The Release of Severus Snape
Severus Snape lies dying, left to die by his false master. He has grudgingly accepted that. Though he has always known that there was a possibility that Voldemort would sense his deception and smite him down, he had never anticipated the Dark Lord would kill him to attain an unbeatable weapon. Such self-serving violence doesn't surprise him in the slightest: he knows better than anyone the Dark Lord's desire for power. If any death was to be doled out to him, he had predicted that it would have to do with his duplicity. It was the most probable outcome.
The venom induced pain washes over him in an all consuming wave. Severus pushes it into a new compartment in his immaculately organized mind.
Severus feels a stab of pride: the Dark Lord has no inkling of his deception. He has played his part well.
Too well. No living soul will ever think that he, Severus Snape, is anything but a coward. There is so much to do, so much to explain to the Order. To Potter. And now he will never get the chance. More importantly, without these explanations the events to bring about Voldemort's downfall will not be enacted.
He will not be able to avenge Lily.
When Potter uncloaks himself, it is like being born again. Severus feels a momentary euphoria that exceeds even his first successfully brewed potion. Here is a second chance to bare his soul and set things as right as he can.
But Potter doesn't understand. Potter can't understand until he sees what he has lived through, how he has wronged, and how he has dedicated his life to atoning to the best of his ability.
Concentrating like he's never concentrated before, Severus reaches into his organized mind and extracts the memories that best articulate the emotions that he never could.
Potter takes them, but does not use them.
In those final moments Severus tries to see if he has been forgiven. The boy isn't helping. True, the boy says he understands, but words can lie and Potter has plenty of reason to in the certain situation he has found himself in. Damn his Gryffindorian noble intentions! Severus does not want comfort in his final moments. He wants truth. When dealing with Potter there is only one way to attain it.
"Look at me!" he demands, frustrated that in his final moments he will be denied the knowledge of whether Potter-no Harry- has forgiven him. Severus isn't entirely sure why it matters so much to him but he knows with every fibre of his dying body that there is nothing he wants more.
The boy obeys and Severus prepares for a final casting of Legilimens.
The Legilimency never takes hold. The diminishing logical portion of his mind tells him that the blood lost is sufficient to weaken him to the point of being unable to complete that formerly simple spell. Even as the remaining lifeblood flows out of him, his internal scholar seeks answers. Maybe the exchange of memories has taken longer than he thought. Perhaps he has miscalculated Nagini's bite.
Steeling himself, he tries again. There is something animalistic in his stubbornness. It is imperative that he see if the last of his beloved will understand and forgive him. He curses his weakness for not being able to establish even a glimpse into Harry's mind. Severus's eyes bore into Harry's in a last attempt to see if the remains of his love will be able to forgive him. This time something happens. The familiar jolt of connection is there, but twisted somehow.
Severus's remaining blood slows. The emerald eyes blink and suddenly delving into Harry's mind is no longer important. That glimmer is familiar. Severus's focus expands slowly. Auburn brows float above the glimmering eyes, while freckles mark the cheekbones he still longs to trace. A wisp of hair undulates gently in a breeze he can see but not feel. Another strand rests on lips that have only known his greatest rival.
It is her.
"Lily?" he asks.
"Yes, Severus." She smiles at him.
"Then this means…"
"Yes, Severus. Come with me."
She outstretches one translucent hand out before him. How long has it been since the last time she touched him?
"I'd follow you anywhere, Lily."
He extends his hand and grasps hers. Together they walk into the light.
Severus looks back once to see his own mangled body sprawled in his own blood. Strangely it does not bother him. His—no its—hand grasps Harry's tightly. The boy remains silent and somber as he contemplates the body before him. Severus turns back to Lily who still holds his hand, the very same hand that Harry holds on his corpse.
Severus does not want to think about the implications that holds.
They pass through fields of light, finally coming to a stop in a large, mist-covered meadow. Lily releases his hand.
"We are here," she says in the same calm voice she addressed him with earlier.
"Lily, I," Severus begins, only to stop as a figure coalesces behind his love. The dark haired figure places one hand on her shoulder.
Severus straightens, and his translucently colored form tenses.
"James," he intones in a strained voice.
"Severus," replies James, inclining his head in acknowledgement. His tone is not precisely hostile, but neither is it friendly. Severus would have thought James was willing to give him an opportunity to make amends had he not taken that moment to continue. "Not trying to steal my wife away are you?" James questions lightly.
Severus's large nostril's flare.
"James, is this really necessary?" Lily reproaches.
"If he intends to try and separate us, then yes. I don't want to have to deal with this for the rest of eternity."
Severus looks over her shoulder and speaks directly to him. "Though I admit that I do not know what she sees in you, you made—make—her happy." He looks to Lily. "I would never do anything to make you unhappy could I avoid it. Merlin knows I've done enough. I owe you more than an apology can make up for." He looks back to James. "Both of you." His gaze returns to Lily. "But I am afraid that an apology is all I am able to give." Crystalline tears pool in his translucent eyes, but he ignores them and presses on. "Lily, I cannot express my guilt and sorrow at having a hand in your death. I have grieved…"
"I know, Severus. I saw," Lily says gently, "I know. It's alright."
His tears run freely and he curses James for being there to witness the spectacle. Lily steps forward to hug her childhood friend and betrayer.
James, too, takes a step closer to Severus. A wave of apprehension washes over the newly dead man as his longtime rival nears. It is all he can do to resist grabbing his wand and preemptively casting a hex before James has the opportunity to do the same. Severus feels even more ridiculous when he realized that for all the horrocities he's encountered in the war, being humiliated in front of Lily terrifies him more. It's as if the last seventeen years haven't happened, like he's still the sniveling boy he was at Hogwarts.
Still, Lily's arms feel so comforting that it would be a sin to separate them. A moment later his brain catches up with him. He is already dead. What more can James do?
Severus does not flinch when James's hand nears. To his surprise it pats him on the shoulder. Coming from anyone else it would be a gesture of comfort. He supposes that's what James means it as, but it still startles him enough that he removes himself from Lily's arms to get at better look at James and forces himself to stop weeping.
James looks at him steadily, appraisingly. When he speaks, it is with a touch of kindness.
"I've had a lot of time to think in the last seventeen years," he begins. "About you, and what you brought down upon us. About the side of the war you chose. About the lives lost on either side. When you're dead you don't have much to do besides think, but you can watch," he continues unblinkingly, "I've been watching you, Severus Snape and I've seen it all."
Severus shrinks under the onslaught. James continues.
"You took care of Harry. You could have betrayed him" –the words 'like you betrayed us' hang unspoken in the swirling mists— "at any time. But you didn't. You could have traded him for yourself at any time. Instead, you protected him with your life." If James notices the tears that have resumed their path down Severus's cheeks he doesn't mention it. "I think that puts you on the road to being alright with me. I accept your apology and offer you one of my own."
Taking in Severus's confused countenance, he elaborates:
"I was never kind to you at Hogwarts and for that I'm sorry. I think Lily had the right idea. I'd like to think that I've grown up enough that I can be civil to you. It's the least I can do. You saved my son."
The emotions hang heavily in the air. There is no more to be said on the matter.
"What now?" asks Severus.
James and Lily move apart, so that the three of them form a triangle. The mists beneath their feet flatten, looking now less like mist than fogged glass. In its surface soft images appear, images of the world Severus has so recently departed. He instantly recognizes the grounds and interior of Hogwarts; Forbidden Forest, Great Hall, his old office and the entirety of the castle are visible simultaneously. He sees the figures occupying them, mourners, students, faculty, Death Eaters. Nothing is hidden from his gaze.
It is Lily who answers. "Now, we watch and wait."
This project has been a bugger to title. For the better part of two years, this piece has been saved on my hard drive as Snape WIP. For a while (almost a year), I referred to it as "The Death of Snape". It was proofread as "The Death of Snape". It just didn't sit right, didn't capture the focus of the story. Yes, Snape dies. But that's only part of the story. It stayed locked in the recesses of my laptop, waiting to be brought forth and properly named. Tonight, I found release listed as a synonym for death in my trusty thesaurus (don't know why I didn't look there sooner). Instantly, I knew that it was what the story had been waiting for. This is a tale of the release from the physical plane as well as a release from guilt, old grudges, and despair. Still, "The Release of Snape" placed too much distance between the reader and Severus. When someone dies in front of you, it is a deeply personal thing, even if they are a fictional character. To refer to him simply as "Snape" seemed utterly disrespectful and dehumanizing. And so I arrived at "The Release of Severus Snape". Having a title, it was now ready to be posted.