His final moments were a mess. A warm, sticky, crimson mess. It wasn’t a noble death. There were no pithy one-liners, no winks to the crowd, no blaze of glory. No announcement of defection, no enjoying the horror of betrayal upon the face of his enemy, no relishing the expressions of all those he’d hoodwinked.
Instead, it was a haze of pain and screaming and loneliness. His arteries pumped furiously, but like so much in his life, his efforts only made things worse. He could do nothing but flail in agony as his precious blood spewed from the deep lacerations in his neck and onto the dirty floor below.
As his strength ebbed away, he suddenly sensed someone standing over him, and it took all of his remaining energy to force his eyes open. He didn’t know what he’d expected to see – a reprieve, with the Dark Lord returned? A friend come to save him, perhaps? Unlikely; he’d had few to start with, and even fewer following Albus’ death. Maybe Albus was the answer – maybe he’d see a blackened hand extended from beyond? And if he did – bearing in mind what he knew now – would he even take it?
It was none of the above.
Instead, he saw those green eyes. His eyes. Her eyes…
And so, it was at age 38 and 3 and a half months, that Severus Snape finally knew no more.
Severus Snape – aged 15 years and 11 and a half months – lay back on Lily Evans’ narrow bed, rested his hands behind his head and grinned.
There was no denying that he’d earned this.
He’d been beaten and bloodied, teased and tortured, spurned and scorned. His old friends had learnt to fear him, to despise him. They’d plotted his downfall, and duelled against him, and yet his equals had not managed to knock him from his perch.
He’d publicly revelled and delighted in Albus’ murder, whilst privately, the growing tightness in his chest had almost finished him long before he’d crossed paths with that blasted snake. He’d spied, and he’d lied, and as a consequence, it was of no surprise to him when he finally died. Granted, he hadn’t expected to have his throat ripped out by Nagini, but the fact that it had been the Dark Lord to issue the direct command barely caused him to raise an eyebrow.
It was a little hazy after that. He vaguely remembered Potter, and two contrasting emotions battling for supremacy; relief that it was all over and his mission was done, and bitter disappointment that this was how it all ended. Frustration that he’d never get to be a different man, never have the chance to live out his days in the changed world that he’d helped to bring about.
And then – for magic can be a difficult, awkward, funny little thing – he’d found himself back in Cokeworth. At Christmas. In 1975.
It had started so well.
He’d tidied his room, and breezed through his homework. He’d wrinkled his nose as he’d pulled his dirty school clothes from his bag, where he must’ve left them on arriving home at the start of the holiday, and put them in the wash. He made his parents a cuppa, then swept the yard, and even popped up the road in the rain to get Mrs Jones her paper and cigarettes from the shop. After tea, when he stood and started to wash up, Tobias finally snorted. “Right. I’ve ‘ad enough. What y’er after?”
Tobias shook his head and picked up the newspaper, turning it to the sports pages. “Excuse me? Bloody hell, ‘Leen, one week at that posh family’s place and he’s full of it. Look at ‘im! Washing up! How long’s this gonna last for, eh lad?”
“All right, Toby,” Eileen hissed, taking the clean plate from Severus, noting his scowl. “Just be grateful he’s trying to help.”
“Tryin’ t‘elp,” Tobias mocked. Y’ain’t gettin’ owt, lad. I’m tellin’ yer now.”
Severus blanked him out, letting his well-practised Occlumency shields surround his brain. He’d forgotten how belligerent his father could be, and lost in his own thoughts, he almost missed the loud scrape of the kitchen chair as Tobias made his exit.
“Thank you, son,” Eileen said, as he pulled the plug from the sink and dried his hands. “You’ve been a good lad today.” She gave him a tight smile. “Those Malfoys didn’t have you doing all this, did they?”
“No. Course not. They’ve got an army of elves.”
She brushed a lank hair from his cheek and pushed it behind his ear. “Good. Because you’re as worthy as any Malfoy,” she said. “You remember that.”
He could feel his ears turning pink. “Yeah, all right. I’m going to Lil’s.”
“No staying over. And you behave yourself.”
“I always do!”
Lily gave him a funny look. “Honestly, you’ve spent a week with Malfoy, and now you’ve got a plum in your mouth.”
“I’ve not…” He rubbed at his ears, and blushed. His dad was right to pick him up on it earlier; he’d forgotten his early twang of an accent, and how he didn’t fully rid himself of it until seventh year. He grimaced – after spending two decades using received pronunciation, dropping back into his Cokeworth accent would sound more put on than not.
“You have! You sound proper la-di-da. Definitely Malfoy.”
“It’s not Malfoy!”
Of course, back in the day it had been.
“And he’s not right about everything,” Severus ventured, feeling a bit braver. “It was my dad, actually.”
Lily’s eyes widened. “Your dad? You’re telling me that you’ve done something your dad wants you to do?”
Severus shrugged. “He said that if I was going to aim high in the world, I shouldn’t be talking like I came out of the local secondary school.” He gave a wicked grin. “Not like your sister, eh?”
“Sev!” Lily admonished, but she smiled back. “Are you seeing eye to eye with him now then?”
Severus nodded cautiously. It wasn’t quite a lie – after all, he stood just as tall as Tobias these days.
“Good,” she grinned, sitting back on the bed and pulling him down to sit next to her. “I think your dad’s a better man than Lucius Malfoy.”
He leant back against the headboard, and pulled his knees up to his chest. “Yeah. Me too.”
There was a moment of silence as Lily chose a record. They both listened to the low hiss as it revolved on the player before the song erupted, and then Lily turned back to him. “Didn’t you have a good time?”
“Oh.” He paused, trying to keep his face neutral. He could remember it well. He’d had an amazing time at Lucius’ family manor that Christmas, and it was one of many the reasons he’d been seduced by the Death Eaters. “No.”
“Did they treat you badly?”
Her look of concern made him feel a white heat of rage in his chest. “I’m not an abused house elf,” he snapped. “I can look after myself.”
Her face fell, and she busied herself with the album sleeve. “Fine. I only asked.”
“No, Lil-” He placed his hand over one of hers. “I’m sorry. It’s just… Lucius isn’t who I thought he was.”
“You mean he’s not a rich, smug, Muggle hating Death Eater?”
“I’ve been an idiot,” Severus said, twisting his left ear, looking ashamed. “He is a rich, smug, Muggle hating Death Eater. And I don’t want to be that.” He looked up. “Well, I wouldn’t mind being rich…”
To his surprise, Lily laughed.
“I hate them, Lil.” The words came thick and fast now that he’d started. “I hate them. I went along with what they were saying because I live with them. Hardly anyone speaks to me at school as it is, so it’s easier if I get along with someone – even if it’s just Mulciber and Avery. I know they’re dunderheads. Trust me, I know.”
He didn’t think it was possible for her eyebrows to lift any higher. He took a deep breath and ploughed on.
“But you remember what I said to you when we were kids, right? It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter that your parents are Muggles.” He put his hand to his chest. “It’s the magic that flows through here that matters. And you wipe the floor with most of our year.” He grinned, awkwardly. “They hate that, y’know?”
“Oh, I know.”
They sat quietly with just the music from the record player breaking the silence. Eventually, she spoke. “Sev, what did they do?”
“When you were at Malfoy’s. What happened?” She looked at him critically. “Because two weeks ago, you were full of Mudblood this-”
He was wrong. Her eyebrows could reach higher.
He sat on the sofa whilst his parents watched Coronation Street. As soon as he’d seen the cat stretching in the opening credits, he’d picked up the nearest book – his favourite; a pristine copy of Deadly Draughts – and started to idly flick through.
Twelve minutes later, as the adverts rang out, he could sense Tobias staring at him. Cautiously, he raised his head.
“Not good enough fer yer? Not now yer’ve been yer fancy mate’s ‘ouse, eh?”
“Yer mam went all over t’get yer that.”
Severus was blindsided. “What are you on about? I love it. It’s my favourite.”
“It’s yer favourite,” his dad sneered. “Like ‘ell it is. I’ve been watchin’ yer. Yer just flickin’ through them pages like yer’ve read it ‘undred times already.”
Well, of course he was. He had read it a hundred times already. More like three hundred times. Although not in this lifetime, obviously. In this lifetime, this was the first time he’d read the book – and now, too late, he remembered. He remembered this night - lying on his bed upstairs, his head nestled between the pages. He remembered turning up the record player so he didn’t have to listen to the arguing, or what came after. He remembered.
“Ungrateful little shit, y’are!”
It happened quickly; the book was torn from his hands and thrown across the room. Before he could react, his father grabbed him by the neck, and forcibly picked him up, yelling in his face. His mum was screaming, and the theme tune was blaring, and his eye was bleeding. And then his dad turned, and backhanded Eileen, and Severus saw red.
He lunged for his father, and the two of them slammed each other against walls and doors, and finally, out into the freezing cold yard. He knew he was a sight, with blood running from the cut in his eye, but he hadn’t gone through the past two decades to put up with this. Not from him.
Tobias swung, and Severus ducked. He punched the air near Tobias’ head, but his dad easily blocked his fist and punched right back. Ducking and swinging, they pushed and pulled in the tight space, Eileen screaming at them from the back door, her comfy slippers looking out of place in amongst the violence. Severus silently rejoiced at how much lighter on his feet he was as a teenager as he weaved away from his father, but his age had its downsides; when his fist finally connected with his father’s face, he had no power behind it. He saw Tobias’ look of triumph, and as the older man’s blows rained down on his head, Severus instinctively shook his sleeve – and his wand slid into his hand.
He stood in his old school robes in the deserted Ministry atrium, flanked by Albus Dumbledore. “It’ll be Azkaban, won’t it, sir?”
“…I fear so, Severus.”
His eyelids fluttered, and he sagged. “I didn’t mea-”
“-the charges would be grave enough within the wizarding world,” Albus said, evenly, “but using such fierce magic against a Muggle in public brings a whole host of complications.”
“Hardly in public,” Severus argued, but then he caught Albus’ fierce expression. “Well. I suppose the neighbours saw.” Albus gave him a searching look. “And the paramedics. And the police. A few, I suppose.” Severus sighed. “Can’t they just snap my wand and send me to Muggle prison, sir?”
Albus looked at him sadly. “Your wand will be snapped, certainly, but I believe in your studies, you have shown a flair for wandless magic?”
“They think I’d escape? I’m fifteen!” He deliberately looked at the floor. “I can’t even Apparate.”
“Indeed. I would always have assumed that a boy your age could not Apparate,” Albus said, with a quirk of his eyebrow. “But then, I would always have assumed that a boy your age could not inflict the magical damage you bestowed upon your father.”
Thankfully, they were interrupted by the double doors from the chamber banging open, and a smirking Lucius Malfoy striding across the tiled floor in his grand dress robes. “Ah, thank you for waiting with him,” he said, his tone practically dismissing Dumbledore. He snapped his fingers in the direction of a nearby auror. “Off! Come on! You heard the verdict, get these chains off him immediately!”
“I’ll take my boy from here,” Lucius said, smiling as the stiff handcuffs were removed from Severus’ wrists. He reached into his gilded robes and pulled out Severus’ beloved wand, and pressed it into his hands. “Forget it all now, Severus.” He put a hand on the small of Severus’ back and steered him towards the exit as he sneered over his shoulder at Dumbledore. “Hogwarts is out of the question – you’ve been expelled, of course.”
Severus sank slightly, his elation curbed. “But my wand?”
“Your wand is fine. It’s merely Hogwarts which lacks understanding. I am certain we can arrange accommodations for you and your mother on the continent, and I intend to enrol you at Durmstrang.”
And just like that, he was back in the throes of the Death Eaters.
He woke up in his tiny childhood bed, saw the ice on the windows and he screamed into his pillow. This was the sixteenth time he’d woken up on the same blasted day, in bloody awful Cokeworth, with this terrible, ghastly, rotten life.
No matter what he did, no matter how many days, or weeks, or months it took, he always ended up back in the clutches of the Death Eaters.
It had all seemed so easy when he was an adult. He used to lie in his rooms at Hogwarts, and imagine the conversations he’d have with Lily, or his mother, or even his father. He’d concoct happy-ever-afters, where his dad would tell him he was proud of him, or his mam would read his school report with interest. Most of all, he’d imagine the days where he’d tell Lily he’d been a fool, and she’d been right all along, and then she’d leap into his arms, full of forgiveness.
But when it came to it, it never quite happened like that. He’d talk Lily around, and his parents would drag him down. He’d get his home life stable, and he’d be attacked by Potter and his gang at school. He’d put Potter in his place, and his Slytherin housemates would somehow coerce him into some reprehensible behaviour. He’d prosper over his Slytherin housemates, and Lily would’ve fallen out with him for something and nothing.
And there was that one time where it was all going perfectly – he’d aced his OWLs, and extricated himself from the Slytherins, and started to date Lily…
…and then during the summer holidays, a group of Death Eaters had taken his mother.
He didn’t need to be told what happened to her. He drank, and he shouted, and he threw things around his room, and then he sobbed himself into a fitful sleep. Eventually, he woke – three days after Christmas, back in 1975.
Fifteen failures. Sixteen, if you counted the first sorry effort at his life. At least none of these recent scenarios had lasted longer than a few months, although he was certain he wasn’t far off his fiftieth birthday by now – if time still worked in the same way. He wasn’t sure. He still felt fifteen. Awkward, lanky, gangly fifteen – with acne, and raging hormones, and no bloody idea of how to get out of this hell.
He couldn’t fathom why he was at this juncture. If he’d been five, maybe he’d have been able to forge a new path – but at fifteen, his decisions had already been made. He’d signed up to unwritten allegiances and alliances at school, had made enemies, and had pushed away teachers. His efforts to save his flailing friendship with Lily often worked, but he was left wondering what the ultimate outcome would be – he couldn’t convince the teachers of his change of heart, and he knew that he wouldn’t be welcomed into Dumbledore’s fledgling Order.
At best, he’d have his Muggleborn friend. Or girlfriend. Whichever scenario played out. And then what? They’d both be a target, and they’d have no support. He’d die, or she’d die, or their families would die.
He swung his legs over the side of the bed and put his head in his hands. Maybe this really was his very own purgatory.
He shook his head, and held his arms out. Lily stepped into his embrace, and he hugged her tightly. “We should’ve left Britain when we left Hogwarts.”
“And let him run us out of our country? I’d rather die.”
“Bloody Gryffindor.” He kissed the top of her head and gave a wry smile. “You might get your wish.”
“Don’t say that,” she said, softly. “There’s always hope.”
But when the Prophet was finally delivered, Severus knew that all hope had gone. The Ministry had fallen, and Hogwarts had been taken, and there, tucked away on page thirteen, was a tiny paragraph about the death of Frank and Alice Longbottom, and their infant son Neville.
Twenty times. The last few scenarios had taken years to play out. Back when he was a lonely teacher in his private quarters at Hogwarts, he’d have rejoiced at having years spent with Lily alive as an adult – let alone years married to her, but now it was becoming a drag.
These days, he was pretty much the perfect husband. He knew how she liked her toast, and her coffee, and he always remembered to put the bin out for collection. Still, despite having several trial runs, he still found a way to make the same stupid mistakes – although he was quick to apologise. He couldn’t help it – he’d always let a crass remark slip out about Petunia, or Lily would accuse him of not taking her fears seriously enough. He didn’t mean to; it was hard to be fearful when he knew that one night he’d go to sleep with his adult wife, and then he’d wake up aged 15 in Cokeworth and have to start all over again.
And despite all they’d shared and sacrificed, she wasn’t happy.
Neither was he.
How could they be, when a homicidal maniac was rampaging through their wizarding world? She didn’t want to give up her magic, and he didn’t want to give up her. He couldn’t become a Death Eater and fight from the inside without losing Lily on the way, but she couldn’t join the Order with suspicious Snivellus Snape in tow.
Worst of all was the icy feeling that Severus kept having that Harry James Potter really was destined to be the Boy Who Lived. He’d feared it for a while, but this latest stint, where Voldemort felled Neville with ease had made him certain.
So that night, he slid under the covers, kissed his wife goodnight, and actually prayed that he’d wake as a teenager in Cokeworth.
This time, he knew what to do.
He followed his path through life in exactly the same way. It broke his heart to lose Lily all over again, and the foul slur stuck in his throat on that fateful day – but he blurted it out, and he received James’ ire. He fought in the corridors, and he glared at Dumbledore, and he wrote to Lucius Malfoy on weekends.
He bared his arm before the Dark Lord, and was swallowed into the ranks. He studied, and duelled, and snuck, and spied – and eventually, he heard the prophecy. He repeated it, again the words sticking in his throat, and then he was rewarded for his valuable gift.
He counted the days until his discovery that Lily would be mown down in the attack, and then he begged the Dark Lord for his mercy. Once he’d recovered, he tightened the laces in his boots, and sent an owl to Dumbledore.
It was all the same. Spying, and lying, and sneaking, and whispering. It was slightly easier, for he knew what was coming next. The difficulty was not changing anything – not being easier on the boy, not being harsher on Quirrell, or Lockhart, or any of the other dunderheaded Defence Against the Dark Arts professors. He winced at his schoolboy errors, ranting and raving to Fudge, and his wand twitched in his fingers any time he saw that blasted Weasley rat.
As the years passed, the moments became more difficult. He found himself wondering, was letting Cedric die the only solution? Or even blasted Black? Still, he knew how this timeline turned out, and he didn’t want to go back to Cokeworth. Not again. So, despite every fibre of his being screaming otherwise, he stayed in bed when he knew Dumbledore was modelling that cursed ring, knowing that at any moment he would be summoned to the office, and stemming the flow of the dark magic was the best he could do.
He didn’t confide in Minerva. He didn’t clue in Pomfrey. He murdered Dumbledore, and saved Draco, and basked in the hatred of all those around him. This time, he could see it – the first time around, he’d been so preoccupied with keeping tabs on Potter, and trying to dampen the excesses of Longbottom’s bloody army, he’d not really appreciated just how out of favour with the Dark Lord he’d fallen.
It wasn’t that he’d annoyed him, or crossed him – just that he was entirely redundant. At best, he was keeping Hogwarts quiet, but at worst, Severus realised that he was growing into a real and tangible threat; a powerful, talented and intelligent wizard.
In the end, it all played out the same. He was summoned, and attacked, Potter grabbed his memories, and then it all faded to black.
He woke in his tiny childhood bed, and groaned. Twenty three years, and he’d still not got it right. What was the point in living through that hell again, if he was still going to end up back here?
After a long moment scowling into his pillow, he pulled the covers back, and pushed himself up. His arms ached, and his neck ached, and the sun streaming through the window hurt his eyes…
He suddenly realised that the bright sunlight meant that it wasn’t December. Quickly, he made his way to the window and yanked it up. Warm air flooded into the room, and Severus gripped the sill. Whatever he’d done, something had changed.
And then he heard excited chatter, and the roar of the fireplace from the living room, and a rush of footsteps on the stairs. The bedroom door flung open, and there stood a very tall, very cheerful, Ronald Weasley.
“Sleep well, professor?”
“Yes,” he said, hoarsely, his throat scratchy. He swallowed and rubbed at his neck, as Ron quickly summoned him a glass of water.
“That’ll smart for a bit, I think,” he said. “Mungo’s did their best – it definitely helped that you’d taken all of those anti-venin potions before you had the run in with that snake, but it’ll still take a while to heal.” He grinned. “Dad says you owe him a handshake, because you wouldn’t have brewed half of those potions if you hadn’t learnt about the snake’s venom from his own attack.”
“…and the Dark Lord? He is..?”
“Dead,” Ron confirmed, with a grin. “Dead, deader than dead, dead totally dead, utterly bloody well dead.”
“The opposite. Very much alive. In fact, it’s normally him here – or Hermione, obviously. They’ll be spitting that you’ve jumped back up on my watch. They’ve both gone to Draco’s trial.” He paused as he saw Severus processing the information. “They reckon he’ll get off, in case you were wondering.”
Severus sank heavily onto the bed. “And the year?”
“Blimey,” Ron said, his eyebrows raising. “You did have a good sleep. You weren’t out that long. 1998.” He gave Severus a long look before finally deciding to venture closer, clapping a hand on his old teacher’s thin shoulder. “I’ve called Pomfrey. She’ll be coming through the Floo any minute, so I’ll let you get yourself decent. I know she’ll be relieved to see you up and about.”
And with that, he was gone.
Severus sat, stunned. He was actually here. He ached, and he felt old – so old – but he was alive. And it wasn’t 19-bloody-75. Lily had married James, and they were both still dead, but against the odds, her boy had lived – twice!
His job was done. No more ghosts, no more obligations, no more tattoos, or vows.
He was finally free, and he couldn’t wait to live.