I realise with a sudden feeling of dread where this conversation is headed. My head swims as I try to focus to get the words out without betraying everything we've been working towards the past 17 years but, the words struggle to form, his final words are distorted to my ears as he points his wand at me.
Time slows until suddenly out of the corner of my eye I see his snake lunging towards me sinking its fangs deep into my neck, with my back against the wall, I struggle but can't fight it.
I sink to the ground feeling warm blood gushing out down my robes, I realise with a strange sense of shock that it's my own blood smearing my hands. It all feels so numb and surreal as the venom enters my system, he speaks again though I can not make out the words and he walks away he spares no mercy for those who serve him, the snake floats behind him sparing one last parting hiss in my direction as the world swims before me.
So this is the end, I've failed in my last mission, the one piece of information that could decide the war and I couldn't do it, I tried Albus, I tried to find the boy but I failed then again you always did like to ask the impossible of me. Ah well with Potter's blasted luck, he will walk right into the arms of death anyway.
I sink back my vision filling with swirls of blackness rising around me forming a mouth like a Dementors reaching in to deliver the kiss of death, I don't resist I wouldn't run even if I could, I've evaded them long enough it is no less than what I deserve for all the dark deeds I committed in my life, all the pain I've caused, let them come, let them try to find the happy memories in the miserable quagmire that has been my life.
I welcome death. I have served it long enough in my time as a Death Eater and a spy now it has come to fetch me I think as I remembered an old story my mother read me about three brothers who made a deal with death 'he greeted Death as an old friend, and went with him gladly, and, equals, they departed this life' funny I recalled that one of the brothers also had an invisibility cloak just like Potter a strange coincidence indeed.
As I'm thinking this something appears through the blackness, a shimmering outline, a silvery ripple that stops in front of me, shrugged off, replaced by a young man, Potter. I would snort if I had the strength, oh the irony, come to gloat, even in death I can not escape him, no not him the boy Potter so like his Father.
He kneels in front of me, his face a mixture of emotions, shock and anger, pity I do not need his pity. No, perhaps not pity, grief perhaps, for me? The man he loathes, yet even his hatred for me pales in front of what he has just seen.
I reach out with the last of my strength for his robe urging him to come closer, I can see it now the last of my life force my memories leaving me "take them" I whisper my voice little more than a weak croak trying to convey the importance of these words. A flask appears near him, no doubt courtesy of his friend Granger who always trails him like a shadow, he can thank her brains that he and the Weasley boy are still alive. For a minute he looks numbly at the flask before shaking himself into action and directing the memories in until it looks set to overflow. I feel the weight lift off me, it is a relief to shed that burden after so many years hiding from everyone and it is done, my last duty fulfilled, see I didn't fail old man, my last promise fulfilled, I only hope it is enough.
17 years of my life spent protecting him, for her now I must be the one to send him to his death. The irony is not lost on me.
I look at his face one last time and he looks at me, what was it Dumbledore always said 'he has her eyes' yes her green eyes you have her eyes, a hint of her expression on his face, hmm maybe he was right, perhaps he is more like her than I wanted to accept I'm sorry for everything, I wish things could have been different he looks at me in shock and I wonder did he hear me, perhaps he is better at Legilimency than I gave him credit for.
As I lay there on the verge of death looking at his face I find myself looking back. Had I let my past cloud my judgement of the boy allowing myself to see only what I wanted to see. I'd never allowed myself to care. I'd always been very private, it was weak to show my feelings, enough people were watching my every move, ready to report back what they saw. I could not allow myself to get too close to him. It would have been dangerous and aroused suspicion even if I wanted to. I didn't want to.
At least that's what I told myself, easier to see his Father than looking deeper and trying to connect with the boy, easier than facing those eyes, her eyes.
The truth was I was bitter, full of resentment, grief, anger and self-loathing, I was like one of my potions volatile, my temper simmering beneath the surface ready to spill over at the slightest provocation. Children brought out the worst in me, I'd never found it easy to connect with them and adding Potter into the mix only made things more volatile, liable to erupt without warning, in short, a recipe for disaster. I'd punished myself, for years unable to escape from my past it was easier to punish him when he was the spitting image of his Father and yet seeing him every day looking into her eyes piercing my very soul was like torture a constant reminder of my greatest failure. It was too late now the damage had been done. I could only hope that he would succeed now.
Blackness fills my vision again surrounding me, enveloping me like a cloak in its cold embrace, I don't fight it, it's fitting for a man who has spent his life walking in darkness. I did it for you Lily always for you, maybe, at last, I will find you and make amends for my mistakes.
I walk through the shadows into the light not knowing what I will find but, feeling a strange light like I haven't felt for so long, warm and familiar guiding me. I feel at peace as I linger on the threshold, surely I don't deserve this peaceful oasis. I expected hell, fire and brimstone yet I have arrived in a kind of heaven.
A lone figure emerges through the haze walking towards me. As they get nearer her face becomes clearer and I watch entranced. She is my angel, the only person I wished to see, heaven can be a pile of ashes as long as she is there waiting. She is just as I remembered her as young and beautiful and perfect as I remember green eyes, perfect soft smooth skin, fiery orange hair flowing over simple pure white robes.
She stops in front of me, her peaceful face looking at me with concern "Severus?" She says her voice is soft and gentle as ever as she reaches out smiling at me and strokes my cheek.
Her touch sends shivers down my spine, after all this time she still has this effect on me making me weak, my legs trembling like a newborn faun's
"Lily, I … I'm so sorry" I whisper my eyes filling with tears as I allow her to embrace me, "I never meant for any of this" I tell her, my head resting on her shoulder.
"I know ..."
"No please, I need to do this" I interrupt her feeling the need to release it all now "I'm sorry. I never meant to hurt you. I was young and foolish and in my shame and my anger I let my emotions get the better of me and I lashed out at you my best friend, no my only friend, you always cared and defended me, you deserved better. That day was one of the worst of my life, I reached my lowest point, my life meant nothing to me, your rejection pushed me to make the worst mistake of my life. I can never make amends for all the terrible things I did. When he killed you it broke me, I wanted to die but the worst part was knowing that it was all my fault that he targeted you that I couldn't save you"
"Oh, Sev. I know. I forgave you a long time ago, as you should have forgiven yourself" she whispers in my ear, holding my sagging body in her embrace, her warm breath against my neck and soft voice in my ear. "Yes your words and actions did hurt me, but I realised eventually you didn't mean it. I blame myself"
"It wasn't your fault, you're not to blame for my mistakes"
"No, it wasn't just your mistakes. You were my best friend and yet I didn't realise how vulnerable you were or the pressure you were under as a Slytherin, I should have done more to help you and support you instead of abandoning you to the darkness. I can not condone your decisions but you did the right thing in the end. It's all in the past"
We stood like that for a while as I sobbed into her, releasing all the years of pent-up guilt and emotion, revelling in her embrace.
"I'm sorry I couldn't give Harry what he needed most reminds me too much of" "of James, it's ok, I know how painful that must have been" "and you. I couldn't bear to see those eyes, they reminded me of my mistakes and everything I lost" I replied, chancing a glance at her seeing the shock on her face.
"You're more similar than either of you realise, I wish you could have seen, you could have helped each other heal, he needed a family as much as you did" I look at her in surprise acknowledging the truth of her words.
"I couldn't save him, they used him like a pawn, a soldier and now he hates me, they all hate me, it's all my fault" I admit guiltily hanging my head in shame.
She lifts my chin, forcing me to look at her "you've kept him safe and shown him the way. Just wait he's stronger than you know, you'll see, he will forgive you in time once he sees the truth"
"He has his mother's heart and her fiery determination" I add managing a weak smile.
I can't believe this is all real, she is here with me I think lost in my thoughts until her voice startles me "Sev what's wrong?"
I gaze into her green eyes the words of an old song come to mind "I have counted every day since you went away, it feels like a thousand years like I have been cut a thousand times" I pause "I have shed so many tears, I felt such despair I would have gladly embraced death, I can't believe I'm here that this is real, after all, I've done I don't deserve this"
She stands there in shocked silence for a minute before lifting my face and leaning in close "yes you do" she says quietly but firmly "you deserve this, Dumbledore saw this, he saw the good in you. You have made mistakes but you are brave, you have spent enough time repenting, serving others and trying to make amends. You have endured enough misery and seen enough horrors, you deserve this. You are free, no more chains, no more masters to serve, the past is forgotten and forgiven"
She smiles at me and kisses me on the cheek and I feel myself blushing like a schoolboy before she offers me her hand "come they're waiting for us" she explains.
I accept her hand looking down for the first time at my own hand. Gone are the calluses, the rough skin and the potion stains. My long fingers are clean and smooth pink even. I gaze at her questioningly and she looks at me a moment before understanding dawns on her face. She summons a mirror and I take in my reflection. I look younger, my skin smoother, my hair cleaner and no longer slick and greasy and my eyes shine. I look back in astonishment and notice my black robes have turned white, they still look the same otherwise but they feel lighter as do I.
She is right, her words and her kindness have set me free. The one woman I have ever loved has forgiven me for my sins and I feel at peace, I feel lighter as though a burden of guilt and responsibility has been lifted from my shoulders. There is nowhere else I'd rather be.
Author notes: I guess this is my first attempt at anything resembling a Harry Potter fanfiction although I tend to think of it more as a kind of poetry than story. I remember walking through one of our local parks last winter during lockdown as I was inclined to do on the weekends and trying to imagine and describe in an artistic way what Severus may see as he's laying there waiting to welcome death's embrace. I've since then worked on writing various stories at various levels of completion and have come back and added to this piece.
Oh and I love 50's and 60's rock and roll music, one song I heard had some perfect lyrics which I determined to include in one of my stories, it's called 'I Count The Tears' by The Drifters and The Searchers did a very nice cover on it as well, some of thy lyrics felt perfect and poignant "I've counted everyday since you've been away it seems like a thousand years" "I sit and I count the tears" I've managed to work that line in here, I think it seems appropriate use it.