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"Look at me." Snape stared into those green eyes her green eyes one last time. He could feel the snake venom permeating his system, the blood flowing freely from the wound in his neck.
Snape heard the children leave. He sincerely hoped the ridiculous boy would somehow manage to pull off saving the wizarding world. He wished he felt more confident about it, but he had done all he could.
So this is how it ends, he thought, bleeding out on the filthy floor of this vile shack. A fitting end to my oh-so-noble existence. He waited for Death to arrive to claim him.
He did not know how long he lay here. The next he was aware, the pain in his neck was overshadowed by a blinding light. A light so bright it pierced his eyes, his brain, his very soul. Strange, I always thought Death would entail the light going out. Even as he had the thought, he realized the meaninglessness and futility of all thought in such a moment.
"Severus." He heard his name. He opened his eyes or were they open already, or did he see in some other way, without his eyes at all? He did not know. Nonetheless, he somehow saw he was uncertain how to describe what he saw. A radiant "being" was inadequate to encompass her, but it was the only word he had leaned over him. Her skin was the color of moonlight, and her hair a halo of woven sunlight. Her voice seemed to echo inside his very being, yet her touch was elusive like the wind. Although he knew he had never seen her before, he felt a strange sense of recognition.
"Who are you? Are you an angel?" he asked. At least he thought he asked, but it seemed he asked without speaking and heard without words. "Can't be. Angel would mean heaven," he muttered. He heard a sound like crystal, like silver bells tinkling, and knew she was laughing. Why must death impair one's ability to come up with a decent, non-clichι metaphor? he wondered idly.
"An angel," she repeated. "Not exactly. I'm your protector."
"My protector. I have a protector?" He digested this news for a moment. "Where in bloody hell have you been for the past few hours? Not to mention the rest of my life."
There it was, the silver-bell laughter again. "I've always been with you, Severus. How in-bloody-hell," she repeated the phrase experimentally, "do you think you've lived this long?"
"Hmmpph. Well, I suppose you may have a point," he conceded. Though it was a bit of a blow to his ego, as he had always put it down to his superior intelligence and impressive magical ability.
"Oh, those things helped you, too," she affirmed. "Now, Severus, we've wasted enough time. You have a choice to make, and it must be made soon. Because of all you've done, the sacrifices you've made, you are being given an opportunity. You are not actually dead yet. Well, at least, not completely. You will be, though, and very soon. Unless "
"What do you mean, I'm not dead?" he interrupted.
"Not irretrievably, irrevocably. Not yet. But you will be, and soon, so stop interrupting and let me finish," she chided. "Because of the special role you played in this particular struggle, you were forced to relinquish any hope of leading a normal life. Because you were willing to sacrifice everything, and in so doing you assured the victory of the Light, you have been granted this special reprieve. Instead of dying now as had been foretold, you may return to your life if you so choose."
"I may return to my life. Why in the name of all four Founders would I want to return to my life? I've no more to live for now than I did before I died. I'll still be hated and vilified as a traitor a murderer."
"No, Severus. You will not. Even as we speak, the truth about your role is coming to light."
"The truth? What truth? There are always many truths in any situation. To which one do you refer?" Severus was somewhat relieved to realize death or was it near-death? He still wasn't entirely certain had not dimmed his cynicism.
"It will, though, you know, given time."
Now there she was seeming to read his mind again, and he didn't like it one bit. Although, he supposed he was splitting hairs, given he wasn't certain any of this conversation was actually taking place in spoken words. He turned his attention back to what she was saying.
"The truth about the role you played in these events as they unfolded. Your role as a hero, and your reality as a flesh and blood human being. Whatever your choice, Severus Snape, your identity as spy, double agent, traitor, murderer, will die here today and will be remade. If you choose to resume your life, you have a chance finally to be known for who you really are, to shape your own life through your choices and decisions. To be happy."
"Happy. What are the odds?" He hadn't expected her to answer his rhetorical question, but she did.
"Quite good, actually. Should you choose to return, your life will be very different because you will make it so. Through embracing the freedom you always lacked, you will find the peace you always wished for."
Severus knew he must not yet be completely dead because he felt his heart flutter at her words. He wondered if the unfamiliar feeling might be hope.
"Of course, should you prefer, you can choose to reenter the cycle of birth, death, and reincarnation, and when it is time, you will be reborn into a new incarnation and start over again."
"Dear Merlin. So reincarnation is true, then?" He pondered the ramifications. A fresh start as a new person sounded rather appealing, but how did he know if he would make better choices the next time around? At least if he went back to this life, he had a sort of head start thanks to all the bad choices he'd made already. And it might be rather interesting to see what it was like to walk in the world with his head held high and be seen for the man he really was, beyond the roles he had played his entire adult life. I believe I might even enjoy the opportunity, he thought.
"And so it shall be," she whispered.
Suddenly his senses were filled with a sound like a choir of a thousand angels singing. It was so beautiful it was unbearable to his five senses. His senses. He felt awareness of his physical body returning. He felt what seemed to be rain, which made no sense at all but only on his wounds. Rain, or maybe tears. He opened his eyes and saw a blur of red and gold. "Fawkes," he croaked, and the bird sang sweetly in his ear.
"Fawkes, where are you? Where are you leading me?" he heard someone calling as footsteps approached.
Poppy, he realized.
"Severus!" she cried when she saw him and fell to her knees at his side. She checked the wound at his neck, which was already healing from Fawkes' tears.
She raised his head and began pouring potions down his throat. They burned, and he choked and spit out a little. "Severus. You must drink these," she said. He looked into her eyes and noticed she was crying. Crying over him. How very strange it seemed. He swallowed the rest of the potions. After he finished and she assured herself he was stable, she sent her Patronus to bring help.
"How are you even still alive after all this time?" she asked.
"Long story," he croaked. And then though it was hoarse and shaky, and few would have recognized it as such Severus Snape laughed.
Author's Note: This was written for the Free of THAT Challenge: A story of 500 to 5,000 words explaining how Snape survived Nagini's bite. The unspoken aspect of the challenge was to avoid the usual cliches. I hope I have.
Thanks as always to ladyinthecloak for looking this over, and thanks to talesofsnape for the lovely banner.
An Unexpected Encounter by kittylefish
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The Patronus skin was created especially for The Petulant Poetess by TarahFae.