Chapter 15: Final Recognition
Some dreams become reality, and some realities morph into dreams. Sometimes they become too deeply entangled to ever separate, until the soul and body separate, the seas run dry, and rocks melt with the sun. So it was for Severus Snape, after the blood had run freely from his mouth. The night had since melted into day, but time seemed to have dissolved altogether.
This would be his last day. He knew it. Swallowing hurt. Breathing hurt. Dreaming hurt. Everything hurt, and he had no strength left to cling to, no analysis left. Thoughts just passed through his mind like will-o’-wisps, dancing unprocessed, like harp strings plucked, ungraspable…
But somewhere in those dreams, or dances, he heard whispers from another time, when he lay immobile in a hospital bed, bruised and broken in body and mind, drifting aimlessly between life and death…he was twitching from pain and fever, with his hand stuffed deep into his cloak…
“Sev…Sevy…” The faint memory of a broken voice, and a cool hand brushing his hot brow. A broken vision of light, as if shining through cut glass, and an angel’s face. “Lily’s here…don’t be afraid…Lily’s right here…” And he knows the angel is crying…crying for him. And her tears trickle onto his face, and the very lightest brush of her lips caress his feverish brow. And then… the angel sang through her sobbing:
“…my love lies on him and cannot remove…it cannot remove, for all that I have done…and I never will forget…my love…”
Then other voices. First, one challenging her from Gryffindor.
“So what then? Do you love him? Is that it?”
She responds, almost in shock, “You hurt him, I know you did…you pressed him to the brink, you mocked him in his grief! How could be so cruel, after you promised me…?”
“It’s the only way to handle a Slytherin…”
A sob catches in her throat, and then a scream. “He was…my friend…MY BEST FRIEND!”
Then other voices. This time from Slytherin…oh, from out of the bowels of hell…
“Get away from him, mudblood!”
“No, you get away! He’s not all yours!”
“He is so …look at the mark, there, under his sleeve! Go on look at it!”
And a gasp catches in her throat, and then a scream. “Curse you…all of you…for what you’ve done to him!”
And then they spit insults at her, and shove her out, force her away…and the dream, too, runs away from him…
Snape awoke in the shack with a start. He was shaking now, for it had been more than a dream. It had been…a memory. Yes, lost in his coma after falling down the stairs in seventh year, and the tubes running up his nostrils to keep him breathing, even though his will to live had died, and his chapped lips instinctively murmured her name.
But now he knew. While he lay in that hospital ward…she had come to him. Even back then, when he had awoken, his first question was where she had gone, for she had been there, he knew she had…but Lucius Malfoy had gone on to assure him it was nothing more than a dream…
But still…she had come. She had come, she had come, she had come, she had come….oh…
If an undying part of his heart always belonged to the sweet, talkative little girl with frizzy red hair and emerald eyes like the tree leaves that danced in the summer wind, then she had come to him to show that a part of her undying heart still belonged to the shy, sensitive little boy with the messy black hair and dark brown eyes like hot chocolate poured out on long winter nights. And even now, even through death, she had not ceased to love the purest part of his soul, first knit into hers in their childhood innocence, but still knit deeper than mortal breath, deeper than the farthest chasm of his hell.
She had learned to love another, it was true, and he knew she loved him faithfully. But now he realized she had never truly stopped loving him, with a love that transcended physicality. And perhaps in the end, her love for him was strongest of all. For it was easier to come to a man in his daylight, but she had come to him in his darkest night. And a flush of tears now came to him too.
Creak. The door was opening. His mind flashed to Potter, who had promised to return as soon as he could before leaving the night before. There was to be some meeting of the staff to discuss the future of the school…couldn’t avoid attendance…had to leave…
Why had Snape felt a sinking feeling when the boy left him, and the boy’s hand slipped off his shoulder? It was just…his shoulder felt…cold now…
“For the love of Merlin, look! It’s Snape!”
He froze. Oh. They’d found him at last…
Someone spat in his face, and others started taunting him without mercy.
Oh. His students. His own former students, who he had done everything in his power to shield from the mouth of horror, to keep alive in the belly of death, who he had fought for, and suffered for, and bled for, and faced for them what they could not face alone. Come to pay him back…
“Someone’s been hiding him up in here! Look, here are his bloody books!”
No, no, no…not the books…anything but the books…
He heard pages tearing, and felt as if he were being shredded up himself. Not the books…no, no, not the books! Tear me up, burn me up, but leave the books! Kill all that is of Hell…but not the stars! With a superhuman effort he forced himself up as best as he was able, and spit out, “Do not…touch them…do not dare touch them, you damned little fiends!”
He heard them laugh at this. “And what are you going to do about it, dark-marked bastard?” one of them taunted.
And then…all hell broke loose, as a bolt was fired from a wand, burning through his chest, and knocking him across the room. The impact left him crumpled in shock and pain, and he felt the blood run out of his mouth and stain his hands. And he heard them laugh at the sight of it. Then another bolt struck him through the hand, the same hand in which factory glass had been lodged so many years before, and he felt like a spike had been struck through it with a hammer. And the hammer pounded out a sordid song…
“If I had another penny, I would have another gill…”
Wands stinging, body smashing, blindly…no authority, no defense, no magic left…pain, pain…and the image of his drunken father, slurring the song in his mind…a drink in one hand, and a wench on his knee…was he now managing to pity the poverty-driven, dehumanizing depravity of this man who had sired him, and beat him black and blue?
“I would make the piper play ‘The Bonnie Lass of Byker Hill’…”
Shrill voices, female voices, mixed in the throng…all recognizable from his old classroom, tossing things at him, hard, sharp things that cut…far crueler than the erasers and crumbled papers he had been used to girls flinging at him in the Cokeworth school…
“Byker Hill and Walker Shore, working lads forevermore…”
“Drink up, Snivelus…” That voice of his long-dead tormenter, that Marauder brat’s voice, in his head…mouthy-southy, silver-spoon-fed brat, James Potter…and the taste of alcohol, a hazy memory, and spitting it back out…and now, as his jaw struck the floor…the taste of blood…always more blood…
“When first I went down to the dirt, I had no coat and no pit shirt…”
He felt himself bashed against the wall, and the wound on his neck open up, drenching through his collar…and once more he felt himself fall down those moving stairs on the day of his mother’s funeral which he would not attend…and for which his father had lanced his wrists…
“But now I’ve gotten two or three, Walker Pits done well by me…”
“Mudblood.” His own word choking him, cutting off his windpipe…and the brand’s burn being torn…open…like his heart…as he fell…and he screamed the scream of pain he had suppressed inside himself through so much for so long.
“Byker Hill and Walker Shore …”
NO! LEAVE ME ALONE!
“Working lads forevermore…”
He found himself automatically digging his fingers into the floorboards in agony, trying to drag himself forward, to stretch out his body, now twisted like a pretzel from the shocks shattering him inside. And as he tried to crawl, he heard them say he was slithering…like the Slytherin snake…and then more magic piercing through him like a spear, and more pain…
Stop, for the love of God, stop, stop, stop…
“Stop it, leave him alone!” Lily’s voice in his head, in the days when she used to defend him from her fellow Gryffindors…and then…
“Stop it, leave him alone!!”
It was another voice, a young man’s voice, seeming to manifest the words ramming through his mind. It was so familiar it hurt. But the tone was raised…in defense.
“Stop! You’re killing him!! What are you doing here?! Have you all gone mad?!”
He heard the song of wand against wands, and the flight of footsteps. And the striking song was stopped.
Snape growled like an injured dog when Harry touched him, lying in a pain-wracked position on the ground. “You,” he spat, and a trickle of blood and saliva ran out of his mouth. “Before every test…you torture me…curse you…all of you!” He clenched his fist, and Harry saw that the center of his hand down to his wrist was lanced and bleeding, deep black. He assumed they had struck it with their wands, lest his good hand might still have some magic left to wield. All they had wanted was his blood to whet their thirst…branding them with the darkness they claimed to hate so very much…
“Snape, it’s not…James!” he blurted, clutching the man’s collar hard. “It’s Harry…”
The hate on Snape’s face started to fade slowly, replaced by pure and simple hurt. “Did…did you…send them?” he queried weakly, and Harry heard in his voice an emotional vulnerability that gave him a glimpse into what he was beneath that hard, protective shell. He was afraid that the boy had been leading him on for this moment of vengeance, and that the past two weeks had been nothing more than a petty show to lure him into a false sense of security – or even, perhaps, some small semblance of affection – so that it would hurt all the worse when the ax fell.
“Of course not!” Harry shot back, wounded by the accusation. “What sort of monster do you think I am? I would never let them come here to hurt you like that!”
The prostrate man swallowed. “They’ll…come back…”
“Then they’ll have to get past me first. I won’t let them hurt you again…I won’t.”
“And…my books?” He shivered. “They’re…good books…just because they were mine, they…they still are…good books…very good books…” He shut his eyes. “I don’t want them to…get burnt up…”
“No one is going to burn your books,” Harry assured. “I swear it.”
Snape gazed upwards strangely, half there, and half somewhere else. “If you had…any sense…you’d get out…” His voice drifted. He wasn’t saying it with his usual cutting edge, but merely stating a fact, extending an option.
“Since when have you attributed any sense to me?” Harry challenged, starting to unbutton the man’s collar to make it easier for him to breathe. “I’m afraid you’re just going to have to be stuck with me, like it or not.”
“Stuck…together,” he mumbled, with a touch of dark humor. “The story…of our lives, hmm?”
“Afraid so,” the boy agreed, wiping the blood off his mouth with the edge of his cloak. “I’m forced to admit you seem to have become…a part of my world.”
Snape snorted. “Sounds like…the theme of some…awful muggle movie…”
“Yeah,” Harry had to agree, “that girls in first year go crazy about.”
To his surprise, they both simultaneously chuckled for a moment. How bizarre was this—that his sense of dry irony was still working, and giving them both a moment of comradery, even now, amidst this death-drenched horror?
“So here we are…the hero and the…coward…eh?” Snape raised an eyebrow.
Harry closed his eyes. “It’s painful to say this, believe me, but I think…you may be one of the bravest men I’ve ever known.”
He knew from the look on Snape’s face that his words had hit the mark, but of course his stubborn teacher still wouldn’t admit to it. “Please, don’t get…sentimental…and name one of your…brats after me…or something…” He rolled his eyes. “A small version of you…with my name…would be…beyond the fringe…”
“Okay, fine, no first names,” Harry vowed. “But no promises on middle names.”
Snape jerked his hand up a little. “Sh…shake on that much then…”
He squeezed the man’s injured hand tight, feeling the way it was shaking, and suddenly wanting very much for his teacher to think of him…as a man…the man who had grown from boyhood, and still lived, thanks to him. In spite of the pain it might cause, he knew…he knew that was what Snape wanted in this moment.
A look of some realization dawned on the professor’s face, then sorrow, then longing. Then slowly, hesitatingly, he started to lift his hand towards the young man’s face. Seeing his struggle to reach all the way, Harry guided it to his cheek, even though he knew it would be smeared with the man’s poisoned blood.
Snape moved his fingers along the boy’s features, imagining that face he had watched grow up, imagining what sort of man he was becoming. He may no longer be able to see those eyes Lily had promised would always be there for him, but he could touch. His hand may have no magic left, but it was human, human at long last, and it now replaced the failed power of his eyes. He could still feel, before all feeling ended…
He touched the edge of Harry’s glasses, crooked after his tussle with the mob, and made an effort to straighten them. “Can’t have that, can we?” he whispered, a slight smirk playing on his lips. It would be his last joke, pathetic in its effort to maintain a stiff upper lip that Harry was fast losing the ability to maintain.
Then he dropped his hand to his side with a thud. His face darkened and he turned away, his mind drifting, meshing together past, present, and the abyss of the future.
“I’ll never…see her again…oh…God, I can’t…” He clenched his injured hand into a fist, then twitched, and tried to stuff it under his cloak, one last time. “Can’t…see through…too dark…can’t…”
“Snape, stop it, stop…” Harry felt a lump rise in his throat as he shook the dying man to make him stop. It was gut-wrenching to recognize the fear of eternal aloneness, that excommunication from life itself that tormented this broken being he had considered an enemy for far too long.
Snape’s breath hitched, and he shuddered. He knew now, their little game was over. The end had truly come, and his body was rejecting him. He was sinking, and sinking fast. His sightless eyes were still in the direction of the boy, and for a moment, they seemed to see something beyond shapes and colors. “Harry…” he rasped, then contorted from a spasm, pain shooting through his neck.
Harry grimaced at the sound of his name in his ears, carrying with it some sense of pleading, a pleading for that missing key to unlock the door of darkness. It gave him chills, like death was scratching at the door of his own heart. He did not have all the answers; all he had was himself. So following a sudden, strong impulse, he leaned forward and wrapped his arms around the man’s back, feeling how thin he was, how weak he was, and how his breathing fluttered like the dying autumn wind. He had to know someone was there in the dark with him, who would not cast him out but suffer it through with him, that was all…
At first Snape stiffened, shocked by the gesture of compassion that stayed off the chill of death. Then slowly, uncertainly, Harry felt his proud, severe teacher’s arm wrapping around his shoulder and pulling him tight in an embrace. “Boy…you damn fool boy…” His voice was broken, shivering. “You…could have been…my own…”
Tears misted over in Harry’s glasses. And they both found themselves crying together, all alone, on what felt like the edge of the world. He was holding Harry now like he had held his dead mother so many years before, and Harry felt the love, long-concealed in the tortured caverns of a tortured sold soul, burst forth and burn through his bones. He felt so silly, like a little boy who had hurt himself, allowing himself to be comforted by Snape’s hand moving to the back of his head and running along his hair. He imagined that was what a father’s touch would feel like. Did the end have to come now?
“Remember…” Snape tried, and failed to let words lace through his sobbing. He clutched the boy tighter, and whispered in his ear, “Remember…me…”
Harry buried his face deeper in his cloak, wishing to hide himself from this moment. “Always,” he assured, his voice crackling like a dying fire. And he felt Snape’s bloody hand squeeze his shoulder, then rub it softly. Touch, touch…that’s all he wanted in the end…to touch, and be touched…to let his senses sing through it…
It was a hard thing, the very hardest thing he had ever had to do, clinging tight to his old teacher and letting him do the same, feeling every moment of his excruciating suffocation. It was horrible, the way Snape’s succumbing to tears had also drained him, and made his lungs rapidly give way. But still, it seemed…he was fighting it, fighting for whatever small, shallow breaths he could manage to take, fighting for the breath of life that Harry knew would come no more. He was dying…yet he did not want to die. He was only human, after all.
“Let go, Snape, let it go,” Harry pleaded. “You’re torturing yourself…don’t fight it, let go…”
Snape looked confused, and awkwardly unhooked his arm from Harry, seeming to think that is what he was being told to do by the injunction to “let go.” Then he looked…hurt, abashed, even in the midst of his agony, as if he had finally opened up, and now was too far gone to protect himself in his final moments from the sting of what might be yet another rejection. Stripped of all his cynicism, there was nothing left but need. Had he returned to being that little boy he once was, sensitive and shy, with innocent eyes and a bruised body, unable to speak his feelings, afraid to use a handkerchief, afraid to touch, lest it cause pain, lest he be left behind, shunted aside…like a bad influence…like a contagious disease?
“That’s…not what I meant, you fool!” Harry blurted, shaken to the core that Snape would think him capable of such cruelty. He regretted his outburst almost as soon as it was uttered, seeing that Snape was beyond the point of any verbal response. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean…” He swallowed hard, realizing that this man needed him to walk him through it, and help get him through it. Was it really up to him to teach his teacher how to die? “Here…” He grabbed his hand and placed it against his arm, not at all dissuaded by the way his sleeve slipped down, making his cursed death-eater’s dark mark visible. “Squeeze it…squeeze hard…but don’t…try to breathe…don’t force yourself to breathe.”
Harry felt a last exertion of strength in that hand gripping his arm as Snape shakily exhaled. It hurt…it hurt to the bone.
“That’s it…just…let it go…” Harry choked, unable to control the emotional heaving of his own breath. “It’s almost over…I promise, it is…” He couldn’t bear to see this sort of pain keep going on and on and on…he would rather take it into his own self…
Snape had indeed stopped trying to inhale, and while Harry sensed he had resigned himself at last, he also sensed a paralyzing fear, as deep and dark as his blood. A last tear ran down the man’s face, and Harry felt the sudden urge to plead for mercy.
Oh, mother, please, take him…for the love of his love for you, take him…and give me the words…to set him free…to tell him…where he belongs…
“Snape…Severus Snape,” Harry whispered through gritted teeth. “There’s no cause…to be afraid of what’s coming. You’re not sold…and you’re not…lost. You’re not. I’m Lily’s son, and I’m telling you, you’re not. All that’s done’s forgiven.” He ran his other hand along Snape’s arm – yes, even along his exposed dark mark – so he would feel him there to the end. “Snape,” he rasped. “Can you hear what I’m saying to you?”
He saw the man swallow with difficulty, and one last time, he squeezed Harry’s arm. Then he closed his eyes to the world that had brought him so much pain and his heartbeat softened, then stilled. Oh, the perversity of it…that he should sleep with his eyes open, and die with them closed…oh, the paradox of Severus Snape…
Harry bit back a sob as he slowly pried his teacher’s bloody hand off his arm, clasped like a vise-grip in death, and slowly pulled down the sleeve, shrouding the mark not so much to hide it as to lay it to rest. Then he struggled to his feet and stepped back from the body, feeling lightheaded and frozen numb.
But when he turned around, all his feeling came rushing back with the heat of his blood. At the door there stood Professor McGonnagall and a crowd of both teachers and students, including the dead man’s murderous tormentors, staring at him in shock, mostly with mouths agape. Something inside Harry finally snapped.
“What, have you all come to see the show?!” he screamed, scanning the stunned faces as if in a haze. “Well, it’s all over! Break it up!”
With that, he charged for the door, pushed past the crowd, and staggered off into the night.
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.