Rating: M (strong language, violence, and sexual situations)
Main characters: Lily Evans, Severus Snape, Albus Dumbledore
Summary: AU. Severus Snape thought he'd never see the love of his life again, until the nineteen-year-old Lily Evans accidentally travels eighteen years into the future and finds herself face to face with her former best friend. Lost in a war-torn world she no longer recognizes, Lily is determined to find a way back home and change history for the better. In the meanwhile, she and Severus are forced to confront the issues that destroyed their friendship in the past – the friendship that meant more to him than she ever understood.
Disclaimer: I wrote the story, but I don't own Harry Potter.
Christmas was coming.
Severus stood in his office and peered outside through the frosty window. The last Thestral carriage had just left for the Hogwarts Express, which would take the children back home to spend the holidays with their families. The sight made him give a small sigh of relief, although he still felt as though there was an anvil stuck inside his intestines.
"I doubt that many of them are coming back," he said. "Vincent Crabbe, Gregory Goyle, and Draco Malfoy are the only students who stayed here for Christmas. Crabbe and Goyle are favourites of the Carrows, so they will not be needing my protection. I'm afraid that I can't say the same about Draco. It appears that he has lost the respect of his friends since Lucius has fallen out of the Dark Lord's favour."
"He is smarter and stronger than he appears, though certainly not half as smart and strong as he thinks he is," replied Dumbledore. "I trust that he'll be fine on his own."
Severus glanced over his shoulder at the portrait of the deceased wizard, who still kept him company in the Headmaster's office. "Do you still think that I should go?"
"Nobody here needs you right now, Severus," said Dumbledore. "The Professors can take care of themselves, and most of the students are safe with their families. I can always summon you here if something unpleasant happens. I am the eyes and ears of Hogwarts."
"I've spent nearly every Christmas at Hogwarts since I turned eleven," said Severus. "As intolerable as this place has become since the Carrows joined the faculty, I might as well stay here. I have nowhere else to go to."
"You should go home and get some rest. You're in no condition to look after the students if you keep living like this. They might not know it, but you are the most important person in their lives right now. Spend these precious few days gathering your strength. You'll need it later. I'm afraid that we're yet to see the worst of this war."
Severus weighed Dumbledore's words, but neither of the two options appealed to him. He did not feel right about leaving the school unsupervised, even if it was only for a few days, but he was even more put off by the idea of having to spend what could very well be his last days of freedom cooped up in his office. He desperately longed for a break from his straining double life.
The past few months had been very lonely. Since the beginning of his tenure as the Headmaster of Hogwarts, Severus had maintained his distance to the rest of the staff – save for the Carrows, whom he kept as close to him as he possibly could, as one is advised to do with enemies. He spent very little time outside his office and his personal chambers. It was easier for him to keep up the pretense when he didn't have to constantly look at the people he was lying to. Sometimes, he would go on days without talking to anyone but the Carrow siblings.
Solitude did not bother him. In fact, he rather enjoyed being alone – as much as a man could enjoy life in a position like his. It certainly felt better than joining the rest of the school and subjecting himself to their contempt. Unsurprisingly, he had quickly become the most hated man in Hogwarts. Every child and adult in the castle despised the man who had betrayed and murdered Albus Dumbledore.
Then again, it was nothing new for him. People had always hated him for one reason or another. Had he not learned how to deal with it, he would not have survived his seventh year at Hogwarts. Perhaps that was the reason why he had been given this task – nobody else could have endured the loathing he had to put up with every day without crumbling under the pressure.
Sometimes, he became frustrated with the scornful glares and whispered curses targeted at him simply because it was all so baseless; everybody saw him as a traitor, even though he had only done what Dumbledore had asked him to do. Still, he did not feel the slightest desire to tell his fellow professors where his true loyalty lied. Most of them were drunks, fools, or foolish drunks, so his secret would not have remained safe with them for long. He didn't want to tell the truth even to somebody he could have actually trusted, like Minerva. He imagined that she would not have believed him unless she found out the reason why Severus was so fiercely loyal to the late Headmaster. That reason happened to be very, very private.
So Severus chose to keep himself to himself, but he never forgot his vow to watch over the students. The children knew too little to show gratitude to him, but Severus was hardly interested in basking in their admiration anyway. In his final hour, he had finally realized that he quite honestly did not care what anyone thought of him. He had wasted his youth seeking the respect of people he didn't even like, and it wasn't until now that he understood how little his own reputation actually mattered to him.
He had already made peace with his approaching fate, which was becoming clearer and clearer with every miserable day. Whether Harry Potter would defeat Voldemort or not, Severus was going to die. Either side would have him executed for treachery. That was the cost of playing both sides. But it was all the same to him; with his job nearly done, he welcomed death with open arms, for there was absolutely nothing left in the world for him to live for.
That was, of course, roughly thirty-six hours before she returned.
"Remember, these are Muggles. Muggles. Now, I haven't even showed them a card trick since I became of age, so I wouldn't expect them to respond well to you showing off your superb transformation skills by turning pieces of furniture into elephants. Don't do anything stupid, unless you desperately crave a nosebleed. I mean it."
"But Evans. How else am I going to leave an unforgettable first impression?"
Lily narrowed her eyes and raised a finger at him.
"Look, these are the rules: if it isn't eating biscuits, drinking tea with a polite smirk on your face, laughing at my father's jokes, saying that Petunia looks nice in her new dress, even if she really doesn't, or repeating the phrase 'Oh yes, Mr. Evans. Your daughter and I sleep in separate beds and live a simple, chaste life, and neither of us are newly recruited members of a secret crime-fighting unit' as convincingly as you possibly can, I don't want you to do it!"
"Separate beds? A chaste life? Wouldn't that be lying, Miss Evans? Or is your conception of chastity just so much more fun than mine?" James replied with a wide grin and snaked an arm around her waist.
"Har, har, har," said Lily sourly and wriggled out of his grasp. "If your idea of an 'unforgettable first impression' even touches the definition of a criminal offense, it's out of the question. In fact, it's probably best if you don't do or say anything at all. That would minimize all the usual risks."
"Fine. Can I breathe, though?"
"Only enough to sustain life."
Lily gave a grunt and patted down his messy hair, which pointed to north, south, east, and west. Then she straightened his tie and made his shirt tuck itself in with a flick of her wand.
"How do I look? Smashing, dreamy, gorgeous?" asked James, striking a heroic pose.
"Presentable," Lily sighed.
She rang the doorbell and groaned, already predicting a moderate catastrophe. The idea of making James have dinner with Petunia sounded about as smart as taking a bath with a toaster, but it had to happen sooner or later. She had already postponed the formal introduction of her sort-of-fiancé too many times, since the thought of the loud-mouthed, flamboyantly wizard James trying to give an "unforgettable first impression" to his could-be father-in-law and to the distinctly Muggle Petunia made her shudder.
It was not like she was ashamed of James. He was certainly not the worst thing she could have imagined reeling in front of her family for show-and-tell, but she knew from personal experience that James could come off a little bit off-putting before one got to know the sweet and sincere person hiding behind his rather arrogant and boastful facade. Lily feared – no, she knew – that Petunia, who already resented everything magical by default, and her father, who had been very distant and frail since Lily's mother had passed away a year and a half earlier, would not see James for who he really was. After all, it had taken more than five years for him to grow on Lily.
Looking back at the brief history of their relationship, she still found herself wondering how on earth she had ended up moving in with James Potter, out of all the people in the world. Three years ago, she had barely tolerated his general existence, let alone even considered giving in to his restless attempts to win her over. However, something had changed when she had been forced to sit next to him during Potions at the end of their fifth year and started being regularly exposed to his presence. She did not know how or when it had happened, but suddenly she had begun to understand his allure.
Just like that, the witty insults, which had once been their only form of communication, had been replaced by actual conversations and mild flirting. The flirting had lead to a half-serious date, which then had lead to a series of actual dates. Soon kissing had entered the picture, first innocent and private, next public and passionate, and then there had been hand-holding, love letters, cuddling, long walks around the lake, symbolic gifts, inside jokes, mutual holiday plans, mutual friends, groping, awkward sex, and finally, on a cold winter night during their seventh year, James had confessed that he loved her, leaving Lily gaping at him in wonder, unsure what to say in response.
It had all happened so fast that Lily did not quite realize how serious it had all become until a little after James had casually asked her to come and live with him and Sirius in the slightly decaying yet comfortable townhouse James had inherited from his late parents. Now they were all living together under the same roof like a happy little family.
She still didn't know what exactly she was doing with James, and where it was all ultimately leading to. Sometimes she imagined what it would be like to marry him, to have his children and raise them with him. She did not know why, but somehow the thought made her feel uneasy and anxious, as though there was something fundamentally wrong with the picture that she could not put her finger to. She liked him, she liked him a lot, but she was still not sure if she loved him.
Then again, they were only nineteen. She knew she had the rest of her life to figure it all out. Right now, this was good.
Lily glanced at James, who did not look nervous at all. He gave her a goofy smile and squeezed her hand while they waited for the door to open. She mirrored his expression, pushing her secret doubts at the back of her mind.
"I was serious about the nosebleed, you know," she whispered. "It's up to you. Behave, or suffer."