"I still think that this is a terrible idea."
Lily said it out loud to no-one in particular. James didn't care what she thought, that was for sure. He glanced at her with that overstated indifference she'd become very familiar with over the past few weeks, and then went back to avoiding eye contact altogether.
"Stay here, then. You'd just be in the way, anyway."
"I didn't say I wasn't coming."
Lily clutched her wand more tightly and took in a deep breath. The cold midwinter air left a metallic taste in her mouth, as if she was suddenly tasting her own blood.
She had dived head first into deep trouble enough times to know a bad decision when she was looking straight at one, but she usually did so with some deluded, naïve assumption that she was ultimately doing the right thing. This time, she was very well aware of the fact that she was taking part in what could only lead in a tragedy of undefined scale. She didn't need to know the future to tell that people were going to die tonight. She only hoped that she could do something to keep the damage at minimum.
Right now, more than twenty of the Order of the Phoenix's men were ready to enter the Camden Catacombs from all imaginable entrances. It was twenty minutes to midnight, and somewhere inside Lord Voldemort and roughly five of his men were ready to welcome five new members to the every-growing numbers of the Death Eaters in some eerie, ritualised initiation ceremony. Thanks to the information the Order had managed to squeeze out of the captured Karkaroff – whom Moody and Dumbledore had been able to declare officially dead, just so that Voldemort would not suspect that his plans had been leaked – the Dark Lord and his men were now about to be ambushed by a group of very angry and very vengeful members of the Order, many of who would not settle for anything less than blood.
It was a terrible, terrible idea, and Lily knew it.
She had not felt right about the plan when she had first heard it, and training for the mission with the rest of the Order had only reinforced her opinion. Most of them were still recovered from what had happened in the Ministry, and they wanted revenge. She had seen them practicing the darkest, cruellest curses known to wizardkind, and she knew that they were ready to go even further. She could already imagine what would happen when these people would charge into a room full of equally deranged Death Eaters. It was going to turn into a bloodbath, plain and simple.
She knew very well how they reasoned it. It was fighting fire with fire. Voldemort and his men were not going to play fair, so why should they? The Death Eaters fought to kill, so why grant them the mercy they sure as hell did not feel for their enemies? The Order was only becoming as cruel as the Death Eaters already were – but how was the Order any different from the Death Eaters if they weren't even trying to be better than just psychopaths with a cause?
It was not as if she hadn't tried to stop them. She had talked to Dumbledore, and to Moody, and to the entire Order, and gone on and on about the sheer stupidity of intentionally setting up a mass death, but the group seemed to be unanimously against her on this issue. They were rarely offered such a perfect chance to catch Voldemort by surprise, and they were not going to pass this opportunity. Lily had not been able to turn their heads even by exploiting their belief in her completely made-up gift of foresight. Eventually she had been forced to comply.
After all, she had thought, someone had to be there to keep the situation from spiralling out of control. She had absolutely no idea what she could do to help, but she knew that she could not stay away from this fight, either. This was where she had to be tonight.
"I don't want to hear any more of your nagging when we get in there, Evans," James said dispassionately, "Do what I tell you to do, keep quiet, and for Merlin's sake try not to do anything stupid. I don't want you to get us both killed."
As if the mission hadn't worn all the warning signs of a Really Bad Idea already, Moody had made Lily and James partners. The plan was that the Order was going to enter the catacombs two by two from different angles, and Lily was to be paired off with James.
She had questioned Moody's sanity upon hearing about his ludicrous plans, but he had insisted that there was actual logic behind the madness.
"Potter is one of our better fighters," he had said, "You're one of our worst. You're better off with him. I'm just trying to keep you alive, lass. Also -" he had lowered his voice and glanced suspiciously at James, "- Potter could use some adult supervision in the field."
She had frowned. "I'm supposed to baby-sit him?"
"Just make sure that he won't take it too far."
"Ready?" James asked.
"As ready as I'll ever be," Lily sighed.
They entered the maze-like, eerily quiet catacombs a little after Moody, Dorcas Meadowes, and the Prewett brothers had made it in. The plan was to locate and eliminate all lesser threats – the senior Death Eaters who, according to Karkaroff, would be guarding their master – before coming out to face Voldemort with the rest of the Order.
They made their way along the quiet, pitch-black tunnels in silence for what felt like an eon without making a single sighting of a hooded, masked figure.
"I don't think they're here," Lily said eventually, partly because she could not take the pestering silence any longer.
"Maybe somebody warned them," James uttered offhandedly.
Lily bit her teeth.
"Someone like me?"
He turned around and faced her. It was dark, and they weren't using their wands to light their way. She could barely make out his form in the dark, which made him seem all the more imposing.
His accusation hung between them for a moment. She tried to shrug it off with a contemptuous grunt, but suddenly it was very hard for her to hold her own against him. In fact, she was getting rather nervous, as she quickly became aware of the fact that she and James were alone in a dark, secluded place, where no-one would hear her scream.
"Is this really the time or the place for this?" she asked, and her voice wasn't as strong and authoritative as she wished it could have been.
"You really don't even want to help the Order, do you? You're just trying to use us to get whatever it is you want. And now you're mad at me for not eating up any of the shit you're trying to feed me. I don't believe that you have seen the future. I don't know what you've been up to lately, but I don't believe that you were just taking care of your Muggle nephew all those months. Why should I believe you when you say you haven't struck some deal with You-Know-Who and sold us all out?"
A chilling silence landed right between the two again, and for a moment the sound of blood rushing in her temples felt so loud that she half expected to go deaf. For the first time in her life, she was scared of James Potter, who now felt like a complete stranger next to the man she had almost married.
Could he really do it? Did James really have it in him to do something horrible to her? After all, he could blame it on the Death Eaters, and no one would know...
"Look, I don't know what you're -" she began, but couldn't finish her sentence, because suddenly she sensed a quick breeze and a whistling sound right next to her ear, and heard something that sounded awfully like a curse that had missed its mark crashing into the wall behind her.
Her first thought complimented the one she had been entertaining before it; she imagined that James had attacked her, so she pushed him hard with both of her hands and backed away. She heard a thud and a faint "oomph" as James fell on the ground, and she pulled out her wand. However, before she could spit out another word, she felt a strong, rough hand grabbing her by the wrist, and another one clamping her throat. Her wand dropped with a clatter, and she was pitted against the wall.
"L-l-let go of me!" was all she could say, as the hand around her neck tightened. She tried fighting back, but he was strong, and she was growing weaker by the second.
Then, just before she was about to pass out, the heard the roar of a familiar voice, and saw a flash of green light.
The hand around her throat loosened its grip, and the man in front of her fell to the ground. She gasped for air and dropped to her knees. A light was lit, and it was only then when she fully understood what had just happened.
She was panting and coughing next to the dead body of a masked Death Eater, who had attacked her while she had been arguing with James. James himself was using his wand as a torch, pointing it first at the dead man, then at Lily. His glasses were gone. Maybe he had dropped them when she had pushed him, when she had...
A strange mix of guilt and gratitude hit her like a bucket of cold water thrown at her face.
Oh, Merlin. James had saved her life.
"James, I'm sorry -"
"You all right?" he cut her off. She nodded rapidly, stroking her sore neck. She felt pitiful, useless, and violated, but most of all horribly embarrassed for having secretly accused him of planning her murder only to be rescued by him moments later. She then looked at the dead Death Eater beside her, and felt another kind of chill going through her body.
You killed him, she thought, but couldn't say the words out loud.
"It was either you or him," James said, as if he had read her mind.
She felt relieved, confused, ashamed, and disgusted by this all at the same time.
He picked up her wand silently, and helped her back up it without making any snide comments about her having to be rescued.
"Thank you," she said, taking back her wand, but James was ignoring her again. He turned his attention to the dead Death Eater, reaching out his hand to take off his mask.
For a moment, yet another horrible thought occurred to her. She took a good look at the tall, lean corpse, and compared it to someone else she knew.
Could it be him?
James removed the mask, and Lily let out the breath she had been holding. The man was sandy-haired, round-faced, and at least ten years older than Severus.
"It's Baltazar Kipps. I always knew he was one of them," James said.
She stared at the dead man. Somehow, she could still imagine Severus's lifeless body in his place.
They hid the body under an invisibility spell and moved on. Neither of them spoke, but for once the silence wasn't awkward.
A few minutes later, they began to see dim light ahead of them. Soon, they were at the entrance of a larger room that had been lit up with several candles. It looked empty, but the room was full of archways and columns which obscured their view.
"You stay here and watch my back," James whispered, "I'll go and check whether anyone's in there."
Lily nodded, and stayed at the entrance while James entered the room as quietly as a shadow. She watched him go for a while, until she began to hear footsteps coming from behind her. To her horror, she saw a hooded figure approaching her, so she glued her back to the wall next to her and hid behind a column. It was too late to alert James.
To her great relief, the Death Eater passed her by without noticing her, and made his way further down the tunnel past the room James had entered. For a moment, Lily was torn between following James's orders and wandering off on her own, but in the end her natural urge to do stupid and reckless things of unwise nature stole one more from her common sense. She took out her wand and went after the Death Eater.
This one certainly wasn't Severus Snape, that was for sure. Even with his mask and his hooded cloak on, she could tell that this man was war far too short and far too bulky to be him. He also seemed to lack Severus's reflexes and attention to surroundings, for he didn't seem to be aware of Lily's presence until she shouted "Stupefy!" and stunned him.
"That was surprisingly easy," she said to herself, as she grabbed the heavy man by the legs and dragged him in the nearest corner, "If only all Death Eaters were this easy to beat."
She quickly casted an invisibility spell over the unconscious man and dusted off her cloak, ready to return to James. She very nearly shrieked when she turned around, and found herself face to face to yet another Death Eater. This one really had noticed her., for he was pointing his wand straight at her
For a split second, Lily just stared back at him very much like a future roadkill watches a speeding car, but then she raised her own wand, and yelled at him like she had done this a million times before:
"Do as much as blink, and you're dead!"
The man said nothing. He stood still as if he was in the middle of posing for some particularly dramatic portrait, which made her wonder why he wouldn't just attack her like a normal murderous henchman.
"Drop your wand, now!" she shouted.
She didn't expect him to obey, but she hoped James might have heard her yells But oddly enough, the Death Eater really did lower his wand, still staring at her like she was the strangest creature he had ever seen. And then, all of a sudden, he turned his back on her swiftly, and began to walk away without saying a word.
Lily raised her eyebrows, and stared at the man's back. The act itself was downright bizarre, but what really got her was the way he moved – that sharp turn he took on his heels, the way he carried himself...
"Severus!" she cried out.
The man stopped on his tracks, but he wouldn't turn around.
"Sev, I know it's you!" she said, lighting up her wand that they could see each other better. She wanted to run to him, but she feared that she might scare him off.
He stood completely still for one painfully long moment. Then, without turning his back, he took off his hood and his mask, revealing his head of raven-black hair. Her heart almost melted at the sight of it.
"You shouldn't be here," he said quietly.
"I know. Neither should you," she said, enjoying the sound of his velvety voice. She would have recognized it anytime, anywhere.
"I told you not to come looking for me. Why can't you ever take a good advice when you get one?"
"I miss you, Severus."
He turned his face slightly to the right, and Lily could just make out his profile – the sharp curve of his nose, the outlines of his forehead, eyelashes. He sighed and turned around, hanging his head as though he was afraid of looking at her directly.
He looked so young. She had gotten so used to the lines around his eyes that she was almost shocked to see his twenty-year-old face. Still, there was nothing she wanted more now than to kiss every inch of that face, and make sure that nothing ever bad ever happened to it, or to any other part of his body and soul.
He was scowling at her. His eyes were blazing with anger and desperation, but she could also see that old spark passion there. It was always there in his eyes whenever he looked at her. A long time ago, she had just been too blind to recognize it.
"Do you even know what kind of danger you've put yourself into by coming here?" he asked. His voice was quivering with rage, but Lily was currently far too moved and sentimental to respond to it.
"I have a general idea, yes," she replied, "But seeing you again makes it all worth the trouble."
He took a few strides forward, and suddenly he was right in front of her. She could hardly breathe.
"I'm serious," he hissed, grabbing her by the shoulders, "If anyone other than me had found you here, you would be dead already! I want you out of here right now!"
"Sev, Dumbledore's men are here, and there's at least twice as many of them compared to your lot. You're the one who's in danger."
Severus looked startled, but a few blinks later he went back to scowling.
"That's none of your concern," he said, "Forget whatever it is you came here for, and leave this place immediately."
"No. You're my top priority right now. I'm not leaving here without you."
She held his gaze, and tried to express everything she felt for him in that one look. His eyes softened a bit, thought the rest of his face was still tense. He loosened his grip of her shoulders, letting his hands slide down her arms before letting go of her completely.
"My place is here. I can take care of myself, but I can't protect you. Not here. If you have any concern for either of us, just go away. I beg you."
"Sev, you don't want to be here. I know you don't," she took his hands gently into hers, pressing them both against her chest, "You're not one of them, and you never will be. I know your heart. It's too good for this. Let me help you."
Both her words and her gesture seemed to throw him off. His face relaxed, and the anger in his eyes faded away. But soon, far too soon, he gathered himself, and once again there seemed to be an invisible wall between them.
"You couldn't help me, Lily, even if you tried. I have -"
He had to stop, for they could distinctly hear the sound of several pairs of feet running towards them.
"Merlin's bollocks..." he grumbled, pulling Lily close to his chest. She felt the familiar twirling sensation that came with Disapparating, and suddenly found herself somewhere in the streets of London, still clutching Severus by the front of his robes.
"Where are we?" she asked.
"Geographically, the same place where we were just a moment ago, only closer to the sky," Severus replied, "More specifically, this is where I'm dropping you off. If there's any sense left in that head of yours – which I severely doubt – you'll make your first wise decision tonight and go home at this very instant."
"You're not going back there, you tosser!" Lily yelled.
"Thank you. Insulting truly is the best way to persuade me to do something I cannot and will not do."
"I'm willing to resort to all kinds of dirty tricks just to keep you out of that place. Insults, violence, blackmail – you name it! I have spent almost a year trying to track you down, and now that I've finally found you, there's no way I'm going to let you go on to get yourself killed just because you love dramatic exits!"
"You're acting like a little girl! You can't just come around here and expect to -"
"Sev, can you feel that?" Lily said, pointing at the ground, "The ground – it's trembling!"
Had she not known that they were really in London, she would have suspected that they had gotten caught in the middle of an earthquake – which was geologically quite impossible. The ground began to tremble slightly, and the leaves of the trees near them were stirring.
"Something's going on down below," Severus said, staring at the pavement as if though was trying to see through it.
Lily's eyes widened. She thought about Moody, James, and all the others, and hoped that they were alright.
"I have to go back there!" she said.
"No!" Severus said, grabbing her by the shoulder, "Neither of us is going back now."
"Then what do we do?" she asked, gazing at him in distress.
"You do what I've told you to do from the start," he replied, staring firmly into her eyes, "Go straight back home."
"Don't worry about me."
"But that's the thing. I worry about you all the time. I can't rest until I know that you're safe and well."
Severus raised his eyebrows, and slowly removed his hand from her shoulder. For a moment, he adapted the awkward demeanour of his insecure teenage self, but he got quickly back to being the cold-hearted person he apparently pretended to be these days.
"You spend five years pretending that I don't even exist, and now you suddenly want to help me?" he said, and began to walk away from her, "Pardon my scepticism, but unlike the men you seem to fancy, I am not blessed with a sense of self-importance the size of a mountain range. It's very difficult for me to believe that after all these years, you suddenly find me so charming that you're willing to put your precious life at stake for the sake of your childishly naïve quest to rescue me from some mysterious, impending doom."
Lily couldn't say anything in response to that – partly because she couldn't exactly tell him the whole truth about her voyage to the future, and partly because she had missed his wit and heart-warming sarcasm so much that she was just happy to hear him speak.
"So what is it, then?" he asked, turning on his heels to look at her again, "You must have some reason for being so bizarrely keen to see me again. Did Potter perhaps send his girlfriend to lure me out of my hide so that he could have yet another go at trying to murder me? After all, his past attempts have been miserable failures, and it would be very much like him to have someone else do most of the work for him."
For once, Lily managed to control her temper and resist the temptation to join Severus in a battle of wits. Sometimes, it was difficult for her to keep in mind that she and this Severus had not gone through what she had gone through with the other Severus. Of course he didn't believe her. Why would he? The last memory he had of her must have been around the time she had been a snooty, self-assured seventh-year and in a serious relationship with James. It would be very difficult for her to convince Severus that she really did care about him, let alone loved him.
"You're right," she said apologetically, "I turned my back on you when you needed me the most, and that has to be the biggest regret of my life. I am sorry, Sev. I'm more sorry than I can even begin to tell you, and I can only hope that you will one day forgive me. We have a lot of catching up to do, but there is a time and a place for everything. This is definitely not when and where we should be doing this. Right now, we both need to run, but I want you to promise that I'll see you again soon."
Severus looked away from her, and seemed to be weighing his options in his mind.
"I'm sorry, Lily," he said eventually, "- but you've already chosen your side, and I've chosen mine. That's the way it is, and that's how it's always going to be. Nothing has changed."
He turned around and began to walk away from her again.
What she did next was definitely not smart, but Lily Evans was known to become completely immune to common sense on moments of panic. The mere idea of losing him again caused her to do the only thing she could imagine doing on a moment when words were simply not enough.
She ran after him, flung herself on his neck like some romantic heroine in a melodramatic Hollywood movie from the 1940's, and kissed him on the mouth long and hard with the full force of the love and devotion she felt for him.
Severus had clearly not been expecting this. He was so baffled that he hardly even moved his lips during the kiss, but when Lily finally pulled herself away from him, his hands landed almost naturally around her waist. He still looked dumbfounded, but all the darkness had washed away from his face.
"To offer a rebuttal to the latter statement," Lily began after catching her breath, "- that might not be entirely true."
Severus's dark eyes lit up again. Lily smiled at him shyly, and he seemed to be finally getting that her feelings for him weren't the same as they once were.
"If I asked you to come with me tonight, would you?" he asked. His voice was husky, and very sincere. Lily's smile grew wider. Of course she would, of course she would.
But she never got to say it out loud. All of a sudden, Severus pulled his face into a grimace, and his eyes rolled in their sockets before closing altogether. His entire body twisted, and finally he collapsed on the ground.
"Sev!" she shrieked, and took his head on her lap. She put one hand on his neck, and luckily felt a pulse.
Not long after, Alastor Moody and James charged into the scene.
"You got him, Moody!" James yelled triumphantly, "Is that really Snivellus? Looks like my lucky day."
"Shut up, James, and don't you date touch him!" Lily hissed, "And Moody, you ass! What did you do to him?"
"Stunned him," said Moody, kneeling down next to the unconscious Severus.
"Can I finish him?" asked James. Lily immediately pulled out her wand and aimed at him.
"No, Potter. He's more useful to us alive. Lily, put that down," said Moody, "Let's take him to the base."
"No, you can't - Alastor, listen to me, he wasn't..."
Lily's protests were ignored, as James grabbed Severus unnecessarily roughly by the arm, and Disapparated before there was anything Lily could do about it.
"Tell me all about it later, Lily," said Moody. It wasn't until now that Lily realized that he looked exhausted, as though he had aged fifty years in one night. "Go home, lock your door, and stay there until I call for you. Enough lives have been lost tonight."