Learning to Live

Chapter One: The Forest

Snape stared into Potter's eyes as consciousness faded away. No, not Potter's eyes; Lily's eyes. He knew he was dying; no known anti-venom existed for Nagini's bite. But if he could just retain the image of those beautiful green eyes for the rest of eternity, even Hell wouldn't seem so bad.

The pain was gone, and he was lying on his back in a place filled with white mist. He blinked once, twice, and saw the mist gradually fading away. How could this be? He was back in the forest, the one by his childhood home where he used to meet with Lily.

"Severus."

He was hallucinating. Was that even possible for a disembodied soul? Confused, he blinked again, and there she was, walking towards him. She was just as beautiful as he remembered—the beautiful, long, dark red hair falling past her shoulders; creamy white skin; and the eyes, those beautiful green eyes. She was wearing that lovely blue shirt, too, the one that emphasized her every curve. It had that tantalizingly low neckline, too, that showed off a hint of cleavage, just enough to whet a man's appetite…

With a start, Severus realized that he was naked. Perhaps this was a nightmare after all! Quickly he moved his hands downward to cover his growing erection. She was so beautiful…but she was not real. None of this was.

"Oh, I'm real enough," Lily said with a smile. "Real enough that I'm still in love with James Potter. But Severus…" She reached out, carefully stroking the limp, greasy strands of hair from his face. If she noticed that he wasn't wearing anything, she was kind enough not to say so.

Severus Snape had never been a talkative man—unless he was with Lily. Over the past seventeen years, he'd grown accustomed to repressing his feelings; but now, for some strange reason, he couldn't hold them back. "I did the best I could, but it wasn't enough."

"It was, Severus."

"Is this heaven?" he asked hopefully, noticing that, as she bent over, he could see straight down her shirt.

"I'm afraid not. Just a way station while your body recovers."

He frowned at her. "Lily, I'm not a fool. Augustus Pennyfeather got in the way of Nagini once…we tried everything, you can't heal those bite wounds."

She was still running her fingers through his hair. He sighed with pleasure and relished the sensations pulsing through his body.

"You don't know everything, Severus. You just think you do. Now, up you go." Reaching down, she caught a hold of his hand and pulled him to a sitting position. "Stand up, Sev. There are a few things that need to be said."

As he got to his feet, he noticed that he was suddenly back in his old black teaching robes.

"All right, I'm first. Severus Snape, I forgive you for what you said to me. And I don't blame you at all for my death."

He stared at her, at a loss for words. She forgave him? After all those years? And what did she mean, she was first? The latter question, at least, was answered quickly, as a familiar voice spoke behind him.

"Snape. I…I guess I was an arrogant berk." James Potter was standing in the clearing with his wife.

"You always were gifted at understatements," Severus said shakily.

"I was rotten to you. I never gave you a chance at all. Just because you wanted to be in Slytherin, like your mother…that was hardly fair. I only wanted to be in Gryffindor because my father was. And then to keep it going all those years." Potter sighed regretfully, and for the first time, Severus Snape saw James as he really was. Maybe it was the newfound respect he'd gained for the man's son that now colored his vision.

"You will forgive me, won't you Snape?" Potter was extending his hand. Severus reached out uncertainly and shook it, nodding his head. Here, outside his body, it was hard to be angry at the man.

"Maybe there's hope for me, then." Sirius Black had somehow sneaked into the clearing and now stood at Snape's left shoulder. "I'll forgive you if you'll forgive me. Then we can drop all these stupid heavy weights off our shoulders and get on with our lives, er, deaths, okay?"

Severus forced something like a smile on his face and shook hands with his arch-nemesis. Yes, things were different here. He could put this petty school-boy grudge behind him.

"Excellent! Excellent, Severus. I'm so proud of you."

Snape didn't immediately recognize the wizard who stood in front of him. Surely he had never met anyone who wore plum-colored velvet suits, or had such a full auburn beard, or had such startlingly blue eyes…oh, those eyes!

"Albus?"

"Of course. Now, my boy, I want to have a word with you in private." The older wizard—or was he really older, here in this place-that-wasn't?—glared mildly at the other three people.

"See you in a hundred years, man," remarked Sirius casually. James waved, and Lily kissed his cheek, and the three of them faded into the mist.

"Now, where were we? Ah yes. Your death." Albus waved his hand, conjuring up two embroidered arm chairs. "Sit down, my boy. Sherbet lemon?"

Severus sank suspiciously into the chair. He'd always declined the headmaster's sweets before, but he took one for sentiment's sake.

"Part of the reason I'm here is to tell you that you lived first for Lily, and later for Harry, but you've never really lived for yourself. And that just isn't fair."

"Life isn't fair," the erstwhile Potions Master muttered gloomily.

"And you did a great thing, Severus. You kept yourself alive long enough to carry out my orders to you. And I know that wasn't easy."

Snape nodded, remembering. "I don't see what that has to do with anything, though," he said.

"Well, those who are loyal to me…tend to get some help that they're not expecting. Yes, Severus, even after my death. At least until Fawkes bonds to a new owner."

Fawkes…he hadn't seen Fawkes for a year! Why hadn't he realized…phoenix tears…

"So you're going back, dear boy. Change your name. Leave Britain. Invent some new potions. Learn to really, truly love. And then, maybe, the powers-that-be will bring you back to Lily."

"Albus!" Severus cried out. The pain was returning, and the headmaster was fading away in the mist. "Albus, please…"

"I'll be keeping an eye on you. Don't worry."

And then he was back in the Shrieking Shack. Harry and his friends were gone.

He raised his left hand to his neck with difficulty; the bite marks were gone. He was no longer bleeding, but he was finding it hard to breathe. Of course: he had precious little blood in his arteries to bring oxygen to his body.

Phoenix song, piercing and lovely, filled the room. Fawkes had swooped down and perched on his chest; the bird's tail was hanging near his hand. What was the creature trying to say?

He could barely think, but somehow he understood what to do. His right hand closed around his wand, and his left hand closed around Fawkes' tail. "Spinner's End," he croaked.

He was there in a flash; phoenix travel was fast but nowhere near as uncomfortable as Apparation. Fawkes trilled again and streaked off into the night.

Snape raised his wand. "Accio Blood Replenishment Potion." A vial came zooming towards him; he barely had enough strength to catch it and remove the stopper. In one swallow he downed the foul-tasting concoction.

He could breathe again now. Oxygen flowed from his lungs throughout his body. He reveled in the sensation of air, wonderful sweet air, filling his chest.

Still unsteady on his feet, he first summoned his Expanded rucksack, then the contents of his bookshelves, and finally his potions ingredients. Clothes could be bought, and he had no personal mementoes to speak of.

Where would he go first? Somewhere other than London that had a Gringotts branch. Cairo, maybe? Or Beijing? No, somewhere close; he'd have to fly part of the way. Paris, perhaps, or Vienna.

Really, it didn't matter. Wizards lived for a long time, and he…he had a hundred years or more to travel the world. He'd never forget Lily, but he was finding it hard to obsess about her now. He would live. He'd learn and travel and invent, as Albus had suggested. Maybe he'd even learn to love.

For the first time in a long, long time, Severus Snape smiled.

Author's Notes: Okay, this was only going to be a one-shot, and I marked it 'complete'. But the plot bunnies couldn't leave me alone, So now it will be a bit longer. Not sure how long.

I'm aware that this could use some work: the plot bunny hit at 1 AM, and I posted it around 2:30 AM. Everything will go up un-betaed, as I don't have a current beta team. (If your interested in beta-ing, and are accredited by Perfect Imagination, I'd love to have you. I need PI betas so I can post on The Petulant Poetess.)