"Be sure to act your part convincingly…"
Standard Disclaimer applies - it's all JKR's.
Thanks to all those that read and reviewed my other tales; feedback is always welcomed, it magnifies the feeling of shared connections.
And, as always, many, many thanks to Whitehound: she is the best.
"I – I have no explanation, my Lord."
Snape was not looking at Voldemort now.
He couldn't risk showing his mind to the Dark Lord, not now. Aware with a cruel feeling of anticipation of what was forthcoming, and of the small, almost non-existent, chance left to him to prepare Potter by giving him the last knowledge he would need for his final and fatal duel, Severus was frantically trying to find a way to reach the Boy, to warn him … to give him all the explanations; because he knew himself to be the only one who could give him, as his strongest weapon, the very answer he would not give to Voldemort.
Snape had never regretted the promise of silence and secrecy he had requested from Dumbledore all those years ago, until this last, revealing and fateful year. During the delivering of the Sword, in fact, hidden in the darkness of the woods, seeing how the Boy had followed his Patronus with trust, almost with faith, and seeing the wide green eyes of Harry Potter searching for the caster of the silver doe, for the first time in his life Snape had questioned his old intention of secrecy, his never-ending pursuit of solitude.
Now it was too late.
Or perhaps it wasn't. Just as his solitariness hadn't really been genuine. Severus had lived: he had been angered, irritated, touched, wounded, or sometimes even pleased by other people's words, and therefore he had cared, more than he was keen to admit to himself, about other people's behaviour towards him.
"It is I"
he had said to Minerva on the last day of his mandate. Those few words had had to suffice him to imply the many feelings that his face couldn't show: look at me, I am your old colleague, your old student, we shared half of my lifetime, and it is I that have kept this place safe, despite appearances, the safest it could be kept. It is I that will have to lead the Boy to his last moment, I that - no matter how much you did not know or how blind you have been - should deserve your respect, if nothing else!
Like a wave other memories followed this last one, among them those recollections which he had treasured all his life. All the most important events of that life floated behind the mask he showed to the other man, marshalled ready to be handed over, if only he could get the chance; with the clear understanding that he himself no longer had need of them.
And this was why, when everything seemed irremediably lost, when Severus perceived the Boy's presence, he allowed the silver flow to leave his body, together with his blood and through that hoarse breath which was the hardest of his life…
"Oh yes, they're arguing … but it won't be that long and I'll be gone."
For a long time he had shielded his ears and his mind, grasping at those words that, like a mantra, made him able to conceal, to put away, to Occlude his true feelings of fear, of self-disgust, of nothingness.
It wasn't always so easy to empty his mind, and his heart, this way, because his parents sometimes noticed his presence, and he became the subject of their rows, and to be gone was not yet an option. But he learnt to await the day of his flight hiding his feelings from the world, not only behind the dark curtain of his untidy hair, but by acting in a forbidding way as if he really felt the self-confidence and knowledge that he displayed.
He also tried to acquire all the available knowledge about magic, because it had made him feel better, the day when he had discovered that he was a wizard, and he spent many beautiful hours trying to master it while leading the flies into a dance, or while savouring the sparkles of the tiny light that he produced, without knowing how he did them without the wand which he so desired… but since that first time he had been unable to reproduce the full excitement which he had felt in that moment… magic being a forbidden word, at home.
Then, even if his seemed a life where everything was barely worth the effort to wake up every morning, and where every day resembled the previous and the following one, no matter the season or the weather, Severus begun to wander, alone, through the fields, looking for the good that there had to be out there...
Then one day the vision of a girl, whose jokes, and laughs, and happiness shone like sunrays on the green grass, seemed to present the best answer to his wishes. He nourished his desire, from afar, and it was a long time before he found the strength to tell her something…
"It's obvious, isn't it? ... You're a witch."
Actually, he didn't need to find the courage to say those words, since he couldn't have stopped them when they floated from his mouth like a breeze: despite his shabby appearance his whisper captured her attention, with a little foretaste of the provoking, softening, ensnaring quality of voice which he would always bear as his most irrefutable talent, later.
He thought to have reached the end of his search, after that meeting, since his love and his devotion were so great that they fulfilled every need for goodness that he had ever felt.
He didn't ever notice any shadows, then, and he went on teaching her the mysteries of a hidden world, treasuring every comment, every question, and every little thing that came from her, because they were for him, and this was enough for his happiness.
"Save your breath."
It was those three little words which, even more than the insulting one which had gone out of him in an unforgivable moment of reckless fury, were the end of everything, to him.
Until them he had trusted the power of speech, and therefore, through his repentant, anguished words, he had tried to make amends, to atone for his fault.
Later, during his teaching days, and when compelled, as a spy, to measure carefully every bit of phrase he said, he had found again a little pleasure while using spells, chanting incantations, modulating his wide scale of tones, from the sarcastic to the lecturing one… using his voice to accomplish what he had to. And the power that he developed through that gift became his strength, something to cling to when everything else about his life seemed bitterly useless…
Yes, later he learnt to gain some self-respect, and to know that he deserved a measure of consideration, but that night, after the failure of his desperate last plea, he was cast back to his earlier days of silence and loneliness.
That night he thought that every good was lost to him forever, and there was neither cry nor whisper with the power to change that fact.
"I wish … I wish I were dead …"
Before, approaching Dumbledore, he had cried out not to be killed because his warning was too significant and must not be lost with his demise.
But now, what was his life worth, now? Nothing, and nobody could change that.
He had tried to save her, but she couldn't have accepted his last gift, she had chosen to die and to do it without knowing how it had been only thanks to him, and to his love, that she had the chance to save her son through her sacrifice.
Now he was annihilated by his guilt, devastated by the loss of her, and couldn't see how "his" love had already begun to improve other people's destiny. Nor was he able, shattered and broken as he was while the older wizard mercilessly reminded him the very essence of his greatest loss, to realize that the tragedy hadn't been solely his doing, nor had he played the worst part in it.
But neither, that time, had he really put the final word to his existence: he hadn't waited alone for what had seemed the closure of everything, and hadn't let his body follow the end of his spirit; again he had tried, searching for the first of many times for the only chance to go on that he could bear to accept, in the Headmaster's office, showing his bare soul to a man who couldn't reciprocate his sincerity but who was, since that moment, the only one who trusted and knew of his starving heart.
A wizard chained to a lifelong task, a man devoted to a mission, this was how he managed to go on, to feel alive, and not only merely to survive.
He tried for a long time, again, to fight that feeling of shame and bitterness which had accompanied him from his birth, and at some point he believed himself to have raised his own so low self-esteem to a higher level, dedicating all his skills and his cunning, all the risks that he ran, to his House, to his job, to his unique role, where he was told that he was invaluable and irreplaceable.
In this way, he did not shy away from performing even the most unmentionable among the things that a soul can endure to be asked to do, always obeying, trusting and faithful to his promise. Until the last revelation:
"You have used me"
and the Boy had been used, too.
Neither did he now give up. Still seeking to redeem those errors for which Severus despised himself, and not knowing until the very end that the older wizard had used his devotion to atone for his own faults as well, he continued, during the miserable last months of his task, to find a bit of company, a feeling of shared connection, through the advices given by the portrait which hung in his office in the place of honour, right above his head, as if his solitude in the castle could be lessened by that presence.
"Be sure to act your part convincingly …"
He had, Merlin, he had for a time so long that he couldn't even remember when it had started, though every day of the last year had been the mirror of his error of youth: Death Eater, that was what he had chosen to be, all those years ago, but he didn't know, then, what the look and the meaning of death were. Now those two ugly faces, that hadn't the charming appearance of Lucius Malfoy, nor the insane passion of the Lestranges, those faces that showed only base servility, seemed to him a continuous reminder of his wrong choices.
He wore black, he didn't show a healthy air to the world, nor a cheerful one, but he didn't ever think of himself as a mask of death, not even when he had carried it. Because he had tried to fight all through his life, he had tried to make his life different even when it seemed the most doomed… only to end like this, slaughtered in the filthy place of his worst encounters…
"Take … it … Take … it …"
At least his last act hadn't been useless, nor his sacrifice. The Boy could know what he needed to know, now, and Voldemort was still unaware of the most precious secrets which would give his enemy ultimate victory.
His life was going, along with his memories, but through them his life's story could, maybe, be different.
Consciousness was slowly leaving him, hurting in both his flesh and his thoughts:
"Perhaps you began like me, Potter, loathed and neglected. And perhaps you tried harder than I to fight against your destiny, even if it feels weird to say these words, thinking of your school-days in my classroom… I don't know what makes you able to go on in your quest, to reach your dreams… once I said that you were lucky, and perhaps it's true… still. I hope you will be, you'll soon need all your luck. Otherwise, what is life worth, when all the efforts, the attempts, fall one after the other, making the end of it welcome?
"Only that ending no longer seems like a blessing, now that it's so near…"
He needed to have an answer, something that he had always lacked, and not because he hadn't tried to find it. He needed to feel that now, especially now, he wasn't alone in the face of this moment.
"Look … at … me …"
A shaking hand, extended with that trembling mixture of sorrow, fear and guilt that too often had defined the quality of his exchanges, was helping the Boy to collect what lasted of Severus' life… and he could rest, finally, knowing that it wasn't gone and wasted forever and, perhaps, someone would try harder, fighting for him, too, as he had fought for them… perhaps it was still possible to heal the last wound of a wounded life… perhaps.
The lines in italics are of course from DH, where not enough was revealed of Severus Snape, for me… even if in a sense I feel more grateful than disappointed for the incomplete knowledge of his life, and thoughts, and everything from canon, because it makes it possible to try to fill the blanks - with all the devotion and understanding that he deserves.
And yes, my last lines are slightly open to the hopeful alternatives that other stories – some of mine included - have built since the end of the series… but only very, very slightly, this time.