(many thanks to YeungMaiSu for this wonderful image!)
(Started before OotP....)
Many thanks to Carla and Luthien for read-throughs and reassurances.
Further Notes/Warnings, click here
The Man Who Lived
by Beth H.
(c) July 2003
You haven't slept in days.
Your body aches and nausea threatens to overwhelm you with each breath you take. The shocked expressions on the faces of your colleagues - those who can be bothered to note your trembling hands, your ever-present hacking cough, your sweat-soaked, waxen skin - indicate the degree to which your health has degenerated in the past weeks. However, there's little that can be done at present to reverse the effects of the punishment your body has suffered recently. Not while so much work remains to be done.
It is the work in which you've been engaged, of course – the endless hours stirring increasingly noxious experimental potions in the three cauldrons you've somehow managed to keep out of the grasping hands of Granger and Zabini, who've been set the joyless task of maintaining a constant supply of healing elixers – that is most to blame for your current physical condition, far more so than the after-effects of the Cruciatus Curse, cast for no reason but that you had the misfortune to be in the presence of Lord Voldemort when a report came in that one of his strongholds had been taken by Ministry Aurors. Even curled on the floor in a sickening admixture of your own urine and vomit, you were aware that the messenger fared less well than you, strangled to death with intestines ripped from his own body.
When the latest batch of potions is simmering and safe to be left for a short period of time, you leave the dungeons for the dubious comforts of the staff room and whatever supper the surviving house-elves have managed to prepare in between giving expression to their uncontrollable grief. For the briefest of moments, you envy their ability to simply beat their heads against the wall when their pain becomes too great, but with a quick shake of your head, your sanity returns.
The staff room is devoid of your colleagues, but for the sleeping form of Vector, snoring fitfully in a chair by the fire. Professor Binns enters as you pour yourself a cup of tea, but your less than welcoming response to his greeting encourages him to drift back out of the room, presumably in search of more congenial company.
You take a careful sip of hot tea, then set the cup down, a bit shakily, atop an old issue of the Daily Prophet. The image of Cornelius Fudge on the newspaper's front page rushes to the corner of the photograph in an attempt to protect itself as hot liquid spills over the edge of the cup. You return to the sideboard for your plate of food, but as you help yourself to mustard, the door's thrown open and Sirius Black storms in.
"Enjoying a pleasant evening by the fire, Snape?" He draws closer, a wild look in his eyes. "I wouldn't have expected even you to be such a complete and utter bastard. Is it just that he's my godson? Is that it? Or is it simply that he's a Gryffindor?"
You shake your head in exasperation and turn away.
"I haven't the faintest idea what you're talking about, Black. Now if you're done frothing at the mouth, I'd like to eat my supper in peace."
"Your supper!" he snarls, grabbing the back of your robe. "Harry's life is hanging in the balance, and you're worried about your bloody supper?"
You let go of your plate, and it falls with a crash onto the sideboard. You push Black away with one hand, simultaneously reaching for your wand with the other.
"Never touch me again," you spit, pointing your wand directly at Black's chest.
His hands are wandless and his eyes have a satisfying hint of fear, but he carries on in typical Gryffindor fashion, nonetheless. "Floo blocked, wards up around your rooms and your lab, no way to locate you . . . what in the name of all the gods are you playing at?"
Lupin appears in the doorway, out of breath and holding his side, but before he can intercede - to placate Black, no doubt - your glare stops him in his tracks more effectively than any binding spell ever could.
"I have no interest in listening to your endless caterwauling, Black. Lupin, take your pet, and . . . ."
"No time?" Black rushes at you, knocking the wand from your hand. He clutches at your head and holds you fast by your hair. "I'll make you understand what it means to have no time, you bloody bastard," he snarls. "Do something for him, damn it, or I'll make you wish you'd never been born!"
Black slashes his nails across your face, and you note, with an almost clinical detachment, the sharp sting as blood wells up on the surface of your cheeks. Lupin, apparently recovered from his temporary paralysis, succeeds in pulling Black away from you and shields him with his own body, presumably for fear that you will retaliate, but your bitter amusement at Black's last coherent words is what keeps him safe from any impulse you might have had to spell his lips together permanently. What could Black possibly do to you that might increase your desire to never have been born?
You draw your robes tightly around yourself and turn to walk out of the room, but not before Black falls to his knees, body rigid with tension and keening like a banshee. "I let him die. I let him die. I'm so sorry, James. It should have been me."
For once, his mournful cries appear to be something more than a demonstration of the typical Gryffindor flair for melodrama, and you frown. Could it be possible that the potion you prepared for the boy didn't work? Had your fatigue caused you to make an error?
You have already started to take mental inventory of the ingredients you used for the potion when Lupin kneels down by Black's side and takes him in his arms. "Sirius," he says hoarsely, "it's all right. Poppy says Harry's going to be all right. He's awake. He's . . . ."
Black's head snaps up, red rimmed eyes narrowed and searching Lupin's face in disbelief. "But Poppy said . . . ."
Lupin offers up a crooked smile, his soft words oozing with Gryffindor sentimentality. "She was mistaken, Sirius. Harry's going to be fine."
"But the potion . . . ."
"It was prepared as soon as Severus returned from his last meeting with Voldemort. He brewed it that very night, Sirius. Poppy thinks she had . . . misplaced it in all the confusion."
Black's eyes dart away from Lupin and toward you.
He was present, playing the role of Albus's guard dog - or lap dog, you're not certain which - when you made your last 'triumphant return' to the grounds of Hogwarts, crawling on your hands and knees from the edge of the Forbidden Forest, and for once bearing no information at all beyond the obvious fact that the Dark Lord had, thus far, lost none of his ability to inflict pain.
"Yes, Black," you think, "and then I crawled to my chambers to finish the Restoratium, after which I crawled to my bed in a vain attempt to obey Albus's instructions to rest."
No rest for the wicked.
"Thank the gods!" Black whispers, tears streaming down his face. He clutches Lupin's arms briefly, then looks up at you. "Snape . . . thank you for . . . I'm sorry. I . . . I didn't know."
Bile rises in your throat at the sound of yet another worthless apology from the mouth of a Gryffindor - words which, as always, change nothing.
Black buries his head in the hollow of Lupin's shoulder. The Werewolf meets your glare with a silent plea for understanding, yet he clearly expects nothing from you, and for no reason you can name, you soften for a moment, offering a brief nod before averting your eyes, disgusted with yourself at even so small a surrender.
As you turn, you find yourself caught in the blue gaze of Dumbledore, and you know before he says a word that he's been present far longer than Black's collapse.
"Enjoy the show, did you, Headmaster?" you ask with a sneer.
He reaches out for your shoulder, but you pull back before he can touch you.
"Severus . . . " he begins. His words are even less welcome at this moment than Black's were. How long, you wonder, had he been standing there . . . simply watching?
Nothing has changed.
If you were a more forgiving man, perhaps you'd ascribe his failure to speak up earlier to an unwillingness to exacerbate a situation without knowing all its causes – or perhaps merely to an exhaustion which has finally started to leave its mark, etched on what had always seemed to you to be an ageless face. But you have never been a forgiving man, and so you merely note his failure to act immediately on your behalf as yet another betrayal in a lifetime of betrayals.
"If you'll excuse me, I believe I'll return to my laboratory and carry on with my work."
He glances at the untouched plate you've left sitting on the sideboard. "You haven't eaten your supper, my boy."
You avoid looking at either the food, the smell of which is starting to nauseate you, or at him.
"I find I've lost my appetite."
Dumbledore sighs, but makes no further attempt to stop your exit. You feel his eyes upon you as you walk the length of the hall.
An hour after you return to your rooms and your work, a house elf appears, unbidden, carrying with it a tray laden with food. When it returns later to collect the tray, you hear it tsking quietly, presumably a commentary on how much food remains on the plates.
The breakthrough, when it comes some hours later, brings you no particular joy - or perhaps you are just too tired to care at the moment. However, you collect the parchments upon which you've written your notes, and dutifully set off to make your report to Dumbledore.
He's not alone.
Minerva, Lupin, and Black are all there. Potter is there as well, looking more pale and drawn than usual - certainly in no condition to face the Dark Lord - but alert (which is more than you could say for him during your lectures over the past seven years), which is all the evidence you need to demonstrate the efficacy of your latest improvements to the Restoriatum.
You ignore the collective Gryffindor presence - and the burning humiliation of knowing Dumbledore hadn't thought it necessary to invite you to attend this meeting - and begin to tell the Headmaster that judging by the colour of the new formula you've been working on, you expect to have a sample tested within the next 72 hours. Perhaps 48 hours, if luck is on your side.
He smiles in what you imagine is meant to be a reassuring manner, then says that sadly there isn't even that much time remaining. He glances over at Potter, who's resting his head in his hands.
"As you know, Severus, Harry has begun to sense not only Voldemort's proximity, but also his intentions. We have very little time before the final confrontation is underway. A matter of hours, perhaps."
You frown, glance at your left sleeve.
"Yes, we were discussing the fact that you've seemed to have little or no warning of his recent activity," Dumbledore says quietly. "Quite disturbing. Ah well, perhaps the mark is no longer Voldemort's primary means of contacting his Death Eaters. Or perhaps the strength of the connection is fading as he focuses more and more of his energies on the coming battle."
You feel a sudden flutter in the pit of your stomach. No time remains to finish testing the potion as you would wish, your access to new information from the Dark Lord has clearly come to an end . . . it's apparent that any usefulness you might have had in the battle against the Dark is over.
As if in response, Minerva clears her throat.
"I'm reminded, Severus, that Miss Granger mentioned that she and Mr Zabini have reached the end of Poppy's supply of asphodel. If you could see your way clear to giving them some from your private stock, I'm sure they'll both be quite grateful."
You glare at her. "Perhaps you could simply transfigure my largest cauldron into a Muggle bicycle, and I could take up a new career as a delivery boy."
She bristles, but you stifle any possible response with a wave of your hand.
"They'll get the asphodel they need. In fact, I may as well arrange to have all the contents of my private stores transferred to the infirmary. There seems little point to my keeping it any longer."
Dumbledore looks sharply in your direction, but you refuse to meet his eyes.
He's always been far too observant.
Your fingers trail along the feathered edge of the quill on your desk. You lift the quill and touch its nib to a length of parchment, but find yourself uncharacteristically at a loss for words. What would you write that might be understood? What explanation could you possibly offer for your decision to leave the grounds and confront Voldemort in what's certain to be remembered only as an act of stupidity of monumental proportions?
It is not Gryffindor foolhardiness that drives you; your Slytherin instincts remain intact. The catalyst that urges you on is neither some long-buried impulse toward altruism finally making itself known, nor yet a desire to play the hero.
But you are tired.
Tired of living in a world that's been under constant threat from a powerful madman since you reached your majority, although you were appallingly slow to see the threat for what it was. Tired of living with the guilt for the part you played in his rise. Tired of living at the beck and call of another powerful wizard to whom you've spent almost twenty years trying to atone for the sins of your youth. Tired of waiting for a clear sign of his lo . . . of his regard.
Tired of living.
And if you do not succeed in destroying Voldemort tonight, as honesty compels you to admit you have no real reason to believe will happen, then at least after tonight, you will be able, finally, to rest.
You put the quill down on top of the still-blank parchment, leave your rooms, and head out into the night.
The Dark Mark on your arm is quiescent as it has been for the greater part of the past week, but you no longer need its blistering pain to tell you that Voldemort is close by. A twin of the Mark you bear on your arm glows a sickly green where it's been cast, high in the chill night sky between Hogsmeade and the castle grounds, and it is in that direction you walk.
The night is silent and still. You hear only the scuff of gravel as your feet tread the familiar path away from the castle and the harsh sounds of your own breathing. A sudden chilling wind penetrates the heavy layers of your clothing, and you glance back at Hogwarts, wondering briefly if you should have worn a thicker robe.
"It's been . . . too long since I've had the pleasure of your company, Severus."
You close your eyes, then take what will surely be your last look at the castle before slowly turning around to face the speaker.
"Good evening . . . Tom."
After years of prostrating yourself at his feet whenever you were in his presence, you're not quite certain what made you speak to him in this fashion - you know that men, both Wizards and Muggles alike, have been killed for far less - but Voldemort merely raises an eyebrow, then starts to chuckle.
"Ah, Severus. I see you've lost none of your ability to . . . surprise me. Did you know that has always been one of the qualities I've most admired in you?"
You incline your head slightly in acknowledgment, but say nothing more, perhaps for fear that if you do, the only word you'll speak will be a useless plea for mercy.
"Sadly," he continues, the smile leaving his face, "I find I've been surprised far too often recently, and I've come to think that perhaps you just might be the cause of this . . . unfortunate state of affairs."
Slowly, you slide your hand into the pocket of your robe and close your fingers around the vial containing the still untested potion. Perhaps if you can keep him talking . . . .
"No, Severus . . . there'll be no last-minute heroics."
Without saying another word, he extends his hand, and before you know what has happened, the vial slips out of your grasp and flies into his waiting palm. You try to reach for your wand, but find yourself unable to move.
"I'm disappointed in you, Severus. Surely you, of all people, should understand the limitations of - how do you phrase it? - 'foolish wand waving.'"
He removes the stopper from the vial and inspects its contents. His eyes widen. "Astounding. You know, if it's any consolation, here at the final moments of your life, perhaps it might be reassuring to know that you may very well have come up with a way to put an end to my existence. A pity you're not going to get the chance to confirm your hypothesis. Goodbye, Severus."
With one fluid motion, he throws the vial away and reaches for his wand. You find you're no longer held in the binding spell he'd cast, but despite that, you have no time to defend yourself before you hear him say the words 'Avada Kedavra.'
You have heard some of your Muggle students use the phrase 'slow motion,' and you never truly understood to what it referred, but its meaning is suddenly quite clear. A green flash of light bursts forth from the tip of Voldemort's wand, yet instead of reaching you in an instant as you would have expected, it seems to . . . linger, gathering in size and power as it moves inexorably toward you.
And then - without warning - a man appears, standing directly in the path of the killing curse.
You can see the moment that the force of the Unforgivable reaches the man, surrounding him for an instant in a brilliant halo of green light, before re-directing all its energy back at the one who sent the curse.
Voldemort screams with fury as he's hit by the force of the blast, his face a rictus of agony. His skin begins to glow - first pale green, then bright yellow, and finally a fiery red - before he bursts into flames.
Within seconds, nothing remains where once he stood but ashes.
The desire to drop to the ground and lose what little dinner you ate is strong, yet somehow you remain standing as the man before you turns to face you.
"Albus?" Your voice is no more than a whisper. "How did . . . ."
"How did I know to come? Oh, Severus . . . .how could I not know?"
Although that wasn't precisely the question you had started to ask, his answer is sufficient . . . for now. Voldemort's dead, and you – miraculously – are still alive. You can feel hot tears of relief start to track down your cheeks, and you reach out to embrace Albus, but he steps back before you can touch him.
"No, Severus," he says, smiling a little sadly. "I'm afraid that wouldn't be wise."
You watch in horror as Albus' skin begins to take on the same green-yellow glow that Voldemort's had moments before he . . . .
"For Merlin's sake, Albus," you plead, "Tell me there's something I can . . . ."
He shakes his head, still smiling sadly at you. "Just live, my child. Just . . . live. And Severus? Never doubt that you were loved."
The smile remains on his face even as the pale glow turns to flame.
Choking with grief born from the certain knowledge that you can do nothing at all for this man who gave his life to save yours, you force yourself to watch as the flames engulf Albus Dumbledore and leave nothing but ash behind.
Then, finally, you do fall to your knees on the cold, hard ground and bury your face in your hands . . . and you can feel, beneath your trembling fingers, a small scar on your forehead in the shape of a lightning bolt.
Chit chat, Critiques, Gratuitous Praise: Beth H
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Notes/Warning: Major character death. Also...the story is written in second person, present tense, for those of you who worry about these sorts of things.
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