Soul to Soul

By Daphne Dunham

"Look… at… me…" he whispered.

The green eyes found the black, but after a second, something in the depths of the dark pair seemed to vanish, leaving them fixed, blank, and empty. The hand holding Harry thudded to the floor, and Snape moved no more.…

It's a deserted road; a crumbling road; a dusty, winding, and narrow road. The air is warm, the breeze moving through it dry and wavering, like a piece of parchment or a wave of smoke. He hesitates, blinking, unsure of where he is at first, and steps forward slowly, through the mist parting around him, taking shape before him. Then he swallows hard, staring at the emerging skyline, at the single brick mill chimney rising up in the distance, hovering over the river in the same condemnatory fashion he remembered from his childhood. The river, he knows, is a fetid one, the stink of poverty and pollution lapping at the banks and corroding the shores of the city. And that city, he knows, is a dingy one, a dirty one—one where alcoholic Muggle fathers beat their sons and break their witch wives' wands, leaving them as defenseless and damaged as the walls of their house.

"Sweet Merlin," he mutters bitterly, dragging his feet a little more, "so this is hell."

In truth, Severus Snape hasn't expected much less: It seems a just punishment to him, in fact, that he should have to spend eternity here, wandering through the detritus of his youth. He has, after all, been far from saintly. He didn't really expect the years of spying and protecting Harry-bloody-Potter to have rescued his soul… and if he thinks carefully about it, he's not sure that he'd want it to—that it has been enough to amend for his murders, for his tortures, for his rapes, for his betrayals… for Lily Evans.

It's as he rounds the corner that Severus becomes aware of it: the faint, shrill, rhythmic squeaking—the metallic groan of metal against metal, chain on chain. It's a sweet sound, actually, a song-like sound; he recognizes it at once, his heart beating quickly. He turns.

There, through the patches of bushes by the roadside, is the old playground, the swing-set emerging in a golden mist, the slide and seesaw shimmering in a sudden burst of sunlight overhead. One swing—the very swing she had jumped off of the first time he dared to talk to her—wavers back and forth in the warm breeze, like a hand motioning to him, beckoning him.

For a moment, Severus doesn't breathe—not that he's really breathing, anyway. It's as if he's looking at a ghost. He makes his way off the roadside, through the bushes, to the swings. He pauses, stares at the swing moving in the wind, remembering. Then, trembling, he moves to sit down on it: a Muggle invention, a Muggle child's amusement—but a pivotal element in shaping his magical life. He looks down at his body as he sits on the swing. Black robes exchanged for white. Knuckles pursed and pale as he hangs onto the chains suspending the seat. He shakes his head at the transformation, breathing in the warm air; it smells fresh like rain and lilies, cut grass and linen on the clothesline. Was this hell…?

"Severus…"

He would recognize that voice anywhere—whether sitting in his office recounting their latest exploits to counteract the Dark Lord, having a leisurely glass of elf-made wine together by the fireside and debating finer points of magical theory, or being subjected to his unwelcome discourse on the virtues of Harry Potter. Nonetheless, Severus looks up in the direction of the sound: Past the playground, the road continues, bright light emanating from over the horizon, where it curls in a quirkily friendly fashion. Clouds of golden mist waft from the origin of the light, rolling pleasantly over the road like stardust. Walking down the path toward him, the hem of his navy robes swishing around the remnants of the brilliant mist, is Albus Dumbledore.

Severus stiffens as the apparition of the headmaster approaches. It is not without a certain amount of anger that he regards the man before him. He had, after all, trusted Albus for so long, sacrificed and risked for him, labored under the belief that they were working together to preserve Lily's son. Only in the end did Albus reveal his darker nature, the truth that he was using Severus, as he was using Harry. It nearly destroyed Severus inside, and it made the moment when he felt Nagini's fangs at his throat that much more bitter. Consequently, there are no words, only cold, accusatory stares from Severus as Albus takes a seat in the swing beside him.

"I would ask you where, exactly, we are," Albus says at last, after a few moments of nothing but the breeze and the sing-song metal of the swings, "but I feel quite certain that I already know."

Still, Severus says nothing. So Albus tries again.

"My dear Severus, please believe I never intended this to happen to you," he tells him quietly, humbly. "It was a miscalculation, and I am sorry. I had not planned…" His voice trails off sadly. He looks down at his wrinkled hands, ashamed, eyes flooding to big, blue pools behind the rims of his half-moon spectacles. "I had intended," he continues after a few more moments of silence, "for you to be free when this is over—for you to be your own master, rather than be held accountable to me, or to Voldemort… or to your regrets."

The dark-haired man's voice is husky when he speaks, hoarse and tremulous like he's holding back a flood. "I gave everything I had to give," Severus replies, "and you took full advantage of my weakness. In case you forgot, I had another Darker master who also exploited this same weakness. Perhaps you two are not so much unalike."

Albus brings his hand to his face. Severus thinks, for a moment, that he may be wiping a tear from his cheek. It's not the first time Albus has considered the likenesses between himself and Voldemort; manipulating Severus' affection for Lily was the least of their similarities. Daily, he's berated himself for it, questioning when and if he had crossed the fine line between Dark and Light. There are times even now that he's still unsure.

"I have cared about you, Severus. Immensely. Whatever it may seem," Albus assures him softly. "I have loved you. You have been like a son to me."

Severus wrinkles his nose in distaste. He wants to believe the headmaster. A lifetime of striving unsuccessfully for love and acceptance—first from his parents; then from Lily; and, most disastrously, from the Death Eaters—has left him hungry for a bond such as Albus reassures him they have shared. The doubtful creases in his face ease and his dark eyes soften. It's amazing what one will believe when one wants to.

"We're almost at the close, Severus," Albus continues, sensing the younger wizard's hesitancy, his interest in believing in him—in himself—in everything they have worked for together. "And you will see that I have not used you. Harry will make us proud. You won't be disappointed."

The hook-nosed wizard looks rather unconvinced but does not press the point further. Instead, he nods in the direction of the path from which Albus has emerged. "You'll watch this miraculous event of Potter's success from there, then, and I'll watch from there?" His eyes shift to the dismal chimney in the distance, to the shadows that hover beneath it, where he knows Spinner's End resides at the mention of the latter possibility.

Albus shakes his head briefly. "I had different plans, actually," he tells him warmly. The beneficent twinkle in his eyes for which he was so well known among the Hogwarts students has returned in an instant. "In fact, I've come to take you with me."

The older man moves as though to rise from his swing, to lead the way further down the path, past the playground and far from the condemnation of the chimney and river and Spinner's End. "And incidentally, Severus, there's a certain young woman who's most anxious to see you," he adds gently. Lily has always been a powerful lure for Severus, and beneath his white beard, there's a knowing smile curling the corners of Albus' thin lips. "She tells me you've done remarkable things for her son these past sixteen years."

Severus looks up sharply at the hint of Lily Evans. Over the years, he has been through so much, endured all manner of sin and shame and suffering for her sake. There was the fury he felt with himself when he, in his rage, blurted the word that ended what remained of their friendship that afternoon following O.W.L.s. There was the sorrow he felt when he watched the hem of her nightgown swish around her ankles, then disappear with a distinct sense of finality back behind the portrait of the Fat Lady into the Gryffindor Tower that evening. And there was the pain—sharp like vengeance—that he felt in his left forearm when the Dark Lord muttered the incantation that branded him his, knowing full well that at that same exact moment in a little church in Godric's Hollow, she and Potter were muttering incantations that bound them together as husband and wife. But despite it all, Severus still cannot help the faint glint of hope emerging in the dark tunnels of his eyes at Lily's mention. Then, as quickly as it came, it flits away again.

"Lily never loved me," he spits. "It was Potter. It was always Potter. And it always will be."

"Ah," says Albus with a knowing grin, "that's where you're right… and where you're wrong." A quizzical expression crosses Severus' brow—he's always loathed the headmaster's riddles—and Albus elaborates.

"You see, it's not like that where we're headed, Severus," he explains. "The most pure love exists where I'm taking you. It's not the pairing of flesh to flesh that matters, like it does back there." He nods slightly to their right, to the road down which Severus found himself walking from mere moments ago. "Here," he continues, glancing forward, farther down the road, to the dusty path beyond the playground illuminated with the misty golden light, "it's the pairing of soul to soul that matters.

"Lily and James may have been suited for one another in the worldly sense..." The smirk on Severus' face is unmistakable, but Albus' eyes twinkle all the more warmly as he continues. "But I think you'll find, Severus, that there is no better match for Lily's soul than your own."

"Yes, my soul is positively pristine," Severus scoffs. "If nothing else, murdering you certainly made it pure as snow." The irony in his tone is impossible not to identify.

Albus' eyes continue to twinkle warmly. "The mercy and kindness you showed me leads me to believe otherwise, actually. Believe what you wish, but the fact remains that the love both you and Lily have exhibited, the sacrifices you both have made—she to her son, and you to her—make you a perfect pair."

The hook-nosed young man opens his mouth in preparation for yet more pessimistic protestations, but even as he does, he is promptly silenced: Beyond Albus, Severus sees a figure growing closer on the horizon, standing in the radiant light of the path beyond the playground: The golden glow blends with the red of her hair, the green of her eyes flickering warmly through the mist, and the breadth of her smile dancing on the breeze. She stretches out her hand, her palm face up like a cup of love and patience, apology and forgiveness, offered for the taking.

Before Albus can say more, Severus has already stood up, a faint grin playing at the corners of his mouth, and he takes a step forward, toward Lily, toward the light.

A/N: Opening quote from DH by JKR. She, of course owns it all, and I just like to muck it up by adding my two cents.