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The Voice Under All Silences.

Chapter Text

Author: pekeleke
Pairing: Severus Snape/Harry Potter
Word Count: 235K+
Rating: N-17
Summary: Four years after the final battle Severus Snape wakes up. He believes this must be Hell, but... what if it isn't?
Warning(s): Strong language.
A/N: English is not my mother tongue so mistakes are to be expected.
Beta: None
Disclaimer: The characters used in this fiction are not mine. No money is being made from it.
 

The voice under all silences. Chapter 1.

Eyes coloured with the same unutterable darkness of a starless midnight focused with ruthless determination on the harmless, orange-tinged, cheerfulness of the fire. The room was warm, unusually so, and the heat that was unstoppably conquering it felt unfriendly, cloying. It threatened Severus' frayed senses with the instinctive perception of unseen -and imminent- danger.

Severus’ eyelids closed, shutting off the flickering flames, but the unnervingly loud popping of the burning wood couldn't be so easily ignored when it exploded at random intervals, shattering the heavy silence. His throat throbbed with the never-ending agony spreading outwards from the seeping wound that covered what, once, had been the right side of his neck. There was a bandage, frayed grey and much too tight, protecting the area; hiding the suppurating, green-tinged craters left behind by the snake-bite that should have killed him and yet, to his dismayed disappointment, failed to do so.

Severus’ muscles clamped painfully as he attempted to swallow yet again. He tried hard to ignore the increasingly angry sense of desperation that was threatening to overwhelm his already exhausted mind with every passing second. His nerves were shot to hell. He felt drained by the unrelenting strength of the venom that still coursed through his veins, keeping him ill and vulnerable; making his every word a triumph of both bull-headed doggedness and sheer, unbending pride. He might wish with every fiber of his now weakened being to have died once and for all on that Merlin-forsaken shack, but he'd be damned before he allowed any one of them, bastards, to know exactly how—fragile he'd become.

His head throbbed with tension and he felt nauseous. His heart pounded so hard that he could feel his blood crash unpleasantly against the walls of his veins, hammering him relentlessly from the inside out and making his pulse beat maddeningly at the side of his jaw, against his too-thin wrists and on the mangled skin left on his throat.

The heat made him feel drowsy and claustrophobic. It irritated his dark eyes, drying them to the point of pain, and made him long for a tall glass of cooling water. He refused to shift from his position though, rejecting the very idea of allowing them -whoever 'they' may be- to see him reach for the temptingly close jug filled to the brim with tinkling ice -and only Circe knew what else- mixed in with the crystalline beauty of the water they had provided.

Severus had been briskly removed from his hospital bed in Azkaban and brought to this mocking, overly-warm replica of his own destroyed bedchambers at Hogwarts for some obscure purpose he had no desire whatsoever to discover. His tight-lipped escort had dragged him in, set the fireplace ablaze and -very deferentially- advised him to ‘make himself at home’ before abandoning him to his own devices. 'Make myself at home—Pft! As if I could. As if I'd fall for their ridiculous deferential treatment.'

The papers someone had left on the side table were artfully folded to show their outrageously fantastic headlines to best advantage: 'The Greatest Hero Of The Wizarding World To Be Finally released!' 'Loyal Dumbledore's Spy To Receive Order Of Merlin, First Class, In Exclusive Ceremony This Coming Friday.' 'Rodolphus Curlieu, Minister Of Magic, To Offer Public Apology To The Greatest Hero On Behalf Of The Magical Community.'

Severus' choleric gaze shot derisive daggers at the nastily deceitful headlines before flickering once more towards the temptingly close jug of water. His thin lips tightened with rising hatred towards his absent hosts. 'How dare they mock me so? How dare they play their cruel little games on me again? Who the hell gave them permission to rub in my face the soul-destroying mirage of everything I've ever wanted but have never managed to grasp?'

His breathing evened out slowly and Severus forced his long fingers into fists, curling them protectively into the pristine edges of the familiar teaching robes he'd always favoured. The weight of the -now- unfamiliar cloth against his emaciated frame felt like the embrace of a long-lost friend, a caress that offered him comfort. The grim Auror who brought him here had forced him out of his embarrassingly inappropriate mid-tight, Azkaban-issued, hospital gown and into these robes with a single wand wave, and Severus resented him the kindness. He suspected the bastard's motives since there must be a reason why the man had so readily given up the chance to humiliate Severus further by forcing him to disrobe before his eyes, all the better to cackle at Severus' inadequacies and call him names, just like every other Auror he'd ever known had done in the past.

The fake deference this one had shown him had gotten under Severus' skin with more devastating impact than the outright cruelty would have done. Severus had become immune to many things over the years, after all. Things he had to endure with gritted teeth in order to survive. Things he'd believed had made him virtually impervious to torture of any kind. 'Now I know better, don't I?' He thought bitterly, furiously aware of the fact that the unexpected cruelty they had dreamed up to make him suffer had, to his horrified shock, worked like magic. He'd been hurt indeed by the Auror's manufactured kindness. He'd felt utterly wretched, harmed to the very depths of what was left of his soul.

The sudden thundering of unequivocally rushing feet had Severus tensing in the perfect copy of his own favourite armchair upon which he sat, and he squared his shoulders, determinedly ignoring the agony that the action sparked from his damaged neck. The door behind him opened with a bang and a powerful wave of anxiously distressed, but tightly-leashed, magic entered the room along with his unwelcome visitor.

Severus refused to turn around. He refused to acknowledge the arrival of whoever they'd sent to torture him further, rejecting the idea of allowing his unwelcome tormentor to establish superiority in this mockingly hurtful replica of his former safe haven. They had obviously intended to intimidate him by mimicking his own chambers at Hogwarts in shatteringly painful detail, but that also gave Severus an ultimately futile advantage: he could play their silly game for as long as he could stomach it. 'I can pretend, just like they are. I can behave as if I am still at home, still master of all that I see. I can pretend I haven't been sitting here like the tired puppet I've become, helplessly waiting for them to yank my strings once more.'

The door banged twice against the incredibly realistic centuries-old granite before closing altogether, and the incipient headache Severus had been battling for the last couple of hours bloomed into glorious, inauspicious, exuberance. His lips compressed further and his eyes narrowed to slits, so dramatically reducing the already meagre amount of colour left in his pale visage that he'd fancied himself transfigured into one of those odd statues carved in wax that he'd seen in the strange muggle museum he'd visited ages ago. A cold shiver ran down his spine at the disturbing recollection of those awful, inanimate faces. Lifeless people trapped forever inside the prison of their own smiling visages. They'd looked as dead as the victims of a Dementor's kiss. Thoroughly unreachable, untouchable, heartbreakingly inhuman.

"Oh, thank Godric that you are here, Sir-Snape-err—Professor Snape. Gosh!, I can't believe how badly Myers messed this up. He wasn't supposed to bring you here.”

Severus' incredulity held him utterly still. He couldn't have moved to save his miserable hide had he wanted to do so. Not for all the magic of the founders. Not under his own steam at least. He'd recognized the voice at once, of course, even though he'd never heard before that slightly panicky tone that was making it brim with—could that actually be worry? 'No. No. It can not be. Why would Albus' self-righteous little pet ever take part in Ministry-sanctioned torture? His ridiculous shiny Gryffindor ideals can't have crumbled to dust so soon.'

Severus' analytical mind could not cope with the surreal quality of their move. They were wielding such bizarre, unexpected, weapon against him. Putting so much effort into creating so risible a deception that he was left thoroughly confused. 'And for what? What can they possibly do to me that hasn't been done already, short of granting me The Kiss? What are they planning to do that could possibly rival the warm care I've been receiving at the hands of Azkaban's resident healer?'

Heavy boots thumped against the stone floor as his unlikely visitor approached, still babbling that increasingly disconcerting diatribe at top speed. "Why haven't you tried to hex me yet at the very least, professor? Where the hell is your wand? Oh, for fuck's sake! That bloody incompetent forgot to give it to you, didn't he? I swear I'm gonna skin Myers alive."

'Myers? Who the hell is Myers?'

Potter's steps came to an abrupt halt right behind his chair and a short but blissful second of silence descended upon the room. The suffocating heat that was coming from the fire became the last thing on Severus' mind as his thoughts whirled fast, faster. A Dizzying array of possibilities, every one more unlikely than the last, were analyzed -and ruthlessly discarded- during that silent reprieve. Then there was a loud rustle of cloth, a small shift in the air that surrounded his chair before the shape of a man who should have looked familiar, but didn't, materialized on his left.

"Goodness! It's roasting in here. Why is it—are you all right, Sir? Please tell me that damned fool didn't dump you here and left you, all by yourself, while you're running a fever." A wide, lightly tanned hand lurched anxiously towards Severus, startling him enough to bark in defensive, blistering rage:

"Do. Not. Dare!"

Potter's hand froze in mid-air and the moment became charged with the kind of unwelcome tension that brought renewed cramping to Severus' rigid neck and shoulders. Unutterable pain shot all the way down his arm from the thrice-damned wound, and his long fingers instinctively curled into a white-knuckled fist that, for once, Albus' wide-eyed pet managed to notice, and then proceeded to interpret incorrectly. As usual. "Calm down, for goodness sake, professor. I was just trying to check you for fever."

Severus could feel his old mask, the viciously sarcastic shell that had kept harm at bay for so many years, fall across his features like a familiar -if battered- helmet. One that may no longer fit him as snugly as it used to but that could still protect him in a pinch nevertheless. He forced himself to ignore the shaky weakness of his legs and rose, all the better to look down his nose at the spawn of his worst enemy.

Severus couldn't believe it had come to this. That after all he'd done to protect the little whelp, after all, he'd sacrificed for his sake, he was being forced to thus confront the beloved child of the only woman who had ever bothered to love him. 'Oh, Lily.' "I happen to be perfectly calm, Mr Potter. Unlike you, I might add, if that infuriatingly anxious rambling only you'd have the courage to inflict upon me is as reliable a hint towards the state of your emotions as your former temper tantrums used to be."

Inexplicably, the brat broke into a sunny smile. "Ah, you are all right, then. I'm sorry if I scared you with the touchy-feely-thing. We were worried when you didn't turn up where you were supposed to, and I—well. I might have err-"

Severus frowned when Potter's renewed babbling tapered off into a horrifyingly bashful little silence. His eyes narrowed suspiciously as he tried to bore holes into the incomprehensibly panicked green ones that reminded him so much of Lily's that he couldn't bring himself to stare at them for long. Lily, his precious Lily, who would still be alive if Severus hadn't grown up to become the terrible monster who had, ultimately, betrayed her. She would have lived long enough to raise her boy if it hadn't been for Severus' own greed. For his petty jealousy and unforgivable treachery-

Lost, as he’d been, in anguished contemplation of this truth, Severus seemed to have missed a new instalment of incoherent babble that, puzzlingly, ended with “... And then Hermione said that it could be true. That, in your state, it was possible that the portkey journey had left you feeling faint and I sort of panicked. I could see it all over again, you know? Your body, so still, on the floor. Your head covered in blood, so much blood—and I didn't even bother to stay there long enough to scream at Myers. I apparated straight to Hogsmeade and started running instead."

Severus' headache reached its peak at that point, undoubtedly helped along by the wave of pure rage that chose that precise instant to rise from the depth of his being like a deathly tidal wave. "Are you so dimwitted, so obtuse, so carelessly confident in your eager desire to harm me that you actually believe it possible to convince me that you have brought me to Hogwarts? How stupid do you think I am, Potter?"

Startled green eyes frowned up at him and an inexplicable edge of barely repressed violence punctuated the sharp-toned, two-word question the boy barked in response: "Harm you?"

Severus' already ruffled hackles rose in response to Potter's frigid tone. If the little bastard expected him to back off he could very well go fuck himself on something as unyielding and jagged as a mountain troll's tooth, or one of Gringot's ridiculously pointy decorative pillars. Failing that Potter should send him back to Azkaban, where he belonged. Painful mind games were not really Severus' thing. They had never been, to be honest. That had always been more Albus' style than his own and—The name, the very memory of his former mentor, of his closest friend, ambushed Severus so unexpectedly that he couldn't help the shocked little gasp that made it past his lips. 'Oh, Albus!'

Severus closed his eyes tightly, feeling himself grow cold from head to toes. He was clammy with regret, with horror. He would not, could not, bring himself to even think about the terrible task he'd performed not to further Albus' cause, or Potter's, but to spare a different boy's soul altogether. A boy who had been saved in the end by the very same thing that had saved this one: the love of a mother hell-bent on protecting her young.

"Professor?"

Severus' legs folded under him and he crumbled like a statue made out of shifting sand when his long-unused muscles failed to support him so unexpectedly that he was denied the dignity of relocating to his seat unaided.

"Severus!" Someone cried, jolting Severus’ waning awareness back to this bizarre reality where nothing whatsoever made a single lick of sense. Panic—not his own, but the boy's, forced his eyes open, and he blinked through a haze of mortifying weakness to discover that his own face was a mere breath away from the worried visage of a strangely pale Potter. That's when Severus realized that there were arms around him, arms that were keeping his useless body safely cocooned against the heaving chest of the green-eyed menace, and he flailed with angry embarrassment, attempting to set himself free.

“Unhand me." He hissed, recklessly ignoring the tearing pain that his own tone wrenched from his badly damaged throat.

"I can't. You'll fall."

The surreal situation rose Severus' hackles anew. He hated this blasphemy of reality. Despised the horrifying little charade the boy was playing. He felt savaged and on edge, ready to attack whoever dared come close in order to protect what pitifully little was left of his frayed dignity from further harm at the hands of those who had only ever loathed him. "So what if I do? Since when have you cared enough to spare me any pain, Potter?"

The arms supporting his weight turned rigid around him and that pale face, so familiar and yet so inexplicably alien at the same time, froze with the kind of wretched hurt that couldn't be anything but false. "Since I grew up." The brat growled, tightening his hold on him with an easy strength that frightened Severus into the realization that he was here, somewhere as of yet undetermined, wandless and apparently alone with a man who could overwhelm his pitiful physical defences in the blink of an eye.

Severus's foot fought for purchase against the unyielding granite floor and he ignored the screaming pain that shot up and down his legs as he forced himself to straighten up within Potter's confusingly protective hold. "Unhand me." He repeated once again, pushing firmly against the heaving chest that was plastered almost completely against his own in a determined demand to be set free.

Potter looked at him through narrowed eyes. A vein began to throb in the corner of that fiercely clenched jaw and that face, so inexplicably matured by whatever harrowing trials the boy had endured lately, locked into an expression of doggedly determined mulishness. "If my touch offends you so, I'll gladly set you back on the chair, professor. But I won't allow you to come to harm on my watch. Not again. Not even to soothe your injured pride."

The words sent Severus reeling with their ludicrous bizarreness and he all but jabbed his index finger into the chest of the Wizarding World's Heroic Boy Wonder. "Release me, Potter. At once!"

The boy's face became even more closed off. Emerald-colored determination flashed across the gaze trying to drill holes into his own, studying him so intently that Severus felt tempted to lower his eyes like a chastised child. Silence fell, spreading between them like a frigidly cold blanket that sought to freeze them in place, turn them to stone and hold them utterly captive. The moment stretched as they both stared into one another's eyes with equal amounts of obstinate tenaciousness to have their opposing wishes fulfilled.

Eventually, Severus' paper-thin eyelids fluttered minutely and he was forced to clench his jaw in order to suppress the pain-filled groan that formed in the back of his throbbing throat when a new and devastatingly strong cramp turned the useless muscles of his right leg to rock. Although not a single sound escaped his tightly compressed lips the boy seemed able to read him like a book. Sudden awareness shot across those green eyes and a look of frustrated concern softened the young features. "Why must you make everything so difficult?" Potter growled from such close range that every word ghosted across Severus' right cheek and sank beneath his skin.

Severus didn't have enough time to respond before the situation entered the realms of the most appallingly realistic nightmare he'd ever had. The entire situation was so ridiculously fantastic in its development, so risible indeed -if one had within one's spirit the kind of strength left to admire the finest of all ironies- that Severus found himself contemplating the relieving idea that he could, perhaps, be asleep. All of this would make a bizarre sort of sense if it turned out that he was trapped in a dream of his own making. Having been dragged into this aberration of the true reality by his own guilty conscience and some kind of twisted need for atonement.

Severus' eyes bulged almost completely out of their sockets when the blasted figment of his imagination lurched slightly sideways in order to -horror of horrors!- lift him into the sort of overly muscled arms that he was by now ninety-eight precent certain he must have conjured out of some extremely twisted and depraved recess of his mind. Surely, certainly, the real Potter wouldn't have turned into some kind of rugged Greek God since the last time he saw his skinny little hide. That idea alone reassured Severus so much, offered his exhausted psyche such relief, that he allowed himself to ignore the disturbing actions of the—the being who was so insistently trying to manhandle him straight into total humiliation.

"Gosh! You are so thin you are practically weightless." The figment—thing—Potter growled disapprovingly against Severus' ear while carefully hefting him off the ground. Severus was being held so protectively against that huge, too-warm chest that he felt threatened by the horrible surrealism of the whole god-awful mess. He wondered why, of all the possibilities available to his darkly twisted mind, he'd settled for this particularly cruel form of torture. One that was so reminiscent of the pranks so often played on him during his early teens that he supposed there could be some sort of sick explanation as to what on Earth could Potter be doing in a dream of his. The boy had always been like an emoting replica of his happily defunct father, after all.

"This is the worst nightmare I've ever had to endure," Severus muttered absently to himself in startled self-awareness. He was understandably shocked when the bulging arms around him tightened uncomfortably and his unwelcome bearer came to an abrupt halt not five paces into wherever it was that he intended to deliver him. Severus' brow furrowed in baffled incomprehension and his dark eyes rose towards the face that was so inappropriately close to his own that he could actually feel the sharp edge of the—the—Potter's unshaven bristles digging into the side of his temple. Severus' gaze collided with the kind of glare that no self-respecting Gryffindor should have been able to produce, and he felt the vibration caused by the boy's irritated bark run along the left side of his body, which was being most rudely plastered against the muscled chest from hell.

"Gee, thanks a lot for that, professor. And to think I almost broke my neck running all the way from Hogsmeade, and then down a million bloody steps, just to get to you."

'This nightmare is becoming more aggravating by the second.' Severus scowled darkly, unable to fathom why his subconscious need for self-flagellation had decided that he needed to endure the company of a sulking, unsympathetic Potter. Surely this was too much for anyone to endure, even for his own vindictive mind. "I don't see what your problem is, you, annoying child." He finally confronted the thing harshly, feeling more than a little uncomfortable with the illogical nature of this delusion. Severus was more than ready to wake up in the freezing coldness of Azkaban's medical ward. He was even eager to discover what new misery Peterson, the vicious healer that ruled the place with an unchallenged violent hand, had in store for him to this morning.

"Considering that I happen to know exactly what kind of nightmares you've had to endure, I imagine that it wouldn't take a genius to figure out what my problem is, Snape." Potter growled, and the green eyes that had darkened with enough bitterness to match the raw undertones of his sharply pronounced answer bore into Severus' own as the boy resumed walking. "You know, at the risk of sounding totally conceited, I must point out that most people would sell their souls for the chance of being exactly where you are. It just figures that you would be among the very few who'd consider the honour of being cradled in my arms to be some kind of torture."

Severus didn't like the strange vibe he was getting here. He despised the uncomfortable sense of wrongness that scraped along his nerve-endings, like the touch of rough sanding paper, the longer he was forced to deal with Potter. He was understandably suspicious of the inexplicable swirl of emotions that flashed across the Gryffindor's expressive face, and liked the fact that he'd finally realized exactly where it was that the brat was taking him even less.

Severus' heart started banging against his ribs as his mind struggled to force itself awake. His mouth tightened with raging distaste, with impotent self-scorn for having allowed this atrocity to progress so far beyond the realms of decency and, in his instinctive need to lash out, he responded to the little jerk's astonishingly pretentious claim as viciously as he knew how. "Then, by all means, boy, go ahead and leave me the hell alone! And don't you dare imagine that I'll waste a single second languishing in simpering reminiscence of your hellish embrace. I have neither the intention nor the desire to spend any more time than I absolutely have to trapped inside the abominable clutches of this disgusting nightmare. And I shall be eternally grateful if you could conveniently vanish altogether. Preferably before you reach the bedroom door, if you would be so kind."

The contrary little cretin halted once again and Severus could have cried in relief as he realized that, for once, his wish had been granted almost in its entirety. Potter had actually halted. He hadn't been accommodating enough to vanish altogether, of course. But then that would have been so unexpectedly generous of the Founders that Severus might have died from the sheer incredulity of imagining himself to have been heard by those almighty beings.

The boy had stopped in the middle of the narrow corridor though, and was currently ignoring the ominously close proximity of the bedroom door that Severus had no intention whatsoever of ever crossing in this particular manner. Least of all in the company of a man he'd delighted in tormenting throughout his formative years. A man who, in return, detested him with a passion only surpassed by a very understandable hatred towards the Dark Lord himself.

The amber-tinged light coming off the sconces that hung along the passage was turning the brat's spectacles into reflective little mirrors that made it virtually impossible for Severus to read the expressive gaze that must be showing—what exactly? Surprise to have been unmasked as a wisp of Severus' own fevered imagination? Remorse for having been caught taking part in this mockery of care in order to humiliate an already defeated enemy through derisive scorn? Shock that said enemy had not, as they had probably expected, crumbled into a grateful puddle of abnegation at the very sight of the Savior of the Wizarding World?

Severus' head throbbed with tension as a second slowly stretched into another, and the boy—the thing—Potter, kept silent and still, doing a grand total of absolutely nothing beyond crushing Severus tightly to his chest while gazing down at him from behind the privacy of those reflective lenses. Severus had just opened his mouth in preparation to demand the brute set him down immediately when the witless wonder abruptly returned to babbling life with a thoroughly confusing: "You—err... You are not exactly making sense, Snape. Sir. Err—professor. I don't think you are—mmm 'with it', so to speak. Are you sure you are not—huh, you know, sick?"

'What the Hell?' Severus blinked in befuddled reaction to Potter's strange diatribe, attempting to figure out exactly what it was that the ridiculous moron thought he could be carrying 'with him.’ "I'm not sick, Potter. I'm not stupid, either. And I won't play this ridiculous game with the likes of you. Now unhand me, at once, and return me to my flea-infested bed in Azkaban. I imagine the sooner I lay there in this dream the sooner I'll wake up."

There was that choked gasp of surprise before Potter's messy dark head shifted sideways enough for the boy's lenses to unveil their secrets, as they were no longer being painted by the unfathomable reflections of the flames. Severus' hackles rose as he finally looked into those familiar eyes and discovered that they had darkened with inexplicable concern and disbelief. With a frantic, helpless, worry. "You think you're dreaming? That you are still in Azkaban? That I—That we are playing some sort of sick trick on you, like my father used to do, like Sirius?"

The boy's voice rose higher and higher with every word he spoke, brutally exacerbating Severus' throbbing headache without any consideration whatsoever, the bastard. Potter's overly-muscled arms kept crushing him as well, closing menacingly around him as if, now that he'd found himself discovered, the annoying whelp couldn't think of a better course of action than to restrain Severus physically as opposed to the old-fashioned buttering up he'd been using so far.

Little, scorching, mint-scented puffs of air kept wafting over Severus' shocked features after every sharp-toned syllable that Potter growled almost directly into his face, causing him to frown thunderously as he became more and more pissed off with all this unbearable nonsense. "Shut the bloody hell up already, Potter!" He finally screamed over the increasingly self-righteous ire that was being so unjustly directed at him, and regretted the impulse as soon as his senses registered the sharp tug of brutal agony his action had sparked.

The blasted snake-bite that hadn't managed to kill him began to thrum so unpleasantly that Severus was forced to lower his unravelling voice in order to hide the increasing weakness of his strained vocal chords from the boy. "I don't expect you to either care nor understand this but let me be frank with you, Potter: I’m tired, truly tired. I'm sick and bewildered, and I don't want to deal with you right now. Or ever, for that matter.
“I don't care if you are a nightmare, or a ghost, or some kind of avenging angel determined to take me to task for my many transgressions. The truth is that I'm already paying for them. Have been doing so every second I've lived in Albus' absence. In Lily's. In the shadow of all the souls whose deaths I've caused, so leave me alone, for goodness sake, and I promise to suffer and atone and pay for all of it in blood. In tears. In whatever the hell coin you think its appropriate. Now PUT ME THE FUCK DOWN AND SEND ME BACK TO AZKABAN, WHERE I BELONG!" Severus roared at the top of his voice, heedless of the fierce throbbing that was spreading cursed fire down his neck and into his arm. He felt so damned liberated, so at peace with all the world for that one brilliant tic on the clock of his life, that he could have happily surrendered his last breath to this glorious instant, gladly accepting the stunned expression on the face of his bitter enemy's child as the last sight he'll ever see.

As if on cue, his neck flared with savage agony and Severus heard himself choke in the sudden silence. His eyes widened with the shattering awareness that his windpipe was rapidly closing down in shocked response to the unbearable pain he'd just caused himself. Potter's wide-eyed stare turned from stunned to alarmed in a single blink, focusing solely on him with a disturbing amount of raw fear, and Severus chose that second to close his own eyes and ignore the brat.

Severus wasn't all that willing to bear witness to this indignity a second time. Didn't want to see Potter's pale and terrified face while he died -again- in the boy's arms. Was this some sort of sickeningly pathetic little chestnut of all-encompassing bloody cosmic irony at his expense, then? Was he fated to only, ever, die in the arms of a Potter? Couldn't the greedy, little jerks leave him alone to enjoy his imminent demise in glorious solitude just this once? His throat convulsed uselessly even as he marvelled at how very similar father and son had turned out to be, and he attempted to breathe, he really did. The effort was as useless as he'd suspected though, and his body began to flay against the arms that held him. Hacking, dry-sounding, and ultimately unsuccessful inhalations echoed around the corridor like deathly curses.

"Professor—professor—er—Severus! Stay with me, please. Please, God, please, let him stay with me." There was something puzzlingly frenetic in the urgent tone Potter was using, but Severus couldn't pay any attention to it at the moment. He was too busy dying, after all.

For a second he thought that the sudden, dazzlingly white blast of frantic magic he was experiencing was the welcoming embrace of Lady Death, but he sensed the almost unendurable constriction on one's body that's so characteristic of apparition in the next instant, and felt ridiculously cheated by having Potter prove him right in the end. He hadn't been at Hogwarts at all. It had all been a terrible lie. A cruel trick played upon him by perverse little children. He would not die at home. He would die in-

"Severus!”

His mind was swimming in and out of focus with the slowness of one already barely here, but Severus recognized that voice without any trouble. He'd have had to be already dead to fail to put a face to the familiar sound that had been his faithful companion during so many years of misery, during a million and one instants just like this. So many close calls, so many-

Poppy. Poppy Pomfrey was here. She was right here, wherever here was. Severus struggled to open his eyes and follow the sound of her voice, fighting for his right to see her one last time. She looked old, frightened and terribly fragile. She was running at top speed towards him with a tearful, strained expression and he wanted to smile at her, console her. With the last of his strength, he fought the hold keeping him trapped and extended one of his strangely ghostlike arms, covered in too big black clothing, towards her. 'Don't worry about me, Poppy, I'm finally going somewhere safe. I'm going home, to Albus. I'm here. Potter is here, too. And the muggles say that third time's the charm and all that rot, so this time I’ll make it.'

Although he couldn't have possibly said any of that out loud, Severus must have been broadcasting his thoughts clearly enough because the next thing he heard was the blasted brat's enraged roar. "No. No. You won't do this to me, you, grumpy old bastard! I won't let you go. Poppy, Poppy, do something. He is fading as we speak. He is—SEVERUS!”

Severus heard a scream. No. Several screams. And crying—Dear Merlin! Someone, somewhere, was shedding a misty old tear in his behalf. How curious. His lungs held no more air though, and his mind was tired of thinking. His ears buzzed unpleasantly one last time and he embraced the deafening silence of absolute nothingness even as his eyes, his ebony-black eyes, froze into lifelessness while they were still stubbornly open, directing a heartbreakingly accusing glare towards a world he had not a single reason to regret leaving behind.

 

TBC...

 


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