Disclaimer: The World of Harry Potter belongs to J.. I'm just borrowing it for a little while and promise to give everything back unharmed.
A/N This one-shot is a kind of loose sequel to Forsaken. Both texts are only loosely related, though, and can very well be read spearately.
As much as Forsaken came to my mind just after reading DH for the first time, Rest in peace needed to be written as I was re-reading the book in the German edition.
The German original was beta-red by TheVirginian, whose stories I highly reccomend to any German-speaking reader. Morgaine duLac went over the English version with lots of green ink. Thanks a lot, you both!
I dedicate this story to my grandfather, who passed away shortly before I wrote the original.
Rest in peace
Alcina vom Steinsberg
Slowly, the quietness of the evening sank down over Hogwarts, only disturbed by an odd whispering here, a painful moaning there and the sound of desperate tears.
Voldemort had finally been vanquished. What more reason could there be to rejoice and celebrate? But whoever remained here didn't have the heart, neither for celebrating, nor for rejoicing. The pain was too big and too heavy the loss. Too many had lost loved ones. Too many had fallen.
Soundlessly, she moved through the castle. She had made a habit of this during the last school year, dressing at nightfall in her furry habit and checking on everybody. Only in this way and form could she, undisturbed, do what she needed to do, review the day's events in her mind and have a mute conversation with her late mentor. This had helped her keep her sanity trough this most atrocious year she had ever lived through.
Today, though, her heart felt infinitely heavy. Voldemort was slain, but to which price?
It hadn't been the first war she had been forced to live trough, but still ... had her feline body possessed the ability, she wouldn't have been able to hold back the tears any longer.
She had been strong all the time, had held on since this morning, leading, inspiring, powerfully guiding all these people looking up to her. She never wanted this, but Albus had taught her, had shown her how to do it. Oh Albus...
Suddenly, it became too much. Minerva came to an abrupt halt. Her body shifted, stretched and expanded to its human form. Mentally and pyhsically exhausted, she staggered against the wall, searched for the stone window seat and sank down. Albus...
Finally, the tears came. She cried, cried for her dear friend and mentor, the man who had been her surrogate father. She cried for every single victim of this war and of the spawn of evil they had fought for so long.
She cried for a long time, her forehead pressed against the cold pane, allowed herself a rare and precious moment of private emotions, allowed the tears to flow freely, until she finally ran dry. Not because she was done crying, but because her body refused to produce more fluids, exhausted and tired as she was.
Only now did she find the courage to do what she had procrastinated so far, to do what had seemed impossible so far, too dire and painful to be executed, let alone to be contemplated.
Bone weary, she struggled up and, feeling every single day of her live, dragged herself up to the round office she knew so well. She had spent so much time in there, once with Albus, her mentor and guide, and later on with the one who had utterly abused her trust and hurt her so abominably.
At first, she had held her trust against all appearances, as it had been Dumbledore's wish. In time, real trust had come from it, and a shy, quiet friendship had grown between the stern Transfiguration teacher and the young Potions instructor. And then everything had been shattered by one single green flash. Shattered like her heart that broke that night, when the shocking words were spoken and killed everything. Killed their hope and the source of their strength, the source of strength for so many people.
The stony guards stared grimly at her, her overtired brain searching in vain for the last password.
"Let me pass", she begged. "I don't mean any harm."
To her surprise, they let her in, though the revolving stairs remained still. Step by step she made her way up, her feet like lead.
The circular, high Headmaster's office was filled with an unusual and rather unique solemnity. Illuminated only by a few candles, the otherwise dark room gave the impression of a chapel.
How strange that she hadn't notice the similarity ever before, she thought. But then, the office always had been full of life, the current owner being present or not. But today it was absolutely quiet and oddly empty.
Minvera soon discovered the reason for it: every single portrait was deserted. All former Headmasters had left, all but for him.
The last Headmaster of Hogwarts was laid out in state in the center of the room.
Warily, Minerva stepped closer.
Now, she knew. He had never betrayed them, had never broken the trust confided in him by Dumbledore. No, he had unerringly served the Light all that time, and in the end he had given his own life for it. If only she had continued to trust him, if only she had not been so blind and close-minded, if only she had tried to look behind the appearances...
Minerva took off her glasses and rubbed her tired eyes. And suddenly, an unexpected and at the same time strangely familiar scent reached her senses. Only now did she realise the carpet of flowers arranged around Severus's body. What the -?
She looked closer. No, no flowers, or rather, not only.
Severus had been laid out on a catafalque covered by a dark cloth, hands crossed over his chest and closed around his wand. All around him, a plethora of plants and parts of plants, stems, leaves and blossoms, fresh and dried, had been arranged in a complicated pattern, evoking a magnificent and rather familiar image.
Minerva bent to get a closer look. She recognized wildflowers from the area around the castle, plants from the Forbidden Forest and magical plants and herbs from everywhere. Common herbs lied alongside healing herbs and blossoms and bizarrely formed roots. And Minerva realized that they were all potions ingredients, were tokens for what had filled so much of his life and had been precious and dear to him.
Marvelling, she slowly rounded the catafalque and finally recognized the pattern of the unusual adornment: the Hogwarts Coat of Arms.
She lowered her head in shame.
Before Severus, every Headmaster known to the school had been laid out by the four Heads of Houses on the Coat of Arms of the school. This one, though, who had probably been the most notable of all the Headmasters and certainly the one with the most difficult task, had been forgotten in the Shrieking Shack. It had been some pupils who had remembered him and taken up the task of bringing him back to the castle. And it had been the house-elves who had laid him out here for his final rest.
Now she understood, too, who was responsible for this strange kind of decoration: it was custom among the house-elves to adorn their dead with the things they loved in life and had been important for them. This honour they had also bestowed upon their master, faithful to him to his death.
Minerva returned her gaze to the quiet form in the center of this beautiful work. His features looked relaxed and peaceful. Had he finally found the peace that had been denied him in lifetime? She sincerely hoped so, hoped that his expression was the answer to her unasked question.
Suddenly, a warm feeling rushed through her, bringing a sad smile to her lips. There it was again, the love she had always felt for this impossible man, the love she had buried so deep within herself during the atrocious last year. Not the love for a mate, that had never happened, but the love for a good friend, a companion, a confidant. Because that was what he had been to her, all these years until this day on the Astronomy tower.
She was glad about the endeavour of the house-elves, thankful for their wisdom and generosity, that they had taken care of Severus according to their own, ancient custom.
Why, oh why had she not banked on their judgement? Why had she not realised that the acceptance of the house-elves, of the ghosts and of the castle itself had been the clearest proof of his innocence? After all, there had been many times she had relied on their wisdom and intuition.
But she had not wanted to trust. She had wanted to believe in his guilt, she had been too small-minded and of too little faith.
Endless pain and bitter remorse ravaged her soul, and again the tears came, hot and scorching.
"Forgive, oh, forgive, my heart", she whispered and watched the still face before her intently, as if searching for an answer. "Forgive me."
A single hot tear found its way down and fell on his marble cheek. And Minerva bent and kissed him gently on forehead, cheeks and lips, sensing that he had forgiven her, and that he had found his peace.
The same peace that she now felt flooding through her, quiet and warm. Her body changed again, seemed to melt and shrink. Her feline self jumped nimbly on the catafalque and laid down at his feet to keep him vigil.
A/N: It rests to be discussed whether Snape served the light for itself or searched for redemption. Let it be said that in this tale, Minerva's thoughts and feelings are voiced, or rather, how I imagine them. I don't suppose that she had a full understanding of everything at the moment of this scene.