AN: This is my first HP fic, so feedback is very much appreciated. Not beta'd, so all mistakes are mine.
Large was his bounty, and his soul sincere,
Heaven did a recompense as largely send:
He gave to Misery all he had, a tear,
He gained from Heaven ('twas all he wish'd) a friend.
From The Epitaph
by Thomas Gray (1718-71)
Chapter 1 – Good Night, Sweet Prince
The green eyes found the black, but after a few seconds, something in the depths of the dark pair seemed to vanish, leaving them fixed, blank, empty. The hand holding Harry thudded to the floor, and Snape moved no more.
He remained on the floor -- cold, paralyzed, unseeing. The room seemed to receed as his senses faded. A voice reached his ears as if from a great distance. "Lord Valdemort is merciful...", he heard the the Dark Lord say. If he would have had any strength left in his body, a modicum of will, Severus Snape would have sneered at the irony of those words.
He idly wondered how many fools would rush forward to prostrate themselves at the Dark Lord's feet, expecting to be spared and rewarded, to be met instead with swift, mercyless death – or worse. He couldn't judge them for he himself had once – it seemed like a lifetime ago – been a believer. His fathomles eyes gleamed for an instant as he remembered how he had swallowed every untruth and empty promise that had dripped from the Dark Lord's lips. No, he couldn't judge them, and he couldn't save them. As things were, all he could do was pity them.
Severus was barely aware of when the others left the room and he remained alone. Time appeared to stand still for him as he hovered between this world and – what? He had never given much consideration to what would happen to his soul after he died. If there was any fairness, any kindness in the world, then he would slip into dark oblivion and be no more. And even though Severus didn't believe in fairness, and he had never known kindness, he trusted the darkness when it came, welcomed it, wraped it around himself like a shroud. It would not be long now. He imagined he could feel the snake's venom coursing through his body, racing toward his heart, a heart already weakened by massive blood loss. It would be quick then. Almost there...
Something touched him. At first he thought he had only imagined it, but then there was a loud crack next to his ear followed by what felt like long, insistent fingers clawing at his face. He tried to recoil, but the serpent's venom had left him paralyzed, blind, defenseless. There was a flutter of excited chatter, but he was too far gone to make out any words. And then he couldn't breath, something was winding its way down his throat. The heart that had been barely beating a moment before now palpitated wildly and panic threatened to overwhelm him. A burning sensation began in his stomach and quickly spread to his limbs, engulfing the man's very being in a raging inferno of whirling dizinnes and blinding pain, not unlike what he had experienced under the Cruciatus curse.
The silent scream that built in Severus' chest died suddenly in his lips as the floor vanished and his body was whisked away into a seemingly endless void. His insides tumbled and a whistling noise rang in his ears. He was falling at an alarming rate of speed, faster and faster into emptiness, into nothingness, into – Hell? Severus' last coherent thought was that he was tired – tired of life, tired of death, tired of thinking and feeling and wondering. He had done all he could and all he had wanted in return was peace. Life wasn't fair, and apparently, neither was death.
Outside a battle raged, but inside the dilapidated room all was quiet and unnaturally still, as if Death itself had set up residence, daring anyone to challenge its claim. Only silence greeted the man slowly regaining consciousness on the ramshackle bed. Too tired and weak to attempt movement, he strained his ears searching for any sound that would give him a clue as to his ultimate fate. Nothing. A peaceful numbness cradled him for a moment and Severus tentatively allowed his body to relax. He was about to slip back into unconsciousness when the sound of someone Apparating startled him back into full awareness. Instinctively, he reached for his wand, only to find that the meager effort of trying to move his hand was enough to send a wave a nausea coursing through his body. It made no difference, his wand was probably gone.
He remained immobile, resisted the urge to turn his head in the direction of the sound. Whoever had come to deliver the coupe de grace would have to do it without the satisfaction of seeing the apprehension in Severus' eyes.
His resolve faltered when he felt a small someone (or something) jump next to him on the bed. A pair of eyes, large as saucers, hovered above him for a moment before the elfin face relaxed into a wide grin.
"Master Snape is awake! Winky did good!"
The high pitch voice grated on Severus' ears and he involuntarily winced.
"Oh, Master is not well yet. What can Winky bring Master to make him better?"
"Water." Snape croaked, recognizing that the elf presented no immediate threat.
With the speed and efficiency of someone who was not only experienced in service, but actually enjoyed it, the elf leaped from the bed and returned a moment later with the requested water. Snape drank greedily, stopping only when the effort of holding his head upright became too much.
A dozen questions flooded his mind, but one loomed foremost. "The Dark Lord?"
The elf gave a small shudder. "Dead."
Snape nodded his approval. "And the Potter boy?"
"Harry Potter killed He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Winky is happy that Harry Potter is alright."
All other questions would have to wait as exhaustion overtook Severus and he drifted into a fretful sleep.
End of Chapter 1