Title: Funeral for a Friend
Character: Severus Snape
Beta Readers: Spoose, scatteredlogic, and bambu345
(Highlight to View) Warning(s): Character Death.
Note: Here are some samples of Mist Covered Mountains via YouTube With photos from the Isle of Skye, from The Contemplator’s Site, which is a bit fast. A clarsach version is available for purchase on Alchemy of a Rose. (The rose in question is a harp/clarsach.).
Summary: Severus Snape has a final duty to perform.
Slender-fingered hands ran along the shelf looking for the perfect cutting board. Jimson weed, or Devil's Snare, needed as nonreactive a surface as possible for chopping. The hands pulled out a glass board and set to work. Jimson weed stems oozed and then fizzed as their fibers were first chopped and then mashed with the side of the large knife, given as a gift from the last owner of the house, a former sushi chef, the stainless steel had been folded in Japan. The same knife scraped the pale green mash into a glass bowl, where the pulp would ferment for thirty minutes, no less and no more. A wave of an ebony wand set an exact timing spell.
The hands belonged to a black-clad body. Black because it was the only fabric that wouldn't fade when spelled with the protective charms required for the composition of potions. For example, Jimson weed would not only fade the cloth, it would eventually eat the fibers of the sleeve cuffs, were it not for the charms bound into the Potions master's clothing. The Bubble-Head Charm, which prevented inhalation of any possible hallucinogenic fumes, caused collars to fray after repeated use.
Severus Snape's lips turned at a snippet of memory that was triggered by the next phase of the potion, he needed to transfigure a combination of two cauldrons - one silver and one glass. The transfigured metal and glass cauldron would need to hold for two hours to allow the potion to emulsify.
"Remember to keep your wrist loose as you start the wand movement. The movement must be timed to the vocalization of the command, Zu Kombinieren, which must be spoken with the intent of the potion in the forefront of the mind," Minerva McGonagall's instructions echoed in his mind's ear.
Snape tugged up his sleeves; on one forearm, the bottom section of a fading Dark mark just barely visible. He fixed the finished potion in his mind, placing mental emphasis on the emulsification stage requiring the transfigured and combined cauldrons. He raised his ebony wand and started the down sweep of the initial movement when a very large raptor flew in to perch on the table and gaze sorrowfully at him. The aborted casting and garbled incantation produced a brief shower of sparks that settled on to black feathers, briefly turning them burnished and then clear and then back to black. The bald bird watched the transformation and then screeched in annoyance.
"Well, you interrupted a cauldron transfiguration, Hector," Severus said. "I apologize, but you should know better."
Hector, a California condor, clicked his beak and screeched staccato bursts of sound.
"What is so important? You've never been this agitated about the flight before?"
The large black raptor's collar of feathers rose and fell, as he ruffled his wings while sticking out the leg that had a roll of parchment tied to it.
Snape frowned. The parchment was of an odd shade of beige, and the seal looked unfamiliar as well. The frown deepened. His house was Secret-Kept; no one should be able to subvert his bird for mundane postal duties. Unless...
The Potions master sat down with a heavy heart. His hands came up to rub tiredly at his face. He knew what was in the letter. He'd been worried, but she'd brushed his worries aside by laughing and chiding, but the fear had been in the back of his mind. The curse from the Ministry goons had taken a final toll on her heart, slowly sapping its strength until her strength was drained away. Added to that indignity, had been the stress of the final battle. His potions had kept her going for quite some time, but even they had their limits. Severus waved his wand and banished the fizzing pulp of the Jimson weed.
He turned his head and stared out at the sun glinting off Pacific Ocean, beyond the breakwater several tankers bobbed against the horizon. The sun would be setting soon, as it was late October, but even then the warmth of the late day was evident on the breeze that floated in courtesy of a ventilation charm on the windows.
Hector also bobbed, from foot to foot, clicking his sharp beak, as if to say, "It's okay. Take the letter. It'll be okay."
The letter was quite thick. Severus knew it contained the instructions for his final duty to his friend. Swallowing against grief, he broke the seal.
Dear Mister Snape,Severus flipped through the other pages of parchment that had been folded in with the solicitor's letter. The instructions were simple enough, and he could take care of most from his current locale. The last page, though, put Severus' prior thoughts out to sea.
I very much regret to inform you of the death of Miss Minerva McGonagall...
Miss McGonagall slipped peacefully from this earth on Tuesday. As you well know, she had suffered from damage to her heart, caused by a curse received in the defense of Hogwarts...
As her named executor, I have enclosed her express instructions as to the disposition of her estate. As you also know, Miss McGonagall was in no way disposed toward fuss and ceremony, but she did have specific wishes and those are detailed herein...
My dear Severus,
I know what you're thinking. How dare I? How dare I die? How dare I require your return? Well, I do. You've kept me in good stead for so much longer than I ever expected. 20 some-odd years, my dear! Still, it was time. I was tired, dear. You will grant this old witch one last favour and leave that god-forsaken colony to light the bonfire. And don't forget the pipes. I'll be wanting pipes as well. Don't let the Ministry make a fuss, will you? You know how I hate fuss.
You need, my boy, to put the past to rest. If you're reading this missive, you're the last one, excluding the children, you're the last one left who will remember and won't let them forget, because they are forgetting in the, oh, how many years has it been? 20? 25?
Plus, you know they'll need someone to run the school, don't you? Thoughts were that Miss Granger, yes, she and Weasley divorced like you predicted, might take my place. But she is far too young, even with all she's been through. The Board isn't comfortable, and rightly so in my opinion, allowing her to run things when her own children are in attendance. Besides, she's far too good to leave Magical Law Enforcement. The MLE would fall down around itself without her to keep it running.
Thus, my dear, you must come home. For my sake, and for your own, make peace with the past and take back what you know is now yours.
You'll find a bottle of Port Ellen in the cupboard. You know the one. Have a glass for me when you light the fire. You can't have the bottle nor the cottage if you don't return.
Móran taing, my dear friend.
"Damn tabby witch," Severus growled as a hand dashed tears from his eyes.
She was right. He knew she was right. Even in death, Minerva was always right. Drove him barmy to know the Gryffindor witch would get the last word. The topic of his return to England had been a recurring one in their long 25-year correspondence. Minerva had been instrumental in the survival of his physical body and the rehabilitation of his fearsome image, but no one, outside Minerva's solicitor, knew the person existed in real time and space. Severus wondered how the Board of Governors was going to react, to say nothing of Harry Potter.
"You really need to discard your obsession with things Potter, Severus," Minerva's voice sounded in his brain. "The child was as ill-used as you were."
"Witch is already haunting me."
He flipped through the solicitor's pages again, including the locale of Minerva's cottage written on its own piece of parchment, but Severus already knew its locale, Secret-Kept though it was. He'd spent a long two-years recuperation there on the Isle of Islay, overlooking the narrow between Islay and Jura.
He rose from the table and left of the workroom and up a few stairs to the rest of the house, Hector following him in a hopping waddle with a half-clucking commentary on the idea of moving to Scotland.
"No, you're quite right, old bird," Severus said. "It will be cold and rainy. Perhaps you'd prefer becoming a resident over at Willard's shop?"
Hector screeched in a terrible ruckus, giving the impression that cold and rainy would be preferable to Willard's shop.
"True, he does keep that ridiculous parrot."
Severus had reached the kitchen and set to chopping various pieces of carrion that he kept around for Hector's meals. Setting the bowl down on small bench that doubled as a perch, his face was momentarily obscured by long iron-grey hair. For a moment, Severus pondered cutting it, but then decided that if he was returning to the British Isles to do a final favor for a friend, he would do it on his own terms. Besides Minerva had liked his hair, even the braids that kept the sides from falling too far into his face. He wondered if he should remove the beads from the thin plaits on either side of his face, but no, it was all or nothing.
"Very well, Hector, it's England, or rather Scotland, for us."
Hector ruffled his wings a bit, but didn't look up from the bloody mess he was happily consuming.
The offices of Borthwick, Brewster, and Bridie were located on Bridge Street in Inverness. A modern whisky shop stood in front of the centuries old building. Muggles passed by without even noticing the ornate doors and fenestration that were sandwiched between the whisky shop and weaver's shop. Severus had arrived in Inverness two days before. Yesterday, he'd watched the law offices from various vantage points. His return to British soil had spurred the resurgence of old habits. Yes, Minerva's letters had told of a rehabilitation of his reputation, but doubts still lingered. No one, Muggle or wizard, had given his various disguises -- one a lady in a tweed suit that had been fashionable a very long time ago -- a second glance. Based on his reconnaissance and the lack of any sort of Auror presence, Severus had concluded it was reasonably safe to go into the offices for his scheduled appointment in five minutes time.
Eògan Borthwick hadn't batted an eye at the appearance of the tall, grey-haired wizard who had appeared in his offices. In fact, he was fascinated by the actual wizard and the remembrances of his now-departed client. Eògan had expected a menacing eminence dressed all in black, and while the black attire matched his expectations, the iron-grey, hair with beaded side braids and genial attitude had taken the middle-aged solicitor by surprise.
"May I offer you tea or something stronger?" he asked Severus Snape after he had shown the taller wizard to a table opposite the solicitor's desk.
"Tea would be welcome." Severus' mouth watered at the thought of a good cup of strong tea. He glanced around the comfortable office. There were scrolls stacked willy-nilly on the chairs in front of the desk and Severus wonder if they might have occupied the table and just been moved for his appointment. The thought cheered him.
Eògan and Severus sat in companionable silence at the round table until the clerk who had shown Severus into the room came back with a delicate porcelain tea-set. The clerk had thoughtfully included a selection of shortbread.
"Miss Min," Eògan said, "enjoyed shortbread with her tea."
"Yes, she did," Severus replied. "She disavowed any sweet tooth, however."
The solicitor smiled in gentle memory. "But according to her, shortbread was sustenance, not a sweet."
"She was an excellent Transfiguration mistress."
The solicitor chuckled. "That she was, sir. That she was." He picked up the tea pot and poured out a quantity of cognac-coloured liquid into each china cup. "We can start the pot whilst we await the representative from the Ministry." He passed one of the cups on its saucer to Severus. "Please add milk or sugar to your taste, sir."
Severus added a drop of milk into the tea and took a sip and then a larger drink. He savoured the slight smoky taste rolling across his tongue. "It's been quite some time since I've had a decent cuppa," he said.
"Yes, I understand you've been abroad all these years?"
"In California. After the last war, Minerva thought I needed distance and sun."
"It seems to have suited, sir. If I may be so bold, Miss Min was a friend of the family, and she liked to share the news of those she cared about." The solicitor smiled nervously at the familiarity of his remarks.
Severus nodded, marvelling that he felt no anger, only a persistent feeling of loss that he'd not be able to see one last time the witch and friend who had been so very instrumental in his now good life. "I feel honoured that she counted me among that group," Severus said. "I understand you've taken over from your father."
The solicitor returned the nod and took a sip of his tea. "Yes, this past decade. Da was loath to retire, but he's found a new calling tending his garden. He grows many quality potions ingredients, something to keep in mind should you wish to settle here."
"Ah, yes, Minerva would often send Borthwick ingredients along with her letters. II understand they are available on a select basis."
"Da doesn't want just any wizard..."
A knock on the door interrupted the conversation.
"The representative from the ministry has arrived," the clerk said.
"Well, show them in, show them in," said Borthwick. "They aren't a werewolf are they?"
Severus frowned. Another memory had risen, but no, Remus was dead. At least, that's what Minerva had told him in the months after the war when he was recuperating from his injuries.
A woman entered the room and the two wizards stood as she approached their table. She was of middling height with curly brown hair, streaked a bit with silver, tamed into a Gibson Girl up-do. She wore a tweed suit that spoke of Vintage Elegance rather than Old-Fashioned Primness.
"Mister Snape," she said. "I don't know if you remember me. I'm Hermione Granger." Her hand extended to continue the greeting.
Severus almost sat down in shock. Time had definitely marched on as this elegant witch bore very little resemblance to the gawky child of his memory. He blinked a bit, and recovered himself to take the hand and bow over it long-forgotten courtesy.
"Miss Granger," Borthwick greeted the witch with a warm smile. "Very nice to see you again. I had hoped the Ministry would send you as their representative." He waved his wand and scrolls went floating into a haphazard pile on the desk, as a third chair marched over to join the two at the table. "Please, sit down, may I pour you a cup of tea?"
"Mister Borthwick, it is very nice to see you as well; I wish it were in happier circumstances." Hermione settled in the third chair and took the offered cup of tea. "You will also be happy to know that the headmistress herself convinced the minister to drop his plans for an elaborate funeral ceremony. A Pensieve was delivered by Gringotts to his office. The Headmistress was quite emphatic that any and all plans were in the hands of her executor." Hermione looked across the table to where Severus sat. "If you require any assistance, Mister Snape, I would be honoured to provide it."
Severus nodded. He felt lost. He had not expected the welcome he had received from either Borthwick or Hermione Granger. Time truly marched on.
"As to the leading of Hogwarts," Hermione said, "the headmistress was quite clear and I and the Minister are in agreement. I believe she also won over the Board of Governors, but with Minister Thomas' approval, they won't be a problem." Hermione peered over the rim of her tea cup. "She wanted you, Mister, or should I say Headmaster, Snape." She took a sip of tea. "We feel you have more than proven yourself capable, especially when accounting for your actions during the war." She smiled bashfully.
Severus was starting to feel dizzy. He'd come to Scotland fully prepared to engage in some sort of battle, not to find that any and all pieces were falling into place. Severus blinked and mulled over Miss Granger's words. They confirmed his growing suspicion that he owed far more to Minerva McGonagall than could ever be re-paid. He stared out into the rain, watching the Muggle traffic pass by the window.
"Headmaster, sir," Miss Granger said as if his return were already a fait accompli. "I hope you will consider the position. Minerva had hoped..." Hermione trailed off, sniffling a little. The witch turned aside, pulling a handkerchief from a pocket and dabbed at her eyes.
Eógan cleared his throat. "There are many matters that must be settled, Miss Granger, but if you don't mind some advice, the cottage and bonfire should be the first items sorted."
"I concur," Hermione said. "It's been three days, hasn't it?"
"It's been three, counting today," the solicitor confirmed.
"I do not understand," Severus said. "Why the counting of days?"
"You received the instructions?" Eógan asked.
"Yes, I read them, but I assumed they would have been carried out already," Severus said. "After all, you had no way of knowing..." He stopped at the twin smiles on Eógan's and Hermione Granger faces.
"Miss Min commands," Eógan said, "and we obey."
Severus closed his eyes.
He had thought he wouldn't have to build the pyre. He thought he wouldn't have to see another person over the veil, but it seemed that Minerva wanted what Minerva wanted, and he would indeed be called upon to send the shell of a powerful witch into the void.
He hadn't attended, disguised or otherwise, the funeral of Albus Dumbledore. The memory then of his last act of friendship and mercy, for a man who had deserved neither, who had seen him as merely a tool, had been a raw and open sore on his mind and soul. Yet Minerva, in another example of the witch's forceful personality, had insisted he visit the tomb before he left. She had understood that Severus had no love left for the man he had killed, but she had also understood that Severus would also need to say goodbye and settle issues, even if they were in his own mind. Minerva, of course, had been right.
Severus fidgeted, legs crossing and uncrossing under the table.
"I serve where needed," he said.
"You mistake me, Miss Granger. It is not an onerous duty, but I am remembering her words in a letter. Soon, there won't be anyone left who remembers the last war. To use the headmistress' words, other than the children, I am the last one left."
"True, sir," she said. "Very true."
Severus rose, never one to sit around, once he'd made a decision. "Then shall we do what is required? You have the cottage's locale, Miss Granger?"
"I do," she replied.
"Mister Borthwick, we shall see you in a few days, to settle the rest of the matters, if that suits?"
Eógan Borthwick also stood, held out his hand, and said, "I am at your service, Mister Snape."
Severus nodded, glanced at his former student and swept out of the room.
Hermione Granger half-laughed and rose to chase after her former professor. "Some things never change," she said to the bemused solicitor before rushing out of the room.
Two figures appeared, one right after the other, just outside the gate set in a stone wall. Beyond the wall lay a white-washed cottage, windows dark and shuttered. Clouds and drizzle of the late afternoon had followed the pair from Inverness to Islay. The pops of Apparition startled the large black bird that had lurked alternately under and in the tree in the front yard.
A squawk pierced the gathering gloaming.
The noise startled Hermione and she stumbled against the taller form of her former professor.
"No need to be alarmed, Miss Granger," Snape said, amused. "It's only Hector. He is well familiar with this cottage."
"Oh! That's your bird?" Hermione asked. "What is he?"
"A California condor. He is not pleased with me."
Hermione laughed softly at the sight of the large black raptor stomping from foot to foot and emitting what sounded like irritated grumbling.
"Very well, you bald menace," Severus said. "Let's get inside."
The Islay cottage's magic, keyed to its owner, had sealed the abode upon Minerva's death. The magic would hold her remains in stasis until the bonfire carrying her magic into the Void was lit. Minerva had explained all about the ritual and old magic some five years ago, when her heart had first started to skip beats and she'd come to Severus for the potion he'd been making when her last words had been delivered.
"Once the cottage is opened," Severus said, as he raised his wand, "we will have the night to build and light the bonfire."
Hermione nodded. Minerva had explained things to the Gryffindor witch in the last weeks, and she stood back to allow Severus to work at dismantling the wards protecting the cottage from intruders. She also knew that if the bonfire wasn't lit by midnight the cottage and its contents would start to crumble into nothingness. The McGonagall line would be finished.
Hermione felt the wards come down. She followed Severus through the gate and up to the painted red door. Hector bobbed a waddling gait between them, every now and then turning a beady eye toward Hermione.
Once inside, both witch and wizard could feel the cottage's magic swirl about them weighing and measuring to see if either of them were the rightful heir. Once the land-based power had determined their rightful presence in the small house, it settled and a fire appeared in the grate.
Hector squawked and parked himself, wings carefully spread, on the hearth to dry off.
Even as the front lounge and kitchen might welcome them, the rest of the cottage would remain cold and dark until the completion of the rite. The magic permitted entrance, but not in-habitation. The personal effects, including the mortal remains, would not pass over without the rite of fire. The cottage could still crumble, but the fire in the grate was the rite's commencement.
"I expect we'll have visitors soon," Severus said. "Shall you light the lamps or make the tea?"
Hermione smiled, even though she felt the acute sting caused by the lack of her favorite teacher and friend. "I'll make the tea," she said hoarsely. "There's a stack of wood just inside the gate."
Severus nodded. He glanced back toward the dark hallway leading to the study and bedrooms. He knew that what lay beyond in the magical darkness wasn't his friend. The rite didn't permit a final viewing, as if the magic knew the physical remains weren't the essence of the person.
With the flaring of the fire in the hearth, especially after the days of an empty cottage, the cottage had signaled to all Minerva's neighbours. They would arrive soon to help build the pyre. Minerva had explained to Severus that her will, with the magic imbued in her signature, named Severus Snape not only as the legal Heir to the House of McGonagall, but had in the mysterious ways of old magic, named him her son.
Hermione carried the heavy cast iron tea kettle to put on the swing-hook embedded in the hearth's wall, a tea service followed behind her. "I found a bottle of whisky next to the kettle," the witch called out as she put the kettle on its hook and swung it over the fire to heat. "The whisky is for afters, right?"
"Tell me, Miss Granger," Severus asked, "why are you here?"
Hermione sat down in the chair she had usually occupied when she'd visited the headmistress. The curly-haired witch gestured to the other chair. "Please sit," she said. "Minerva asked me to help. She thought you might appreciate someone familiar to assist with the rite. She was truly worried you would be overwhelmed. I think she thought you might have been hesitant, because of..."
Dumbledore, Severus thought.
Severus stood over the chair across from his former student. However, she had not been his student in more than a quarter century. She no longer looked like the awkward, hand-raising, attention-addicted gawky girl. This Miss Granger, with controlled hair and tailored tweed, was an adult.
"Mister Snape, sir, Minerva worked very hard to have you recognized as the hero you were and are," Hermione explained. "When she died, her office at Hogwarts and her cottage sealed themselves, waiting for your return." Hermione leaned over in her chair and stoked the fire, sending it higher against the bottom of the kettle. Hector, now dry, clicked his sharp beak and settled himself on a small stool next to the chair where Snape still stood. "Sit down. Please."
Severus ran a hand over the back of the wing-backed chair. It had been Minerva's place for as long as he could remember, to take it in her stead didn't feel right. At the same time, he felt the magic in the cottage mix with his own power in a sentiment of comfort and welcome. As if the cottage was automatically adjusting to the new owner. It's good, boy, sit down, welcome, it seemed to say. The time of grieving was over as the magic and line were continued by Severus' presence and fulfilment of his duties.
With a sigh, the tall Potions master turned and sat in the chair. The cottage settled. There was no noise or flash of light, but wizard and witch now understood that events were no longer uncertain.
For his part, Severus still, logically, remained baffled by the sense of acceptance and emotional contentment he was receiving from his surroundings.
But a knock at the door interrupted whatever Miss Granger was going to say, as the knock was followed by the door opening.
"Saw the smoke from the chimney," said a wizard in the door way. "I'm Cairbre, and I've brought the lads. You'll be Mister Snape? Miss Min said you'd be coming when it was time. You'll be wanting the fire down on the beach, I expect?"
Severus rose to shake the wizard's hand and offered, "I'll help."
"No sir, we'll fetch you when it's time for the last log and the fire," Cairbre said. "Me and the lads know what to do." He jerked his head behind him, where in the drizzle, Severus saw several men organize themselves into a work team. "Won't take up but a moment. Osgar's gone to fetch young Toag and his pipes. Miss Min always liked the pipes."
"It's our honour sir," Cairbre said. "Miss Min explained it all to us. Though we're hoping...but there's time for conversations after the bonfire."
"We'll have tea and whisky waiting," Hermione called out from inside the room.
"Much appreciated, Miss," Cairbre said. And with that, the stocky man turned and strolled back to the wood pile where he effortlessly shouldered two large logs and carry them down to the shore.
For a quiet hour, Severus and Hermione alternately sat and stared into the fire, or stood and watched Minerva McGonagall's neighbours construct her bier. Severus quietly appreciated the methodical process by which row by row of cross stacked logs took the form of a rectangular bed on which would lay the mortal remains of a much loved and respected member of their community.
"How tall will it be?" asked Hermione when she had moved from her place by the fire to join Severus by the window.
"As tall there is wood. In this case, perhaps about 5 feet high. One stout stick will have been saved to be the torch."
"Looks like that might be the last of it then," Hermione commented. "The water is boiling, and I believe I heard clinking coming from the kitchen."
Clinking noises were indeed coming from the kitchen at the back of the house.
"That's the whisky," Severus replied. His voice was husky. "I expect the magic will take care of most of it."
"She didn't want you to worry," Hermione said. "She thought you might be overwhelmed with --" Hermione's hands gestured in a hesitant wave. "She didn't want to be a burden, I guess." Hermione turned to face the wizard by her side. "She said you'd had enough of duty."
Severus nodded. If it had been anyone else than Minerva McGonagall, he might have thought the worst, that she hadn't expected he'd come, but Minerva had never dissembled with him. She, of all the people he'd known, had been the most honourable, never leading him astray with false flattery or vows of service. Plus the witch was damn exacting and never left anything to chance.
"Mister Snape, sir?" Cairbre asked. He stood out in now empty yard. "We're ready..." A commotion at the gate turned the wizard toward the source of the noise. "Ah, and here is Osgar and Toag."
The two men hurried through the gate.
"Sorry, Cairbre," said a tall, fair-haired man, a set of pipes under his arm. Toag then. "My nephew's suffering with the goblin flu. Osgar had to find me."
"No matter, you're here, now."
"Golbin flu?" Severus asked. "For how long?"
"You're Mister Snape?" asked Toag. He was fiddling with the bag and drones. "Welcome. Miss Min was a fine witch. My condolences for your loss, sir."
"I've a potion that might help your nephew," Severus said.
"I'd be in your debt sir, but young Fionn will keep until later," the piper replied with a slight smile. "The pyre's on the beach?"
"Yes," said Cairbre.
"We'll be down there then." Toag turned to head toward the beach.
"Let him get the pipes up and then we'll start?" Cairbre asked.
Severus nodded his assent.
Cairbre held out the stout stick that had been left behind. As the soon-to-be torch was passed to Severus, a drone started echoing over the bay and settled gloom of the evening. Then the first wailing notes of a lament sounded and called to all the neighbours. The time had come.
"The young Miss has the blue fire." Caibre nodded to Hermione, who had followed Severus out to the yard. "Miss Min requested her to provide the fire. Give us some time to gather, and then you'll know what to do."
The man turned to follow the piper's path as neighbours seeming to have appeared from the heavy and humid air, all murmuring their condolences, entered the gate and went toward the beach.
Moments passed as one piped lament echoed into another until it seemed the pipes and the wind were singing the same mournful tune. The last neighbour passed through the gate and shut it. She, a woman of indeterminate age, wrapped against the chill in a drab tartan, nodded at both Severus and Hermione.
"Thrice around the house, lad," she said. "Then we say our goodbyes."
Out of the corner of his eye, Severus saw Hermione's wand flare blue. The magical flames seemed to waver both hot and cold against the autumnal night. He held out the stout stick and passed it through the magic glowing at the end of Hermione's wand. It caught the flame with a series of sharp crackles. Severus turned to the West and started the path around the cottage, his step keeping time with the slow march echoing from the pipes. Once around the whitewashed walls glowing blue from the torch he held. Twice, and he felt the magic rise up; his ears heard the clicking of all the doors unlatching. Thrice, and he felt the magic lift and then as he reached the back of the house, a shrouded, supine figure floated out of the back door. It glided before him, the long, pale shroud just brushing the path. Just barely visible under the thin white cloth was the figure of Minerva McGonagall.
All the neighbours stood shoulder to shoulder, lining the path down to the beach. The shrouded witch gently floated waist-high before the torch carrying wizard and the younger woman following behind. As they passed, the residents of the village formed double line behind, an honour guard escorting a respected member of their small magical community to her final rest.
Once they reached the beach, the piped march changed and the lament Mist Covered Mountains of Home brought the procession to the stacked rectangle of logs. Severus knew the tune from Minerva's letter of instructions. He knew she had heard it at her mother's leaving, and her mother's mother's before that. For a brief moment, he felt a heart-breaking sadness that there wouldn't ever be this level of love and respect at his departure. A hand on his elbow steadied him as his thoughts threatened to overwhelm his actions. He looked down at the tear-streaked face of Hermione Granger. She wore her grief and love openly, but still found a way to smile up at him. Severus felt the overwhelming regret slowly quiet and change to what, he couldn't say, but he thought it might be hope.
"It's time," Hermione said.
The shrouded figure lay on the pyre.
Severus swallowed and forcibly steadied the shaking torch.
Magic swelled gently as Severus stepped forward and set the torch into the centre of the pyre. The glow was soft at first, a faint light from the dense cluster of wood, but it strengthened, the grey-blue flame licking at the mundane wooden fuel, until the sound of pipes and wind were almost drowned out by the crackling of wood as the pyre caught and burned with magical flames.
A murmuring started low and gathered force. The logs crackled and fell as the magic consumed the wood. Severus barely saw Hermione and the people on either side of him, so lost was he in the swirl of magic and the sound of the music from the pipes. He had no idea how long he stood there by the pyre, mesmerized by the flames and magic swirling around him.
Then it stopped.
All he heard as he came back to himself was the quiet of the waves lapping at the beach. The pyre still glowed, but now it was the size of a standard bonfire. The shroud-covered figure had vanished, consumed in the blue-white heat of magic and flames.
Severus looked around. He was alone. Behind him, the cottage glowed with lights, and he could hear laughter coming from its open back-door and windows. He had neighbours to host. They wouldn't open the whisky until he was present. A breeze from the bay ruffled the braids at his temples. He stood, indecisive, until the sound of steps brought Hermione Granger back beside him.
"Toag was hoping he could have a wee dram," she said. "Piping is quite a bit of work he says."
"Then let us give him succour," he said. "We wouldn't want the piper to expire from his exhaustion." He offered his hand and the smirk turned to a smile when he felt Hermione's hand grasp his own.
Witch and wizard turned away from the dwindling fire and the beach, heading toward the laughter echoing from the well-lit cottage.