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A Choice

Title: A Choice
Characters and/or pairings: Severus Snape
Word count: 1,454
Rating: PG-13
Highlight for Warnings: *Canon character death*
Summary and/or prompt: Snape’s thoughts as he looks at Harry for the final time.

If Severus had a choice between saving the world and saving himself, he would choose himself. Every time. But recent events in his life have not been a matter of choice. He feels as though his last free-willed decision was the one that cost Lily her life, and he has never quite trusted himself with his own actions since.

That was why he came to Albus all those years ago, desperate and grief stricken, in search of someone who could tell him what to do next. Albus always seemed so confident in what he called the “right” decisions. For years he gave Severus a purpose. He told him that he needed to protect Harry in Lily’s honor. He needed to teach Potions on her behalf. He needed to become a spy in the Dark Lord’s ranks because it’s what she would have wanted. And at the time, Serverus believed him. What other choice did he have? They may have been lies, but those lies allowed him to live with what he had done.

He knows the truth now, but it’s too late, as usual. Albus is dead, the Dark Lord is poised at Hogwart’s entrance, and Severus stands by his side. Albus’s will has made him a liar and a murderer. And he knows that none of it was ever for Lily’s sake.

From his vantage point among the trees he watches the invasion begin, knowing exactly what defensive spells Minerva is using, knowing they won’t last long, and he thinks about the long years when this castle was his home. He senses that he’ll never wander those dark corridors again, and surprisingly this makes him sad.

There was a time when Severus dreamed of escaping Hogwarts. He began applying to the Defense Against the Dark Arts position shortly after joining the staff, fully aware of the curse that plagued it. He hoped that if Albus gave him the job, that would mean only one year left of teaching, only one more year under Albus’s thumb, and then he would be free. The curse would see to it. He would leave Hogwarts for good and seek out a new life somewhere, although he didn’t know where. But every year Albus turned him down, and secretly, Severus was relieved.

Then came the day in Albus’s office when the headmaster turned to him, cradling his blackened hand, and sighed. “Severus. I’ve asked Horace Slughorn to return to his position as Potions professor this year.”

Severus blinked, trying to hold off the instinctive feeling of betrayal. After all those years, he still depended on Albus like a child, and he was still afraid of being cast aside. “I see. Am I to understand I’m being made redundant?”

“Certainly not,” Albus gravely replied. “You will be taking over for Dolores Umbridge.”

So his request had been finally granted. And although at the time it filled him with unspeakable dread, he never even thought to argue. He was too used to relinquishing control over his life.

Now, the question he asks himself as he looks out over the explosions and crumbling castle walls is not who will win this war, and certainly not what he can do to help. These too are matters outside his control. It is whether he will survive to the end. And if he does, whether he can convince the victor that he’s been an ally all along, whomever the victor may be.


A young death eater is trying to get his attention, someone that Severus does not recognize, probably a new recruit. Just one more youth afraid of making his own decisions.

“The Dark Lord wishes to see you, sir.”

Foreboding washes over him at those words. His best hope of survival during this battle is to stay on the sidelines, hover in the shadows. Every moment he stands in the Dark Lord’s presence lowers his chances. He nods to the boy, who will surely be dead by morning, then sweeps off to meet his own fate.

At first, he isn’t sure why he has been summoned, which alone is terrifying. He gives the Dark Lord encouragement and platitudes, but that can’t possibly be why he is there. His anxiety rises second by second, but the Dark Lord insists on speaking in circles, remaining cryptic for as long as possible before centering in on their actual topic of discussion. How very like Albus, Severus thinks. He has to pay close attention to the Dark Lord’s every word, waiting for a clue, and when the Elder Wand is finally mentioned, Severus’s heart seizes.

It is nothing that he hasn’t already worked out for himself. Severus is no expert on wand lore, but he knows there are several candidates for the Elder Wand’s allegiance, and he knows he is one of them. And although he feigns surprise, does his best to craft a plausible denial, even pleads for his very life, he knows this must be the end. This is the last room he will ever be in. The last conversation he will ever have. The last face he will ever see.

The pain of Nagini’s fangs is searing, like the Cruciatus curse concentrated to small points along his body. He can immediately feel the warm poison rushing through his veins, his adrenaline-pumping heart only speeding up the process. He doesn’t remember falling to the floor, but that’s where he is as he watches the Dark Lord’s retreating feet, Nagini slithering at his heels.

He lies there, sputtering, waiting to die. All he can think is, what has been the point?

And then, he begins to hallucinate. At least, he thinks he is hallucinating, because that can’t possibly be Potter coming toward him, hesitating a foot away as though snake bites might be contagious.

Of all the people to arrive at his deathbed, why did it have to be Potter? Severus knows what he is supposed to do. He just wasn’t expecting to have the opportunity, and he wonders if Albus has arranged this final meeting from beyond the grave. He doesn’t want Potter to be here. He doesn’t want to tell him. He doesn’t want it to be his final act in this world, convincing him to die.

The boy scrambles closer, and his face, now inches away, swims into view. It is the same as ever: Lily’s green eyes trapped among James’ ugly features. How cruel, he thinks; and then his vision blurs, and suddenly he is no longer looking at James or Lily. All he can make out is Harry, a young boy who shares one important characteristic with Severus: they have both been disposable pawns in this game. Severus makes up his mind.

He tries to speak, but there is liquid in his throat, and pain burning up his side. “Take it,” he manages, choking on the words. He hopes that Harry understands.

The only thing Severus can offer in this final moment is the truth. He lets it pour out of him like catharsis, all of it, everything he’s kept hidden. But the venom makes it difficult to control, so the memories are jumbled: Lily and her sister the day Severus first meets them, a childhood friendship, Albus asking for death, losing Lily to death, losing Lily to James, Albus explaining that they have been raising Harry for the slaughter. He wants Harry to know everything that’s been kept from him. He also wants forgiveness, because he’s human and he’s weak, and he accidentally sheds a false memory, or more like a dark fantasy, of crying over Lily’s corpse. Harry reaches out and bottles his testimony like a potion.

The effort has exhausted him. There is more that Severus wants to say, but he can’t find the sounds. He barely has the energy to croak, “Look at me.” He wants Harry to see death, up close, without turning away. He wants Harry to know that it isn’t noble or glorious. It’s ugly. It’s pathetic.

He also wants Harry to know that what he holds in that tiny vial is not a death sentence. It is a choice. That’s what Severus wishes to give him. The knowledge to make his own decision. A chance to break the cycle.

What would Lily say if she could see them now? Harry’s face has been consumed by the encroaching darkness, but Severus imagines he can still see the piercing green of his eyes, her eyes, staring through him.

When he speaks for the last time, he is not sure if the words are out loud or in his head. “You have your mother’s eyes.”

Severus hopes, foolishly, that Harry will choose to live. It’s what he would have chosen. The whole world be damned.


This is perfect for the way in which it deepens and gives sense to the scene both in the book and in the movie; you have developed a great vignette using both canon sources at the best, adding such purposes and thoughts from Snape.

Thank you, Mystery Author!
Thank you for reading! I find Snape's motivations fascinating, especially after what we find out in book seven.
I really like this -- very Severus, very plausible. The idea that he can no longer trust his own choices makes a lot of sense, as does your explanation for why he keeps asking for the DADA position. I like the way you deal with the issue of choice, and I particularly like that you don't really soften Severus's attitude toward Harry as a person; it's more that he softens toward the position that Harry occupies, and this makes sense for Snape, too. Other good elements: the cameo by the DE recruit is chilling. And the ending is just right.

And if he does, whether he can convince the victor that he’s been an ally all along, whomever the victor may be.
This is the Severus I find most believable -- not someone pining in unrealistic love of a woman long dead, an ideal who never really existed, but a man working for himself -- not even in a callous way, but in the only way that lets him survive.

Excellent job.
Thank you! For all the explanations we're given in the last book, it seems like there are more complex factors going on behind Snape's decisions. As you said, pining for someone he'll never have doesn't strike me as his sole motivation in life. Guilt and survival, maybe. I'm glad my interpretation worked for you!
Ah, beautiful. ♥!
Perfect Severus.

You've captured so well the absolute horror I imagine his life to be and the parallels between him and Harry, the two pawns of two powerful, terrible men.

Love the explanation of the "WTF" moment in the film that places Severus at the scene of the Potters' murders:

He also wants forgiveness, because he’s human and he’s weak, and he accidentally sheds a false memory, or more like a dark fantasy, of crying over Lily’s corpse. Harry reaches out and bottles his testimony like a potion.

Just terrific!
the two pawns of two powerful, terrible men

Yes, that's it exactly. I find it suspect that Snape would cling to one megalomaniac, and then essentially switch allegiance to another. What a terrible way to live.

And there was definitely a bit of movie-canon correction going on here. "WTF" indeed. :) Thank you for reading!
Wonderful, lovely and so very sad.
Thank you! Snape is such a tragic character, isn't he?
Very powerful, and very true to Snape's character.
Thank you!

Woah. This is... excellent! Wow... that one hit hard, and this bit especially

This is the last room he will ever be in. The last conversation he will ever have. The last face he will ever see.

is incredibly real for him to think. *not explaining this well*

I really like Snape's voice in this and the entire story is full of depth - all these things we'd never think of, the young DE ... his wanting the DADA position, his still clinging to Albus like a child....

and he was still afraid of being cast aside. <-- that one made my chest hurt!!!
I was nervous about that death scene since, you know, it's not something I've ever experienced myself. So I'm glad that part worked for you.

And I thought that the movie really brought home how much Snape depended emotionally on Albus (thanks to some superb acting). It was fascinating to watch.

Thank you so much for reading!
it's not something I've ever experienced myself

Yeah, well I've been close, and for me reading it, his moment of realization is pretty spot on.

Every situation is of course different, and a person's level of awareness in the moment is really the key.

I had a skydiving accident, oh.... 21 years ago or so, and as I was about to auger into the ground, I thought to myself (and had the words come across my mind's eye in letters 10' tall)... "This is it. This is what death looks like." and that was all... very matter-of-fact, no panic, fear, nothing, just a statement of fact. Weird.

Oh my god, that's an incredible story. How terrifying. And also fascinating, how the brain processes something that's almost too large to process. Anyway, I'm glad you're okay, and thanks for sharing!
Very well-written, and it addresses so many things. The constant demands for the DADA position. The false memories (or at least things he couldn't have seen) in the pensieve.

And that last line, of course.

Great job.
Thank you! There were a lot of little things that I enjoyed the chance to explain and (and fix) with this fic. I'm glad they worked for you!
Nice explanation of the implausible memory they inserted into the film, and I like that Severus isn't self-sacrificing here. I can easily imagine him making the decision to follow Dumbledore's orders, and how angry he must be upon realising that Dumbles intended Harry to die. Great ficlet!
It's funny, because the scene where Snape finds out that Harry will die is the one that really piqued my interest about his character, even though I didn't end up addressing it directly in this fic. It just made me wonder why he continued to follow Dumbledore's plans to the end, and I don't think it's because he wanted to save the world. Thanks for reading!
The lovely kellychambliss recommended this at one_bad_man, and so I came along. I'm so glad that I did. You turn what seemed in the book like some sort of unmasking into a chance for Severus to be true to the character we (if not JKR) knew and loved throughout the entire series of books. Thank you.
Aw, I'm flattered to have been recced! I definitely used this as an opportunity to make sense of Snape's character, given the somewhat contradictory information we're given. Thanks for reading!
I don't know what it is about this piece that makes it so beautiful. I really love the language, the third-person point of view that delves deeper than any monologue ever could. I love the way Severus justifies things, and then breaks them down to the truth.

The last three lines are absolutely perfect. I really hate that Severus died, and I can see this being his swan song. Beautiful.
Thank you so much! We learn so much about Severus in the last book/movie, yet he still remains so much a mystery. I enjoyed the chance to explain some of his actions. I'm glad you enjoyed it!

August 2011



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