Summary: Snape deserves a better death than given to him in DH. Hermione thinks he deserves a better life too and helps him find it. Unexpected friendships, romance and redemption for all. Rated M for adult language and sexual content.

"Take them", he croaked, his breath gurgling through the torn flesh of his throat. Harry quickly retrieved a vial from Hermione's shaking hand and began collecting the tears that held his final thoughts. He stared at the boy, the Chosen One, the embodiment of his life's pain, now crouching at his side and remembered a lifetime of failure and regret, of desperation and longing, of friendship, duty and betrayal.

Soon Harry's face was replaced by darkness. His breath slowed and his heart drummed a sad death march in his ears. Blood hummed through him like the wind through the old oak tree at the riverside where he once read as a child. His heart skipped like the day he first saw her there; a freak like himself, but more perfect than he. Eventually his body ran cold like the day she was sorted to Gryffindor, his fingers numb like the day he saw Potter kissing her, and his body heavy and lifeless like hers that Halloween so many years ago.

Through the blackness his green eyes… her green eyes stared back at him. He stirred and tried to speak.

"Shhhh my old friend," a feminine voice soothed.

He tried to move, to discover the source of this strange comfort. But his body, now rigid, would not respond. His heartbeat had become weak and distant.

"Relax, Sev and walk with me for a while," she said.

"Lily?"

Green eyes beamed and a soft familiar face formed from the mist behind them. She smiled and touched his face tenderly. He made to reach for her and felt as if he was being stretched, drawn forward and up. He looked around and then down. He found himself standing outside his crumpled and bloodied body. The shack where it lay was now deserted.

"I must be dead," he thought; defeated, staring at the sprawling pool of blood under his corporeal head. He had expected Voldemort's betrayal. Almost welcoming it after so many years of suffering under the strain of a double life. But part of him had hoped to survive. Not only so that he might carry out Dumbledore's last task and see to Potter's success. But to watch Voldemort's contorted face upon discovery that he, Severus Snape, the one who had once begged the Dark Lord to spare his love, would at long last have his revenge. To be downed by the reptile was... disappointing. "I failed you, Lily," he murmured.

"No, Sev. You've endured bravely. I could not have asked for more."

"If I'm dead, then he is on his own." said Severus shaking his head in doubt.

"Have faith Severus," offered Lily turning towards his disembodied self, reaching her arms to him. "He is no longer a little boy. He knows his path."

"How can you be so certain?"

She smiled broadly and replied, "Because he's had good teachers. The best, really." She turned and grabbed both of his hands and held them in hers. Waiting for his ebony eyes to fall into hers, she said, "I am eternally grateful for all your service to him."

"To you, Lily," he corrected. "It was always for you."

"You really loved me didn't you?" she said with a gentle laugh as she turned to walk along side him.

He traced the features of her porcelain face. Her lips, eyes and soft ginger hair were all as he had remembered. He longed to kiss her at last. "I still do," he professed softly.

"No, Severus. You love a memory. I've been dead too long for it to be anything but. A man of your intellect cannot deny this truth," She paused waiting for his rebuttal.

He studied the graceful ghost at his side. "But I'm… I'm dead now too," he argued weakly, desperately.

"Even in death I belong to another." A twinkle from her slender finger caught his eye as she spoke. "You cannot change that."

Severus stopped in his tracks; his heart seemed to fall miserably from his chest. It had always comforted him to know that if he was to die fighting Voldemort, then at least he would be reunited with Lily. Yet, here she was in the afterlife, still unwilling to be his.

"Come, Sev. We must continue walking," she said taking his hand once more.

"Why?" he snapped pulling his hand away.

"Because it is the way, my friend."

"No Lily." Tears welled in his eyes and his chest tightened. "Why did you not love me?" he asked slowly, pain issuing with each word.

"Who said I never did?" she answered pulling him forward by the hands, her doe eyes pleading for understanding.

Her admission left him stunned. Helplessly he followed her lead, willing to go wherever she wished him to.

"But you didn't let me love you," she continued. "You pushed me away. It's what you do, Severus. Keeping your heart locked away so no-one can touch it… hurt it. And should anyone venture too close, you defend it like a wounded animal." Her head shook slightly; her brow heavy with grief knowing that he had never known a woman's love.

He opened his mouth to argue, to deny her words. But he knew she was right. That's precisely how it had felt when he called her Mudblood. Then again, he'd always assumed he had become this way because of her, not before her. Dumbledore had once told him that he was his own worst enemy. He hadn't bothered to understand his meaning until now. The weight of his error smothered him.

"I'm sorry, Lily. I never meant to hurt you." He had said it to her before. But never had he meant it more completely than now.

"I know Sev," she replied sweetly, turning to interlock elbows with him. "That's why I'm here for you now." She leant her head to his shoulder and they continued down the invisible path silently.

Several steps later she stopped. Lily turned her head as if to listen to something in the distance. Something that Severus could not hear. She turned back to him and blinked her eyes at him. "I'm sorry Sev, but Harry needs me," she announced delicately. Severus took several moments before finding the strength to release her hand. "You'll be safe in there," she said gesturing to a point beyond.

A grey mist swirled and pulsed where her fingers had indicated. A large stone arch took shape in the darkness, followed eventually by a round building forming piecewise from it. Lily pressed Severus forward gently. He stopped a few paces short of the entrance and looked back over his shoulder, wondering if he would ever see her again.

"Lily?-" he started.

"Go Severus. Go now." He did not understand her urgency, but was unable to deny her.

"Severus," she called once he had stepped onto the threshold. "When she comes for you, you must let her in."

He turned again to face her, to ask her for clarification, but she was gone. The archway he had just trespassed filled itself in with bricks one by one. He turned to look for another door or window, but there was none. He found himself trapped and alone, a fitting penance for his sins he mused.

Resigned, he drew close to the only furnishing within the large room, a four poster bed draped in sheer black curtains. He was weary and welcomed the comforting embrace of eternal sleep. He lay down and closed his eyes. And as he had done each night for nearly twenty years, he called out to her.

"However far away, I will always love you."

A/N Things aren't as they seem, I promise. Stay tuned for less angst, more humor and romance. And if anyone would like to hear Snape's parting words in the most beautiful way, look up Adele's "Lovesong" on Youtube. Yeah, a little sappy but it was what I was listening to when I finished this chapter.

P.S. Please Review!