Chapter One: Absolution
Pain. So much pain. An ocean of it. The venom is searing him. His teeth are chattering from blood loss. Dying this way...without dignity...writhing, in front of them. Even in his agony, it galls him. Better to focus on those eyes. Bright green. Cool, like an Irish field. So like hers. He can almost imagine they are her eyes, that she is the witness to his bitter end.
Another rending pulse of pain, but it is muted this time. His field of vision narrows. He sighs his surrender as those eyes fade, as the blackness claims him. To rest. To lay down his burdens. At last.
A moment, just one moment, of sweet velvet blackness.
And then...light. Blinding light. He is standing. He can feel muscle and sinew, the stuff of his body coalescing around him. He is nude, but that is no great concern. Even as he thinks this he is clothed in the grey flannel pants and cotton tunic he wears in his chambers when he is blissfully alone.
He snorts at himself, amused that his subconscious would clothe his afterlife in this of all things. For he is not alone, is he? Walking towards him is...someone. The mists are not eager to yield their secrets. But there is red hair, much of it, and his suddenly stuttering mind provides the thought that perhaps this is hell, for it appears that he is being greeted by a blasted Weasley.
But it isn't a Weasley. He can see that now. It is her. He can see her features now. They are alive. Her eyes no longer staring blindly, her face no longer frozen in the rictus of death. The woman who ripped his heart and his life into two. The woman he killed. His sin. His repentance. His always.
Did he say the hallowed name aloud? Or did his mind simply scream it silently? His being is suffused with a confused potion of love, hatred and abysmal grief.
She has reached him, and he has thrown himself to his knees before her, wrapping his long arms around her legs. He is sobbing. The acerbic voice in his brain points out that after seventeen tearless years he is now crying for the second time in one day. But the voice is barely noticed before it too is carried away. He is howling in agony, like a feral creature with a leg caught in a trap. Howling into the sweet firm pillar of Lily's legs.
Lily. Oh Lily.
Sweet gods it hurts.
Nagini's venom is nothing compared to this agony. So long sublimated, so long repressed. He knows his long fingers are digging into her flesh, bruising the meat of her legs. But he is helpless, flattened and his claw-like fingers will not answer his commands to release her.
He had always suspected that if he started crying he would never be able to stop. This is to be his afterlife, then. Vomiting forth all of the emotion he withheld on Earth. How positively Dickensian.
After an endless time, or maybe a moment, he shudders, and forces his lungs to expand. It must be an illusion. Surely there are no lungs, and no air to fill them with, here. But the movement is comforting, and he repeats it, and after several repetitions he recognizes that the storm is passing, for now at least.
As he calms, he can feel the warmth of her beloved hands soothing the bent crown of his head, which is pressed against the softness of her belly. He is struck, suddenly, by the miracle that has been granted him. A chance. A chance to hold her. A chance to be with her. A chance to tell her...everything.
He must speak to her, say something. Who knows how long this moment, this gift will last?
When he speaks, his sonorous voice is rusty with tears.
"Lily," he says, releasing his strangle hold on her legs so he can look up into her face, "I...am...so...sorry."
He begins to weep again. She folds down to the ground so that her eyes are level with his, and presses a cool hand to each of his tear-stained cheeks. And she smiles.
Merlin. That smile. As it ever did, it fills him. Makes him feel worthy, and real, and, almost, clean.
He reaches for her hand, feels the fingers slip deftly between his. Remembers the time when holding this hand was a privilege uniquely his. Shakes his head sadly.
"I killed you, Lily."
At this, she tips back her head and laughs.
"Oh, Severus. What rubbish. You didn't kill me. The universe is very exact about these matters, and the bill for that crime is not to be served to you, my dear friend. There are others who will be settling that score."
Dear friend? Once he was. But she speaks it as if it is, even now, still true.
As if reading his heart, she answers, her eyes suddenly sad.
"You were always my friend, Severus. We were only children when we fought. You were wounded, and I was too naive to see your pain and too fearful to understand your anger. But the love I felt for you...Severus, it slept, but it never went away."
Silence. He holds her hand. Examines the contrast between the rose of her skin and the chalk of his. Lets her words fall like rain on to parched earth. Feels a block shift in his chest, a giant immovable stone being removed from his heart. She chose Potter. Yes. But she hadn't forgotten him. It was, almost, enough.
He can think of no words worth uttering. He settles for the utterly inadequate "Thank you."
"There is no need to thank me. You saved my son, Severus. You suffered, and fought, without any thought of your own happiness, so that others might live. I am to tell you that any debts that you owed in this life have been paid in full."
Again, he is weeping. But this time, they are tears not of agony, but of relief.
"Better?" She asks, pulling his head to her chest and caressing his hair.
He sighs, curls into her forgiveness like a weary child. "You have no idea."
It is later. They are walking, hand in hand down a long white corridor.
"What is this place, Lily?" He asks, touching her hand with the pad of his thumb.
"We call it the choosing place."
Finally emerging from the stunned cocoon of her presence, Severus' brain awakens from its slumber.
"Then I'm not dead?
She smiles. "Why no, you're not. You are very near death...but you are not dead yet."
"Then I may choose?"
Lily nods. "Many people get a choice. Most, well, they take the easier path." She grins. "But they are not you. What will you choose, I wonder."
He tightens his grip on her hand, uncertain. "Can I go with you, Lily? I know you are with Potter. But this time, I will tolerate him. I swear it. All I ask is to claim you as friend. To hold your hand now and again. Will he allow that? Will you?"
Lily laughs "Oh, Severus. You needn't worry about James. You and he were friends before this lifetime. And when this life's pain fades, you will be friends again. Besides, you saved our son, many times over. James loves you almost as much as I do."
Severus is amazed to discover that even in this not-place he has gorge enough to be nauseated by the idea of Potter's affection. He does his best to swallow it down.
Lily laughs even harder.
"Oh, Sev, the look on your face! If you decide to come with me you'll soon understand. The perspective... well, let's just say everything looks different from here. It's quite beautiful, and so much broader than our little human brains can grasp...But, as your friend, I ask you to consider the other option. There is more down there for you. Much more. You've had such a dark life, my friend. I want you to experience some lightness...laugh a little."
He makes a small sound of denial, and clutches her hand tighter. He would be cutting off her circulation now if such a thing were possible here. But she is marvelously unaffected by it. She smiles at him, and he can feel in his bones that she means it.
"After all, we will be here for you whenever you cross over. The other things...well, the chance to experience them in this incarnation is pretty much a one shot offer."
Lifetimes. Incarnations. Offers of happiness. He feels panic stirring within his chest. He dosen't want this.
"You can't mean for me to go back to that place, Lily. Please. Don't ask it of me. " He is weeping again. "I don't want to fight anymore. I can't fight anymore. I am so very very tired."
Those beloved arms are around him. Soothing him. Wrapping him in comfort.
"Shhhh...Your fighting days can be over if you want them to be. The war will be over before you could possibly rejoin it. And besides, I think you won't be so weary now. Life is much easier when your heart is whole, and the only master you serve is yourself."
To serve no master but himself. To walk the earth with his heart whole in his chest. How would that feel? What would it be like to walk under the sun's glare and be worthy of its light?
She embraces him, gazes at him radiantly.
"I am so proud of you my Severus."
Her beloved face begins to fade.
"But I haven't made my choice yet!" He shouts, reaches for her.
His fingers pass through her like smoke. He hears her reply, faint, but full of warm laughter.
End Chapter One
Author's Notes: I was tremendously moved by Alan Rickman's portrayal of Snape's death. I found myself wishing that JKR had created a King's cross station for him. Then I began to wonder, what if Snape went to King's Cross and received absolution? And what if he actually accepted that forgiveness? What would life be like for Snape without the self-loathing he has carried around his entire life? What would he do? Who would he be?
And, of course, how would that Snape love Hermione?
Hence, this story. Let's find out!
Due to a mistake I made in uploading, I must now put Chapter two here. Sorry!
Chapter Two: Heal Thyself
Severus Snape wakes just as the door to the boathouse slams shut. Through the frosted glass he can see the blurred figures of Harry Potter and his friends skulking off to rejoin the battle. An instant, then, only an instant passed in that place between places. An instant and an eternity. Amazing.
Then, like a tidal wave, the pain slams back into his body. But what does he care? This pain is physical. This pain he can fight. Potionsmaster, heal thyself. Evaluate. Repair. Survive.
The venom is burning him. Corroding his very veins, numbing as it goes. It must be addressed first. The slash at his throat is still pulsing blood, more slowly now. That is not good. He must act quickly.
Time. He has so little of it.
He had perfected the antidote to Nagini's venom years ago. It had seemed...prudent at the time, given his role as spy. But, of course, he does not have it now. Still, he has his wand. His right hand has closed around its smoothness. With his wand, he can do this. He focuses his will, visualizes his carefully ordered stores. Locates the distinctive blue bottle with the yellow seal. His ruined throat can make no sound but a sibilant whisper, but it will be enough. It has to be.
A moment. Then, the blue bottle slaps into his left palm. Relief roils into frustration when he realizes that he cannot lift the useless appendage to his lips. He notes, with vague surprise that he wants, quite desperately, to live.
He determines that he shall.
He uses the wand in his right hand to move his left to his mouth. Breaks the seal with his teeth. At least his hideous dentition is good for something. He will fix them, his teeth, as soon as he is free from this predicament.
He is shaking so badly that potion flies everywhere. But he manages to get some of it down his throat. Instantly the numbing recedes. This is a boon and a curse, for without the numbness,he regains some of his motor control, but those gains are offset by a new level of pain. This pain is nothing, he reminds himself, and procedes with his tasks.
He lifts his trembling arm to the wound at his throat. He seals the opening in the artery that was thankfully only nicked, not fully severed. He rests for a moment, then shakes himself alert. He cannot afford to drift off.
A second spell begins to repair the damage to his larynx. A third to hunt down and seal other auxilliary damage. Finally, he seals the muscles and the flesh sloppily, messily closed. It won't be pretty, but he believes that it will hold.
Now, he casts his thoughts back to his storeroom. It is like trying to think with molasses in his head. His thoughts keep getting stuck in strange places. Finally he finds a moment of clarity, and focuses his will upon the clear bottle with a red seal, two knots on the slender cord around the neck.
Feels the slap of blood replenisher in his hand. Lifts the vial, drinks it down.
That is better. He can think a bit more clearly now. Focus. Amber bottle, white seal.
Slap. Strength enhancer.
Now focusing is easy. He summons the purple bottle, round cork. A restorative. He will need it to augment his measly current stores of energy. Slap.
He considers. Decides that given how much antivenom is sloshed around his face and chest, a second full dose might be prudent. He summons it, and chokes the vile liquid down. That he is registering the taste at all strikes him as a good sign. For the first time, he believes he actually may survive to leave this boathouse on his own power.
Now there is nothing more that he can do but rest, give the magic in his potions time to work. Yes, rest. It sounds so seductive at this moment. He slides down the wall of the boathouse, reclines into the rusty pool of his own congealing blood.
His eyes are scratchy and dry. Closing his eyelids takes many seconds, but once it is accomplished, the darkness is blissfull.
As he waits for slumber to claim him, he is aware of the restful sound of water slapping against the is a peaceful sound, rythmic. Water. Perhaps he will go near the water now. Then, as he nears the very edges of wakefulness, he hears the counterpoint. Irregular, sometimes booming. The distant sounds of battle. It is with grim satisfaction that he notes no drive to join in the fight, and only vague interest in the outcome.
This war, he says to himself as he drifts away, is no longer mine.
He is awakened sometime later by a single sharp sensation from the dark mark, and is instantly alert. The sounds of battle have ended. The meaning behind this becomes clear when he looks down at his forearm. He senses no tether. The mark is dead. It is now only a scar, a relic. For almost twenty years he has been bound to that hideous creature, tied to his master like a beaten cur. That chain is now broken.
I. Am. Free.
The thought rises up in his heart. It is too big to grasp, but he lets its boyancy levy him through the arduous task of rising to his feet. For he knows, with the certainty that he knows anything, that Potter will have seen his memories in the pensieve. If he lives, the chosen one will feel compelled to retrieve his body, honor it. He must be gone by then.
Apparating in this state is a risk, it's true. But it is a risk for his own benefit. He stands for a moment on tremulous limbs and savors the difference in that. Then, drawing his thick woolen cloak around him for warmth, Severus Snape apparates away.
End, Chapter Two