Disclaimer: Thank you, JKR, for such a wonderful character. While I understand what you did to him...I cannot let the story end there! ~ MithLuinAll the Time in the World
Many thanks to Rwhen for the beta-reading and cheerleading - she encouraged me to polish this up and share it with all of you!
He blinked again, in confusion. The darkness did not change. That was not right; he should not be able to blink.
He was sitting in a chair. He could feel it.
Suddenly, he tensed. An animal crossing an icy pond will freeze, splaying its legs and looking wildly about when it hears the cracking ice. He sensed danger, but had no way of knowing from what direction the enemy would approach - it paralyzed him. He waited, neither opening nor closing his eyes, listening carefully for any noise that would reveal why he had failed to sink into oblivion.
He did not wait long. A door opened. He rather wished it would creak open on ponderous hinges, but it was just the perfunctory noise of an ordinary door. He shifted his weight to face the door, and even that slight movement taught him that his arms were bound.
“I’ve brought your water,” said a voice in the darkness. Three torches sprang to life, and the shadows fled the room. A man no older than himself stood in front of him, holding a glass in his hand. No wand was visible – he wondered fleetingly if they were needed here? But a second glance at the man standing before him caused him to start.
“I didn’t kill you!” he blurted out without pausing to think.
At the sound of his voice, the other man started himself. “You…it was you,” the man said in some wonder.
“No, you were alive when I left that room!” he insisted. Though, uneasily, he recognized that room as the one he was now sitting in.
The man nodded slowly. “Yes, it was old Rosier who finished me off, as you said he would. I should have recognized the Death Eater robes when I came in.”
Snape glanced down at himself, and realized he was dressed in the clothes he had died in. Died. “You will be happy to hear that the Dark Lord finished me off himself,” he said with all the disdain he could muster.
The man cocked his head to the side, as if listening carefully. “I’m sorry to hear that,” he said in all sincerity. “Though you’ll be glad to know you won’t be seeing him again.”
Snape narrowed his eyes. “Are you certain of that?” He was not sure where he was, or why he could think and talk…but he wasn’t about to assume that he had won freedom from his old master merely by dying. Shouldn’t he hope the Dark Lord would die too?
“You never have to confront the person who killed you,” the man said confidently. “Though, they didn’t tell me who you were before sending me down here,” he added thoughtfully.
Snape did not answer. He would not have to confront any of his victims…but that was little comfort. He had tortured and nearly killed this man, and watched many others die. There were plenty of people who might wish to confront him, and he never wanted to see any of them again. And as luck would have it, he had killed the only people he had any desire to see. It figured that the afterlife would work like that. Every system known to man had it in for Severus Snape, it seemed.
The man was looking at him again, and for one horrified moment, Snape felt as though his thoughts could be read plainly on his face. What had happened to his mask?
“You have changed, it seems. But probably not enough. When you are ready, you can drink this water.” He put the water down out of reach of Snape’s chair.
“What does it do?” Snape asked suspiciously.
“It’s just water,” the man said, his look maddening in its simplicity. “I’ll leave you to it, then.” He nodded his head politely, and ducked out.
Snape was confused. Their roles had been reversed, once. He had strung that man up, and beat him to within an inch of his life for the death of Evan Rosier. He had then given him water laced with Veritaserum. He remembered doing it…but what was the man’s name? Something simple…Edmundson or the like. Now, he was in his power, but nothing had been done to him. Was retribution against the rules here? Still, he saw no reason to trust the water. He would wait.
His patience held a very long time, but eventually a knock sounded on the door. It was opened by a young man with fiery red hair.
“Fred Weasley?” he asked in surprise. A glimpse of Harry’s memory stirred in his mind.
“Weasley? No, I’m a Prewett, though I did let my sister marry one of them. I’m Fabian Prewett. So, you got the first letter right, anyway. They sent me down to see a Severus Snape. Is that you?”
“Yes, I am Severus Snape,” he replied, bemused. He knew someone named Prewett, he was sure of it. Was he a student? None came to mind…
Fabian got there first. “Oh, I remember you. You were one of the ones that raided the Haliway house. Ogden was so annoyed you interrupted dinner before they reached the desserts. Quite disappointing, actually.”
Snape gaped at him. He remembered now. “I…killed you. They said I wouldn’t meet anyone I killed.”
“No, that old bloke got me, with a nice clean Avada Kedavra. You must’ve got my brother Gideon; he was still alive when I fell. You wouldn’t be the first to confuse us, though I always maintained that I was the one with the handsome smile.” He winked at Snape.
“Why are you here?” Snape asked uneasily. He would ask where “here” was, but did not think the answer would be helpful or informative. Besides, he knew what the room was – a place where Death Eaters kept and questioned prisoners.
“They sent me down to see to your, ah…bonds, I suppose would be the word. We’ve got to get you out of that silly chair.”
“I don’t want any help,” Snape said quickly.
“Well, you don’t want to stay there, do you?” Fabian asked, more amused than surprised.
“Not particularly,” Snape admitted grudgingly.
“Right.” So, without any further by-your-leave, Fabian set to work untying the ropes that bound Snape’s arms to the chair. After working in silence for a moment, he sat back on his heels. “Glad you didn’t conjure up chains for yourself, or this would be tough going. There was one gentleman who filled the room with spiderwebs as thick as my arm. Took nearly a week to cut through them all. That should be enough, though, to loosen it up.” He waved his hand, and the ropes fell away, laying limp and discarded on the floor.
Snape just stared at the man. He supposed he ought to thank him, but he still was not entirely sure what had happened. Tentatively, he made to stand up. His feet held him. That was good, he supposed. His wrists did not pain him either. Odd. He took a few short steps, then turned to face the young man still resting easily on his heels.
“Would you like a drink?” Snape asked, before he could think too clearly.
Fabian laughed, and stood up. “I’ve already had my glass of water, thank you. That one is for you.” He gestured to the glass on the floor, then stood and made his way to the door. “I may see you later, you know. Buck up. Being dead isn’t as dour as all that.”
Snape narrowed his eyes, but no words came to his usually scathing tongue. Before he could reply, the young man had exited, leaving him alone in a room with three torches, a chair, a door…and a glass of water.
What did it mean to be dead? He felt strangely as though he were a first year, waiting in a room before being called in to be Sorted.
He shivered. He was not sure he liked that thought. What came next? Could he get out of this room?
With some trepidation, he approached the door. There was no handle, and pushing on it did not make any difference. He was not sure how his other visitors had left. A prisoner, then. While he was waiting, he raised his hand and felt his neck. There were two small depressions there, but they were smooth, as if they had been long healed. Not vanished, though. He would bear that scar for all….
With a sudden move, he yanked up his sleeve. His left arm was no longer marked with the dark ink of…of Voldemort’s mark. A thin white scar was all that remained of it, as if to remind him of a reckless decision years ago, a simple burn or cut. No longer a slave. He should be relieved…that allegiance could not follow him here, after all.
Then why was he wearing his Death Eater robes still? He stripped them off, and threw them away from him, into a corner of the room. Not satisfied (there were no shadows to hide them), he took a torch from the wall, and walked over to the corner.
But before setting them on fire, he paused. Was he still a wizard, now that he was dead? Fabian had mentioned something about conjuring chains…right before he did some wandless magic. It was worth a try.
He thrust the torch into the pile of fabric, and it started burning modestly. Then he waved his hand over it…and sprang back as flames leapt ten feet in the air. Yes, he was still a wizard…though it did not feel like magic, here.
If that was not magic, was this…any of this…even real?
He looked back at the glass of water, sitting innocently on the floor. “Nothing is as it seems, and you certainly are not, either,” he told it. Scowling, he nevertheless crossed the room and picked it up. “I am not going to put out that fire…and I rather think very little worse could be done to me, now that I am dead. A toast, then. To Harry Potter, may we not meet again for a very long time.”
With that, he downed it.
It did taste like water, after all. But it coursed through his veins like firewhisky. For a moment, he was lightheaded. But then he had the oddest feeling, and looked at his hand in fascination. It wavered for a moment, then turned clear and transparent as water, before disappearing entirely. Of course, you fool…you are dead, so you do not have a body. And no body meant…no prison? He went over to the door, and passed through it as easily as a ghost.
He was not prepared for the brilliant riot of color on the other side. He blinked. He had the impression of being outside, though nothing was…tangible…here. He was frustrated by his lack of vocabulary to express his current situation...even if only to himself. He no longer had any senses, and yet he knew things. How? He stayed where he was, in confusion, for a long moment.
Someone approached, though he did not know who it was. He’s azure, his mind supplied unhelpfully.
*What are you waiting for?* the stranger asked.
“I’m trying to make sense of all this,” Snape answered honestly. He was almost afraid to move, and have everything shift again.
*That will take some time, but time is something you have at your disposal now.*
“I’m also waiting for…something else. But I don’t know what it is.”
*A Sorting?* The stranger sounded amused. *But surely you know that has already happened?*
“I don’t know which House I was put in,” Snape answered quietly.
*Then let’s see.*
Suddenly, the space about him rippled, and in its wake, the Great Hall of Hogwarts materialized: tables, tapestries and all. The old Sorting Hat was sitting on a stool in front of the empty head table. He and the stranger behind him were the only people present.
Snape waved his hand impatiently, and the image vanished instantly. “Enough of these games!” Then he turned to see who had joined him.
Albus Dumbledore stood placidly by the lake on the Hogwarts grounds, smiling from beneath his spectacles, as always. He was a bit younger than Snape ever remembered him being, perhaps as he had been when they met nearly thirty years ago.
“I see your hand is improved, though your nose is as crooked as ever,” Snape said by way of greeting.
“I must apologize to you. I’m afraid I wasn’t entirely honest with you.”
“I knew that. How could you be? I was the spy.” Snape did not appear very forgiving, though.
“Oh yes, that too. But now that Voldemort’s Horcruxes are destroyed, there is no harm in sharing that secret.”
“Horcruxes? He had more than one?” Snape was shocked enough to forget to scowl. “That is what that Ring was!” he said suddenly. “I knew it was his, somehow, I just knew it! And that means that Harry was....”
“But that is not what I came to apologize for,” Dumbledore continued sadly.
Suddenly uneasy, Snape looked for a seat and found a convenient rock to sit on. “What do you mean?”
“I…I was very selfish, I’m afraid. I did not tell you the real reason I asked you to kill me.”
“I’m not supposed to be able to meet you,” Snape said abruptly. “He said I could not meet people I had killed.”
“Well, I think it fairly clear that the only one responsible for my death is myself,” said Dumbledore.
“But I did kill you, don’t forget,” Snape insisted. “Regardless of whose orders, I did it. How do you know I was obeying you and not Voldemort or Mrs. Malfoy?”
“Severus, please, give me some credit. I do know you, after all. But that is why I owe you the full story. What do you know about my wand?”
“Voldemort killed me for it,” he replied, his face expressionless.
“Harry told me. I am sorry, I did not mean for that to happen. I meant to die undefeated, so the wand would have no other master. It was the Elder Wand that I took from Grindelwald.”
“That is why you insisted, then, isn’t it? You were afraid a Death Eater would win your wand?”
Dumbledore had the grace to look sheepish. “I am sorry I put you through so much on that account. It was a bit arrogant of me to presume I had to do that.”
Snape did not look at him for a long moment, then looked up suddenly. “Harry told you? Is he dead, then?”
He smiled. “No, actually. That was the other thing. I…I told you only part of the story. Harry did indeed have a part of Voldemort’s soul in him, so he did have to offer himself as the sacrifice.”
“But Voldemort took some of Harry’s blood when he was reborn, and that proved a more powerful charm than he had counted on. He did not succeed in killing him. Harry lived.”
“The Boy Who Lived – again?” Snape looked doubtful. “Why do I feel that it was my fault both times?”
“Because it was, Severus. The first time he only lived because Voldemort tried to spare Lily, who died for him. That was at your request, I believe. And the second time, he only survived because he tried to willingly sacrifice himself, something he never would have done without your final message to him. You have much to be proud of.”
“And you have much to apologize for. I thought I was sending him to certain death.”
“Well, that was rather the point…”
“But it wasn’t the truth, Albus!” Snape jumped up, and began pacing back and forth. “The one time you offered me information that you had not told him, it was a half-truth! I died following your orders, and you couldn’t even be honest with me!”
“As you note, I do have a broken nose. Perhaps I deserve it, even here.”
Snape quieted down. “And I have my scars as well. I did not expect to be counted on the side of the saints.”
“As I said, the Sorting is over. But if you ever feel out of place, feel free to seek me out. Or Gellert Grindelwald; he’d be interested in meeting you, I’m sure.”
“Grindelwald? He finally died, then?”
“Yes, not long before you did.”
Snape seemed to think about that for a long time. “I do not suppose I will meet many of my old friends ever again.” He sighed. “Did Voldemort die, in the end?”
“Yes. His own killing curse rebounded on him, while dueling Harry.”
Snape nodded. “Then I do forgive you your half-truths and lies. You may have used me, but that does not make me any less successful a tool. Deal with your guilt as you will, I wash my hands of all of it.”
“That is very kind of you.”
“No, it is not. One thing I have never been is kind, Albus, and you know that.”
“There is still time to learn, you know.”
Snape looked at him curiously. “All the time in the world, I suppose.”
Without warning, Dumbledore was gone, and the Hogwarts lake faded away. He was left once again with impressions that had a deeper reality than the illusions of solidity. Cautiously, he learned to navigate this new world. He met others, but he tried to avoid talking with them. He was nervous to run into students who had died before their time, or victims who could not help but view him accusingly as a bona fide Death Eater.
Still, there was one face he hoped to meet, and this spurred him on in his explorations.
He stumbled across Remus Lupin and Sirius Black eventually, and they stared at one another in what could only be called stunned silence. He had not known Remus was dead. And from the look of things, neither of them had been aware of his death, either.
It was Black who found his tongue first. “What are you doing here?” he practically sputtered. “I thought all the Death Eaters were out of harm’s way, this side of the Veil!”
Lupin looked at him more thoughtfully. “You don’t owe us any explanation, Severus, but I would dearly like to know what happened on the Astronomy Tower that night.”
“I was following Dumbledore’s orders,” Snape said, surprised to hear himself speak to these two without even the hint of a sneer. “He was dying – the wound to his hand was fatal. He…requested…that I do the deed. It was part of his grand master plan – which he did not share with me, either.
“I am so sorry to disappoint. I know that is not the tale you wanted to hear.” That felt better…
“No…you have no idea how much I wanted to hear that tale!” Remus said, catching him in a bone-crushing hug.
Sirius was silent for a long, long time. “You were there for Harry until the end,” he said stiffly. It was difficult to tell whether he was restraining accusation or gratitude.
“I did not do it for Harry – never for Harry. It was always for…Lily.”
Sirius nodded his acknowledgement, but said no more. It was hard to remain enemies here, Snape mused. But that did not mean he wished to stay in their presence a moment longer. He vanished (or whatever you called Apparating in this place).
Afterwards, he would never know if it were blind chance or not. But the very next people he came across were James and Lily Potter.
He would have recognized her anywhere. Soft greys, warm auburn hair, and those bright green eyes that had always looked on him with such kindness.
“Lily…” he breathed, and then fell silent, rendered well and truly speechless.
“Severus…you…made it here.” She reached out for him, almost afraid to touch him, as if she thought he were too fragile, made of porcelain. He grabbed her hand just to prove to himself that she was truly there. They stood like that for a long moment, oblivious to the passing of time.
Finally, Snape found his voice. “I…looked over your son. He lived.”
“Thank you,” she said, with much more fervency than he was accustomed to hearing in her voice. Then she turned to her husband. “James, he made it. I always said he would make it here, one day.”
James Potter looked at the man who had loved his wife most truly only after she had died. He held out his hand. “Thank you…for what you did for my son. I am sure it was not easy.”
Snape hesitated, and then took the hand of James Potter. Something inside of him snapped, and he grinned, for the first time in many years. “I would be lying if I said it was my pleasure, but I am glad to have done it. Your son is a remarkable young man – fortunately, he’s nothing like you.”
They all laughed.
Author's Note: This story is a companion piece to my story Metanoia ( http://occlumency.sycophanthex.com/viewstory.php?sid=4839 ), but it should stand alone. Please let me know what you think!
August 20, 2007 - I've edited one of Sirius' lines. I just woke up one morning with him insisting that he wouldn't thank Severus. And I think it differentiates his reaction from the others more to keep him as ambivalent as possible, while not being hostile. Thank you to all who have reviewed - I hope I was able to provide some closure after DH!