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Afterward, Severus finds himself in a vast space that resembles a deserted, immaculate railroad station. He’s accompanied by nothing except a profound sense of relief. It’s over at last. He relaxes, grateful for the peace, and the undemanding solitude.

Though after a while, he starts to wonder if this will really be all there is. Seventeen years of soul-grinding service, and absolutely no one is here? He hadn’t been looking for accolades, and he’d known it was too much to hope that he might see Lily again. Still, after an unremittingly lonely life, to finish it and find no one stings rather more than he’d like to admit.

At the thought, a shadow swoops overhead and circles closer. An owl. Severus is oddly unsurprised to see the bird, and looks up expectantly, waiting for it to deliver its message.

Instead, it lands nearby and observes him. It carries nothing. The owl is a pure, snowy white, and he has the sense that he’s seen it before.

“What?” he asks it.

His reply is a brief ruffling of feathers, and a steady regard. He tries to stare it down, but owls don’t need to blink very often.

“Shoo,” he says irritably, and walks away. He walks until he feels he has gone far enough. Once he’s come to rest, a quiet rushing sound resolves into the beating of wings, and the owl lands by him again.

“Who sent you here?” he asks. The bird watches him. It looks like Potter’s owl, he realizes, and feels a rush of annoyance. Even in the afterlife, Potter plagues him.

He tries several variations on “What do you want?” and “Go away,” but the owl only shuffles its feet, and hoots softly. Severus casts his eye around the space they’re in, but it’s otherwise unchanged, and endless. At last he remembers his magic, and turns back to the bird, peering into its mind.

Her mind, he realizes. And she is gazing at him without emotion. She remembers dying in a cage.

“So did I,” he tells her, in a different tone of voice.

Hedwig spreads her wings and lifts into the air, landing on the arm Severus raised for her without planning to. Her claws grip his forearm.

“Very well,” he mutters, stifling a small smile, and they pass on together.