Chapter One

When his eyes snapped open, Severus Snape found himself staring up at a ruined ceiling in a darkened room. Remembrance and a faint sense of triumph flowed through him. He was in the Shrieking Shack, injured but alive, and blissfully alone. He'd been betrayed by the Dark Lord and attacked by his pet snake. Although he'd hoped to avoid it, such an attack wasn't exactly unexpected.

The Dark Lord was loyal to no one but himself. Sooner or later all his followers became his victims as he single-mindedly pursued his own personal desires and goals. Severus had watched from the side lines as many others, apparently loyal to the core, had been betrayed and discarded like unwanted trash, and he'd learned from his observations. Although he was a bit surprised it had taken as long as it had to happen to him, he'd been ready, and thus he was still breathing when so many others were not.

He frowned in concentration, trying to recapture the recent but still somewhat elusive past. He'd spoken to Potter. The image of Lily's eyes staring down at him loomed large in his thoughts. Had he told him what he needed to know? Had he given up his memories? Yes. Yes, he was sure that he had, and the boy took them. Surely he'd looked at them by now… believed them. Surely they'd matter. Only time would tell for certain. Right now, he had other things to worry about.

His mouth and neck throbbed to the beat of his heart. His tongue probed a sharpness where a tooth used to be. Though he didn't remember doing it, he must have swallowed the antivenin he'd concocted. If he hadn't, he wouldn't be lying here aching and uncertain; he'd be dead. Given the choice, he'd take the pain and be glad of it.

Slowly he brought his hand up to the side of his neck. He winced at the raw ache his probing produced and stared askance at the amount of blood coating his fingers when he pulled them back. First order of business was to stop the bleeding. After all the trouble he'd gone through, the last thing he wanted was to bleed to death in this hovel.

He groped at his robe for his wand, finally locating it on the floor by his side where it had fallen from nerveless fingers after he'd given his memories to Potter. With a sense of relief, he brought it to his throat and whispered a spell to seal the wound and begin the process of healing.

Dragging himself into a sitting position, he leaned against the wall. From an inner pocket, he removed a roll of gauze and a vial. With shaking fingers, he uncorked the vial and drank the contents, sighing at the welcome warmth that began to spread through his body and the relief from pain that followed. Then he used his wand to cut a strip off the gauze and affixed it to his throat as best he could. He'd need to do a better job later, but this would have to do for now.

Once he was finished, he dropped his trembling arm to his side and heaved a sigh. All he wanted was to give in to his exhaustion, close his eyes and sleep, but that would be a mistake. He had to discover what had happened while he lay oblivious to the world around him. Sooner or later someone would no doubt come to investigate, looking for him or simply looking, either way, waiting for them to show up wouldn't be wise. There was no guarantee who'd come or what they'd do to him if they found him. No, if he was found, it had to be at a time of his choosing and under circumstances that were to his advantage or everything he'd gone through would be for nothing.

First he had to discover whether or not the fighting was still going on, and if it was over, who won... Potter or the Dark Lord? For despite all the others taking part in the battle, he knew that in the end, it would come down to a confrontation between those two and those two alone. If Potter won, as unlikely as it seemed that he could, there was at least the tenuous possibility that Severus could live again as a free man, could finally have the life that fate and his own misguided actions had denied him.

On the other hand, if the Dark Lord had triumphed, then Severus knew that he'd better head for the furthest corner of the globe as quickly as humanly possible. Because if his former Master discovered that he was still alive, he'd remedy that error with swift finality, and his chances of escaping death a second time were very poor indeed.

In any case, continuing to sit on a blood spattered floor and wonder wasn't going to give him any answers. So, with a groan, Severus pushed himself to his feet using the wall for assistance, and as soon as the resulting wave of dizziness subsided, he began to move carefully toward the long, dark tunnel that would take him out onto the castle grounds.

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Remus Lupin heaved a sigh of frustration and gazed around him at the muddy, churned up remains of what had once been an immaculate lawn surrounding the towering walls of Hogwarts castle. Two Aurors trudged slowly in his direction, levitating the dead body of one of their fellow combatants between them. As the men reached him, he put out a hand to try to stop them and flinched involuntarily as they passed right through him without pause, continuing on toward the castle as if nothing had happened.

This grim scenario had been repeated over and over again ever since he'd been blasted from his body and irresistibly drawn to Harry's side during the battle. Believing himself to be newly dead, he'd stood with James and Lily and Sirius as one of their company. He'd spoken with them and had reluctantly come to accept his fate, but when it was over, when Harry released them all to go on, the others vanished while he found that no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't follow.

He'd tried to talk to Harry again, but once the others had disappeared, the boy acted as if he couldn't see him anymore, and apparently he wasn't the only one. Over the next few hours, Remus had tried to interact with anyone and everyone he met, no matter which side of the battle they'd fought on. He'd tried talking, screaming, and casting spells which appeared to have no effect; he'd even tried physically throwing himself at others, but nothing he did made any difference.

No one could hear him. No one could see him. No one could touch him or feel him try to touch them. He was utterly, miserably, inexplicably alone, able to see but not interact with the world around him, and he didn't have the slightest idea how it had happened or what he could do about it. If this was death, it was nothing like he expected.

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Minerva McGonagall straightened up and pressed a hand to the ache in the small of her back. Weary beyond measure, she looked bleakly at the carnage that surrounded her. Everywhere she turned there were scars, on the lawn, on the castle facade, and in the ancient stones of its forecourt. But the hardest ones to bear were those in the eyes and on the bodies of the survivors who moved as if waking from a nightmare they hadn't quite managed to banish from their thoughts.

The most hated, most brutal person she'd ever known was finally gone forever. Dead at the hands of a young man who'd taken on a burden far beyond that which should have ever been expected of one so young. That he'd succeeded was undoubtedly cause to celebrate, and many had wasted no time in doing so, but Minerva didn't have the heart for it… at least not yet. The cost of his success was too immediate and far too high.

So much had been destroyed, so many had died, and for what? The vanity and ruthless greed of a single arrogant individual. She'd known the young Tom Riddle, had disliked and distrusted him, but never in her wildest imaginings could she have predicted the horrors he would unleash on her world. Now, as she stood and contemplated those horrors, she found herself fervently wishing that he'd never been born.

"Minerva?" a quiet voice pulled her out of her grim reverie.

She turned to see a pale and shaken Irma Pince standing beside her. An ugly bruise covered the left side of the librarian's face and her lip was cracked and slightly bloody. "Irma, are you all right?" Minerva asked in concern. "You should go and see Poppy."

Irma shook her head. "I've already been. She's got plenty of others to worry about who're much worse off than I am. Once I get to sit down and rest for awhile I'll be fine. Poppy sent me to find you. She wants to house the dead in one of the ground floor classrooms for the time being and use another as a temporary infirmary. She says she doesn't want to transport some of the injured too far without treatment."

Minerva nodded. "That makes sense. I'll go and talk to her. Is she in the west wing?"

"Yes, across from the classroom the centaur was using."

"All right. You go and get some rest." She briefly grasped Irma's arm and found the solid warmth of the contact heartening.

"I will, just as soon as I go and fetch some bandages for Poppy, then I have to go and check on the library. With all that's gone on around here, who knows what's happened to it." With a brief nod, Irma turned and headed for the main entrance of the castle. Minerva watched her go for a moment, then she, too, headed wearily back across the courtyard.