Bellatrix and Severus meandered around town, weaving through alleys, down the river and back, cutting across shopping areas and business buildings: and still, the child Severus was nowhere to be found.
"This is getting ridiculous," Bellatrix announced crossly. She had been unusually quiet for most of their long stroll, as though sensing the importance of the situation, yet it seemed her silent will could only hold out for so long. "Why don't we just head back? This can't be that important."
"No, it's very important," said Severus steadily, glancing inside the window of a bank – perhaps his younger self had considered opening a bank account on this day. Not that he'd ever had much money. "It's the most important thing I've ever done in my life."
She raised her eyebrows at this, waiting for him to elaborate, but he didn't.
They had reached the row of shops where they both had started, the place where the bookshop was.
"We've made the entire loop there and back," Bellatrix complained. "You're not here. Let's go."
"You can go, if you find it all that tedious."
"I don't trust you to keep your word and get back alone. I doubt you even know how to get back."
This was actually true: Severus didn't know how to get back. But since he didn't plan on going back, this was hardly an issue.
"I don't need you tagging along, Bellatrix," he said coolly, "and if you would rather leave right now, then by all means – "
"Oh, look, it's your little friend again," she interrupted with a sly glance in his direction, nodding at something ahead of them.
He followed her gaze to see Lily Evans standing in the doorframe of the book shop, looking around the streets cautiously. As they moved closer, he recognized instantly the expression she wore, having known her for so many years. He recognized how her lower lip was drawn into her upper one, how her hands were gripping the sides of the doorframe so tightly that her knuckles had gone stark white, how her naturally pale skin had been drained of all color, how her eyes were creased at the corners: she was worried. Without thinking, he changed the direction of his feet, and moved towards her. Once he was several feet away from her, he leaned down until he was on her eye-level. She glanced at him, and he saw that her lovely eyes were filled with tears that she was refusing to cry.
"Are you all right?" he asked quietly.
"I . . ." She gave an odd twitching motion with her head, and looked away. Of course: she wasn't supposed to answer a question like that when talking to an adult stranger. Her parents had trained her well in safety. If only it had been enough to save her later in life.
"I can help you," he told her gently.
Her eyes moved back to his face uncertainly, then she made a 'come closer' gesture with her index finger. He leaned towards her, and she put her mouth next to his ear, cupping her hand around her lips to whisper, "You seem nice, but I'm not supposed to talk about things like this with strangers."
"I understand," Severus whispered back. "But I'm not a stranger."
Lily pulled away, and looked up at him, confused. "I know you?"
"Not exactly, no. But my – my relatives live in your neighborhood. The Snapes, down by the end of the river in Spinner's End?"
"Oh." She nodded. "I thought you looked kind of familiar. But you are still sort of a stranger, you know."
"Fair enough, but you do look like you could use some help. You can trust me," he added, wishing it could be entirely true, wishing that she could have always trusted him.
Lily still looked apprehensive, but in a very small voice she said, "I'm lost."
"You're lost?" he echoed. "What happened?"
"I was in the bookstore, reading, and – and I guess I was reading for so long that my sister and mum left the shop without me!" Her lower lip quivered.
"They won't have gotten very far without you," he assured her. "I'm sure that by now they've realized that you're not with them, and are looking for you."
She didn't look comforted. "Sometimes, when we're all shopping together, I skip on ahead of them. They might think that I just went ahead of them. They might not realize that I'm not with them."
"They will soon," he said confidently.
"How do you know?" she asked soberly, her lip trembling.
"Because – because you are a very special person, Lily. And people take notice when you aren't there. When you're gone, it's – " He struggled a moment to come up with an analogy that a nine-year-old would understand. "It's as though there's no sun anymore."
She looked up at him with wide eyes. "But – that doesn't make any sense. We would all die if there was no sun," she said solemnly, with the straight-forward logic only a nine-year-old could have.
His eyes stung. "Exactly," he choked out.
"The whole world isn't going to die because of me," said Lily, still perplexed. "The sun will still be in the sky, and people will still keep living. Right?"
He gave her a pained smile, but couldn't bring himself to answer her question directly, so instead replied, "Your mum and sister won't get far without you. Trust me."
As though on cue, he heard Mrs. Evans' voice call out shrilly: "Lily!"
"Mum!" Lily exclaimed, running past Severus and towards her family. "Tuney!" She threw herself against her mother, and then her sister. "I thought you'd left me behind!"
"We would never do that, sweetie," Mrs. Evans said, smoothing down her youngest daughter's hair as she gave a relieved, overjoyed smile. She then glanced up in Severus' direction. "Did you watch my daughter while she was here, sir?" she asked him, smiling.
"Erm, well – no – it wasn't really – "
"Thank you," said Mrs. Evans sincerely, taking each of her daughters by the hand, and the three females strolled away. Lily turned her head and waved at Severus just before they turned the corner. Severus somehow managed to find control of the muscles in his arms and wave back at her.
"What was that?" Bellatrix demanded.
Severus looked at her blankly. He had completely forgotten she was still there.
"Since when have you been so philosophical and kind?" she went on. "It was rather sickening, to tell you the truth. And I thought you said you had some huge 'unfinished business' to complete with yourself, why the hell are you wasting time talking with little lost children – "
But at that point, he stopped listening to her, for a sight at the very end of the long stretch of cobbled road caught his eye. Without another word he pushed past her, walking quickly and purposefully, soon breaking into a run, not stopping until he reached the end of the street.
There, just mere feet away, was the nine-year-old Severus Tobias Snape. The entire reason he had come here.
The small boy was just shuffling down the road, his back to his older self, but even without facing the boy Severus could see him clearly. His clothes were several sizes too big, his hair lank, his posture slumped.
The rest of the world had fallen away in that moment; the people, the shops, they were all gone. There was only him and this boy. Soon there would be neither. For this was the boy who had ruined his whole life. This was the boy who had ruined her whole life. This was the boy who deserved to die. This was the boy who, today, would die.
Severus reached into his satchel, wrapping his fingers tightly around the revered object. Then he pulled it out carefully from the bag: the knife. He flipped the blade open, and, keeping his eyes trained on the boy, began to slowly stalk after him.
"You have got be kidding."
Bellatrix appeared in front of him, standing in his path. She was blocking the boy, she was blocking his goal.
"Move," he growled.
"You cannot be serious," she said in disbelief, her eyes huge, her mouth slightly slack. "You must be joking."
"Move," he said yet again, trying to side-step her, but she blocked him.
"You think I'm going to let you kill yourself? Absolutely not! Snape, without you, we never would have found the prophesized child – "
Again he tried to move around her, again she stopped him.
" – and if we had never found the Potter boy – "
"Then the Dark Lord would still reign," he said quickly, using any logic he could to get her on his side. As long as he could do this, it would not matter what sort of bullshit he fed her, the important thing was completing the task. "He would still be alive. It will be better this way."
"The Dark Lord is not dead!" she proclaimed shrilly, blocking yet another of his maneuvers. "Besides, you won't be able to kill yourself, it isn't possible – we are going to go back to the present, Snape, and we are going to find him, even if I have to drag you – "
He put the knife against her throat. She immediately reached for her wand that was in her pocket; he pressed the knife closer to her flesh warningly, and she froze, terror appearing in her gaze for the first time, as a tiny trickle of blood dripped down her elegant neck.
"Do not," he breathed harshly, "try and stop me from doing this."
He took the knife away from her skin, and took off running after his younger self: she had delayed him again, now the young Severus was only a spot on the horizon. No matter, he would get there still.
They say that in your last moments of living, your life flashes before your eyes. For Severus, as he ran towards his younger self, this was only somewhat the case. Instead of seeing his past twenty-one years in review, only one image was playing before his eyes: and that image was a sun, continually rising and setting, rising and setting, rising and setting, over and over and over again.
"When you're gone," he'd told the young Lily, "it's as though there's no sun anymore."
And that, naturally, why he was here: to bring the sun back. And to have the others around her be able to bask in it.
"But that doesn't make any sense," she'd replied. "We would all die if there was no sun."
"The whole world isn't going to die because of me. The sun will still be in the sky, and people will still keep living. Right?
No, she wasn't right. She was wrong. She didn't know, didn't understand.
And yet, he found himself looking up at the sun currently in the sky. True, it was hidden behind clouds, and true, it was faint . . . but it was still there. And people were still living.
But she wasn't still living. Not in the current future. She wasn't still living. That was what he was here to change.
"The whole world isn't going to die because of me."
"No, it's not, Lily," he whispered aloud. "But I did."
"The sun will still be in the sky."
"But I can't see it," he told her voice defiantly, as though needing to prove that all of his reasons were still justified, as though needing to prove that she was entirely wrong.
"And people will still keep living."
"I can't live without you."
He stopped running, and put a hand over his face, trying to both get her young voice out of his head and set his priorities straight again. She had confused them all. She had confused his very reason for being here. He needed time to think everything through, but there was no time. He was here in the present – that is to say, he was presently here in the past – and it was doubtful he would be able to come again. Now was the time.
Suddenly, he was knocked off his feet, his body hitting the pavement hard. Cringing, he tried to get up, but found himself bound by invisible ropes.
Several seconds later, Bellatrix appeared over him. With a flick of her wand, she raised him to his feet again, but didn't remove the ropes.
"You do realize, Snape," she said slowly, "that whatever you do here in the past has already happened in the present, don't you?"
"Wh – what?" he gasped out, winded from being knocked to the ground and from all his confused thoughts.
"What we do here today doesn't change anything," she informed him brusquely. "It's already happened in the future."
"But – we can change it – "
She shook her head in an exasperated manner. "For someone so intelligent, you can be rather thick. Didn't you ever learn anything about Time Travel? You are still alive in the present. If you weren't, you wouldn't have been able to come here today."
"But – "
"There's no 'but's to it! And if it really makes you feel better, you can argue with me all you want. But that's not going to change it. So, sure, by all means, go try and kill your past self to change whatever the hell it is you're so desperate to change about the present. It won't work. You're going to be alive in the present. The things we have done here today have all happened before, whether you were aware of it back then or not."
And though he did not want to believe her, he knew that she was right. His whole mission had been pointless from the start, and had he really taken the time to think it through before stealing this Time-Turner, he might have realized that.
After considering him for a long moment, Bellatrix seemed to comprehend that all the fight had been drained out of him, for she waved her wand and removed his bindings. "Come," she said simply, and began walking down a narrow path, back towards the shops. Defeated, seeing no alternatives, he followed her.
"What happened in the present that you were so desperate to change, anyway?" Bellatrix questioned curiously as they strolled along, chancing a side-long glance at him. "What did you do when you were younger that was so terrible?"
Severus didn't answer, couldn't answer.
There was a pause, and then Bellatrix asked, "It didn't have anything to do with that little girl, did it?"
"She looked a bit familiar, but I couldn't place her." She glanced at him again. "I think it does have to do with her, doesn't it?"
He made no reply.
"Well, all right. I'll just draw my own conclusions about this whole situation, then," Bellatrix finished.
The two entered a tiny pub. It was a shifty sort of place, clouded with thick smoke and smelling heavily of alcohol. Severus wasn't exactly sure why Bellatrix was taking him here, but he wasn't about to object to some strong beer. But it seemed she had other plans in mind, for she pushed him towards the front counter where the grubby barman was, and leaned towards him to hiss in his ear, "Say 'adversus solem ne loquito'."
He only looked at her. Was this some sort of joke?
"Just do it," she said peevishly.
Yet he had nothing to lose at this point, seeing as he had failed Lily so miserably, so why not make a fool of himself? So he turned to the pub owner, who was watching him with sleepy, half-lidded eyes, and told him, "Adversus solem ne loquito."
The barman only eyed him for a minute, then he reached beneath the counter and pulled out a small wooden box. "Two turns should do it," he muttered, and pressed it into the other man's hands.
Severus looked down at the box, and half-heartedly flipped it over.
"Not the box itself, you nit-wit," Bellatrix murmured. "The knob on the back."
He glanced at the back, and sure enough, there was a little gold piece sticking out. It was a music box, he realized dimly. So he gave the little handle two turns, and waited, but nothing happened.
"Open it," the barman growled.
Severus flicked the simple latch and opened the box. Immediately, everything around he and Bellatrix began swirling in a violent fit of colors and movements. Both Death Eaters instinctively pressed closer together, holding onto the box tightly. Music began to emit from the container, but it was as though through bad reception: the notes were disjointed, and the volume would go rapidly from extremely loud to barely traceable. Inside of the music box, where there was usually a twirling figurine of some sort, there was a sun that would repeatedly rise and set, in a blur of swirling yellows and oranges.
And it was just then that Severus realized that the phrase 'adversus solem ne loquito' was Latin, and in English it meant 'don't speak against the sun'. Which was basically another way of saying that you should not waste your time trying to change the obvious, trying to change what already was.
He also realized that the barman had also been the man in the bookstore: although he had changed his attire, the face was quite the same. He'd thought there was something funny about him.
Abruptly, everything came to a halt. The pigments stopped spinning, the world came back into focus. He and Bellatrix were standing in the same little pub, standing much closer to one another than they would have under normal circumstances, each holding the now-silent music box in death-grips. The pub itself was completely empty, it seemed to have been abandoned.
They stepped away from each other, he still holding the music box. Carefully, still trying to wrap his mind around all that had happened within the past few hours, he closed the music box, and placed it under the bar counter. Perhaps one day the strange old man would return for it. Or perhaps not. Either way, it didn't seem right to walk away and keep the object.
He jumped, startled. Bellatrix stood off to his left, watching him closely.
"You were just – staring," she explained haltingly. "You weren't moving at all. I just . . ." She didn't complete her thought.
"I didn't do it," he whispered hollowly, barely hearing her.
"You couldn't have done it," she replied flatly. "It simply isn't possible to travel back in time and kill yourself. You were already alive in the present, even if I had let you go run after yourself, something else would have prevented you – it just doesn't work like that – "
"I failed," he murmured, and as the true enormity of what he had failed to do settled in, he sank to his knees on the hard wood floor, cradling his head in his hands. Never again would Lily live, never again would she walk, never again would she speak or be among the living; she was gone, unfairly dead. And he, who deserved death, was still here, still alive and breathing, yet so buried in despair that he was only barely clinging to life . . .
He knew that Bellatrix was right, about not being able to kill his past self, but that didn't make his actions any worse. It was still his fault that Lily was not alive, still his fault, all his fault that the sun was gone.
"Come on," said Bellatrix's voice from somewhere above him. "Get up." She took his shoulder and shook it slightly. He didn't move.
"Oh, come on, get up, you can do it." She shook him a little harder, but he still gave no response.
There was a rustle of clothing, and then she was on his eye-level, kneeling on the ground. She looked uncharacteristically normal just then: positioned on the ground; in her Muggle attire from the sixties; her skirt spread around her knees; an expression somewhere between exasperation, annoyance, and pity on her face. Or perhaps he was just so depressed that it looked to him like that. His perspective of the world was a bit off-kilter at that point.
"Come on," she said again, looking at him intently. "The sun's still in the sky, just like your little friend said. So let's go out and see it."
He shook his head blindly. "It's gone . . ."
"No, it's not," she said firmly. "It's still there. No matter what else, it's going to rise every morning, and set every night."
"It's not the same," he sussurated.
"On the contrary, it's the same every day."
He shook his head, weakly.
"Look," she said, "whether you are glad of the fact or not, Severus, you are still alive."
It was the first time she had ever called him by his first name. It would also be the last. Still, the fact that she had said his given name aloud jarred him slightly.
"So come on," she repeated. "Let's go see the sun."
She stood up, pulled the Time-Turner up and over her head, and then threw it to the floor. The tiny hourglass shattered to a thousand pieces, the sand spilling along the cracks of the floor. She then looked down at him, waiting.
His heart was still heavy, but a part of him did know that she was right. So, he dragged himself to his feet, and together they walked out, ready to try and see the sun.
A/N: I just wanted to give a huge thank you to everyone who has read this story (over 600 hits for the first two chapters, I'm truly stunned). And double thank you to everyone who left a review(s), they truly mean a lot to me, especially for this story, because it's a little darker than I'm used to. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed reading this fic as much as I enjoyed writing it, and it would make my day if you would leave me a review and let me know your thoughts.