A/N: Another little snippet of work to keep my avid readers going. Inspired by the events in DH and the cheated redemption of one of my favourite characters. Please read and review and let me know what you think.
"Look…at…me…" he whispered and as his life had left him, as his black eyes had rolled back, the words Snape had spoken lingered on the air. When consciousness returned he felt his lips still moving; still straining to form his dying words; to communicate his final thoughts to the boy he had hated, yet had sworn to protect. But the eternal night Snape had long expected; had anticipated secretly for many years had not come; had not engulfed him in the way he had long imagined. Instead of a descent down a long, windy tunnel, towards the oblivion of the unknown, his eyes had not opened but had refocused; the words he had spoken reverberating softly on the fragrant breeze.
For a long time he wondered abstractedly what it meant; whether he had truly died in the Shrieking Shack or whether it was all a dream. Yet his existence now was more of a dream than his death could have been. Overhead an idyllic sky was painted in shades of turquoise and white; the tree that canopied his head swayed lethargically, like a metronome, a way of measuring out this new existence in this transcendental place.
The pain of his death seemed almost out of his reach as Snape felt, for perhaps the first time, the liberation of being able to feel the pangs of life no-more. The wound at his neck had stopped pulsing; the blood had forgotten to flow for, indeed, there was no blood; he was no longer temporal. The facts of his demise seemed vaguely amusing; hazy in their immediacy and yet brought sharper into focus by the contrast of the contentment he felt now. Perhaps this was heaven Snape suddenly contemplated; irritated that he had left such thoughts until now. The need for constant vigilant, preoccupation in life had left little room for Snape to reflect on what came after; what was the use of preparing yourself for death when simply staying alive took such a commitment of time?
Sitting up Snape became aware of how little he could feel his own body. He had placed his hands behind him for support as he had raised himself, and yet he had not felt the grass in a way he had expected; it seemed that sensation was lost. In life he had touched, interacted, existed in a bodily sense to everything around him and now, after life, it appeared that he was simply there.
But was he alone? His eyes skimmed the horizon that revealed nothing but the limitless expanse of infinity; the infinity of the undulating grass and sky. He recognised yet failed to acknowledge his disappointment; uncomfortable with the feeling that however solitary he had elected to be during life, he had deeply hoped that after death he would not feel as though he were alone.
Maybe this is my punishment, Snape considered, rising to his feet and moving habitually to dust down the back of his robes; maybe this is the damnation I deserve for living the life that I have? And then suddenly Snape was angry; angry at the injustice of the life he had led. He had been cheated of so many opportunities, and although the path he had chosen may have been wrong, fate had decreed that he was to never have the chance to reveal his true character. Swiftly Snape rebuked himself, clinging to the defence that he didn't care about the judgement of others and, since he was dead, there was nothing more he could do about achieving the redemption he had always been, secretly, striving towards.
The wind that he couldn't feel threw back his dying words to him, infuriating his sense of dignity, threatening his carefully constructed composure. If this was heaven then why was he being tormented; tormented by the bitterness he had refused to relinquish until his dying breath? This was hell, Snape concurred with a decisiveness that shook him; he was damned for the murder of a love he had tried to conquer, and for his part in the forging of destinies that could never be changed.
The sibilant wind mocked him, hissing like the snake that had destroyed him, or like the master that had ordered his death. Had he been weak in his lifetime, or had it taken more courage than he ever dared credit himself with to give such a seamless performance? He had not feared death as he had faced it; standing on the precipice he had always known he had been edging towards for years. And yet in those final moments…when that boy had come towards him with something utterly different in, what he had always seen as contemptible green eyes, he had been more afraid of the sudden sweep of regret than anything else in his life. It terrified him but in that moment, when he had clearly seen the compassionate gaze of the woman he had loved and lost reflected in the eyes of her son, he knew that what he feared about death was not the unknown, but his absolute certainty that he would have to see her again.
He was not quite sure how long he had been standing, or how long he had been thinking of these things - the sun had yet to dip in the sky – but Snape became gradually conscious of someone else on the periphery of the scene he surveyed. He turned, very slowly, and he was struck by the image before him; a manifestation of air and light that altered so subtly that Snape barely had time to recognise the face of the woman it had become. All around the light dimmed as she was brought more sharply into focus, and Snape felt a nauseating sense of reminder of the boy that had looked on as he had died.
In his deepest moments of grief Snape had tortured himself with everything that they had ever said to one another; and what they might say to each other if they were ever in each other's company again. In life he would have frozen, holding himself back from what he truly wanted to say. He would be cruel and unmerciful in his words; only now, now he had left the cares and inhibitions of his mortal body behind, he found he was unable to say anything at all.
She smiled at his silence and with that smile the ethereal light that surrounded her slipped away and she became physical to him once more.
"You're here…you came…" he managed falteringly, stunned into speaking by her smile. His voice was the same as when he had last used it, although it seemed to him as though his lips hadn't moved; like he hadn't truly spoken.
"How could I not?" she asked, her tone tainted with the same sharpness she had used with him before.
"I wouldn't of," he answered curtly.
"That is the difference between you and I, Severus." Her lips formed a name that had, for a long time, been foreign for her to speak; as it had been foreign for him to hear in the years that had past. It proved a little too much and after feeling as though his self-possession was slipping, he looked down and away from her penetrating gaze, thinking how stupid it was to think in terms of self-possession when he no-longer had a self to possess.
"Besides I didn't come," she continued, drawing Snape out of retrospection. "You brought me here with you."
He felt indignant at this and then it was as though it made sense why she looked no different; why she hadn't aged and looked (and he flushed slightly as he thought this) as perfect to him as the last time he had seen her.
"Really?" Snape drawled, suppressing the tremor that he was fearful of expressing, masking it behind sarcasm. "What a shame you weren't more of a comfort to me in life."
"You'd never let my memory comfort you," she said sadly, as if she had more cause to regret this than he did. She took a step forward and he instinctively moved back, raising his hands to prevent her from coming any closer.
"You used my memory to punish yourself, something which I would have never have wanted you to do."
Snape laughed mirthlessly at this and refused to meet her eyes.
"Of course I punished myself! What else did you expect? I did not have the luxury of dying, of escaping the repercussions of what I did. I had to live with the guilt of my actions, unable to confess to a single living soul just what it meant for me to do what I did all those years ago. Is it at all surprising that I couldn't help but despise myself for it?"
She turned away then, one white hand pressed over her mouth, stray tears staining her cheeks, and he couldn't bear it. He closed the distance and reached out, no longer checked by his restraint, suddenly longing to feel her warmth. But before he could touch she flinched, blinking away the tears, swallowing hard and saying in a voice swollen with emotion, "Do you think that after all the pain of our lifetimes we could forget…"
She hesitated and as Snape lowered his arm she looked squarely into his eyes and, all at once, he was overwhelmed by the love that had proved to be the only thing in his lifetime he could never manage to control.
"What you did for Harry…" the name was an unwelcome intrusion and he cringed at the emotions that it inspired. She smiled, half amused, at the feelings he had unwittingly communicated, moving closer to him as she continued, "What you did for Harry, the protection you gave him…"
Snape was conflicted, unwilling to listen.
"It was nothing."
"It took more than I think you ever gave to anyone else, and it touched me more deeply than anything else anyone has ever done for me."
Finally it was too much; too much to listen to these words and the clarity of their meaning; the purity of their motivation, in resignation and silence. The words that had been teetering on the edge of reason finally broke forth, in death more ardent than was possible in life.
"You forgive me then?" His black eyes expressed the final truth of the confession he still couldn't bring himself to say; you forgive me for the bitterness and anguish I caused, and the death I brought to you because you didn't love me?
She sighed, her lips slightly parting as her features once again became ethereal, bathed in supernatural light. But before the brilliance of the image obliterated what remained of his consciousness, which lingered in the purgatory he had created for himself, he heard her very clearly say, "There is nothing to forgive."
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