“Severus, help me… please… please.” Her entreaties had been abruptly silenced by the flick of a wand, and the woman, helplessly suspended in slow rotation above the long table, knew her death was a breath away. Unable to slip her bonds, deprived now of speech, she wept silently, her fear a palpable aura around her. She had implored her former colleague for some measure of mercy, but seated beside the Dark Lord, he had glanced up at her dispassionately, only the slight tilt of his head and his measured breathing betraying him as other than a marble statue, acknowledging her presence with a mere, “Ah, yes.”
Severus sat silent as shadow beside his master, his face quite impassive, waiting patiently for what was needed. And soon enough it came, as usual, so predictable. The Dark Lord never failed to seize an opportunity to deliver yet another scathing diatribe on blood purity, and the absolute necessity for total dominion over Mudbloods and Muggles, and all other “lesser” beings he deemed unworthy of existence. Assuredly this rant would follow the same senseless pattern as all the other harangues, with Voldemort reveling in his own scalding oratory for several minutes, basking in the adoring attentions of his disciples The man’s pontificating was a blessing to Severus, providing distraction and suitable cover for what must be accomplished swiftly, without detection. Keeping his facade of respectful interest and obedient acquiescence resolute, Severus extended his thoughts, like tendrils of smoke curling under a locked door, to reach the hapless witch hanging above him, her face now turned in his direction, her eyes frantic as those of a bird in the snare.
“Charity, it is I. Look at me.”
Her eyes widened in recognition and terror as his thoughts first touched her, the resonant timbre of his voice low and quiet, not barbed with its usual sting of bitterness and sarcasm. Unflinching, he placed his image before her, not with the inscrutable marble visage of the Death Eater, but with his true face -- harrowed by rage, loss, sorrow and regret, lit by the defiant and tormented eyes of the spy, the man most trusted, in absolute service to the Light, to sit at the right hand of Darkness.
The dagger of that silken voice, sheathed in steel, pierced her consciousness. She was enveloped, a torrent of thoughts and emotions surging though her, immersing her in images that flickered behind her eyes like shadows in moonlight.
“I cannot save you, and I will not offer false hope. Remain still, and let me do what little I can to help you. Neither of us can escape the inevitable. Were I to interfere, or be discovered -- my true intent revealed, my Vows recognized -- too much would become clear, and the deaths of far too many made pointless.”
Releasing into the implacable suffering in that exquisite voice, the depthless well of those tortured eyes, she suddenly understood, as though veils had been lifted from her eyes. Her desperate struggles slowed, as she allowed herself to accept this blinding realization, and receive his presence as a calming draught, a potion of solace and mercy, offered not to avert the cruelty of Fate, but to ease and comfort.
“Charity, find strength, and try to not be afraid. I am able at least to shield you from pain, and Dumbledore is near, waiting to guide you.”
And here, he filled her mind with the crystalline image of her beloved Headmaster dressed in robes of glacial white, his arms extended ready to welcome and embrace her, standing on the far shore of the loch of Hogwarts, its waters dancing green and silver in the sunlight of a perfect summer day. Sensing her dark Angel of Death standing close behind her, she struggled to turn, to see his face once more, to offer gratitude and forgiveness, to affirm her understanding, but his strong slender hands gripped her shoulders, directing her firmly but with surprising gentleness to face the loch, his voice beautiful as phoenix song in her ear, a low cadence of mercy granted.
“I will not leave you until this is finished. All will end in an instant. You must focus your thoughts only on the water, Charity, only on the water… only on the water… ” Steadied by the unfaltering rhythm of his voice, she fastened her gaze on the waves of the loch as they leapt in their joyous dance -- emerald green, the beautiful green of someone’s eyes – she just could not quite remember whose…
The flash of the Killing Curse came swift and cruel, and the Death Eaters around the massive table fell back in terror of their Lord. Quailing in awe, many were bemused and troubled when they looked upwards, pondering the face of Charity Burbage, for it carried a smile of perfect peace. And as the great snake was summoned, Severus sat silent as shadow beside his master, his face quite impassive, waiting patiently.
Author's Note: All characters are of course the property of J. K. The original scene in Book 7 was profoundly disturbing and this story kept pulling at me. It occurred to me that when Charity addressed her pleas to "Severus" rather than to "Snape" -- somehow still searching for the man, rather than the perceived coward, the soulless murderer -- she afforded him a measure of mercy as well.