With his neck burning in agony as scarlet blood poured from the wound, the burning venom rushing through his veins, the once Potions Master found it difficult to focus as Harry Potter kneeled beside him. His mind churned desperately in clouded thoughts as he struggled to complete the task that Dumbledore had left him with, but with a massive effort, the memories that revealed the truth were in Potter's hands. Harry did not yet understand the significance of the silvery substance that he held in the tiny vial, but he would soon.
And then, without any words of thanks, or any consideration for the man who lay dying beside him, Potter turned away from him. No, no, Lily's eyes were escaping. He could not die without seeing the last remnants of her – without that singular memory, Hell would be unbearable. It was just like a Potter to deny him that parting gift. Severus could not die without seeing her eyes.
"Look…" he rasped painfully, reaching out feebly for Harry's arm, "At… Me…" Abruptly, bright green eyes met his own, and though they were filled with confusion and surprise, he could see Lily Evans in them. He took solace in this last sight, and as his vision disappeared, he thought of nothing but the woman he had sacrificed everything for. Once Severus Snape had passed, Harry stood and with his companions at his heels, left the Shrieking Shack and continued onto the castle, unprepared for the information he would soon learn.
Death is only the next adventure.
Immediately, Severus's ears were filled with a soft whispering, like that of children murmuring beneath their breaths. Against his closed eyelids, a warm light shone red, but he dared not open them. Was this Hell? And if it was, would the agony that was ominously absent begin once he had surveyed his surroundings?
He didn't want to find out.
Severus shifted, relying on his other four senses to gather information of his environment. Warm air was all around him - but it was comfortably warm; nothing at all like the fires of Hell. He could feel warn, soft fabric clothing him, and the familiar weight pulling at his neck told him that a cloak was clasped at his collarbone. There was a hard stool beneath him, and a rather rickety one at that. The air held the faintest traces of pumpkin juice, along with the scent of burning wood. His hair was pressed down on his scalp, limp strands framing his unattractive features, and there was a heavy hat settled on his head. It was extremely oversized; the brim hung down past his eyebrows.
If the memories you hold in your head are truly a good judge of your character, I believe that we've met before, Severus.
For a moment, he was only able to sit in silent shock. That was the very same voice he remembered hearing as an eleven year old in 1971: it was the Sorting Hat of Hogwarts. Dots were connected in his mind, and he realized that he was not in Hell at all. No, he was sitting in the Great Hall. He was not dead. Tentatively, he opened his eyes, and he saw the familiar room that he had visited three times daily for the past decade. This couldn't be real. It wasn't real at all. Frantically, his eyes scanned the Gryffindor table, looking for the redhead he had spent his entire life loving.
And there, third person on the right, sat Lily Evans Potter. But she wasn't Mrs. Potter, not yet. He saw that she too was eleven, and that she was watching him with a small smile on her young features. A shock went through him, and he trembled on the rickety stool, causing it to scrape softly against the stone dais.
I assure you, this is completely real. said the hat with a tone that was brushed with amusement, yet Snape could not muster up the strength to respond. His mouth had gone dry, and his jaw was slightly slack with astonishment. I see that you're going to require more thinking than the last time. Slytherin, although correct for you, did not lead you down a very pleasant path, due to your choices. I assume that you would prefer not to make these choices again?
After he was finally able to process what the hat had said, Severus was quick to respond – perhaps too quick. The words came spilling out of his mouth with an awkward stammer. "I – I, yes. Don't place me in Slytherin."
Very well, Mr. Snape. That's very wise of you. Perhaps Ravenclaw is the best place for you? For a fraction of a second, Severus very nearly agreed with the hat's placement. His intellect would render him well suited for the house of Ravenclaw, but he realized that it would not place him closer to Lily. Potter was in Gryffindor, and he had won her heart. Placing himself in Ravenclaw would not guarantee him Lily Evans.
"No," he said firmly, "I want Gryffindor."
Deciding your house based on the possibility of gaining this girl's affection, are you? Are you sure that this is the path you wish to take, Severus?
"Yes. This is what I want." Although he dared not voice this allowed, he included one thought for the hat, as to solidify his choice. I would do anything for her.
Very well then, Severus. I hope your choice serves you well. And without a moment's delay, the hat left forth a cry that nearly deafened him. "GRYFFINDOR!" The house of red and gold began cheering loudly, welcoming their newest addition with pride. The deputy Headmisstress lifted the dusty old hat off of his head, and Snape leapt down from the stool with a smirk pulling at his thin lips. He looked only at Lily, and her sweet features were smiling at him as he strode towards her. He reached the table just as the next person was settling the hat on their head, and he slid into a seat next to the woman he had been dreaming about for the past thirty years. This was certainly the correct choice; nothing could spoil this but Potter -
"What happened to being a Slytherin, Snape? You change your mind once you saw Lily in Gryffindor?"
Severus looked across the table to see that James Potter was sitting directly across from him, looking rather smug. Sirius Black was sitting on his right, not attempting to conceal his amusement. Immediately anger built up from nearly forty years of a grudge threatened to overpower him, and very like the eleven year old body that he was in, a pink tinge of embarrassment and anger rose to his sallow features. A bark of laughter escaped Sirius, his brown eyes twinkling with mirth, which was only all the more infuriating to Severus.
"I'm sure it wasn't a choice," said Lily with a flat, disapproving tone. "According to the hat, it wasn't our choice at all. The hat decides our house, not us." Her sweet voice swirled around him, filling his ears and lifting a huge burden off of his chest. She was really alive. This truly was the Lily he knew.
"I still don't trust him. He's a sneaky slimy git for wanting to be a part of that house – he's nearly as bad as the rest of my family."
Instinctively, Severus opened his mouth to retort, but a sudden thought kept him from verbally abusing Sirius with his sharp tongue. Things were currently playing out in the same fashion that they had thirty years ago – he was creating an enemy in the Marauders. He was sure that his had been part of why Lily had been driven away from him; she had never outright agreed with him in his hatred of the Sirius and James. Here, having been placed in a different house, he had been given a chance to remedy this. Bending his pride was a very small price if it brought him closer to Lily.
Keeping his fists clenched underneath the table, as if digging his finger nails into his skin would relieve some of his anger, Severus kept quiet until he was able to gain enough control over his emotions to address Sirius. He cleared his throat diplomatically, and then raised his eyes to meet Sirius' gaze.
"I apologize for my behavior on the train, Siruis. It was very rude of me, but I assure you I am not who you think I am. Perhaps…" Here, he swallowed nervously, somewhat hesitant to accept that he was about to follow through with this. "Perhaps, if you were to give me a chance, we could become friends." Both Sirius and James' brows climbed to the high rafted ceiling. Apparently, they were just as shocked as he was.
"The invitation is extended to you as well, James, if you are willing to accept my apology." He tried to smile, but he could tell that it only came out as a pained grimace. Both of the boys kept quiet for a while, presumably trying to reach a decision. Severus took the time he had to assess the situation. If they accepted, he would be able to create a friendship with the three that he could bear to associate himself with (He refused to consider Peter Pettigrew. Something would be done about the treacherous rat.) and he would gain Lily's approval. If they declined his apology, then they would both be marked as arrogant prats in Lily's book, and she would be all the less likely to end up with Potter.
Either way they chose to answer, the odds were in his favor.
"Well…" Said James finally, looking sideways at Sirius, "What's the harm in giving him a chance? Obviously, if he was a real Slytherin, he would be sitting over there with the rest of that lot. But since he's here with us, he can't be that bad." Sirius looked mutinous.
"You don't have to trust me now," Severus said quietly, "But there's no reason to hate me unless I've proven that I cannot be trusted and that I only deserve to be despised." Lily kept completely silent beside him, and he wished that he could see the expression that she was currently wearing. However, he knew that it would not do him well to look away from Sirius. He was trying to earn this boy's trust; not convince him that Lily's opinion controlled everything that he did. While it was true that Lily did lend a large amount of weight to his actions, no one needed to know that.
Just then, the Ravenclaw table behind him erupted in cheers as another student joined their table. The sound provided a needed break in the tension that had surrounded the four, and it seemed to help Sirius make up his mind about the apology Severus had given him.
"Fine," he muttered, tearing his eyes away from Severus' gaze in a glare directed at the table.
James clapped his mate on the back, and grinned cheekily over at Seveus and Lily. "It's good to see that we're all friends now," he said with amusement, and he seemed to enjoy the way that Sirius' glare became even darker. Severus couldn't help but smirk, and as he dared a small glance at Lily, he saw that she was smiling with a look of relief. Here was another correct choice in a single evening, and there were endless possibilities as to what this had changed.
Severus was about to continue the conversation with a word of thanks when he was interrupted by the warm voice of Albus Dumbledore. Every head in the Great Hall swiveled towards their Headmaster as he began to usher in a new term with a customary speech.
"Welcome to another year at Hogwarts! With our sorting complete, the feast shall begin shortly. But before the food arrives, I must share this wisdom with you. The Forbidden Forest is called that for a reason; please, do not enter it unless instructed to do so. Please, do not preform magic in the corridors, elsewise it will be necessary to deduct your house of points. And finally, do try your best to enjoy yourself at Hogwarts – the staff and I wish for you to see this castle as a second home." Here he paused, smiling gently, and then he continued with closing remarks. "I hope you have a wonderful year. And with all of this said, let the feast begin!" He clapped his hands once, and the food appeared at the table as if by magic. The fist years around him gasped with surprise, but Severus remained unfazed by the occurrence.
His mind was preoccupied with thoughts of Dumbledore. He was the reason that Severus had died. He was the reason that he had gone through the worst decade of his life. He was the reason that Lily had died. He was the reason that he had to deal with James Potter reincarnated, but he had to watch Lily's eyes so full of hatred. Resentment reared up in him like some ugly beast, and unlike the other students who had turned to their plates, Severus kept his black eyes locked on the Headmaster, his irises glinting in cold fury.
"Sev?" Lily's voice broke the din of chattering students and utensils clashing on dishware, and he felt her hand grasp his arm in concern. As she did, he felt the anger drain from his body. His breath caught in the back of his throat, and for the first time in ten years, he offered a prayer to the God he no longer believed in. Let this be real. Let this be real. If he were to wake up in the mooring, again a double agent, again hated, and again alone, it would kill him.
"Yes?" he asked softly, still keeping his eyes locked on Dumbledore. She squeezed his arm gently, and he turned back around to face her. Her red hair was slightly frizzy and disarrayed from the boat ride to the castle, and her bright eyes were filled with excitement.
"Aren't you going to eat?" He smiled at her, slightly humored by her question.
"Yeah," he said, picking up his fork and stabbing at a piece of pheasant. "I am." Severus would worry about Dumbledore later. For now, he only had to enjoy the food, and relish the second chance that he had been given. For the first time in years, he felt hope.
There was a chance that Lily Evans could be his.
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