Harry made his way down the cramped tunnel trying his hardest not to think of the last time he had been down here and the chillingly brutal scene he had borne witness to.
He had seen his most hated Professor murdered in cold blood by Nagini, Voldermort's monstrous snake familiar on his orders. He had been left for dead with blood gushing from his neck wound like an unwanted, broken toy tossed in the trash and for some reason Harry could not explain he had been drawn to his side. To his surprise, he hadn't felt the emotions he'd expected: hatred, loathing and disgust instead he had felt sadness and compassion for his most hated Professor being dispatched in such a cold and detached manner.
He had knelt next to him holding his hand and maybe just maybe bringing him some comfort in his final moments and in return Snape had given him his most precious, private memories, surely an impossibly difficult thing for a man who so fiercely protected his privacy and yet he gave them freely. He shared his sad story and bared his soul, and that had proved to be the key to him defeating Voldermort which had allowed him to bravely face certain death knowing it was the only way to defeat him.
He recalled his last words "look at me!" see the real me, the good the bad and the ugly but above all look at me and see me for who I really am.
He did, he saw him in a whole new light after that. That wasn't to say that he could simply forgive him for all the years of hatred and sneered insults that would take time. His memories did not gloss over the truth and paint him in a more attractive light, he was hardly a saint, his story was brutal and ugly in its honesty but it laid bare the truth of the man flaws and all, showing his emotions in all their raw intensity and that not only explained so much of his behaviour but it made him so much more human than the stone-cold personality he presented to the world.
Here was a lonely, bitter man who had been rejected all his life, a man who had made many mistakes and lost himself in darkness but had sought redemption. A man who had suffered terrible loss because of his actions. A man who was perhaps never truly free, spending his adult life branded serving one master or another, repenting for his sins. Yet he had never shirked from his duties, he had been resolute and determined to destroy the one who he had once served, the one who had wrought such pain and destruction in his life and killed the one woman who meant the world to him. He had bravely returned to his former master's side playing the ultimate gamble in his role as a double agent, enduring intense punishment and knowing that if his treachery were discovered he would face torture with the worst kind of dark magic curses and a long, slow and painful death.
And he did it all not for Harry but for his mother, the one woman he had ever loved, the one person perhaps who had ever been a true friend to him who accepted him and treated him with kindness. The woman he could never have, never be with, the one life above all others that he could not save, the one death that would forever haunt his guilty conscience forever.
His was a different kind of bravery, he reluctantly killed Dumbledore, the benevolent, heroic leader of the light, on his request to save another soul. He spent his last years protecting him and Hogwarts in secret whilst knowing he was universally hated and distrusted by those people who he had worked with who he had come to consider a surrogate family. He had gone to his death believing the world saw him as a traitor, a murderer and a coward with no chance to clear his name, knowing the world would never know what he had done for them but he faced his destiny as always with a cold, emotionless mask.
Unfortunately, this revelation had come too late, by the time he knew of his former teacher's sacrifice and his bravery it was too late he was already dead. He realised how little he had truly known about his former Professor and wished now that he had a chance to reconcile with him to apologize and thank him for all that he had done in secret to keep him safe.
He also wished that he had a second chance to try again, not that he thought that he was to blame for the man's seeming hatred and acidic attitude towards him although he could see with hindsight how he may have interpreted his actions as being reckless and attention-seeking like his father, being allowed to break the rules without fear of serious punishment. Maybe if he'd had an adult in his life who he could trust and who cared about him, he might have learnt to value his life more instead of thinking he needed to save the day himself and rushing head first into danger.
No perhaps he was dreaming to think that they could ever have had a close relationship, particularly with his role as a spy and having to maintain his image and hide his loyalties in front of his Slytherin charges many of whom had close ties to the Death Eaters but maybe if he had known a bit more about him he might have tried to prove that he was worthy of his protection that he was not like his father a spoilt, arrogant and reckless bully but more like his mother kind and caring. He knew so little about her compared with his father it would have meant a lot to know the man who was once her best friend better, to hear his stories and his memories but it was never to be.
Severus Snape deserved better than the miserable life he'd been forced to endure, suffering so much reviled and dishonoured with no chance of recognition his body abandoned here while Harry himself fought in the final battle and dealt with the aftermath. Maybe he couldn't give him a second chance at happiness but he could at least give him a decent burial, he could honour him for the silent, hidden hero he was, he could clear his name for him and make sure the world knew the truth about his role in the war.