For this story I would like to give a shout-out of special thanks to .MomentoMori for the fabulous banner, and nikkinike for issuing the Challenge Me Challenge and, coincidentally, awarding me first place. I challenged myself with writing in the third person and using major characters.
As usual, I own little to nothing.
Harry Potter was not afraid to die.
His entire life had been a struggle against death; as only a baby he had been the only known person to survive the killing curse, had since lost many of the people most dear to him, and throughout his trying journey had seen every conceivable boundary between life and death crossed.
Now he was content to die, at peace at last.
Harry had in fact been prepared to die many years earlier. He had accepted his fate and walked to what he knew to be certain death. He had been there and returned, given the chance to live out his life to its fullest. Now, at long last, he was prepared to make his final voyage once and for all.
He was surrounded by all of the people he loved. His wife held his hand, keeping her tears back in determination to stay strong for the others. His children stood silently by, each battling their own struggle for acceptance.
His children – his beautiful children… He was so proud of them all. Of course, not a one of them had turned out as he would have expected or even hoped. But he couldn’t bring himself to love them any less. Here they all stood, grown and raising their own families, ready to see their father off.
Harry knew he would be missed, but he could only hope that they would be able to go on without him. He knew from experience just how hard this could be, but fought to reassure himself for their sakes as he lay on his deathbed, bracing himself for the journey he must now take without them.
There was so much that he wanted to tell them, but he could now hardly find the strength to speak. He was fading fast and he knew it, but he had to at least say one last goodbye, tell them he loved them one more time…
But even Harry Potter could not battle death as it wrapped its cold arms around him, dragging him victoriously down to the shadowy depths at last after so many years of pursuit.
Still, he struggled. The room was silent and the pale faces of the others looked as pale as the death he was experiencing. He felt Ginny’s grip on his hand tighten, and her loving eyes were the last thing that he saw before he felt himself consumed by the cold fog.
It was not at all like before, when death had been instant. Now, having wavered on the very brink of life and death for so long, Harry didn’t know where he was now. He was certain that he was just barely clinging to life, and yet this felt so much like death…
Surrendering, Harry closed his eyes and let it wash over him. He couldn’t fight anymore – he would wake when it was over.
His mind was empty in peace, but as he lay there he became increasingly conscious of the strange sensations of the in-between place that felt gently familiar after so many years.
He was no longer lying in a warm bed, but on something flat and solid. His senses were dulled to his surroundings. He knew that his environment was substantial enough, and yet it was also consumed with that vague sense of nothingness. Most significant of all, the unyielding and loving grasp of his wife had left his hand. That could only mean one thing: he had gone.
Finally, Harry forced himself to open his eyes.
With this acceptance of consciousness he became aware of just how alive he felt. Or, at least, awake. The tiring sensation of dying had left him completely, and he was free to lift himself up onto his no longer aching limbs and steady himself with a clear mind.
This time around Harry was much less curious about his strange surroundings. He knew where he was and what he had to do. Even as he thought it, he could see the hazy mist taking the form of the familiar and yet hauntingly empty Kings Cross Station. Almost without thinking, he took several strides towards where a set of robes lay neatly folded and pulled them over his nude body.
It almost felt rehearsed, as Harry had actually played out this moment many times in his mind. He had known that one day he would return to this mysterious place one last time, and he was well prepared for it. It struck him that he must have been one of the only people ever to go through this experience twice.
It was all so familiar – the robes, the mist, the station… The only thing that was missing was Dumbledore.
And then, almost the moment that he thought it, he caught a glimpse of a dark figure slowly approaching through the clearing mist.
Could it really be Dumbledore? Harry could hardly believe it. It had been so many years since he had laid eyes on his esteemed headmaster, but he had not forgotten him for a moment. Dumbledore had been the greatest guide Harry had ever had, and he couldn’t forget all that he had done for him. Yes, the good and the bad.
As the man grew neared Harry felt himself becoming excited. It was just like being reverted back to his school days. As calm as he may feel, nobody could make him feel at ease like Dumbledore.
But no, he realized, this man couldn’t be Dumbledore. As he came into view Harry realized that the man walked with a very different spring in his step, almost stalking. His movements seemed hesitant as well, a characteristic that his great teacher had never possessed.
And then, just as Harry was about to give up, he identified the dark greasy hair, the hooked nose, the dark averted eyes. He’d be lying to say that he wasn’t startled, and he had to make a great effort to compose himself as Severus Snape came to even ground with him.
The two stood there, not quite looking at each other. It was uncomfortable to say the least, but Harry couldn’t help but suspect that they were each secretly glad that the other was there.
He wanted to say something. This silence was intolerable and he felt that he owed so much to his old teacher. He had hated Snape for so many years until it had all come tumbling down as he had discovered the truth. After that he had appreciated Snape in an entirely new way. He had risked so much for Harry, who knew that he would never have made it this far if not for his once most hated of adversaries.
But how could he say any of this?
At long last, it was Severus who spoke. “I’m sorry,” he said quietly.
Harry looked up in surprise, uncertain what to make of this. After all that he had done, what could Snape have to be sorry about?
“I’m sorry for what you had to go through,” the man said, still not looking directly at Harry. “They should never have asked so much of you. You shouldn’t have had to do those things.”
Harry suspected that this must be incredibly hard for him to say. As much as he respected Snape, he had also hated him. And he knew that he had felt the same way.
“We all had to go through a lot that we shouldn’t have,” Harry said in a mellow voice.
Snape nodded crisply and looked away in relief, as if having gotten something very heavy off of his chest.
Harry felt the awkwardness of the situation weighing down on him. He recalled the last time, when he had seen Dumbledore here and they had been able to talk in comfort and familiarity. As he thought it his eyes fell upon a nearby bench, which he absentmindedly walked towards and sat down. Snape followed silently slightly behind him.
Finally, Harry asked the question that he has wished he had asked Dumbledore, “How are you here?”
Snape did not answer at first. Harry wondered if he would answer at all. Were these more of the mysteries of life and death that he was to experience but never truly understand?
But then Snape did speak. “When we die...” he said slowly, “We are given the chance to linger behind.”
“Like a ghost?” Harry asked.
“Not necessarily,” he answered. “A ghost stays behind indefinitely, unwilling to go on. When I am talking about is more of a – waiting.”
“Waiting for what?” Harry demanded impatiently.
Again, Snape considered silently. When he spoke it was in a very measured voice, “None of us can do it alone, Harry.” He said, “Life becomes nothing but a man’s struggle against death, and in the end he has to give in. But he cannot do it alone.”
Harry did not understand. Snape seemed to see this in his face and tried to explain further, “We need the help of others – the ones who have already left and will help us along.”
“Dumbledore.” Harry said suddenly, “Last time I was here – Dumbledore was waiting for me.”
The corner of Snape’s mouth twisted slightly, “Yes, Dumbledore would wait for you,” he said sardonically. Harry was slightly taken aback but his tone, but understood well enough after all that the “great man” had put them both through. After all of these years Harry did not blame him for any of it, but at times could not hold back a little resentment of his own.
“Dumbledore told me,” Harry struggled, “that this was all happening inside my head.”
“In a manner of speaking, yes,” Snape responded, “But it is also beyond your head. Your head, after all, has been left behind.”
The thought had a chilling enough effect on Harry. The body he was in now felt real enough, but he knew that his true body lay lifeless and cold behind like so many others had before him.
“So,” he said, trying to divert his attention from these disturbing thoughts and wrap his mind around his current situation, “everybody has someone who has already died help them on?”
“Not everyone,” Snape said in as low voice. “Some people must do it alone. And some people are unable, and so they wait.”
Harry stared in silence. He didn’t know what he could say. That Snape had chosen to wait behind for all of these years and help him move on… it was just another one of the things that he would never be able to fully understand or repay Snape for.
But as he sat in silence he saw that Snape was troubled, that he had more to say. But again, he didn’t know what he could do but wait. Snape wasn’t exactly the kind of man who you could sit down to tea with and ask how he was feeling.
Finally, he spoke, now in a more detached voice than ever. “You once called me a coward.”
A chilling lump came to Harry’s throat with these words. “Oh no,” He objected, “I didn’t mean…” Well, of course he had meant it. He had hated Snape with an unrivaled passion, after all. “Well, now I know you’re not. I mean, after everything you did – ”
Snape shook his head gravely, “It hardly matters what I did. That was far too long ago. All that matters now is what I cannot do.”
“You…?” Harry began, wondering what Snape could possibly not do after all he had been through.
“I’ve been alone all of my life, Harry,” he said, staring deeply into the floor beneath their feet. “I just hoped I wouldn’t be alone here.”
The silence that ensued was as dead as they were, but at last Harry understood.
“Lily?” he asked in a faint voice.
Snape nodded his head jerkily. Harry knew better than to think that Snape could be crying, but he saw the tense emotion in his strained face and Harry almost felt that it was indecent to look at him like this.
“I understand,” he said, almost questioning whether it was in his place to speak. “I would have… I would have wanted her to be here for me as well.”
They had both loved Lily Potter so much, and yet she could not be there for either of them – in life or in death. She had moved on without two of the men who had loved her the most. But they couldn’t blame her for it and they couldn’t love her any less.
All they had now was each other.
“So,” Harry said, attempting to keep his voice even, “You’ve stayed to help me on?”
Again, Snape shook his head gravely, “Don’t you see, Harry?” he asked. “I am a coward. I couldn’t do it alone. I’ve waited all of these years and nothing has changed. I told myself that I was staying to help you one last time. But now I see that wasn’t it at all. You don’t need my help, Harry… I need yours.”
Harry sat there in silence, trying to take it all in. Snape needed him? The man he had hated so much for all of those years, the man who had despised him in turn and yet sacrificed so much for him needed him?
“Well then,” Harry sad at last, his voice surprisingly hoarse. “I suppose we ought to be going, hadn’t we?”
Now Snape was the one to be surprised, “Now?” He asked, “Just like that?’
Harry smiled as he stood up, “I imagine you’ve been waiting around long enough. It’s time to go on.”
“But… are you sure?” He asked, “You do have your family to think about, after all.”
Harry considered. Yes, his family. He loved them all so dearly, and yet they felt a million miles away. He thought of how much he had wished his mother could have been here for him. What if the next to go was his wife, or his children, or his friends? Could he really leave them alone?
His eyes fell on the man who sat beside him, left alone for so long and unable to move on. This was not a fate he wanted for anyone, least of all his family. And yet…
He shook his head in resolution. “No,” he said firmly, “They have each other. I am needed here.”
Snape looked both apologetic and, Harry suspected, immortally grateful.
“You’re a great man,” Snape said painfully. “You really are… and I always hated you for it.”
Harry laughed a little. “It’s okay,” he said, “I always hated you too.”
Snape nodded in assent, unable to keep himself from smiling slightly as well.
“Though I’ve never been thankful for anything like those insufferable eyes of yours.”
Harry knew that they were both thinking, not of all the times his stark likeness to his parents haunted Snape, but of his own dieing moments which Harry had witnessed so poignantly.
“And for the record,” he said, “You look less like James than ever.” Harry thought this must bring him some comfort, but his next words were heavily laden with guilt, “I suppose he just never got the chance to live that long.”
Harry shook his head, “It’s not your fault. What happened, happened. We just have to live with it.”
“Or die with it,” Snape pointed out.
“Yes, I suppose so…”
Their peaceful silence was momentarily interrupted with the sudden whistling of the train. Harry could have sworn that there was nobody else in the station, and yet it looked like the train was preparing to leave.
“Well, that’s our ride,” he said uneasily.
They both knew what had to be done, but now that they were here it wasn’t so easy. Just step onto a train and let it take you away to… to what? That was the great puzzle.
They were walking, step by step, and they were there. All that was left was to take that step onboard.
Harry understood at last why Snape had been unable to do it alone. It is one thing to accept the coming of the unknown, but quite another to step willingly into it. He wondered vaguely what he would do if he had been alone. Would he have the strength to go on? Or would he wait, unable to do it on his own? Even now he was unsure if he was could handle it.
But no, he had to. He was not doing this for himself, he was doing it for Snape – the man who had done so much for him and now relied on him.
For one last time the green eyes found the black, both full of the uncertainty they were about to embark into. And then, together, they stepped onto the train.
Harry stood there, looking back over the place he was about to leave. He knew it was no more real than the body he inhabited, but it was all that he had left. The mistily gleaming floors, the hauntingly empty benches, the pristine arched ceiling… and then, just as the train around them began to move, the distant chime of an empty clock.