Rating: M (strong language, violence, and sexual situations)
Main characters: Lily Evans, Severus Snape, Albus Dumbledore
Summary: An accident sends the nineteen-year-old Lily Evans eighteen years into the future, and a coincidence leads her to her former best friend, Severus Snape. Lost in a terrible world she no longer recognizes, Lily is torn between doing what she is supposed to do, and doing what she thinks is right. Can Lily change her fate, or must she succumb to what was meant to be? Meanwhile, Severus can't believe his own luck when he realizes that he's given another chance to save Lily – but is he brave enough to take the chance to tell her how he feels about her?
Warnings: AU. Includes time-travel. Severus is mostly depressed, Lily has an odd sense of humour. Angst! Angst! Glorious angst!
Disclaimer: I wrote the story, but I don't own the characters. Harry Potter belongs to JK Rowling.
Christmas was coming.
Severus stood in his office and peered outside through the frosty window. The last Thestral-headed carriage had just left the school grounds and rolled towards the Hogwarts Express, which would take the children back home to spend the holidays with their friends and families. The sight made him give a small sigh of relief, although he still felt like there was an anvil stuck between his intestines.
"I suspect that many of them are not coming back," he said, "Vincent Crabbe, Gregory Goyle, and Draco Malfoy are the only students who stayed here. Crabbe, and Goyle are among the Carrows' favourites, so they will not be needing my protection. I can't say the same of Draco. It appears that he has lost the respect of his friends because 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, whose portrait still kept him company in the Headmaster's office, "Do you still think that I should go as well?"
"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 on the walls of Hogwarts."
"I've spent nearly every Christmas at Hogwarts ever since I turned eleven," said Severus, and stared deeper into the cold, dark distance, "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 could 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 his two options tempted him. He did not feel right about leaving the school without supervision, even if it was only for a few days, but he was even more put off by the thought of having to spend what could very well be his last free days cooped up in his office. He desperately longed for a break from his 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, who 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, and kept his public appearances to a minimum. 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 himself while being trapped in a harrowing position that would most likely cost him his life in the end. 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. Their seething hatred felt unpleasant, but he could deal with it. After all, it was nothing new for him. He had always been hated.
Perhaps that was the reason he had been given this task. Severus was the grandmaster of being despicable; he could endure anything because he had already been through everything and worse. He could face the scornful looks of his former friends and disappointed students every day and still do his duty. Not anyone could do the same without crumbling under the pressure.
Sometimes their misplaced hatred frustrated him. He was stained with the shame of 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. He knew from many years of personal experience that a vast majority of them were either drunks, fools, or foolish drunks; his secret would not remain safe with them for long. He didn't want to tell the truth even to the few people in the castle he actually respected, like Minerva, Firenze, or Professor Sinestra. He imagined that they would not believe him unless they learned what the old Headmaster had on Severus that made him so fiercely loyal. That what was a who, and the place in his heart where he kept all the painful feelings and memories concerning her happened to be very, very private.
So Severus chose to keep himself to himself, but he never ceased watching the school with his keen eyes, and he never forgot his vow to do everything in his power to protect the students. The children knew too little to show gratitude to him, but Severus was hardly interested in basking in their favour. 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 eventually 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 came to him.
"Remember, these are Muggles. Muggles. Now, I haven't had the time to show them as much as a card trick since I became of age, so I wouldn't expect them to respond well to you showing off your suberb transformation skills. Don't turn pieces of furniture into elephants unless you desperately crave a nosebleed. I mean it."
"But Evans. How else am I supposed 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?" replied James 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 at South, North, 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 letting 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 appreciate James as much as Lily did. After all, it had taken over 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 seen an alluring side to him she hadn't known before.
All of a sudden, 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 family of three.
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 think about what she wanted. Right now, this was good enough.
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 the secret doubts deeper into the depths of her heart.
"I was serious about the nosebleed, you know," she whispered, seconds before the door opened, "It's up to you. Behave, or suffer."