He's sitting in shadow, at his desk. Optimistic words decant from a dead mans painting on the wall but he isn't listening anymore; they've had this conversation before, many times. He's had his fill of it. It's gone midnight and Amycus Carrow is patrolling the school corridors tonight, he knows this must look suspicious, him being here so late for no discernable reason. Severus Snape might well be the name on the official parchments here and at the Ministry of Magic naming him as the headmaster of Hogwarts, but it's quite obvious who's really running the show.
A sigh travels quietly out of him on half exhaled breath and he hopes if there is a chase to be cut to, it is soon. He sips the last of his fire whiskey then places the small glass down on his desk.
All this talk of destiny and bravery and 'The Greater Good' is like someone extinguishing a quivering flame inside him. A dampened thumb and finger to the wick has him darkening, flickering out and turning inward.
Don't talk to me about heroes, he thinks tiredly, as the flow of words keep spilling into the room, reaching easily into the shadows where he's sitting, where the candle light can't get to. Light has always had a hard time reaching him. The concept of a lionhearted champion is all fine in a fairy tale but so often very great sacrifices go unrewarded. Death is never glorious, he thinks, more like a painful, sacrificial tribulation. A man who faces death knowing it has to be but that no one will care when he's gone, is braver than the man who does it for glory. The word 'hero' won't be used to describe him when he falls.
The past few days have been crammed with memories of her and the ghost of her friendship, he can't breathe for it, it's been squeezing into his classes, his office, suffocating him. Maybe it's because the end is almost here. There's a black cloud on the horizon. His end is coming on a great storm of death, like a tidal wave out at sea heading for a town that's destined to get washed away and he can't even try and stop it. His position in this war is to lie down and let it roll over him and even now, he still doesn't know if the boy is capable.
The 'chosen one' has been fumbling around in the backwoods for months now, while this deadly game of wizard's chess rages on. The boy thinks he's a rook or a knight when all he's ever been is Dumbledore's pawn, just like Snape himself. Taking one slow step sideways or forwards, blocking paths and being a diversion. But he was never able to elevate himself to anything more - if the boy succeeds he will be a king in the eyes of many. But he, Severus Snape, will go to his grave quietly and seen as a traitor.
He's lied, killed, stolen and will die for this dead man who continues to lecture him from beyond the grave but still he isn't trusted. Snape still doesn't know the final plan of which he'll give his life for.
'Second thoughts, Severus?' The soft enquiry travels from Dumbledore's painting and Snape glances up, slowly, barely responding to the words that question his loyalty. Those blue eyes question him still, from beneath a pair of painted half-moon spectacles.
Then Snape snorts because it really is a humorous query, like he could turn back now even if he so desired.
'Fevered, wild unicorns couldn't stop this thing now,' he says darkly. He sets his words into the air with torpid acidity, eyes on the mounted portrait. There's a flicker of a smile on the moving canvas, underneath that wild, white beard.
'Quite, but welcoming death isn't as easy as you might think,' Dumbledore says knowingly.
Oh but it is, Snape considers. It is if you've been thinking about nothing but for most of your adult life, since you helped to destroy the only thing you ever cherished. And it's not like he's got to pretend to battle for his life. He just has to stand with his arms wide open and welcome death with a hug, like an old friend.
Voldemort sweeps from the room and Snape casts his eyes to where he knows the boy is hiding. The crate moves as he becomes stiller and he realizes, hazily, that the pool of blood beside his body and on his neck will have caked and dried long after he's gone from this world.
His eyes twitch, his body is fighting death and losing and then Harry is beside him, searching him with that stare, that responsible morality sitting just behind his eyes that so reminds him of Lily.
He tried to hate the boy, it would have been much easier just to play this game as enemies but Potter has always been similar to Lily. He kept an eye on Harry as asked, but whenever he tried to dislike the boy, to make the chore that bit easier, guilt would always reach up and threaten to choke him. The boy is painfully like his father, it was easy on occasion to punish him for that simple reason but he's also very much his Mother's son. That fact levels things out, makes it too hard to really hate. It's like two similar sized children on a muggle see-saw, stuck. The idea sparks a flash of memory from the park, the one he'd watched Lily and her sister play in. When he'd been hiding himself, hiding what was really going on inside.
Yes, he thinks his feelings for Harry have always been level, perfectly, set in the middle of affection and hate.
He suddenly wants Harry to know that, and that he's gladly dying for him, because it's the last thing he can do for her. He'd have died for her many times over if it would have brought her back, he even looked at ways of trying to, long ago. But they were fruitless, desperate spells, dark magic and nothing ever worked.
He looks up. It's mostly hate he sees in Harry's eyes but the boy is clearly fighting some emotion, and that look is like Lily's. He sees her, remembers when he said those hateful words to her; how he's wished he could take them back. The look in her son's eyes now is the very same. How you could betray me like that?
His life is leaving him, he feels cold and breathless, it's like a Dementor swirling above him, sucking his soul out of him but he's still playing a part, he has to show the boy, but as his dying brain runs out of oxygen, he decides to show him everything.
He wasn't going to, but wasn't Dumbledore always protesting how important love was?
He feels he should let go of the thing that's been lingering inside like sticky black tar. It's trying to claw its way out; always utterly one sided of course but he's scared it will die with him. He doesn't want it to die with him. The last thing he can do is look into his eyes, her eyes, and set it free.