Disclaimer: I own no rights to the Harry Potter franchise, characters, or scenarios from the movies or books. Merely a fan of the series who loved it so much that I wanted to paint my own picture, trying to stay as true to the canon characters as possible. As always, a thank you to Jo Rowling for the hours spent imagining the wonderful world you brought to us.
With one final gasp for breath, Severus Snape's head fell as the venom and blood loss took him. His mission was complete, his life of pain and regret finally finished. It was a period of numbness that followed. Severus wasn't sure how long it lasted. A minute? A year? Time was incomprehensible to him.
Through his cold, unseeing eyes, there was only white. Yet suddenly, a voice resonated from the fog, and gentle footsteps echoed. "You did well, Severus. Better than even I thought you were capable of all those years ago."
Severus gasped in surprise as a robed figure broke through the mist and came into focus. That voice belonged to someone long dead, by his own hands no less. Someone who had offered him a different path from the darkness that threatened to swallow his soul, someone who trusted him enough to see their plans through to the end, someone he had confided his deepest regrets and true loyalties with.
"You've a lot of nerve to show up here, Albus." Severus's voice betrayed his normally stoic disposition. Now there were no walls of Occlumency to hide behind as he stared at the ethereal form of Dumbledore with the fury of betrayal. "You come to see me here, in death, to tell me what a good little soldier I was? Come to ruin my peace after my heart stops beating to remind me of how I failed? How, despite everything I've done, despite her sacrifice, I sent Harry Potter off to die so your war can be over?"
Dumbledore's lips curled into a smile, and there was a sincere warmth to them which made Severus shiver in disgust. Albus's constant drivel of "the greater good" had been the most imaginary concept in the world to Severus, and it horrified him at how deceitful the old wizard could be. "Yes. It's over, Severus. Lord Voldemort has met the fate he sacrificed his humanity to escape. The one thing he feared more than anything has come to pass. He's dead."
This did not deter Severus's scathing diatribe as he glared at Albus. "At what cost?! Her son! I didn't ask to be your tool to send the one thing she gave everything for to death!"
Before he moved to continue his verbal assault, Dumbledore's soft chuckle resonated in Snape's afterlife prison. With that, a short phrase, one that the old man had told Severus years in the past under very different circumstance, was repeated. "The boy survives."
"Wh-what? But the Elder Wand! How-"
"The Elder Wand belonged to Harry all along, Severus. It would not kill its true master, and the curse which took the lives of so many of Voldemort's victims rebounded. With no remaining Horcruxes, he died just as you or I would have. It's funny, don't you think? How the smallest of circumstances that we do not prepare for solve themselves for the better? I had hoped that the lineage of that wand would die with me, but by a stroke of luck, things changed." Suddenly, Dumbledore's eyes took a rather inquisitive look as he slowly circled around Severus. "To love so deeply, yet to expect none in return. To face the hatred of those you protected and saved, yet demand no pity or respect in return. I expect neither Harry, nor the entirety of Hogwarts had a greater protector than you, Severus. So now that your mission is over, I wonder. What is your greatest wish? If you were to let go of all but what you desire and allowed yourself to be selfish here in the afterlife, what would you ask for?"
"I ask for nothing, Albus." Severus began, turning away as his pain was evident on his face. "My Slytherin ambitions died with her. I did not show the boy my most private of memories expecting him to feel sorry for me, nor do I expect all of my misery in life to be rewarded with her love in death." The thought of what Lily would look like here, her angelic beauty, her vibrant red hair and the emeralds adorned within her eyes definitely crossed his mind. Would she forgive him? Admonish him? Hate him?
As if Dumbledore could see into Severus' now readable mind, he answered. "I cannot offer you Lily Potter, Severus. She is not yours to take, and I trust you know that. She left your world hand in hand with her husband for the sake of their son. You did not earn her love in your previous life."
Snape nodded grimly. It was more than he deserved, after all, having learned his lessons far too late in life. But why had Albus asked such a question? Was his desire to torture him one final time and leave him in solitude to stew in his fantasies for the rest of eternity?
"But what I can offer you is a second chance. A journey to a new world to call your own." Albus whispered with a smile, setting his hand on Severus's shoulder as his circled pacing stopped. "Whether you choose to go to that world and right the wrongs of your previous life, ignore your mistakes and repeat them, or remain alone here in the afterlife, that's up to you. But Severus, you died enveloped with so much love, yet no conduit to release it. It's only here, after we die, that love's limitless potential can be realized. Yet so few die without someone to leave that love with that a case like yours is an enormous rarity."
Snape's snorted in mockery, his usual distrust of Dumbledore's cryptic riddles obvious in his furrowed brow. "Is that what you offer me, Albus? A spiritual Time-Turner that will allow me to go back and relive my greatest mistakes? This, after you talked me down about the 'dangers' time would bring to a world when tampered with?"
"Severus, you misunderstand. This is quite simply, a second chance at life. A new world, separate from the one you just left. Identical to the other in every way, with one exception. You. You've the ability to paint a very different canvas knowing what you know now. There will not be two of you as if it were a Time-Turner, just you. You will awaken in your new life, fully aware of everything that happened in the old."
This offer began to break through the mocking look on Severus's face as he gazed into the gleaming eyes of Dumbledore in honest bewilderment. "If I were to accept your offer, what would I take with me?"
"Whatever you desire. I should hope your old grudges do not come along, though that may be asking too much. I think you'll find that when you awaken, you'll be quite...limited in your abilities, despite your knowledge of advanced magic, it won't be enough until your new body attunes itself to your mind and can be given the opportunity to catch up."
"Catch up? You mean to tell me that when I wake up, I'll be back in Hogwarts?" The anxiety was becoming evident in Snape's voice.
"But of course. Rather amusing to think of someone as abrasive as you in the body of a student. With all that you know now in tow, can you not think of a greater place to restart your life? After all, it is our choices Severus, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities. Our choices have the power to shape the world around us and influence the lives of those closest to us. I trust that when you see her again, you'll have learned enough to treasure her?"
Snape's lips started to tremble as he tried to brush the thoughts of seeing Lily again to the back of his mind. There had to be an ulterior motive, there always was with Dumbledore. "Am I to take Potter's place in this other world? I assume, if everything is going to restart as it was, that the Dark Lord will be growing in power and my knowledge of how to defeat him is going to be required if I'm to live any normal life after the fact. Am I to be your expendable tool in another lifetime as well, Albus?"
"That's up to you, Severus." the old man chuckled as he turned and began to walk into the mist. "This is your second life. No more, no less. I make no guarantees; your choices are what will shape this new world into your own. But if you don't want to waste this opportunity, I suggest you board. Your train is about to depart." And with that, the echoing footsteps were gone as Severus turned to his right, realizing where he now was as a loud whistle sounded with a startling blow.
The fog began to lift as he found himself alone in what looked to be King's Cross Station, standing next to a solitary train that seemed ready to leave. Before boarding it, Snape glanced at the label at the front of the train, so very similar to the Hogwarts Express. Reading the words aloud as he stepped inside.
With a sudden jolt, Severus felt the train spring to life when the doors shut, and as the sound of the car's movement began to accelerate, he lost consciousness when he felt his own heart begin to beat.