One Step Forward
Summary: After the end, Severus Snape is given the choice to either go to his past and repair what went wrong or stay in the present, entombed in his memories. Will he escape his mistakes or discover that all roads lead to the same result? Even worse, will he be unable to escape a lifetime trapped in a fantasy?
The world was churning. Darkness formed around the edge of Severus Snape's vision, and he struggled to maintain consciousness and force out the memories—the truth—before everything faded to black. Blood gushed from his neck, his lungs burned for oxygen, but he knew he could not take another breath. He knew it was not long before the world faded to two tiny green pinpricks of light.
And suddenly, everything was warm. He was no longer coated in sweat and blood; he felt like he had just stepped of a warm bath. His robes were neither coarse nor sticky; they were the softest silk he had ever worn. He was no longer lying, cold, on the floor, but standing on a familiar grassy hill, the shadow of Hogwarts looming over him. The familiar aches and pains that racked his frame were gone. He felt young again. Sun was shining for what felt like the first time in months. The only thing marginally unpleasant about his present state was the wetness around his eyes and on his cheeks. He swiped at his face with the back of his sleeve. He seemed alone, but he was not willing to chance anyone witnessing him cry.
He was dead.
The thought did not make him feel ill. He was not shocked, or scared, or angry, or in denial. He had simply never expected to survive the year. If the Dark Lord had not done him in, it would have been some well-meaning Order member, thinking they were avenging Dumbledore.
"Severus," a deep voice said softly. Severus sighed, as was often the case, the man crossed his path as soon as he crossed his mind. "You have shown more bravery than I have ever expected from any man."
He spread his arms out wide and smiled. His blue eyes sparkled, and Severus took a step backwards. Suddenly, more than anything, he wanted to be alone.
"I am not hugging you, Albus," he said, looking away. He kept his eyes on the forest, even as he heard Dumbledore walk forward.
"Yes, but I am hugging you." Severus found himself being pulled into a tight embrace, and tears pricked at his eyes once again. He fought them back. He would not cry on Albus Dumbledore's shoulder.
"Where am I?" he grumbled, hoping it would get Dumbledore to pull away. He did, finally, his smile fading.
"Well, Severus, you see you've—died." Severus raised his eyebrows. "But I guess you already knew that. And this," he gestured to the grounds, "this is where we go when we die."
"We go to Hogwarts."
"No," said Dumbledore quickly. "I'm sorry, I phrased that poorly. When we die, we get to be with the ones we loved, the ones who have changed our lives, the ones who have already passed on. We spend time and we talk with them before we move forward. Ariana was here for me, and I was here for Gellert, and I hope to be here for Aberforth, when his time comes…" He removed his glasses and wiped his eyes. Severus looked away. "And I'm very flattered that you would want me here for you."
Severus did not say anything. The one person whom he had truly loved, the woman who changed his life, was not here. He stared in to the forest again, hoping he would see a flash of her hair or hear her call out to him. But there was nothing.
"Lily isn't in the forest, Severus," he heard Dumbledore say.
"I get it," he said bitterly, more to himself than Dumbledore. "She didn't know I loved her. I destroyed the one friendship I had, and it's my fault she's dead. There's no reason why she would be here. Can we forget it? Can we move on now?"
Severus felt like he had been doused with cold water. He slowly turned back to Dumbledore. "What do you mean, 'no'?" he hissed. "You said we were only here to talk, and apparently you're the only one who wants to talk. I don't have anything to say to you, Albus. I've told you everything. What more can you want from me? Do you want to hear how much I hated being headmaster? How much I hated teaching? What about how I've spent every day miserable—"
"Yes!" said Dumbledore suddenly, taking Severus by the shoulders. "That's what I need to hear?"
Severus stared at him, completely nonplussed. "You want to hear how unhappy I've been? Great. We have eternity."
"Severus, has a day ever gone by wherein you didn't think about Lily? A day when you didn't wonder how you could have fixed things?"
A long pause hung in the air.
"No," Severus finally said softly, "there hasn't. Of course there hasn't. Every day I wake up and wonder how my life could have been. Every day I go back."
"And that's why you can't go forward."
Dumbledore was suddenly looking at him very intensely. The familiar fire was back in his eyes, and he was no longer a trembling old man but rather a powerful wizard. "You have a choice, Severus. You can go back to the place where you made the mistake. You can try to change things, see the life you could have lived." He bowed his head, "Or you can stay in the real world, living the rest of your life as a ghost."
"Why would I ever choose that?"
"It just depends on the person, I suppose." Now Dumbledore was the one staring off into the trees. The fire that had so quickly ignited seemed to have burnt out. "Do you know where you're going?"
Already, vague, blurry figures were beginning to form on the grassy hill in the shadow of Hogwarts. A warm, late-spring breeze lifted Severus's hair. He could hear people laughing and talking. Part of him desperately wanted to join the unfurling scene.