Disclaimer: Hogwarts etc belongs to JKR
AN: Thinking of doing a companion piece to this, '13 shades of red', same sorta thing just from James's POV. Please tell me what you think!
Thirteen Shades Of Green
- I -
Her eyes. That was the first thing he noticed about her, that pretty muggle girl who turned out not quite as muggle as he'd thought. Green eyes like the park he first spoke to her, like the grass and the leaves and the painted muggle slide where they first met.
He'd seen her first in a fleeting moment, quickly sidestepping her, her sister and their mother as he paced, head down, to the river where he'd sit by the water and wait until it was too dark for him to be allowed out of the house any longer. She hadn't noticed him, but her sister had made an unimpressed sound as he brushed past. He'd noted that she was muggle and that her hair was an odd colour, but that was all.
The next time was by the water. A muggle frizbee came flying past and he caught it on reflex. She came tumbling through the bushes in search of it a moment later and it was then, as she grinned her thanks at him, that he realised she had the most beautiful eyes, too.
Another time, he came wandering down from his house, aiming for his almost-sanctuary by the river, when he saw her with her sister, trotting off in a direction he'd often seen muggles his age go. He followed them out of curiosity and boredom, more for the exploration of a new place than for her, but as he watched them clamber over the bright painted metal frames, watched them spin on the round-a-bout, watched them swing on the swings, he began to see her more than he's seen any girl before. She was lovely. And she was always friendly, whenever she and her sister met other children she'd smile and offer to play with them while her sister sat back warily and watched. She was a true people person, always smiling and always having fun. She was what he supposed all children were supposed to be and maybe it was that that intimidated him, that which stopped him from going over to get that same blindingly happy greeting that she offered to the other people his age.
He wasn't brave enough to speak, but that didn't stop him watching. The swing park became his new sanctuary and he'd come sit behind a tree and wait for her to show up. Some days she didn't, some days she did, but he'd never consider it wasted time if he got to see her playing. The more he watched the more he imagined, conjured up dreamscapes in his head where she was a witch, where she saw him and wasn't afraid or intimidated as his mother told him all muggles would be. Where she laughed at his jokes, played with him regardless of his mismatched and ill-fitting clothes, where she was his friend, more than she was with the muggle boy from the posh road up in town, more than she was with the blonde girl that laughed too shrilly, more even than her sister, whom she took with her everywhere. He dreamed that it could be real, and that he could fit in and be happy with the likes of her.
But that was all it was really, dreams. Childish dreams that were drained from him the moment she turned her back, when he shuffled back home and saw the true effects of the muggle-wizard divide. She was like his father, no matter how bright and beautiful she appeared in his eyes, one day she'd grow up and learn to hate. Learn about normality and reputation and the need to get a sensible family with a suburban house where magic would not be tolerated. She'd call him a freak, because that's what the older kids would call him, she'd laugh at him and push him and he liked to think he wouldn't let her. He liked to think he'd walk away or fight back. But then he went back to the park and wondered how anyone (anywhere) could deny her anything.
But some things changed in that park, with its bottle green fences and its lime green swings. In the shade of those tall, green oak trees he changed.
There he remembered the first real moment, she was swinging on the painted swings, trying to out-do her older sister; he was hiding by a tree, watching from behind a book, pretending he wasn't looking. She got higher and higher and her sister yelled something about her not having the guts. He had almost scoffed then, he didn't know the girl, had only been watching her for a week and even he knew she had the guts for anything. Lily, because that was her name, just laughed, swinging back up one last time before launching into the air.
She flew, actually flew, higher and higher before arching delicately to the ground. She landed in a crouch and it may only have been his imagination but her head swung round and her eyes met his where he sat, obscured by leaves. Her eyes were green and wide and glowing, glowing with a light that he just knew no muggle would have. Just like he knew no muggle could have made that jump, or do that thing with the stick the other day or fall from that tree and not get hurt or make the round-a-bout stop with just a panicked shriek.
It was in that moment, that simple, childish, hopeful moment, that he realised that little muggle Lily wasn't just a little muggle. She was as magical as he'd come to wish her to be, so beautifully saturated in it he wondered how he could ever have assumed her to be anything but a witch.
She started to laugh, turning back to her sister like she'd never seen him (and maybe she hadn't). She dashed back to the shocked older muggle, vibrant and giggling and radiating that soft light of magic he'd though he'd only dreamed. It was then that he decided to speak to her, then that he decided to tell her what he was (what she was). And this time he knew he wouldn't get rejected in fear, she wouldn't tease him or shout at him or burn him at the stake for having magic, she'd welcome him and they'd go to Hogwarts together. She'd welcome him and she'd be his friend.
And suddenly, speaking up, introducing himself to her, didn't seem quite that terrifying.
- II -
Green like the woods where their friendship blossomed and grew. Green like the apples she bought from home, like the acorns that scattered from those huge trees by the park, like the bruise on his arm; she was quick to question him about that, as she was quick with everything. Sometimes he wondered at himself being able to even think of her as a muggle, when clearly she was so much more.
"Was it your father?" she demanded, green eyes flashing furiously, like if he agreed she go right up to the older man and give him a good talking to.
He just looked away, "It's nothing, when I'm a proper wizard I'll be able to look after myself. I won't need him anymore. I'll have magic."
That was all she needed really, the distraction of magic and she'd be off his back. They hadn't known each other long but he quickly realised that she could be very insistent if she thought something was wrong and immediately found a way to keep her from prying. (This was just the beginning, the tentative beginning, there would come a time later where he would tell her everything, where his every thought and feeling would be hers to keep.) (But even later there came also a time where he would give her nothing, where he would lead her to believe the most terrible things he could, just to hurt her as she was hurting him. Those things became true eventually, but he could never blame her.)
"Magic," she sighed, as starry eyed and beautiful as a little girl could be. "Tell me what it's like, Severus, tell me about Hogwarts."
So he did, he told her the stories his mother had told him, about Professor Dumbledore and the Bloody Baron. About Slughorn's potions and quidditch games, fifty feet up in the air. He told her everything he knew about his world in those months in the wood. They'd pretend to practise spells, invent potions they could try, wonder at the paintings they might get to speak to, even practise writing with feathers.
Another day, he had come running down, close to tears and aching; his father had been angry, furious, he must have caught his mother doing magic. He'd left the house as quickly as he could and in all truthfulness he was scared to go back.
He staggered into the clearing Lily normally found him in and stopped short when he saw her, the perfect picture of peace, curled up under their oak tree reading one of the magical fairytale books he'd lent her. He tried to step as quietly as possible, not to disturb her as she tucked a lock of red hair behind her ear.
He trod on a twig.
She looked up.
"Severus!" she beamed, gesturing for him to sit down next to her.
He did, trying not to look as shaken up as he felt, hoping that she wouldn't notice how close he'd come to tears.
And she did notice. She looked up and he saw her eyes widen. He almost winced, waiting for the usual lecture but instead she looked back down to the old leather bound book in her lap and asked him softly, "Would you like me to read them out loud?"
He blinked and she smiled, looking practically radiant in his eyes. "Yes."
So she read. They sat there all afternoon until her sister came to fetch her. And then as she bid him farewell there came the second moment, he wondered if she'd even noticed it though he knew he'd take the memory to his grave. Their hands brushed and he thought he felt her magic, like a bright clear spark, running through his veins. It was like his soul had brushed on hers; warm and bright and clean as the wind through leaves in springtime. He caught her smiling eyes and for just a fraction of a moment he felt the world stop turning. She laughed and ducked away but he sat there, momentarily frozen in the memory of that gaze.
And suddenly life at Spinner's End, his father's shouting, his mother crying, the angry spells and wicked words of home weren't quite so terrifying.
- III -
Green, damp wood met his nervous, twisting fingers as he sat in the little boat alongside Lily. Over the velvet black lake you could just about make out the ominous shadow of the Forbidden Forest beyond the dark green expanse of Hogwarts' grounds. Before them the school itself rose out of the water like, well, a magical castle, alight with the golden glow of a thousand candles.
He was terrified.
He had magic, he knew he did, but would it be enough? He had brains, but in the end Hogwarts was about more than just grades. He even had a friend, more than he knew many people could boast of, and yet what if he didn't fit in? What if they gave up on him? He wouldn't go home. Not even if they tried to force him. He'd hide out in the caves Hagrid showed them on the way up to the castle, he'd camp out in that great, dark forest, he wouldn't go back.
As they made their way up the steps he could feel it building in him, feel that absolute certainty that this place was his home. Beside him Lily made a sound of awe and he remembered all those talks they'd had out in the woods, about the paintings they'd speak to, the spells they'd cast. As they stepped through those great wooden doors he felt her still alongside him, felt her body tense and then relax so quickly he wouldn't have noticed was it not an expression of exactly what he was feeling.
The room was huge. And there were so many paintings, lining every wall, and candles hovering above it all, like they belonged there. Lily was clutching at his arm, delighted, only a little frightened as they joined the Sorting queue. He felt as though his stomach was in knots.
He'd seen that expression on her face before. He remembered their trip to Diagon Alley the other week, remembered the giggling excitement as they pulled her parents though the little old pub, watched the gateway to the street open. He remembered the delighted awe that came over her face when she entered the ancient bookshop, the buzzing energy when they left Gringotts (when all he'd wanted to do was puke), the utter confusion when faced with the sight of a racing broom and the bizarre look of comprehension that followed the explanation of what it was built for. That was the face she pulled when they bought her sunshine flavoured ice-cream and when Madame Malkin brought out her first set of witches robes, but most memorably it was the exact expression he'd seen on her face when she picked up the wand that chose her, when she waved it and saw a trail of green and gold stars lighting up the room.
She made magic beautiful, such wonder and excitement at the casting of every little spell. And even now, the apprehension, the awe and fear mingled with that delight making her so radiant even that arrogant James Potter from the train turned his head and looked.
There, as he stood trembling in the queue for the Sorting Hat, she turned and smiled at him, green eyes alight with wonder. She smiled at him and pointed, laughing at one of the ghosts losing his head like she'd never seen one before. Then it struck him; he had no reason to be scared but she, she was out of her depth with no knowledge of the world she'd fallen into, she'd never seen a ghost, just like she'd never seen a set of robes or a magic broomstick or a wand. And yet there she was, smiling like it was all going to be fine.
He looked at her, giggling behind her hand, and found that suddenly, Hogwarts wasn't quite so terrifying.
- IV -
Green, the colour of the ink spilling from the shattered inkpot, the colour of his potions textbook, lying bent and creased on the floor, the colour of his shirt, splattered by the ink and green the colour of his face after another of Potter's hexes.
"Are you okay?" she questioned, looking genuinely concerned as he pulled himself to his feet. The other Slytherins from his class were long gone; he knew he shouldn't have stayed talking to Slughorn.
"Yeah," he muttered, brushing off his robes and starting as he saw the colour of his hands.
"Suits you," laughed the Black boy, Sirius. "Green is definitely your colour!"
"Mmmm," agreed Potter, "Slimy," he licked his lips before laughing cruelly.
"Shut up!" snapped Lily, stomping forward to poke Potter in the chest, "You have absolutely no right! And besides," she stuck her nose up in the air, "it's against school rules to use magic in the corridors. I might just go get Slughorn!"
"You wouldn't!" piped up Peter Pettigrew, the unlikely addition to Potter's entourage.
"Yeah, Evans," laughed Potter, "Anyway, what are you doing sticking up for a piece of pond weed like him? You could fish stuff out of the lake cleaner than his hair!"
At that his friends laughed and Lily's eyes narrowed.
"Lily, lets just leave it," he said, touching her elbow and trying to sound aloof, an effect slightly ruined by the fact that his skin was green.
"Yeah, you might want to listen to your little snakey pet, Evans, he does have a point," said Black, but she ignored the both of them, and even her own previous warning as she stepped forward, wand suddenly drawn.
"I want you two to back off, you hear me?" her eyes were practically flashing as she stared the other two Gryffindors down, "I want you to back off and leave the both of us alone! I accept that you have your friends," she glanced condescendingly between Potter and Black, "Now it's about time that you accept that I have mine. Severus is a better person than you'll ever be, you- You arrogant toerags!"
Potter and Black looked at each other, glanced at him and then squared their shoulders, drawing their wands and facing both him and Lily. Black's eyes were practically dancing, you could tell he'd been crewing up for a duel for weeks.
Under normal circumstances he would have run. He would have found himself the nearest washroom, barricaded the door and spent all day trying to reverse the spell if that was what it took. But Lily was different, she didn't pick fights but when she found them she didn't let them drop. With her standing next to him, shouting at Potter and his friends, backing him up with abuse, in that moment suddenly fighting back doesn't seem quite that terrifying.
- V -
Green like the hangings in the Slytherin Common Room. Green like the leather armchairs by the fire, the emeralds studded in the suits of armour, the snakes twined about the lamps and the stripes on the students' ties. Green like the cover of the book he stuck his nose in as Mulciber and Avery wandered over with the imposing seventh year Lucius Malfoy for a 'chat'.
They'd tease him sometimes, about his choice in friends, mention that mudbloods weren't going to last for long, that pretty soon Lily Evans would be in the no go category of society. He ignored it for the most part, what she didn't hear couldn't hurt her and to him all they were were words, and words couldn't hurt you. (He learnt different later. She taught him different.)
Avery would mention in a low voice about how one day he was going to have to pick, the Dark Lord and Lily Evans just didn't run on the same path, he'd explain. You can't have both, Mulciber would interject more bluntly.
He'd defend her then. She wasn't just some dumb mudblood, he'd say and then they'd tell him he'd grow out of it, but as the months passed and he didn't they grew less accommodating of his fondness towards the little Gryffindor. Still, he didn't want to fight them for it, just as he refused to fight her over them. He'd return to his Charms homework that he didn't quite understand, never asking for help because, while they were his friends, it wouldn't do to flag up a weakness like that.
Sometimes Malfoy would mention the 'future' of the wizarding race, using words like 'greatness' and 'purity' and it struck him even then as a little hypocritical, given that he himself wasn't pure and they were trying to recruit him. The older he grew the more he realised that none of them were. Not even the great and noble line of Black that claimed such shame at the desertion of their eldest son Sirius could truthfully trace back a pure line of magical blood. The wedding of Andromeda had been very cleverly hushed up, but people were still aware of its happening, they just knew not to speak of it in public.
He'd discover later that there were other goals, greater promises of power and brilliance and a world where people like his father didn't have control over people like his mum. Where he could grow up in a world that was always like Hogwarts, even in the summer, a world where Tuny wouldn't make her sister cry, where centuries of discrimination, of fear and prejudice could be wiped clean. A world where wizards didn't have to hide. In those months and years the Dark Lord's message morphed into many different things for many different people, the one shared factor that they all supported him, they all looked to him to grant their wishes.
Malfoy had become prone to having these little 'chats' with younger Slytherins, just a Rosier had had the urge before he'd left last year. While they saw them as what they were, recruitment sessions, most people wouldn't object to listening to what he had to say. They seemed so much older, more worldly when they sat back and told tales of the New World Order the Dark Lord was going to bring with him; they had the respect always due to elders in Slytherin house but then some more as they told tales of battles they fought in just their summer holidays, of corruption in the Ministry and battles with aurors set to brand them as terrorists. They weren't terrorists, they were visionaries, all the boys in Slytherin could see it.
Lily, however, did not see it.
"Malfoy?" she demanded, causing the librarian to sit up sharply and glare.
"Yes, and before you start, it's nothing like you lot think it is. It's just nice to get an idea of what's going on outside without having the Prophet censor everything!"
"Severus, that's absolutely vile! I can't believe you listen to people like him! Him and the whole of his family are rotten to the core!"
He gave her a derisory look, "I suppose you heard that from Black, leading authority in all things anti-Slytherin?"
"Well, yes, but so what if I did? I happen to trust him on this matter, thank you very much. I never did like Lucius Malfoy, as you well know!"
"That's because he gave you your first detention, nothing to do with premonitions of evil."
She huffed and he smirked in triumph.
"You should start on your Charms homework, Sev. If you leave it too late you'll never get it done," she said with an aloof tone, dramatically inking her quill and returning to her essay.
He smirked at her but as she refused to look up to see it he returned shortly to staring blankly at his textbook and the endless list of questions that were quite utterly beyond him.
Minutes passed until she spoke again, her voice soft, "Are you alright with those, Sev? You haven't got too far."
Automatically he demanded that he was fine, he understood it all perfectly and if he was taking his time it was because he was excited about the forthcoming quidditch match against Ravenclaw. She'd not even bothered to roll her eyes before she settled down next to him and started to explain it in a way that didn't make him feel like the biggest idiot since Peter Pettigrew.
"There," she said with a smile, "That was where I stumbled a bit, it might help to do it that way, maybe."
He'd watched her oddly then, surprised that he didn't feel the horrible swelling of shame he'd associated with asking for help, but then, technically, she hadn't made him ask. He muttered vague thanks and she turned back to her own work, and suddenly, sticking up for her, maybe just a little bit, didn't seem quite so terrifying.
- VI -
Green, the colour of the dress she wore that night, sparkling sap green that complimented her hair and brought out the colour of her eyes. Green that turned up the noses of the Gryffindors even as their jaws dropped at her beauty, green that wordlessly pledged her attachment to him as Potter watched in bafflement as she swept down the great marble staircase to link arms with a Slytherin. Green like the colour of his House, his home, his Slytherin. Green: the colour that came between them and yet as ever she took it, twisted it and made it something beautiful, made it something good and bright and wonderful when all he could see were shadows and snakes.
Silly names and silly boundaries, she called them, "They're only labels, Sev. Potter seems to think that Slytherin makes you automatically bad, which is ridiculous! Because look at him and Black! They're in Gryffindor and they're the furthest thing from good I've ever seen!"
She'd laughed and tossed her beautiful hair without even realising she was doing it and he watched with stars in his eyes, he watched and his world turned on axis, he watched and the bottom dropped from his stomach, filling him with butterflies and a candy-floss light kind of giddiness.
He let her teach him to dance that night, and if people laughed at his clumsiness, he didn't care, if people looked at them and muttered, "Beauty and the Beast," he didn't care, if people looked and them and wondered, he did not care, because Lily was in his arms and she was beautiful, and at age fifteen he thinks he fell in love. And suddenly, in that moment, life, the universe, and everything in it became that bit less terrifying.
- VII -
It happened slowly.
First the warning: she was worried about his choice of friends. She'd told him many times, with increasing urgency, but while she was his first friend, his best friend, he knew he couldn't survive in Slytherin without allies. He'd thought naively then that she'd stay with him through anything, that she'd still care for him if he joined that Dark Lord and that she'd let him keep her safe. She stopped coming to the Slytherin table eventually, wouldn't even pass by to drop off homework. If she wanted to speak to him it would have to be on neutral territory, because even if he didn't call her those stupid names, he didn't stop others when they did.
Second the arguments: hissed in potions, defensive shouting in the corridors. The tension in the Wizarding World had spread, it wormed its way into classrooms and the minds of school children, it wormed its way between them, between him and his Lily. It would start simply enough, a casual comment about another student, not even negative but the nicknames were easy to forget about. She'd blow up, as occasionally she did (they said it was her red-headed temper, her righteousness and passionate sense of justice) and he'd blow up right back at her. He'd accuse her of terrible things (of secretly wanting to get Potter's attention) and she'd accuse him of terrible things too (of aspiring to aid the Dark Lord, of wanting to join his Death Eaters). They'd cause a bit of a scene and return to their respective sides, Gryffindor and Slytherin, red and green, gold and silver, and get their respective packets of sympathy from friends that thought they could do so much better.
Third the silence: she didn't sit with him anymore. Just like she didn't smile when they passed each other en route to lessons, just like he didn't see her at their table in the library, just like she was never there when Potter found him, just like she wouldn't have been there if she could.
Somehow they'd drifted apart.
- VIII -
Green and bright, flitting from leaf to leaf. The dragonfly paused on the tip of a reed, swaying gently in the fresh spring breeze. The lake was stunning, velvet green ripples arching outwards from where he'd viciously thrown a pebble, bottle green lily pads bobbing on the disturbed water. Green, green, green, green, green. Everywhere he went there was no escaping her. His tie, striped green, the cuffs of his shirt, grass stained, even his mood, green and envious in the light of Potter's interest. Green like the spring grass at his feet, like the leaves on the trees and the lily pads on the lake. Green like her eyes sparkling and bright as that other boy made her laugh at some silly joke.
They were walking together, so close they were almost touching, and they both looked so happy. Not that James Potter ever looked anything but pleased with himself, but right now he looked ecstatic, joyous, utterly wrapped up in his own contentment, in the wonderful, lovely, precious presence of Lily. He had never felt so bitter.
And the worst part? Lily was loving it! She was smiling back! Glowing in a way he had only dreamed of her, looking beautiful and alive and, dare he even think it, in love. She was falling for Potter. He could see it building, just as it had done from the moment Dumbledore announced they'd be Head Boy and Girl, he could see it building and it broke his heart. It made him so angry! So angry and so devastatingly sad, because some small part of him still registered that next to James Potter he had nothing to offer her.
Potter fought on the same side, Potter won his battles just like he won his matches, Potter had Dumbledore's support while he barely knew the man he sought to serve, Potter had friends she liked, that werewolf she was so fond of, Potter had charm, charisma, good looks, legions of well wishers and a loving, stable family that would welcome her with open arms. Potter was good at everything, Potter was going to be an auror, Potter was working with her to make the school a better place, he even helped her with that transfiguration essay in the library the other day!
Potter was his every insecurity laid bare and made reality. Potter was his lack of owls at breakfast, his scabby clothes, his cowardice, his losing Lily.
He watched miserably as Potter grinned like an idiot, watched as Lily poked the boy in the ribs, giggling, he watched as Potter smiled warmer, sliding a casual arm around her waist and he refused to watch as Lily leant into his embrace. His eyes met the bright blue-green expanse of lake, with its lily pads and its springtime sun. He stared out across it determinedly, feeling his brows crease, his knuckles whiten. He could feel his teeth clench as he heard a shout and a happy laugh that bit nearer and blinked his mind determinedly back to the beautiful blue sky with its birds and fluffy clouds. A perfect day. Their perfect day.
He could hear them getting closer, soft footsteps and laughing voices on the little track around the lake. He stood quietly, looking everywhere but at them, and turned his back on the buzzing lake, turned his back on the energy and life of spring, turned his back on the bright blue sky and childhood dreams and fairytales. He turned his back on Lily and headed back to the dungeons.
Lucius Malfoy was back in school today, Slug Club special guest by all accounts. He'd sent a letter to Avery, they were to meet him in the common room just before midnight…
He walked on, up the hill, past their old willow, past that place Potter had forced her away from him, past the greenhouses and the odd swooping thestral, unseen by fewer than they had been in centuries. He stepped up to the great doors to the castle and closed his eyes, sucking in one last breath of fresh spring air.
She'd chosen her side, now perhaps it was time he chose his own.
He shut the door behind him, dark eyes adjusting to the shadows inside, and suddenly, taking the next step, giving himself to the Dark Lord's cause, didn't seem quite that terrifying.
- IX -
Green, eerie and cold, like the moss on the crumbling ruin beside them, like the sickly pallor of his companions' faces, like the Dark Mark hanging high. He felt afraid, as he was sure they all did; it was like an iron snake twisting in his stomach. Their Lord wasn't there yet, just faceless shadows, all robed up for the ceremony.
It was a still night, and a warm one. His black robes clung uncomfortably to damp skin and the only sound that could be heard was the rustle of fabric on fabric as the Death Eaters gathered. He could make out the odd few, Lucius Malfoy, the Lestrange brothers, a slight figure he imagined to be Bellatrix Black. They all stood calmly, aloof and disdainful and the young newcomers fidgeted in fear.
He'd heard rumours, but he knew from a lifetime in the house of Slytherin that they could be just that, rumours. There were whispers of trials by fire, of death duels to prove your worth, of gauntlets to be run with the others firing spells, he'd even heard that the Dark Lord tasted your blood to make sure you were 'pure' enough.
He wasn't pure. He was well aware of that, as were his friends. But Lucius wouldn't have suggested him to the Dark Lord if he though he'd be rejected (he'd heard rumours of what He did to people that displeased him, too). He'd heard once that the Dark Lord had a muggle father, perhaps it was foolish hope on his part but some small part of him wondered if that would gain him favour, camaraderie in the fact that they both hated their magic-less sires.
Beside him Avery jumped at the whip-crack sound of another shadow apparating in and he heard Mulciber let out a small chuckle.
"Shut up," hissed the slighter boy, and he couldn't help but smile, just a little bit.
Then suddenly a hush fell on the gathering. The robed spectres stepped forward almost as one, forming a circle as though following some invisible sign. It may have been the sharp intakes of breath either side of him, it could have been the sudden lack of easy confidence in the elder Death Eaters, it might even have been the slight chill he imagined filled the air in that moment, but suddenly he knew the Dark Lord was coming.
Like a snapping whip or a breaking bone, his apparation seemed to echo more than most, like it sounded off within his very head. And there, at the centre of the circle stood the wizard himself (the greatest since Dumbledore, he'd heard them say).
He straightened slowly and around the circle the shadows bowed. He pulled Avery down with him, the other boy seemed to have frozen in shock. They stayed, heads bowed and the Dark Lord began to speak. Even hours later he would not remember the words spoken, only the sheer power that could be felt within them, matched by the power of his presence, the power of his red gaze.
He was inspirational. He was everything Malfoy had promised he'd be. He was cold and dark and deathly pale all in one, he was beyond human, deep and wise and so, so powerful. The air heated in this wake, the hairs on his neck standing up as the Dark Lord did little more than walk past. And his snake! It followed him in the grass, listening to his every command because he spoke to it in a language it could understand! Parseltonuge! He'd unlocked the secrets of Slytherin when he'd been no more than a boy, he'd unleashed that great power under the watchful eyes of Albus Dumbledore! He'd done it all and escaped with not even the slightest hint of blame on his shoulders.
But it was what he'd done after that. It was what he'd seen when he left Hogwarts, what he'd experienced in the far flung east. The powers he'd bought from the ancient magicks of the world, the dark gods they say he'd met. They changed him, that much was plain for anyone to see, they'd made in him a different type of human, a greater type, more terrible and wonderful than any he'd seen before. Snake-like, cold, strong. He could do anything, they whispered, and more and more he found himself believing them.
They stood gathered round, shoulder to shoulder and one by one he called them up.
Avery went first.
There was no chuckle from Mulciber this time, just cold dread; he was next.
The Dark Lord seemed only to look at the boy (because that was all they were really, just three little boys, signing up for war) and he began to tremble. His spine straightened and his wand arm shook and after a few moments the Dark Lord laughed.
"Your wrist," it was a command, sharp and simple, but it was not his tone but his voice that stilled the breath in his lungs. High and cold and utterly unreal, like a scream in a graveyard, the soundless shriek of a bat, like death itself and it was so fitting for that face, so fitting for that skeletal thin body that held so much power when it looked like it should crumble from the stress of its own weight… He shivered and in the centre of the circle his friend did too.
He wasn't sure what happened yet, just that Mulciber started to scream, to scream and scream like he was under crucio, to scream like his soul was breaking, like the world was ending, like death itself was wringing his neck. When the Dark Lord released his hand he simply staggered backwards, clutching his wrist.
"Bow," said that ice cold voice, and he did more than bow, he kissed the man's robs, he muttered "My Lord", he stepped quietly back into the circle and would not meet his friends' eyes, simply pulled on his hood and stood as still as the Lestrange brothers, just another spectre in the night.
"Snape," a command, quick and sharp, like his name wasn't worth the breath it took to say it.
He stepped forward, feeling afraid and elated all in one, feeling rebellious as he walked towards this new god-like figure, feeling strong as he stepped over Avery's body, still lying prone on the floor.
He walked forward until he stood directly in front of the Dark Lord, and he noted how tall he was, his gaze came only up to the other wizard's collar, he stepped back slightly, preparing himself to meet those eyes, those dark red eyes, stained, they'd say, by the fire pits of hell.
Red. Bright and burning and crumbling him to dust, like flame or blood or death itself, rearing up with screams and smoke and numbing pain as the colour invaded his mind, he could feel it digging, feel the Dark Lord chipping away at his soul. Images rushed past, of Hogwarts, of home, of his parents his friends and finally, when he felt he could no longer stand, when he felt it would be easier to follow Avery and crumple to the floor, Lily. Just her face, not even context enough to make a memory, just an imprint of her within his mind. The Dark Lord smiled a crooked sort of smile but all he could see was that face.
'I do not tolerate weakness,' hissed the voice within his head, high and cold and death-like.
'No.' he responded, and digging up all the bitter memories of Potter and Lily and the years of fighting before he pushed the image of her from his mind. 'I am not weak."
And then the Dark Lord laughed. He laughed and grabbed his wrist, the red film vanishing from his vision, vanishing and relocating instead to his nerves, relocating to his brain where it burned him inside out with searing agony.
'Crucio?' he thought, opening his mouth and hearing himself scream.
'Close,' came that amused voice, an animal hissing in his head.
Long white fingers dropped his arm, but in their wake they'd left a mark, a scar, a brand.
"The Dark Mark," he heard himself whisper, there was awe in his voice as he watched the snake swing from the skull's mouth.
The Dark Lord laughed. Hauling Avery up with a single arm, waking him with a single spell.
He barely noticed his friend's marking, barely noted the screams of pain, just watched his writhing tattoo and wondered at the shift he felt within him, wondered at the lack on need when he thought of Lily. And suddenly, life without her didn't seem quite that terrifying.
- X -
Green curses and bitterness and betrayal. Green like the damp heather underfoot, like the limp grass brushing about his knees and the eerie glow of the moon on the heath. The wind rattled the leaves of the single yew tree standing behind them, the only figure beyond their meeting in the entire desolate landscape.
He was standing in the ring, shoulder to shoulder with his old school friends, his Slytherin companions, his Death Eaters. Lucius Malfoy lingered nearby; he didn't need to turn his head to see the sneer plastered on the older man's face. He had to do it. The muggle in front of him whimpered pathetically, dangling limply in the air like some sort of sick marionette.
He knew what he had to do; he'd done it before with animals; rats and birds and dogs, but never a person. Never a real human being.
And they were human. That was what made it so much more difficult for him than it was for Mulciber and Avery and Lucius bloody Malfoy. They were real and they were people too, because he'd seen Lily's face when they told her her parents were dead, and no animal, no beast, no inferior soulless creature could ever bring such utter heartbreak to a person's eyes. She'd broken then, and she wouldn't let him pick up the pieces. He'd watched from afar as Potter did it for her, watched from afar and found himself seething, seething and cracking, because now she'd never understand what he was doing. Now she'd never see things his way. He was losing her even then.
The wind got that bit colder with that thought, and were it not for Mulciber on his left and Avery on his right he thought might hunch a little, squeeze shut his eyes in an attempt to rid himself of the memories. But they were watching him, all watching, from Lucius Malfoy to the Dark Lord himself, watching and waiting for the slightest sign of weakness, waiting for that hairline crack that they could feed from. They weren't so different from Dementors really, but if you were to listen to Lily then neither was he. His muscles tightened instinctively with that and he found himself raising his wand arm just to cover up the movement.
I'm not weak.
The Dark Lord laughed coldly and the magical bonds holding the muggle still loosened, freeing it (not 'him' because that would only make it more difficult, that would only remind him of her) to writhe and twist in terror. His fingers tightened, knuckles white under the glare of the moon.
"Are you ready, Severus?" the Dark Lord said, "We cannot wait forever…" There was irony in his voice, cold, harsh irony clearly meant to wound.
"Yes, my Lord."
I'm not a coward.
The tall, thin figure laughed again, lightly this time.
"He's a monster, not a man!" He remember her saying that once. Sometimes he can't help but wonder if she was right. But he's breaking boundaries! He's surpassing every wizard history has ever seen! He's immortal! He was his Lord and there was no escaping that. He sucked in a shuddering breath of cold night air and reached inside himself.
You have to mean it!
His father. The image flickers up and he clings to it, forcing his magic to cluster round the memory. His father, the shouts, the screams, the angry magic, the breaking glass of home; he's forcing it all to the tip of his wand but he knows it's not enough, he can feel it's not enough as his thoughts slip from home to his sanctuary, to his Lily and their clearing in the wood by the river. The new direction comes as a shock and it takes all the will he has not to shiver and let his feelings show.
He blinks to clear his mind. Start again; the Death Eaters are growing restless.
I can do it!
The Dark Lord smiles a thin and crooked smile.
Potter. Potter flying and winning, Potter teasing and hexing, Potter laughing and joking, Potter 'saving' him from his filthy werewolf friend, Potter standing side-by-side with Dumbledore, Potter watching Lily, Potter talking to Lily, Potter holding Lily's hand, hugging her, kissing her. Potter putting a ring on his Lily's finger. Potter leading her away as though it was him that made her cry.
He felt sick, felt the magic rise in him in waves, felt his consciousness tense, preparing itself for a blow, felt his wand hand shake and was suddenly so, so afraid. It split your soul, this curse, and the power was coming from within him, rising up to tear him apart with his own hate. The bitterness was black, the envy sick and green and they meshed together to make up everything he was, black eyes, black hair, black heart and soul, tattooed green with snakes and dark magic, branded green by the light of those eyes, filled brimming with tears.
She knew he'd do this. She knew his every weakness; she was he greatest weakness. She knew his failings, predicted them all and no longer had the heart to forgive them. His breath came in sharp bursts of cloud. She said it would break him, that he'd tear himself apart with his petty, petty hate. And she was right. She was right and she wasn't his, would never be his. He'd lost her and the only way on was forward, was through the light that built behind his eyes, through the green so much like her but worlds apart.
He was afraid. Afraid of death, afraid of killing, afraid of the power he built within himself. He was afraid his own reaction when he saw her back, afraid of what she'd see next time she looked at him (if she ever deigned to look at him again).
"You're a coward, Snape. You're a coward and you don't deserve another chance."
But then he remembered those words, those hateful words she'd spoken, remembered Potter's smug look, remembered the stinging feel of that slap on his cheek and then the hollow void that was left as she sneered and turned her back on him, like he was nothing, like he'd never been anything, like he never would be anything (not to her). And suddenly, casting those spells, saying the words and feeling the cold wind of death rush through him didn't seem quite that terrifying.
- XI -
Green, like the feather in Sybil Trelawney's hair, like the velvet throw under her crystal ball, like the stars on Dumbledore's cloak as he leant towards her, as he heard her prophecy, green like his own fear as the prophecy twisted against her, against his Lily.
He'd said no.
He'd asked the Dark Lord. He'd asked him and when he refused he'd begged, he'd begged and pleaded on his knees like some muggle mother trying to save her child. He'd offered things he didn't have, made promises he couldn't ever keep, he'd done everything save cry and still the Dark Lord refused him.
And it was all his fault.
He'd passed on the message, he'd told them all of Trelawney's prophecy, he'd told them under the assumption that it was Longbottom's child, the Gryffindor couple he remembered from Hogwarts. He'd heard just that evening that Alice had had hers in July, heard it in the same pub he heard the prophecy. But no. The Dark Lord had other sources, more accurate ones by all accounts. Sources that told him that Lily Evans (he still couldn't call her Potter) was now a mother. That Lily (his Lily) had carried the child of the prophecy, and that without even telling him was bringing up the son that could defeat the Dark Lord.
And he was going after them. Not just the child, not just Potter's baby boy, but after the entire family. And he'd never hated James Potter so much as he did in that moment. In that moment their entire bitter relationship narrowed to one point, the point at which Lily turned away, made herself the enemy of the most powerful wizard in the country, the moment she gave up their friendship, her safety, everything for the man that was now her husband, the man he hated above all others, the man she had once hated too. He'd put her in more danger than she'd ever have been with him whether his friends knew the Dark Arts or not!
And yet, for all his fury, he'd save Potter's life if it meant saving hers. Ridiculous, pathetic even, and yet true. He'd give anything to dissuade the Dark Lord, but his anything (his everything) was not enough. For all they, the Death Eaters, talked of their influence, for all they spoke of allies and friends in high places, for all they spoke of favours, the Dark Lord worked only for himself and tears and broken hearts wouldn't move him.
But if he couldn't move the Dark Lord then was there not someone else? Anyone else? He would try to warn her but he knew they wouldn't listen, he knew her husband would flag him up as a traitor, as evil. And perhaps he was right, he was after all a Death Eater and their enemy. He wouldn't trust any warning if it came from Potter, just like he didn't trust it all those years ago under the Whomping Willow at school...
Who has power over the Dark Lord? Who could change his mind?
But the Dark Lord had favourites, never equals. He had Bellatrix, his little pet, Bellatrix who believed herself to be doted upon, though the truth was she was valued only for service, Lucius Malfoy, his public face, given prizes, never favours. In all his army of followers there was not one who could rightfully claim power over him, the Dark Lord was after all a Slytherin through and through.
But if there was no one within his army, then was there anyone outside it?
And there lay his answer, one he wished he'd never have to come to. Dumbledore. The 'old fool' who was clearly far beyond his schoolyard reputation. The only wizard the Dark Lord feared, among the only wizards he knew Lily and Potter would trust with their lives. If he could warn him, Dumbledore could warn them, he could hide Lily, take her away from her family, save her.
That was it, his answer. He would keep appealing to the Dark Lord, keep begging, imploring, hoping that he would spare the mother, but if he did not, perhaps Dumbledore would, and with Potter out of the way perhaps he'd have the second chance he'd forgot to dream of, perhaps she'd look at him again and remember what it was like to be a child, as he did every time he thought of her.
She kept him going in those years of war, kept him fighting even though it was her he was fighting. Even as he killed people that could have been her parents were her parents not already dead, he thought of her and it made it easier, because in his mind he knew that when the War ended with the Dark Lord victorious he would wrangle her freedom, and then, maybe, she would be his again. That thought, as he left his house, that thought as he bundled up in his cloak, as he apparated from his street, made it lifetimes easier to wait there on the cliff, made it worlds easier to wait for Dumbledore and plan his argument. And with that thought, the thought of her, the thought of a second chance, a second life, suddenly, betraying the Dark Lord wasn't quite so terrifying.
- XII -
Green, like the cloak of the woman sobbing in front of him, like the grass that covered the graveyard and the metallic sheen on that bronze imitation of her. Green like the floods and floods of wreaths littering the ground, making it near impossible to reach either the grave or the memorial, green like the ink on the temporary plaque, reducing her life to a few martyred sentences when she was so, so much more. Green like the stem of the single Lily he laid and like the grass beneath his fingernails from where he'd clawed at the ground to hold back tears.
He didn't stay there long. It was like a tourist attraction with wizards and witches from far flung corners of the world, people that didn't even understand the War, let alone her. People mourning because they felt they should, because it was the right thing to do when presented with a hero, people who spoke about what a great person she was, to lay down her life for her son, when they'd never met her, never spoken to her, never known that if it called for it she'd have laid down her life for them too.
They didn't understand her. They thought of her as Lily Potter, mother and wife and warrior in a conflict so much greater than herself, that she rose to the challenge of; a woman who gave everything to make the world a safer place.
But that wasn't her. Well, it was, but she was so much more, too. She was Lily Evans, the girl who leant to fly in a green painted swing park, the girl that never gave up on what she thought was right, the girl that taught a self conscious little Slytherin how to dance, how to love, the girl that would have saved the lives of every person in the world if she could, but in that moment, in that one terrifying moment, thought only of saving one life, of saving the life of her son.
She was the girl that changed his life on so many different levels, and who continued to change it, even after death. She made him think, made him hate, made him fight and made him cry. She broke his heart again and again, but even now he can't help but love her. He'd give his world to have her back, he'd give his life to have her live again.
And so he left Godric's Hollow. Left in a gunshot snap of apparation just to make the mourners start, just to break up the tearful remembrances of a rumour, a celebrity, a beautiful picture of a family. He left and fell through his memories, opening his eyes to the winter-frost stained clearing, just down the river from Spinner's End.
He stood for a moment, just stood, looking at the tree they used to like to play under. He took those seconds just to pull the memories back, to wipe the image of that bronze likeness from his mind, to remember the face of his Lily, not the iconic figure of a country at war, but a girl who'd just discovered magic, who was and always would be magic.
Not Lily Potter.
Her eyes as green as the trees he remembered, green and young when all that stood around him now were dead and cold. He drew in a deep breath then, felt it fill his lungs like flakes of ice, razor sharp and cold, pricking his eyes, making his chests tighten in process, buckling his knees and leaving him to sob into the ground.
Nothing but memories.
Life, moving on, fighting for what he thought was right, had never seemed so terrifying.
- XIII -
He's losing blood, losing blood like he's losing memories. His life and heart and soul are pouring from him and it leaves him cold. He's scared.
It hurts so much, every fibre of his being straining to stay in control, to cling to life, while mentally he forces it away in the effort it takes to separate the memories from him. They're buried deep, locked away for no one to see, it's like unlocking a vault with his dying heartbeats, spilling the secrets he wouldn't share with anyone (not even her).
Bone-deep, gut-wrenching, vein-searing agony, and that cold, slow certainty of death, creeping over him like nails on a chalkboard. His back arches and his mouth would foam if it were not spilling memories and blood.
He hopes it didn't hurt. A strange thought, given his situation, perhaps brought on by the flood of images flickering behind his eyes. He hopes it didn't hurt her as it's hurting him. He hopes when she died it was as quick and painless, he hopes that the curse cut off her life before she even realised she was falling. He hopes against hope that her dying moments weren't painful. (He also hopes what he's hoped for years, that she remembered him and loved him in those final moments. Even Severus Snape can dream.)
His eyes snap open, mouth gurgling, telling Potter's boy- No. Lily's boy, to take it, to take it all, the memories, the 'best of him'. Lids flicker shut again and he's seeing curse after curse, seeing her fall and scream and throw herself over the boy standing over him. He sees her die again and again in a brilliant flash of light. He knows that curse. He's used it. He's felt it shatter his soul, just like she told him it would (he was too bitter to care, rejected, lonely, betrayed). Avada Kedavra. It rolls off the tongue like an intimate whisper, a command, a sentence, a soul deep lament all in one. It rolls off the tongue and shatters lives and souls and hearts. It broke his heart that night. It broke all of him. He'd have done anything to have died with her then, instead he sits forever on the other side of that bright green wave, taking life, never giving it up. Even now he's left to bleed into the floor, while she broke free in a flash of brilliant green (like spring, like leaves, like Lily).
The boy, her boy, is leaning over him. Scared, confused. And suddenly he wants nothing more than to see her face again. His breathing is shallow, his blood all but spent, trembling more than ever he blinks back the final memory to leave him.
"…He has her eyes, precisely her eyes. You remember the shape and colour of Lily Evans's eyes, I am sure?…"
He does, he did, he'll never forget. He struggles to hold on, grasping at the boy's robes, dragging him closer. He doesn't want to ever forget. If he could choose one image to take with him, one final vision before the grave… He'd give his dying breath to see those eyes again.
"Look… at… me."
Green eyes met black.
Eyes. Her eyes. Green like the curse that killed her.
And suddenly, death wasn't quite so terrifying.
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