A/N: Here we are at the last chapter already. Don't think too badly of Lily - she may be manipulative, but she haseveryone's best interests at heart...
Chapter 5:CRUEL TO BE KIND
"Oh, there you are, dear. How are those blisters? Not found any more splinters? They can work their way up after a day or so, you know. I'd keep an eye on them. And I'd watch that Swamp-Fly sting too - they can get infected, even after you've had the antidote."
"I'm fine, honestly. Good as new, thanks to you," Lily assured her with a radiant smile. "Madame Pomfrey, have you seen James?"
"Mr Potter? Oh yes, dear - he was down here first thing this morning looking for you. Though I'm not sure if he knew you were here, or whether he'd popped in on the off-chance. Biggest bunch of red roses I've ever seen. You're a lucky girl! He was quite put out when I said I hadn't seen you. That was right, wasn't it? You did say not to tell Mr Potter…?"
The matron didn't, as a rule, allow herself to be dragged in to the students' love lives, though she was the soul of discretion when it came to the number of prohibited and mis-brewed love potions, Hate Hexes and Jilted Jinxes she was called upon to reverse on an almost daily basis. But for Lily Evans she was prepared to bend the rules a fraction.
"Have you two had a quarrel?" she inquired in a motherly way.
"Something like that." Lily's expression was unusually severe. Red roses! She snorted to herself in disgust. Pink or yellow roses, please, but never red! Or freesia, her favourite… a few stems of scented freesia were preferable to a whole bucketful of red roses.
A flicker of disapproval glinted in Madame Pomfrey's eyes, but she kept her opinions to herself. Evans and Potter made such a lovely couple! It would be a shame if anything were to spoil it.
"The poor boy's still asleep. He was completely exhausted."
"But is he…?"
"I'll be recommending he gives Quidditch a miss for a few days, and he'll need to be careful, but apart from that - nothing rest, fresh air and a couple of square meals won't put right."
Lily's relief must have been all too apparent. Madame Pomfrey pursed her lips.
"Far be it from me to pry into what you get up to in your free time, young lady, but if that Slytherin has been putting ideas into your head… Dark Arts indeed!" She tutted.
"What do you mean?"
"That wasn't a common or garden slipped disc I've been Healing. That boy had severe spell damage. It could have been very nasty. And from what you've told me, you got off very lightly yourself. It doesn't do to dabble in these things, dear."
"I'm sorry. It won't happen again." Lily apologised - for the time-being it was easier than protesting her innocence and getting embroiled in explanations. Dark Arts? She'd 'Dark Arts' James when she saw him!
"Can I sit with him?" She nodded to the far end of the ward, where the screens were pulled around Snape's bed. "I want to be here when he wakes up. Oh, Madame Pomfrey? If James comes back…"
"My lips are sealed," the matron vowed. She clicked into her office shaking her head, not at all sanguine about this turn of events.
Lily sat by the bedside thinking about James, alternately missing him and seething with indignation. How dare he? For she was now convinced that Snape's interpretation had been correct: a thoughtless prank. She was equally sure that James would never have intended her to get involved. Not her, just Snape. Her stomach clutched when she imagined what might have happened if she hadn't been there and Snape had ended up in the hut alone…
James needed to be taught a lesson. So did the others - Peter and Sirius - but she had a more immediate influence over James. She'd begin with him. What could she do? Tell Professor Dumbledore? No, she didn't want to get James into that much trouble, especially with exams coming up, and then reports and references… Break up with him then? Shout? That would be a start. But no amount of shouting would ever really get through to James - they'd had rows before and arguments just rebounded off James like hexes off dragon-hide. Nor did she want to provide him - and the others - with any more ammunition to use against Snape. If they knew he'd been so badly injured it would give them just one more ignominy with which to taunt him.
Lily could see James now - contrite, anxious to please, eager to make up for his mistakes, but with no genuine remorse, not fully comprehending the extent of the damage - like a puppy caught chewing on a slipper, realising it has been naughty but not understanding what all the fuss is about.
Oh James! Lily was awfully fond of that puppy! But even puppies sometimes have to be taught a lesson.
A sixth sense, a self-conscious awareness made her look up and she turned towards the bed to find that Snape's eyes were open and he was quietly observing her. How long had he been awake? Lily felt uncomfortable, unnerved by that strange, silent scrutiny. She jumped up, not wanting him to realise how worried she had been.
"I made it, you see. You didn't think I had it in me, did you? Blisters like you wouldn't believe, but - well, we're here, aren't we?" Too bright; too breezy. Still the dark, brooding eyes absorbing her.
"How are you feeling?" she asked more softly. "Can you sit up?"
Very gingerly at first and then with more confidence, Snape pushed himself upright.
"Want to try standing? Walking?"
Lily took his arm as he slid his long legs out of the bed and tentatively levered himself to his feet. For a moment she felt his weight leaning against her, not trusting in his recovery, and then he straightened and took a couple of steps.
"Still feeling OK? Back to normal? No pain?"
"No," he murmured, monosyllabic, mistrustful. It was almost as though he knew.
"That's good," she said decisively, giving him a shove in the chest which sent him sitting back down on the bed in a hurry. "Because there's something I want to get absolutely straight with you, Severus Snape."
He scowled at her.
"I can guess. Potter."
"Got it in one. When we were… in that place, you agreed to leave James to me." Lily brought all her assertive powers to bear and stared at him, unblinking and determined, dominating him physically as she stood before him, and hoping to win a victory through sheer force of personality.
"I did nothing of the sort," Snape retorted coldly. "You may have asked me to. Did you hear me agree?"
"But, in any event, you are going to… leave James to me?" Hypnosis would have come in handy here, Lily reflected.
Snape returned her gaze sullenly, black eyes versus green, meeting a resistance and a will as stubborn as his own.
"Look, Snape," Lily exclaimed in exasperation, "If you retaliate against James now, this whole feud is going to escalate again - and then where will we be?"
"I'll kill him." A statement, not a threat.
"Oh, yes, well, that's very grown up! And what - spend the rest of your life in Azkaban? That's one way of solving your career problems." Lily had no patience with the kind of male bravado which reduced every disagreement to a test of magical skill or actual fisticuffs.
"He deserves it," snarled Snape, refusing to be deprived of his revenge.
"Maybe he does! I'm not trying to excuse what he did. It was horrible. I'm just saying that there are ways of punishing people which don't resort to violence. I know how to handle James."
"Withdrawal of privileges?" suggested Snape unpleasantly.
Lily angrily counted to ten. And then another ten. Why was she even bothering to protect them? Because she suspected that, if it came to a duel, dear James would be no match for the devious and dangerous Snape?
With an award-winning sigh, she sat down next to him on the bed, not touching but close enough to be distracting. For several minutes she gazed at her hands folded peacefully in her lap. Snape waited for her to make her move - for once he couldn't predict what it might be.
"It had occurred to me," she began at last, speaking calmly and conversationally as though she were discussing the plot of the latest best-seller, "that when we talk to James about what happened yesterday, it might be advantageous to be somewhat economical with the truth. For instance, it might be better if he didn't realise quite how effectively his spell worked." She turned to face Snape directly. "I wasn't going to tell him," she said pointedly.
"If you don't tell him, I will. That idiot almost paralysed me," Snape growled.
"But, Severus, do you really want James to know that?" cried Lily, putting her hand on his arm. All of a sudden she wasn't quite sure whose side she was on. Then she remembered - her own.
For a second Snape wavered; he looked undecided and Lily thought she might be going to get away with it.
"So you think I should tell James everything?" she asked innocently, but with the emphasis on 'everything'.
"Tell him what you damn well like." Snape wasn't going to make it that easy. "You're not conning me into silence just so you can get your darling Potter off the hook. You don't tell me what to do. Do you think I'm afraid of a bit of Gryffindor gossip? You're blackmailing me to lay off Potter, so that you can save his thick skin!"
"And yours," Lily added significantly.
She'd been hoping that she wouldn't have to resort to blackmail, but, if it came to a choice between Snape's ego and James' life, she was prepared to be cruel - very cruel…
"I imagine James and Sirius would be rather interested to hear that you spent your weekend whimpering on the floor…"
"Try me. Or…" Lily went on, hating herself for what she was about to say, knowing that it was going to wound him - and she honestly didn't want to hurt him, or anybody, if she could help it - knowing also that it was the ultimate weapon in her peace-keeping strategy. "Or they might like to know how you nearly wet yourself… or, Snivellus, how I saw you crying…"
Snape was white with anger.
"You bitch! You scheming, manipulative, f------ bitch!" he hissed.
A bitch defending her puppy!
Lily stood up, relieved that Snape, fists clenched, was staring fixedly at the ground, not meeting her eyes, and couldn't therefore see her shaking.
"Get dressed and meet me outside in ten minutes," she ordered. "Oh, and brush your teeth."
Punctual to the second, Snape appeared through the archway. He was 'walking tall', Lily noticed at once but slowly and a little stiffly. When he wasn't slouching, she thought, he had quite a commanding presence of his own - never mind Lucius Malfoy.
"I've sent James an owl to meet me at the lake," she declared without preamble. "Come on. Or is that too far for you to walk? Are you sure your back's all right? Madame Pomfrey said you had to take it easy to begin with. Let me know if you need to rest."
The unexpected swing from dominatrix to concerned carer threw Snape and he couldn't think of a suitably barbed reply.
"I'm not going anywhere with you," he objected.
"No? Oh, OK then. I'll just tell James where you are and he'll come to find you. Is that what you want? Whatever was I thinking - that you might like me to be there when you confront James? I mean, he only thinks we spent the night together… He'll probably want to shake your hand. Severus, for Merlin's sake, you haven't even got your wand! Don't be silly. Come on."
With a friendliness that Snape found completely disconcerting, Lily took his arm. Matching her pace to his, she led him to the spot on the shore where several paths converged, from where they would have a clear view of anyone approaching. Small groups of sunbathers, making the most of the afternoon sunshine, looked up with interest to see the Head Girl strolling with the tight-lipped, straight-backed Slytherin. By now Snape was regarding her with a bemused mixture of animosity and grudging admiration.
"What did that Hat think it was doing, sorting you into Gryffindor?" he muttered at one point.
"Look, there they are," she said, spying three figures in the distance. "He's brought the troops. Now, remember, leave them to me if you want to get out of this with your balls intact."
Snape would never have imagined such language coming from the mouth of the lovely but, as he had supposed, unworldly Lily Evans, and he had to acknowledge that he had been guilty of underestimating her.
When the three Marauders were about five hundred yards down the path, Lily turned to Snape and slid her arms round his waist, pulling him against her.
"Kiss me," she whispered.
"Are you mad?"
"Just do it. Now!" she told him, urgently. "Trust me."
Trust you? You're blackmailing me into being here, into facing up to Potter in some contrived revenge ritual - Merlin knows why I'm here at all! I must be the one who's mad – and you expect me to trust you? He was both astounded and deeply impressed by her nerve and effrontery. She was utterly shameless, and indecipherable - like the Sphinx.
"You trusted me last night," she murmured. The memory of soft, warm hands worked on him like Persuading Potion, and he felt himself succumbing to her touch.
"Oh, come on, Snape." Discarding the sultry siren act, Lily was suddenly impatient. "I know how James' mind works. Seeing is believing. This 'll save time. Actions speak louder than words."
That's what worries me! I'd rather save my neck! Snape leaned forwards and, his eyes still anxiously tracking the approaching figures, gave her a guarded peck on the forehead.
"No, not like that," she complained. "Is that the best you can do? That's not going to convince James of anything. This is your big chance, boyo, so you might as well make the most of it. Kiss me properly! I assume you do know how? Or is that too much to expect? And please to goodness try to pretend you're enjoying it!"
"GET YOUR FILTHY HANDS OFF HER, YOU BASTARD!" James roared.
More flustered and a great deal more breathless than she had originally intended, Lily disengaged herself from Snape's willing lips. She collected herself and smiled sweetly at James.
"Hi! Thanks for coming. Isn't it a super day? I was rather hoping you'd let us have our wands back. You do have them?"
"Lily!" James howled. "What's he done to you? Put you under Imperius? What are you doing - letting yourself be mauled by that psycho? I don't believe it!"
"Where've you been all this time? I've been looking all over for you. I've been out of my mind! If he's touched you… or hurt you… so help me, I'll… I'll… And as for you, you foul, disgusting, slimy… Wait till I get my hands on you - you'll wish you'd never been born, you stinking, rotten… you, you…" He fell into clichés of blustering abuse.
Lily smartly side-stepped in between them.
"Well, we've just come from the hospital wing," she informed James, blithely ignoring his ranting. Snape glanced at her sharply, but she went on, "I ended up with a few blisters - my shoes were completely wrong; you could have warned me - but it was worth it. The views up there on Cairnmhor are simply stunning! And the sunset! Oh, you should have seen the sunset, it was breathtaking! It was such a wonderful night we decided to take the scenic route home. Honestly, it was so clear we could see all the stars - there were the most amazing shooting stars too, weren't there, Severus?"
Snape, who had been gaping at the girl as though she had just Apparated in from an asylum, shrugged weakly and gave a strained smile. Lily leaned back against his chest and, almost without thinking, he placed his hands protectively on her shoulders. He was breathing in the musky sandalwood scents of her hair.
James gulped and spluttered.
"You needn't worry, James - Severus has been looking after me. He's been really considerate." She raised her eyebrows suggestively, pressing herself just that bit closer. Snape knew he was lost, enslaved. "In fact," Lily gushed, "Severus has been fantastic! I'm sorry, James, but your little joke seems to have backfired!"
Snape, anticipating imminent decapitation or dismemberment, and aware that he was in no shape to make a run for it, clung on to Lily, holding her before him like a human shield. Lily had been playing emotional roulette with James, but she had placed her bets wisely: the wheel spun through outrage, anger, disgust, aggression, violence, jealousy, guilt, humiliation and surrender, and came to rest on dismay. James' whole body sagged in defeat, but he tried to salvage some dignity from his trampled pride. He motioned to Sirius.
"Give them the wands."
"But James, you're winning on points - take advantage of it while you can! How often do you get a chance like this? Surely you're not going to throw the whole match now!" Sirius looked as though Christmas had been cancelled(1). He shook his head in disappointment, decrying James' easy capitulation. "We've got his wand, for Merlin's sake - he's a sitting duck! At least send him for a quick swim in the lake, or fly him round the pitch and post him through a hoop! How many points do you get for a Slytherin own goal?"
"What do goals matter when he's already caught the Snitch?" James replied morosely. "Give them the wands."
Lily tensed as Snape reached out his hand. This was a potential flashpoint. Frowning, she caught his eye and, reluctantly (and somewhat meekly, she noted with satisfaction) he returned the wand unused to his pocket.
"James!" Lily launched her ultimatum. "I want you to think very carefully about which is more important to you: the feud with Severus, or me. Because you can't have both. And another thing - I don't think much of amateurs playing at Dark Arts and practising on my friends. Come on, Severus."
Taking Snape by the hand she led him away, through the tittering gaggle of onlookers and towards the castle.
"There you are!" she smiled triumphantly. "Reputation and balls intact! Actually, I'd say your reputation may have just gone up by several notches… Poor old James! I'll let him stew for a few days and then I'll think about forgiving him. On condition that he drops the feud."
"You, Lily Evans, are an evil succubus!"
"It's all part of the service. And you…"
"You, Severus Snape, may not be my type, but I was wrong about one thing - you do know how to kiss!"
End of story. Aaah! A happy ending! (of sorts)
We know from canon that Lily and James got married soon, so we have to assume that he was a good puppy…
Do you think James really reformed or is JKR not telling us the whole story?
Thanks for all your reviews.
1 Christmas had been cancelled - a nod here to the Sheriff of Nottingham (Robin Prince of Thieves)