I'm uploading this pretty soon after Chapter 15, so please check if you read it before reading this.

Epilogue

The small village Severus wanted to go to was off the Floo Network, and he was not well aquainted with Muggle transport. That left Apparition, and that did not seem right, somehow. Perhaps he would try Muggle transport, whilst the trains were a little more complicated than the Hogwarts Express, but he could, undoubtedly, manage.

Most of the staff had gone home for the summer by now. Mandy was staying in Hogsmeade, Lupin had already left. For the first time in a while, he felt a pang for the old friendship they had had. Perhaps he should talk to Remus Lupin at some point. Minerva was finishing off paperwork, Albus was still here too, but Severus got the impression it was merely to keep the rest of the staff company. These last couple of weeks, he had realised how much he appreciated the presence of the headmaster. If it had not been for him – would Severus even be alive at all? Somehow, Albus merely being there was a comfort – although Severus would not have admitted it, at least before. He was gradually learning to understand his needs now. He had cut off all his pleasure, limiting it to the emotionless skill of potion-making, and suppressed all his misery, except to expose it in the way that made him fierce and feared. Needs had not existed for him after Voldemort – the hunger had turned to gluttony when he had been serving the Dark Lord. What else could he do now, but fast?

The denial of his needs had made him a barren creature – he understood now. It made him weaker, not stronger, letting the misery reign over him and all that touched him. If he could appreciate what he had, perhaps it would awaken a part of him that was not just an empty shell left behind by a Death Eater.

He had felt a fervent, devouring desire for control, power. But it was only now that he began to realise what he truly needed was understanding. His security had been his ability, first the dark powers on his side, then the status as Head of House and Potions Master. He needed to be secure in who he was, to understand what went on within whilst the world was changing. He had ignored this before, nearly to the point where he had failed to recognise the evil he was a part in.

Severus was not intending to stay at Hogwarts for the whole of the summer. He had done so before, anything to avoid the emptiness of his other residence. He owned a small place in Magical London, and kept mainly to himself there. From there, he could see the rest of the world going past, looking cheerful and happy in the summer sun. He had despised them for their light-heartedness, for their apparent lack of knowledge about the evils of the world. He had despised them for having what he wanted, but did not know how to grasp.

He wasn't sure if he would go back there, this summer. One thing was certain, he would not remain in the dungeons, as he had before. He had a passion for Potions, indeed, but for the first time in a long time he allowed himself to realise that they did not satisfy him. The first plan was to get to this village, and he supposed he would have to get to get some Muggle money, and preferably some Muggle clothing. He was in no mood to be stared at.

Pushing through his wardrobe, Severus could not find anything suitable. Black robes upon black, a monochrome sequence that spoke of mourning, and green dress robes hardly ever worn. He shuffled along the last black robe, frustrated, and spied something blue. It was royal blue, stiff, smooth, hardy fabric. On it were the letters, faded from time and the lack of the suitable charm to preserve the dye. They were still yellow, though paler, and they read, 'SEEKER SNAPE'.

Severus frowned. He didn't remember saving his Quidditch robes, and was fairly sure he had lost them when he graduated. Of course, in the end Quidditch had just been a show of prowess, and when school was over, it passed to make way for other things. There had been no need to keep these robes, for they would prove nothing, and he had other things to conquer.

Seeing them now reminded him of the first time he had worn them, trying them on after the Quidditch trials. That had been the same night Malfoy had gatecrashed Remus's birthday party. He had had no idea that he would be suspected for the crime then, and until the interruption, he had been enjoying a pleasant time with friends. Quidditch had been – just a game. Just a game he loved, something he enjoyed playing. Refereeing the match to keep an eye on Potter had brought back these memories too, and then the more painful day they had won the Quidditch cup – and then the way that Quidditch had cheapened into just another way to get revenge. He had hated that boy even more for his innocence, his ability to just enjoy the game for the game's sake.

Looking at the robes more fully, Severus noticed a tag attached – a note from the cleaners?

Severus,

You left your Quidditch robes at Hogwarts after graduation. It seemed a shame to recycle something that had once meant so much to you. Your broomstick is in the drawer.

Albus.

Strangely excited, Severus pulled open the drawer underneath the wardrobe – one he had never thought to use. The broomstick was there all right, needing a polish but otherwise quite workable. Donning a cloak, he walked swiftly down to the Flying department, carefully avoiding the ghosts and hoping not to meet any other teachers along the way – as well as Albus and Minerva, Filius Flitwick and Hagrid were still around, and he wasn't particularly in the mood for questions. Finding a suitable pot of polish, he carefully rubbed it in by hand – the only proper way to do it – and the memories were coming through again, happy, sad, elated and bitter.

An hour later, he was aloft. He had carefully enchanted himself and the broomstick with a camouflage charm to hide him from Muggles, and now all he needed to do was find the place he wanted to go to. It had been a long time since he had seen the countryside at this height. It was a clear day and he could see for miles. Endless beautiful green fields, white and brown clumps of houses, deep green forests. The breeze running over him was exhilarating, revitalising. Was flying always as good as this?

With a little help from some navigation magic, Severus found the village. It was a few huddled houses, a farm, a church, and a pub, and a road that was barely a road. He landed on the outskirts, and tucked the broomstick inside his cloak. Once down, he felt a sudden nervousness seize him – but he knew what he had to do, and he owed it to himself, now he was this far, to do it.

The churchyard was an open one, gravestones scattered around, many with fresh flowers on. Severus walked carefully around them, reading the words on each. Soon enough, he found the one he was looking for –

James Potter

~ and ~

Lily Potter

A little voice in his head told him he was being silly. That it was too late and this was just superstition.

Severus looked around, and could see no one. Placing the broomstick beside him, he carefully sat on the ground.

Maybe it was just silly superstition. But there was something he had to come to terms with, and this was the only way he could think of doing it.

"Hello James," he said at last. His voice sounded hoarse, strange in this peaceful morning. "Hello Lily."

He was talking to nothing but words engraved on a stone, and yet, somehow, he felt someone was listening.

"James… I wanted to talk to you. We haven't spoken much since before all the business with the Quidditch cup, Sirius – the Whomping Willow. Voldemort. The last thing I can remember saying to you is, 'That was Remus, wasn't it', and that's barely adequate." Severus sighed, remembering that late night with Mandy, remembering what he said then. It had been painful to him to say it, but strangely the thought of saying it now did not frighten him. "James – you were probably the best friend I ever had. You always made me feel better about myself, you were always ready to cheer me up. You tried to stop Sirius and me from arguing, you accepted me for who I was. But when Sirius accused me, I wanted to blame you too. Blame you for being his friend, for not giving up on him. You never gave up on me either. I remember the sympathetic look in your eyes when I saw you – and you saw what had happened to me. The monster I'd become – and yet, I knew, somehow, you still had hopes for me."

This was more than he'd meant to say, but now the words were out they demanded more. Some great tidal barrier was breaking after all these years. Things he had to say – and memories. Bitterness that had stagnated him, coupled with a deep self-loathing.

"I blamed Sirius too. I would like to think that everything I did wrong was his fault, that I can still hold something against him. I can't. I asked Malfoy if I could serve Voldemort, and that was my decision. I chose to do it – I knew exactly what I was doing."

A horrible, haunting realisation. Severus shivered, even in the sun. And whilst something inside him was struggling to keep those thoughts locked away, something else was desperately forcing them out, as if it was being suffocated under the weight. It was as if part of him was gasping for air.

"And much as I try to deny it, I know Sirius wasn't the one who betrayed you. I knew even when I was trying to drag him back to the Dementors, I knew that Remus couldn't possibly still trust this man if he had led the Dark Lord to you. If I hadn't been in hospital – I could have known. I would have discovered who the traitor was. I felt like I'd failed somehow. But I thought that if I remembered how bad Sirius's crimes were, I could forget my own. Now he's been through Azkaban and nearly a Dementor's Kiss – what have I been through? I escaped all that, although I did not deserve to. But my freedom is like being in chains – like invisible Dementors are around me all the time…"

Severus's voice was quiet, matter-of-fact. The speech was telling him things he never knew about himself, facing up to the truth he had hidden from. He needed to confess it to James, but he also needed to confess it to himself.

"I hated you, James. For no good reason. I hated you for being there to save me from a stupid prank, stopping me from proving that Sirius was the psychopath I believed him to be. Oh yes – and your son doesn't like me much either, the day they celebrate him is the day of your death. What can I do? I treat him like an insect, sent to annoy me. He looks so much like you, yet with Lily's green eyes. I just want to tear him from my sight forever. He's a constant reminder, of what I failed on, of the dreadful day I had no purpose anymore. It's not his fault."

It's not his fault reverberated around Severus's brain. What would James say to him, if he could? He would most likely tell Severus how pathetic he was, taking out his frustration on one unfortunately very famous boy.

"And James – one last thing. I never got to say… I mean, I never said, never thought to say – thank you. You saved my life… and I repaid you by making that life one of the most miserable in existence. I sometimes wish you hadn't saved me…"

The words rang true, terribly true. The hope in James's eyes, though… He must have thought there was something worth saving.

"Thank you. For giving me another chance. I'm not sure I know how to change anymore, but I can't stay as I am. Somehow – I'll try and make the best of life."

The sound of the promise seemed to gently waver in the air, and around him, Severus heard birdsong. Looking up from where he was sitting, he surveyed the surroundings, and was once again surprised by their beauty. The grass was clothed in flowers of all different colours, in the distance, small birds pecked at the ground, and a butterfly flew down onto a leaf. Feeling oddly numb, Severus arose, taking one last, long glance at the stone. Broomstick in hand, he walked away, feeling something incomprehensible rising up inside of him.

Not quite knowing what to do, he walked down to the meadow at the bottom of the hill. He was hot in his heavy black clothes, and yet the sun was welcome too, much needed warmth against his face. Eventually it became a little too much, and he walked into the woods, where the shade was cooling and yet through the canopy patches of sunlight shone on the earth like jewels. Stopping to rest for a little, Severus noticed a sound, hooves on the ground. Carefully, he looked around, and through the trees saw a great creature, sleek shining fur and proud antlers. It was a stag.

Curious, Severus made an attempt to slip silently closer, freezing when the stag, pricking up his ears, looked back to where he was standing. The stag's eyes and his own met, the stag appearing to pause, as if he would like to say something – or as if he already had. There was no fear in those gentle eyes, but a sympathetic gaze from a fellow creature. Then the stag began to gently gallop onwards, and a doe came after him. As Severus picked his way out of the woods again, he saw the two deer across the meadow, running across the open grass, simply for the joy of being alive. The stag looked back, a look that invited him to run with them, making invisible Dementors flee.

He had thought James and Lily were dead. His spirit, too, he thought had died… that worms consumed it long ago, leaving this shell. But what was it inside that shell that was dancing, making rhythmic, musical steps over the barren land? Somewhere, he felt sure, James and Lily lived on, even if their bodies no longer walked the earth. And somewhere, a dark curtain was torn, the light of dawn breaking through the dusty window. It was as fresh as the first time, a shoot through wintry soil, blossom on a bare tree. Severus got on his broomstick, and let himself become a child of the wind again. What had wearied him was making him stronger, sweeping through the sky like an eagle. For the first time he could remember, Severus felt alive.

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Can this really be the end? Yes, indeed it is. After over a year, I've had a helluva lot of fun with this story, even if no one else has… heh. I really hated the title for a bit, but I can't be bothered to change it right now, and besides I think in the end it did make some true point about the story. I can't believe I've actually finished. Thank you to everyone who's reviewed – hope everyone who's made it this far has enjoyed the story.

Big big apologies to Snape's Redemption readers (yes, all six or less of you!). I think I could actually continue that now, because OotP strangely enough doesn't make the plot obselete. On the other hand, I have another plot I think I'd like to work on. It's going to be dark, involve a lot of your favourite Dark Lord (no, not Sauron, I find it hard to write personified eyeballs…) and I hope that, if you're still reading this, you might like to check back perhaps in August and see if you enjoy it. I'm not sure what I'll call it but I think it'll probably have 'Slytherin' in the title. Heh.

This story both achieved everything and nothing about what I wanted it to achieve. I, for some reason, wanted to write some sort of story about how the actions of friends/enemies can change a person for good or bad. I didn't think it would get so dark. I also wanted to write a story about Severus with a innocent background, because I've read a lot of things about him having an abusive childhood or something, and although I like a lot of those stories, I don't think everyone who's ever done something terrible that they regret started out with a horrible childhood and complete ostracisation at school. The wonderful thing about writing is that even I discover things that I don't know about life when I'm exploring a fantasy world.

It's been great folks. I am immensely grateful to J.K. Rowling for writing such a complex character in Severus Snape, and for not being one of those stingy people who won't allow fanfiction.

Further reading…

By Me:
'Like a Fairy Tale' – more of the 'just what was *random character* like as a child?' genre. No Snape I'm afraid, but there is quite a lot of Nicolas Flamel.
'Touched' – little Snape fic, one of those weird ideas that just comes to you.
'The Crystal Set' – Similarly dark, not a Harry Potter fic at all, but a fairy tale fic.

By Someone Else:
I know I've mentioned this before, but…
Bored Beyond Belief's 'Never Alone, Never Again' – extremely angsty, but quite amazing. I find the portrayal of Snape totally awesome. He's just so… Snape!

Or on a different vein:
Macbeth. Fantastic play. Go see it if you can, the poetry is amazing and it's one of the most freakishly scary insights into human nature. The line 'bloody, bold and resolute' comes from Shakespeare.

Thank you. Now please review!