You are dying. After so many years of service and loyalty, of careful lies and exhausting efforts, of masks worn so long that they can no longer be truly separated from your face, you are dying on the desperate whim of a madman. After so long and so much, you are so easily cast aside, so quickly traded for further power in fear and avarice. After all this time, you are dying.
You cannot think, between the shock and the agony. There is so much blood, too much to staunch; your shaking fingers desperately and painfully press on the wound at your neck, but you know there is nothing to be done. Nothing survives Nagini’s fangs.
If you had had but a moment to prepare, you might have been able to do something. But you had not thought that after so long, at such a crucial moment, the Dark Lord would dispose of you on as petty a matter as a fabled wand. There was not definitive proof that the Elder Wand was yours; there was not definitive proof that Albus Dumbledore’s wand truly was the Great Deathstick; there was not definitive proof that the Wand of Destiny was anything more than a powerful wand with a myth that compelled a bloody history to suit the story. Hints, perhaps, but not proof.
And yet you are dying, because the chance that these things are true was enough to compel the Dark Lord to take your life to take the wand. Just for the pathetic chance to gain the slightest of edges on a seventeen-year-old boy who has done little save run from him. It could have been achieved in so many other ways, but the Dark Lord’s mind was set – master the wand and master Potter at last – and now you are dying. On a hint, on a whim, on a pathetic and hopeful wish by a madman trying to kill a boy.
You wonder, oh-so-briefly, if there truly is a curse on that strange wand, weaving its will into the Dark Lord’s whims with an ancient and bloodthirsty enchantment. But you know truly that the Dark Lord is simply that pathetic, that fearful, that superstitious, and that callous with your life and the lives of all those who serve him, no matter how well or how loyally or how long.
If you could demand one thing of your life these past years, it would be: Save me from the oaths of foolish and naïve young men. If you could demand another, it would be: Save me from the games and whims of power-hungry and manipulative old men. They are the same wish, more or less, choosing between them is simply choosing where the fault lies for your years of service and sacrifice. Where the blames lies for the fact that you are dying, your oaths and promises and plans failing before you.
Free at last.
Except, no… you’re dying. Death isn’t freedom.
You didn’t expect this.
Was it arrogant to think that you had more worth than this? Perhaps you have been chained so long by the demands of those you so foolishly swore oaths to as a young man that your own power and potential have been dismissed, ignored, forgotten. Perhaps you have spent so long pulling strings and looking ahead, desperate and blinded by the oncoming crux of everything you have worked for, that you paid no attention to the happenings of the present, paid no attention to the Dark Lord’s mercurial moods and distrustful dismissal, and have now paid the price.
There was so much left to do. So many tasks left behind by the man who used your grief and betrayal to swear an oath to Lily Evans’ son, by the man who created a mess of manipulations and tangled strings behind with the expectation of the impossible, and who demanded you let him disappear onto his “next great adventure” on your wand and spell and soul, merely at the cost of nearly everything you had managed to gain and reclaim for yourself. There was so much left to do and you are failing. After all this time, you failed.
Movement, in the corner of your eye, and you watch as one of the Shrieking Shack’s crates silently lifts an inch into the air and drifts sideways, then sets itself down. You watch the opened space, listening as carefully as you can, but you cannot hear anything over the frantic beating of your heart and heaving of your lungs. You are incapacitated. You are helpless. (You are already dying. What do you have to fear?)
A hand appears above you, slipping out of invisible space, and pulls away the shimmering curtain of thin air to reveal a short figure who lets slide the lustery fabric of a familiar invisibility cloak to the filthy floor of the shack. They are a wreck, dust and blood-stained, their hands shaking slightly as they approach you. It takes you a longer second than it should to recognize the youth, but as the figure comes forth, staring with widened green eyes, and bends down before you…
It is the boy. Of course it is the boy. He always had an incredible knack for being where he shouldn’t, in the most inconvenient and dangerous of places, at the most terrible and difficult times. Luck loves its golden fools. He should not be here; the Dark Lord has only just swept from the room.
But you take advantage of the chance, because you are dying and there is so much left to do. There are tears in your eyes, blood in your throat, and truths and secrets untold weighing down your panicked heart and tired soul. You are pathetic, but you have no choice. It is now or never. You are dying.
You reach out with a shaking hand and seize the front of the boy’s clothes, pulling him close with all the desperation of a man dying with too many untold secrets and too much unfinished business. He gasps and falls, unprepared for your sudden strength. He stares at you with wide green eyes, terrified and disgusted and stunned, face pulled close enough for you to feel his breath on your face. He reeks of blood and sweat and death. (As do you. You are dying.)
May the name of Albus Dumbledore be cursed for generations to come, for he has left a tangled mess of strings and secrets that you had no hope of untangling. You were always too caught in the strings and secrets themselves to play puppet master. Your every movement threatened to tangle the mess further, to paralyze you completely, to choke you on your own oaths and silence and service. You are a puppet who inherited an impossible task, unready to fill the role that the white wizard played, even unwishing to continue an exhausting and unrewarding and soul-destroying battle, yet unwilling to commit to mutiny despite the endless agony of your service, and you have unsurprisingly failed in your oaths and tasks and goals.
There is so much to do but you are dying. All you can do is pass on the burden, all the disgusting secrets and terrible truths, to the boy.
The boy who lived. The boy who must die.
The prophesized child. The other puppet. The pig raised to slaughter.
Harry Potter looks at you in horror. He looks so like his father and has acted much like him too – the arrogance and privilege, the selfishness and ignorance – but he looks so much like his mother. More than most bother to look for. And he has acted much like her too, much to your pain and disgust, from the cruel stubbornness and thoughtless recklessness, to the startling brilliance and breathtaking kindness, even and especially to those who least deserved it.
But you look past that now. There is so much to do and you are dying, so you look at him with the heavy knowledge that he is a Horcrux, a secret that you never believed possible until Dumbledore burdened you with it. He is the melted diary hidden at the bottom of a desk, waiting to possess and destroy. He is the blackened ring tucked away between quills, cursed with temptations and a slow and painful death. He is the unnatural snake, floating and shielded in the air, that has killed you.
You have been used, the both of you. It must end. You must finish this.
It is the last moment, for you, and you are sure that the last moment will soon be upon him as well. This battle, it is the crux, or the closest you will come to one. It is time, now or never, finally necessary, for the boy to know. You doubt that the silly child has the strength to do what must be done; he has constantly surprised you, but he is still weak, and you doubt as you force out the truth.
You have let yourself be pushed and pulled, be made to dance at the whims and demands of old men and their strings. You have denied yourself, denied so many secrets, denied so many truths for their terribleness and horror and pain. But you know your mind well. You have dedicated yourself to the keeping of thoughts and secrets and truths and lies, and the delicate magic rises to answer your call even as you can feel your life slipping away.
Your life flashes before your eyes, focus is difficult and becoming impossible, but the boy must know.
A terrible rasp grows in your throat and you gurgle on blood, trying to force words out among the silvery blue thoughts streaming from your mind, finally unlocked, finally being told, finally overflowing after so long of feeling like you might die under the weight of it all.
“Take… it…. Take… it….”
The memories are leaking from you, forced outwards, forced towards the boy. Silvery blue, neither gas nor liquid, gushes forth from your mouth and your ears and your eyes. No wand to pull them forth. Stinging and painful and terrible. You must look a fright, a horror, a terror. This is not meant to be done, but you are desperate; there is so much to be done and you are dying. It is time. He must know. It must end.
Your life flashes before your eyes, bidden by the horrors you are forcing free.
“That’s not a very nice thing to say to somebody!” says the girl, indignantly, before she turns, nose in the air, and marches off toward her sister.
You didn’t mean to… you… “NO!”
“I can’t pretend anymore,” she says sharply. “You’ve chosen your way, I’ve chosen mine.”
Your voice chokes on itself; you will beg, kneel, if you must. You didn’t mean… “I have- I have asked him-”
“You disgust me,” the old man says flatly, his eyes turned hard and cold. There is no pity in him, for you, and you choke on a sob.
You disgust yourself. “DON’T! Gone… dead…”
“Is this remorse, Severus?” he asks, almost curiously, still unyieldingly cold.
How things change, between you, though. Years pass and you could almost… you could almost call yourselves… No, every time you think this, you are reminded of the truth, your oaths, the strings and noose and secrets that hold you. There is no pity, only ice. “And my soul, Dumbledore? MINE?”
Yet you relent, you always relent, and again, comes the cruel kindness: “Thank you, Severus…”
“Souls? We were talking of minds!” you say, disbelieving, betrayed, used. Again. Always again.
“But this is touching, Severus. Have you grown to care for the boy, after all?”
The cold blue eyes look up, full of tears and… finally… pity. “…After all this time?”
“Always,” you say, as though this single word can convey all the regret and remorse behind the oaths and secrets and service that bind you. The foolish and naïve choices of a young man that haunt you, that will see you used and betrayed until, it seems, the day you die.
For her. For the dream of things that could have been. For the freedom you don’t know if you ever had, but that you know you will never have again. For what little love you had in life, so that you can claim there was something behind it all besides misery and mistakes, because, by all that is worth anything, if you don’t believe there was something more, someone as lost and lovely as Lily Evans to do it all for, what’s the point?
The boy stares at you in helpless horror, watching the memories flow. He reaches out with shaking hands, either too stunned to act or genuinely uncertain how to act, and you are forced to wonder if you are forcing your life and lies and secrets out for nothing. This is agony. You are in agony. And it is further agony to think that after so many years, after so much, after oaths and promises and plans, it will all fail because the boy will not manage to collect the secrets you are spilling on your grave. He is reaching out with his shaking hands as though he will be able to catch the truth with his bare fingers, the fool.
Yet suddenly, thankfully, there is a flask conjured from thin air and thrust into the boy’s shaking hands. The Granger girl is there, here now, of course. You missed her approach but she is hovering just behind the boy now, equally wide-eyed and horrified. Fortunately clever enough to keep some semblance of sense and logic on the boy’s behalf.
You are certain that if not for this unfortunately mudblooded girl, clever and stubborn, the boy before you would have been dead years ago. All your service and sacrifice, all of Dumbledore’s planning and string-pulling, and all of the boy’s effort and fighting would have almost certainly been for nothing if not for the presence of a know-it-all girl-witch. Perhaps it would be amusing, if it weren’t so pathetic. Perhaps you would laugh at the injustice and ridiculousness of it all, if there weren’t so much to do, if you weren’t in agony in body and mind, if you weren’t dying.
The boy lifts his wand – a borrowed one, not the phoenix-feather holly wood that once partnered the Dark Lord’s yew – and shakingly reaches for the memories you are forcing forth. He is taking them, you are succeeding in this, at least, and you focus all your efforts into pushing forth a little something more besides untold truths and secret scenes. There is a danger to raw memories, especially forcing them how you are, and you will take advantage of this singular chance to impress upon the boy what must be done.
The Dark Lord and Nagini can be ended by anyone, really. You might have taken the chance to end them yourself, if the strings and oaths did not convince you to play a longer and more foolish game at a dead man’s whims. Let the Granger girl finish them. Let one of the boy’s many allies and supporters kill the wizard and the snake on the boy’s behalf. Let them be slain by someone else; let the burden be taken by another for once.
They are at the crux of things. And there is another Horcrux left that you cannot trust to the Granger girl or the boy’s friends and followers. They will not have the strength to destroy it, should they ever know. You cannot trust the boy, the silly and hopeful child, to have the strength either. He has constantly surprised you, yes, but he is weak, and you doubt that the selfish brat will do what is necessary at the right moment. You trust no one and you will have some success in your terrible burden, your impossible task, before you pass into the mystery of the "next great adventure".
The boy has no skill at Occlumency. He will not notice these whispers, these impressions, these suggestions among the memories, slipping falsely into his mind as just yet another terrible truth, compelling him to do what must be done. Sapping at his will and his faith and his hope. Pushing at his sense of sacrifice and guilt and tiredness, pulling at the strings that Dumbledore tangled around him too. You focus and you whisper leading, deathly enchantment into the memories:
You are not supposed to survive.
Dumbledore said that Voldemort himself must do it.
You are supposed to dispose the remaining links to life and fling yourself across his path.
You doubt both of your masters, the white wizard and the Dark Lord, but your oaths tie you and you are tired of this game.
You are not supposed to raise a wand to defend yourself, but let it all end cleanly.
The boy and his fragment of soul, unmissed by the Dark Lord, must die.
You are to die and the job that ought to have been done in Godric’s Hollow will finally be finished.
It is essential that the Dark Lord himself must do it, Dumbledore said.
Neither should live. Neither should survive.
It is necessary that the boy set out to meet his death to end the Dark Lord once and for all.
This is your true destiny. This is the incontrovertible truth. This is that what you must do:
You must die.
It must end.
It is a terrible thing you are doing, but you do not care. You can trust no one. There is so much left to do and you are dying, amidst a tangled pile of strings and nooses, bindings and blindfolds, chains and oaths, loopholes and grudges, secrets and burdens and an impossible task. You are dying and this must be done. If you did not consider this so necessary, you might consider this a petty thing to do. (If I die, so do you. Perhaps this is what he always meant us to do.) You have spent so long keeping this foolish child alive and now you are dying, bitterly breaking one of your many, many oaths in agonized spirit if not looping words, and so must he.
There will be no good-byes, no explanations. You are alone, parted from your friends a long time ago. This is a journey that you will take on your own, attempts to stop you will waste valuable time. If you fulfill your true destiny a little early, they will carry on.
It is better like this.
This is crucial: make sure there are backups, others to carry on, before you die. Then, even as you think yourself unable to go on, you know that you must.
The long game is ended.
It must end.
You must die.
With still-shaking hands, the boy fills the conjured flask full to the brim with your memories – with the secrets and truths and tasks left to you – and then looks over you with helpless horror. You are feeling very faint, underneath the sheer agony of Nagini’s wrath. Your lungs are shuddering, your heart is stuttering, and your blood soaks your robes and floor. You must have little blood left, as little left as you do memories, both left to flow freely. Your grip on the boy’s front slackens. You are dying.
There is so much left to do.
But you must be satisfied with the silvery memories and secrets that now rest in the boy's hand, with the whispers that will surely take hold in the boy's mind. He always was overly curious, now it will finally kill him.
“Look… at… me…” you whisper. (Choke, gurgle, rasp.)
The boy looks at you, desperate and fearful, and you are nearly lost in the green of his eyes. He truly does have his mother’s eyes. Lily’s eyes. You are glad to see them one last time, as your eyes meet his and you attempt to impress what little will you can upon him of what must be done. Lily had such beautiful eyes, when she still looked at you, once upon a time. She's long gone, of course, along with the possibilities the path beside her once offered, but the boy's eyes are close enough to imagine... just for a moment...
Your hand on his front loosens, too weak to hold on any longer, now that the deed is done. Now that the task is passed, the secrets shared, the truths told, the terrible sacrifice impressed upon the silly boy, used to fight and raised to die. You heart slows… stutters… stops.
Lily would never forgive you for this. Any of it.
You wouldn’t blame her.