I wasn't going to write this but Jane Grey forced me. ;-) Thanks to Lisa for the beta job. Excellent work thanks dear. This story is for Jane and Lisa. Please read and review!
Prologue: The Cottage in Godric's Hollow
The cottage had stood there, just as the Dark Lord had left it, for the past fifteen years: ruined, its roof blasted off from when the Killing curse backfired. Thick tendrils of ivy grew around it, obscuring it from view; the windows were smeared with fifteen years worth of exposure to the elements. It had never been a well built structure, simply passable. Once it had looked exactly like the squat cottages that surrounded it; now it stood out like a sore thumb. The hedges were out of control; a simple trimming charm could have fixed that, but they had been left to grow wild. The grass in the front yard was waist high; the stones of the little path that led to the door were cracked and fuzzed over with moss. He wondered not for the first time why no one had ever attempted to rebuild the cottage, or demolish it entirely.
Had this been Dumbledore's doing, keeping it frozen as Lord Voldemort had left it all those years ago? If he went inside, would he still see a kettle on a blackened stove, mugs housing dusty tea bags on the kitchen counter, and a bowl full of gingersnaps -Lily's favourite- beside them? Was this a museum? Or was the idea for it to be a warning, a monument in their honour? Or Harry's honour, perhaps?
Sentimentality was for Gryffindors, Snape thought; he'd have torn it down. But who was he kidding? He wouldn't have. Even as he started towards the door he felt his heart shudder in his chest. He would never have torn down the last place she had been happy. He was so bloody Gryffindor sentimental that he hadn't even been inside it yet. Every year he'd been back, every spring for the past fifteen years he'd stood before it, but he had never once dared to enter. He glanced at the sign near the doorway, which stated the date of Lily and James Potter's death and Harry's triumph over Lord Voldemort; it was smeared with signatures and messages. Last year the graffiti hadn't been as prominent; now, it closed in on the neatly printed words of the sign like strangling weeds. There were people following the adventures of Harry James Potter, people cheering him on, people wishing him well. Snape sneered; it was easy to be a hero. Potter should try his job on for a day and see how it fit him.
Snape had a vague sort of idea in his head that he could enter and be comforted by the objects that she had once owned, that he might take one with him as a keepsake. He pushed that idea away from himself forcefully as he set foot in the cottage. What struck him first was the smell: musty, stale, and something else, a burnt smell like blackened sugar. The scent of a failed curse?
The living room was small, functional and had been decorated sparsely with whatever could be donated or salvaged on short notice. Everything was silver and velvety with dust. There was a modest bookshelf that housed several volumes on Quidditch, a handful of classic novels, a cookbook for new mothers, several Potions journals and a stack of Transfiguration Weekly. He'd thought he might see some of his own books on that rickety shelf, books he'd lent Lily or given to her; but if she still had them when she died she'd hidden them well. On the mantelpiece were framed wizarding photographs. Harry aged three weeks, James reading The Quibbler at the breakfast table. An old school picture of the Marauder gang: Lupin looking worn but happy, Wormtail shy and flush-cheeked, James and Sirius sticking their tongues out at him when Snape brushed away a cobweb with one thumb. And there was one of Lily in her wedding dress, beaming and waving, holding up her bouquet of lilies and roses. Snape's breath caught in his throat. She was even lovelier than he remembered and she would stay that way forever: 19, devastatingly beautiful, her smile genuine, her green eyes shining with happiness. She gave him a sad regretful look and then turned away.
He would have given anything to be able to take this photo with him. However, he knew he couldn't. There was only reason this picture, or anything else in the house, was still here and that was that the whole place was charmed to prevent souvenir hunters from taking anything away with them. A standard anti theft spell that only allowed the owner of the belongings to remove them; in other words, Potter- and he had obviously never been here.
Snape sat down on the sage green velvet sofa, and the dust particles danced like mad around him. Lord Voldemort was back, Dumbledore was injured; the world was at the mercy of a hormonal sixteen year old wizard with Quidditch and girls on the brain, and Severus Snape was sitting on Lily Potter's sofa waiting for a sign to motivate him to go on. There must be something left, he thought, one thing I gave her. She must have kept something. He had given her such marvellous gifts when they were young. A book that told you stories according to what mood you were in, jewelled hair clips that whispered the answers in your ears during exams (not that Lily ever wore them during exams), the mental mints that upped your mental acuity slightly for half an hour after you sucked them, and the violet satin ribbon that passed on notes to the wearer - they'd communicated that way for years, it hadn't mattered that they were in different houses.
She must have kept something, she couldn't have thrown everything away; she wasn't like that. He stood up and rifled through a small desk in the corner that contained mostly James' things, some letters from Dumbledore, some from Sirius and Lupin, one long one from Peter, tickets to Quidditch games. There was hardly anything of Lily's there. Well, she wouldn't have kept his letters there where James could read them. He'd written her so many over the years, even after their friendship was over; even some after she'd married Potter, when he, Snape, had been a Death Eater. Did she just throw them away? Suddenly a passion gripped him: there must be some proof of their friendship in this house, he wouldn't leave until he found it.
Nothing. For hours he searched, and found nothing. He didn't dare go up the rickety stairs to that blasted top floor; there wasn't much left there, nothing of the bedroom that was once Harry's nor much of the room Lily once slept in with James. Snape was grateful for that last: he wouldn't have wanted to stand at the foot of James Potter's bed and imagine Lily in her husband's arms. Even after all these years that cut still burned, like a curse wound that would not heal. He wondered if some part of her had done it intentionally, to hurt him. That alone made her worthy of Slytherin, in his mind. She must have known that by picking Potter for her husband, she would mortally wound him.
He decided if she'd hidden anything it would be in the living room, almost in plain view. He looked around for the hundredth time. Something here meant something to Lily, some piece of furniture. The sofa. The sage green velvet sofa. It was grander than the rest of the furniture. It stuck out next to bookshelves and coffee tables that had probably been donated. Perhaps the sofa had been new, a gift. He looked underneath it, feeling all along the underside with trembling fingers. He couldn't believe his luck when the lining ended and he brushed polished wood: a box. He plucked it from its hiding place; there wasn't even a concealment charm on it. He placed it on the floor in front of him and wiped the dust from the lid. It was inlaid with stars and moons in some darker wood: fine craftsmanship, handmade, without the benefit of magic. The initials P.P. were carved in the corner almost invisibly. Inside the lid were the words: For Lily on her wedding day. A song of her very own. Love from Peter. Snape recalled Peter's mother had been a concert pianist; it wasn't too unlikely she had taught him music. So, little Peter Pettigrew had some talent after all, Snape thought, grudgingly impressed. Or at least he had the sense to give the illusion of having talent. Inside the box were a tiny golden key and a handful of keepsakes. The key fit into a hole in the side of the box, Snape pushed it in and turned till it would turn no more.
Music spilled out from the box: music that didn't just come from the simple mechanics of cogs and springs, but had been injected with a slight silver thread of magic. Snape felt sure someone, Lupin perhaps, had helped Pettigrew with the magic, but the music could very well have been his own. The song started out a plain, almost childish waltz, but then expanded into something entirely different: a melody that pulled at his heartstrings, its darker tones dragging him into memories so treacherous, he'd banished them years ago. The tune was like Lily herself: the purity, the heartbreaking beauty, the undertone of darkness that couldn't be explained unless you knew her. And even then she hid it well.
Peter, it seemed, was more observant than he'd previously led them to believe. Perhaps Snape would keep that in mind when he next encountered his rat-like servant.
Jealousy snapped at the heels of that thought. Even small, untalented Pettigrew had been permitted to spend time with her, had received a measure of her affection. Peter had been there at Lily's wedding, he'd given her this box. Snape had been far away that day, at another party. He hadn't seen Lily since they left school, and hadn't spoken to her since...that time…
The party he had been to on the day Lily married James had been a Death Eater revel, one of Lucius Malfoy's drawn-out decadent affairs. He'd often been invited to them in the past, but had seldom attended; he said he felt their time was better spent on other pursuits. He'd been hoping to impress the Dark Lord with his loyalty to the cause, when in fact Voldemort encouraged these events; it amused him to watch the dalliances of his Death Eaters. Probably he was gathering information with which to blackmail them at a later date; that too amused him at the time.
The real reason Snape disliked Malfoy's revels was that he couldn't dance. That night he drank too much to stand straight, never mind shuffle his feet in time to the music. He remembered watching Bellatrix Lestrange and Lucius Malfoy moving in perfect harmony, as if they were born to move together. They reminded him of lions: proud, vicious, and poised to attack. He imagined Lily in her wedding dress in James' arms, floating to some modern tune: happy, a million miles away from where he was in every sense. He'd stood there wallowing in self pity when he felt a small, cold hand slip into his. He'd jumped, startled and tried to tear his hand away, but Narcissa wouldn't let go.
Her face had been pale and drawn; she looked unlovely in her fear. That's what it was: fear, fear like a dagger in the belly that made her look at her husband and sister like she had never seen them before. A fear so strong, she'd chosen such an unlikely candidate as Severus Snape to be her comforter. So he'd just stood there, holding her hand. Nobody noticed; nobody cared. Compared to the activities the others were engaging in, holding the hand of another man's wife was nothing - even the hand of such a wife as Narcissa Malfoy.
He'd pretended for a minute it was Lily's hand he was holding, but then he'd never wanted Lily to see him like this, in the company of these people. Narcissa had cleared her throat slightly. "Thank you," she'd said, and smiled, her beauty returning to her with mind numbing suddenness. They never spoke about it again, but Snape knew from that moment that her heart wasn't in it. She may have loved Lucius enough to go along with the whole thing but she would never be one of the select few, she'd never wear the mark. These black revels and all they implied - a glimpse of the world as it would be when the Dark Lord achieved ultimate power - clearly terrified her.
Snape turned his thoughts back to the box on his lap. The mechanism was slowing down, making the tune sound sinister. He rifled through its contents impatiently: a lace glove - part of her wedding costume? An acceptance letter for a Charms apprenticeship, an apprenticeship she would have excelled in had she lived. Snape found himself trembling at the sheer waste of this, a generation dead and gone, the best minds in the wizarding world destroyed. An announcement for the birth of Harry James Potter, July 31st 1980. A photograph of the old Order of the Phoenix in a walnut frame. A pack of Drooble's best blowing gum. A handkerchief embroidered with the letter L; taking it to stand for Lily, Snape pressed to his lips. A dark red rose enchanted to remain fresh, probably a gift from James; Snape dropped it at once as if it were a serpent, about to bite him. And that was all; his fingernails scraped the bottom of the box, there was nothing else in there.
A quiet, terrible rage shook within him. Nothing, nothing that proved they had ever known each other. Not one keepsake. She'd thrown everything out. He longed to hurl the box against the crooked wall with its yellowed wallpaper, but instead he turned it upside down spilling its contents onto the wooden floor. The bottom was false; he knew at once, though how he knew this he wasn't sure. He examined it for a long time, unable to find a way to open it; no spell worked. It occurred to him Lily might have added this herself; a false bottom like this, with no known means of opening it, was definitely beyond Peter Pettigrew's talents, and perhaps even beyond Remus Lupin.
There was something familiar about this. He'd know her work blind; magic left a distinct residue and it was Lily's work all right. She must have set it to open to some word, some code. What word would Lily Potter choose? Harry? James?
A secret code to open the door to a cave.
When they were children, Lily had sometimes told him Muggle fairytales. He'd found them hysterical, the Muggle concept of magic could reduce him into fits of laughter that could go on for hours. His mother had only ever told him Beedle the Bard, and his father wasn't the sort who told any stories. Ali Baba: that had been the name of the hero. He had found thieves treasure hidden in a cave that could only be opened by saying the magic words.
"Alohomora!" Severus had often said, waiting with delight for Lily to correct him with more fondness than exasperation in her tone.
There had been something with nuts? Or poppy? Open Caraway. Open Peppercorn. Open Sesame. That was it.
"Open Sesame," Snape intoned.
The bottom of the box vanished. There, nestled in a bed of crinkled Daily Prophet pages, was a slim book covered in blue velvet; one butterfly hair clip missing its mate; a note he'd written her near the end of sixth year, thankfully so tear stained it was almost illegible; and a thick packet of letters that seemed to be unopened, tied together with a dark green silk ribbon. The ribbon, Snape realised with a start, belonged to him. He hadn't given it to Lily; in fact he'd always wondered where he had lost it. It had never occurred to him Lily might have taken such a small, insignificant thing.
It had belonged to his mother at some point, and had been the thing she'd given him to remember her by his first year at Hogwarts. At the time, he had been feverish with excitement at the prospect of going away to school, but also, although he never admitted it, a little sad. For a long time, before he met Lily, Eileen Prince had been his only friend, and he had been hers. She had been the only person who knew what he could do, and had told him he was normal - unlike his father, unlike almost everyone he encountered at Muggle school and in the neighbourhood. By the time he finally really met Lily, he had long ago given up on ever meeting a Muggle who didn't react to him with disgust or confusion.
He fingered the green silk contemplatively; this he could take with him, this belonged to him. Could he take the letters as well, since they were bound by his belonging? Sometimes spells could be bent a bit.
But whose letters were they? Who had written them? Did he want to read them? Did he want to take them?
Whose letters? Easily solved. He slid the ribbon to one side and read the name on the first envelope: Miss Petunia Evans. Ah, the Muggle sister.
Who had written them? Lily. No doubt about it, he'd know her loopy scrawl anywhere.
Did he want to read them? Yes. Yes. Again yes. A hundred times yes.
Did he want to take them? His legs reacted before he had a chance to finish the thought. He stood up.
It occurred to him Potter might one day discover the cottage and all its contents. He might find this box. He might even, though Snape thought it highly unlikely, open the false bottom and read the inscription in the velvet bound book Severus Snape had once given Lily Evans. This thought sent waves of disgust through him.
Sometimes it seemed to Snape, though he knew Harry Potter was Lily's son and that he had inherited her unmistakable eyes, that boy had absolutely nothing to do with Lily. There was a line in his head that separated that arrogant child he loved to torment in Potions class from the girl he had loved, still loved. If Potter ever came here it would all belong to him, even the presents he'd given Lily. Potter had everything, he had the protection of her love; while he, Snape, had nothing - just a handful of memories and this packet of letters. He tucked the letters into his robes and bent down to place all the keepsakes back into the music box. He resealed the false bottom. (Close Sesame.) Then he tucked it back into its hiding place under the sofa. He tidied up a bit, tried to leave things as he found them. Then he headed towards the door pausing at the threshold for a minute.
The ribbon was his, and it bound the letters; thus, they too belonged to him, he thought as he exited the cottage. He felt an ominous sort of twitching in the spot above his heart where he had placed the letters, but that was all. He was free to take them out of the cottage.
Snape ran down the street, shivering with anticipation, and with the thrill that comes with outsmarting someone. He had almost left Godric's Hollow behind him, his legs trembling with the strain of unfamiliar exercise, before he realised it would be faster just to Apparate back home to Spinner's End. He did so. Safe in the dingy house that had once belonged to his father, he dove into his breast pocket to retrieve the letters. They were still there, at least a dozen letters Lily had written; it didn't matter to him who they were addressed to. He thought for a second of Dumbledore, and how he would probably hand them over to Petunia Dursley unread. Snape grinned to himself in the dark, a grim sort of grin. Thankfully, he wasn't Dumbledore; he was Severus Snape, Head of Slytherin House. He opened the first letter without further hesitation, integrity be damned. All's fair in love and war.