A/n: It has been over a year since the last Harry Potter book was released, and the last time I posted a Harry Potter story was back in 2006. Wow. Now, I realize that every Harry Potter fan who once had me on alert has long since gotten rid of that feature, but I need to post this anyway.
You see, after years of supporting Snape and adoring the idea that he just might be in love with Lily, I was given a wonderful reward! It was legit. Awesome. And a year later, I decided that it was time for me to pay my respects to Snape for all the inspiration he's given me over the years. Looking at the HP section of FFNet, I've found a lot of the reviews to be generally negative. So if you're reading this and decide to make some sort of snide comment, it's okay. I won't like it, but since I took up writing, I've come to realize that the only person I need to please with my work is myself. I've written this story on and off for several months now, working to make it as good and realistic as I can, and I'm thrilled with the outcome. I hope you enjoy it too.
This could very well be the last Harry Potter story I ever write. I find that oddly fitting, for this story was four years in the making.
Disclaimer: I own nothing.
Here and Then
The day had already been an eventful one, and it was only mid afternoon. Still, the sun seemed to cast a lazy spell over the little town, one that gave its inhabitants the desire to do little more than sit around and perhaps stretch out on a lawn chair. The grass in the thicket was lush, soft, and a perfect carpet for the two young children by the brook's side. A redhead girl and a dark-haired boy, both shoeless and in summer clothes, sat face-to-face as they discussed their latest endeavor.
"Well," said Lily. Her brilliant green eyes shone with amusement at the very thought. "That could have gone much worse."
Severus nodded, his curtain of dark hair falling across his face. He pushed it absently away with one hand and replied, "We were lucky they didn't see us—I don't think they would have liked anyone to see them fighting, especially not a girl."
Only minutes ago, they had come bursting through the trees that signified the end of Spinner's End and the beginning of Lily's neighborhood, and had taken refuge from the sun in this secluded little grove. Earlier in the morning, Lily had asked Severus why he always dressed "like that" even when it was so hot, to which he'd replied that he didn't know what he was supposed to wear. And Lily, being the ever-helpful, calculating mind, had hatched a plan to sneak into his house together and get him "some proper summer clothes". While her intentions had seemed blatant, Severus could not help but feel that she also wanted to see what his house was like. Still, he had to hand it to her: she could spin words like nobody he had met in his life.
Once the problem had been solved and the pair had climbed from Severus's window, they had taken off down the street, she laughing at their sheer ingenuity.
Smiling slightly, Lily picked up a twig and dipped it into the river. Severus didn't miss the thoughtful expression on her face, but for some reason it only made him a bit uncomfortable. In fact, there had always been something about Lily Evans that made him uncomfortable, even if that discomfort was usually not a bad kind.
Dropping the twig into the stream, Lily watched it eddy downstream before she tore her eyes away and wondered aloud, "I wonder what the kids are like at Hogwarts."
Severus reclined sideways across the grass and crossed his arms behind his head. "Like normal kids, I guess," he replied.
"But what's 'normal'?" she asked. "Tuney's normal and she can be really mean when she wants. What if all the kids at school are mean?"
"That's silly. Not everyone can be mean—they're probably the same as you and me."
Still, Lily seemed uncertain. Her fingers wound nervously together in her lap, and he knew then that something else was bothering her too. Something that was clearly making her just as uncomfortable as he had felt not a moment previous.
Rolling on one side and laying his head on his arms, his eyebrows furrowed with mild concern, he prodded, "What?"
"Well… what if—?" She broke off, embarrassed. Her eyes rose from her hands to meet his, she blushed. "What if they ask me… if I ever kissed a boy?"
Lily had whispered it as if ashamed, but Severus was so taken aback by the question that he'd forgotten to be embarrassed by it. Propping himself up on his hands and looking at her with the utmost concern, he asked her why she would ever wonder, why it even mattered. In turn, Lily shrugged halfheartedly.
"Tuney said that lots of witches kiss boys before they even go to school!"
"That doesn't even make any sense," replied Severus, now sitting up and eyeing Lily most incredulously.
"I know, but you'd be surprised how much my sister knows about things. She said she read it in an old library book."
An awkward silence followed—not awkward because of the subject matter, really, but because neither really knew how to respond to this proposal. Severus knew lots of things about wizards and Diagon Alley and even potions, but if there was one thing he never talked with his mother about, it was girls. And now, he realized as he sat across from his best friend with his mouth hanging open, Lily's unpleasant Muggle sister could somehow be right. What then? He already knew that she could face some problems for being a Mudblood, so what if she had this to worry about too?
In an attempt to seem unperturbed by this worrying thought, Severus said the first thing that came to his mind: "Even if that's true… then so what?"
"So what? I've never kissed anyone before!" She exclaimed, tugging on the grass on either side of where she sat and throwing two fistfuls into the air.
Severus flinched and did his best to blink the rainstorm of grass away from his face, otherwise unperturbed by her outburst.
"You could lie," he suggested, calm.
The corners of Lily's mouth tipped into a deeper frown, her fingers continued to twist together in nervous contemplation. "I guess I could," she began, "unless they read my mind and know I'm lying."
"That shouldn't be a problem," said Severus. "I'm pretty sure that reading minds is impossible anyway."
Lily released a long sigh, relieved. "Good. I'll bet Tuney was lying anyway; I don't know why I even believed her."
Both children relaxed, heaving a heavy sigh as one and leaving a thoughtful silence in its wake. In this newly-established quiet, Severus tugged at the collar of his oversized t-shirt and wondered how it had gotten so hot so fast. Lily, it seemed, was thinking along the same lines. Her head was turned away so that the sunlight caught her shining red mass of hair, she dipping her fingers into the cool brooke.
"Severus." The one word caused him to look sharply up from the patch of grass he'd been inspecting. "Did you ever wonder what it's like to be kissed?"
Frowning, he replied "No", but his dark eyes had flicked towards her pretty, freckled face and away again as if he were afraid she might accuse him of lying. Unfortunately, she did recognize the gesture, and while she did not understand why he could not look at her, specifically, she realized that he hadn't told the entire truth.
"Aw, come on Severus, don't lie," she taunted.
The boy, despite his best efforts, felt a tiny smirk flit across his face. His fingers grabbed at a small patch of grass and tore it out in one violent gesture. Dirt caked beneath his fingernails, and he chose to examine them rather than look at his friend. "Well, only a few times," he admitted. Then, as if to make himself perfectly clear: "But not really."
Before they knew it, they had scrambled to their feet. Somewhere off in the distance a bird chirped, but Severus didn't hear it. His eleven-year-old heart was hammering too loudly in his chest for him to hear anything else. The look she was giving him—well, he assumed that he was giving it right back, too—was enough. Dark eyes stared at light ones in silent confirmation. He briefly wondered if his eyes were as wide as hers, or if she could hear his heart beating in his throat.
It would be nothing, especially since they were kids and, well, he had wondered. As long as there was no way for her to know that he'd been wondering about her all along, he could pass it off as just an experiment between friends, just a little hint of curiosity getting the better of them.
Lily made the first tentative step forward, saying as if reassuring herself, "Just to—just so we know."
"Right," he agreed with a tentative step in her direction.
First they were two feet apart. Then one, then only inches and Severus couldn't help but wonder what exactly he was getting himself into. His senses seemed to be running on overdrive. He could hear every breath she took through her parted lips, see every different shade of red in her hair as the sun glinted off of it.
"Severus," she whispered, tilting her head forward until their foreheads almost bumped together. "Please don't tell Tuney. She'll tell my parents and they won't let me leave my house until I go to Hogwarts."
Severus shook his head slightly, feeling his long hair swoosh about his face as he did so. His chin dipped downward of its own accord and they really did bump heads, lightly. "I won't tell anyone."
"Me neither," she breathed.
And that was when he closed his eyes as tightly as he could manage so that he wouldn't be able to see what he was about to do. The two leaned in very slowly, his mind buzzing all the while, and when their lips finally touched—
There was a blinding flash and they yelled out in alarm, jumping backwards. Lily lost her footing and toppled sideways to land in the shallow brook. Severus gasped. It was a good thing the water was only about a foot deep, he thought, running at once to the edge of the water.
Lily's soaked hair hung in her face like a red curtain. She spat out a stream of water almost comically, reaching up to pull her hair away from her face with both hands.
"What was that?" she gasped, amazed.
"I have no idea!" he said. "It must have been accidental magic."
While he honestly had no clue what had just happened, he could not deny to himself that his fingers were giving off a distinctive, tingly feeling from the blinding flash, as harmless as it had been. He peered down at his friend and held out a hand to her soaking form.
"They're gonna think I pushed you in or something," he said, annoyed. A visual image of Tuney mocking him didn't help to ease this thought.
Smiling and grabbing his hand, Lily gave an almighty tug and yanked him right off his feet. With a yelp, Severus cascaded through the air and splashed down in the water beside her. Water flew in all directions. Lily roared with laughter.
"Not anymore," she chirped.
He resurfaced, spitting and just as soaked as she. Lily took one look at him, glowering in her direction with his hair dangling in his face, and dissolved into another fit of laughter.
"We're so lucky to have each other, Sev," she said to him through her giggles. "A friend to swim with."
His mouth twitched at the newly-established nickname. Though their personalities did tend to conflict more often than not, it only took one look for Severus to decide that he would never let their beliefs interfere with their friendship. Not ever.
Just like all those years ago, the day is a warm, pleasant one, with only the hint of a breeze to suggest that something is amiss. Just as then, he is nervous—even frightened, though he'll never betray it—but he has since then learned to keep himself and his long, sweeping cloak cool, even in the heat of day. Even so, he cannot deny the slickness in his palms, his heart threatening to crawl from his throat even as he strides. He is a man with a mission, self-sent and making his way towards more danger than the Dark Lord has ever sent him. In fact, keeping the aforementioned master unaware has been a task in itself, and yet not half as difficult as the one he must now face.
The entire place is bright and filled with vivaciousness, he notes with a hint of irony. Everyone has made their way over to the banquet hall from the churchyard. He follows in their wake (although doing so is hardly necessary, since he has grown up in this part of town and knows it front and back). Some of the Muggle guests have expressed surprise over a number of peculiar partygoers and their tendency to don bright, colorful suits, but other than this fact there is no way of telling the two groups apart. Lily, no doubt, would have taken great measures to ensure that the day goes flawlessly.
Well he is about to change her day, if only an insignificant amount (to her, at least, that is for certain). Right now it is only a matter of making sure she doesn't scream when she sees him standing in the background, dressed in black from head to toe. Or, more likely still, that she doesn't attack him on the spot or sound an alarm.
Making his way briskly up the front steps of the old banquet hall, he steps through the door and finds an empty chair that he can put to use. He doesn't make the slightest noise as he heaves himself onto the chair and straightens up, looking about with one hand blocking the dizzying light of the room from his narrowed eyes. All around people dance and eat and chat amongst one another, muggles and wizards mingling together, knowing no boundaries.
Finding his quarry proves to take little more than opening his eyes and panning across the decorated room; she is easily the most beautiful, her hair half up in an elegant twist with the rest falling down her sloped shoulders in delicate ringlets. And standing right by her side, with one arm around her waist and a glass of champagne in the other hand, is him. The "arrogant toerag," as she had once said, is donned in graceful black to contrast and highlight the brilliance of her white dress. With a grim nod to himself, he steps down from the chair, narrowly avoiding a pair of drunken partygoers (and the reception has only begun! he thinks), and begins to make his way over to where the new couple is speaking with her enthralled parents (they never did like him anyway).
While on a walk that seems to take each part of his lifetime and shove it in his face without so much as an apology, he passes a number of people who would gladly kill him if so given the chance—Sirius Black (cracking jokes to a group of giggling muggle girls), Remus Lupin (shaking his head at his friend's attempts), and a handful of Order members who are more likely than not here to make sure nobody gets attacked. He pauses only for a second to get a closer look at the half-healed gash gracing the side of Remus's face before continuing on his walk. Once or twice the urge to run creeps up from the pit in his chest, but he forces it back down with the thought that he would rather die than leave certain things left unsaid. He has procrastinated too long now, banished all his thoughts to the depths of his ever-calculating mind for far too many days and sleepless nights for him to back down now.
Halfway through his dark reflection, he stops mid-step, suddenly aware that she has, at last, caught sight of his grim figure in the crowd. At first he thinks that she might shout in alarm—her mouth falls open in surprise at the sight and she does a quick double-take, amazed that he hasn't been seen—but as soon as he holds up his bare hands as a sign of parley, she nods. Restoring her smile a moment later (he can't help but notice that it is slightly more strained than before), she politely excuses herself from conversation, has a hurried dialogue with James that he cannot hear from the distance, and begins to make her way for a door in the back of the hall. Even though he'd like with every fiber of his being to turn in the opposite direction, his stone legs carry him onward. There is no going back. He knows this.
She turns the corner first and he follows a short distance behind, but as soon as he rounds the doorway he's face-to-face with a very suspicious Lily Evans (Potter), her wand poised between his furrowed brows.
"What are you doing here?"
Her words are sharp but curious all the same. In response, he shows her his empty hands again and replies, "We have to talk."
"On my wedding day, we need to talk? You know I have nothing to say to you."
"Please—" he winces slightly as she rests the tip of her wand against his forehead. "It won't take a minute."
Now she seems to consider him for the first time as he stands there with a mostly expressionless face, her brilliant eyes scanning his pale features until she ultimately seems to decide that he means no harm. Her hand falls to her side with one last twitch, then she gives her head a jerk in the direction of the more concealed storage closet beneath a peeling staircase. It's not exactly a conference-sized room, he muses darkly, but it does a good enough job hiding them from anybody who might see and think that Lily is talking (arguing) with herself. She pulls open the door with some difficulty and they jam themselves into the tight space, taking care not to tread on her dress, before she wrestles the ancient door closed again.
The pitch-black room plunges into a weighty silence as Lily grabs at the air for the thin cord dangling somewhere in the small space between them. She finds it a moment later and gives it a tug, flooding the closet with an eerie, yellowing light. As it stands, he is wedged between her and a number of old storage boxes. Their close proximity is almost startling—as a last thought, he nonverbally neutralizes his breath so that she cannot small the shot of whiskey he'd needed in order to leave his house.
As soon as he opens his mouth to speak, she cuts him off. "First, are there any other… Death Eaters here to crash my party?"
"No," he says, ashamed at the way she says 'Death Eaters' with so much spite.
His response seems to lift a small weight off of her shoulders. Lily heaves a sigh of relief, pauses, then continues, "Can anyone else see you?"
"No." This time, it is he who pauses. Then: "Only you."
It only ever was you, his subconscious adds. Still, Lily is satisfied with this answer enough to at least let the crease between her eyebrows ease up the slightest bit, and he knows that it's a good start. As much as he tries to allow a comfortable distance between them, there's no luck against the boxes and piled-up stacks of paper. She's been eyeing his straight face this whole time, knows better than anyone has ever known his masked anxiety. And still, it is in her nature to be gentle even with those who have done her wrong. When she speaks to him, it is with far less accusation.
"Severus, why did you chose this particular day to find me?" she asks.
He gives a noncommittal shrug, uncomfortable beyond all knowledge but nevertheless contained. The way she says his name hasn't changed, not in either its assertion or soft undertones. "It just seemed like the only time I'd be able to talk to you, civilly. Showing up at your front door might have been… reckless."
She may know him better than anyone, but he knows her even better—he had, after all, seen all this Lily and James nonsense coming long before even she—and he can tell that beneath that façade of light makeup and unconvinced expression is genuine curiosity, even compassion for the tired man before her.
With a small shrug, she shifts herself and the weight of the dress so that she can sit on the almost thronelike pile of boxes. He attempts the same, but with little success, and he ends up looking more awkward and lopsided than before. Her leg, beneath the mass of twisting white cloth and the poofy lace supporting it, brushes against his as she moves around. When was the last time they were this close, enough for him to catch that same tantalizing perfume she's worn as long as he can remember. Or maybe it's just shampoo, he doesn't know. What he does know is that, even though its been several years since they've spoken, she's just as beautiful as ever—more so, now that she's grown out of her awkward teenage figure into this woman before him—and he's been staring for a good ten seconds with so much to say and no way to vocalize his guilt.
Lily's had enough waiting, although when she speaks she does so softly, like those times back in school when he needed her reassurance. "Severus?"
Coming to, he heaves a long sigh. "I came here to… apologize."
Her eyebrows shoot up so fast he's sure they're going to disappear into her updo. "Apologize for what? Were you at the raid two days ago? Remus was almost killed, but you probably knew that already—"
"No, not that," he cuts across her with even tones.
In truth, he had actually been at the aforementioned raid, but it had been Dolohov who had shot a nasty jinx at Lupin. Her glossy bottom lip protrudes ever so slightly as a sign of her apparent dissatisfaction with his carelessness towards Remus. He ignores this and the accompanying twist in his stomach.
"I mean, I'm here to apologize for what I said… back in fifth year. I know I already have and you didn't want to hear it," he adds quickly as she opens her mouth to object, "but I can't just let you—us—go on our own separate paths without you knowing how I really felt. How I… feel."
He stops speaking, she says nothing in reply. Her manicured fingers have knotted together in her lap a little too tightly to be completely apathetic, he notices. He can't help but wonder how long until James Potter inevitably comes looking for his bride; he hopes that it won't come to that, that he can speak and be done with this and these yellowing lights and her sparkling eyes once and for all.
"I was ashamed, and scared," he says quietly, his eyes dropping mechanically to the floor as if he can no longer stand her gaze. "And I know I said I was sorry, but I was only fifteen. And yes, I was old enough to know what I said, but we were just kids. And I couldn't just let you—" he breaks off, unable to say what his eyes give away when they move to the glittering ring on her finger, "move on… without you knowing that I've regretted it every day of my life."
Lily stares, ever-calculating, questioning his motives and the validity of his speech. Finally, after what he feels is a lifetime jammed between her and the boxes, she sighs.
"Severus…" He looks up at the sound of her voice. Her eyes are on his as intensely as ever, and yet he almost feels the same hesitation she'd had all those years ago in the thicket, when she'd confessed her fears to him. The thought makes him frown even deeper. "It's a whole lot different than just namecalling," she says. "We're at war now, and no matter how either of us feels, we're on opposite sides. It's… complicated, now."
At this, he seems to regain some of his lost life. He sits more upright even though the corner of one box is prodding him in the back, locks his eyes on her with revived determination. "No, it's not complicated at all," he says. "Forget about the war and—and Potter, and everything for just one second. Take it all away and there's only three things: there's you, and there's me, and there's the way we are with one another."
"I don't understand."
He sighs, rubbing his temple with one hand. "Look, I know we're on different sides now. I don't want it that way—no, don't say it, I already know what you're thinking—but it is what it is. And sooner or later, when we have to face one another—or if something happens, I don't want it to be personal. It will never be personal."
She stares, almost sadly. "If you could do it over, would you… you know, change it at all?" she whispers.
"Maybe I would," he replies, almost bitterly even though he's looking into her eyes and already knows that this is a lie. He might have—no, he definitely would have still joined the Death Eaters, even if given the opportunity to change the decision. It is something he had believed in while growing up, secretly waited for during all those years at school. The only thing that could possibly have changed it would have been a proclamation of love on her part. And, as he had known ever since childhood, it is not meant to be.
"Is there no going back for you, Severus?"
At this, her decorated chest heaves in a long sigh, her eyes casting down briefly before rising back up to meet him. So many unspoken words flit between them here in this aging place, some harsh and others smooth as silk, but none are spoken. There is only one thing he needs to hear, and when she finally says it he is almost overcome:
"I accept your apology."
His eyebrows rise despite his best attempts at neutrality. Indeed, were the situation not such a sad, somber occasion for him, he might have smiled. Instead, he nods once as a sign of gratitude at her acceptance, and the weight of the world lifts away from his shoulders. Only for a moment, but it is wonderful.
But still, her face is painted with a frown that he is ashamed to say he put there. "We can never see each other again, you know," she says. "Not like this—not on purpose."
"No," he agrees with a degree of regret in his voice that is surely noticeable. "We are neutral in the war."
"In the war," she sighs.
In the pause that follows, he takes a moment to listen to the party outside their hallway, outside the pile of boxes and papers. Dinner will be announced shortly, and then she must retake her place besides James Potter for the rest of her life, and he will never see her again. If he does, he will have to kill her. It is more than he can imagine, but it is his job. It is his life now, and nothing can be done to spite his Master.
He looks at Lily in all her beauty, hears fifteen years of her voice in his ears but can only manage to say, "Don't tell James, Lily. I—I wouldn't be able to bear it."
Both of their heads dip forward at the comment, they seem to wilt at the prospect. Forgiveness has been restored, but not much else. "I won't tell anyone," she says. The lament in her voice stings.
"Me neither," he breathes.
At long last, she holds out her hand to him.
"I guess this is goodbye," she says, pauses, then finishes simply, "Sev."
For a few seconds he can only stare at her outstretched hand. Then, slowly, he extends his arm and grasps her hand in his.
There is no brilliant flash of light. There is only Lily and Severus and the sounds of a festive banquet around them. He is afraid that if he lets go of her hand, something between them will break and never be replaced. It is more than a friendship to him. It always was. This one moment marks the beginning of the rest of his life, the rest of her life as strangers with a complicated past.
Then, all too soon, she gently eases her hand away from his and opens the door to the old closet with some difficulty, as it sticks the first time she tries to turn the knob. With one hand she props the white-painted door open while the other grasps for the dangling string and tugs, plummeting the room in darkness once more.
Lily moves away from the closet, breathing deep the air that is filled with light-hearted joy instead of childhood sorrow. She will tell James that she had needed a breath of fresh air, that her time away from him was in no way spent huddled close to her childhood friend, the source of her first kiss and much of her youth's emotion. The irony is agonizing, so much that it takes her a long time to look back.
"Hopefully I won't be seeing you around, huh?" She says it with her back turned to the door—an attempt to lighten their moods with a chilling sense of her own irony—but when she turns around, the hallway is vacant. He is already gone.
With one last deep breath, Lily restores her smile and heads back to her husband's side.
It is done.
A/n: And so there you have it. I hope you enjoyed the story, and thanks for reading! Criticism of the constructive nature is always welcome.