Here is my version of the story of a Severus Snape who survives the war... The cauldron is boiling, something is brewing, the ingredients are prepared. One ingredient that is not based on the canon story is a woman who can love him – an OC (you have been warned!), since I can see no surviving canon characters with this potential. But his experiences make our hero ill-prepared for starting a new life… I am more interested in what happens in him than in most other aspects of the plot.
Disclaimer: All rights belong to the inimitable J.K. Rowling.
Too Deep for the Healing
The green of the eyes that he was, with the last of his strength, clinging to gradually melted into darkness, and yet Severus Snape was not dead. Nor was he truly alive perhaps – it was only a matter of time, and the lungs, the heart, the brain would stop functioning; but for the moment he was caught – trapped - in a helpless, unconscious, dying body. That was what a casual observer would have seen; or perhaps a casual observer would have believed him already dead. In reality, his consciousness, closed down to the things belonging to life and not yet open to the things beyond life, could be touched and addressed by something that was – like him - in between.
The slim, girlish, ethereal figure seemed to be separated from him as by a veil. He wanted to answer, he wanted to get up to greet her, but he could not move, and his voice failed him.
"You don't need your voice to talk to me," she said.
"Lily," he said, or rather thought, certain that she both heard and understood him.
"It's easier like this," she answered kindly.
"I've come after you – at last."
She was shaking her head.
"No, Severus, I have come to you. You're still alive. To be quite frank, I came to see my son – he had the power to call us to his side - and I can linger only a little longer. But that's not important."
Not important? Lily coming back to him – what could be more important? It was a miracle that she still wanted to see him though.
"Your son …" he began, but the memory was too painful to elaborate even in thought. "I would understand it if you hated me."
"Harry made his own choice," said Lily. "I'm not here to scold you for … anything. I'm here to give you advice."
"May I stay with you?"
If he had had to pronounce this question, Lily would never have heard it; but he could not help his thoughts. It was a stupid question.
She shook her head once more.
"I must go back where I belong," she said. "You belong to the living."
"I have belonged to the dead for a long time. The dead alone know what I am. Look at me. I cannot live."
"You can still try," she coaxed. "And I suggest you try… You have something to do."
"Another … job?"
He wondered if Lily had brought him orders from Dumbledore. She smiled.
"There's nothing you can do for Harry any more. There's something you can do for yourself."
For himself? He was not sure it was a worthy goal.
"Reconciliation," Lily said. "You must find peace while you are alive. You owe this to yourself. Afterwards … it will be much more difficult."
Peace? There had been no peace for him for years. And now…
"Everyone thinks I'm a traitor," he said. "They hate me."
"Do you really want to die like this?"
"I doubt anyone would want to make peace with me."
"Then make peace with yourself."
"I'm already dying… I don't think I have a choice."
"Ask for help," she said. "I can't help you much, but the living may. Just ask."
"I can't see anyone ... but you."
"Help will always be given to those who ask for it. Do as you did just now."
"What did I do?"
"Let me go to the boy … How many times did you say it a little while ago? Don't tell me you were talking to Voldemort only. And what happened?"
"The boy … came to me."
"You know what you have to do… Try it… You're not ready to go yet."
She vanished, leaving him in darkness again, neither here, nor there; and he wanted to cry out in disappointment, but it was impossible. All he managed was a sigh that carried a silent request for help he did not know to whom.
Later, he had very few memories of the following hours (days? centuries?). He remembered seeing another pair of eyes, piercing blue this time, causing him to think Lily had been mistaken - until the excruciating pain in his oesophagus made him unable to think of anything at all. And he remembered hearing voices, though very little of the actual words that had been said.
"I wanted to take a last look at the man who had had the nerve to kill my brother like that."
The voice sounded old and vaguely familiar - at least he knew he had never liked it.
"What a lot of blood to lose... It must have been the snake..."
"I pushed a bezoar down his throat, just in case, after sending for you. I always have a couple of goat things with me; they're rather useful..."
Someone moved him, and his consciousness, awakening to more pain, sank back into the darkness…
"You will alert me if there's any change."
"I will. Don't worry. I'll manage."
Of course she would manage. She was a fully qualified healer. The best way she could help was to take on the night shift, enabling her more experienced colleague to rest. The patients would need her strength in the morning again. It had been a difficult day, and the coming days were going to be difficult, too.
As she was left alone – alone? – with dozens of patients to look after! - she checked on each ward. Everything was calm, strangely calm after a busy day. Even those who were unable to sleep had quietened down. But the quietest of all was the patient who had been brought in last and placed into a separate ward without company. She spent a few minutes standing by his side, observing him. Would he ever open his eyes again? She took his pulse and she checked his surroundings. Everything that at the moment could help his survival was in place. All he had to do now was – to survive.
Snape found himself in a barren, cold and uninviting wasteland. The light was dim but enough for him to see, and the atmosphere was gloomy. He glanced around. The desolate place had an air of menace – he was aware of some unseen, unheard but undoubtedly existing danger, and he realized that he was without shelter or weapon, exposed to whatever evil presence was lurking behind his back. Instinct told him to flee or to hide. He saw nothing that could be a good hiding place; therefore fleeing was the only option. Yet, he was reluctant to move, reluctant to stand up and start walking across what seemed to be emptiness itself.
It was then that he noticed the doe. She was lying on dry, cracked soil, not far from him. She looked ill. He could not ignore her – wearily, he got up and went to the animal. She was a real doe: neither silver nor white and not a light-being at all. Snape held out his hand and touched her. It was possible. Yet, as he touched her, all doubts left him. She was his doe. He could recognize her, the strange changes notwithstanding.
The doe did not mind the touch at all. On the contrary, Snape had the feeling that through that touch, she was communicating with him. For once, he was sure that she could not help him because it was the doe that required his help. Most of all, the doe needed water. But where could he find it? He stared into the distance and soon he discovered a little river winding lazily in its bed and breaking the emptiness of the wasteland.
"There's water," he murmured, "I'll take you there."
The doe was persuadable, and with Snape's help, she stood on four trembling legs and let him lead her towards the water. But the stream was murky, and the doe halted on its bank with something like disgust. Snape looked round again. There was no other sign of life anywhere; nothing that could help the doe.
The need to protect another living being gave him courage: He was not afraid for himself, but he could not let the thirsty animal perish. He started walking along the thin line of the stream, which soon became wider, and the doe was following him slowly, with unsteady steps.
Snape bent over the stream, hoping against hope that the water had become cleaner, himself feeling the thirst of the doe already, but as he touched the surface of the stream, his eyes widened. Under the water, broken by the lazy waves of the stream, a familiar image appeared. It was Hogwarts castle, not as he had known it for most of his life, but the besieged, already half-destroyed Hogwarts as he had seen it only once.
He found himself in the battle again. Death Eaters were firing curses at the castle, as giants, real, enraged giants, were putting their rake-like hands and enormous heads through the windows, looking for human prey…
And there they were all – the stone walls turned into living walls of students, and the curses kept flying at them. He had to find Potter… All of a sudden, a sharp, female voice shouted above the heads of the children.
He rushed forward as fast as he could, but the first row of students had already collapsed...
Snape was panting. The image had vanished, and he was left once again on the bank of the dirty river, unable to drink, unable to help the doe, unable to forget what he had just seen.
"I may be wrong, of course, but I'm afraid these potions aren't very effective."
The older woman's expression made it clear that she fully shared the younger one's opinion.
"He's received the best antivenom available at the moment. These potions are keeping him alive. We can't do more unless we obtain a potion matching specifically the characteristics of the venom in question. It's a miracle he isn't dead yet."
Though the patient was not dead, he was in a state similar to the one induced by the Draught of Living Death. Even the combined effects of the timely bezoar and the other medicines were enough only to keep up the vegetative functions of the organs – but no one could tell how long.
"Perhaps," she said tentatively, "someone could go after him."
The older healer responded with an astonished look.
"That would require a trained dream-guide. My expertise is related to herbs, potions, ointments and general wand magic. You must know more than anyone what's happened to the staff of St. Mungo's since last summer, but if you think you can contact a dream guide who would get here before it is too late, by all means do it. On my part, I hope the snake venom is still analysable – that's our best chance to neutralize its magic. Without that, simply waking him up would be of no avail. But I do wish he could wake up. The longer he stays in this deep sleep, the more difficult it will be to undo the damage, even with a more effective medicine."
The elderly woman shook her head. The younger one hesitated.
"I … did a course…" she said shyly. "I've never tried it in a real situation, but I'm familiar with the theory and I've had some … well, classroom practice."
"That's not the same. There are risks. Entering his mind is one thing, but guiding him out of the magical dreams in which he is entangled would be extremely difficult. You may do more harm than good."
"I was taught by the late Professor Traum. I was a good student."
"You're tired. You've been up all night. Go to bed."
"I will. Afterwards. What did I take that course for if I don't dare to try my knowledge in real life?"
The two witches were watching each other gravely. Healers had to attempt everything in their power to save a patient. But it sometimes involved risks. Failure was possible.
"I'm worried about you, Irene" said the older one. "You have no idea how it feels when something goes wrong because of you. Besides, we don't have his consent."
Irene was silent for a while.
"It's an emergency situation," she said in the end. "It'd be horrible not to do what could be done."
"Do as you will," the older one snorted. "I'll leave you alone with him. But I must warn you, if the experiment goes wrong, I may not be able to help."
Irene started the necessary preparations with great care. She wasn't quite sure why she had insisted on the attempt - it was true that the risks were high. She wanted to help, of course. Healing was her true profession, which she took as seriously as anyone. But she was also eager to see how much she was able to do. There were not many dream guides in the world, and her professor had considered her talented. But he had died too early… before having an opportunity to watch over his student's first real steps in his area of expertise.
The patient was another professor, and Irene thought perhaps he would understand her thirst for knowledge. After all, she was not being irresponsible. There was a fair chance that she might succeed; and no one else was available who could be employed as a dream guide with any more success than her. She was certain that every new day the patient spent in the venom-induced sleep made the prognosis significantly worse. Conscious or not, his life was in peril without a more effective medicine, but it mattered a great deal in what state he would be found when (and if) that potion was ready.
She sat down by the patient's bed. With one hand, she directed her wand at his forehead. With the other hand, she carefully took the patient's hand, and murmured a long, long spell.
Snape was standing in the middle of a circle of Death Eaters, all wearing their uniforms and their hoods. A faceless crowd; and he was just one of them, faceless, too; his robes and hood identical to theirs. Being in the middle did not bode well. The air was ice-cold around him, yet no one seemed to be feeling cold but him. There was a hiss, a jet of light, and his Death Eater robes caught fire. Despite the searing pain, the icy feeling persisted as well. He struggled to tear off the burning robes, but his limbs were paralysed. The Death Eaters were not disturbed by the fire; and the black of their uniforms hid everything else from his sight.
Unexpectedly, someone seized him by the hand and began pulling him. He tried to resist, but he could not fight the heat, the cold and the mysterious force at the same time, and soon enough, he gave in to the pressure. The Death Eaters were left behind, and so were his burning, black robes. He was clad in shining, conspicuous white, but he still thought he was on fire inside.
He wanted to see who had saved him, but they were wandering through a thick, dark forest, and he could discern only the vague shape of a human being, who was still holding his hand, guiding him through thickets and past thorny bushes. Slowly, the path began leading uphill, and Snape instinctively knew that freedom and safety were waiting for them somewhere up there… But as they emerged from the benevolent shade of the trees, he noticed the serpentine valley encircling the hill, deep and narrow.
"Don't look down," a voice warned him; but he was already staring into the depth below, and there he glimpsed a building that he had known for years, an elegant mansion at the foot of the hill, where they were waiting for him…
"Let me go …" he groaned. "I … must find out what's happening … It is … my job."
The power that had rescued him gave way to his will now. Snape was sliding downhill, but his companion was following him, a hand firmly locked around his. He could have observed the stranger at last, but he was thinking of his horrible duty only, and did not take his gaze off his grim destination...
Torture. Death. A high-pitched laughter. Strangers. Order members. Students. How much more could he take? He could feel his own willpower cracking inside, and a cry was ready to burst out of him, a cry that would not help anyone but would reveal everything...
The Dark Lord's red, snakelike eyes were focusing on his. Once again, he had to concentrate and remain calm. Too much effort would betray him just as surely as too little effort would. He had to find the balance; he had to let the Dark Lord into his mind, he had to allow the Dark Lord to take a tour among his miserable memories at leisure - and he had to close down what was important … He had done it a thousand times. But this time it did not work. He knew there was something – something he had left open, a window through which the Dark Lord might catch sight of the truth.
The intent gaze did not let go, and there was no escape from the Dark Lord's headquarters, much less from his presence, everyone knew that. He had to close down his mind before it was too late…
It was late. The snaky visage froze into the icy expression that immediately preceded the Dark Lord's fury, the kind of fury that could make strong and proud wizards tremble like children.
"Do you mind their deaths?" hissed the Dark Lord. "Hogwarts students, underage wizards, and there are so many of them… Would you have preferred to keep them alive rather than sacrifice them for my sake? I am disappointed, Severus, very disappointed…"
The words turned into pure hissing, and Snape saw Nagini wriggle towards him and start a hungry dance around him.
"Watch, Severus, watch," the hissing continued, "watch what you have done…"
Hoisted upside down, there was a helpless figure floating below the ceiling, turning around slowly. Snape did his best to put on an impassive face, as she stared at him, pleading.
And the words echoed in his head in the voice of Albus Dumbledore, then in the voice of Narcissa Malfoy, and then Dumbledore again.
Why did they all have to ask him, why not someone else, anyone else?
He was shaking and sweating as the Dark Lord, laughing, directed his wand at the spinning figure, and suddenly it was Potter, Harry Potter, the boy he had failed to protect.
Potter was not pleading; he merely looked at Snape with his green Lily-eyes, and the Dark Lord laughed again.
"Enjoying the scene, Severus? Do you want to see more? Who else do you want to see spinning there? More of your students, perhaps? More of your dear colleagues? They are all here… Or can we think of someone even dearer to you, Severus?"
He could only moan as the Dark Lord raised his wand once more, as the snake's hissing grew unbearably loud, as Harry Potter started spinning with a sickening speed in front of his eyes, close up, turning back into Charity Burbage, who kept spinning and was about to turn into someone else (and Snape somehow knew in advance and without doubt who the next victim would be), when a green light flashed, someone screamed, the stranger's hand, which, unknown to the Dark Lord, had miraculously been holding Snape's hand all the time, was torn off, and Snape fell.