Disclaimer: Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings belong to J.K Rowling and J.R.R Tolkien, all the copyrights associated with HP and LOTR belongs to them. Only the ideas contained within this story are the property of the author. No profit is being earned by the writer of this story.

Severus lay in the sticky pool of blood for what felt like eons. The Shrieking Shack was a silent haven, a lonely island in the bitter sea of war that raged and swelled in Hogwarts. And that suited Severus just fine. Opening his eyes was such an unnecessary chore, and on top of all the other shenanigans he had been up to lately, lying there for another couple eons more would be bliss, blood and pain regardless.

Nothing mattered anymore, anyway – no matter who won, there would be no place for him here in the future. He had done his job too well; there could be no trust for the double agent, no respite for the liar, no peace for the murderer. Albus, he thought, the familiar beloved name now carrying a taint of grief and bitterness. Have I done enough for you?

"Still so angry, Severus?" a voice said with a tired cheerfulness. A voice which Severus thought he'd never hear again. A voice which, now he'd come to think of it, he didn't want to hear again. Very much against his will, his eyes popped open – to see Albus in all his glory, sitting in the Headmaster's chair, in the Headmaster's office.

"You're finally awake, dear boy!" cried Albus merrily, his previous melancholy dropping away as fast as Severus' wariness rose. Where am I? Severus' eyes cataloged the strange paintings on the wall, the horrendous eccentric fripperies which he was sure he'd disposed of upon becoming Headmaster, and Albus himself. Who was smiling at him and twinkling at him and generally acting like the benign wizard he had always pretended to be. And oh, dear Merlin, he looked so real. And so...so happy, with his favorite star-spangled purple robe on and his wrinkled hands...both his wrinkled, unblemished hands...spread out in affectionate welcome and his lips curved in a carefree smile which had all but disappeared in the last year of his life. Severus' chest ached as he stared dumbly. And for one crazy moment, it felt as if the war had never happened.

It felt as if Albus had never been murdered by Severus' own hand.

Severus shuddered, and closed his eyes. No. That way lay madness. Don't lie to yourself. Never to yourself. Memories, so many horrific memories were tied to this man, sitting in front of him. This has to be a hallucination. Or an elaborate hoax. Though there'd be no point in putting such effort into a hoax, surely...

"Or it could be, that we have finally been allowed to reunite in the Afterlife," said Albus gently, reaching out to pull Severus to his feet. Wait. Why would he have to...Severus abruptly came to the unpleasant realization that he was kneeling on the ground, in a pose much reminiscent of the one he'd used so many years ago when he first came to beg Albus for deliverance. Which I will not do again. Never, never again. Severus scowled and immediately rose up, deliberately ignoring the outstretched hands. He could not ignore the brief flash of pain in Albus' eyes, however, nor squelch the answering ache in his heart.

"Indeed, Headmaster," Severus' voice was neutral and gave nothing away. He would not call Albus by his name, not unless he could be sure that it was truly him. He may be telling the truth, but then again, I can't discount that all this might be a hallucination, or even a new form of the Dark Lord's torture. Why should my Afterlife start in the Headmaster's Office? There was a symbolism about this which he did not care to investigate. If only there was a way to prove it one way or another, but in the meantime..."And I respectfully request that you cease reading my mind."

"Rather impossible, my boy!" Albus' cheerfulness was beginning to grate on Severus significantly. "You're not leaving much room to conceal your thoughts, after all. Now Harry chose a wider space to think in, it's quite intriguing to see where he thought his life had begun..."

"Potter was here?" Severus' thoughts stuttered. A hoax, remember, it might all be a hoax! But his instincts were telling him differently. Hallucinations are rarely so detailed. And the Dark Lord's torture rarely so subtle. And if Albus was to be believed, and Potter had come to the Afterlife, then had the Dark Lord...won? Severus' hands trembled. Not that he would be surprised at the brat's incompetency, but surely, after everything he had done, though he hadn't really thought that they'd win with such an idiotic scheme, but with all that careful planning, perhaps they could fall back onto a backup plan, except that who was to say that Severus hadn't overlooked something again, as he always did, perhaps there was something salvageable, he just needed to scout out more information, exploit it to his advantage...

"Severus!" Severus' body made an abortive jerk, hand flying onto his wand...but he didn't have a wand here. He was in the Headmaster's office. No, not the Headmaster's office, the Afterlife. With Albus, his friend. Friend, not foe. Friend. He blinked once, twice. Swallowed back his snarl. Albus was hovering around him, tutting in concern. Friend, not foe. He tamped down his magic. It was worn thin by stress and exhaustion but still, it was so violent, so very, very violent. He didn't need to use it on Albus. Albus was not the enemy. Friend. Dead friend, but still. Still a friend. Possibly a hoax. A chatty one. Swallowing again, he tried to focus on Albus' prattle.

"Oh, dear boy, I am sorry. I wasn't being very clear, was I? Voldemort did not win. Perish the thought!" Albus' smile was pacifying, soothing, but held a touch of gleeful triumph. This, more than anything, helped to ground Severus. Nobody could balance caretaker and warrior as well as Albus. Or hoax Albus. Hallucinated Albus. "Severus, please. Everything is alright. Harry came, but he chose to go back, you see? Quite a noble boy, our Harry. And now...he has finally defeated Voldemort."

Severus stared. Pressed his lips together tightly. The Dark Lord has been defeated. Bitter joy swirled like bile in his throat at the very thought. Is it real, though? Albus wouldn't lie about something like this. Was this really Albus, though? His instincts said yes. Definitely. Maybe. Possibly. Too good to be true. Abruptly, Severus shuddered. He felt exhausted by the emotional rollercoaster. Please, let this be real. He couldn't bear it if it wasn't. He couldn't.

"Oh Severus," Albus' voice was changing, losing some of its joy. His fault. His fault. Stupid to care. "I am sorry. I'm botching this, aren't I? Perhaps I shouldn't have been the first to come to meet you. I had so longed to see you again though, and give you the good news. Will you not trust yourself anymore? There are no lies here, Severus. I'm as real as you are. Everything here is. You sense that, don't you?"

After a brief pause, Severus nodded."Yes." He cleared his throat. His voice was hoarse. Unsteady. Weak. This was ridiculous. But yes, Albus was right. He knew. This place felt more real than any other place in his lifeThis place, this Afterlife, so stripped naked of veils, showing so freely its truths and contentment and happy news...it was utterly hateful to a man such as he. "What happens now?"

Albus' eyes were soft and loving. It gutted Severus to see that. "You could come with me now, dear boy. Come home, to where we belong. You could find happiness with us. Happiness, and peace."

Severus' lips curled up involuntarily into a sardonic smirk. "Indeed? No Hell in store? No punishment?" Oh, Albus. He should know better. An eternity of peace while remembering my sins? Impossible. Not to mention, Potter would probably be there, along with Black. Would we have to forget and forgive everything? Ridiculous. Utterly ridiculous.

A sigh broke his thoughts, and he jerked at feeling Albus' arms wind around him and squeeze him tight. Severus savored the feeling for a moment...how long had it been since he'd had friendly human contact? Far, far too long...then gently pushed Albus away. When their eyes met, he was even able to dredge up a reasonable facsimile of a smile. "No matter. Let us go."

Albus held back, however. For a long moment, he hesitated. Considered Severus with a measuring look. Finally, he said reluctantly, "There...is an alternative to coming with me, Severus."

Severus blinked."I was unaware that there'd be more choices available." Despite himself, his voice took on a distrustful tinge. For a moment, Albus looked hurt; he rallied himself quickly, however, and gave Severus a resigned smile that made Severus' heart swell with guilt.

"There are always choices, dear boy. In this case, an infinity of them. You may choose to live again, in another world or another time. Reincarnation, of a sort."

Severus pursed his lips. Thought about it for a time. Did he want that? A new life. One without regrets. Another chance to do things right. Another chance to start anew.

It sounded nice. Promising. Perhaps...?

"It's your decision, dear boy. Just know that we're here for you." Ironically, Albus' sad, sentimental words helped Severus decide. I do not want to spend the Afterlife with only terrible memories of my humanity. I want more. "How do I choose, Albus?"

Albus sighed again, suddenly looking old...but loving, still loving. A tiny, forlorn part of Severus was warmed to see this. "The portraits tell all, dear boy. Look your fill, and choose. And if," here his voice took on a hopeful whisper, "just if, you reconsider, dear boy, we can walk out the door now. Together." Severus looked at him, and at the office door. And for a moment, he imagined an ideal place. With Albus. The mentor who he'd loved. And the mentor who he'd killed.

No, Albus. I can't. I won't. Severus turned his eyes away forcibly, to scan the paintings. Different scenes, different worlds lay behind each. Choose one. Choose one. Choose any.

Impulsively, he jabbed at one peaceful, happy scene. Not much different from the Afterlife he'd imagined, but in reincarnation he'd be free of memories. Free of regrets."This one."

"Are you sure, my boy?"


"Truly, dear boy? There's no hurry." Yes, there is. I want to leave. This Afterlife is not for me. Not now, not yet. "We could talk more. Discuss your choices. And you might change yo..."

"Yes I'm sure. Albus, please." He knew what would happen if he lingered. Albus and his silver tongue would persuade him to do whatever Albus wanted, as always. The storm of memories, suppressed and carefully tucked away from the Dark Lord's invasive mind for so long, rose higher. Albus' falling. Cold looks. Hateful insults. Lily-green eyes. Crucio, crucio, crucio. Not Lily, please not Lily. Spare her. Spare me. I don't want to remember. Please.

"...Very well, my boy. Live your life. And when you're done...come back to us."

Severus took one last look of Albus. A long look, committing his image to a memory which he would soon lose. Had he made the right choice? Yes. Not even in the Afterlife could he escape the horrors. But in a new life, he might. He had loved him. He had hated him. He could now forget him. And Severus chose...life.