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Wake to Sleep by Grym [Reviews - 8]

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Deathly Hallows.

Wake to Sleep

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.
-- Theodore Roethke, “The Waking,” stanza 1

In the still hours after midnight, he remembered the dream.

She came to him, pale and sure, long hair spilling against robes the color of the forest at twilight, eyes the brilliant green of summers long forgotten. Once, perhaps twice a year, unexpected and unsought, she appeared and drew near in silence to take his trembling hand in hers. A dream-wraith, he assumed, even as he felt the grasp of warm fingers on his. A conjuration of spirit and hope and guilt, for she always looked the same, just as the dreamscape remained the same year after year, dream after dream – stone, water, and the dim whispering light.

He knew her pattern by now, knew when and why she came. But tonight, he could not see it, and as his body dozed fitfully in the Headmaster’s chair, he shivered.

* * *

The first time was shortly after her death, as he lay tangled and restless in the sheets of his barren Hogwarts room. Nightmares suffocated him. Distant, unnamed threats. Screams cut unnaturally short. Flashes of sudden green light. She seemed a ghost, then, her quiet presence at once banishing the horrors and stealing the strength from his limbs. He slid down the low stone wall to the damp flagstones below, kneeling before her, knowing that his agony over her loss must seem a mockery. Head bowed, he rasped his newly-sworn oath to protect her son even as he tried to avoid her gaze, letting his sweaty hair fall forward to hide his face and his grief.

To his astonishment, she knelt beside him, as gentle and firm as he remembered her in life, and brushed his hair back behind his ear, encouraging him to look up with a touch. Lifting his gaze reluctantly, he thought he could see himself reflected in her eyes, a shapeless shadow lost in a wistful sea of green. Her smile seemed faintly sad, but without condemnation. Before he could find his voice, before his agitated mind could intervene, before he even knew she had moved, she pulled him to his feet and against her, pressing her face against his shoulder and fitting her small frame beneath his encircling arm. Instinctively, he enfolded her, one of her hands clutched in his.

In this nowhere place between waking and sleep, they stood together for long minutes, heads bowed against each other, silent and warm and comforting. Looking down at her, he tried to speak, but his voice broke and refused to steady into words. After several attempts, he finally stopped trying and simply held her in the secure embrace of a childhood friend, untainted with the bitterness, disappointment, and self-recrimination of later life.

She closed her eyes, trusting him, until he awoke – feeling somehow refreshed and strengthened, if no less burdened with the truth.

* * *

The second time he dreamed of her, they sat together on the stone wall, listening to the water and the movement of non-existent wind in the hidden trees, inhaling the cloying sent of roses and cloves in the air. This time she spoke to him in a low murmur, voice resonating against his chest. “Did you drop that branch on my sister, all those years ago?”

“Yes,” he answered, his voice sounding rough and grating in the stillness of the dreamworld.

Her eyes flicked up at him, narrowing slightly, and she tilted her head to better see his face. “That’s not what you told me when we were children.”

“I lied.” He glanced away from her, staring out into the indefinable landscape.

“You see things so differently these days, Severus.”

“More clearly, perhaps.”

After a moment, she gave an almost imperceptible sigh and squeezed his hand gently. “I’m sorry for that, you know.”

He said nothing but couldn’t stop one eyebrow from twitching in surprise.

“You were just a child, Severus,” she replied to his unasked question. “A powerful, angry, and horribly lonely child. Without much control of either your emotions or your magic. I know you didn’t mean to hurt Tuney, really. I saw your face as we left – so confused and angry. Even then, I knew you didn’t intend it. So, why would you say otherwise to me now? Here?”

He swallowed the surge of grateful affection he felt at her words, kept his eyes elsewhere. “Perhaps because intent counts for very little in this world, Lily.”

“It counts for a great deal, Severus,” she insisted, tucking her head beneath his jaw again, errant strands of her auburn hair catching on his stubble. “I wish you could see that.”

His response was non-committal, and neither of them spoke again that night.

* * *

In those minutes or hours, in that space beyond time and greed and pain, he sometimes found himself reconsidering the half-forgotten past. Had he truly loved Lily Evans? Certainly, he had thought so at one time. But now, as she lay against him in companionable silence, he discovered that he ached to do things differently, to be someone better in her very Gryffindor eyes, to choose other paths. He bristled. Could Potter and Black have been right about him? Had he truly cared for her, or had he cared more for himself and the vain hope of filling the emptiness that grew exponentially within him as each year passed? Had he merely craved her attention, desperate and possessive?

Here he could allow himself doubts, open himself to possibilities both honorable and ugly. Once he asked her about it, but she just smiled and told him that only Slytherins could see the world in a thousand shades of grey, and all of them bad.

He never allowed himself to dwell on such thoughts after waking, no matter what he decided. Perhaps he feared that reality would tarnish the dream, that his ever-present guilt and grief would gnaw away at the thin comfort it provided. Perhaps he still wanted to keep her to his dream self, where they could touch and rest and listen to the water and the wind in the distance.

He didn’t know anymore, never knew, never would know, time blurring even the sharpest memories. But somehow, when she came to him like this – without judgment, without the prickly edge of reality – he could believe in good intentions and forget the darkness.

* * *

She appeared after Albus’ death, as well, and he could sense the old man lurking somewhere in the rippling light and shadow beyond them. She pressed one hand lightly over his heart as she stepped into his arms. Shuddering, half-choked by tears, he buried his face against her, a benediction in warm flesh and breath and hair that smelled of phoenix ash and cinnamon. No words came. None were necessary.

* * *

Tonight, as a great darkness gathered at the gates of Hogwarts, Severus Snape snatched unexpected fragments of sleep behind the warded Headmaster’s door, and she came to him once more. This time, her deep green robes seemed black in the failing light, and her touch was cool and dry.

“Are you afraid?” she asked, worry settling in the lines around her eyes.

He lifted one potion-stained finger and traced it over her face lightly, as if he could smooth away the marks of distress. He had thought about tonight for many years, through many dreams of her, and almost surprised himself with his honest reply. “Not anymore.”

She pulled back slightly to look at him, hands gripping his arms, eyes searching his face.

“Perhaps of having left it so late,” he confessed after a moment beneath her scrutiny. “Not finding him in time. Not being allowed to tell him the things he needs to know. There is such enmity between us, Lily.”

“Are you prepared? Are you ready for what might happen?” Her words echoed another time, another far older voice weighed down with regret and need, and he smiled. In this stolen moment of unreality, he knew without doubt what would be accomplished in the coming hours, what sacrifices lay on the altar, what last gifts must be given even to those who might not understand.

“As much as I wish to be,” he replied, drawing her close and pressing a chaste kiss into her hair. “Thank you for that.”

With quiet deliberation, devoid of guilt or fear, he turned away from the dream, from her, from the lingering stain of the past . . .

. . . and woke to feel the burn of the Dark Mark calling him to battle. Steady and certain, he pushed himself up from his chair, straightened his robes, and strode into the halls of Hogwarts to fight. To find the son and the snake. And finally, after all these painful years, to let it all fall away.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.
-- Theodore Roethke, “The Waking,” stanza 6

~ fin ~

Wake to Sleep by Grym [Reviews - 8]

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