Disclaimer: Anything you recognize - from either the fairy tale used or Harry Potter - isn't mine.

A/N: Written for the Challenge of the Month at the Hogwarts Online Forum. A story had to be written, loosely based on a fairy tale. My chosen fairy tale was "The Little Mermaid", and I chose to use Hans Christian Andersen's version.

Hero

He wants to talk to her – spends hours agonizing over what to say. However, the truth is that Severus has never been taught to make a friend, how to interact with other kids. He knows how to shut up, knows how to stay out of his father's way, how to block out his parents' screaming so he can get a good night's sleep. He knows the world isn't black and white, isn't divided between right and wrong. It's messed up and twisted, not a playground, but a prison, hard and cruel and cold. He knows you might as well do what you want in life, because it sure as hell isn't like anyone else is going to do it for you.

He knows all that because he's been a bloody adult since the day he was born, but he skipped all the lessons most people learn as kids. He's never played ball; he's never had a water fight; he's never had a friend.

So he contents himself with watching her – laughing with her, from the bushes, where he can see her, but she can't see him. It never occurs to him that it's weird, that it's creepy – how would he know? – and in any case, it isn't like it's love then. He's too young to feel love, too naïve, because as much as he's seen, he's never seen, never felt that, not yet. He watches her because she's bright and happy and funny, and yes, she's a witch, but that's just an excuse. He's liked her since the moment he laid eyes on her, but he justifies it all with the fact that she'll go to Hogwarts with him, even if she doesn't know it yet, and that, if he squints a little bit, he can forget she's a Mudblood.

He wants to be her best friend.

So he watches her, on the slides and the monkey bars, the swings and the kiddie pool, in all her and her sister's games. They play tag, hide-and-go-seek, and so many other games sprung from Lily's own imagination, the kind he could never in a million years dream up. But the game he wishes he could join in more than any other is their water fights, because he's never seen her so happy as when she's shrieking and splashing and dodging, like she belongs there, in the water, more than anywhere else.

He wants to belong somewhere, see? His house and cold and drafty and unwelcoming, full of the stink of beer, and he… Merlin… He wants to belong somewhere, and he sometimes tries to convince himself it's wrong because it probably is, but he wants it too damn bad.

Sometimes, after they go home, he'll go and dip his toe in the water, but it's cold and wet, and only makes him shiver. It's like a world that's all hers, that he can't enter, but he can't even describe how much he wants to.


"It's obvious, isn't it?"

It's his grand entrance, his moment, the time he's anticipated for weeks and weeks, but the second the words are out of his mouth, he's know it's all wrong. They're scared of him – he can tell that from the look on their faces, but he comforts himself that it's only her Muggle sister who stepped away from him – not her.

"What's obvious?" she asks, the question he's been waiting to answer for what, then, feels like all his life.

So he tells her… that he knows what she is, that she's a witch, just like his mum, just like him, really, because he's a wizard.

But he knows that he done it all wrong and each new word he utters is just digging himself into a deeper, darker hole. Her sister laughs at him, calls him a liar, before she departs… And Lily, Lily follows after her, leaving him not with her trademark smile, but with a pinched, glaring expression that more suits the sister.

There's a moment, as he watches her go, when he thinks that perhaps this is justice and fairness, that perhaps they are too different to ever be friends, that the universe is trying to teach him a lesson.

If it is, he never learns it.


Perhaps it's fate – always conspiring against him – or perhaps it's just inevitable that she comes to believe him. She must have recognized the word when he spoke it – witch – must have recognized the ring of truth in his words, however poorly chosen. She has magic; she must know it, and eventually she does, so that one day, when she sees him on the playground, she tells her sister to, "Be quiet!" and comes to talk to him.

They fall into a pattern, meeting by the playground in the afternoons, underneath a cluster of trees, in the cool green shade that quickly becomes his happy place.

They talk for hours, there – over the course of many afternoons of course, for she still belongs in the cheerful white house she showed him once, with her happy white family… It is only he who truly belongs among the trees with her; she could do without.

He tells her about magic on those afternoons, of dragons and fairies and goblins, real ones, not like the ones she has read about in her stupid storybooks.

"Are there princesses and princes?" she asks him once, on only the second afternoon they spend in the refuge of the trees, when she still doesn't really understand. "You said there were castles –"

"Of course there aren't princesses," he says scornfully; indeed, more scornfully than he intended. "And the closest thing to a prince that you'll find is me."

She looked at him, slightly hurt by his tone, scrunching up her face at his last sentence.

"My mum's name was Prince, see, before she got married," he continues, in a slightly less harsh tone, feeling guilty. "So… I'm a prince… see?"

She nods, vaguely; he meant it as a joke, wanted her to laugh… but he supposes that it isn't all that funny.

They hardly ever play the kinds of games he once watched her play with his sister. He supposes she thinks he doesn't do that kind of them, as he seems so uncomfortable with so many of her childhood, Muggle things. So they never play tag or hide-and-seek or have a water fight, and sometimes, he takes it as a sign that even though they're friends, they will never truly belong in the same world.


Sometimes, in his later years, before he can remember to be cynical, before he can remember to at least try to forget, he'll wish he could have stayed with her forever under those trees, as children. He'll wish they didn't have to grow up, and learn all the lessons that even he hadn't encountered yet.

They grow up and they separate, even as they choose seats next to one another on the train, heading towards the same destination. The Sorting Hat chooses her for Gryffindor, only a few minutes before – torn about which house he wants for the first time in his life – he's made to go to the Slytherin table.

But it's inevitable, that he would go there, for he has no bravery and no chivalry and no bravado… he's cunning and ambitious and really interested in the Dark Arts. He's no Gryffindor, not like the idiots he and Lily met on the train, the ones who call themselves the Mauraders – James, Sirius, Remus, and Peter. It's James he hates the most, more and more as the years pass, as they become more than enemies, but rivals, both competing for the hand of the fair princess they both declare (Snape only to himself and James to the world) they love.

He begins to think he was wrong, in their school years, to scoff at Lily for asking if there were princes and princesses, so long ago, under those trees… He's still not sure there are princes, still knows he'll never be one, despite the name he engraves in all his schoolbooks, but she soon becomes his princess, his fair maiden, in all but name.

And so he's swept up in the kind of fairy story he's always despised, but never really known why until he enters it – because a man, a boy, a person who will never be a prince can never win the princess.

The years continue to pass – much, much too quickly – for she grows more apart from him with every passing second, their respective planets spinning further and further away from one another. And he begins to make friends that she turns her nose up at, while he is constantly on edge about her relationship with James Potter – his tormentor – who she continues to insist she hates. He's safe for now, but he can't help but wonder how long it will last.


And so of course it ends, and he blames the Mauraders for years afterwards, but in his heart he's only ever blamed himself. It's a sunny day, in fifth year, not so long after the Defense Against the Dark Arts exam, when they decide they have nothing better to do than humiliate him, than make a fool out of him.

She comes to his defense, his aid, but it mortifies him, to be at her mercy, when he wants to be her hero, her prince. He's fed up, and he's embarrassed, and even that is poor excuse for the word – he's never been good at choosing them – he utters next.

"….. Mudblood."

There has never been a word he means less nor a word he regrets more. He is never truly free of the nightmares, sometimes forcing him to relive the moment without any hope of changing it, and other times, showing him all the happy, happy what-could-have-beens, if it had all been different, if perhaps he had not pushed her away there…

Perhaps she would not have had to die.

But he will never know the truth of that – for he can no more change what happened that day than he can change the look on her face, after he says the phrase, so hard and cold, and hardly Lily at all.


He stands outside the Gryffindor common room and begs and begs for her to forgive him, to accept his apology, but he knows it's all in vain, knows in the moment he sees her face change that he has lost her – his princess – forever.

The last two years are Hogwarts just complete the split, and he has never been so far away from her when they pass in the hallway, and she will not meet his eyes. What makes it worse is that she doesn't do it in the bitchy way he has seen other girls avoid the gaze of ex-boyfriends – she is cool and calm and stubborn about it, and so subtle that he isn't sure if anyone besides themselves even notice, except for James Potter, who glorifies in his every discomfort.

He watches, horrified, unable to say anything to convince otherwise – and indeed, what could he say that she would not just openly defy, now? – as James Potter worms his way into Snape's own coveted, long desired place in Lily Potter's heart. Slowly, he observes her refusals – he doesn't even have to spy, like he used to in their childhood days, for privacy is a word James Potter never heard of – grow less and less adamant. He's not even sure if Potter himself sees it, but Snape has known Lily for a long time – long enough to know.

He watches, after she finally breaks down and accepts at last, as they walk down the corridor, hand-in-hand, as she kisses him after Gryffindor wins the House Cup, as they make their way down to Hogwarts for a date in Madame Puddifoot's tea shop.

Snape feels it all like a betrayal, for didn't she once scorn at all the girls whose hearts melted so easily for that arrogant toerag – her own words, in the time, so long ago now, when they were best friends? And didn't she once defend him, Snape, Sev, against the wrath of James and his fellow idiots, when now they hex him only minutes before James snogs his brand-new girlfriend?

The only thing he can take comfort in is the knowledge that this... this relationship born of nothing more than hormones and mistakes cannot possibly last. She will eventually realize her folly and come back to him, arms open.

Snape will be ready when she does; for even as she made her new friends, he has been making his, growing closer with Mulciber, Avery, all the Slytherins she once told him how much she hated. But this, too, cannot possibly last. For someday soon, he and his friends will be the ones in charge.

His dreams are full of her gazing at him, wide-eyed with awe, looking up at him in sheer dumb wonder, at his greatness. Snape imagines her star struck at what the greasy-haired boy she tossed aside (his betrayal forgotten by her, if not him) has become. He will be powerful, in this new order, under the law of the Dark Lord – he swears it, promising himself that someday, she will see.

And yet, even in his dreams, in the very back of his mind sits the knowledge that this vision will never work, never come to fruition. For the face he so often sees, in awe, in wonder, is not hers, but that of some lesser being, not the girl he has fallen in love with. He knows that, like he once knew the world was cruel and hard, but he lets himself forget, if only so he can hope.

It's his inevitable fate anyway. He was sorted into Slytherin at age eleven; he has always had a penchant for the Dark Arts. He has always had a hunger for ambition, for power. Always, he has longed to prove himself, since his father, drunk as a monkey, told him how worthless he was. It was, he supposed, destiny that he joined the ranks of the Death Eaters. With only one exception, he believes in all their beliefs, their mantra. He is superior to all of those with dirty blood, those who do not even deserve to have the magic they surely stole.

(Except for that one exception.)

There are moments – moments in half-slumber, which he hardly admits to himself – where he wonders, wishes to have been a brave Gryffindor, to be a prince, waving a sword, where he is jealous of James Potter for more than the girl he has.

But he pushes all those thoughts away. He was born a Snake – that was proved at age eleven, and if there's anything that life has taught Snape, it is that fate will not bend for him, however much he wills it.


She marries him.

He sees it in the back page of the Daily Prophet, a tiny wedding announcement, squeezed between all the other articles of the death and destruction of the war. He supposed the editors meant it as a ray of hope, a light, among all the darkness, the despair. Snape finds this ironic.

Later, by means which he can no longer remember, a picture from their wedding falls into his hands. She's radiant, in her beautiful white gown, with strands of her red hair falling out of their pins. Her hands are on – his – chest, and his arms are around her waist, and they're in the midst of dancing, with their fancy wedding shoes.

Snape looks down at his own feet, his own shoes, which are more like rags and much too small for him. He supposes it would hurt to dance in them, but at that moment, he can't think of anything he'd rather do, with her in his arms.

He would do anything for her.


That promise is tested soon after.

He has come to see Dumbledore – the only one, they say, his master ever feared – and now he can see why. His fury makes Severus – already more frightened than he has ever been in his life – want to curl up in a ball or else turn and run for ever.

But if he does that, Lily Evans will die. He has asked his master to spare her – with all the passivity, all the absence of passion that he will soon use as a constant shield. The Dark Lord has agreed that he will do all in his power. Yet Snape cannot let Lily's fate rest in the long, white fingertips of his master, a man of such ambition, ruthlessness and thirst for power – the traits he once admired. These will not allow the Dark Lord to spare a woman whose only usefulness is in the comfort (Snape does not use the word love) of one of his servants.

So he has come to Dumbledore, come to ask, to beg for Lily's safety – at any cost, at all costs.

"And what will you give me in return, Severus?" he asks, the great wizard, the wise wizard, who cannot possibly expect what is coming next, who must doubt him.

"In – in return?" he pauses, the answer coming immediately but, like so many other times, hardly having the words to express it. He has always been, will always been a careful man, stingy, unyielding, but as his mind races to find something that he would not give up for Lily Evans, he can only draw a blank. He gasps it at last, "Anything."

He feels stripped, bare, before this man, this man he hardly knows. It's almost as if he has thrown himself in a vast, turbulent ocean with no knowledge in that there might be a life-vest, a rescue crew, afloat nearby.

Yet he also feels relieved – not completely so, but at least slightly reassured that Lily Potter's days are not yet numbered. Surely – surely – Dumbledore can save her.

He goes home to write a few of the hundred apology letters (addressed to her) he never sends.


It's hard to know what he feels when he hears the news that she is dead.

He only thinks of her of course – it does not even occur to him to wonder about, to grieve for, the baby, the husband, to even be truly angry at Dumbledore or the Dark Lord… His thoughts are only and singularly focused upon her, as they have always been.

His heart is dull and senseless and useless… so very useless, for its only purpose, now, is to keep him alive. His eyes are full of pain, but no tears; he cannot bare the color green, the flash of red hair… and yet he pulls himself together when the Dark Lord seeks his present. His is Severus Snape, cool and collected and unfeeling as always on the outside, as his whole world dies along with hers inside him.

He has no one to give comfort to him for her death, and he is glad of it, for he does not wish to hear that Lily is in a better place now, that he will see her again someday. He does not wish to hear such lies; he has no God to believe in. Perhaps her own soul might have found its heaven – indeed, if any soul could, it would be hers – but he knows just as surely as he has even known anything that his own has no hope of joining hers there.

Nevertheless, he longs for death, longs to give up, and almost does, almost might have, except for Dumbledore, except for her son…

(He's never grateful to them for it.)

It's Dumbledore who tells him that if he truly loved Lily Potter, he would help to ensure she did not die in vain. Perhaps he is only using him, Snape, as a tool… He considers it then and thinks it all the more likely later. Yet Snape can recognize the ring of truth just as well as Lily, once, could, and he can hear his own words, echoed…

"Anything."

He meant it.


The next years are hell – hell, hell, hell.

He lives and he breathes each new day for Harry Potter, James Potter's son, whom he hates, whom he despises, whom he does not let himself see any good in. He lives every day bitter and resentful. He risks everything for people he cannot even call his friends, who probably don't even trust him, and lies to people who are convinced he's on their side. Sometimes, Snape loses track of which side he's even on; it hardly matters. His face always betrays the same nothingness in any scenario.

He's forced to kill a man he's grown to deeply respect, even after learning that he has been using him all this time.

But Lily Potter's son still stares out at him – hatefully, disrespectfully – through his own green eyes, so like hers, and in them, he finds the strength to carry on.

He never regrets it.


At last, it ends.

It's over.

His life is bleeding out of him onto the floor, and he is laced with pain, and so longs for the comfort, the nothingness, he knows that death will bring. Yet he struggles onward a little ways anyway, because he needs to warn the boy, he needs to tell the boy… The relief he feels when he finds his face (her eyes) above his shaking, broken body is indescribable…

As he bequeaths her son with all his memories, pouring them out to him on the hard, cold floor, Snape wills him to understand.

"Take… it… Take… it…"

At last, the boy does, scooping all the memories into a flask conjured by the know-it-all Mudblood Snape has never been so pleased with.

It startles Snape, in his last few moments of life, to realize that he wants the boy to know, wants him to understand… He hopes that Harry Potter will live, will win.

But he cannot do anything more for him, so he asks something of him instead. "Look… at… me…"

He finds the boy's green eyes, feeling that after so long of thrashing on the ocean waves, he can at last be carried to an island to fall asleep.

Snape fades away in green, in Lily Potter's eyes, in the cool green shade between two worlds he was never able to bridge.

He bridges them now.


She's there, waiting for him, with James – but none of that matters now – and Dumbledore, and so many others, all guiding him the head of a large table. It's a feast fit for a prince, fit for a princess, fit for a hero….

He's lived a fairytale all along, and she was never the princess.