The pain was maddening, a partner in crime of the thing that had eaten away at his soul for the past sixteen years. So long.... His knees weakened beneath him as he crashed to the ground, the rotten floorboards bending beneath his weight. But they did not break. He lay there, listening to the last words of the being he hated more than anyone who had ever existed – even his father, even James Potter, even Sirius Black, even the Death Eaters.... even himself. The words meant nothing, not in relation to the pain of his life-force flowing from the gash in his throat. It was the blood that had pumped through the heart that had bled for Her.
He could not remember the last time he had said her name aloud. It had not been to Dumbledore, all those times they had been closeted together. No, it must have been when he had last spoken to Her, that night on the hilltop. She would not listen to him, but he had seen her and heard her voice, and that was enough. He had been assured of her life, of her existence in the same world as him. He had come to expect little more than that.
“You shouldn’t be here, Sev. If the others see you....”
“I don’t care about them, Lily. I only came for you.”
She had shaken her head, the evening sun reflecting off her hair.
“You’re mad, Severus.”
He had wanted to go to her, show her that he was worth her trouble, but she had turned away from him.
His hand had grabbed her arm, relishing the feel of her skin against his palm.
“Let go of me!”
“I have to tell you... please.... look at me.” His voice was almost lost against the wind.
Her eyes met his and it seemed that everything inside of him had melted away. He never would have referred to them as “emerald” – that was the chosen word of certain other people – rather they were like the green of Slytherin house, the colour of the serpent. As though hypnotised by a great snake, he stared into her eyes, unable to look away.
“None of you must speak the Dark Lord’s name aloud.”
She pulled her arm away, eyes furious. “Well excuse me if some people don’t have the same reverence for him that you do.”
Why couldn’t she understand him? “No! There’s a curse on the name. Whenever someone speaks it, he knows... and he can find you....”
One of her hands rose to her mouth. Shock was written across her face. “Oh no....”
He stepped forward and took her hands in his, nerves tingling at being so close to her.
“Please, be careful. Whatever you do, don’t get hurt.” His voice shook as he spoke.
She had looked up at him, a faint blush on her cheeks. Perhaps... perhaps.... Tears fell freely from her eyes, and he would have sworn that wild lilies would grow on the ground where each tear had fallen. One tear fell on his hand and the life within it – Her life – gave him strength.
“Of course, Sev. I will.”
He had watched her leave, the sun in his eyes as her lone shadow floated across the ground. What he would have given to walk beside her, just one more time.
There was no point in asking himself whether or not she ever loved him in return. He knew the truth, deep within the remnants of his soul, and had known it since.... since the moment he had called her a... a... he would not even think that word. Not now, not while there was so much else to think of before his death. So much of Her.
His eyes closed as he held his hands over the wound in his neck, and tried to picture her face, her hair, her eyes, her whole self. The years of longing had perfected her image, removing the little blemishes and making her into a goddess. It separated her from her hateful son, who carried his father’s image, but held his mother’s heart. And the Potter boy hated him almost more than the Dark Lord himself.
Those eyes.... He could not forget the first time he had seen them, in the Great Hall. Her eyes staring out the face of James Potter. It was hideous, a genetic disaster, it repulsed him. Hatred for the boy had taken root within him, and he made no secret of it. It had kept his secret hidden from all except the Headmaster, but that did not matter. He would not have been able to bear the knowledge that others thought him in love with Lily Evans, still after all those years.
All those years....
There was a sound from behind him, but paid it no heed. His breath was coming in half-hearted gasps. He was losing the will to live. He had lost it as soon as he had known of her death, known of the Dark Lord’s broken promise, known of the moment her life had stopped making the world a place worth enduring.
Someone was in the room with him, staring down at him, probably gloating over his weak and dying form. From beneath his heavy eyelids, he could see the Potter boy. Oh yes, the boy would be gloating, just like his pig of a father. But those eyes.... It was... no, it was not Her, just the boy. His mind was slipping. He must not forget.
His fingers crept towards the pocket of his robes, brushing against cool glass. He had prepared it for this moment, for the moment when the boy had to know the truth, had to know that beneath the black, inky darkness lay only light. A good man. She had called him that, once.
Potter called out something and knelt beside him. He reached as though to stop the bleeding. The boy still retained some of his father’s stupidity – he should have seen that there was no hope left, that Death was in the room, watching, waiting.
His fingers closed over the glass and pressed it into Potter’s shaking hand. The long fingers that had once measured ingredients and flipped the delicate pages of open books – the fingers that had long dreamed of feeling the strands of Her hair between them – were unable to bend, unable to move. He felt the life drain from them as it drained from the rest of his body. His mouth mumbled words, but he could not be sure if Potter would understand them. Not much time left.
“Sev, what happens to us when we die? Is it different because we’re... you know, magical?”
They had sat on the curb in front of his house, throwing stones across the empty street. It had been another of those endless summers spent with Her, away from the popularity contest of school, away from the bullying Marauders, away from the world that constantly rejected him.
“Wizarding people don’t think of such things, really,” he had said with a shrug, tossing another stone from his hand. “There’s no religion or anything like that.”
“Oh.” Her tossed stone had surpassed his by a few feet. “So there’s just emptiness? It seems so... so... awful.”
He had thought of his father’s death and looked away. “Yeah, well, that’s why alchemists kept looking for ways to become immortal. Like the Flamels.” He had been prattling on while she had seemed to be getting more and more upset, and he hadn’t noticed until he saw her wipe her eyes on her sleeve.
“I don’t want to die alone,” she had said through her sniffles. “Then at least I’d have something to keep with me in the emptiness.”
And she had died with her arms around her child, the same child who now knelt beside him. She had not died alone, and neither would he. Their deaths would be forever connected by the presence of the boy, the boy that Snape wished with every fragment of his being had been his.
Yes, this was the death he wanted. Not being alone as he had often feared, but with Her eyes gazing down at him, so filled with worry and pain. His own pain was not so bad now. It was fading, fading away into the darkness he could see on the edges of his vision. It would not be long.
The boy was looking away. He could not allow that. He needed to see Her one last time, see Her looking down at him, imagine that there was love in Her eyes, the same love that had gazed up at James Potter on their wedding day, the day that Snape had hidden in the trees, in the graveyard, watching Her marry his greatest rival, his worst enemy. It should have been him there in Potter’s place, smiling with pride at the woman he had loved for almost all his life and who had, at last, loved him in return. Just one last look and it would all be true. A dream that he could live in as the emptiness swallowed him without a second chance.
“Look... at... me....”
His voice was no more than a whisper in the night, a noise to be stolen away in the draughts of the old house, but the boy heard him and looked.
And that was enough.