Severus Snape bolted upright, a cold sweat drenching his sallow skin, the thin sheets of his bed twisting uncomfortably around his legs. The frigid dungeon air wrapped around him - like a blanket, but producing the opposite effect - and he shivered, only partly from the temperature. At least once a week, for the past ten years, he had had the same dream – the same nightmare. It was as though he was in some sort of sick limbo, unable to escape it.
He couldn’t ever quite pinpoint the source of the all-consuming pain that coursed through him after one of these dreams. Physical, mental, and emotional pain all seemed to combine in one big mass that just hummed and throbbed until he could finally manage to block it from his mind.
But it had been ten years. A whole decade. If it was going to stop, it would have stopped long, long ago. He now knew it was something he must live with.
He could still see her in perfect detail, as though neither of them had moved forward in time from that night. He had tried so hard, so damn hard – it would have meant the world to him if she had forgiven him. He didn’t deserve it, but he had hoped she might see past that.
It hadn’t been easy, either, sneaking up out of his common room in the dead of night, avoiding Peeves and the caretaker and who knew what else. He’d been prepared to risk spending the night there, too. Anything to make Lily see how serious he was – but she had stopped taking him seriously a long time before then.
She had still been beautiful, sleepy as she had looked – hair tousled from lying on the pillow, nightdress twisted about her legs. Maybe that had been his downfall. He couldn’t ever concentrate too much on what Lily said when he allowed himself to become lost in his dreams, as opposed to his reality. Even the sparks that had snapped from her green eyes hadn’t been enough to make him lose hope. He hadn’t lost hope until it had been too late, really.
She had turned down apology after apology, seemingly without a care in the world. Surely she must have known she was breaking his heart, but she seemed ice cold and deaf to his pleas. She wouldn’t acknowledge his pathetic excuse for calling her… that word. She wouldn’t even acknowledge that he had broken rules for her. Instead she simply took his heart, and disappeared with it.
Severus stumbled blindly from the bed, feet dragging on the rough stones of the little room behind his office in the dungeons. It really was a thoroughly miserable place, and for one wracked so often by nightmares of the one he had loved and lost, it was all the more hollow and lifeless.
His thoughts flashed briefly to the next evening – well, this evening, judging by the gradual lightening of the sky outside - when the students would once more be arriving at the school to begin a new term. Severus usually remained all but indifferent to such goings-on, but this year was different. Lily’s son (he could not think of him as anyone else’s son – it was too painful) would be arriving with the group of first years, and from what Dumbledore had said, he was the epitome of his father.
With the exception of his eyes.
It really was no use attempting to go back to sleep now. It was better to only receive a few hours’ sleep than try again and risk facing the nightmares all over again.
He wished he could get Lily off his mind. He hated thinking over what might have been, what he could have done differently, but he always found himself doing just that whenever he let his mind wander too far. Things hadn’t worked out; he couldn’t change that now. Even if he had wanted to, which he did most desperately, but there was absolutely no way to go about it.
And yet, why did remorse still eat away at him like so much bitter acid?
He missed her; it was just as plain and simple as that. He missed the way the left side of her forehead would crinkle slightly when she laughed. He missed the way she always smelled, like shampoo and some kind of perfume. He never learned the name of it, and now couldn't remember it well enough to seek it out. He missed the way she could always make him feel better when he was in one of his moods, the only one who could ever do so.
He even missed how happy she had looked when she was with Potter and his friends, in their last two years of school. As much as it had hurt to see her with him, of all the idiots that populated the castle, he had taken some small amount of solace in knowing that she was happy. In the end, that was all that he really wanted for her. He only regretted that he had ruined any chance he might have had of being the cause of that happiness. It appeared that remorse could not erase the wounds he had inflicted upon her.
In the distance, he heard the stirrings of the house-elves in the kitchens, already beginning to prepare breakfast for the staff and food for the welcoming feast that evening. Severus crossed to his wardrobe, now certain that sleep was a lost commodity, and dressed quickly and solemnly in his robes. He needed to get out of this cramped and oppressive little room – perhaps fresh air would do him some amount of good. Anything that might relieve the heavy aching in his chest would be welcome.
The grounds were bathed in the weak light of the rising sun in the September morning. His feet began to carry him automatically toward the tree near the edge of the lake, which was more often than not his sole destination on these early morning jaunts. He didn’t know why he insisted on torturing himself like this, but part of him felt like it was only punishment that was due.
He stood by the gnarled trunk of the tree amidst its roots, a slim hand resting on the bark as he looked out over the lake’s glassy surface. It was here where it had all ended – it was here he visited in his nightmares every week. If he tried hard enough, he could still see Lily storming across the grounds, beautiful anger etched all over her freckled face. He could still hear the words he never meant to say as they left his mouth. He could still feel the hurt that flowed from her as though it was his own.
He had never met anyone else who could ever come close to making him feel this way, even in the ten years since she had left him. It was his fault. It was all his fault.
He was ashamed of the tears that still stung his eyes, even now. He brushed them away furiously, angry that Lily could still cause these emotions to well up inside of him. He hated feeling so weak and pathetic. How could he do the job that was asked of him if he crumbled just to think that he had made it necessary in the first place?
“Lily,” he whispered into the cool morning. He had not spoken her name aloud since that night in October. It felt strange and foreign on his tongue, and he somehow wondered if he should even be allowed to speak it anymore. He tried it out again, and a shiver ran up his spine. Just hearing her name again from his own lips was a strange and surreal sensation.
He was not the kind to brood, or sulk, or become trapped in alternate realities. But somehow, he couldn’t let go – there had never been any sort of closure on his end, and now the wound would always remain open and raw, forever unhealed by time, or anything else. He just wanted a sense of peace, someone to tell him that everything was over now.
The smell of the water carried to him on the breeze and lifted his hair slightly from his temples. The fresh air seemed to work as a cleanser for his mind; he could remember the happier times, before he had ruined his chances. When Lily would smile at him, or sit close to him, or talk to him about her deepest secrets. He could have learned from her trust in him – he could have learned so much.
He forced the tears back as always, never once allowing them to betray his true weakness. Today was a new chapter in his story. He would look after Lily’s son, and attempt to mend what had remained broken between them for so long. It was his last chance, and he owed it to her. It still would never be enough to make up for what he had done, but he could try.
“I miss you, Lily. I’m still here. Always.”
A/N: I assure you, I have NOT gone off my rocker. This, my friends, is actually the third chapter in a four-part story of major moments in Severus Snape's life, and I shall be posting the others in sequence. These are all stand-alone moments, so just bear with me! You'll have the full piece in time. But you should still tell me what you thought of this chapter!
Edit 9-17: The challenge I wrote this chapter for being long since finished, I've taken the lyrics from this chapter and made it a plain one-shot, as well as changed the story category to 'short story collection'.