Severus Snape watching in abject horror and confusion as his arm flickered and faded before his eyes. Over the past few hours, his possessions had begun to disappear. The mirror over the mantle he had bought at age eighteen. The death eater mask on the inside of his wardrobe. The silver cauldron that had been a gift from Albus to celebrate his tenth year teaching. Gone.
All over the world, the prospective owners of his possessions stored them away as if they had owned them for years.
The gold plaque on the professor's office door shimmered, and a new name scrawled itself on the suddenly clean surface. Professor Horace Slughorn once again took possession of the rooms. Robes twisted and morphed on their hangers, until they were garments never owned by Severus Snape.
And the man himself faded as if he had never been.
Harry raised his tear-streaked cheeks from the duvet at the gentle shake to his shoulder.
"There's nothing more you can do, dear. Go and get some rest," Madame Pomfrey advised kindly. Dazed, shattered, Harry acquiesced and walked unseeingly from the room.
The Slytherin dorms were filled with the soft snores of Harry's room-mates, but the whole place seemed eerily quiet without Severus' soft snores. There were no books lying on his beside table, no trunk at the foot of his bed. The house-elves had already taken care of it all.
Harry lay down on the cold sheets and stared up at the ceiling. No arms wrapped around his waist. No long black hair fell over his shoulder, getting in his face. No voice wished him happy dreams.
There would be no happy dreams tonight.
The window shutters gaped open and a red bird swooped through to land on the empty bed. It sang mournfully into the night.
Harry woke the next morning with eyes sore and rimmed in red. The others had already gone down to breakfast. Harry felt sick at the thought of food, but knew he would have to see Dumbledore. So he dressed with clumsy fingers and stumbled up the many corridors to the great hall.
Dumbledore was making an announcement when he went in.
"I am sorry to say that Severus Snape, Slytherin sixth year, died last night in the infirmary. He was cursed by a dark wizard named Voldemort, whom only some of you will have heard. Voldemort also died that night, thanks to the heroic efforts of one student." Dumbledore's kind gaze turned towards Harry, but he did not give any names. "Severus was a good student and a better friend to those who looked for it. He shall be sorely missed."
The school sat in silence for a moment, some shocked, some merely respectful. Then the noise level gradually rose again to the excited chatter of schoolchildren with gossip and rumour. Harry sat down silently at the end of the Slytherin table.
"Who killed him?"
"We'll get that idiot kid!"
"What was Snape doing anyway, to get himself killed?"
The whispers hurried up and down the table like a flock of crows around a carcass. Harry bowed his head, pushed away his toast and left.
Back in the dorm, Harry rummaged around in his trunk. Pushing aside his transfiguration notes, he pulled out the precious bottle of potion Severus had given him at Christmas. The blue liquid swirled and sloshed as if in slow motion as Harry lifted it reverently. There was nothing keeping him here now. Voldemort was dead, Severus was dead, his parents were engrossed in their little romance. He might as well return to Ron and Hermione, and put this whole experience behind him. Glancing at the mirror against the wall, Harry sighed and then froze.
He stood slowly and moved forward. His scar was gone! But why…?
Of course. Voldemort had never lived long enough to give him the scar. Joy filled Harry. He was free! He spun in a quick circle, and stopped facing Severus' bed. Was it worth it? Harry didn't know. He wouldn't know until he was home, and there was no way to take it back now anyway.
"Yes, yes, come in, dear boy," Dumbledore's face was sad and lined. "These are terrible times for us all at the school, but I hope you will accept my condolences. I know how close you were to Mr. Snape."
Harry swallowed back a lump. He could never know… Clearing his throat, he thrust forward the phoenix perched on his right arm.
"Here, sir. I'm leaving. I think you should look after Fawkes until I get back."
"Dear boy, I'm sure there are others better suited-"
"No, sir," Harry interrupted. He smiled softly. "It was meant to be."
"I see." Dumbledore nodded gravely, but the twinkle was beginning to return to his eye. "In that case, I would be delighted to accept your pet. Fawkes, was it?"
Harry nodded and the phoenix fluttered over to perch on Dumbledore's chair, just as he always had.
"I have to go now, sir. I have some… some goodbyes to make and then I should be on my way."
"Alright. And Harry?" Harry turned. "Did you accomplish what you set out to do?"
Harry smiled sadly "I'm not sure anymore."