Disclaimer: Everything you recognize belongs to the inimitable JK Rowling and Co, who are kind enough to allow us to play with her toys. Everything else is mine. No moneys made, no moneys sought
A/N So this is an idea that's been whirling about my mind for a few months.. I have a vague idea of where it's going, but it's gonna be a bit of an experiment... dealing with issues I've never written about before. I don't want to say much more than that; anything you need to know will be explained as it moves along.
As always, I love to hear your thoughts.
This is the quote which inspired the whole story: "If a victory is told in detail, one can no longer distinguish it from a defeat." ~ Sartre
Chapter 1: Over
It was over. That was the first thing Severus Snape thought as he limped back towards the castle from the Shrieking Shack. Bodies littered the grounds, smoke and the putrid stench of death filled the air, coating his throat with its vile essence. He tried not to look down, tried not to identify the students, faculty and Order members spread across the grounds like a mass offering to some grotesque and insatiable god. Aurors, Mediwizards and various officials ran back and forth, paying him no mind - a fact which he found most curious. He needed to find someone - Minerva or Dumbledore, ideally, and discern what had happened the previous night. He picked up his pace, as though that fact alone would ensure that they had been spared the apparent carnage.
He tried not to dwell on the fact that he had survived, tried not to think of her, the girl who had refused to let him fully pay his debt. Snape had been counting on this; he had been counting on fulfilling his obligation to that other Gryffindor, paying off his debt, giving what was owed. His life had been forfeit for twenty years; even Dumbledore, at the end, no longer pretended there was any hope of Snape surviving. His only remaining obligation had been to ensure that Voldemort remained ignorant of the Elder Wand's true mastery; let the Dark Lord kill him and face Potter unaware of the wand's true allegiance. That was it; perhaps the simplest task Snape had ever undertaken on behalf of the headmaster. And he did it; he performed as he was meant to and was more than prepared to welcome the sweet respite of death, the comfort it would bring him from this torment that had been his wretched life.
And then that chit! That insufferable swot of a girl had, against his will, plied him with Dittany and Essence of Murtlap, poured three vials of anti-venin into him, shoved a bezoar down his throat and rapidly and efficiently healed his wounds. The chit was so sure of herself, her movements quick and mechanical as though she'd spent her life healing fatal wounds. She pried his worthless, fucking soul from the clutches of Death and he was not what anyone would call grateful for it.
He made his way up the steps, through the courtyard and towards the Great Hall. Again, no one paid him any mind and he felt a flicker of hope that perhaps he had, in fact, died and was now just a spirit or some other manner of being.
So much for that, he thought wryly, turning in the corridor to face the Headmistress.
"Oh, Severus!" Minerva rushed up to him and gripped him in a tight embrace, ignoring Snape's protesting expression. "We thought you were dead! We won, Severus! We won!" she babbled incoherently. "Harry saw you die! He told us! "
"Yes, well, as with so many things, clearly Potter was mistaken," he drawled, disentangling himself from the woman's embrace.
"Thank goodness!" she replied, although a twinge of melancholy seeped into her eyes. "You've nothing to fear, Severus. Albus has already spoken with the Ministry and the Head of the Auror office. They will not be persecuting you," she finished on a more subdued note.
"Hmm," he intoned in clear disinterest. "Where is Dumbledore?"
"He's in the Great Hall. That's where we've put the poor souls who did not make it. Madam Pomfrey has a makeshift hospital between the infirmary and the courtyard. The parents will begin coming in soon to retrieve their children."
"I will speak with Albus. Let me know if you require anything from me."
"Of course, of course."
He nodded his head to the witch and turned towards the Great Hall.
"Severus?" He turned back to her. "I am happy that you survived," she said sincerely, brows creased with concern and fatigue.
He inclined his head in thanks before turning back around.
Severus walked into the Great Hall, surveying the scene before him, managing to somehow contain his horror at the sheer number of bodies laid out across the hall. He saw a cluster of red and turned. Arthur, Molly, Percival, and Ginerva Weasley were clutching one another in a tight, tense ball of grief. The youngest Weasley was wailing almost uncontrollably as her father tried desperately to soothe the lot of them. Severus' eyes turned to the ground next to them and saw it. All but the two standing Weasley children had been killed; his eyes glanced over the elder two, the twins, then the youngest boy. Looking at Ronald, his eye was pulled to the body next to him and he puffed out a breath.
Potter. Potter was gone. Dead; laying there beside his friend, glasses still perched on his face. Severus felt a familiar stab of failure in his gut. It had all been for Potter. Every sacrifice, every bout of the Dark Lord's displeasure, he had endured for her boy. The boy-who-lived, the boy-with-her-eyes. And for what? It was pointless; the entire victory was pointless, if the boy did not live to see it.
Severus glanced next to the young wizard. He'd almost missed her. Granger was sitting on the ground by Potter's body; her knees were drawn up to her chin, arms wrapped around them, gripping her wand like a lifeline. Her face was blank, eyes unblinking as she stared at the lifeless bodies of her friends. The girl's hair was an abomination of knots and tangles flying around her head; caked blood and dirt covered her from head to toe and Severus could see hastily healed slashes and wounds scattered across her face, neck and hands. She was unmindful of everyone, taking no notice of him or the wailing Weasleys. She just sat there, staring at the bodies, so still, he wondered how she was even breathing. He shook his head to clear it, turned and looked for Dumbledore.
He made his way over to Albus and stood quietly at his side waiting for him to finish speaking to some wizard who had Ministry stink all over him. When he was done, he turned to Severus with a weary smile, the ever-present twinkle completely absent from those ancient blue eyes. He laid a hand on Snape's forearm and led him to a quiet side of the room.
"Severus," he began. "I am happy to see you, my boy."
"I wish I could say I was happy to be here, Albus, but I never enjoy lying to you," the potions master replied, black eyes scanning the room to avoid looking at the man.
The old wizard smiled kindly at him. "It's over, Severus. The price was high." Dumbledore glanced over at the Weasleys. "Much too high, but at least it's over now. Tom is no more, Harry was successful."
"I'm delighted to hear it," Snape said, rather unconvincingly.
"Do you want to tell me how you survived? The last Patronus you sent indicated that it had gone as we expected."
"Indeed, it did," Snape replied, crossing his arms uncomfortably. "I do not wish to speak of it here."
"Fine," he said with a good-natured pat on his arm. "It's been a trying time for us all. I know I ask too much of you, Severus -"
"What do you need, Albus?" he replied eagerly. He needed to do something other than stand here looking at dead students.
"I'm sure Poppy will be needing a great deal of potions as St. Mungo's is quite overrun with the injured. Those less severely so will remain at the castle for the time being -"
Snape nodded and cut in, "I will begin brewing immediately."
"Thank you, Severus."
He nodded to the old wizard, turned around and made his way out of the room, eyes on the ground, avoiding eye contact with anyone he passed on his way to the dungeons.
Six hours and four dozen vials of medicinal potions later, Severus returned to the Great Hall in search of Poppy. He needed to get an updated list of what she had in stock in order to know which potions he should concentrate on in his next bout of brewing.
He stepped into the Hall, noting how it had cleared out substantially since that morning. Doing a scan of the room he saw what seemed to be the blasted Weasleys still laying in the same configuration. The remaining family members were nowhere to be seen, but the bodies remained as they had been earlier, albeit covered over now. The Granger girl was still there as well, still in the same exact position. Had they forgotten her? Where had the Weasleys gone? Surely they would have taken Granger with them, having all but adopted her following her parents' death a few years back. But there she was, still with her arms wrapped about her drawn up knees, staring blankly at the covered bodies of the boys. Severus looked around and caught sight of McGonagall.
"Minerva?" he said, coming up to her side. "Why is the Granger girl still sitting there? Where are Arthur and Molly?"
The older witch turned to him with a wide-eyed, frantic look. Her long, gray hair - usually pulled back so primly - was still in disarray around her shoulders.
She looked around him to the girl. "I don't know where they've gone, Severus," she replied. "I only just arrived a few minutes ago myself."
He nodded at that. "Where's Poppy?" he inquired.
"Outside, in the courtyard," she said absentmindedly, already turning away from him to tend to something else.
He left the witch and made his way outside, not sparing a glance to the girl as he passed her.