This turned out to be another lengthier chapter - sorry!
Severus swallowed, taking advantage of the pause it created to think. There was no excuse for his behavior other than the truth – but the truth was the very thing that he could not say. His dark eyes slid from Lily nervously, and he focused on the battle playing out before them. Gideon and Fabian were still leading the attack; there were nearly fifteen people on each side of the room, some constructing forts, while others simply charged into the thick of things and flung various articles of bedding. There were yells of joy, laughs of triumph, and calls of friendly accusation that rang out, and the noise only seemed to crescendo with his frantic thoughts.
He looked back at Lily, and the concern on her face had only deepened, and now included apprehension. He remained silent, a thousand things racing through his panicked mind, and among those countless thoughts, there was not a single answer. Severus did his best to remember to breathe. Not even two hours into his redemption, he was destroying what little chance he did have. He had spent his entire life praying, wishing, longing to be given a second chance, and here it was, slipping through his grasp like fine-powered sand. All because of one, miniscule mistake. All because he had lost control for one crucial moment. Had serving as a double agent taught him nothing? Where had his ability to mask his emotions gone? Where had his self-control slipped away to when he needed it most?
Was this some sort of cruel joke?
Had it been a design of fate, one that intentionally gave him false hope before being flung into the depths of Hell? Perhaps it had been: as he considered this angle, he felt panic take him in a firm grasp. Before this, if he had simply been sent to Hell after he had met his end with Nagini, it would have been bearable, pleasant even, in comparison to this. To lose this second chance… He feared that it was only the beginning of his eternal nightmare. His emotions slipped beyond his control, and he began trembling, and his hand gripped the banister in an unbreakable vice. No, no, he could not lose this. Severus could not bear to lose Lily twice.
Memories of her death, and the anguish that accompanied it rushed through him, breaking him. He was going to lose her again. Tears began to prick at his eyes, and their warmth seemed to burn him. He swallowed, and struggled again for control, and yet, it would not come.
"Lily," he started, his voice breaking, "I…" What could he say? That in the future, Peter Pettigrew betrayed her and her husband to their deaths? And even if he dared voice the truth, she would not believe him. No, she would be angry, and grow resentful: she would believe that he was lying to her. A soft noise emitted from his lips as he choked back what could have become a silent sob, and still trembling, he could not gain any ground as he pushed against the sudden swell of emotion.
He took in a shuddering breath, and as hysteria threatened to overwhelm him, he could feel his knees grow weak. He had shouldered the burden of unimaginable guilt and a lifetime of suffering, all for nothing. The world felt as it if was crashing down around him, and he could nearly feel the seams of reality rip as his dreams tumbled down the drain. Severus locked his elbows and keeping his hands firmly wrapped around the edge of the banister, he tried to keep from collapsing underneath the crushing weight of despair that felt as if it had ascended from Hell itself. And if he let it, surely, it would drag him down to eternal anguish with it.
There would be no saving grace for Severus Snape. His grace had died eighteen years ago, at his own hands. The Dark Lord had been correct: his love had not been enough to spare Lily Potter. Nor would it ever be. Beside him, he could feel Lily become tense; perhaps, seeing him in this state had pushed her beyond uncomfortable. She thought him to be weak. She believed him to be a coward. She knew that he had dark intentions when it came to Peter, and already, this was driving her away from him.
Had he learned nothing from his mistakes? Hardly an hour into the second chance he had been given, he had been so close to murdering Peter Pettigrew that the unfortunate woman who had borne that coward as son had rolled over in her grave! Again, he was doomed to a life of anguish and hopelessness. It had dawned upon him: this was Hell. He would have to watch Lily Evans fall in love with James Potter again, yet this time it would be before his very eyes. And, if he had been able to retain control over his actions, things may have been different. Severus slammed his eyes shut as stark panic overwhelmed him, and his efforts to sedate his mind were to no avail.
The calculating, logical portion of his mind had been drowned out by the waves of emotion that enveloped him, and the absence of thought left him floundering, feeling rather like a Phoenix with a broken wing. He took in short, shallow breaths, and forced his mind through Occulemency exercises.
There was no way of clearing Lily Evans from his mind.
The roar of the common room below them seemed to swell suddenly: he could hear one of the Prewett twins bellowing something about a blood oath. He breathed again, forcing air in and out of his lungs, and still, Lily remained silent beside him. And she, still a child, would not comprehend the raw power of the emotion that he was experiencing: although he had placed again in his eleven year old body, his mind remained that of an adult who had seen nearly four decades of life. In all likelihood, it was only creating fear in her.
Severus knew that he was going to have to face her eventually.
Ever so slowly, he still ramming his mind through Occulemency practices in a feeble attempt to calm himself, Severus opened his eyes. They were greeted with the mock battle still raging below; with the joyful, lighthearted housemates he now shared a living space with. In Minerva's own words, they were his family at Hogwarts. And yet, he could not feel farther apart from them than he did now. He turned to face Lily, still gripping the banister so tightly that his knuckles had gone white with strain, and he finally managed to lock his knees back to where they should have been. His eyes tried to avoid her face of their own accord; instead, they chose to stare towards the wall behind her. Severus, willing them to be complaint, forced his eyes upon the countenance of Lily Evans.
And to his relief, to his overwhelming, consuming relief, there was not hatred, nor anger etched upon her features. There was only one emotion that could easily be discerned that shone in those brilliant green eyes: confusion. That didn't matter – none of it mattered. As if a light had appeared in the dingy dark, he again found hope and again found control. An answer appeared, and without second consideration, he grabbed at his redemption.
"Lily," he said softly, still looking at her, "I can't answer that." Curiosity blossomed across her visage, and he allowed himself to feel a sliver of satisfaction for the answer he had given her. It was the truth; and now, she could not wonder if he had lied to her. She looked as if she were about to voice a question and he cut her off before the words left her mouth: "You know that if I could, I would, Lily. I'd trust you with anything." Her mouth fell shut before any words could tumble across her lips; yet, her features were alight with a burning desire for knowledge.
"I'll tell you eventually," he promised. By the time it would be safe to do so, it was fully possible that she would have already forgotten the events of this evening. Perhaps it would never be safe to divulge the secrets of the double life he had once lived.
"Alright." she said, and although she sounded accepting, there was disappointment coloring the tone of her voice. Severus nodded his head appreciatively, but kept quiet: he was still trying to recover from the nightmare he had been trapped in only a moment before. Occulemency finally began to help, and as he pretended to watch the pillow war below, he was able to set his brain back to where it needed to be. Again, logic had taken reign over his actions, and emotions had been firmly locked away from the forefront of conscious thought. He would deal with those later this evening; while he was still shaken, he could not afford to fall into an episode like that again. Lily was still beside him, and out of the corner of his eye, he watched her drum her fingers against the polished oak that formed the banister. He had never appreciated her hands before, but as he watched her long, nimble fingers tap lightly against the dark wood, Severus felt the pace of his heart falter, and then quicken.
If this did prove to be Hell, he was going to enjoy every moment of it.
"Severus," she said quietly, still watching the raving madness that was unfolding before the fireplace, "Are you alright?" She tilted her head to the side as she asked him this, and he watched her eyes scan over his face. A warm sense of security rushed over him as she did so: it was tangible proof that she really did care. No, everything had not been lost, and there were still opportunities to amend the mistakes he had made. He forced himself to smile at her, and although it was a weak, shaky one, it was a semblance of reassurance all the same.
"Yes, I'm fi-"
"What is the meaning of this?" The commanding, stern voice of Minerva McGonnagal overpowered the roar of the battling students below. The room fell into an eerie silence immediately, and everyone turned to look towards the portrait hole. There stood the intimidating Head of House, and judging by her expression, she was in a very dark mood indeed. Every student in the room dropped their artillery immediately: pillows, blankets, and couch cushions fell to the floor silently. A single, solitary pillow soared across the room, as the attacker had thrown too early to have paused with the others. Severus' eyes followed the trajectory of the scarlet throw pillow, and he was pleased to see that it smacked Sirius Black directly on the back of his head.
Minerva's dark eyes swept over the scene before her, and Severus could only imagine the well concealed disappointment she felt. She hardly ever let her students see that – no, she only dared show them the hardened, stern, unyielding exterior. Each of the Gryffindors looked back at her, some meekly awaiting punishment, others trying their hardest to contain their imbecilic desire to laugh, and there were a few of the offenders who looked downright ashamed of their actions.
"Who started this?"
The question was greeted with silence. Severus was tempted momentarily to lay the blame on Potter and Black: but after what had happened this evening with Pettigrew, he dared not cross another one of his fellow Gryffindors. He had to gain their trust, and if he threw that to the wind, he could conceivably risk losing everything. He held his tongue, but a smirk did come to his face as the scene below them unfolded.
"Well," she snapped, "Unless someone steps forward, I will be forced to take fifty house points. From each of you." There was a hushed murmur that seemed to ripple through the students, and beside him, he could hear Lily let out a soft gasp of disbelief. Severus had never really cared about house competitions: they were petty, and were made purely for the legendary rivalry between Slazar Slytherin and Godric Gryffindor. As far as he knew, neither Ravenclaw nor Hufflepuff had taken the House Cup in several decades. He made no sound of dissent or approval; whether or not Potter and Black chose to step forward, there would still be points taken. "My patience is running thin. If someone does not step forward within the next ten seconds, the points will be deducted. There are twenty eight of you in this room: if the instigator chooses to remain silent, he or she will cost their house one thousand four hundred points."
There were never that many points to begin with: a loss like that would set Gryffindor back in the negatives for the entire year. The seconds crawled by. No one dared breathed; it seemed to be that every person in the common room was hoping that someone would step forward. Severus glowered down at the dark head of James Potter, and as cowardly as ever, he refused to take the consequences of his actions, and would shove the guilt of onto someone else. Sirius Black was no better – he stood near a demolished couch, fidgeting nervously. And then, finally, a voice broke the silence.
"I started it," said a fool. As the tall, redheaded boy stepped forward, Severus was slightly shocked to see that that one of the Prewett twins had vouched to take the blame for a pair of idiotic, reckless first years. Every head in the room swirled towards Gideon as he moved fluidly towards the Transfiguration Professor, and Fabian was quick to follow. Or perhaps it had been Fabian who had answered first, and it was Gideon who had chosen to follow. Either way, someone was taking responsibility that belonged to Potter and Black. He felt a slight flash of irritation, but he quickly stamped it out and sent it to the back of his mind; there was no more room for error in this evening.
"And what," she said coldly, "Possessed either of you to do such a thing?" Although he could not see their faces, Severus could nearly hear the cheeky smiles that would have been plastered on their lips. One of them shrugged.
"It seemed like the thing to do at the time." Answered the first twin. Minerva's glare deepened.
"Although, we never meant to wreck the common room," Said the second, as if he hoped that confessing that they had had good intentions would bring him less harm.
"Originally, it was just between Fabian and me," said the first twin, and Severus identified him as Gideon, "But before we knew it, loads of other people were joining in, and who were we to put a stop to all the fun?" Minerva glared at them both, icily for a few, long moments, and finally, she passed her verdict.
"One hundred points from Gryffindor," she said coldly, "Because the both of you should know how to conduct yourselves while at Hogwarts." Now, she turned her gaze away from the tall, gangly twins, and addressed her entire house.
"This common room will be exactly as it was before you arrived in ten minutes. Not a blanket, pillow, or cushion out of place. If you fail to have this room entirely clean in ten minutes, I will deduct twenty more points for every minute over." Every person in the room moved at once. There was a soft chatter as some students gathered up bedding and began hauling it up stairways, and others began setting the chairs at right, and soon, Severus and Lily found themselves pressed into the edge of the banister. There were several boys, all older than either of them, all filing into their respective dorms, and neither of the first years wished to be trampled in the elder boys' hurry.
"Do you suppose we should help?" whispered Lily, gazing over her shoulder down at the catastrophe below. Severus had no real desire to clean up a mess he had not created; it seemed like he had spent far too much of his time doing that for Dumbledore, and he was not keen on picking up the practice again any time in the near future. But thankfully, there was already an answer for him: physically, they could not help. The stairs were blocked entirely, and they only way they could plausibly descend down into the common room would be to shove their way through their fellow students.
"I don't think we can," he said softly, "How would we get down the stairs?"
"Mmm." said Lily, sounding slightly disappointed by the valid point that he had made. He knew as well as she did that pushing their way down the staircase would only slow the process of cleaning, and while Severus had no desire to help, he did not wish to hinder his housemates, as imbecilic as they were, in their efforts. "How am I going to get back to my dorm?"
Now that was a question that he did not have an answer to. He certainly had no intentions of closeting himself away with Remus and Pettigrew and leaving Lily alone on the landing. As unnecessary as it was, Severus felt entirely averse to leaving her alone, clothed only in a nightgown and a bathrobe, with all of these other male students. True, she was merely eleven, and his only real concern was Potter, but the instinct was there nonetheless. He could always invite her into his dorm, but earlier, Peter had seemed strangely attached to her. No, he told himself firmly, She is not some animal to be controlled, nor is she a prize to be won. Whether you like it or not, you do not own her. He risked a glance at her, his eyes gliding across her sweet features, and he supposed that he could only offer her the choices he had offered himself.
"Well," he said in a low voice, "You can come with me into my dorm until they've finished cleaning, or, I can wait out here with you until the stairs are clear."
"I wouldn't mind going with you into your dorm, Sev," Lily said quietly, still keeping with the volume of the room around him, and yet, her voice seemed to be the loudest thing he had ever heard. Those words carried a meaning, one that he had been waiting nearly his entire life to hear. No, she did not want him to stay with her – Lily did not require him to follow her anywhere in return for her friendship, for her affection, for her love, - no, she had said that she would follow him. That she wanted his company, just as he longed for hers. The sensible part of him gently reminded his conscious mind that he was blowing this entirely out of proportion; yet, it could not deny that the realization was a rather lovely one.
Silently, he strode away from the banister energetically, and wove his way between two older boys that were depositing bedding in their rooms. When he reached his door, he twisted the knob sharply, and pushed it open. Quickly, he ushered Lily inside, and once they were both in, he shut the door behind them. Peter was sitting on the edge of his bed; his fat little legs dangling as he slowly kicked his feet. Apparently, he had nothing better to do. He glanced up as they entered, and a tiny smile sprang to his lips as he saw Lily. Severus did his best to ignore that. Instead, he looked to Remus, who was currently curled up in the window seat, reading a rather thick textbook. He seemed to be rather engrossed in it: if he had noticed their arrival, he had not acknowledged it.
Severus strode towards his own bed with a wry smile on his lips, and he could not remember ever feeling so at peace. While earlier could have ended in disaster, it seemed that his frail luck was continuing to hold out. The prospect of gaining Lily's affection seemed an achievable goal again, and that was all he truly cared about. It was all that he had ever cared about.
He sat down on the edge of his own bed, sighed in content, and then realized that Lily had not followed him. He looked to the door, and saw that she was still standing there, rather awkwardly. He couldn't understand why – he had invited her in, after all. He waited a moment longer, and when she did not come, he resolved to move to her. Taking the two scarlet pillows from near his headboard, he slipped off of his bed, and then plopped the comfortable make-shift chairs in the middle of the floor.
"Take a seat," he said warmly, and patted the pillow next to his own with his palm. Lily seemed to be put slightly more at ease, and soon enough, she was sitting beside him. She was sitting quite modestly, her legs forming the shape of a pretzel, and she had situated her bathrobe to hide every inch of her of them. Only her ankles stuck out at the edges of the fuzzy purple fabric, and the bottoms of her feet were slightly red from standing barefooted. He smiled at her, and she was quick to return the gesture; sitting on the floor had definitely made her more comfortable.
"So," he began, "What do you think?" She laughed softly beside him, and his smile widened.
"Honestly, it looks exactly like my dorm, but I do like it," she said warmly, "I like everything about Hogwarts." Severus took amusement in her enthusiasm, but it was entirely affectionate. After all, he had been telling her about the Wizarding world before her ninth birthday; more than three years of anticipation had been building in her, and by now, he was sure that it was at a bursting point.
"And your favorite parts?"
"The Great Hall," she said firmly, "Is by far, my favorite. Didn't you see the ceiling, Sev? It's gorgeous! It's even nicer than the sky outside. And then there were the candles – they were floating. And there were hundreds of them!"
"Yes," he said teasingly, "I saw." And as soon as the words had left his mouth, she was off again.
"And then there's the portraits! I mean, you told me that they moved, but you didn't mention that they spoke!" He laughed quietly, and she continued right on, her words coming out in an exhilarated rush, "And the staircases – they moved too! How do you keep from getting lost when the floor-plan is constantly changing?"
"I don't know, Lily," he said sincerely, "I don't know." Just as she opened her mouth to respond, the door flung open to reveal Sirius Black hauling a large amount of bedding in. Severus glanced up at him, slightly started by his sudden reappearance, and Sirius only smiled darkly down at him. He dumped the mistreated bedding rudely at Severus' feet, and part of the great wad nearly landed in Lily's lap. A stray impulse urged him to leap to his feet and demand that Sirius explain his behavior, but it was surprisingly easy to brush aside. Instead, he slowly got to his feet, and then offered Lily his hand. She hesitated for a mere moment, and as her soft hand slipped into his, Severus felt as if he were going to melt. There was a curious, warm sensation that fluttered in his chest, and he held onto the sensation for as long as it was possible. However, once Lily had gotten to her feet, and he had released her, the warmth fled him.
Severus realized how cold he felt without it.
"Hello, Sirius," he said, forcing himself into the present, "It was nice of you to bring back the bedding." He was careful to keep his tone polite as he addressed Black: with Lily as his witness, he would do everything in his power to remain as civil as he possibly could.
"Shut it, Snape," Sirius barked, "It's your fault it was out there in the first place." Clearly, Black was not very happy at all with the results his behavior had produced. After all, he had single handedly managed to lose his house one hundred points in a single evening. Just then, Potter came through the door, and dumped another great wad of scarlet bedding in the middle of the floor. The pillows that Lily and Severus had been sitting on had disappeared beneath the heap.
"Professor McGonnagal says she wants us out there again – apparently, she's got some sort of an announcement to make," He was looking at Sirius as he said this, and Black promptly rolled his eyes. If Severus were any judge, he'd say that Sirius had all the authority he could handle for a single evening. James then turned to Snape, as if he was checking that Severus had been able to hear him properly, and then, his eyes settled on Lily. "Oh, Lily," he said cordially, "What are you doing in here?"
"It doesn't –" and just as he had begun, Severus' voice was cut off by her own.
"Sev invited me in. I was just waiting for everyone to finish putting way the bedding. The stairways were so packed that it would have been impossible to get down."
"Ah." Said Potter, and his eyes seem to stay on the faint blush that had rose to Severus' cheeks a moment too long. "I see. Well, we'd best be going then." Sirius, muttering something unintelligible beneath his breath, stormed out of the room without a glance back. Severus caught James' eye, and the latter shrugged, then followed Black out through the door frame.
"Ladies first," Severus murmured as he let Lily pass him, and he was quick to follow her out the door. Peter Pettigrew trailed behind him, and he seemed to be frantic to get past him; surely, he was not as daft to believe that Severus was to attack him again. That had been resolved – at quite a high price – but as far as it seemed to Severus, Lily was unconcerned by the matter anymore, and if she allowed for it to be water under the bridge, he certainly would not deny it. The five trailed down the stairs quickly, and with little standing room left elsewhere, remained near the base of the staircase. No one seemed to notice that Remus was not among them.
Severus glanced around the room, and it was nearly impossible to tell that the common room had been a disaster only minutes before. It looked just as it had when he, Lily, and Peter had first entered it hardly a half an hour before. Within a few moments, his eyes settled on Minerva, who had taken up her traditional place by the portrait hole, and along with the rest of the common room, he waited in silence for her to begin. The firelight was reflecting strangely off of her emerald robes; her wide rimmed glasses seemed to be glowing orange in the dim lighting. Her hair was pulled back into a severe bun, as it always was, and although she was a great deal younger than she had been the last time that he had seen her, there was no denying that Minerva McGonnagal was a formidable witch indeed. With a stern glance, the Deputy Headmistress silenced a group of whispering girls, and then she cleared her throat.
"There was a very important piece of information that Headmaster Dumbledore forgot to mention this evening during the start of term speech," she spoke in a low voice: like he had been, Minerva always had a gift for keeping children silent. While she was not as intimidating as he had been, she was well respected. "In addition to the Forbidden Forest being entirely off limits, the grounds beside the west wing are now forbidden to all students." There were a few hushed statements of disbelief; apparently, those particular grounds had been popular. Minerva paused, and with a sweeping glare that encompassed her entire house at once, those who had spoken fell silent. "There has been a very dangerous tree planted there over the summer, in the interest of preserving a very rare species of magical tree. The Whomping Willow, is entirely off limits. If you are caught near this tree, and you are not immediately crushed to death, there will be-," here she paused, her sweeping gaze landing on Lily.
"Miss Evans, what are you doing over there?" Every face in the room turned towards Lily, and it was awkwardly apparent that she was standing between Severus and Sirius. Her face erupted into a brilliant shade of scarlet, and Severus felt color rising at his own cheeks. Sirius snickered, and Severus refrained from glaring at him. "You should be with your dorm mates, child, not with the boys in your year." Here, she sighed sharply, and continued in a tone that was considerably crisper, "I had assumed that you all would be mature enough to realize this, but I see that it is necessary to refresh your memories: ladies, you will kindly keep your own dormitories. Gentlemen, I expect the same from you. No exceptions. Now, Miss Evans, if you will join your dorm mates over there, I would greatly appreciate it." Lily's face became a deeper shade of red, and she nearly stumbled as she drew back from Severus.
"Sorry," he murmured softly after her, and she did not respond. Apprehension swelled up in him again, so familiar to him that it was sickening, and he could only hope that this did not create distance between them.
"As I was saying," continued Professor McGonnagal, "If you attempt to approach the tree, and if you are not immediately killed, there will be very serious consequences that you will face." She paused, allowing for the information to sink in, and then continued with her concluding statement. "That is all for this evening – everyone, off to bed."
Everyone in the common room seemed to move at once, each trying to reach the appropriate staircase. Severus moved along slowly, attempting to see over the heads of those taller than him, trying to catch sight of that dark red hair. Where had Lily gone? He continued looking for her, nearly frantically, until he reached the top of the boy's staircase, and he could only assume that she had already reached her dorm. Severus was one of the last to reach the landing, and he was the last first year to reach his dorm.
As he found his way towards his bed, he paused to pull up one of the pillows from the floor, and he grabbed the comforter he was lacking from the large pile of bedding that Potter and Black had deposited in the middle of the floor. Sirius was still muttering under his breath as he stripped from his robes into his pajamas, yet, the other three boys in the room were able to do the task silently. As Severus slipped on his overly-large sweat pants, and the baggy tee-shirt that his mother had thrown at him mere moments before they had left the house, he could not help but feel self-conscious. Peter, Sirius, and James each had pajamas that looked to be rather new, and they all seemed to fit them more comfortably. Sirius finally pulled his shirt over his head, and he looked oddly over at Severus.
"Nice pajamas, Snape." He said coolly, and then pulled himself into bed. Severus, as tempted as he was to return with a remark of his own, kept his own tongue under control. It would be worth it, one day. It had to be. As he settled his wand on his nightstand, the lights were turned out, and the four of them situated themselves in their beds. Severus turned onto his side, and looking at the window opposite of him, he could see that Remus was still sitting in the window sweat, still reading. For a moment, Severus considered saying something, but logic told him otherwise. If Remus had wanted their company, he would have joined them downstairs, or he would have attempted to start a conversation while the others were preparing for bed. No, he wished to be left alone.
Severus remained silent.
I hope that you enjoyed it!