Title: Picking Lilies

Author: Lady Altair

Summary: He finds nothing of her in the world until she is gone from it, until he knows with soul-crushing certainty that the flash of red hair he catches in Diagon Alley will never be hers, never again.

Rating: PG

Author's Notes: So, I've begun law school. I haven't stopped writing, but I am now significantly lacking the free time I once had, so my posting is going to be much less often - I hope you'll still stick around! Thanks everyone!

There are none to match her; he knew that at first glance all those years ago. Lily Evans was a flower, solitary in her perfection. While she yet walked the earth, though she was nothing but fading footprints in his world, he searched faces to find again what he had thrown away. And what had come to him so freely and easily as a child…it eludes him as a man; he can find nothing of her grace, nothing of her smile, nothing at all of Lily Evans because she is Lily Potter and taken from him.

And it is all by his own hand that she turned away; in quiet moments of honesty, he has none to blame but himself.

He finds nothing of her in the world until she is gone from it, until he knows with soul-crushing certainty that the flash of red hair he catches in Diagon will never be hers, never again. And then, as if her death had loosed all she was to settle in others, he finds her everywhere.

It is her name that he notices first, the least of the thorns.

There is never a peaceful year, never a year without that name somewhere in his class rolls. Lily Pinkstone, Lilly Burke, Lily James…he curdles over the last, a soft, gentled-handed little Ravenclaw unworthy of the cold disdain her name inspires in him – he steals her Healer aspirations, frightens her out of the NEWT level Potions she's more than capable of taking just because he can't allow that name on his roll any longer. He hates every bearer of it, that he must hear that name and think on how unworthy each girl is to carry it, all those of blonde hair or hazel eyes and smiles too dimmed, too lacking, too dull to call Lily's.

Perhaps it is worse that he sees her face and form in his students, far beyond that name that seems to haunt him. Amelia Fairchild's eyes are almost perfectly colored to remind him, just a shade removed from Lily's perfect grass-green: finished with a ring of gold around the iris, thin and nearly unnoticeable but he finds it. It takes him the whole of her five years in his class to discern that difference, sneaking glances as she toiled over her cauldron, searching for that miniscule difference that means everything to him, that means Lily's eyes cannot be replicated.

Rebecca Jones' hair is almost perfect, has the same soft sheen in the dim dungeon and he wonders how it would feel under his fingers…but in the light of the Great Hall on a sunny day, it's just a touch too red, a little too straight to be Lily's. Missy Barnes has an angle in her smile that brings Lily to mind, Odette Powers' hands over the cauldron, pale and tapered and sure, are Lily's, down to the chipped pink lacquer and the scarlet and gold trim of her jumper at the wrist.

No. Her name, her face, those are barbs, but it is far worse to find her in the rabble, see her spirit and grace manifest in girls lacking both the name and form. Kawthar Motalib fixes a cool, disapproving glare on him when he humiliates a Hufflepuff boy, spurred by nothing more than spite, and somehow Lily sits there, disdaining his cruelty. Alicia Spinnet (Lily Evans) rolls her blue (green) eyes over Lee Jordan's (James Potter's) obnoxious advances, tosses her brown (red) hair and calls Lee (James) an unconscionable berk. Belinda Montague chews her nails as he examines her potion; when he finds it adequate, she just lights – it's not so simple as a smile or grin, it's as though pure, sweet elation has illuminated her – and sits there for a moment, beaming innocent happiness, and the small first-year could be Lily, she had that light, too.

None of them deserve his cruelty (well, few of them anyway, he won't pretend all of them are competent Brewers) but he cannot help himself; he can find no kindness for those who bring his Lily to mind. There is only resentment, for those who dare to resemble her, dare to bring her to his mind, those who dare to fail him in being her.

There are none to match her, but he finds her echoes everywhere, a bouquet of imperfect blooms that do nothing but highlight the perfection he will never find again.