A/N: Deathly Hallows spoilers ahead.
Disclaimer: Characters belong to J.K. Rowling.
One moment he is looking into her eyes, but with Potter's scar and Potter's nose and a distressed frown on his face and the next it is her eyes but with the long red hair he remembers and porcelain skin and a wide smile – a smile meant for him.
"Severus!" she exclaims and then she is in his arms. He holds her tight, not caring if this is a dream or not (as surely as it must be since he was just with the Dark Lord.) Yet, she feels real and smells just as he remembers her, so perhaps it isn't a dream. After several long moments, she pulls back from him and he is caught by her gaze, by those eyes.
"I'm so happy to see you, Sev" she says. "It's been a very long time."
He opens his mouth to respond, to tell her that he has missed her too, more than she can know. He wants to tell her is sorry. He has tried, but it is up to her son now. But instead, his mouth opens and closes like a fish and no sound escapes.
"Where are we?" he finally manages. He looks around and sees they are in a wood. Light sparkles through the leaves of the tree, illuminating the two of them. Two paths lead in opposite directions around a large oak tree that looks like it has been there for a millennia. He knows this place.
"This is where we used to come and play as children," Lily tells him. "Remember?"
He does. He has many happy memories here in this wood with Lily. He told her everything he learned about magic from his mother and they played Exploding Snap and Crazy Eights. They fought make believe battles with pirates to Dark wizards. And once, she had brought an old sheet and they had made a tent and slept in it together, telling both their parents that they were spending the night at each other's houses.
"Why are we here?"
She points to his neck. He lifts his hand to probe the area gently and is shocked to find a gaping wound. And then it rushes back to him – the Dark Lord, Nagini, he wanted control of the Elder wand, a wand he never had control of. He could have said something, told him that Draco had Disarmed Dumbledore before he made the final blow, or he could say nothing and save the boy again.
"Why are we here?" he asks again.
She holds his hands now in hers, squeezing them. "You have a decision to make, Severus. You can come with me or you can return to where you came from," she says in a soft voice.
"As a ghost." It isn't a question. He knows that when she says return she does not mean he will miraculously recover from Nagini's bite. He will be a ghost, a ghost with a gaping hole in his neck, forever haunting the corridors of Hogwarts. Snake-bit Severus the students will call him. Lily nods her head. It is not a welcome prospect, but then he thinks, "Does Potter know what he has to do? I gave him my memories, but maybe it isn't enough. He never was the sharpest—"
He stops with Lily's sudden glare. "He's under a lot of stress," he amends.
"He knows," a man's voice says. Severus looks up to see Dumbledore emerge from the trees. "And he will do what needs to be done. You have done a fine job, my boy. A fine job."
Lily moves to the side and before Severus can stop him, Dumbledore hugs him tightly. He only releases Severus at the sound of someone clearing his throat behind him. Severus frowns. It is James Potter and Sirius Black.
Sirius looks more like the young man who had just graduated Hogwarts. Gone are the prison tattoos and the haunted look in his eye. As for James, Severus is once again struck at how much the son resembles the father. Minus the scar and Harry's green eyes, they might be hard to tell apart. Potter holds out his hand.
"Thank you. Harry never would have made it this far without you, Snape," James says.
"He probably doesn't see it that way," Severus grumbles, to which James chuckles and shakes his head.
"We owe you an apology," Sirius says, holding out his hand. Severus eyes it suspiciously. "For—for everything. You were bloody brilliant playing at spy, Sni—Snape."
Before Severus can sneer that he wasn't merely playing at spy, someone else speaks.
"That goes for us as well," the voice says. Severus looks up to see Lupin and Tonks emerge from the trees.
Tonks frowns. "I don't owe him anything," she says, cuffing Lupin. "I knew what he was along. Wotcher, Snape!"
Severus doesn't return her toothy grin, but clutches at the hand that Lily still holds in hers. This small clearing is becoming quite crowded. He wishes for the security and comfort of his dungeon quarters at Hogwarts.
"I second that!" Another voice proclaims. It belongs to Fred Weasley. Mad-Eye Moody stands next to him, but as he used to be, with nose, eye, and both legs intact. "And he was a great teacher too," Fred continues. "Taught me and George everything we know about potions."
"Merlin, help us," Severus says under his breath, but it loud enough that the growing group surrounding him hear and chuckle. Fred just grins widely and obnoxiously.
"Well, I for one, am surprised. I thought for sure you were as bad as they come," Moody says gruffly. He grabs Severus' hand and shakes it almost until it falls off. "I'm glad to see that I sometimes get it wrong."
He isn't sure, but Severus is sure that Tonks murmurs something under her breath about it being more than sometimes, but Moody doesn't hear her. She winks when she sees Severus' raised eyebrow.
And then when he thinks that no other person can fit in the clearing, Severus feels a tug at his robes. Looking down, he sees Dobby. He wears two mismatched socks, one covered with golden snitches and the other with candy canes, and he looks ecstatic to see Severus.
"You is being one of the nicest wizards to Dobby while Dobby worked for the Malfoys and later at Hogwarts," he says. "Although he never let Dobby clean his lab, even when I promises that I be careful," the house elf announces to the crowd. They chuckle and Severus mutters under his breath that no one was allowed in his lab but himself.
Suddenly, it grows quiet, and Severus begins to feel uncomfortable. He clears his throat and asks, "Why are all of you here?"
"To lead you on, Sev," Lily says. She is still holding his one hand and she gives it a squeeze. "We didn't want you to be alone."
His throat tightens and he suddenly finds it hard to breathe. He has been alone almost his entire life. The only time he ever felt like he truly belonged was when he was with Lily. And now, before him stood, half the Order of the Phoenix, a house elf, and the best friend he ever had.
"Unless you're too afraid," Black says to him. Lily glares at him and James elbows him in the stomach, but Sirius only narrows his eyes and stares at Severus.
He stands up straighter and looks Black straight in the eye. "Gryffindors don't have the monopoly on courage," he says with a sneer.
Sirius throws his head back with laughter, while Tonks shouts, "Hear! Hear!"
"We certainly do not," Dumbledore agrees. Mad-Eye growls his approval.
"Three cheers for Severus Snape!" Fred shouts. And the rest join in on the hip, hip, hoorays. Severus shakes his head at the indecent display, but inwardly he cannot be more delighted. In death, he has found what he strived for in life – recognition, friendship, and love.
"Shall we get going or not?" he asks impatiently. Fred leads the crowd of people out of the clearing, on the path, Severus notes, that lead to Lily's childhood home. He holds back until it is just Lily and himself.
"I always loved you," he tells her the words he never could give voice while he lived. "From the moment I first saw you."
"I know," she says quietly. "I loved you too." She leans up and brushes her lips against his cheek. His heart quickens at the soft touch. Meeting his eye, she frowns. There are tears glistening in her eyes. "I'm sorry it wasn't in the way you wanted."
Severus shakes his head. "It's okay," he tells her, lifting his hand to her cheek. "It was enough."
And then, hand in hand, she leads him on to death, to peace and to rest.