Disclaimer: These characters aren't mine.
A/N: One last time - thank you, everyone, very much.
June 9, 1977
It was the first day after exams were over, and happily enough, the first day in more than two weeks when it hadn't been raining. The heat had come, sudden and sultry, and Remus was out enjoying the first sunshine and the warmth, with a book. His permanently elevated body temperature always ensured he was warm, but there was something psychologically beneficial about sunlight.
Another year over, he thought.
From the shade of the beech tree beside the lake, he looked across the broad, sloping lawn, idly noting the way groups changed as their members aged. The younger students were clumped by gender, boys together and girls separate; and then, as they grew older, the sexes merged and struck off in single, solitary pairs.
He could see James's messy dark head bent over something Charlotte Marlowe was showing him. She was almost a head and shoulders shorter, blonde and sweet, and rather plump. Back in mid-February, Remus had suggested she ask James for help in Transfiguration. At first Sirius had thought it was a good plan . . . until the first couple of weeks had lapsed, when they'd started to find themselves unable to go anywhere without tripping over James and Charlotte Marlowe together. Then Sirius's enthusiasm had waned, and he'd become sulky and moody.
So Remus deduced that the Lily business hadn't just been about Lily. Oh, it wasn't that he thought Sirius was in love with James; but James was the most important person in Sirius's life. It had been that way since they were eleven. None of his girlfriends ever came close. Even Remus and Peter couldn't match up to James.
Remus had been doing a lot of explaining that James needed some female focus to take his mind off of poor Lily; that if they left Prongs to his own devices, he might build his thoughtless obsession with her into a shrine of affection, now that she was dead. Sirius had no great opinion of Charlotte Marlowe, whom he described as a total goof and a duffer, the sort of person who would lapse into baby talk at the drop of a hat, but he at least had to admit that her present James-worship was better than a lifetime of Lily-worship.
Loads of times in the past few months, Remus had felt he was working toward a career as a psychiatrist. Maybe after he graduated, he ought to check into a Muggle university and get a degree in behavioral sciences. No one would ever believe that a psychiatrist was also a werewolf. Muggles knew there was no such thing. And if your patients were all worried they were off their rockers, they'd never ask why their doctor was unavailable around the full moon every month, even if they did notice.
"How are you getting on, Moony?"
Remus squinted into the sunlight dappling through the leaves. "Hi Peter."
As Peter, smiling, settled in next to him on the fragrant grass, Remus lifted Animagi through Thie Ages. "This book is wretched and ghastly and inhuman," he said, making sure it knew he was talking about it in particular.
"It's pretty awful," Peter commiserated. "Do you need me to explain anything to you?"
"I'm still having trouble with the bit about true forms," Remus said. "Does this make any sense to you? 'The postulate or common understanding involved in transformation is certainly co-extensive, in the obligation it carries, with the bioorganical organism of which the true being is a part, and the ends of which it is an effort to subserve.'"
"It's just stressing the importance of finding your true form," Peter said. "They've got loads of garbage about how you do that, but really, you just need to find the animal that suits you. I kind of think of it like naming a baby. I remember when my aunt was having my cousin, she went through scads of names trying to find the right one, and in the end she named her Antonia. I mean, she probably knew the name Antonia all along, she just never thought of it for her baby. . ."
Remus let Peter talk on, nodding in the occasional right place. It had given Peter such a boost to be able to teach someone a thing he had mastered, a remarkable thing, particularly if the subject was giving his first student trouble. Peter wasn't used to being better than anyone else at anything—not because he wasn't, but because James and Sirius were stars at whatever they did. Remus wasn't pants at Transfiguration, but he was no Padfoot or Prongs, and he didn't want to get stuck as some half-werewolf, half-llama.
It had been Dumbledore's solution: train Remus to be an Animagus, and pretend to put the other three through training, as well. He had expressed admiration for their willingness to help their friend, but deep disappointment that in order to do so, they had overturned rules laid down for everyone's safety. Remus now transformed in a secure room in the castle, where the others joined him at full moon. They'd tried it with just Remus and either James or Sirius, but neither of them could control the wolf alone. For the interim days and nights, Dumbledore had sealed all three of their Animagus forms, for use only when the seal was removed.
That night in Dumbledore's study had been one of the five worst in Remus's life. In a way, it had even outclassed the two absolute worst—being bitten and almost killing Snape—because it had been the result of his own failure. He hadn't known, then, how he'd managed to endure the sight and pressure of Dumbledore's gravity, his disappointment. Sometimes, he still didn't know. He guessed it was like the transformations: you endured because you had to.
"Under normal circumstances," Dumbledore had said, with no trace of any smile, "the risk all of you have placed upon the safety of all our students would lead to expulsion. I had hoped that after the regrettable incident with Mr Snape last year, you would have understood the dangers of having a werewolf for a friend; the danger that Mr Lupin does not pose to you, but to those who do not realize that a werewolf, when transformed, has none of the moral checks that I know Mr Lupin to possess." And then his light blue eyes had settled on Remus, and he'd uttered the words that had shriveled Remus's soul to the size of a pea. "Or that I thought he possessed. Now, I fear I am not so certain."
Sirius and James had been vociferous in defending him, Sirius even getting to his feet, but Remus had told them to shut up. "You don't know what it's like, to transform," he said, shaking, feeling sick. "To lose your mind. You didn't know how dangerous it was. I did. This is my fault. I should be the one to leave school."
"No, Mr Lupin," said Dumbledore. "To err is human, and to face our failings and seek to change them for the better is the best part of our humanity. I am afraid, however, that I can no longer trust the four of you in the matter of Mr Lupin's transformations."
And then he'd looked . . . sad. "I owe you a sincere apology, Mr Lupin. I should not have left your transformations in the hands of others. It was a failure in me—perhaps the greatest failing in the room—for if I have treated your condition lightly, how can I expect youth to comprehend the danger and the difficulty? All we may do now is act to correct ourselves. We tell ourselves 'better late than never' because it would be fatal to do otherwise."
As far as Remus understood, the investigation was swept quietly under the government rug; a few discreet favors Dumbledore called in at the Ministry. Remus offered to resign his Prefectship, but Dumbledore had still refused. "You have taken a responsible step, Mr Lupin, and the greatest beneficiary is yourself. But we must not stop with our first progression."
So Remus had steeled his intention to be firmer with James and Sirius about all the hexing-for-fun and the pranking . . . and then he hadn't had to implement it, because they hardly even joked about it any more. It was as if, with everything that had happened in the past few months, they'd all been forced by life to grow up.
It was easier to sleep at night, now, but harder, sometimes, to live with himself during the day. It was funny how that worked. Maybe he would become a psychiatrist. He sure knew a lot about human failing. It would be nice to understand how the brain worked, because half of the time it seemed not to.
James and Charlotte Marlowe were skiffing across the bright, rippling grass toward the beech tree. Charlotte, he saw, was carrying a small roll of violet parchment.
"Hello, hello," she said, beaming at Remus and Peter as soon as she was within distance. "Isn't it a lovely, lovely day?"
"Hey Moony, Wormtail. You've got an admirer, Moony," said James, pointing at the violet parchment cylinder that Charlotte was now offering to Remus.
"Professor Dumbledore asked me so very kindly if I could give it to you, Remus," Charlotte said as he took the summons to his weekly meeting.
"Thanks, Charlotte." He tucked the horrid Animagus book underneath his arm and unfolded from the grass, offering Charlotte his seat with affected gallantry that made James grin. "Well, I'm off to the tumbril. Catch you lot later."
"Try not to let your head roll," said James, waving.
Dumbledore wasn't an Animagus, but there were limits to what he could tell McGonagall without landing the Marauders in trouble or herself. Dumbledore had told Remus that although his contacts in the MLE had dismissed the case, he could never be sure it wouldn't ever crop up again in some other form. As far as McGonagall knew, Remus and the others were learning for the first time with the Headmaster's sanction.
"But Snape was the one who submitted the information," Remus had said. "And now that he's . . . that he's dead, it shouldn't come up again, should it?"
"One cannot map all avenues of any given incident, Mr Lupin. But from what little I knew of Mr Snape, at the end, I believe he came quite close."
There were times when Remus didn't really believe Snape was dead. It was usually at night, when he was alone, aimlessly counting sheep in the crimson-tinted darkness of his four-poster now that he had no present guilt weighing on his heart. He would remember Snape's personality radiating out from him like a corona, the gritty cadence of his voice, his McGonagall-like patience-that-wasn't, the ease with which Dark magic came to him, and he would think that of course Snape had faked his death, his and Lily's, and run off somewhere that wasn't England, like maybe Mexico or Egypt or Hawai'i, where maybe people wouldn't be so horrible to him. But during the day, when rain drummed against the windowpanes or the corridors filled with buttery sunlight, it just seemed like dream-fancy. Then, the truth was that Snape had run off from Hogwarts and Lily with him, and they'd run afoul of Death Eaters in Edinburgh and died.
The weirdest part was that now James, whenever he thought about Snape, would get a very serious look on his face and say, "I was wrong about him." Apparently, all Snape had needed to do to get James thinking he'd been an "all right bloke after all" was be murdered by Death Eaters. James had taken it as proof that Snape had told them "no" and then died rather than say "yes."
Remus had wanted to tear at his hair. Yes, psychiatry was looking really productive. He could make a fortune off his friends alone.
More than a few times, Remus had wondered how much of James's Snape-bullying had been fed by Sirius. James would do anything for Sirius if he believed Sirius wanted or needed it.
It was all water dried up under the bridge that had been burnt to ash, in any case.
Dumbledore's violet scroll wanted to meet him in the Room of Requirement, the place where Remus transformed. It was a space that could become anything, as long as you wished hard enough. Peter was the one who'd found it—years ago, in fact; but he'd kept it to himself, until something had come of sharing it. "Just something about it," he'd told Remus. "It felt like a secret."
More than sometimes, Remus wondered about Peter.
Now, once a month Remus paced up and down in front of an empty stretch of wall and asked for the forest, and it grew out of the stones of the castle, made from thought and longing and wistfulness. Its grass was as soft as he wanted it, and the air was filled with the scent of pine and earth. It was always spring, and flowers bloomed in the night.
None of the others could get the forest, not even Dumbledore. When he asked, he received an orchard with rows of apple trees; James got a bright, grassy field dotted with wildflowers; Peter wouldn't try, and Sirius only came up with a bleak, empty stretch of seashore. Remus decided that when he asked for the forest, he wasn't asking for a place; he was asking for a feeling. When he'd run with his friends, he hadn't felt alone. In a strange way, because of what they'd done for him, the nights that had nearly broken him as a child had become his reason for surviving.
It was far better this way, though. He should never have allowed his own need to subsume the safety of others.
Dumbledore was right: you told yourself it was never too late to make up for a failure, because to do otherwise would make living impossible; just as impossible as living with other people without the ability to forgive, to let go; to move on from the past, when the past was wrong or filled with grief.
When he reached the seventh floor corridor, the door was already formed, made of cherry-wood and bursting with carven vines. He pulled on the handles and walked into Dumbledore's orchard, on a fine day as bright as the one outside, blue skies and sunlight and the scent of summer.
Dumbledore was sitting in a chair wrought from the stump of a tree, formed into a low seat with cornflowers blooming at its roots, the exact color of his robes. He was twisting a chain out of the cornflowers, the way children did, girls mostly. When he heard the crunch of Remus's approach, he looked up and smiled. Every time Dumbledore smiled at him, Remus told himself he had no business feeling relieved.
"Ah, Mr Lupin," Dumbledore greeted. "Punctual as ever. Do sit down, won't you?"
I may not have any moral fiber, Remus thought, I may needlessly endanger lives with my eternal self-absorption, but I'm always on time.
"Thank you, sir." Rather than creating a chair, Remus sat on the grass. He started to get up again when Dumbledore moved from his stump-chair to the ground next to him.
"No, no, my dear boy," said Dumbledore. "Please. It's been too long since I sat on the most natural of seats."
Remus lowered himself back to the grass, folding half-lotus with the Animagus book to one side and his bag to the other.
Dumbledore continued smiling, his fingers working as if by habit on his cornflower-chain. "And how progress your studies?"
"This book was written by a sadist, sir," Remus said. "I'm convinced of it."
Dumbledore chuckled. "Tiberius Thorne, wasn't it? Not a man who thought in a straight line, I'll admit."
"He thought in concentric circles, sir."
Dumbledore smiled, eyes sparkling quietly. "But the most important stage is finding your true form, and I wouldn't think Tiberius Thorne could interfere too much with that, do you?"
"I don't know how to find it, though," Remus said. He plucked at the grass. It was cool beneath his fingers. "I'm trying the book, because I've already tried all of James's and Sirius's exercises. I've meditated, I've looked at encyclopedias, hundreds of images of animals, but nothing seems right."
"May I ask if there's one that seems wrong?" Dumbledore asked, with that x-ray gaze.
Remus looked down at his own knuckles. "I . . . I keep getting hung up on a wolf. But it doesn't—feel right."
"Does it feel wrong? Or do you wish it did?"
With all his effort, Remus repressed his instinctual revulsion and tried to honestly think about it.
"It feels right in some ways," he said slowly, "but wrong in others."
"The werewolf is your other form because of a curse," said Dumbledore. "You are inseparable from the wolf now, but you were not born that way. The werewolf may be influencing your true form—in fact, I would bet my best hat on it—but it does not control you."
"It feels like it does," Remus said quietly.
"It controls your body once a month," Dumbledore said. "And it subsumes your conscious mind. But is your mind the wolf's? Is the wolf's mind yours? I cannot answer these questions, as no one has seriously studied the werewolf, with sympathy and a desire to truly learn, in all the centuries we have co-existed. You and your friends have come closer than anyone, I believe. It's my wonder whether your transformation into an animal, under your own power, keeping your own mind, might bring clarity to that part of you which is, to you, as unknowable as the dark side of the moon. Well." He smiled slightly. "As the dark side of the moon to humans who must always remain on Earth. I understand Muggles have made it. Isn't that fascinating? For all that many wizards believe we are superior to our wandless brethren, we have never walked on the moon."
Remus wondered if he would be stuck as a werewolf if he went to the moon, or if that would be the one place where he would never need to transform.
"Muggles have science," Remus said. "It's their kind of magic."
Dumbledore nodded slowly, considering him. "Yes, Mr Lupin," he said. "I believe you're right. Your mother is a scientist of sorts, isn't she?"
"She's a doctor. She studies cancer—it's a disease Muggles get that doesn't have a cure, yet." It was more than a bit ironic that her son should have contracted a wizarding disease with no cure.
"And your father?"
"Well, he's a wizard, but he does art. Sculptures and things, mostly. They're all really rotten," Remus admitted.
Dumbledore smiled. "So you've a Muggle scientist for a mother, and a wizard artist for a father. And you, a werewolf, transform from a quiet young man into a magical creature once, sometimes twice a month. So many parts of you that are not easily reconciled, I believe."
"I don't know, sir," Remus said. "The science-magic bits are easy enough."
"Oh?" Dumbledore asked, like he really wanted to know.
"Well . . . science and magic both exist," Remus said. "Just like the moon has both sides, I guess. If you ignore one or the other, you're not seeing the . . . the whole picture, are you?" He was sounding stupid again, he would bet.
But Dumbledore continued to smile, quietly. Then he did one of his Dumbledorian-non-sequiturs. Tiberius Thorne wasn't the only one who operated in concentric circles. "Who healed your eyes, Mr Lupin? Back in January, when Mr Mulciber's curse had blinded you."
Remus blinked. "It was . . . Snape, sir. I . . . thought maybe you'd known. . . ?"
"It seemed to be the only logical explanation," Dumbledore said. "But I must admit I couldn't see why Mr Snape would have done such a thing. In general, I would have hesitated to credit him with any selfless act, let alone toward one of his—forgive me—his enemies."
"I wouldn't have either," Remus said honestly. "I mean, he immediately called the MLE on James and the rest, but . . . I kind of felt like healing my eyes was separate. Like he could be mean and nice at the same time."
Dumbledore nodded. "Both sides," he said. "One picture. I wasn't wrong, Mr Lupin, when I said that your perspective was unique. You try to understand when others fail to see the need, and you ask questions while others maintain convictions. When you let yourself. But I think you have spent so long mistrusting yourself, that you never bothered to take a closer look at you. That, I believe, is why you failed this past winter."
Remus's guilt felt like a stone in his throat, but he nodded. "Yes, sir."
Dumbledore's eyes were oddly compassionate. "No one knows how far the wolf's control extends, Mr Lupin. If you are brave enough to find out—if you have the courage—I believe you could be the first to know. You did not go wrong in letting your friends begin to guide you. But we must all guide each other, or we will all wind up lost."
Then his smile returned, light and cheerful. "And so will time be lost, if I chatter for too much longer. Please do enjoy the afternoon, Mr Lupin. It is a beautiful one indeed."
"Thank you, sir," said Remus. Gathering his things, he climbed to his feet. At the door, he paused and looked back. Dumbledore was drifting up the row of apple trees, looking into the sky.
To hell with this book, Remus thought as the door thumped shut behind him. He wanted to go find Sirius, and then join James and Peter, Charlotte Marlowe if she was still there. He was through with studying for today. Maybe the answer would come to him tonight as he counted sheep. Maybe it had something to do with his dream of running through snowy mountains, where the stars were so bright and clear, he believed he could climb them into the sky and ask the moon to let him go.
He was shoving the book onto his desk when he heard tapping at the window: the sharp rap of an owl's beak. But when he turned, he saw that it wasn't an owl: it was a kind of dove, soft gray with a white breast.
Curious, he let it in. A note from Charlotte to James? But the dove landed on his bed, and then collapsed from exhaustion.
He scooped it up as gently as he could and let it lave a bit of water from James's owl's dish. Then he settled it on Maximus's empty perch and went back to the letter, curious about who could be sending him letters via doves who'd obviously flown such a long way they fainted from exertion.
The letter was folded into a perfect square and sealed with a blob of bright green wax. When he touched the paper—not parchment; just regular stationery paper—it flashed, rippling all over with golden light; the wax shimmered, glowing emerald; and then the seal cracked. Now more curious than ever, he unfolded the envelope and pulled out three sheets of Muggle stationery paper, written close-through, front to back, in a very familiar hand whose looping g's looked like rosebuds.
Lily? he thought, as stunned as if he'd glimpsed her in a crowd. He flipped to the last page, searching for the signature, and read, Lots of Love, Guess Who
If there weren't cheerful daylight pouring in through the diamond window-panes, he'd believe this in a heartbeat.
But right now, as he turned to the first page, his hands were shaking, rustling the paper gently.
This letter is spelled to open only to you, so if you're reading it, you must be you. If anyone else touches it, it will self-destruct—either before it's opened or after—so you might not want to let Sirius or James get hold of it before you've read it, because I've such a lot to tell you.
First off, I'm not dead, and I'm so sorry you had to believe I was. I always thought we were friends, and I know that if you had pretended to be dead and I'd grieved for you, I'd be upset to find out I'd hurt for nothing. I'd be so relieved, but still hurt. Please know I didn't do it for a lark. It was necessary for my safety, and for everyone's, I think, because I'm not who everyone thought I was.
You'll probably think I've cracked, by the time you're done reading this sentence, but I'll tell you anyway: I'm from the future.
Okay, it looks really crazy. I'm embarrassed to write it out. To think I even thought of telling you a long time ago, back in January, when it happened! I thought it was sensible, although I later realized I shouldn't do it, not then.
But this is what happened: in 1998, on May 2, in a final battle between our sides, Voldemort murdered me, for a long list of reasons; but instead of waking up where I thought I would—in Purgatory or as a reincarnated water buffalo—I woke up in my bedroom in my mum's house, with a calendar telling me it was just before Christmas in 1976. I had no idea what was going on. I remembered dying. Avada Kedavra—green light. It was everywhere. I still have nightmares about it sometimes.
I'm writing this to you because I think you're the best at keeping secrets. Since I'm from 1998, I can tell you that I know you're a werewolf. But I know loads of other things about the war, and about Voldemort, that would be really dangerous to tell the wrong person. Things about how we defeated him the first time . . .
July 31st, 1979
Today was Harry's birthday.
At least, in Lily's heart. In the here and now, he didn't exist, and wouldn't have today in any case. He would have been born on this day next year.
But you couldn't replicate the exact circumstances of a life, neither the moment of conception nor its natural course thereafter. As soon as she'd opened her eyes in her bedroom in Cokeworth, remembering the world tinged with green light, everything had changed. The understanding hadn't come on her at once, but the truth had always been there, waiting to be acknowledged.
She liked the change. It was simplistic even to give it a word as frail as "liking." It was more like a state of transcendent joy—muted but pervasive, filling the world like sunlight. The way she'd felt when she'd become a mother: as if life before had existed on a scale with interminable shades of gray, like the twilight before the dawn when you waited for the sun to rise and drench the world in color. She had fought for that dawn, long after she'd thought it would have risen easily. Even when the distance seemed interminable, she'd pushed forward, always learning a new difficulty just as she'd conquered the one she'd understood.
She supposed oversimplifying Severus was a character failing in herself that she would never fully master. In a weird way, she loved that about him.
But she still missed Harry. She supposed that was for always. As if her heart were the ocean and her thoughts were the moon, and her heartache shifted like the flowing tide. Ebb and flow.
The sun was high and bright today. The garden leaves tickled at the kitchen's window casement. She wondered where Severus was. In the garden, probably. According to him, he'd spent most of thirty-eight years shut up in dark rooms; if he were to be believed, he was making up for it double-time. Since they'd ended up here on this island two springs ago, he had been known even to insist on prowling around outside during winter in a downpour. In the summer, she had to get out of the house to see him.
She swung the back door open, leaving the cool interior of the house for the hot brightness outside. The smell of the sea came back to her on the wind; the air was dry and the sunlight was thick. It was odd how sunlight gained different properties the further south you moved. Heat was different in the Cyclades. As if there was more to it.
The garden was massive. Severus worked like a demon when you let him loose. In a little over two years, he had a garden that probably would have got a mention in the herbologist's canon after Eden and Babylon. He'd used magic on it, of course, although the exact specifics were over Lily's head. It stood out, a bright patch of verdant beauty on their arid bit of headland. He had practically every local plant one could cultivate, from hellebore and heliotrope to crocuses and poppies, and beyond. He had an apple and pear trees, date palms and pomegranates, grape vines and olives. Despite all those years of herbology, Lily had never quite understood that gardening, even magical gardening, was a science. It was fiddly and exacting, and it suited Severus down to the ground.
Their neighbors on the island called him "pharmakis," with good-natured smiles. He'd told her it was the Greek word for "witch." She didn't think their neighbors knew, but she thought it was amusing all the same.
Normal people puttered in their gardens, but Severus prowled. At the moment, he was prodding his grape vines. He looked up at the sound of her bare feet crunching the dirt, wiped his forehead, smearing a long streak of dirt over his eyebrows, and navigated around a patch of narcissus toward her.
"Are you feeling unwell?" he asked.
"No, I'm fine," she said. "I just . . . wanted to come outside."
Sometimes she thought Leglimency wasn't a probe but a magnet; that it absorbed as much as it pierced. Her aches and joys seemed to fall into the dark well of his eyes, the same color as the sea at night, or the spaces between the stars.
"You saw the paper," he said.
She nodded, just barely. She was afraid that if she did more, she'd wind up jumping and screaming and then she would trip and take a tumble. "You could have woken me up, you know. 'Dark Lord Defeated'—that's a headline to trump sleep."
"You need rest," he said, stern, somehow managing to do that Severus-thing where he snubbed you in the same breath that he showed he cared.
"You're a worrywart," she said. "It's one of your charms."
"And you're reckless. You could be sitting now, at least."
She let him brush plants out of the way for her and followed him beneath the cooler shade of the arbor, where the scent of cypress was strong. He'd hung a swing-bench there, made of wood, facing across the rolling sweep of the land to the cradle of the sea on the horizon.
The wood creaked when she lowered herself to it, careful to adapt to her new center of gravity. It seemed a bit different every day; something she automatically adjusted to, and yet had to think about every moment.
"Sit," she said, patting the bench beside her. Severus obeyed, although not like one prepared to relax. But then, Severus hardly ever relaxed. She used to think he was waiting for something—for an attack, and maybe he always would be—but in the past two-and-then-some years she'd learned that Severus just operated at a higher frequency than most people. He couldn't be tranquil. He'd rest when he was really dead, for good. And she could believe that he never really would be; that no matter where he wound up, he'd simply keep going, radiating intensity.
The glitter of sunlight on the water in the distance filled her eyes with motes of brightness. "Can you believe he's really gone?" she asked quietly.
"If they didn't bungle it," Severus said, and then sighed, pressing a finger between his eyebrows. She wrapped her fingers around his wrist, pulling his hand away, and kissed the crease of his frown.
He smoothed his thumb across her cheekbones and kissed her mouth.
They sat together in the silence created by the absence of human voices, when the world is filled with the cadence of its own voice. The wind through the pine needles and the leaves on the vines, the tree branches, the bushes; across the rocky earth and over the water. The thin sound of a dove, calling from the pomegranate tree.
"A fitting birthday present for your son," he said.
Lily tensed. She couldn't help it.
"Although I realize the actual event occurred some days ago," he said, "the headline belongs to the thirty-first."
She glanced up at him. He wasn't looking at her but over the water, his eyes slightly squinted against the glare even in the shade.
"You didn't want to talk about it last year," he said. "Should I assume the same this year?"
"There's nothing to say, really." The wind husked through the leaves, pushing her dyed hair into her eyes. "It means a lot to me that you know."
He didn't say anything. She laced her fingers through his, and then pressed his palm against the roundness of her stomach. The baby kicked out against the pressure, and she smiled.
"This isn't a replacement, you know," she said.
Severus finally looked her in the eye. His own gaze was . . . considering.
"If you need a replacement . . ." he started, but then he didn't finish.
She folded both her hands over his, where they rested on the swell of the new baby. The baby that wasn't Harry. The baby that would be different. The baby that would grow up loved, and happy, and live as long and full a life as she could give. In a handful of weeks, it would be born into a world without Voldemort.
It had been one of the hardest decisions she'd ever had to make, turning away from fighting, even though she'd known that staying would have been harder still. The danger to Sev had decided her. If Voldemort and the Order would both see him as a threat, there could be no other option than to disappear. She had gone into hiding once before to protect her family; this time, she'd done it to protect Sev. And this time, she'd been determined: she wouldn't be useless, she wouldn't just wait for Voldemort to show up at the door, to tear her away from everything all over again. She'd make sure he was gone so they could all live as they were meant to, free of him.
For months she had written down everything Severus told her of the future, each scrap of information reawakening her grief, as if she'd only put it to bed at night and stirred it in the morning. It had affirmed her resolve to make this go-around different for everyone. All she'd had to offer was Sev's knowledge, through her own voice; his experiences masquerading as her own, as he'd convinced her that Remus would be more likely to trust information if he believed it came from her. And then this morning she'd unfolded the Oracle to the headline she had always dreamed of reading, and beneath it, a photograph of the Order with Dumbledore in the center of so many faces she recognized, so many people she still carried in her heart, alive and laughing together as they were toasted by cheering crowds. The picture had sent joy and grief coursing through her like a glittering brook.
She prayed their triumph would be as real and as lasting as hers had been.
Now she laced their fingers together, hers and Sev's. She remembered Harry's tiny hands, wrapped around her finger. By now, this unborn baby already had fingerprints.
Her heart aching with love and with longing, she said, "This is what I need."
"I just pray it doesn't like Quidditch," Severus said.
Lily smiled so that her face hurt. "Quit calling it an 'it,'" she admonished, freeing one of her hands to prod Severus in the shoulder. It probably hurt her finger more than him; his upper arms were nothing but wiry muscle.
He prodded the much softer and more ample softness on her thigh. "You just did the same."
"Say 'he.' Or 'she,'" she added.
"There's a fifty-fifty chance it won't be what we get used to calling it. If we say 'he' for the next six weeks and it's a girl, or 'she' for the same and it's a boy, we'll feel awkward when it pops out."
"You're being silly. We won't care when it gets here." Not that she knew, precisely; she and James had called the baby a "he" and that's what they'd got. She knew also that Severus didn't want a boy, although he'd never said precisely why. The most she'd ever got out of him was, "You'll be a much better role model for a daughter than I would be for a son."
She often wondered whether he feared she would treat their son as a phantom of her first. To be honest, she wasn't entirely sure she would be strong enough to resist the temptation. Even though, when asked, she told their neighbors, "We'll be happy with either," she secretly wanted this to be a girl, too.
"I just hope it doesn't get my goddamn nose," said Severus. "Whatever it is."
"I like your nose." When his only reply was a ripping snort, she wound her arms around his neck and kissed it. He smelled like sweat and grass and wind and earth. She kissed his mouth; he kissed back. His hair was soft, draping around her face; the contours of his shoulders and stomach and hips were solid lines against her.
He lifted his hands and trailed them up her sides. "That feels bizarre."
"I can feel it kicking."
In the position they'd twisted to, legs entwined as much as they could be, the baby was resting the cradle of his hips. She smiled. "How do you think I feel? I can feel it when I'm trying to sleep."
"It feels like it's training to be an aquatic acrobat."
She laughed. "At least that's not Quidditch, right?"
Pulling some on the hanging chain and the rest on his hand, she maneuvered herself to her feet. "Come for a walk with me."
"A celebratory walk," he said, keeping his hand in hers.
"Not much else I can do, like this."
"Keeping that in mind, we won't go far."
They navigated past the house, part of Severus' strict routine: he always wanted to net the house in wards, Just In Case. They had faked their deaths in Scotland, left no trail as they slipped into the world of Muggles; Lily had even dyed her hair dark brown, and Severus' skin had shown a remarkable ability to tan. They were, she thought, virtually unrecognizable; but whenever she tried to point this out, Severus would just give her a look, and she would fall silent.
"It isn't worth the price of being wrong," he would say. And then the subject would be folded away into silence.
He dipped into the house to summon her sunglasses and hat from the kitchen counter, along with a thermos of water. She never tanned; she only freckled, and too much of that strong, filling sunlight made her dizzy. She loved it, but she was better off in the shade. There weren't a lot of trees on the island, but she'd got in the habit of wearing wide-brimmed hats and dark sunglasses. They had the added benefit of rendering her even more incognito.
"If you start feeling lightheaded," he said, "you will tell me."
She settled her sunglasses on her nose, smiling. "Sometimes I think you'd be happier if I was the sort of person who lay around on divans all day, sighing about how ill I was."
"I'd have fewer gray hairs, at least."
"You don't have any gray hairs."
They crested along the top of their hill and curved down toward the low cliffs, stirring up the dry summer dust. Her hand drifted from the small of her back to her stomach to Severus, touching his shoulder or his hand as she needed. Sometimes she wondered if that Bonding Curse were fully gone, because there were times when not touching him felt like a bereavement.
They came to the edge of the land, where the cliffs dropped down toward the water. "This way," Severus said, turning his face so she could hear him over the gentle lufts of the wind. He put out his hand and she wrapped hers around it, following his lead to the left, where from a distance the land seemed to hiccup.
Severus drew her to the edge of the hiccup, and she peered over. Below, the sea had carved out a kind of grotto. It dropped straight down, almost the same circumference at the bottom as at the top. She could hear the rush of the water flowing into the inlet, like the roar of the ocean inside a seashell.
"This is weird," she said.
"It's a wishing well."
"It doesn't look like a well . . ."
"Figuratively speaking, then," he said. "Aren't I supposed to be the pedantic one?"
She nudged him with her elbow. "How do you know, then, Mr Smarty Pants?"
"'Wishing well' is what Mythia calls it. Apparently there's a way to walk down into it, but I didn't think it was advisable with . . . this." He gestured at the baby, which dealt her insides a sleepy kick.
"I didn't know we had a wishing well practically in our back yard." She peered over the edge again, smiling when Severus' grip on her hand became almost crushingly tight. At the bottom of the drop, the seawater glittered, the sun glistening on the foam. "Have you made a wish?"
"Perhaps I have," he said. "Perhaps I haven't."
"How long have you known about it?"
"I don't recall," he said with careless indifference, but she knew Severus never forgot anything, ever. Not without being Obliviated; and as they'd seen, he could find a way around that. Mythia had told him about the well—or perhaps he had found it and asked; in fact, that was most likely—and he had kept it to himself until now.
Severus was too savvy to let coincidence surprise him, if he could prevent it. It was significant that he'd left off telling her about a nearby, mysterious wishing-well until the anniversary of her first child's birth. Her lost baby's birthday.
"What am I supposed to wish for?" she asked, looking him straight in the eye, through the dark screen of her lenses.
His returning gaze was unwavering. The well of his emotions pushed at the edges of her mind, as strong as a tidal force, but holding back; just enough to connect, to let her feel he was there. Whenever he did that, her heart ached with tenderness.
"Whatever you want, I should imagine. I doubt there's a guidebook."
Still holding his hand with her right, she looked down into the well again. Her left hand had risen to settle onto their baby, who prodded her.
She wondered what it meant that even though everything had changed, she still remembered Harry as if she'd held him in her arms only that morning. Severus still remembered him, too; she knew that, without having to ask. If everything had changed, shouldn't those memories have changed as well, or merged with new ones? Nothing in her past was different. It existed as purely as she remembered it, and the future remained as soft and unknowable as the darkness when all the lights were out, and she lay next to Severus in their bed, listening to the sound of his breath.
Closing her eyes behind her dark lenses, she let the briny scent of the sea, the soft-rough texture of the wind and the warmth of the sun enfold her. She felt for that tide of longing and joy that flowed through her like the most powerful current of the oceans, and pictured the water flickering softly with the sun and the tide at the bottom of the wishing well. And she thought, Wherever Harry is, whatever happened to him, I hope he can be happy, like this.
For a moment, it was almost as if the world held still; as if time were fabric that was suddenly caught on the axle of a single moment. Her ears hollowed out; her breath stopped. And then it was all moving again, as if nothing had happened anywhere outside of her own head.
She blinked her eyes a few times. Severus was gripping her hand painfully hard.
She turned to smile at him, tipping her glasses down and squinting in the brightness. "There," she said. "Wish made."
"I'll hazard it was an eminently Gryffindor wish."
"Don't sell Slytherin short. . ."
They took the long way back to the house, the path that unfurled around the base of the hill, rather than the one that climbed it. She enjoyed the sight of their house every time she saw it: a modest, square white building, blinding in the summer sunlight, embraced by the garden that unfurled to all sides. She would pause at the garden gate, breathing in the scents, of pine and earth and flowers, and think, I'm home.
"I'm hungry," she announced.
"Color me unsurprised," he said. "I suppose you'll want to raid my olive tree."
"The heart wants what it wants. And right now, it wants to rest."
They drew to a stop. She leaned on him, her back (among other things) throbbing, and wrapped her arms around his waist, leaning her head on his chest. One of his hands curved over her shoulder.
"I love you," she said, and waiting, smiling, for his answer.
"So you claim," he said. She moved her lips in time with each word.
"Do you love me?" she asked, the way she always did.
"Don't be foolish," he said, like always, his breath warm against her forehead.
He had never said it, but he didn't have to. Just as she hadn't had to wish for their happiness, down there on the edge of the well.
You didn't have to wish for what already existed.