She would have loved this sky, the old man reflected sadly. She would have called it a Wagner sky, when dramatic clouds would make vast, billowy castles of pristine white streaked with gray. A sky, he thought with a small smile, that promised a tempest but usually delivered nothing. Grand and majestic, but without substance beyond his memories….
"It is truly beautiful this afternoon, is it not Severus? It’s a Wagner sky, the most beautiful I have ever seen."
Severus Snape started and turned around in the direction of the voice, a voice he hadn’t heard in 60 years. But then 2,000 years couldn’t dim his memory of her voice….
"Lenore," Snape said softly. "You are exactly as I remember you."
Lenore gently smiled. "I cannot age, Severus."
"I realize that," Snape replied in a voice tinged with bitterness. "But I have. I have survived the past 60 years and have seen more than one should bear … and I am tired."
"I know," Lenore said. "That is why I am here now." She studied the crimson rose in Snape’s clenched hand. "You have regrets, then, Severus?"
"Regrets?" Snape snorted. "I have more regrets then the petals of this rose and the others I have left here over the years. Only recently have I understand what you had tried to teach me, and how miserably I failed."
Lenore quietly glided over and sat next to the aged wizard.
Snape looked at the pale young woman. She was almost solid-looking, almost … real. Her nut-brown tresses, with streaks of silver, were in a braid rolled in a tight bun, as he always remembered. Her deep almond eyes, nearly overwhelming her heart-shaped face, stared into his tired black ones. He suddenly longed to touch her, but he was afraid if he tried, the illusion would disappear.
"You tried to teach me to trust, and I pushed you away," he finally said. "You tried to teach me to hope, but I refused to even look for it. You tried to teach me to love myself and love others as myself, but…." Snape laughed bitterly. "That was the lesson I failed most miserably. You tried to teach me to dance, I refused to even learn the steps. By the time I tried to love, by the time I trusted myself enough to want to dance," and he looked away from Lenore, bitter and resigned. "It was too late. You had already danced with another, and then you were gone."
"I am sorry," Leonore said in sympathy.
"Why apologize? You were one of the few who ever showed me any kindness in school … in my life. But I mistrusted your motives, thinking that you, like everyone else, were being kind with the thought of using me, of betraying me later. I was afraid."
They sat silently for several moments, the whispering wind making the only sound and even it seemed to merely sigh. The older wizard had begun to think that Lenore had disappeared, or may have even only been an illusion conjured by his tired brain. But when he finally looked up, she was still sitting there, as she always did when they were together in school. She had always stayed, until that final moment….
"Why did you have to dance with another?" Snape said bitterly. "Why, after I was finally ready, did you have to dance … with her?"
"I didn’t have a choice, Severus," Lenore replied softly, her tone filled with regret. "It was my time."
Snape looked away again and closed his eyes. "I will never forget that horrible day," he said softly. "I remember it as vividly as if it were yesterday. I had been thinking about you constantly before, since the beginning of term that year. I didn’t realize it at first, but I missed you."
Lenore nodded. "I was too ill to go to Hogwarts after our fifth year."
"Yes," Snape said, his voice almost a sigh. "I remember. Then, on a day similar to this one, I received your owl. I had permission from the headmaster to go to you, but even then, I hesitated. I think I was still afraid. But I finally went, and your parents led me into your house, and I went up … and I saw you dancing … with her. That horrible creature."
"Do you remember what she looked like?" Lenore asked unexpectedly, genuine curiosity creeping into her gentle voice.
"Yes," Snape said in anguish as he relived his memory. "She was terrible, she shone with a glaring light that hurt the eyes, her hair was a brassy gold and her eyes … so aloof, so … triumphant. She stared at me with those cold eyes as she held you, and I tried to shout, tried to warn them, but I couldn’t. Then, the mediwizard called my name, and told me … he told me you were gone. I was too late. I had missed my final chance to dance with you."
"No," whispered Lenore, and she smiled sweetly. "It is not too late. You still have another chance."
"Lenore, you are gone!" Snape cried out in anguish. "Even now, I’m not sure if I see you, or some tantalizing illusion, or even if I am dreaming!"
"Severus," the young witch chided gently. "There is more than her and now, so much more beyond the veil. You have not see it, but I have, and …." She broke off and giggled coquettishly, a musical, bewitching sound that made his heart ache. The young witch held out her arms. "Would you care to dance, Mr. Severus Snape?"
"Do not tease, Lenore!" Snape said harshly. "Not now! I can’t bear it!"
Lenore tilted her head and regarded him thoughtfully, but she did not lower her arms. "That is what you used to say in school to me," she said. "Any time I told you how charming you could be, or how intelligent you were, or how I wanted to go to the Yule Ball or Hogsmeade with you." She paused, then added sadly, "I always meant what I said to you, Severus."
"I know," Snape said, his voice haunted.
"Then trust me now, Severus," Lenore said, and she took a step closer. "Come dance with me."
"I … I’m afraid," Snape said, his black eyes wide. "I’m afraid if I try to touch you, you will disappear!"
Lenore looked at him sorrowfully. "Severus, I don’t have much time. Please, trust me. Trust yourself."
Snape closed his eyes, and a tear streaked down his weathered cheek. "That is what you said to me," he reflected, and he gave a choking sob, "the very last time we talked." He took a deep breath and, with his eyes still closed, he stood up and took two tentative steps forward. He reached for her, expecting his fingers to only meet with empty air … and was shocked as his hands met with warm, solid flesh. Her slim hands were gently but firmly grasping his own, and she was pressed close to him. He could even smell traces of jasmine, her favorite scent. He opened his eyes, his expression one of wonder.
"You lead, Severus," she said, and she gave another of her sweet laughs.
Snape took a few small steps, and soon they were waltzing around the headstone, pressed close together, enjoying each other’s warmth. Snape closed his eyes and rested his cheek lightly on her head, enjoying the moment.
"Lenore, I…." Snape started to say as he lowered his head and looked into her face … to find that Lenore was gone, and in her place was the pale blond figure he had seen dancing with Lenore 60 years ago.
But she was different now. Her eyes were gentle and kind, and the light she radiated was warm, peaceful.
"Lenore? Where is she?" Snape asked. "Where did she go?"
The woman laughed, and her voice was like the music of thousands of tiny silver bells. "She is just a little beyond, Severus. If you will dance with me just a little while longer, you can then dance with her as much as you like."
"For eternity," Snape whispered.
"For eternity, then," the woman replied, her brilliant golden hair rippling as she nodded. "Shall we continue?"
The Wagner sky was now streaked with the dramatic reds, oranges and purples of the setting sun. Two cemetery workers, who were making their rounds through the cemetery grounds, were startled to find the old wizard, laying down next to a tombstone, a peaceful smile on his still, pale face.
And in his hand, he clutched a single white rose in full bloom.
Author's notes: A deep crimson rose is a common Victorian symbol for mourning; a pure white rose symbolizes eternal love. "Lenore" comes from Poe's poem "The Raven."