Chapter Two: Cradling the Dead
Snape was shivering. For hours, he had been shivering. He hated it. It made him look weak. Not that anyone was watching him, not in this place. But he knew it was so, and it twisted him up inside. He thought of trying to cast a spell to stop himself, but somehow…he knew he could not. His magic…his magic was gone, dried up like seaweed on the shore, ebbed out like the waves from the sand, leaving nothing behind but a heavy sogginess, motionless and deathly white.
He felt the creeping cunning of death, the thing his old master the Dark Lord had feared so innately, and yet he felt beyond the point of fighting or fearing it. His body was in agony, but his emotions were numb. Resignation reigned, and a knowing that the dark was his to own. He had chosen it long ago, and he would forever be one with that choice which could not be undone, that nightmare which could not be cast off.
Another stabbing pain thrust its way down his neck, and he struggled against a groan, clutching the side of the cot with his one good arm. It stuck in his throat, raw with thirst, hardly able to swallow. He felt it melting away inside himself, and he saw the melted face of a dead man in his mind, and it ate away at whatever was left of him. He wanted to let go, to let go to death, but he felt himself suspended by it, taunting him at the edge of the chasm. That was the terror; he might let go, and never fall. There was no landing, nowhere to find the ultimate finality…
Then he heard a creaking as the old door opened slowly, and the morning light stung his eyes. Foot falls, hesitant, moved towards him. Again, he knew who this “visitor” was even before his sight adjusted.
“Get away, Potter,” he hissed through clenched teeth. “Have you not seen enough of death?”
Harry just stared at him for a long moment, absorbing his pathetic condition, and measuring the strength of his lingering pride. “I have something to help,” he stated quietly, pulling an object from his coat. It was a vial containing a shimmering blue substance.
“Snape, it’s your own potion! It will ease up the pain.”
The professor stared back at the boy strangely, and then turned his face away. “Toying…always toying…I hate your bloody toying…” His teeth chattered together.
Harry exhaled. “I’ve always known you were a conceited, stubborn man, but I didn’t think you were this much of an idiot!”
“Why you smug little weasel…” Snape instinctively tried to pull himself up with his good arm, but fell back hard. He gasped, feeling something akin to an electric shock run up and down his spine. He found himself blearily meeting Harry’s gaze, but the pain was too acute to move or say anything more.
He saw Potter move closer to him and felt him press the vial to his lips. The potions master tried to turn away, but his neck locked.
“Snape.” Harry’s voice was hoarse. “Give in. We might hate each other, but she…she wouldn’t want you to suffer like this.”
Snape squeezed his eyes shut, trying to take in his words. He wondered to himself if there was any hint of truth in them. Then slowly, he allowed himself to drink down the potion. It sent a warming sensation through him. He felt overcome by a wave of exhaustion, but also felt unable to tear his eyes away from Harry’s.
The boy’s hand was against his back, leaning him up so he could swallow. His touch burned him. He wanted to shrug him off. But he also found himself swallowing hard against some internal swelling, not as a result of his injuries, but from something far deeper, far more excruciating.
And then he fell unconscious, but his eyes remained open, staring blankly at Harry still, almost as if in death.
When Snape woke up, he felt reasonably better than he had before. Not only had the pain subsided considerably thanks to his potion (which he was more than a little proud of), but finally being able to sleep had cleared his mind. Furthermore, he discovered that a fire was now blazing in the small fireplace, and he had a blanket over him. As a result, he was no long shivering.
Suddenly the origin of all these things clicked in, and he turned to find Harry Potter sitting silently on a stool near the hearth, staring vacantly at the fire. He appeared lost in the depth of his thoughts, with the flames reflecting in his glasses.
Snape cleared his throat, and the boy snapped his gaze onto him. After a long spell of silent, suspicious study of one another, the professor rasped, “You were wrong, Potter. She…she wouldn’t have cared. We were never reconciled…”
“You held her in your arms,” Harry blurted. “She was dead already, but you…held her. Why would you do that?”
Snape tensed. “What would you have had me do? Leave her there on the floor?” He hated the way his voice, which he had worked so hard to control, fluttered like the wings of a dying bird.
“You held her like she was still there, somehow. I couldn’t stop thinking of it…all night.”
Snape forced himself to hold fast against that memory, of cradling her cold, lifeless body against his own, and how he had sobbed so long and hard he thought he might die there in the dark, wracked to the core of his being which no one had ever recognized but her.
He remembered her emerald eyes, sightlessly staring into nothingness, and the way her red hair fell loose against his heaving chest, and how he had kept repeating broken, futile apologies for his own cursed weaknesses that he knew she would never hear.
He remembered rubbing his hand in a soothing, circular motion against her shoulder, strangely comforted just to be able to touch her again without facing her disdain, and yet yearning with all the strength of his magic to give his darkened life for hers. For he knew that he, as much as Voldemort, had been the cause of that life being snuffed out…that his words as informant had struck her down, and she let herself be struck, to save the life of her child.
Her child…in front of him now…
“She was still…there.” He closed his eyes again.
Harry swallowed hard. “They say a patronus shows the strongest thoughts a person has, or even…the deepest part of a person’s soul, the one thing he is, shot through and through, when everything else is gone.”
“Yesss.” Snape emphasized the last consonant, as he always did, meaning to sound sarcastic at his former student’s recitation. But it didn’t; it sounded strangled, like a dam blocking up a flood of tears.
“The doe that led me through the forest…it was the same as hers, wasn’t it?” Harry sucked in his lips. “But you…you were the one who cast it.”
Snape did not answer; there was no need to.
Harry stood up and wandered back towards the fire, his hand over his eyes. “Do you think…she was in very much pain…when she died?”
“No, no,” Snape muttered, feeling his pride punctured at the desperate ache in the young man’s voice. “It was sudden, and swift. And her thoughts…were surely focused on your protection. She had no time to dwell upon death when it came for her.”
Damn it, was he trying to convince himself as much as the boy?
“You would have helped Voldemort kill a baby,” Harry whispered, almost to himself. “Whether it was Lily’s child, or anyone else’s, it would have been like killing her. Because she thought more of you once…for whatever reason.”
Again, Snape refrained from responding. There was no use trying to refute it; he might have been proud enough to try some perverse owning of it as a badge of honor, like he had so many times before when playing the death-eater game, but he could not bring himself to assume such despicable airs now. Not with Lily’s eyes piercing through him.
“She could see beauty in the ugliest of things,” he said at last. “Or she made them beautiful…by looking at them…”
He inhaled shakily, trying to hold together with all his might, but he felt his eyes swimming with saltwater. “Do you know, Potter…what I would have done to that…damned sorting hat?” he queried, his voice falling in and out. “That thing…that put her in one house…and me in another, when we first came to this…damned place? I’d have torn it…torn it…into so many pieces…”
He pressed his good hand against his face to hide the tears he felt spill down, and forced his breathing to even out. When he regained control, he managed to speak again. “You’ve done more than you had to do here. You are free to go.” He said it in the same tone in which he used to dismiss him from detention late at night.
Harry leaned his head against his arm, resting on the fireplace. “I don’t know…where to go from here.”
Ah…so he was paying the price that comes with heroics, that of losing oneself for something greater than oneself…and when that greater thing is accomplished, finding merely a shadow of identity, drifting between worlds…
“Well, I certainly can’t tell you, boy,” Snape disclaimed. “I can’t even…answer that for myself…and the sand has almost run out on me.”
“Then we’re both lost,” Harry realized.
“That’s…a fair summation.”
“But we both know that…we love her. And she loved us. And somehow…that’s still very alive inside of us, even if we are lost.”
Snape looked amazed at these words that cut him, cut out his heart. This son of hers was appealing to her as the common link between them…that being lost together, yet still bound through her, was better than stumbling on alone.
“So you suggest we share our purgatory till the sand runs out altogether?” he surmised.
Harry turned back towards the fire, without a verbal response. And as they both knew, there was no need for one. They understood each other better than either one would ever want to admit.
Avellina Balestri (aka Rosaria Marie) is one of the founding members and the Editor-in-Chief of The Fellowship of the King, a literary magazine with a strong Tolkienite influence (which, by the way, is open to submissions). She reads and writes extensively, and eagerly seeks out the deeper spiritual significance of popular fandoms such as The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, Star Trek, Star Wars, and The Hunger Games. And yes, she does have a soft spot in her heart for classic Disney movies, The Princess Bride, and Merlin 😉 She is also a recording artist, singing traditional folk songs and her own compositions as well as playing the penny whistle and bodhran drum. She draws her inspiration from the Ultimate Love and Source of Creativity, and hopes to share that love and creativity with others.