Obligatory Disclaimer: If I owned Severus, I wouldn't have done that to him.
Author's Notes: I watched Deathly Hallows Part Two last week. Most of it was brilliant, but if they were going to tweak canon in places, why couldn't they have given our hero a better death? Also Harry is a thoughtless muppet on so many levels.
Anyway, this odd little one-shot is my version of what happened to Severus when he died. There may be a fair amount of denial present, but all my readers know he's not really dead. The epilogue was just a poison-induced hallucination.
Warnings: None, for once. Gosh.
"All you folks think you own my life
But you never made any sacrifice
Demons, they are on my trail
I'm standing at the crossroads of Hell
I look to the left, I look to the right
There's hands that grab me on every side..."
– Tracy Chapman, 'Crossroads'.
Severus had never really been sure just what he believed about the afterlife. He had never been religious, never believed in God - the Pope Himself would have ended up an atheist if His Holiness had led the life Severus had. But it was obvious that there was something after death, since ghosts existed, and it made sense that there would be some sort of division between those who had been good and those who had been evil, even if it wasn't as melodramatic as Heaven or Hell. He knew most people were in the muddy grey waters between those two absolutes; equally, he knew which side of the scales he would tip if his soul was weighed in the balance.
But when he opened his eyes, there was a reassuring absence of eternal fire and a wonderful lack of pain. He hadn't been completely free of physical pain in two or three years; that alone made this a paradise, of sorts. He sat up slowly, not bothering to examine himself; he could already feel that his neck was unwounded and that the Dark Mark wasn't on his arm any more. Besides, he had also already noticed that he wasn't breathing. So this was his afterlife, then? He got to his feet and looked around, and almost smiled, somehow not surprised.
The playground again. This was where all the major decisions of his life had taken place; not only was it where he had first met Lily when he was only nine years old, it was where he had discovered that he himself was a wizard five years before that, and it was where he had always returned to if he needed to think. Slowly crossing the hard ground, the dead brown grass giving way under his boots, Severus made his way to his usual swing and settled onto it, looping an arm around the rusty chain and slowly starting to push himself back and forth with the toe of one boot against the dirt underneath, looking around. He'd sat here after graduating, thinking about everything his fellow Slytherins had told him, deciding the course his life was going to take. He'd sat here not long afterwards, staring at the new raw brand on his forearm and wondering uneasily if it was going to be everything he had been promised. He'd sat here and panicked for a while before approaching Dumbledore to beg on his knees for Lily's safety, and he'd sat here and wept after she died, and he'd sat here when the Mark had begun to reappear and asked himself whether he was going to run or fight.
Yes, it made absolute sense that he would wake up here. Severus wasn't a teenage boy and he didn't need visions of Dumbledore or anyone else to tell him that this was a way station, a temporary stopping place. The only question remaining to him was what happened next. He supposed he could just stay here; no pain, no hunger, there was nothing he needed. He probably had enough inside his head to keep him entertained for at least a few years before he started getting bored, and he had no problem with solitude. Choosing not to choose was also a choice. But that didn't feel right. He'd done too much to stay in limbo, even if part of him was tempted.
Listening pensively to the creaking of the chain as the swing moved slowly back and forth, Severus looked around the empty playground. His choices seemed pretty obvious. He could walk to his house, or he could walk to Lily's house.
Lily. He considered that for a few minutes, looking in the direction of her old house. There were no real emotions here, or he'd simply used all his up; his thoughts were dispassionate. He didn't really want to see her again. That would doubtless surprise more than a few people, once word got around, but it was true. Whatever had been between them had been over a very, very long time ago, long before her death, let alone his. He had always known she never loved him the way he did her. Even if he did meet her again here, she would still belong to James, and he had no wish to face either of them after everything he had done. Lily was his past, and it was best that she remain there.
Besides, that choice felt too obvious, too clichéd. It was so obviously what he was expected to do that he was reluctant to do it. Outside the railings that encircled the playground, the path went in two directions; towards his house or towards Lily's. Clearly, it was a straightforward choice between - for lack of better terms - Heaven or Hell. But which was which? When he'd been alive, as a boy, it had been obvious - his house was cold, dirty, overshadowed by an abusive father and a mother half-dead already, whereas Lily's house meant friendship, acceptance, warmth.
That didn't mean that they represented the same things now. Admittedly in the mortal world Lily's house didn't belong to her family any more, but that was irrelevant here. He continued to move the swing slowly back and forth, staring thoughtfully at the gate and the two paths beyond it, considering which one he should be walking down. Abruptly he put his other foot on the ground and brought the swing to a halt, narrowing his eyes; when he was so obviously meant to choose between two distinct options he found himself wanting to find a third one instead just to spite everyone. He stood up and moved out from underneath the frame of the swing before smiling slowly.
He was a wizard. Why did he have to walk anywhere?
Closing his eyes, he concentrated, turning on the spot and Disapparating.
He knew it had worked for the simple reason that he was suddenly in what was, even by his standards, a quite extraordinary amount of pain. Every single molecule of his body was its own little distinct pulse of agony, and the pain intensified when he reflexively tried to move. It proved to be all he could manage to shut his eyes and let his eyeballs rehydrate, as he dragged in the first gasping breath that burned all the way down, before keeping very still and hoping it would ease off a little bit by the time he could see again.
While he waited, a few thoughts made their way through the red mist of pain. His decision to try and return had been very simple. It wasn't because he wanted to come back; he had near enough made up his mind to kill himself after everything was over, assuming he survived that long, more than a year ago. This life held nothing for him, really. No, he'd come back for a much simpler reason. Voldemort had wanted him to die here; probably so had Dumbledore, actually, now that his part of the plan was over. Therefore, Severus resolved to live, just to spite his former masters. After all this, he wasn't going to let either of them have things all their own way.
As though the thought had triggered it, agony flared in his left arm, dwarfing all the pain he was already feeling. He would have screamed if he could have, but the best he could manage was a hiss that was more of a gurgle as air bubbled through his torn throat, his body twitching as he tried in vain to curl around the limb in question. The Dark Mark was burning, literally burning, fire flickering over his sleeve as his blurry vision tried to focus, and oh, God, it hurt. But at the same time the agony was accompanied by a surge of triumph, because Voldemort was dead. Really dead this time. They had won.
Severus thought he might be crying, but it was honestly hard to tell.
After a ridiculously difficult struggle, he managed to roll onto his side on the filthy floor, closing his eyes and trying to get his breath back, wishing vaguely that he could smell anything except his own blood. There was a lot of blood, he could feel it soaking his clothes - the sensation was all too familiar. He was carefully avoiding thinking about anything much - he wasn't thinking about how it had felt when Nagini's fangs ripped into his throat, he wasn't thinking about the pain of dragging up all those long-buried memories, he wasn't thinking about the fact that Lily's son was presumably already dead, he wasn't thinking about the look on Minerva's face when she and his other colleagues had turned on him and driven him out of the only home he had ever really known. If he thought about any of those things right now, that would be the end of him; his sanity had been hanging by a thread as it was.
He had never been so grateful to be an Occlumens. Pushing all his memories and emotions away, he concentrated on the here and now. Right now, at this moment, everyone thought he was dead. Therefore, if he could get out of here before anyone came for his body, they would go on thinking he was dead. There was certainly more than enough blood to back up the Trio having watched him die. If he could get out of here, he'd be free. For the first time since his teens, free of all promises, all obligations, all vows.
One last effort, then. He had a hideout, one nobody else knew about, well stocked with healing potions. If he could just get there and stay conscious long enough to swallow some of them, then that was all that mattered for now. Run. Hide. Rest. Heal. Then, if he survived, then he could let himself think again and try to work out what happened next. Right now, he wasn't sure if he truly wanted to live or not, but if he decided later that he didn't, at least then it would be his choice. He'd had too many choices taken away from him over the years, but now he had his life back - such as it was - and he wasn't going to let go of it in a hurry. Spitting some of the blood out of his mouth and blinking to clear his vision as much as possible, Severus took several deep ragged breaths and pushed himself up and onto all fours, locking his elbows and forcing himself to stay there and not to collapse as the agony surged through his abused body and slowly ebbed away again.
When his faltering breathing seemed steadier and the flashing lights at the edge of vision faded away, Severus crawled a couple of paces to the wall and leaned his shoulder against it, bracing himself against the welcome support as he slowly made his way onto one knee before pausing to rest again. Even he had never been quite this close to death before, he reflected ironically as he panted for breath. Almost there. Come on, Severus. You've walked up the whole school drive with a broken leg before. You've walked up the drive when you'd been cursed so badly you couldn't see. Now all you have to do is stand up, that's nothing. That's it, now you've got your feet under you. Lean on the wall. Breathe. One more push until you're on your feet - no, wait. You'll pass out if you stand up that fast. Turn around, lean on the wall. That's better, keep your back against it. Now slide upwards, nice and slow. Stop a minute and get your breath. A little more. Almost there.
He had no idea how long it took him to actually stand up. It could have been ten minutes, it could have been two hours. Somewhere, above the buzzing in his ears and the pounding of his erratic heartbeat, he could hear fireworks; the celebrations had started already. The mangled body of Severus Snape wasn't going to feature highly on anyone's list of priorities right now, so no need to panic. He had plenty of time yet. Finally he leaned back against the wall, fully upright, soaked in blood, light-headed and in a truly ridiculous amount of pain, and felt pleased with himself in a numb sort of way. He wasn't beaten yet.
Knowing that it was a very, very bad idea, he reached up shakily with trembling fingers to touch his neck and flinched, feeling first the cool stickiness of drying blood and then the warm stickiness of fresher blood before finding the edge of the first wound. For a moment his vision wavered as the things he was determinedly not thinking about threatened to break through to his conscious mind, before he regained control of himself and lowered his hand. It hadn't killed him yet, so it wasn't as bad as it could have been. If he'd survived this long he could survive long enough to get to his potions. It would just take one or two steps and the effort of remaining conscious after Apparating, that was all. Once he had forced down doses of his untried and untested, highly experimental antivenom and some Blood-Replenishing Potion, then he could let himself pass out. He knew exactly where those two vials were and could Apparate right next to them.
Deep breaths, Severus. You're not dead, damnit. Deep breaths, and concentrate. One... two... three...
And in ten years' time, my fic Post Tenebras Lux picks up the story! New fic is coming along, I promise... watch my profile for updates.