Title: Stay
Rating: PG-13
Summary: The happenings of what lies in between two separate lives. Severus and Lily meet one final time in their seventh year to reunite, reconcile, and rekindle. Unfortunately, there are still underlying secrets: much has changed in the two years since their lives changed forever and some things just can't be repaired.
AN: Forgive me, but a lot of ideas for the general history of James and Lily's relationship I got from the Shoebox Project, as well as some other tiny tidbits. And for any of you who have read the said amazingness, you understand why. Because once you've read Shoebox, it is Marauder canon. If something at all confuses you (although, I should hope that everything is okay :o ), go read it:D

I also initially wanted to make this a short one-shot, but I'm just getting so caught up in the pairing that I think it might be a few short chapters. Really, the fact that it's canon just opens up a whole new set of possibilities.

&

It was cold.

And something was tickling the back of Severus' neck, but he ignored it, and instead focused on the yellowing pages of the old potions book in his lap. They were fluttering from the breeze blowing in from the open window behind him, which made it very hard to concentrate and also bitterly confirmed his prediction that a storm would soon hit his makeshift spring vacation spot.

Under his breath he cursed the wind and its unseemly actions towards the many spell books sprawled out over the stone floor of his temporary residence, but his scornful words were few; he knew it was his fault for having left the blasted contraption open, but nonetheless, any reason to vent his ever-abundant supply of frustration was utilized. Unfortunately, his little window incident wasn't very helpful.

Angrily securing his page with a random slip of paper he found amidst the circle of books, Severus stood and braced the wind, making his way towards his recent nuisance. Within moments, the whistling of the wind ceased and the restless pages of his books were quelled, leaving him silent and alone again in the dusty seclusion of the dilapidated cottage.

With a somewhat indifferent air, Severus noticed that it was darker now that the clouds had already begun to roll their way across the horizon. He vaguely wondered how long he could have been squinting at the pages, but lit only one candle in honor of the thought. Severus sniffed the air curiously, looking about the room, and the expression on his face quickly took on that of severe distaste. He had almost grown accustomed to the cottage's odor, something horrid which closely resembled rotting moth balls and that to emitted from every crack in every wall.

With an aggravated scowl plastered across his face, Severus hastily grabbed his potions book from the floor and sank into the squeaky mattress in the corner of the tiny room. There was the tiniest sound of early raindrops falling onto his shabby roof, but it was indistinct and went unnoticed by the suddenly forlorn-looking Slytherin. Severus was gingerly touching the cover of his book, taking great care to sweep the binding with his fingertips as he stared down at the large, engraved letters of the title. The raindrops fell harder.

"Well," Severus mused quietly, brushing the letters with his thin, pale fingers. He slowly opened the book to the marked page, deliberately, as if wanting to avoid such an action altogether. "I don't suppose she's responded," he spoke, whether to the book or to himself, it wasn't important.

There, sketched across the pages of Lily's favorite chapter, stood little notes and messages of the most sincere apologies. Some, which could be found anywhere from in between paragraphs to alongside the margins, were done hurriedly and were therefore far less legible than others, and their words sounded scared and desperate. Others, more neatly drawn with a fine hand, calmly urged Lily to at least speak to him, to write back in her own charmed potions book, by owl, if anything, to at least let him know that she had seen his messages to her, that she had at least heard what he had been trying to tell her for the last two years… that the moment he had even uttered such an unforgivable insult was the worst mistake of his life; that he would do anything imaginable to at least have her know the vast depths of his never-ending regret, and possibly, for her forgiveness. Severus noticed that his ink was beginning to fade.

He pinched the bridge of his nose firmly, shutting his eyes against the unmerciful memories. According to the student body (the whole despicable, incompetent lot, he thought, sneering unconsciously), Severus' hope for Lily's restored friendship was the only desire worth wishing for now, as all his past dreams had been seemingly crushed, once again, courtesy of the one and only detestable James Potter.

Severus' fist suddenly clenched, his already pale knuckles stretching themselves into an unhealthy shade of alabaster, and in one fluid motion he had thrown the book across the room at the stone wall. The impact was too much for the little house, it seemed, and the window's latch unhooked itself, allowing rain and wind to flow freely into the room and make itself known to its inhabitant. The moment Severus realized what he had done, he leapt from the bed onto the stone floor and snatched the book up from the ocean of parchment. He froze for a moment, once again comprehending the absurdity of his actions and fell back against the cold stone wall, releasing a tired sigh and still clutching the potions book in one hand.

"This is ridiculous," he muttered, frustrated.

He blamed Potter, naturally. Granted, it was well known that he blamed the arrogant Head Boy for most everything that went wrong with his life (and most things were, in fact, going wrong with his life), but this, he thought, was quite justified.

Severus wasn't sure when things had started go turn so badly, but then again, he wasn't completely convinced that he would really want to know. The rumors (nothing else better to do with their time, the sick, vapid morons, he noted) had begun spreading as long ago as Halloween and had strengthened sometime around February. His stomach churned ferociously and he welcomed the wind that snapped his hair into his eyes.

He swallowed hard, letting his head crash against the wall and tried to forget what it was like, the first time he saw them together in the courtyard. She wasn't shouting at him, though she was still calling him names, but there was something different. Her tone had taken on a playful manner—the very sound of it had made his throat run dry. He tried to forget seeing them out by the lake, taking a stroll. Bantering in the Great Hall at dinner time. Carrying out Head Girl and Head Boy duties for the Yule Ball, laughing and joking with one another. Playing in the snow at Hogsmeade. The way her eyes shone when she was cheering for him during a Quidditch match and the way that her brilliant, silky voice seemed to fill the entire stands—

"Stop it," Severus snarled at himself, smashing his fist into the floor, ignoring the terrible cracking sound.

She should have been mine, Severus thought, letting his hand fall limply into his lap, on top of his abused book. That place by her side, Severus closed his eyes against the strengthened wind. It should have been mine. His lips curved themselves into his common sneer, though his dark eyes opened, they were sad. Like he didn't have enough for himself already… leave it to Potter to take everything from me, he thought darkly. He paused, staring at the bed, and turned towards his left forearm, where the Dark Mark was glaring back at him.

Maybe not everything.

He sighed again, letting the wind blow the rain against his chest. His clothes were getting soaked and he realized that he needed to close that window, but he didn't move away from his spot against the cold wall. Instead, he watched his books and papers get sprinkled with leaves and raindrops, transfixed at the sight of his beloved belongings getting ruined.

The painful memories were still jabbing, prickling at the corners of his mind. He could easily have them subside, he reminded himself, with some basic occlumency, but he believed now that he deserved the pain. And besides, he reflected. Those memories are the only things that keep her close to me now.

He got up, leaving the book on the floor, and made his way to the window, ignoring the soggy pieces of parchment that fell under his feet as he latched the window shut once more with a flick of his wand. He turned back to the dark, damp room and conjured a few more candles to grace the old, rickety wooden shelves on the wall and the small, circular table thrown into the opposite corner of the room. Within another minute or so, the room was back in order, parchment dry and organized and the book back safely in his lap, as he sat on his bed.

Carefully, Severus reopened to the marked chapter, scanning the pages for any sign of a new message, a new note, any markings from Lily's quill. He turned the page, and the next, and the next, until he had checked the entire book thrice over, but it was still the same. If Lily had seen anything he'd written, she certainly hadn't let him know.

He closed the book silently, before placing it next to him on the side table. He hadn't been expecting any sort of notice from her. He'd learned not to get his hopes up after the end of his fifth year, by which time all of his more direct attempts at communicating with her had been repeatedly dismissed.

He fell back onto the bed, wondering where she was at that moment. His first instinct was to say that she went home for the short vacation, but Severus wondered if she could have gone somewhere else. Would she have stayed at Hogwarts? No, he believed. She would have wanted a break from all of her Head Girl duties. Then where? With her friends?

With Potter?

He grimaced at the thought, but before he could stop himself, his mind invented the most horrifying of visions of their spring vacation and had them flashing before his eyes. There they were at the beach, running at the waves and playing in the sand (he could even see Black to the side—he was even being buried by Lupin, like the idiot he was). And then there they were, watching muggle television on the couch under a blanket—and there, eating dinner at a nice restaurant, Potter throwing money about as if it were nothing and buying Lily all sorts of extravagant presents, for each of which Lily bestowed upon him a new wave of kisses and then Potter would be touching her and holding her and then they'd—

"Stop." Severus ground out, clenching the ratty fabric of the mattress with his fists. He inhaled deeply, trying to clear his mind, when he realized that he thought he had heard something at the door.

He sat up slowly, eyes fixed on the little wooden frame across the next tiny room and listened carefully. The rain continued to patter against the walls, but aside from the storm, Severus could hear nothing.

He laid back down on the bed, exhausted suddenly, and at once decided that he had never once wanted to go to back to Hogwarts as much as he did just then and simultaneously hoped that he would never have to enter its heartless halls ever again. At Hogwarts, he could at least see Lily—see that she was all right, that she was happy… but with Potter, amongst the people he loathed most, the people who had made his life more miserable than he had ever imagined.

The mark on his skin seemed to burn in unison with his hateful thoughts and Severus closed his eyes against the stinging pain. They were the ones who had pushed him to this, his decision to join the Dark Lord. He had been feared at Hogwarts for his immense knowledge of the Dark Arts, if not shunned… but the Dark Lord was more than appreciative of his efforts. Severus glared into the depths of the blank stare of the skull, before his eyes were drawn to the serpent. It seemed as if the dark snake was staring back at him, studying him, watching him. Severus drew his arm closer to his face and upon further inspection, the snake seemed to move against his skin, his tongue seemed to slither out of its mouth and hiss as if warning him.

There was a knock at the door. It was subtle and unobtrusive, but nonetheless, Severus jumped in what might have been the first time in years. He shook his head angrily, frustrated by the complete nonsense of his evening thus far and resolved that perhaps it was a good thing his vacation ended in a few short days. The sooner he left this atrocious cottage, the easier it would be to maintain his sanity.

He didn't really believe that, but he figured he might as well try to.

He got up from the bed, growled out a mere, "coming," to his intruder and quickly tapped his arm with his wand, producing his common glamour over his mark and instantly caused any evidence of his having associated with the Dark Lord to disappear. He successfully fought the urge to touch it as he made his way to his door. It will be nothing to hide in good time, he reminded himself. The concealment charm is merely for convenience purposes.

And so, when he opened the door to find Lily Evans standing on his shoddy doorstep, clad in muggle attire and soaked to the bone, blinking against the wind and her green eyes shining in the darkness of the storm, he really wasn't quite what sure to do.

For a moment, he did nothing but stare. Later, upon vehement reflection, he'll have compared it to those thundering morons back at school, when a professor asks them a question that their simple minds simply don't have the capacity to answer. He manages to open his mouth not once, but twice, both of which attempts are filled with rain water and more confusion. When he does, at last, recover the ability to speak, it is unfortunately unaccompanied by the ability to reason.

"Y-you," he says, intelligently, his eyes wide, in a surprisingly un-Severus-like manner. "What are you," he pauses as rain drops from the strands of his hair directly into his eyes. "What are you doing here?"

"I," she says, in a quiet voice that is so equally unlike Lily that Severus is automatically thrust into a state of even more confusion, some state so perplexed that "confusion" might not even be a strong enough term to cover such an unlikely state of misery. Subsequently, Severus became rather alarmed. "I," Lily tries again, sounding as if she were on the verge of tears and caused Severus' breath to abruptly hitch in his throat, threatening to choke him. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have bothered you." She turned away hurriedly and treaded through the mud towards to the opposite end of the clearing in front of the little house and stopped, preparing to apparate.

"Wait!" Severus called out, though to his momentary disgust, it sounded more like a noise that would come from a severely wounded animal… a sick one, at that. He bounded from his doorstep, leaving the rain to pound the exposed floor of his small, horrid cottage and ran to her, taking a hold of her shoulder and turning her around to face him. Her eyes were large and sad, sad in ways that Lily's eyes should never be, and they peered up at him through the wet strands of fiery hair that were plastered to her face. He had been planning to say something, he knew he had, but upon seeing those eyes—eyes that hadn't looked directly into his for two years—whatever he had meant to say was gone in an instant. So, instead, they stood in the rain awhile longer, neither noticing nor caring about the brutal elements that surrounded them, because for the first time in a very long time, they were together and alone and they had nowhere to hide.

"You're here," he manages, finally. It's only a mere statement, but it's full of unadulterated wonder, saturated with open disbelief. He remembered that his hand is still on her shoulder—(Should I remove it? Does she notice that it's still there?)—but couldn't bear to actually bring himself to shift his gaze.

She did not reply with one of her typically cheeky answers, as would have been normal during the old days of their friendship, if he were to have ever made such a blatantly simple observation such as his most recent one. She did not even respond with another blatantly simple observation herself, as he might have expected from her as well. Instead, as Severus reminded himself that this was, in deed, not the old days, she merely offered him a small, sad smile—(he was beginning to realize just how much he hated her sadness)—that didn't quite seem to reach her eyes and gave the slightest movement of a nod.

"But…" he whispered, deciding that he not dare take his hand away from her shoulder, for fear that she should disappear before his very eyes. "Why?"

This is not, Severus decided, quite how he expected to meet Lily again.

"I," she started, looking confused and troubled again. Severus quickly regretted even asking and was so close to apologizing that he even opened his mouth to do so, but she spoke before he had the chance. "I didn't think you would have gone home," she swallows and the rain continues pattering at her pale skin. "For vacation, I mean," she clarified, turning her gaze towards the mud below her and Severus blinks rapidly, apparently not having done so for quite some time. "But," she frowned. "I wasn't sure where to look, but I figured… I figured, well, you might have come here." She looked up at him once more and Severus was lost all over again.

"I might have," Severus said quietly, making yet another simple and all too blatant observation. He supposed that he could have found something better to say, something along the lines of, "you always did know how to find me," or "I could never hide from you, could I? Even if I wanted to," or even something as painstakingly simple as, "you were right." But he didn't. Instead, he made another painfully clear observation, which said nothing and which meant nothing, which only meant that he was wasting precious time with the one person he'd have done anything to see for the past two years of his miserable, wretched life. "Would you like to come in?" He tried to speak smoothly, evenly, to redeem himself for his apparent current lacking of any sort of mind at all, but it came out in a rush, as if someone was about to choke the life out of him at any moment. The words were muffled by the rain, but Lily heard and nodded again, and added a small, whispered, "please."

It's a painful act, the process of removing his fingers from the soft fabric of her jacket, but he finished, much to his surprise. He turned then, without another word and made his way back to the still open door of the cottage, glancing back out of the corner of his eye to make sure that she was still there, that she hadn't left him.

It suddenly occurred to him as he reaches the threshold that the idea of anything going out in this storm was purely ludicrous—Lily was one of the most intelligent people he knew and would surely be smart enough to know that traveling in such weather was more than dangerous. What in Merlin's name was she doing? And at that rate, now that he actually thought about it, who could he possibly have been expecting a visit from on the last few days of his vacation out in the middle of absolutely nowhere, in the middle of what could possibly be Britain's worst storm in history? Had he really let his guard down that much? I could have fallen right into a trap, he thought angrily, his mark stinging. And I wouldn't have even seen it coming. Severus was beginning to fear that he was turning into one of those vapid morons from school… and then he came to his senses.

Impossible.

Severus shook his head and pushed the door open wider, despite the complete lack of need for the action (the door was, as open as it could be, after all). He allowed Lily to pass by, reveling in the proximity as she slid through beside him to stand awkwardly in the middle of what served as his living room, kitchen, and bedroom and stared down at the papers all over the floor, which were now reunited with the leaves and rainwater. Severus closed the door hastily and with a swish of his wand, order was once again restored.

They stood, again, in a sort of unknowing silence where no one really moved and no one really breathed but each brain was simultaneously being overloaded with as many questions as physically possible whether completely relevant or insanely ridiculous.

"You should probably dry off," Severus said. It was the only thing he could think of that was appropriate or wouldn't ruin everything. He felt like he was acting too gloomy for such an arrival, but he tried to remind himself that he was a gloomy person by nature. It didn't really help much. Lily looked up from the parchment.

"So should you," she said softly, a gentle air about her. She pulled her wand from her pocket and before Severus could realize what she was doing, they were both dry and warm in an instant. Severus nodded in thanks, finding his tongue still unexpectedly large and failing to comply with any of his many demands. He cleared his throat and looked about the room, breaking his gaze without realizing it. He instantly missed her eyes, but couldn't bring himself to look back.

"Would you like anything?" Severus asked, clumsily, searching for something to break the silence. He began to wonder why Lily was there in the first place again, but when she opened her mouth to speak he was reminded of the fact that, really, it shouldn't matter, so long as this wasn't another dream. "I have…" What did he have? "Some water, I believe. And, well…"

"Tea would be nice," Lily smiled. "If you have any."

"Right. Tea."

He slowly turned away from Lily to retrieve some old tea bags from the cupboard and set them on the counter before moving to take two cups, only to find that Lily was beside him with both in hand. Severus paused for a moment, still staring in disbelief, and gingerly placed the tea bags in the cups. Lily walked the short distance to the small sink and filled each one, before returning to Severus and waiting patiently for him to heat them. When Lily passed his cup to him, her fingers accidentally brushed his—he couldn't tell which burned more: the heat of the water or the touch of her skin?

Lily sipped her tea quietly, closing her eyes as she let the heat flow back into her body. Severus had meant to taste his own, but happened to look at Lily as his mouth was mere millimeters away and thus all action and thought was put on hiatus. He had forgotten how even a task as simple as drinking tea could captivate him, if Lily was the one in question.

"So," Lily said, suddenly, jerking Severus out of his reverie. He took a sip quickly, but burnt the top of his mouth. "How's your vacation been?" She tried to smile brightly at him and he felt his stomach do something that he was sure it wasn't supposed to. Suddenly, Severus had the urge to smile, an urge that had been foreign to him for as long as he could remember. It was that smile, his smile, it was one of the ones only he used to receive, back when everything was good and they were friends still and there was no… Potter. And just like that, Severus was reminded of why smiling wasn't a habit. He took another, long sip of his tea, letting the scalding water flow down his throat and placed the cup on the counter.

"Would you like to sit down?" He motioned to the bed absently, unexpectedly tired and realizing that there was only one chair at the table and that, honestly, if anything so much as a house elf were to sit on it, it would crumble. Lily looked surprised, but nodded and slowly made her way to the mattress, at which she promptly sat down. The mattress uttered a squeak. Snape was unsure of where he should sit, but hated the feeling of being all the way across the room from her, when she was right there, so he kept a comfortable distance between them as he sat on the bed beside her. The bed squeaked again.

The hood of her jacket was down, he noticed. He supposed she hadn't thought about putting it up to help her shield herself from the weather. Or, he wondered, maybe she didn't think it'd be able to help her at all, so she didn't bother to put it up. Or maybe, he concluded, she had put it on her head, hoping that it would protect her head from the rain, but it fell while she was apparating. Yes, that's must have what happened. In fact—he shook his head suddenly. What are you thinking, he asked himself, disgusted. She's finally here, in your shack—cottage—whatever, alone, talking to you, and you, you're here contemplating the use of her jacket hood.

He blamed the cottage. And Potter. Always Potter.

"What a way to end a vacation, eh?" Lily spoke nervously, glancing about the room as if desperately following the flying pattern of a mosquito. It made Severus even more uncomfortable, a fact which he had not thought possible.

"Lily," Snape said suddenly and his tone was such and odd mixture of exhausted happiness and confused wonder that she turned to him in less time than it took for him to finish saying her name. "Please don't misunderstand me," he said evenly, he, himself surprised at the abrupt smoothness in his voice. "But," his brows furrowed in obvious perplexity. "What's going on?"

Lily looked at him for a long time. It wasn't necessarily a blank expression, but Severus discovered that he could find nothing to read. She searched his face for a few moments and Severus would have felt uncomfortable under the scrutiny had his insides not jumbled themselves into a rather messy pit of joy. At last, she turned away, her face turning somber and serious.

"…is there something wrong?" he asked quietly, instinctively leaning closer.

Lily turned her head towards the window, biting her lip gently. Severus found himself momentarily distracted by the sight. Lily had, apparently, found another distraction herself. Again, she smiled, picking up the potions book that had been lying on his side table. It was a sad smile, but a smile nonetheless and Severus couldn't remember ever feeling so many things at once in such a short period time… at least, not since he had last been with her.

Lily tentatively ran her fingernails over the title, just as he had done minutes before. His head was spinning so rapidly that he actually felt dizzy, and when mixed with brief whiffs of the intoxicating scent of Lily's hair, it was all he could do to not fall over. Lily, unaware of the current dilemmas of Severus' mind, opened the book and looked inside.

"Where did you find this again?" she asked, glancing at the new rips and tears in the pages. "I thought it was… lost."

"It was put back on Slughorn's shelf," he said, remembering. It had taken him quite awhile, looking through all of them, but he'd eventually found it again. Lily nodded.

"The Half Blood Prince," she said quietly, the words barely escaping her lips. "we really were quite clever, weren't we?" She looked at him, eyes shining.

"We still are," he said simply. There was a moment; Severus felt it, in which he was happy again. There they were, sitting silently on his bed and looking at one another like they used to do, when they were young and naïve and still had grand dreams about their future together. And then it was gone, Severus realized, because he knew that those grand dreams had never happened. Snape jerked his head away suddenly, overcome by painful memories. Lily blinked, surprised at the movement, but returned her gaze to the book, her expression thoughtful again.

The rain seemed deafening now, now that all Severus wanted to do was think. Think of what to say, think of what to do, think of how to tell her all the things he had been trying to for years… and suddenly, Snape remembered why his book was there in the first place.

"Did you get them?" he asked, calmly, hopefully. Lily turned to him, confused.

"Get what?"

"My messages." Lily turned to the book, looking as she'd lost something of her own, and quickly opened the book, flipping the pages of her favorite chapter. She stared at the pages, her mouth agape.

"Oh," she said, her eyes engrossed in the ink. "There's," she licked her lips. "there's so many more than I remember seeing." Snape lowered his head.

"So you did see them," he turned away, towards the door.

"I," Lily said, reaching out to him. Severus felt his body tense as her fingers brushed his back, but she must have sensed it and immediately withdrew. He instantly regretted it, forcing his body to try to relax. Lily however, had already shrunk back into her own little area on the bed, scanning the pages with her eyes. "I saw the first few," she said quietly, as if she didn't want him to hear. "But after awhile, I stopped looking." She turned the page. "There weren't this many the last time I looked." She sounded as if she was trying to apologize. Severus felt sick to his stomach. "Really."

"Stop," he said quietly, possibly even more so than Lily. "You don't have to explain." He turned back to her, his dark eyes partially covered by his untidy hair. "I understand."

"No," Lily swallowed, closing the book. "Sev, listen—"

He closed his eyes at the very sound of his name. One word, one syllable, and yet it had done wonders to his nervous system. When he opened his eyes again, she was looking at him patiently, waiting for him to pay attention.

"Can we," she started, glancing at the floor. "Can we, please, just," she sighed. "Not talk about what happened?" The pain on her face was remarkably beautiful, Severus couldn't help but noticing. "About that day."

"It's rather hard to forget, Lily," he whispered, eyes unblinking, lips barely moving. "Lily, you can't possibly have any idea of how sorry—"

"Shh," she said, placing a finger at his lips and Severus was almost pushed backwards from sheer shock. It felt soft and he could almost taste it, but before he even had to think about restraining himself, it was gone, back in her lap and Severus was still sitting, unstable on the bed. "I know," she said, with neither a smile nor a frown and placed the book back on its table. "Let's just," she looked at the cabinets. "Talk about something else for awhile."

Something else, Severus wondered. What else was there to talk about? How her life had been for two years? Did she enjoy being Head Girl? Had she decided what she wanted to do after school? How Potter was doing?

Suddenly feeling as if he were going to vomit, Severus pinched the bridge of his nose. He vaguely feared that if he kept going at this rate, he'd break the blasted thing. His mind flashed a morbid image of him standing next to Dumbledore, both with matching noses. Severus immediately removed his hand.

"So," she started again, more brightly than before. "How have you been?"

His left arm twitched unexpectedly. "Fine." He sighed. "You?"

She shifted uncomfortably on the bed. "Fine." A pause.

"…well, this is going rather smoothly, isn't it?" Snape said, his voice taking on a rather mirthless tone of irony. He tried not to sound so dreary, so sad, so angry, anything like he imagined he sounded like, but his voice would not obey. Lily sighed.

"I'm sorry," she blurted out, startling Severus. "I know this is sudden and I know that I'm not making any sense right now and that I'm probably acting like I belong in St. Mungo's or something, but," she turned to him and there was something in her eyes that made Severus speechless. What was that? Hopelessness? Shame? Disappointment? "I'm sorry."

"Stop that," he said, finding his voice again. His tone was light, but his expression grave and commanding.

"Stop what?" she asked, almost in a whisper.

"Apologizing to me," Severus said, staring into her confused eyes. "I don't know why you're bothering to." It was another simple statement, but filled with so much more. Therein laid a thousand apologies, a thousand regrets, and all the same a thousand questions, begging for forgiveness. "You had every right to act the way you did." Lily opened her mouth to say something, looking fearful, but Severus cut her off. "To be honest, if you had acted any differently, I might not have believed it was you." Severus was not prone to any sort of smiling, but he felt that maybe the look he was offering her could serve as a sad one, something that he hoped would make her realize that her apologies were unnecessary, and if anything, made his head feel worse. There was no reason for her to apologize. Never.

"Sev," Lily said, her voice cracking. "Stop that." She sighed, pulling her legs to her chest and wrapping her arms around them. She stared at the floor. "No, I do suppose it was rather silly of me," she said, her voice smooth. "To come here after two years and hope that we could just try to go back to the way it used to be" —Severus' heart stopped— "without even so much as discussing what happened between us." She glanced at him, looking to see that he was listening. It was really unnecessary, Severus noted, because he was sure that the Dark Lord himself could have walked into the room at that moment and he might not have even noticed, his concentration on the girl in front of him was so strong.

"You don't have to apologize," Severus repeated, his frown deepening. "What I said—it was horrible," he closed his eyes against the memory. "It was the single worst mistake in my entire life and there hasn't been a single day since where I haven't thought about it… about how sorry I am." He opened his eyes. She'd heard it, finally the one message he'd been trying to send her for two dismal years. Lily dropped her head to the side thoughtfully, her lovely mouth curving into the smallest of smiles.

"You know," she said. "That's a lot to say about one memory. I mean, after all," she turned towards him. "You're only seventeen." The smile broadened, taking on a playful manner. "I'm sure there's a whole lifetime ahead of you to do something just as terrible, if not worse." She let out a tiny laugh as Severus' head continued spiraling. "No use in worrying about this one anymore." She faced him, the smile returning in full force and the simplicity of it made his heart want to implode.

He felt like smiling too, possibly even laughing with her (he wondered if he still could, if he hadn't waited too long to try it again), until the meaning of her words finally registered… they had been meant as a joke, a playful sort of banter to lighten the mood, to try to reconcile things between them, but the mark on his arm was twitching and he realized that her words, however harmless they might sound, could ring true… it made him feel sick.

"But," Lily started again, breaking Severus away from his upsetting thoughts. "What I don't think you realize is, that we were both in the wrong." Her smile faded somewhat, but still remained in its rightful place.

"What do you mean?" he whispered. Lily lowered her eyes to the floor.

"I mean," she swallowed. "Yes, what you said hurt me," she put out a hand, silencing the apology she knew was forming on his tongue. "probably something that's hurt me more than anything else I can even remember, but really, Sev," her tone grew to a quiet whisper, as if every syllable pained her. "didn't you ever wonder how James and Sirius found your book in the first place?"

His head spun. She called them James and Sirius, not Potter and Black. Of course, when he used logical, rational thought, that was only to be expected now, now that they were in their current situation of relationships, but that didn't mean that hearing the actual sound of it didn't make him feel as if someone had stupefied him. It rattled his mind so much that he couldn't understand the rest of her words.

"What do you mean?" he asked, trying to regain control of his thoughts.

"Don't you remember?" she asked, her smile falling. "I borrowed your book to complete one of Slughorn's assignments—someone had ripped the page out of mine." She started speaking rapidly, out of breath. "I was up all night finishing it, it took me forever to finally figure it out, let alone write the essay. But, anyway, I don't know what I was thinking when I finally headed to bed, but I must have been so tired—I forgot your book in the common room and—" she swallowed hard. "Frank Longbottom found it. He didn't know it was yours, no one did. They saw our 'Half Blood Prince' signature and just assumed that it was someone from Gryffindor and well, he looked through it, I guess, and showed it to James the next day…" she inhaled deeply. "And you know what happened from there," she said quietly.

Severus merely stared in shock. Had he really never wondered just how Potter had managed to learn his spell? He had just assumed that he snatched the book away from her at some point, that he stole it from someone, or something, anything. His mind was reeling, placing fragmented memories back in their rightful places, piecing puzzles back together.

"You were the reason for my worst memory," she said, quietly. "And I was the reason for yours."

"That wasn't your fault, Lily," he said, shaking his head. "You're being ridiculous. Potter wasn't forced to use that spell," Lily looked surprised at hearing him say James' name… he supposed it had been a very long time since she'd heard anyone call him "Potter," let alone hear it slide out of his own mouth. "He did it of his own accord and if anyone's to be held accountable, it'd be him and his dear friend Black," Lily looked as if she'd been concurrently slapped in the face and allowed a sigh of relief. It was an odd expression, Severus thought gloomily, and could have possibly been considered comical, if not for the horrid circumstances.

"You know," she said, slowly, her smile gone. "They've matured quite a bit in two years. They're not nearly as horrible as you might think." She looked up at him, somewhat hopefully. "We've even become something along the lines of fr—"

"I'm well aware of your current relations, Lily," he said shortly, sneering. "Really, there isn't any need for you to clarify." Lily's brows furrowed in frustration, her mouth stretching itself tight.

"I'm not defending what they did, Severus," she said, more loudly and clearly than before. "What they did was awful and no one can ever change that," her voice grew softer. "But they're not like that anymore. They've grown up a bit, they're different now." She looked thoughtful. It made Severus sick.

"How endearing," he said nastily. "So glad to see that the last seven years of my miserable life weren't so bad after all, now that Potter has had a change of heart. Really, that does put everything in perspective, Lily, thank you." She looked at him angrily, though with the smallest tinge of hurt in her eyes.

"I'm not asking you to befriend them, Severus," she said hotly. "I'm not even asking you to forgive them. I'm just telling you that things have changed."

"I know all about change, thank you," he said coldly, voice silky and with the smallest hint of his common drawl. His mark was starting to burn again. "I'm just so glad that you've managed to accept those blundering idiots and that 'arrogant toe-rag' Potter into your heart. For years he made our lives miserable, from his moronic pranks to the fact that no matter how hard we tried, he always did better in school, don't you remember that, Lily? Surely, you remember all those days of endless studying, when Potter and his gang were busy trying to find ways to torment me? I wasn't the only one who suffered from his bigheaded parades about the school or did you forget about that too?" Lily turned away. "But, ah, he's more mature now, which obviously means that none of that matters anymore. All the tears you've cried out of frustration because of him—all the times I've been harassed, it means nothing?" His sneer deepened, his loathing for Potter releasing itself in all its unbidden maliciousness. "Why, Lily?" She shut her eyes against him, as if pretending not to hear him. "What's he done to make you so blinded? Or is it because you've let him into your bed as well?"

Lily snapped her eyes open in less than an instant and Severus knew that all was lost. He hadn't meant to say it, hadn't wanted to say it, and he was really quite sure that as many times as his mind had viciously conjured up the notions of such an idea, that Lily would never lower herself as to do anything of that sort with him. He sat in shock, replaying his last words over and over in his mind, trying to tell himself that he'd only imagined that he'd said it, that she didn't hear, that it didn't happen. The look in her eyes as she turned to him, however, proved otherwise.

"…I don't need this," she said, quietly, her lips about to quiver. She stood quickly and without a backward glance, made for the door. Severus merely stared after her for a few moments, disbelieving of this sudden turn of events, before leaping from the bed.

"Wait!" He cried, racing to the door in front of her and blocking her path. She could apparate at any moment, he realized, but he needed her to listen, he needed to speak quickly. "Lily, I'm—I'm sorry, I don't know why I said that, I shouldn't have, just, please," he sounded desperate. "Just stop, don't go." He was out of breath. "Don't go." Lily was looking at him, but he couldn't read the expression. It was hard for him, he realized, now comprehending just how little he knew her anymore and how difficult it was to read her mind. He didn't like the feeling at all. Lily was still looking at him as he uttered out another meager, "please," and then, much to his surprise, she gave him a tiny nod.

"I'm sorry," he said again, feeling utterly vile and worthless.

"No," Lily said sadly, barely uttering a sound as she shook her head. "Now you're being ridiculous again." She slowly turned and made her way back to the other side of the room, shuffling before she sat down on the bed. "We're both being absolutely ridiculous." Snape relaxed slightly against the door, but only just so. "Sev, I'm sorry, I don't know what's gotten into me," she sounded exhausted. "No, you're right, Sev." She looked up at him with the saddest smile of all. "I really don't know what I'm doing anymore."

Snape moved away from the doorframe, knowing that, at least, she wouldn't leave now. He still had time. Snape moved closer to her, but did not sit down on the bed again. Instead, he stayed by the window, the same one that had been the worst of his problems not an hour before. The funny thing was, Severus realized, was that he didn't know what he was doing anymore either.

"Why did you come back, Lily?" he whispered, staring at the raging storm out the window. The question was plain, simple, and asked with far less emotion than what Severus was feeling, but it was asked, and the answer would mean more than the world to him. Lily looked up.

"Because," she murmured, as if stating something unexpectedly simple. "…I missed you."

As the storm continued to tear its wrath upon his unsuspecting cottage, the two sat in silence, looking at one another as they hadn't done in years... Severus did not know how much time he would have left with Lily, before they went back to school, before Potter strutted back into his miserable life, before she could find another reason to leave him again… but he knew that, whatever happened, he would use his time wisely. He wouldn't make another mistake this time. And now, looking at Lily, Severus realized with a much lighter feeling that they'd be able to make up for all the time they'd lost.