreacher nodded slowly. Very well, the elf aquiesed. "But do not expect Master Harry to come. Kreacher knows the Headmaster help He Who Must Not Be Named."

Severus winced at those words. No matter how much time had passed since he had turned against the Dark Lord, he had once been a Death Eater and people had died because of it. He had caused Lily's death then. The guilt had yet to fade. Forcibly, he thrust those thoughts aside, reaching for the protective anger he always relied on when his thoughts turned ther around other people. "So did you, as I recall," he retorted coldly. "And a man died because of it."

The house elf glared. "If the Headmaster is going to speak like that, Kreacher might not give his message to Master Harry," he threatened.

Severus forced himself to relax. "I will stop, Kreacher. Just tell Harry" A shadow moved in a doorway. The wizard stepped to the fireplace ajd flooed to what had been the DADA teacher's office. He stepped to the window and jumped out. As he started to fall, he transformed into his Animagus form. Severus rose in the air, circling the castle once before flying away from the school.