i must say good-bye, my pupil, for i cannot longer speak;
draw the curtain back for venus, ere my vision grows too weak:
it is strange the pearly planet should look red as fiery mars –
t’will mercifully guide me on my way amongst the stars.
Harry had gone calmly to his death, but here-- in the in-between space, where he could breathe -- he was having trouble remembering why. He had stood calmly for the curse, and now in the after, at the close, he hated himself for it. He should have fought; if he was to die, if he had to die as he did, he should have brought some of the other fuckers with him.
The anger was almost physical; in this hallucinatory space it was all he was sure of. Blood boiled beneath his skin, his bones hummed with magic, it leaked from his hands and his eyes, staining the bleach-white vaulting of King’s Cross with red and gold and rage--
-- Dumbledore, pale as the grave, as bone of the father, wavering before him, beseeching but the noise is indistinguishable from the buzzing in his brain--
-- and the station is on fire, and the glass of the arches is glowing and melting, and something was hidden here but it is burning up now, it is burning to death in the fire and screaming--
-- what a glorious sound, the scream sliding into the spit and venom of Parseltongue and that’s Voldemort, that’s the spirit of Tom Riddle, and he’s dying--
-- something else is dying here, something is dead, something black and silvery is visible through the space where the glass used to be, another spirit just like him--
-- the red of his mother’s hair, the green of her eyes, killing green like his, once again beseeching, but not to him, and the image is false and flickers--
-- whoever else is here is coming closer, and their anger is cold and dark where Harry’s is hot and bright, but they are just as angry--
-- we should have burned it while we had the chance, it says, I should have fought harder , my job isn't done, and Harry feels his magic red-hot, and calls it forth, and says is it ever done , and there's a great deal of noise, and there's a great deal of silence.
The silence of the grave was not silent. Something creaked, and trees whispered, and wind snaked its path through distant rafters. It was a comforting susurrus.
Severus felt lighter - the aches of war and of the last decade were lifted from him, and even sprawled prone on the floor as he was no joints protested. The beast’s bite troubled him no more, and even the lingering ache of nerve damage from the Dark Lord’s service as gone. The image of Lily, flickering and shining in the dark, had not convinced him of his death, but this lightness beyond the living was inimitable; more than that, it was pleasant. Here was an afterlife he could get behind; here was proof that maybe his wretchedness was not so wretched; that, perhaps, he had redeemed himself.
This delusion persisted until he opened his eyes.
This was the Shrieking Shack, and it was just as derelict as before; the dust and rot lay thick like it had never been disturbed by the invading Death Eaters. The sky, through the cracks in the boards, was not the pale glowing grey of the dawn that it had been as he lay dying, nor was it lit with spellfire as in the battle; it was midnight-black, the dead of night.
He was struck with a sudden fear that the dark was the only thing outside; that the only thing in this afterlife was the Shrieking Shack, and he was to be trapped right here for the rest of time. He scrambled to his feet, coughing in the clouds of thick dust he’d kicked up, and lurched to the window. The worm-riddled wood was the work of less than a minute to break, and he hung over the crumbling ledge in relief, taking great lungfuls of the cold night air.
The forest lay to the right, and Hogsmeade to the left, and presumably behind the shack lay Hogwarts; his school, lying in ruins, won for either the Dark or the Light. Or, if it were the afterlife, perhaps it was as it was before the Dark Lord had commanded him to break it and mould it in the image of his cruelty, perhaps even before the first war, when it was still a haven and a home to him.
The shack was outside of the wards, and so he could apparate from there to the edge of the Forest, although that took more out of him than it should have. The trees obscured the castle, but not the stars; and in any case, he’d been a reckless child, and could walk the path blinded.
Severus walked in darkness, not out of any aesthetic sensibility but because he was far too aware that he had enemies, particularly among the dead, and he did not know how many had died in these woods. Lighting his wand was not worth the risk of being seen. The battle had raged long and bright over the castle and wandered over every part of the school, the hidden parts just as torn apart as the towers.
The forest, like the hell-hole, was undisturbed. It smelt of soil and recent rain, and there was no sign of any battle at all. It was barely lit; the moon was full, but the canopy was an effective curtain, and the ground was an expanse of black.
He walked for some time, alone with his thoughts; and it seemed that he truly was alone, because there was no noise to indicate a single living animal in the whole forest. No bats were hunting tonight, no foxes or thestrals or spiders rustled the undergrowth. There had been a breeze, but it was silent now.
It was because of this complete, eclipsing silence that Severus heard it. Were the night less eerie, more alive, the noise of a sleeping child’s breathing at that distance would have been indistinguishable from the white noise of the forest. As it were, it cut to the quick, and Severus took off running towards it; he had wandered the woods once, and knew exactly why someone defenceless should not.
The earth fell away below his feet; some power had carved a crater, several metres deep, and the air here smelt faintly of burning. Severus murmured a panicked ‘lumos,’ afraid of stepping right onto the child in the black; the ground, where it was illuminated, looked to be blackened and melted as if by an incredible heat. Parts of the earth had liquefied and flowed, and reflected his wandlight like water.
The child was lying sprawled at the bottom of the crater, cracked glasses on his face and his pajamas charred; he breathed slowly and evenly and seemed entirely calm.
Severus thought it might be the first time he had ever seen Potter looking even slightly peaceful.