Disclaimer: Text in italics belongs to JKR. It is used only as a reference.
It was late All Hallows' Eve and Severus was sitting in his dungeon office, grading a stack of essays. A fire was dying in the fireplace, its soft orange light illuminating a short glistening line of jars on a shelf behind his desk. He was just about to retire for the night when green flames roared in the hearth and Dumbledore's head bobbed into view, requesting an urgent meeting in the headmaster's office. It sounded serious, Order related, so Severus quickly grabbed a handful of Floo Powder and a moment later he was spewed into the circular office. Dumbledore was already seated behind his enormous desk. He appeared fatigued, and when he looked at Severus with his lustreless blue eyes, a grim expression on his face, the newly appointed Potions Master knew instantly that something was terribly amiss.
"Please, sit down, Severus."
Wordlessly Severus sat down in a chair in front of the broad desk.
"I have called you here because I wanted to tell you myself, before you hear it from another source. I have good news and bad news," Dumbledore said quietly. He started at Severus as if expecting him to inquire about it, but the latter simply waited wordlessly in his chair, his eyes cold.
"The good news is that Voldemort seemed to have disappeared."
Whatever Severus had been expecting, that was not it. He widened his eyes and leaned forward in his chair in disbelief. "Disappeared? What exactly do you mean by that?"
"He tried to use a Killing Curse tonight, but it failed him and it rebounded upon him."
Severus could not believe what he was hearing. He didn't dare feeling relived just yet; he still hadn't heard the bad news. Subconsciously he grabbed his forearm where the Dark Mark was etched against his skin, marking him as one of the Death Eaters in the Dark Lord's inner circle.
He unbuttoned his sleeve and pulled down the coarse fabric. The mark was not completely gone, but it was faded to a mere smoky shadow of its former strong contrast against the pale skin. How could this be? Was the Dark Lord really gone? For good?
"So the Dark Lord is gone? Dead?" Severus asked in disbelief.
"No body was found, but it seems he had been defeated."
"How? By whom?"
"Alas, that is the bad part of the news."
"What do you mean? If he's gone we have nothing to worry about anymore. She's safe now, isn't she?"
Dumbledore said nothing; he simply leaned forward and looked at Severus, his face wearing the same grim expression. A deathly chill wrapped its steely fingers around Severus' neck.
"Isn't she?" he repeated, his voice rasp. His hands shook and became moist with dread.
"Earlier this evening, the wards I had placed over Potter's house at Godrics' Hollow have been breached. I have sent Hagrid to investigate. Regrettably, the news was disturbing."
Severus stared at the Headmaster without blinking.
"Tell me it's not... not her…" he croaked. "Tell me she's alright!"
"I am sorry, Severus."
Severus shook his head in disbelief. He could not accept it. It simply could not be true.
"No... You had – they were – The Fidelus Charm was made only a week ago!" he stammered.
"I am very sorry, Severus. It seems that the Potters were betrayed by their Secret Keeper. The Fidelus Charm had been broken and earlier this evening Lily and James were killed by Voldemort while they were trying to protect their son."
The words slowly reached his ears and the horrific realization finally hit him square in the chest like a mad Bludger. He could not breathe. His heart was racing in a mad beat. A nauseating feeling came creeping upon him and he barely perceived Dumbledore's quiet words.
"Lily died trying to protect her son. She sacrificed herself. That is why the Killing Curse rebounded upon Voldemort when he tried to kill her boy."
The world started spinning around him. He could not feel his own body anymore. It felt impossibly unbearable. He howled in shock and disbelief. He slumped forward in his chair, pulling at his hair madly. It could not be true, it just couldn't. She wasn't, she couldn't be...
Gone. Dead. Nothing but a corpse. No future, no hope, no dreams, no faith, no chance, no nothing. He cried in despair and pressed his palms tightly over his ears, rocking back and forth uncontrollably, trying to deny the intrusive thoughts and images.
Why her? Why? What did she ever do to deserve this? He yelled at the heavens, cursing the injustice. It couldn't be true. She couldn't just… He growled in denial and shook his head. He could not bear it. He felt numb with the pain of grief. It didn't seem real; it felt like to much to bear, too horrible to be true.
Dumbledore rounded his desk and placed a hand on his shoulder, but Severus furiously shook it off. He couldn't stand being touched by the man that had failed to protect Lily. He roared angrily like a wounded animal and slumped forward in his chair again. Finally he raised his face, anger rising from his stomach, and looked at the man standing over him through the haze of his misery.
"I thought... you were going... to keep her... safe..."
"She and James put their faith in the wrong person," said Dumbledore. "Rather like you, Severus. Weren't you hoping that Lord Voldemort would spare her?"
Yes, he did, he hoped beyond hope, foolishly, naively. He did everything he could, begged his Master on his knees to have her life spared, to have her for himself and fulfil one of his wildest fantasies. But he was no fool. He knew how cruel the Dark Lord was. He knew it then, when his Master had told him disdainfully that there were other women, of purer blood, worthier of him. But he didn't want any other women; all he ever wanted was her, though he knew she was beyond his reach, out of his league. As grim as his chances where, there was still that tiny flicker of the wildest possibility, a mere illusion…
In despair he betrayed his Master and went to Dumbledore, begging for his help. At that point he would have sold his soul to the devil, but he realized he had already done that. He had nothing to lose. Perhaps that was why he was so desperately trying to get something, anything, even if it was only… Only what? Knowing that she was still alive and happy with someone else? Yes, anything was better than this. He realized that just now.
He did all he could to protect her, yet he still failed. He cursed himself for failing to prevent it. It was his fault; it was all his fault…
He was taking shallow breaths while frightening and overwhelming feelings were bubbling inside his chest. She was gone and so was everything worth living for.
"Her boy survives," said Dumbledore.
Severus' neck twitched at those words. The boy was alive, a part of her was alive; a part that would always remind him that he had lost her over Potter. But what did it matter? He felt numb and disconnected from the world. Life was empty and meaningless without her.
"Her son lives. He has her eyes, precisely her eyes. You remember the shape and colour of Lily Evans's eyes, I am sure?"
"DON'T!" bellowed Snape. "Gone… dead…"
"Is this remorse, Severus?"
"I wish… I wish I were dead…"
"And what use would that be to anyone?" said Dumbledore coldly. "If you loved Lily Evans, if you truly loved her, then your way forward is clear."
Did he really, truly love her? Yes, since the very beginning, always, his mind screamed in confirmation. Yes, he had loved her like crazy and had been going mad with anger and jealousy over Potter. Yes, he had loved her; he had longed and fantasized and yearned for her intensely. She was everything to him. Yes, he loved her still, with every drop of blood he possessed. He could find no solace in this world now that she was gone. There was nothing left anymore. There was no way forward, no solace, no purpose, and no revenge. How could there be a way forward without her? He couldn't understand what Dumbledore wanted from him.
"What — what do you mean?"
"You know how and why she died. Make sure it was not in vain. Help me protect Lily's son."
"He does not need protection. The Dark Lord has gone —"
"The Dark Lord will return, and Harry Potter will be in terrible danger when he does."
The Dark Lord will return… The words echoed in his anguished mind, slowly peeling away the rotten morbid leaves of despair. Slowly realization came.
He wanted to ensure that Lily did not die in vain. He still blamed himself for putting her in danger. He still blamed Dumbledore for not protecting her, and he still despised Black for betraying her, but above all he loathed the Dark Lord for murdering her. Yes, he wanted revenge and he wanted her death to not be in vain. He would protect her son at all costs. He was determined. The way forward was clear now.
Slowly Severus regained control of himself and mastered his own breathing.
At last he said, "Very well. Very well. But never — never tell, Dumbledore! This must be between
us! Swear it! I cannot bear... especially Potter's son… I want your word!"
"My word, Severus, that I shall never reveal the best of you?"
Dumbledore sighed, looking down into Snape's ferocious, anguished face. "If you insist..."
And so, while the rest of the Wizarding world was celebrating the demise of the Dark Lord, Severus Snape was grieving quietly in his dark dungeons. No tears came to his eyes anymore. He wasn't one to wallow in sadness anyhow. The length of life he had lived so far had already strengthened him, but tonight he had learned another hard lesson and one last illusion was shredded to pieces. Life was unfair. It's just how it was.
He was long used to grief that life seemed to have in store in abundance. He took pride in being strong and self-sufficient. He hadn't had much left to lose anyway. He had already lost her friendship when he had called her a Mudblood. He had already lost her to Potter with whom she had a child. All that he had left to lose was a cherished – no, a foolish dream. He was grieving for something he had lost long ago. He simply felt numb by this one final loss. Yet it still felt like the sadness would never let up.
He wasn't afraid of anything anymore; but he had no hope left either. All he had left was a purpose. And when that would be finished, so would be he.