Disclaimer: All recognizable characters and concepts belong to JK Rowling, her publishers, producers, and anyone else who signed on, not me, and I get no money from it.
Welcome, gentle readers! Please note that this piece is rated ~M~ for mature wossnames, with specific warnings for language.
In other words: my characters swear to excess. Know that the language is really bad and constant and encompasses pretty much everything you can think of, although NOT racial slurs. Depending on how you interpret HP canon, you might consider it OOC.
The title is, verbatim, the full last line of the ballad Greensleeves.
"Look . . . at . . . me . . . "
And the boy did, that was the wonder; perhaps it was such a simple thing, it didn't matter if he did what Severus wanted . . . but the inside of the shack was too dim for colors to thrive and the boy's eyes were only dark. With that face, it might have been his fucking father looking down at Severus. Was that how Potter Senior would have looked at him, as if he didn't know whether to feel horrified or triumphant?
Was that how Lily would have looked at him, as he lay dying?
Everything slid away from him, like water down a drain, like emotions in the grip of Occlumency, like memories into the mind of a Leglimens, eddies into the past of a heart you joined to, however briefly; because as any Leglimens knew, the eyes really were the gateway into the soul.
Darkness. Yes, he'd have expected it to be dark.
A faint coldness. That, too, was expected . . .
He had a body. He could feel the heaviness in his limbs . . . it felt remarkably like the lethargy of sleep. A soft thing beneath his shoulder blades, the curve of his spine, his hips, thighs, legs; he could feel the hollowed-out feeling he always got in his stomach when he lay on his back.
Was it a bed? A pretty dreadful one. Springs were poking at him. Not expected, precisely, but not surprising. It would figure that features of his childhood would furnish his miserable afterlife.
And there was a—smell. Of . . . mothballs?
Severus opened his eyes.
A ceiling with a crack that looked like the Nile on maps of Africa. Stained, peeling wallpaper. A bare, narrow window, its glass sweating with condensation and prickled with the imprints of dirty snow that had clumped on the sill outside. A radiator that clanked and wheezed beneath it. Dust, books, a peeling wardrobe. A Hogwarts trunk flung open, unwashed robes spilling out into the dust on the floor. And that stench of mothballs and cabbage.
It was his fucking bedroom from childhood.
Severus sat up, jabbing himself anew with springs. The room did not change, even though it was being loathed from a different angle. From his feeling of rage-tinted confusion, he supposed he'd been expecting it to turn into another place.
Was this Hell? If the devil were a mind-skimmer, he'd missed his mark; Severus had hated this miserable fucking place, but there were many stronger contenders for moments in his life that could factor as a playground of eternal torment. Was it Purgatory, then?
Severus stood up from the bed. Something felt odd. Perhaps it was the school robes? He'd forgotten how itchy they were. He'd also forgotten the way he'd skulked about the house in his school clothes because all his second-hand Muggle clothing was the wrong size.
He gently prodded at his neck, then smoothed it with his whole hand. Unbroken skin. He'd never kept a mirror in his room, so he went down the abrupt hall to the loo.
The face looking back at him in the spotted mirror over the sink was that of an adolescent.
Severus stared. He shut his eyes, rubbed them with his hand, and then stared again. He thought about turning in a circle and clapping his hands, an old and stupidly superstitious way of warding off evil. But in the end he just stood there, staring, thinking . . . nothing. His mind was a throbbing blank.
Then it kicked into gear again, like the radiator would sometimes do when it choked on its own steam. God, he hadn't used the radiator in years—not as a grown-up. Because he was supposed to be a grown-up, supposed to be thirty eight fucking years old, and dead after halfheartedly losing a tussle to a great giant snake who'd fucking ripped his throat out, leaving him to die in a lot of blood and agony.
He scored his nails along the backs of his arms, out of reflex; but it was only the ghost of the memory, that feeling of the venom scalding the blood in his veins. He supposed he must have bit down on the capsule he'd embedded in his teeth, or it wouldn't have been over so quickly . . . or maybe it would had; maybe he'd bled to death, a puncturing of the jugular vein . . . why the Dark Lord hadn't just hit him with his favorite curse, Avada Kedavra, Severus couldn't say, but what a poor moment to depart from tradition: the Killing Curse would have placed Severus quite unable to give the boy what he'd needed.
Albus had said the Dark Lord had always been his own worst enemy. Severus didn't think the Headmaster had meant it so literally. For such a megalomaniac mastermind, the Dark Lord sure kept shooting himself in the foot. Had the boy defeated him? Or had he died, like Severus, before the end was over?
None of it mattered, though, not anymore. Severus had died; he was certain of that, and when you died, you no longer had to give a shit about life; that was the deal. The main thing on Severus' mind at the moment was his presence in this absolute farce. He had spots on his face instead of lines. It was surprising to see how smooth his face looked if he relaxed his scowl.
Well, he wasn't going to find answers gazing at himself. He knew that stringy hair and monstrous nose and indignant scowl far too well, anyway.
He went back to his bedroom, its clanking radiator and mothball smell, and sat down at his wretched mess of a desk. When the chair gave a disquieting creak, he got up, and found himself on nose-level with a calendar.
Unless he'd forgotten to change his calendar at some point—which, knowing himself, was a possibility—it was December 1976. For some reason, he had circled the thirty-first with a thick black marker. For what daft purpose? Who gave a fuck about the New Year?
He sank down onto the bed again. The room was cold, even with the radiator guttering steam. This chill was different from dungeon cold. It was shitty-insulation-cold.
He wrapped himself in his dusty duvet and rested his head against the wall, staring at the calendar.
Perhaps he had underestimated this place. If that calendar were to be believed, this was the representation of a day when he had already lost Lily for the first of many times.
December 23, 1976
Perhaps it was a chance to relieve his life.
Severus almost refrained from thinking scornfully that it was a chance many people would die for, since it brought his entire life dangerously close to a being little more than a dreadful fucking pun. Especially when the outcome of the situation was being sixteen again. The only thing Severus hated more than being sixteen in the first place was being sixteen again.
Well, almost seventeen, but who gave a fuck. Christmas holidays of sixth year. At least he wouldn't have to take O.W.L.s again. At least he wouldn't have to suffer more teenaged years than strictly necessary. Never mind that he didn't understand why any of them were necessary in the first place—surely his life would be more useful to live over when he was already a Death Eater. He honestly couldn't see why he'd been thrust into the past at such a bizarre midway point, more than nine months past his rupture with Lily, and a good ten before he was Marked. Why now?
After living for a good thirty-eight dismal years, Severus had honed innate pessimism to a cast-iron ideology. There might be a good reason for it, but there also might not be any fucking reason at all.
The only thing he was certain of was how much he didn't want to be in this goddamn house. He rooted through a pile of clothes on the floor for his only coat, a miserable thing from the resale shop in town, and left, avoiding both his parents, silent somewhere in the shallow depths of the house.
Christmas was barely two days away, bringing the New Year closer with each barely perceptibly lighter day. It was full dark now, though, gone five in the evening, and in that decade there were still plenty of people living in his end of town. Although the streetlights were erratic, enough windows were lit in the houses he passed, shoved up against the street as they were with scarcely any yard, to patch the sidewalk with light. Severus moved through bands of darkness and sickly electric light, letting the strains of television and radio programs, arguments and conversations, doors banging and vacuum cleaners running, wash past; the detritus of Muggle life. He passed a cinema, one that he remembered as being closed for a while, back in the time when he'd grown up and outlived everyone. Tonight, the front of the building was plastered with posters of something called Star Wars, with May 25 printed beneath it. He thought it sounded vaguely familiar.
He realized he wasn't really thinking about anything, and liked it that way, at least for a moment. As he turned onto a commercial avenue, past closing storefronts, he knew without looking into his reflection on dusty window fronts what anyone would see: an adolescent, rather ugly, in ill-fitting second-hand clothes, who ought to wash his hair and fix his teeth and, if he could manage it, turn into an entirely different person if he wanted to get on with decent people. Not so different than who he'd been the moment he died—than who he was, still—and yet . . . that's all he was, to anyone. There were no Dark Marks, just the too-short hems of his trousers. There was no double-crossing Death Eater, just an ugly boy. To these Muggles, he wasn't even Severus Snape. He was just . . . no one.
And for the moment, that was really all right.
He drifted about the streets of town until he came to a sort of diner, its stark lights glaring feebly through drawn blinds, an open sign flickering a belligerent red over its door. He went in. It was empty except for the waitress, who was smoking, and a tired-looking woman reading a newspaper in a booth in the corner.
The waitress drifted over, her fag dangling between her fingers, the end burning a ring of molten orange in a circle of black. Severus rarely smelled that odor; only once or twice a year, when he stocked up at the grocery during summers and someone who'd just bought a carton would park themselves just outside the entrance and light up.
"What'll you have?" the waitress asked. Her voice was gravelly. Severus didn't realize he'd been staring at her hands, which were broad and square-looking, with an ugly manicure, until she lifted the fag to her mouth and gave him a mocking look.
"It doesn't matter," he said. His own voice was flat, because it really didn't matter. "Anything."
"You ask for anything, you'll get anything," she said. It was neither hostile nor a warning; just a statement.
"Then that's what I'll get."
"Then that's what you'll get," she agreed, and left him.
Severus fiddled with the blinds until he could see out into the street. Cars went by. People walked. A light drizzle had begun to fall, making the streets shimmer with reflections from the shops and traffic and the erratic light that Muggles used to cut up the night. Everything looked cold.
The waitress came back with a pot of coffee and unremarkable china, and poured him a cup without a word. There was something about her hands that made him stare. When he realized that they were a man's hands, he felt like a voyeur.
She was smirking at him. He drank the coffee without comment, and she went away again, to sit near the bar and light another cigarette. Behind her, the kitchen clattered. The woman reading the newspaper in the corner was crying silently, either reading or pretending to read while she cried.
Christ God, this place is fucking depressing. It was so depressing he almost started laughing, just at the sheer absurdity.
The sight of the woman crying over her paper made him wish he'd brought something to read. Without a book, he didn't have anything to occupy himself, and would inevitably lapse again to brooding over his . . . present. Future?
Of course, that was supposing this was even happening. Everything was realistic, even accurate insofar as sensory details were concerned; but was it real? He'd never heard of people who returned to a random moment in time after dying. What was this supposed to be, some kind of time feedback loop?
Maybe it was a chance to ditch everyone and move to Belize. Or Crete. He had always cherished a soft spot for the Mediterranean. Perhaps this was what the afterlife was all about: initial confusion, because there was no After Death manual; and then turning a profit. . . a chance to do what you didn't get to, in life.
The diner door banged open. He turned out of reflex to see who'd come in so noisily—
And almost choked on his heart, because it was Lily.
Lily, whom he'd only seen for the past seventeen years in Pensieve memories, and who, seen like that, he might as well not have been seeing at all. Dumbledore probably would have said something revolting about the magic of the heart being different from the magic of the wand, but Severus just thought the human brain was feeble. He'd forgotten about the freckles on the bridge of her nose—as he saw them, he remembered how she'd hated them, how suntan lotion never did any good; she always got them, no matter what. He'd forgotten how her right eyebrow winged up at the corner, which had driven her mad, because, she'd always declared, they were supposed to be symmetrical. Potter's—the boy's; Harry's—eyebrows had been exactly the same.
He'd forgotten how well she glared.
But he hadn't forgotten her tracking him down in a Muggle diner just after Christmas, because it had never happened. This was . . . new.
He realized the waitress had come up next to his table and was eyeing Lily with boredly raised eyebrows. If Lily saw her, she ignored her, but Severus suspected that Lily was too preoccupied with glaring bloody murder at him. She'd always been single-minded in a temper.
"Severus," she said, with her teeth so tightly ground together his name came out as a Parse tongue-like hiss. For a moment, Severus wondered what was so horrific about his sitting in a Muggle diner, but then adult reasoning asserted itself: Lily was clearly enraged about something else.
He just waited, watching her in silence. He honestly didn't know what to say. Whenever he'd imagined begging Lily for forgiveness, it was always her ghost, the woman, the mother of the boy, and she'd always known everything he'd done. This Lily didn't know anything.
Lily glared, opened her mouth, then shut it tight and looked even more furious, although this time with herself.
"Have a seat, hon," the waitress said finally. From the way Lily jumped, Severus knew she really hadn't noticed anyone else was there.
"Er—thank you," Lily muttered, going a bright red that clashed with her hair. She edged around the booth to the other side and sat awkwardly across from Severus, tilting to the side as she tried to scoot down the horrible Muggle plastic.
"You having anything?" the waitress asked her, bored still. "Other than a fight."
"Oh—er." Thrown off her game, Lily blinked. Severus had the bizarre sensation of being reminded, once again, of Potter—the son, not the father. It was perhaps the most backwards thing he'd ever felt. For six years, he'd done nothing but think of Lily when he looked at the boy—how little he resembled her, how he was nothing like her, except for the eyes; the eyes that always looked at Severus just the way she'd done during the worst years of his life—and now he was face-to-face with Lily and the sheepish look on her face was exactly like the boy's.
"Um . . . coffee?" she offered, like she was asking if it was permitted.
The waitress went to get the pot without a word. Once she was gone, Lily's embarrassment started to shift back into a scowl. Severus found himself looking at his hands. He couldn't remember how he'd cut his knuckle. He didn't say anything, and neither did she.
The waitress came back with Lily's coffee and Severus' food, which was basically breakfast, and rather runny. He didn't particularly care. Except for the few years between Lily's d—between what had happened in '81 and the descent of her unruly son upon the school, he'd never cared about what he ate. It wasn't until he didn't have anything occupying his existence except the mundanity of a teacher's life—and a healthy rivalry with Minerva, which frequently degenerated into their both spitting like cats—that he'd been . . . relaxed . . . enough to develop an appreciation for food.
"Would you like any?" he asked Lily in the emptied voice he used when he was Occluding his hardest.
Lily, who'd been smiling thank-you at the waitress, blinked. "What?" she blurted.
He gestured silently at the food.
"Oh—no. I ate. Petunia cooked, as unbelievable as it sounds—I'd forgotten how she—" Lily shut her mouth, like she realized they were having a civilized conversation; as if one of them weren't a Death Eater who'd called his once-best friend a Mudblood, and the other . . .
"All right," he said indifferently, took a fork and started cutting up his eggs. For a few seconds there was only the scrape of the fork tines against ceramic. The waitress had gone.
"Severus," Lily said in an ominous voice. He looked up from his eggs, his walls as solid as stone, and felt a fissure as wide as the Nile crack through them at the look on Lily's face. At seventeen he would never have been able to figure it out, and at thirty-eight he was still unsure, because there was such a strange complexity of emotion there. Even Leglimency couldn't explain the mixture of rage, loathing, and . . . something that looked like grief.
"I want to know why," she said. She hadn't touched her coffee. It was too lukewarm even for steam. "I came here to ask you why—"
Severus drank coffee and waited. Her hair was damp and curling up on the ends from the moisture, and she hadn't come in carrying an umbrella. His heart was beating so loudly he felt dizzy. He wondered if she could hear the slamming thuds.
"Okay, I want to know a lot of things," she said, "but first of all I want to know why you called me—that."
He set down his cup very deliberately, trying to ground himself in the feeling of the thing in his hand. He'd had this conversation with her a hundred thousand different ways in the sanctity of his mind, but now he couldn't remember a single thing he'd said, a single explanation he'd offered her.
"I could explain it to you," he said, as deliberately as he'd put down his cup, "but you wouldn't understand."
"If you're going to be patronizing now of all times—"
"Or maybe you would," he went on quietly. "What was it you said before you left? 'I'd wash my pants if I were you, Snivellus.' Something like that, I believe."
Lily went pale, but two spots of color stood out on her face. "You—" Then she looked honestly confused. "You . . . what?"
"You were hurt. You found the most hurtful thing you could say, and said it. Retaliation." He picked up his fork and stirred it through his eggs, watching the yolks stain the egg white.
She was silent. "You expect me to believe that's it," she said. He couldn't read her tone.
"I don't expect you to believe anything. I'm not in charge of what you believe or not. You asked, and I told. The rest is yours."
He kept his tone devoid of all emotion; Occluded. Inside, he felt sick, twisted up, as if all his organs were being wrung like a wet rag. All the forgiveness he'd begged, all the arguments that brought in every degrading aspect of his past, pleading with her to understand, and now he simply threw it back at her that she'd said that? He didn't quite understand himself. It must be the Occlumency: it made everything seem removed, unimportant—emotions like valves, shut off.
"And where does that stand," she asked flatly, "with all the—the—" Her voice dropped to a hiss that sounded half-frightened, half-furious. "The bloody Death Eater stuff?"
"Death Eaters say things like that all the time," he said, still emptied and shut-off. "So does any stuck-up pure-blood. Or anyone who . . . "
"Anyone who what, Severus?" She was glaring, the color still high in her face.
"Anyone who wishes they were a stuck-up pure-blood or wants to be a Death Eater," he finished, his emptiest yet.
"And which are you?"
Oh Christ, she was going to cry. She was glaring like she wanted to curse the nose off his face, but she was about to cry. It made him want to die all over again, because dying was really painless—it was living that was the trouble. So in the end, he was honest.
"I don't know what I am."
Lily stared at him. Then she snorted, and a sneer curled her lip in a way that was positively ugly. "Well, at least you're telling me the truth."
In a split second, a rage overwhelmed him, so massive he didn't know how he kept from flinging his plate across the diner, from shattering all the windows with one swipe of his wand. I lied, he wanted to scream, I lied to protect your fucking son for seventeen years, for nothing, for fucking nothing—
His vision had whited out with fury. When he came back to himself a moment later—it had only been seconds, and then he'd regained control—he saw Lily was staring at him with a white, frightened look on her face.
He opened his mouth to say something—to reassure her, perhaps, or in hopes of finding one of the many things he'd said to her ghost in the past seventeen years—but what came out, in a whisper, was: "Shouldn't think you can patronize me anymore, should you?"
Lily pushed herself up from the booth slowly. She was shaking. He couldn't move. He was ice, stone.
Then she turned and ran. The diner door slammed open, rattling the bell, and then thwumped shut.
Severus sat for an eternal moment longer, staring at her untouched coffee. Then he ripped all the remaining money out of his wallet, threw it to the side of his plate, and ran after her.
To be continued. . .
Post notes & Second Disclaimer: I don't know if there have ever been any diners in England? I know that setting should probably have been a pub but I couldn't help being widely inaccurate and leaving it as a diner.