"I'm not interested."
"Save your breath."
Those words knocked all the wind out of Severus' Snape's lungs. His thoughts seemed to scatter, and all of his well-reasoned arguments seemed useless at the sight of the disgust and utter disinterest in Lily Evans' eyes. It was as if a foregone conclusion had finally come, one that she had not wanted to see, but one that she was expecting.
"I only came out because Mary told me you were threatening to sleep here."
It was no threat – Severus was going to sleep there if Lily refused to listen to him. He tried again. "I was. I would have done. I never meant to call you Mudblood, it just –"
"Slipped out?" Lily interrupted coldly, no pity in her voice whatsoever, her emerald-green eyes as icy as Lucius Malfoy's. "It's too late. I've made excuses for you for years. None of my friends can understand why I even talk to you. You and your precious little Death Eater friends – you see, you don't even deny it! You don't even deny that's what you're all aiming to be! You can't wait to join You-Know-Who, can you?"
Severus was speechless. It was true that he had gone along with what Evan Rosier and Damian Mulciber and the others had done, it was true that he had considered joining the Dark Lord, but he had never proclaimed that it was his outright intention. Unlike others, he had no desire to proclaim his views from the rooftops and on the street-corners – in this day and age, it got a fellow killed, acting in that way.
He opened his mouth to speak, trying to muster the urge to say something, anything, but the words slipped from his brain at the sight of those cold, disgusted, disappointed emerald eyes. He tried to gather his thoughts again, but Lily cut him off.
"I can't pretend any more. You've chosen your way, I've chosen mine."
Finally, Severus pulled words to his brain. He didn't want to sound like he was pleading – the Half-Blood Prince never pleaded for anything – but like he was presenting a business proposal, with maturity and gravity. Yet he couldn't keep the bitter edge out of his voice.
"So I'm assuming you believe that I can't change. Fine. I've learned to accept plenty of disappointments in my time. Are you going to begin calling me Snivellus like Potter and the rest of his ego-ridden scumbags do?"
Colour rose to Lily's face. "After what you called me, you dare criticize what I say?"
Severus shrugged, trying to keep a contemptuous edge from filling his voice. "What are you going to say to explain it? Justify it? Did I deserve it as much as you did?"
Lily went red. "I never meant to call you that name, it just –"
"Slipped out?" Severus sneered.
Lily took a calming breath and tried to regain her contemptuous cold stare. Unfortunately, unlike Severus, she had little practice with the expression. "The circumstances got beyond both of our control, and both of us said things we didn't want to say."
"Understandable, and I forgive you for your slip of the tongue – it happens to all of us. So why won't you forgive me?" Severus asked harshly, his icy tones utterly denying the searing pain that was coursing through his heart. "And I thought you were the reasonable one."
"I can't forgive you your views, Severus," Lily replied, resuming her disgusted tone, "no matter how hypocritical they might be."
In a second, the pain that was burning in Severus' heart was converted to raw fury. "How dare you – you have no idea –"
"Quit sputtering Severus, it's unbecoming of you. So how many Slytherins know you're a half-blood?" Lily asked scornfully.
Severus couldn't meet her eyes, no matter how hard he tried. "You have no idea what it's like for me there…" he muttered.
"How many, Severus?"
"Two," Severus muttered, colour rising in his own face now at the embarrassment. "Three if you count Lucius Malfoy, but he graduated a few years ago."
"So who does know?" Lily asked scathingly, relentlessly. "Rosier? The Lestranges?"
"Regulus and Narcissa Black," Severus mumbled, his eyes still not meeting Lily's. "Regulus heard it from your Black and he told Narcissa. If you had any idea of what I've gone through there…"
"Oh, do tell, Severus, tell me of your petty struggles in Slytherin," Lily spat, her eyes mocking, although Severus thought he heard a tremor in her voice.
"YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT IT'S LIKE!" Severus bellowed, his temper finally flaring. Lily's eyes widened at the outburst – so uncharacteristic of the pale young man – but Severus didn't care. "Lying every day of my life, behaving like a conceited snob though I know I'm not, living under guard because if they ever did find out I'd be worse than dead, treating others like the dirt beneath my boots in their company and then being castigated when I'm on my own – do you know what that's like, Lily Evans? Have you ever been hated for something you can't control, that you've never had any control over if you have desire to survive?"
Lily took a few seconds to speak as Severus glared balefully at her. Finally, her green eyes met his black eyes.
"Yes, I have been hated for something that I couldn't ever have controlled," she replied evenly. "It's called being Muggle-born, and those who hate me are the Junior Death Eaters you surround yourself with. I'm sorry, Severus, but you showed your true colors, and I know better than anybody people don't change – hell, I've been trying to change you for years. And I even thought I made some progress."
Severus was speechless, all colour gone from his face. Why didn't she ever tell me…?
Lily continued, all emotion gone from her voice. "But what I saw today proved that you won't change, and that my efforts are for naught. Severus Snape, I give up." She turned to step back through the portrait hole
At that second, Severus knew that he had to make a choice. The two paths stretched before him, and in both he saw darkness. But I'll never be able to live with myself if I don't…
He grabbed a hold of Lily's wrist.
Lily recoiled, but she had left her wand in her dormitory. "Get your hands off –"
"What if I changed?" Severus asked, a note of quiet desperation in his voice. "You tried to change me without my knowledge. Well, what if I tried, instead of you?"
"You're just saying that –"
"Lily, you know I could do this."
"I don't know." Lily's tone was scornful. "You sure as hell didn't try with me, and frankly, I don't think you can change."
"Give me a chance." Despite all of his convictions and everything that he had once believed, Severus was now pleading.
"You had your chance. But at the expense of not slapping you across the face for grabbing me, I'll tell you this, Severus Snape: I'll be waiting at the end for you if you ever change, and don't expect for me to wait long. But until then, this friendship – our friendship – is over."
And with that, Lily wrenched her wrist from Severus' grasp, climbed back through the portrait hole and slammed it shut, leaving Severus to face the impassive eyes of the Fat Lady, tears beginning to streak down his pallid cheeks.
There were very few people in the common room that evening as Lily stormed through, but the Marauders were all still awake, curious about what Snape had told their fellow Gryffindor.
From the furious expression on her face, James Potter automatically guessed it hadn't gone very well.
"So, how did it go?" he asked cheerfully.
"None of your business," she snapped back.
"That bad, huh?" Sirius remarked, tossing his hair back.
"Go to hell."
"So I guess that means you finally did ditch Snivellus," James said with a grin. "Good. He was a greasy wanker anyways –"
The slap that Lily had reserved to use on Severus if things had gotten ugly now found connection with an astounded James' face. Then, with a mingled curse and sob, she stormed away, tears wetting the hair that had fallen in her face along with her composure.
The other Marauders had all winced with James had gotten slapped, and they were now all exchanging looks.
"You need to turn with the blows, mate," Sirius advised, patting James on the shoulder as the other boy gingerly felt his cheek. "You can't take 'em straight like that or you'll have nasty bruises in the morning. Speaking from experience, of course."
"Thanks, that makes me feel a hell of a lot better," James replied, slumping in his chair. "I wonder what Snivellus said to Lily that set her off so badly."
"Well, you have the Cloak and the new Map," Peter volunteered. "It's just a matter of following Snivellus and hexing him until he tells you the answer."
"That's a splendid idea, Wormtail!" James stood and rooted around in his bag until he found the silvery Invisibility Cloak and an already-worn square piece of parchment. "Now, who's coming with me?"
"Prongs, we still have O.W.L.s coming," Remus warned as he got to his feet. "Including the Transfiguration one tomorrow."
James brushed it aside. "We'll ace it anyways. So who's with me? Padfoot?"
"When would I pass up an opportunity to hex Snivellus?"
"Moony did make a point about the O.W.L.s, guys," Peter replied hesitantly. "I c-can't afford to fail too many of them. I'm gonna stay behind."
"As am I," Remus replied evenly. "Unlike you two, I care about my education."
James shrugged. "Fine by me. Your loss." And with that, he threw the Invisibility Cloak over him and Sirius and they vanished out of the portrait hole.
He moved blindly through the hallways, not even considering where he was going. He was counting on raw instinct to get him back to his common room, but he knew that in the dark, raw instinct might not be enough to evade Filch or Peeves.
Severus finally staggered to a halt, his body tensed with the halting sobs he was holding back. Her words kept resounding in his mind.
And deep down inside, he knew very well that things weren't likely to change. He would follow in the footsteps of so many other hypocrites, and join the Dark Lord like Lily had prophesied that he would do.
Suddenly he heard a noise, a muffled clank of something against metal. Severus swore under his breath. Filch. Perfect. He looked around for a place to hide, but there was nothing in sight and unlike Potter, he didn't have an Invisibility Cloak.
He spotted a door by a suit of armor, and without thinking, he wrenched it open and pulled himself inside quickly. The heavy oaken door nearly caught the hem of his robes, but he pulled back just in time, trying to control the rapid breathing that always came from narrow, panicked escapes.
He looked up and peered around the room, frowning slightly. He had never been in this room before – it looked like a disused classroom, with several overturned desks and chairs, and dust covering the floor. In fact, the only thing that didn't look covered in dust was a single large ornate mirror, propped up against a corner wall.
That's odd, Severus thought, moving slightly closer to the mirror. Why does something like that, with such an elaborate gold frame, sit in a deserted classroom? He looked closer, drawing his wand. His eyes traced the frame to an inscription carved around the top: Erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi.
What the hell does that mean… that's not Latin, he thought, perplexed. He stepped even closer to see his reflection...
To see his reflection change…
He fell to his knees, all of his pent-up emotions rising to the surface. In rage, he slammed his fist against the mirror, but only managed to crack a small part near the bottom. He gasped as blood began seeping from his bleeding knuckles.
No, no, no… this is some sick trick that Potter or Black or –
"I must say, I am surprised to see you tonight, Severus."
Severus twisted and scrambled up, his back against the mirror, his wild eyes meeting the cool gaze of Albus Dumbledore. "Get away from me, sir, or I might do something I'd regret."
Dumbledore only smiled indulgently. "Severus, my dear boy, I doubt severely that you'd be able to harm me, especially right now. Frankly, I am a bit surprised you are here, though. Did you know that this mirror existed before tonight?"
"I didn't even know this room existed before tonight," Severus snarled, his hand clenched upon his wand. "So your answer would be a definite no, then."
Dumbledore only continued to smile, patiently, as if he were expecting something. "So, have you, like so many others, discovered the wonders of the Mirror of Erised?"
"This mirror has no wonders… it's cursed!" Severus spat, his eyes betraying a panic and internal pain that he knew Dumbledore could see. I need to work on my Occlumency skills… although, the ways things have gone tonight, I doubt I would be able to hold him off anyways…
"This mirror is hardly cursed, although it has done much damage," Dumbledore replied somberly. "Can you guess what it does?"
"It shows images of things that can never – will never – be!"
Dumbledore sighed. "Unfortunately, in most cases, Severus, you are right. The Mirror of Erised shows us nothing else but the deepest, most desperate desires of our hearts, and it gives neither knowledge nor truth… although it can influence actions and behavior." He added the last bit almost benignly, but Severus' eyes narrowed.
"Did you overhear my argument?"
"What argument?' Dumbledore asked, spreading his hands. "Severus, I was here myself before you made your arrival. But I must ask who you did argue with – if I have to deal with a potential conflict tomorrow, I would do well to be informed."
"Of course you would," Severus sneered. "So why were you here, staring into the Mirror? What does it show you?"
"If I tell you, would you tell me what you see?" Dumbledore asked, but there was a shrewd look in his eyes that Severus automatically distrusted.
"Perhaps. You go first."
"I see myself holding a pair of thick, woolen socks."
Severus was speechless. "You're lying."
Dumbledore smiled wisely. "One can never have enough socks, Severus. You'll come to realize that as you get older."
Severus stared into the Headmaster's eyes for a few seconds before sighing and turning away. "I can never tell if you're lying or not… drives me crazy…"
"So what do you see, Severus?"
Severus turned away, bitterness filling his expression. "My answer will seem paltry compared to your desperate desire for footwear, Professor Dumbledore."
"And yet it drove you to your knees, Severus," Dumbledore replied, all evidence of mirth gone. "It is something you yearn for, but will not say aloud…"
Severus fixed Dumbledore with a hard glare. "This doesn't leave this room. Understand?"
"Why would I reveal your secrets, Severus?"
Severus glared at Dumbledore for a few more seconds before turning away. "I see a man in the mirror, one standing tall in fine robes. His hair is shining in the moonlight that flows over him, and his teeth are even and white. His arms are bare, and although there are scars there, his arms are clean of blemish."
Dumbledore was silent for a few seconds, but then nodded. "Keep going."
Severus gave Dumbledore a wary look before continuing, his voice becoming unsteady. "The man is not alone. There is a woman beside him, who looks up at him with a smile of contented happiness. They are alone, but together. The woman… she's wearing a white dress, and her hair is cascading down her shoulders…her dark-red hair, gleaming in the moonlight… and her eyes shine with peace as she looks at him… and he looks at her, knowing that… knowing that they've c-come so far and are f-finally together. His black eyes meet h-hers, emerald green…"
His voice trailed off into a sob as he turned back towards the mirror, shaking as he rested his hand upon the frame. "T-they have forgiven each other, f-for everything that's gone wrong, and t-they are h-happy…" He sank to his knees, his hand moving to his eyes, moist with tears long held back.
"T-that man… is me."
He felt a hand on his shoulder, and for once, Severus did not move away. He looked up to see Dumbledore, his wise old face creased with sorrow and – Severus was astounded beyond words to see – his eyes were also slightly wet.
"I'm so sorry, Severus. No man I know has seen such a detailed image in this mirror. Your one desire must mean much. It also tells me many things about your character that is most relieving."
"And what's that supposed to mean?" Severus asked quietly, emotion gone from his voice as he stared at the crack in the mirror he had made.
"That you are a man of conscience – that you desire love above everything else, but yet you realize through finding love, you can find recognition, status, and goodness along the way," Dumbledore replied."It also shows me that, unlike many of your fellow Slytherins, you have no desire to sell your soul to Voldemort, for your arms are clean of the Dark Mark."
"But it's all just a vision," Severus muttered, not looking at the Headmaster. "None of it is real…"
"One thing that is true about all dreams is that by one's actions, they become real, for better or for worse," Dumbledore remarked, his own eyes returning to the mirror. "There is no regret or past failures in your vision that you desire to reclaim – only a future you can very well attain. After all," he added with a bit of a smile, "anything is possible."
Severus abruptly stood. "I need time to think about this," he said, although in his own mind, he had already come to a decision. He didn't see how he was going to do it, but he was sure as hell going to try.
"Of course," Dumbledore replied easily. "I won't dock you points for being out of bed, but mind you hurry there – you do have an exam tomorrow."
Severus looked down at his bleeding hand. "Sorry about breaking your mirror," he mumbled.
Dumbledore did smile this time, and with a tap of his wand, Severus' hand was healed instantly. "That also says something about you, Severus – no one has ever tried that before. I can only hope you learned something – and I'd advise you to avoid looking for this mirror again. Men have wasted away before it, entranced by what they have seen."
"It only brings me pain, why would I search for it?"
"Because you want to feel, Severus, and that feeling makes you human. Have a good night, Mr. Snape." And with that, Dumbledore vanished, but Severus had turned away, walking straight out the door, a purpose set to his steps.
As Severus walked away, the door vanished, leaving plain stone wall behind.
Only a few steps away, under an Invisibility Cloak, James exchanged a confused look with Sirius, both perplexed by the conversation they had heard by two men they thought they knew.