A Third Ending
by Bil!

K+ - Angst – SS, HP, HG, RW – Complete

Summary: Severus's life has always revolved around Potters and their sidekicks, but their lives don't revolve around him. Oneshot.

Disclaimer: JKR's.

A/N: Unbetaed. Not DH compliant because I wrote the first draft of this the week before that book came out, with no idea on how JKR planned to kill Voldemort or whether Snape was a good guy. I thought he was, so...

This was originally inspired by the last verse of The Young Soldier, a poem by Wilfred Owen, but is no longer at all related to it. I don't think I have ever written a story that went where I intended it to.

He knelt in a graveyard with dusk falling about him like rain, wondering what it was that had pulled the Dark Lord to graveyards, with his voice the only sound in the field of death: "Fight, damn you! Live!"

Severus fought to save one he had hated since before they met. He needed the boy to live because it was easier to hate the living than the dead. Death removes all sins.

He needed the boy to live because he had not spent seven years keeping him alive to lose him now. He had not sacrificed so much to this war just for the Dark Lord to win one last victory after death. Potter was not going to die before Severus had had the chance to ream him out for this last monumental act of stupidity.

Hands pushed him aside, small, determined, trembling hands. The Granger girl, young and foolish and too full of knowledge. Severus didn't push back, conceding the field to her. Potter saves the day once more while Granger keeps him alive. That was Severus's life. Which meant Weasley was around somewhere too, but Severus didn't bother to look.

Instead he watched Granger as she focussed the immense store of knowledge that was her brain on one single goal: her friend's life. He hated her for that. For being the know-it-all, the loner, the unpure-blood – and still having friends. For being like him but not drowning as he did.

Like he hated Potter for earning Albus's love and for the father that was everything Severus was not. Like he hated Weasley for having a loving family. Like he hated Draco for making him kill Albus and Albus for holding him to his promise and Lucius for introducing him to the Dark Lord and Voldemort for ever existing.

It was easier to hate. Comfortable. It kept him safe.

Potter wasn't waking. Severus wanted to push Granger aside and take over, but logically she had the better chance of success. He knew how to kill; he didn't know how to save. Keeping his hands firmly on his knees he stared at Potter, at the ashen face with eyes closed as if in sleep and the brand of a lightning-bolt scar that would never heal. The boy had lost his glasses at some point in the battle for his soul – he almost didn't look like James Potter.

Severus had never been a fan of Gryffindor bravery; righteous defiance held no appeal for him. But he could allow a grudging admiration for a boy who discovered a part of himself to be one of Voldemort's horcruxes and, because it was all he could do, challenged Voldemort within his own mind and used that challenge to destroy them both.

Dammit, Potter, he wanted to snarl. Can't you do things right just this once? Be the hero without killing yourself?

Granger's efforts continued unabated, even though she had to know that every second that passed decreased the chance that she could save Potter's hide one final time. He couldn't follow what she was doing and didn't recognise much of the spellwork – and he wanted to shout at her, to tell her to just succeed or give up. To make an end to this one way or the other, because he was so tired of waiting for the end of this war and for once, just once, he would like to leave limbo.

Live, he silently willed the still body of his youngest nemesis. Live and be a thrice-damned hero so I may hate you in peace.

He was on his knees in a graveyard, begging for life for a boy he hated and watching a girl accomplish what he himself could not. Merlin, his life was messed up.

At least the Dark Lord was dead. At least that was over.

A faint rustle made him look around to see Weasley casually leaning against a tombstone, wand in hand and watching him with startling alertness. So even if he chose to leave he would have to fight to do so; and there was something in Weasley's stance that hadn't been there a year ago, the tension of the predator. It screamed 'I have killed' and Severus's immediate, inconsequential thought was to wonder what the rabidly mothering Molly Weasley would make of her youngest son now.

He stood up in a sudden refusal to remain in such an undignified position any longer, brushing off his robes fastidiously while Granger's voice hummed around him in fervent spell-casting. Weasley's eyes never left him, either wary of him as a threat or supremely confident in Granger's abilities. Severus looked around, but the anti-apparation ward Potter had cast was still up and there wasn't any cover nearby. Not that Weasley could stop him if he wanted to leave, but it would be messy. Severus was tired of his life being messy.

It wasn't as if he had anywhere to go anyway.

Potter breathed.

Granger's voice stopped mid-spell as the boy drew in a ragged breath and then started coughing. He coughed and coughed and coughed in ever weakening spasms until it seemed he could have no air left within him and yet he kept going. And then finally the coughing stopped to let him gulp in one great big rasping breath.

Weasley made an abortive movement, as if he wanted to go to his friend's side but was kept in place by the need to watch Severus, and when Severus looked back Potter's eyes were half open, looking up into Granger's face.

"Her-my-nee," he whispered hoarsely, like a drowning man greeting the shore, and then his eyes slipped closed.

"He's alive, Ron," Granger said, her voice thick with tears and relief. "He's alive."

At which propitious moment the aurors chose to make a belated appearance. There being only four living people in the graveyard and three of them the national hero and his sidekicks, all wands went to Severus.

Granger ignored them, tending to Potter, but Weasley straightened and took a step forward. It drew all eyes to him, save his otherwise occupied friends, and there was that air in the way he held himself that made even full-trained aurors hesitate. "He's with us."

Severus's mouth was only one of many to drop open in surprise. The killer of Dumbledore? With Potter?

"But he's—" protested a younger auror, cut off by a gesture from a superior.

Weasley's eyes never left Severus and the look in them was impossible to read. "Harry will deal with him."

Murmurs of relief. The world hadn't turned upside down, they were just leaving retribution to the wronged. Severus despised them. Justice instead of law; the rules still didn't apply to precious Potter.

They gathered Potter up and took him away. Severus was escorted by a trio of aurors and Weasley, who watched him closely and smiled a thin, strange smile when Severus caught his eye. Weasley had always worn his heart on his sleeve, so why couldn't Severus read him now?

Harry will deal with him.

The war had ended but it wasn't over.

Limbo beckoned.

He stood in a white room in St Mungo's that held a single bed and three chairs. For the first few hours there had been confused bustle and discussion, with mediwizards and mediwitches everywhere, the aurors shoved outside, Granger talking nineteen-to-the-dozen – and Weasley watching him.

Now... Now Severus got one of the chairs. He sat there by Potter's bed in a high-security ward as if he was some sort of worried relative. As if he was a part of the inner circle. Inner triangle, he grumbled to himself and tried to get comfortable on a chair apparently expressly designed as a torture device.

The earlier confusion had quietened down. The mediwizards still bustled about Potter's lifeless form, for he hadn't woken since the graveyard, but there were fewer of them now. They consulted in low voices, their talk full of medical jargon that meant nothing to him, and asked Granger over and over to repeat the arcane and esoteric spells she had used on Potter. Severus sat in his chair, Weasley beside him, and wondered how much the girl had learnt out of interest and how much simply to save Potter. And why she would think the latter worth it.

Various guests drifted through, including Lupin, far too many Weasleys, one-time colleagues, and several former students. He earned glares from every one. Strangely, no glares came from Granger and Weasley, but probably they were too worried about Potter to spare a thought for the murderer in their midst.

Media and groupies were kept out by the simple and elegant method, inaugurated by Granger and happily taken up by Weasley, of cursing stupid any who tried to enter, even in the most ingenious disguises. These included would-be mediwizards, polyjuiced invaders, and an animagus beetle which spent the night in a jar next to Severus's chair and added to his discomfort by buzzing so that he couldn't even pretend to sleep.

Sometimes Potter would move in his strange sleep without waking, drawing the attention of everyone in the room save Severus. He didn't like to look at the boy, refused to look at the boy. Deep bruises littered Potter's bare skin, grey and purple, in a physical manifestation of the mental wounds he'd been dealt in the battle for his soul.

To Severus they looked like patches of death, because when he was seven his Muggle grandfather had died in a road accident and when the boy Severus saw him in his coffin his first sight of death was of pale, bruised skin. And in all the deaths he had seen since, it was the first one that stayed with him. Too, he remembered a scrawny child looking at his own bruises and wondering if they meant he was going to die. He remembered thinking it might not be so bad.

Weasley and Granger catnapped in shifts, but to watch Potter, not Severus. They barely even seemed to remember Severus was there after that first hour, intent entirely on their sleeping friend. He felt like an old lion: declawed, toothless, and no longer a threat. It discomposed him so much that when Granger, hoarse from talking to the mediwizards, absently asked him to pass a glass of water, he poured her one without comment.

He was a sidenote, not at all important. He'd been their enemy, worked to become their enemy and then solidified it that awful night last June when he had killed the one person he believed should live. Yet here, an intruder at Potter's bedside, he didn't matter. He was an issue that had to be addressed, but not until all more important matters had been seen to; an issue that could be put on the shelf to await their pleasure. It didn't suit him at all.

"Precisely how long do you intend to keep me here awaiting Potter's whim?" he demanded of them when it was only Granger and Weasley in the room, no guests, no mediwizards.

Their response was withering, but it couldn't be called scorn. They simply looked at him, then looked away and didn't look back. He couldn't penetrate their triumvirate (and it was a triumvirate, even with one member half comatose).

They didn't hate him, he realised with a sick feeling that caught in the back of his throat. He'd tried so hard, he'd worked for them to hate him just as much as he hated them (so many reasons; envy – friendships, family, happiness – fear – three of them together, stronger than he would ever be – protection – hate them and don't mourn them, don't care about them, don't care). Because his life revolved around Potters and their sidekicks – but their lives didn't revolve around him.

They didn't hate him. They'd grown beyond that. He wasn't important enough.

I killed Dumbledore! he wanted to shout. I am important! Hate me!

And he hated himself for trying to use that, and wasn't it funny that the biggest thing he'd done, the thing that should really earn their hatred, he'd done for reasons completely opposite to hate. And Merlin, was it funny, so funny he'd just about have cried if he hadn't been a big bad potions master, and Albus must really be laughing where ever he'd gone after that horrible hateful fatal spell.

So he hated himself and he hated them for making him hate himself and he hated Albus and he hated the mediwizards and he hated Potter and he wanted to go back in time and find a little Snape baby and snap its neck so that he never had to live through any of this, because he was so tired of limbo and so tired of waiting to see where the dice would fall. So tired of being so full of hate – and it wasn't comfortable. He told himself it was, but it wasn't. Hate was safe, it was safer than anything because if he hated everyone they'd never convince him to do stupid things and he'd never try to earn their affection and that was Good and Safe and he needed that—

But gods above and below, he hated his life.

But they didn't hate him. So he stopped trying. He sat back and watched the beetle crawling despondently around its jar and tried not to listen to the conversation of a trio missing a voice. Tried not to envy them. Tried not to care that he was in limbo still and again. Tried to bury himself in hate.

He thought about death and wondered where Albus was and what had happened to Voldemort. He wondered if hate followed a person after death – or would there just be oblivion? He wouldn't mind oblivion. It sounded comfortable. Much better than limbo.

He wondered what Potter was seeing now and if sleep was truly a miniature death. He wondered what Potter thought of death, having flirted with it from childhood. If the brat hadn't been, well, The Brat, that might have made for an interesting conversation. Severus hadn't had an interesting conversation in a long time.

He was watching the beetle again, idly wondering who it was and whether he or she thought being stuck in the jar worth having a ringside seat in Potter's room. He'd become almost pleased it was around, a fellow captive in the hospital ward. At least he wasn't the only one forced to endure Potter and company.

A snore made him look up. Granger had gone to... Well, actually, Severus had been ignoring them so he wasn't sure. Probably for food or to talk to a mediwizard. She'd be back soon, because Weasley and Granger were always back soon, as if Potter would stop breathing if one of them was away for more than quarter of an hour. And now Weasley had fallen asleep, leaning on Potter's bed and pillowing his head on his arms.

Because he might be a soldier and a casualty of war in the paranoid style of Moody, but really he was just a seventeen year old boy who had been flung into something far bigger than he was. Not that Severus pitied him – if he was going to pity anyone for such a thing it would be himself – but he saw nothing incongruous in the boy falling asleep when he should be awake.

Which was the point at which he realised that no one was watching him. He could leave. Just walk out and sneak past security (which was to keep people out, not in) and leave.

He stood, walking to the door and looking out. No one was around; the corridor was silent and deserted. He could just walk outside without anyone stopping him. The beetle buzzed furiously, battering itself against the glass jar as if demanding he take it with him and release it. He ignored it, stepping outside and closing the door behind him. Slowly, as if unable to believe he was actually doing this, he walked down the hallway. At the door at the end of the hall, he stopped.

He wondered if Potter hated him. It seemed laughable that he could even ask the question, given all he had done to ensure that hate, yet Potter's friends didn't hate him.

Severus had no idea how long he stood there in the doorway, but it couldn't have been more than a few minutes, for he saw no one.

Then he slowly turned and went back to Potter's room, closing the door softly behind him so as not to wake Weasley and returning to his chair. The beetle stared at him. He sat there, tense, knowing that there was still time, that he could still make a run for it... Yet when Granger returned he was still there.

She looked at Weasley then shot Severus a swift glance. He felt absurdly triumphant to have finally gained some attention, but it didn't last and she just gave him one of the plates of food she'd brought and turned away.

So he stayed.

He stayed because they'd just hunt him down if he left and he was tired of being a fugitive. He stayed because he had nowhere else to go. He stayed because he needed to.

There would be a third ending here and he had yet to see which one it would be. There had been two endings already: Albus and Voldemort. This third, though, might be the most important of all.

Potter's life or death could change the world.

If he died, Severus would kill him.

It was the middle of the night when Potter woke, three days later, and Severus finally found his way out of limbo. Weasley and Granger crowded about their friend, talking and laughing and crying. Severus went to the door to summon a mediwitch.

When he turned back Potter was smiling at him; tired and weary and unsure, but smiling. "Thanks, Snape," he said softly, and his voice was harsh and hoarse and dry. "That distraction of yours let me beat Voldemort."

Severus stood there, frozen and uncertain. No one ever thanked him. People looked at him uneasily as if waiting for him to turn on them or they expected him to do his duty and saw no reason for gratitude. No one ever thanked him. So why would Potter, of all people, offer him what no one else would? Yet the smile was real and that boy, small and pale on the bed, was not the defiant Potter who had responded so well to Severus's hate. Why—?

He'd died. Severus snatched at the thought. The Boy Who Lived had died, that was what he had seen in the graveyard. But Granger had brought him back, because a trio needs three voices, and so now he was alive. But he had died and death removes all sins.

Severus inclined his head in acknowledgement and returned to his seat. He watched the trio reborn, not celebrating wildly, just quiet and restful and content to be together. And somehow, despite all his efforts, not hating him.

Potter had thanked him.

Perhaps, Severus thought with disbelief and a tiny, tiny wisp of hope, perhaps there was something other than hate.