FAGE 8: Soul Mates
Title: Between Heaven and Hell.
Written for: Be My Hero Severus
Written By: Nicia
Summary: The first time Severus Snape wakes after he dies, he's sure that he's in hell. Not the fire and brimstone kind. No, it's the type of hell where everything is too good to be true, and way out of his comfort zone. Written for the FAGE 8:Soulmates Fic Exchange.
Prompt used: Run away with me/They were gonna be together forever/ Rubber ducks falling from the sky, dogs meowing, aliens in high heels, the sun never goes down
If you would like to see all the stories that are a part of this exchange visit the facebook group: Fanficaholics Anon: Where Obsession Never Sleeps, or add the C2 to get all the stories direct to your inbox.
Note: This is dedicated in memory of Alan Rickman. RIP Professor Snape.
Disclaimer: To my knowledge, there was no 1853 outbreak of Dragon Pox, but for the purposes of this story, there was.
The first time Severus Snape wakes after he dies, he's sure that he's in hell. Not the fire and brimstone kind. No, it's the type of hell where everything is too good to be true, and way out of his comfort zone. The sun shines a little too brightly, the birdsong a little too loud, the air a little too fresh. Used to the dank, stale air of the dungeons, he frowns, the expression familiar, comforting as he shuts his eyes and tries to make sense of his surroundings. He doesn't know how much time passes as he lies there, slowly sensing his limbs, his heart, his lungs. Painless, whole, no longer filled with blood and poison. He thinks back over his life, his thirty eight years, and wonders if somehow he has survived Nagini's bite and not remembered it. Or maybe these are his dying moments… and then he wonders how, after his life, he has ended up going through something that seems so good.
Still, if this is only temporary, he's going to make the most of it; he's going to drink it in, make it last and allow it to wash away the bitter memories, however briefly.
"Are you going to lie there all day?"
The sudden interruption makes him jump, the intrusion unexpected, and he bites back a curse as he searches for the source of the noise.
"I'm up here." His gaze darts up to the branches of the tree to his left, and it takes a few moments of staring in silence, wondering if he's going insane until small, delicate hands push the branches apart and a heart shaped face peers out at him.
For a moment, his heart, though unbeating, catches in his chest.
But it's not her, even as his heart hopes his mind sees the truth; sees the darkness of her hair rather than Lily's flame red, sees the deep tan of her skin instead of Lily's paleness, and most importantly, the hazel of her eyes, which, though still framed by thick lashes are world's away from Lily's green.
He sees all this, takes it in with a single glance, and ignores the interest that spikes in his brain, sticking to what he's told himself since he was a child.
He loves Lily, and if he can't have her… then he doesn't want anyone.
He shuts his eyes again.
The second time Severus Snape wakes the scenery is different, but the underlying feeling is the same.
He's in a rainforest this time, surrounded by scents and sounds he's never experienced before. Like the first time, he's seemingly alone, laid down on a bed of leaves, and he waits, wondering what the purpose of his existence is in this place.
He remembers dying, remembers it clearly. Can still feel the phantom pain of Nagini's fangs piercing his skin, the burn of the venom spreading through his veins, staring into Lily's eyes one blessed final time as he gave away his memories and secrets, set his soul bare in the hopes of the war ending in a positive way. Hoping against hope that his sacrifice both in that moment, and for all those years before wouldn't be in vain, would be enough to make a difference, and make up for his foolish, youthful mistakes.
Regret clogs his throat, and he swallows thickly, a hand rising to his eyes to wipe away tears that aren't there, as if the motion will brush away the memories as easily.
Slowly, he composes himself… and again, he's startled when the same girl speaks to him again.
This time, she's hidden behind a tree trunk, head peeking out at him and eyes watching his form cautiously, as though he's unstable and unpredictable.
"Are you going to answer? Or just keep lying there?"
He opens his mouth to answer, and then coughs, voice cracking and raspy from disuse.
"Where are we?"
She cocks her head; watching, judging him silently for a long moment, and then purses her lips. Her expression reminds him of Lily when she was trying to write a particularly tedious essay, and he blinks rapidly, waiting for an answer.
His gaze flicks to hers and he half sits in surprise. "Purgatory? I thought it would be more…" Words have never failed him before and he feels a dull flush raise up his necks and cheeks.
"Grey?" She shrugs. "It changes a lot. You'll see."
"How long have you been here?"
She shrugs, and Snape closes his eyes again.
When Snape wakes, it's to find that the girl has overcome her fear, and is peering down at him from her position behind his head.
"Are you just going to sleep forever?"
Copying her previous actions he shrugs, the motion clumsy on the ground. "What else is there to do?"
"Try to get into Heaven."
His face falls into a familiar, condescending sneer. "And how exactly, do we do that?"
Mockingly, she shrugs again. "I wouldn't still be here if I knew."
"Touché." A smirk pulls at Snape's lips after her sarcastic response. She has some backbone. Like Lily. "What have you already tried?"
"Prayed. Wished. Made promises." She looks around – taking in the bright splashes of colour from the field of wildflowers they're in. "None of it did anything." She glances down at him, takes a few steps backwards and then sits, drawing her knees in to her chest, eyes distant. "I don't know how long it's been, but nothing ever does anything. I wait and wait; people come and they move on, but I never do." She glances at him again. "You'll probably leave soon too."
Still on the floor, he tilts his head back to keep hold of her gaze. "When did you die?"
"In the Dragon Pox outbreak of 1853."
She barely looks twenty five. Snape had thought maybe she was a fighter who had died in the battle, or a muggle caught up in the Dark Lord's rampage before he attacked Hogwarts. Finding out that she was alive more than a hundred years before his birth is a shock.
"You've been here almost a hundred and fifty years."
She looks disappointed. "It feels like more and less all at the same time." A sigh. "A hundred and fifty years of waiting."
Her expression is mournful, reminding Snape of his own years of waiting; to go to Hogwarts, to gain Lily's affections, to apologise and gain her forgiveness, to protect her son.
He's surprised that he ended up in Purgatory, sure that his actions should have earned him a one way ticket straight to Hell, but perhaps this is his chance to prove himself and do something genuinely good and selfless with his life.
"Your waiting is over," His voice is firm, determined as her surprised gaze meets his stubborn one, "We're going to get you into Heaven."
"We need to get under some shelter, Severus."
Hebe's outstretched palm appears in his line of vision, helping him to his feet and leading him over to a patch of trees as the sky rumbles ominously. It's been… weeks? Months? Possibly even years. Time has no meaning anymore, and even if it did, Snape has no way of keeping track. They've spent so much time together, when they're not searching for a way to move on, they talk a lot. About their lives – their hopes, dreams, the wishes they'd both held for the future. Hebe tells him about her fiancée, about how they'd both gotten the Pox, and he'd died three days before her, but when she'd woken up she was alone. Snape tells her about Lily, about the Dark Lord, about his childhood. Slowly, they open up to each other more and more, until they're as comfortable around each other as Snape has only ever been with one other person in his life.
"I see what you mean about it changing a lot."
And it's true, the background – if you can call it that, perhaps a better word would be atmosphere or environment, changes on a regular but unpredictable basis. He's found that if he doesn't shut his eyes, he doesn't sleep, and once, as an experiment, when he'd stayed awake for three days straight the sun hadn't gone down at all; had just stayed high in the sky, and then suddenly disappeared as it started to snow.
Still, this is the first time he's seen signs of rain, even though it's clear from the continually blooming flowers that they don't need it.
Hebe tugs more urgently on his hand, moving him faster as the clouds begin to break, and they reach the tree line as heavy fat drops begin to fall.
"This rain is acidic. Purgatory isn't always pleasant. If it was, no one would care about getting into Heaven."
She drops his hand once they're both safe and protected, and he misses the warmth immediately. Feeling the loss in his chest, he fills his mind with what's familiar – red hair, green eyes, pale skin, and panics silently when he realises that the memories are faded, blurred, and panics a little bit more when he finds that he doesn't mind quite as much as he would have before he died.
"Do you think we'll ever move on?"
They're floating on the surface of the ocean, heads together and arms and legs spread wide like starfish to help them float. It's peaceful, calming, the perfect situation to think about all of the time they've spent in purgatory so far.
"I should hope so. It would be extremely unfortunate to be stuck here for the rest of eternity."
He doesn't drag his words out quite as much as he used to – when working as a double agent, focusing on enunciating your words clears your mind and ensures that any sneaky Legilimencers find it harder to stumble upon any secrets you have. And feeling more relaxed and at peace than he has in years has allowed the tension to leave his shoulders, relaxed his posture and made him feel like a weight's been lifted from his shoulders, making him feel years younger rather than older.
Sometimes, he wonders if his death and meeting Hebe wasn't a blessing in disguise.
They've been talking more frequently about the different types of moving on after death – the veil, returning as a ghost, as a spirit, the resurrection stone, and of course, Heaven and Hell – and which one they'd prefer.
Neither of them seemed to have the choice to return as a ghost, though Severus is glad that that option wasn't open to him, there's no one alive who he'd want to watch over, though it might be fun to see if he could scare the first years even more as a ghost than he could as a teacher.
"I would have liked to have the chance to say goodbye to my family. Becoming a ghost would have given me that, but being a ghost is permanent and watching as they grew old and died and moved on would have been too hard. Watching as nephews and nieces grew up and had their own families and the circle continued…" Hebe sighs sadly, and Severus' hand itches with the desire to tuck a loose strand of hair behind her ear comfortingly, or rub her back, or something. Instead, he reaches out and squeezes her hand awkwardly, and nods as she turns her head to the side and gives him a watery smile. "Mostly I miss my parents. They didn't catch the Pox. I wish I'd had the chance to say goodbye to them."
Severus thinks of his own parents, of growing up in that cold, loveless house, with an abusive muggle father who didn't like magic and a witch mother who was filled with self-loathing for the situation she'd ended up in.
He wonders, if his parents had still been alive, would he have said goodbye before he died? Would he have wanted to?
"You said before that the point of Purgatory was to give us the motivation to get into Heaven. And that this-" Severus waves his arms around as he speaks, "changes regularly to give us the motivation to do so. Maybe just waiting around isn't enough. Maybe we need to be more active. To change ourselves."
He's been thinking about it a lot, thinking about what witches and wizards think about the afterlife and how that differs from what he knows of muggle beliefs. He remembers his father dragging him along to Church on a Sunday and the vicar droning on and on about the lessons they needed to learn to get into Heaven.
"Purgatory is a place to prepare you for Heaven, to make you ready. Like polishing a glass. Maybe we need to start thinking critically about ourselves and actually make some changes to better ourselves."
Hebe's dark eyes sparkle, and this time, when she grabs his hand in excitement, ideas bouncing to life and bursting off the tip of her tongue, he pushes away the memory of Lily that rises to the forefront of his mind, and focuses instead on the heat of Hebe's hand in his, the soft feel of her skin on his, the contrast of her delicate fingers in his much larger ones. And when he feels the warmth spread through his chest, instead of pushing it away, he holds it close, and holds Hebe's hand a little tighter.
He doesn't miss the way her cheeks darken and flush red as he does so, or the fact that she doesn't pull away.
Part of making himself a better person means accepting himself, the good and the bad.
He starts with his childhood. His envy and jealousy of Lily. Jealousy that someone would try to take her, his only friend away – which happened because of his actions. Envy of her personality, how carefree and relaxed she was, how easily she got on with other people, how accepting they were of her but never of him.
The mean way he treated Petunia, his desperation to keep Lily for himself; the way he put Lily on a pedestal from the day he met her because she was the only light he'd had in his life for so long.
Once he feels like he's dealt with that, he sits and talks with Hebe about it. He tells her about how his childhood affected him, made him desperate and cruel, and now that he thinks about it, abusive. How he unintentionally picked up on and perpetuated his father's behaviour, and though he knows that it's not his fault – children are impressionable after all, it still doesn't excuse his actions.
Hebe tells him about her childhood; spoiled, obstinate and stuck up. The fact that she snubbed others and chose friends based on the position in society and how they could make her look and improve her status. She tells him about how she learned to manipulate her friends and their feelings, and the fact that it was something that was applauded by her family, not punished. How it earned her few true friends and the slap in the face reality gave her once she went to Hogwarts and no one took any of her foolishness.
They move onto teenage years.
Hebe had become more outspoken, more stubborn and rude. Her parents had despaired at her hope of ever finding a suitable husband unless she changed her attitude, but she hadn't cared. She'd studied, and gotten her mastery in Herbology, had planned to travel the world learning about different cultures methods of the art and how to combine them; and had repeatedly rejected her parents please to settle down and find a husband. Unlike all the other women her age, she'd refused to be tied down, had done it deliberately to irritate her parents, and had done the exact opposite of what was expected of her, even when it went against what she wanted, and all out of spite.
Severus tells her about Voldemort. About being a reject and being bullied in the one place that could have been his safe haven. About the Marauders and the Hell his life became at home and at school, and how he could feel Lily slipping away from him once he found a group of friends who liked him for who he was, and didn't push him away, but did reject her. He tells Hebe about the conflicting desires; the ones that had him wanting to turn away Rodolphus and Bellatrix and Lucius and stay by Lily's side, but also the lonely, side that enjoyed being wanted and needed, and not just pitied. Tells her about the Shrieking Shack, and almost dying, and the build up to the point where he snapped and let out years of frustration… on the wrong person. How Lily was wonderful, but would never be crossed, would never, ever let her self-worth be diminished and how in that moment, he lost his best friend forever and sealed his fate as part of Volemort's inner circle.
Time passes, and they go over every single minute of both of their lives, from childhood all the way up to the day they die.
Hebe's excitement at meeting her husband when she was thirty, an age that was considered 'very old', and the fact that they'd gotten along well from that first meeting. The arrangement of their very late marriage, and the plans they'd made to travel for a few years despite their age, and then to have as many children as they could. How she ruined it by her insistence upon extra-marital affairs, despite her fiancées insistence that they both remain faithful to each other. She hadn't wanted to, though she liked him, she wanted more, was greedy and didn't want to restrain herself once they were married and how that had strained things, drawn out their engagement and then the pox had struck. How she'd realised in death that not everything had to be a battle, that there was strength in compromise, and things didn't always have to be on her terms to make her happy. She tells him about her regret at losing love, and how, she promised herself that if she found love again, she would never let it go.
Severus tells her about how he continued making mistakes all the way into his adult life and beyond, about how he immersed himself in the Dark Arts, decided that if he couldn't be good then he would be completely bad. About making the biggest, the absolute worst mistake of his life, and causing the death of two innocent people, who simply wanted to be happy together and raise their son. About trying to make things right, but being too late, and then spending the next seventeen years trying to make up for it, to apologise to Lily, by becoming a double agent and doing what he could to give her son the best chance possible to save their world.
It comes out in dribs and drabs sometimes, other times in great rushing torrents, until they've both bared their souls; cried and shouted and laughed with hysteria, gone over every single detail of their lives, and they're completely spent.
And then they do it all over again, offering each other words of wisdom and fresh perspectives. Helping each other deal with and understand their pasts, to see where they went wrong, but also to identify where they've judged themselves too harshly. Growing up in a loveless environment doesn't mean you're incapable of feeling, but running around with a bunch of racists does mean it's likely you'll end up losing your friend who falls into the category that they hate.
They talk and talk and talk, sitting close and sometimes far apart. Sometimes making no contact, and other times with hands tightly clasped and arms intertwined. It's not until the day that Hebe rests her head on Severus' chest and closes her eyes, and he lies there for what seems like a month and yet only a day all at once, that he allows himself to acknowledge the one thing that he's been hiding, has refused to recognise or admit to Hebe.
He doesn't love Lily any more.
He doesn't even think about her all that much, only when he's talking to Hebe about his past. Now, when a face flashes into his mind associated with warmth in his chest, it's a heart shaped face with dark eyes and a mischievous grin. The body that he wants to hold is the one that's curled against his side, relaxed and peaceful resting against him as he slides his fingers through hair that's dark and smooth like silk, marvelling at such a simple action and how good it makes him feel. Amazed that someone trusts him, feels safe enough with him to let their guard down so completely, not worrying that he'll take offense or interpret things the wrong way, like it sometimes happened with Lily.
He can see now how unhealthy his attachment to her was. How they had a good friendship, but romance between them was never on the cards, wasn't meant for them, and that perhaps they both let things go on a little longer than they should have, and that if maybe one of them had said something earlier, their lives would have been completely different.
Maybe he and Lily would have remained friends.
Maybe he wouldn't have become a Death Eater.
Maybe Lily and James wouldn't have died.
Maybe he wouldn't have either.
So many maybes… but they all would have meant that he wouldn't have met Hebe.
His heart clenches at the thought, and Severus closes his eyes.
When Severus wakes, it's to find Hebe still curled against him, fingers idly tracing patterns across his chest as she waits for him to wake.
When she feels him stir, she glances up, and his heart sings at the soft smile she gives him. He feels strange, lighter somehow, and as he smiles down at her, fingers stroking through her hair once more, her face falls and she pulls away.
"It's time." His confusion is evident, and as he reaches to pull her back into his arms she scoots away, further out of his reach. "You're moving on."
He can recognise it now. The light sensation in his limbs, as though he's water and slowly evaporating into the clouds, and he fights back, not willing to give up what he's been unknowingly searching for his entire life.
"Not without you."
She shakes her head, and his heart breaks as she squeezes her eyes shut, a reflex left over from life - an attempt to keep the tears in even though she has none to shed.
"Hebe," his fingers grasp her chin gently, turning her face to meet his, "Look at me."
Her voice is a tiny whisper, and his is soft in return.
"Look at me."
"No." She sounds more stubborn this time, like herself, and he smiles.
"I'm not going without you."
This time her eyes do open, anger and hopelessness warring within them. "I'm not moving on. I can see it in you; see that you're ready to. You look ready. But me- I haven't changed. Nothing's changed."
His hand moves from her chin to cup her cheek, the other sliding to her neck as he holds her gaze.
"I'd been holding something back. Something I wasn't ready to admit to myself before, but I have now, and I want, I need you to believe it. Because I do, and I've admitted it to myself instead of hiding behind what I thought I felt for Lily," he pauses, thumbs stroking Hebe's cheeks as though he's wiping away the tears. "I love you."
She presses her lips together, and his elation at saying the words out loud crashes. She doesn't feel the same way.
But as if she can sense that he's going to pull away, her own hands close over his, holding him in place. "But you're going to move on."
"Not without you."
"You can't stay, you don't- you don't get to choose. Moving on is inevitable."
"Hebe," his voice is firm, stern, and makes her open her eyes and meet his gaze. "If I can't be with you, then I don't want to move on. I won't. I'll go find whatever Being is in charge of the afterlife and make it send me back to you. I love you."
She hiccups a tiny sob, a watery smile crossing her lips as her hands squeeze his.
"I love you too."
It's amazing how the smallest regret or secret can become your biggest stumbling block, your strongest motivation, or your greatest blessing.
For Severus Snape, dying at thirty eight was not something he had wanted or expected.
Neither was meeting Hebe Longbottom.
Or falling in love with her.
For Hebe, waiting in purgatory for a hundred and fifty years had seemed like a punishment.
Neither of them had ever considered the fact that maybe their timelines had been working towards this ending all along, that they had been destined to find each other in death, release each other from the demons of their pasts, find love and create their own Heaven.
"She is why purgatory was invented." – Ann-Marie MacDonald, Fall on Your Knees.