Disclaimer: Not mine...just playing with the characters/world of the creative genius...JKR...

A/N: This won't comply with the DH Epilogue. I'm new to the world of fan fiction and found it captivating. This is the first one I've authored, so stick with me on this work in progress.

A/N 12/4/10: My sincerest apologies for not updating this story for so long. I can't even begin to say how much the HP fandom has changed my life, and I tend to think that it all began with this fic, taking that deep breath and publishing that first chapter. I owe it to the readers of this story and to myself to finish this fic, so finish it I will!

Chapter 1

A Warning

"Are you certain?" Severus Snape asked. He rested his hands on the desk in front of him and wove his long fingers together. The moonlight trickled through the tower window, emphasizing the pallor of his skin against dark robes. A curtain of black hair framed an expression of deep frustration. With furrowed eyebrows, he took a deep breath and held it for a moment, before slowly releasing as a near silent sigh.

"Oh yes, Severus, quite," Dumbledore said. "I have given the matter much thought, and taking recent events into consideration, I have concluded that this will indeed be the path that Voldemort will take, and soon. I do, of course, understand your uncertainties, given the gravity of the situation."

"Obviously," Severus muttered.

He turned in his chair to look at the former Headmaster's portrait that hung behind the desk. Dumbledore was smiling as always and met his gaze through half moon spectacles. Severus narrowed his eyes as anger toward the old wizard burned deeper within his stomach. Dumbledore's constant serenity bothered him. Does he not remember that he was murdered by a man who didn't want him to die in the first place?

"I shall do your bidding, though I fail to see how you have drawn such a specific conclusion from the information we've just discussed."

"Ah, Severus, you must forgive the wanderings of an old wizard's mind. You see, this information presented itself not to me, but to dear Harry. It would seem that Voldemort became rather agitated and excited while pondering your fate and allowed his mental guard to slip. It appeared to Harry in a dream. This was last year."

"Potter," Severus hissed. His lip quivered slightly in protest, he was loath to even say the name. "The Dark Lord is a master Occlumens, I'm not entirely sure I'd trust anything Potter saw in a dream. He might have intended that the boy see. Do you recall the fiasco at the Ministry?"

"I do not believe the circumstances to be the same. This is something different entirely," Dumbledore replied with a calm air. Unable to maintain his composure, Severus stood up and swooped to the portrait.

"Believe me when I say that I will not die for the dreams of some teenage boy. Especially Potter!" he spat with a clenched jaw, his nose mere inches from the canvas.

"Of course you wouldn't, nor would I expect you to. But you have to understand, I do have good reason to believe that this is not the same as the events prior to the tragedy at the Ministry. Will you hear me out?"

"If I must," Severus said with a defeated flourish of his hand. He walked away from the portrait and began to pace in front of the desk.

"First, what would be the purpose of his showing Harry how you are to be murdered? He is quite aware of your feelings toward Harry. He also knows that Harry isn't entirely fond of you either. Or your detentions for that matter," Dumbledore added with a slight chuckle. "Second, and perhaps more important, the vision presented itself to Harry different than that of Sirius or Arthur Weasley. You see, Harry saw not your actual murder, but only Voldemort coddling Nagini, telling her you deserved a better death than Avada Kedavra. That a wizard as significant as you could only be killed by one as great her. It would seem that the thought of Nagini killing his most trusted follower pleased him immensely."

"Nagini," Severus said, running a hand through his hair. "But why are you telling me now, when my impending death didn't seem so important a year ago?"

"I felt it unnecessary to burden you with such information until the time came for you to be prepared. That time is now."

"And why are you so certain that he will kill me? He has given no indication that he is anything but pleased with me," Severus said.

"In light of recent events, I know that it is only a matter of time before he begins to believe that your death is necessary."

"But why will he think my death necessary? I cannot make sense of it."

"That, my dear Severus, is not for me to tell. I'm afraid you'll have to find the answer to that particular question on your own."

"Even in death you speak in maddening riddles. Am I to die quietly?" Severus couldn't help but to infuse his words with the bitterness coursing through his veins. "Is it that you have been preparing two pieces of meat to sacrifice for the greater good?" Out of the corner of his eye he saw the portrait of Dumbledore grimace slightly. This soothed him. At least words still stung the impossible old wizard.

"I do not expect you to die at all, unless you feel it the only way to convey your animosity toward the portrait of an old and tired former headmaster," Dumbledore said.

"Of course not." Severus was not an easy man to read, and it drove him mad that Dumbledore understood him so well.

"I do, however, expect you to properly prepare yourself to survive Nagini's attack, not only for your sake, but for the sake of your students. Hogwarts and the wizarding world as a whole would suffer greatly from the loss of the greatest Potions Master this age has seen."

"I sincerely doubt anyone at Hogwarts would see my death as a loss. And you must know by now that it is the Defense Against the Dark Arts position that I desire, not Potions," Severus said with the slightest hint of an ironic frown playing on his lips.

"My dear boy, after all of this, do you truly believe Defence is the position you'll still fancy?" Dumbledore asked against a stifled yawn. "I think that once the Darkness has left your life, you'll be more than happy to embrace your true passion: dreadful ingredients, bubbling cauldrons, and putrid fumes. Only you seem to fully appreciate the beauty in that." Dumbledore yawned again.

Severus simply sighed and shook his head. He couldn't hide anything from him, including his passion for potion-making. Dumbledore's head began lolling dangerously with sleep and Severus felt a slight pang of jealously over his relaxed state. He couldn't remember the last time he'd slept for more than an hour or two. He sank back into his chair and rested his head in his hands. The only sound in the room was the occasional exaggerated snort of a portrait feigning sleep.

In a way, the Death Eater in Severus was flattered that the Dark Lord felt that he deserved more than Avada Kedavra, but he was also somewhat offended that he was meant to be killed off by a pet snake. He had always felt that Nagini was more than just a familiar, and now he was sure of it.

Severus knew he should be grateful for Dumbledore's warning, but part of him felt that death would be a welcome relief. He was so tired. So broken. Hadn't he sacrificed enough? Didn't he deserve redemption? He was aware that for as long as he was to live, the ghosts of his past would haunt him. He knew that every night, memories would torture him. His mind could never rest. There were times when his regret ran deeper than his sense of obligation. He felt that crawling out of his skin would be easier than living with himself and his mistakes. Why continue? Wouldn't Lily understand that this was too hard for him?

No. He knew he deserved this sorrow. A short life full of mere pain would not acquit the actions of his past. He owed it to her to continue. She was worthy of much more than his pathetic life . He owed her his soul. Every part of it.