author's note: I've always thought that Lily must have had more internal conflict than JKR let on, and I started writing this story to explore that idea. Please feel free to let me know if I've gotten any details wrong - I've tried to keep everything consistent with the books, but I fully acknowledge something might have slipped past me!
The red-haired girl climbed back through the portrait hole. The door swung closed behind her, but not before she heard an anguished cry of "Lily!"
He hardly ever spoke her name.
She froze, but just for a moment. Everything was silent. She could tell that he was waiting out there, that he knew there would be a moment when she'd think about coming back out, maybe agreeing to go for a walk...
He knew her too well.
Disgusted, Lily stalked into the common room and flung herself into her favorite chair by the fire. With that crucial moment gone, she knew Severus would leave, would go back to the Slytherin common room to do whatever it was he did with his revolting Death Eater friends.
Dimly, she could hear the Fat Lady outside muttering about the generally ill-mannered nature of most Slytherins. She was right - he had left. She always knew what he'd do when he was angry.
Mary Macdonald, who'd been waiting just inside the portrait hole listening, just to make sure Lily would be all right, came over to the fire. She knelt on the ground next to Lily and patted her hand, like any good friend would do.
"Oh, Lily," she said. "You did the right thing."
Lily was startled - she thought Mary had gone up to bed. Looking down into Mary's sweet, round, simple face, Lily's stomach began to cramp with guilt.
Lily turned away, letting her dark red hair fall over her eyes. She has no idea what I've just done, what I've really just done.
As a child, when she had to make a difficult decision (such as whether to tell on her sister Petunia for breaking their mum's favorite teacup), Lily used to picture an angelic Good Lily and a devilish Bad Lily fighting at each of her shoulders, just like when Muggle cartoon characters anguished over some moral dilemma.
The same two voices were still there, but now that she was older it was more difficult to tell which was Good Lily and which was Bad Lily. Now, as she sat by the fire, one voice echoed Mary: You can't let someone just call you Mudblood and get away with it! But the other voice said, He needs you, Lily -- what is he going to do without you?
She brushed a tear off of her cheek, hoping Mary wouldn't see.
"Maybe this'll help," Mary whispered, digging into the pocket in her dressing gown, and then pressing a small silver flask into Lily's hands.
Instantly Lily stiffened, her green eyes sweeping the empty room. Inside, Good Lily cried Mary, where did you get this? and As prefect, I'm going to have to confiscate this! - but just as quickly, a black curtain fell and blocked out Good Lily so completely that not even the slightest whisper of admonishment could be heard.
All that was left was Bad Lily, who unscrewed the cap and took a deep drink of the firewhisky.
The knot inside her loosened just a bit.
Mary rose from the floor and perched on the arm of Lily's chair. "You're so much better off this way, Lil. I mean -- the way he always looks at you...it's just not right. It's like - it's like he's hungry--" Mary's expression as she emphasized the last word was one of mixed horror and disgust.
Lily regarded the girl with a little pity, and felt more alone than ever.
It's like she doesn't understand that hunger at all, she thought. But I do.
Indeed Lily did. Her hunger was always there, just as deep and intense as her childhood friend's, but she was better at concealing it. Or perhaps it was just less immediate because unlike Severus, her hunger dealt not with the power to control others, the power to make others fear you. Instead, Lily's hunger dealt with what people might actually consider virtue.
She shuddered thinking about it. The only person who had ever come close to guessing what Lily was really like inside had been Professor Slughorn, when he remarked that she should've been in Slytherin. She'd tried to shrug it off, had flung back a saucy comment that made Slughorn chuckle thickly and wink at her -- but his suggestion had rested uncomfortably in the back of her mind ever since.
Might she have been better off in Slytherin?
Above all else, what Lily had wanted for her entire life, as long as she could remember -- longer, even, than she had known Severus -- was to be good.
But that wasn't it, exactly - what Lily wanted, deep down, was to be the most honest, trustworthy, benevolent, generous person ever. But even that wasn'tquite right - what Lily really, really wanted was to become the living, breathing epitome of "good," as well as all of its synonyms in Benedictine Wordwright's Magical Thesaurus.
Mary's closer to being that, though, Lily thought bitterly. She knows how friends are supposed to act toward each other when one of them's got problems.
Lily tried to smile. "You're right," she said, but it felt like a lie. Happy, sweet, pretty Lily was lying to a nice, boring girl like Mary Macdonald, who would no more have believed her capable of it than she would have believed Professor Dumbledore capable of murder.
Mary smiled back. "Why don't I just let you confiscate that then --" she nodded at the flask "--and I'll see you in the morning."
Lily watched the other girl disappear up the stairs. Mary is a good friend, looking out for me like that, she told herself. I won't miss Severus at all. But that felt like a lie too.
She took another deep swig from the smoking flask.
Sure, it was fun to go down to the lake with Mary and the girls, to bundle up and head out to the Quidditch pitch to poke fun at that fatheaded James Potter on his ridiculous gilded broomstick. But all the other girls wanted to do was gossip, talk about who was taking whom to the Yule Ball or speculate about whether Dumbledore had ever been married (or, indeed, whether he even liked witches at all!)
Not that it wasn't fun sometimes, but what Lily really craved was the company of people she could talk to about important ideas, issues that affected the Wizarding world...And the only person she had ever been able to talk to about these things was Severus.
Severus is the only person who ever really knew me, she thought. Now that I don't have him, I'm all alone.