Chapter 17: Our Worst Nightmares.

Severus spent all afternoon searching the corridors and grounds for Lily, but could see no sign of her. Everywhere was crowded with students, because the storm of the night had given to way to a fine day and many were out spending their Sunday afternoon enjoying the sunshine and long hours of the first day of May.

Finally, he made his way to the seventh floor corridor where the Fat Lady's portrait hung, with half a mind to ask some passing Gryffindor about her. He hadn't been anywhere near the Gryffindor common room since last June, but in the end, he got cold feet, for he couldn't forget what had transpired in that corridor then. Besides, the news of the Dark Mark over the distant mountains had filtered through the student grapevine, and passing Gryffindors glared at him or else whispered fearfully among themselves, automatically assuming, that, as a Slytherin, he or his friends would be connected to any Death Eater murder.

Or perhaps they'd got wind that he had sent their Quidditch Champion, Potter, to the Hospital wing.

He glared back at them, wishing he could tell them that Potter had asked for what he got and that it was their own Gryffindor Prefect who had triggered the events that had ultimately led to the death of that crazy old wizard. But Lily wouldn't thank him for that – nor for starting a fight outside her common-room. Anyhow, he glimpsed Mary MacDonald come out of the portrait hole, and judging by her expression as soon as she saw him, (and her immediately jumping back inside), he guessed Lily was in the Gryffindor common-room too.

So he turned back silently and headed for the stairs, ignoring the twinges of pain in his ribs. Perhaps Lily was resting – after the events of the night, Merlin knew she needed it! He'd have to be patient.

Patience was not an easy thing for Severus Snape at the best of times, and as he picked over the night's events again and again in his mind, his sense of foreboding increased. Lily had seen him stun Remus, she'd heard him tell the Dark Lord of a plot – the more he thought about it, the more he thought it must have seemed like base treachery in her eyes. She would never understand he had no other way of getting her out of that mess unscathed. And yet... Lily had come looking for him. He clung to that one thread of hope for he knew there could be no other. At least, even if the reason she came looking for him that morning was not the one he hoped for – it did, at least, give him a reason for seeking her.

It was evening when he finally found her. He stood waiting in the crowded Entrance Hall knowing she would not ignore her Prefect duties, whatever happened, and Sunday evening was a notorious time for high spirits, idleness, house tensions and magic to come together in an explosive mixture.

Sure enough, he saw her patrolling the first-floor corridor as students returned from supper. She was leaning over the balustrade of the great marble staircase, her hair falling about her face in coppery curtains as she bent over, following the progress of a group of first-years up the staircase.

She looked up at that instant and somehow, although the Hall was packed with students, her eyes unerringly fixed on his. It was only a split second, for she was soon speaking to the young first-years and ushering them on. Severus couldn't tell if she was angry, disgusted or coldly indifferent when she looked at him. Potter's words ''She hates you, you know...She hates what you did tonight' came back to him forcefully and froze him in his tracks. What if Potter were right?

He was so shocked it took him a few seconds to realise Lily had disappeared. He broke into a run, pushing students aside and then ran up the marble steps two at a time, swearing softly as his broken ribs were jarred achingly to life again.

He didn't see her at the top of the stairs, but thought he'd seen her take the direction of the first-years, so he tore down the corridor to the right, clutching his chest. He soon caught up with the young students, who looked up at him with wide, apprehensive eyes. Lily was nowhere to be seen. His fear was turning to frustration.

'Where's your Prefect?' he barked at the little ones.

'She's not our Prefect,' piped up one little boy with a shock of carrot-red hair, 'We're Ravenclaws!'

'I don't care if you're Cornish Pixies!' Severus growled 'Where is she?'

His frustration was fast turning into anger now. What was Lily playing at? She couldn't ignore him anymore. Not now.

'She was right behind us, and then she disappeared,' a small girl with dark hair and protruding eyes explained, 'Perhaps she knows how to disapparate even here at Hogwarts. They say she's very clever...'

But Severus was already retracing his steps. There was a shortcut further down: a narrow corridor leading off from a recessed space housing a suit of armour. It linked the first floor to the next level up, ending behind a tapestry on the second floor, and it was the only explanation for Lily's 'disappearance' – not many first-years knew about it. He did, however. Lily probably thought she'd escape him that way, but he bloody well wasn't going to give up so easily!

It was very dark in the narrow passageway, but to his surprise, Severus saw a faint blue light about ten yards ahead, where the passageway curved sharply to the left before coming to some steep steps. There was no sign of Lily of course – she wouldn't be so stupid as to try and hide down a short-cut both of them knew very well. But when Severus rounded the corner, he saw a single, small, bluebell flame hover for a split second in front of a half-open broom-cupboard door before going out and plunging him into darkness. Instinctively, his hand went to the wand in his belt – a couple of unpleasant ambushes had occurred in this narrow passageway after curfew recently. Back in the days when Hogwarts was built, this corridor was for servants and house-elves, and the broom cupboard had double-doors, the inner one leading, if he remembered correctly, to the Muggle Studies Classroom on the first floor, a place he avoided like the plague, for he saw enough of Muggle life in the holidays to last him a lifetime.

With the small blue flame extinguished, he was in a dark and almost absolute silence, for he was far enough down the passageway for the bustle of students to be no more than a distant rumble. Only his heart beat loudly in his aching ribcage – but something about that bluebell flame stopped him in his tracks. Could he possibly have caught up with her? Was she hiding in there?

Pushing the door open with his hand he entered the small broom cupboard, carefully avoiding Filch's brooms and mops, and approached the second door, further in, the one that led to the Muggle Studies Classroom. A blue sliver of light shone beneath the door. He pushed it open.

Lily stood there. Not in front of the door or in the middle of the classroom, but at the point furthest away from where he had just entered from, and she was facing it, taut as a spring, as though some dreaded creature might emerge from it. Her expression was closed and unreadable. In a Muggle Tupperware plastic bowl on one of the desks, bluebell flames such as the ones he himself had conjured back in the raven's cave, illuminated the room in a dim blue glow.

The Raven's cave. He took two steps towards her then stopped. She didn't back away or advance. She just stood there, looking at him steadily. He couldn't tell whether she was angry or hurt or frightened at his presence. Even her body language gave away nothing he recognised. He could hardly believe this was the same witch who had kissed him so passionately yesterday night! She looked like a statue. And yet it was something he was unfortunately familiar with, and the frustration that had been building up all day spilt over.

'You can't hide from me forever, Lily!' An unmistakeable note of desperation laced his angry words, and they echoed loudly in the empty classroom.

'Hide from you?'

'You know what I mean!' With a few strides he crossed the classroom till he stood before her, his simmering rage now barely under control. 'Don't start that again!'

'Start what?' Startled green-blue eyes looked up at him from a wan face.

'Pretend nothing ever happened! Pretend I don't exist; try to forget me!'

'I'm pretending nothing of the sort!' Lily cut across him, her voice raised in sudden anger, 'I was waiting for you!'

Severus shut up, taken completely by surprise.

'I left you a sign!' Lily continued tersely, indicating the bluebell flames.

Severus' anger dissipated completely. Now that he was close to her, he could see that her hand, as it indicated the bluebell flames, was trembling slightly, and she looked nervous and weary as well as angry. But there was something else – something he recognised immediately, now that he was close to her: there was hurt in those eyes turned so accusingly onto him.

His eyes slid shut, and he let his breath out in a silent sigh. How was he going to even begin to explain? This wasn't going as planned – not that he actually planned anything, but certainly he didn't want to start by shouting at her. He stood in awkward silence for a few seconds then:

'Look, Lily,' he started 'I know what you heard may have sounded –'

But she stopped him with one whispered question:

'Why, Sev, why?'

Her voice quivered and her eyes were sparkling with unshed tears. What she must have intended as a tone of righteous anger had completely deserted her, and what came through instead was the intensity of her disillusionment.

At that moment, Severus would have preferred her to be angry with him – even a tone of cold indifference - anything rather than the raw hurt he could sense in her words. It was worse than he imagined – he thought she might have understood what made him approach Voldemort yesterday night, but apparently he'd done nothing but lose her trust completely.

He could hardly believe it was only yesterday that she told him 'I trust you' before placing her hand in his.

He swallowed drily. 'I know it looked bad, Lily, but I had no other choice, and I had to act quickly. I had to go to him - the Dark Lord is a great Legilimens,' he started, speaking firmly, for Lily had to see he had nothing to hide, 'and Lupin would've –'

'I know, I know,' Lily interrupted, with a touch of impatience 'Remus wouldn't have resisted You-know-who's assault in his mind and he would've given the game away, so you stunned him. Though perhaps, if you hadn't tied him up in the first place, he wouldn't have found him!'

'Is this about Remus Lupin?!'

'I'm just saying –'

'Look, I tied him up back in the cave because he would've never let me follow you! And I wasn't about to let Lupin do something stupid, as he seemed to have every intention of doing. Lily, I had no idea the Dark Lord was on Ben Cόrhveinn , too!'

She looked at him in silence, her eyes gleaming large and dark in the dim blue light.

'And – and I had to tell him about a plot, Lily. When the Dark Lord said he knew about Earth Magic and about its presence in that mountain cave, I knew it is what he expected to hear. I knew he would invade my mind and I –' he gave a small sigh 'I only dared let him see something that could plausibly be true or half-true. Anything else, and he wouldn't believe me.'

'So you just let him see Remus and Mendrick.'

'It was already too late for Lupin. And as for Mendrick, I suspected the Dark Lord knew him, since he said he was long familiar with Ben Cόrhveinn and its magic, even though the mountain refused him entry. So when he entered my mind I let him see Mendrick, alone, raving wildly in the chamber, knowing that not even he would decipher the strange language, much less Lupin.'

'So you think he would've let Remus go, just like that?! He would've killed him, Severus!'

'Did you have any better idea, at the time?'

She shook her head slowly.

'I did the best I could. Those Standing Stones were some sort of magical shield – there was no other way. So yes, the Dark Lord would've been angry to find someone conspiring against him – who wouldn't, under the circumstances? But if the Dark Lord didn't kill that bloody bastard, Potter, he wouldn't have killed Lupin, either! Even after Potter defied him and was stupid enough to get himself caught, he didn't kill him. On the contrary, -.'

'He's a Pureblood!'

Severus looked at Lily closely. Her chin jutted out angrily, and her brows were furrowed.

'What does that have to do with anything?'

'A lot and nothing. Voldemort –'

'Don't say his name!'

'Taboos have no effect at Hogwarts.'

'How can you be sure?'

'I - I just am,' she retorted 'Dumbledore wouldn't allow it. At least this is one place where You-know-who can't plant his sordid little spells wherever and on whomsoever he likes!'

Severus said nothing. Lily stood before him with her arms crossed, angrier than she'd been since he entered the room. What in Merlin's name did she mean by that? Why was she still so angry? He explained why he'd acted that way yesterday – he'd risked his life for her, trying to keep everyone's mind from being read, especially after that fool Potter had burst in upon the scene… Had the truth been discovered, he, Severus, would have borne the brunt of the Dark Lord's displeasure more than anyone else on the mountaintop, for he was the only one who was actually betraying Voldemort at that time! And all this because of her. He couldn't understand why she looked so flushed with anger now, and why she wouldn't look at him. After all, she herself admitted that she'd had no better idea at the time, so what else was she blaming him for? Was it just the shock of seeing him talk to the Dark Lord? The way she spoke when she asked him if he was branded with the Dark Mark, made him suspect it. That was a rather unfair overreaction, even if she disagreed with Voldemort's policies.

The silence spiralled uncomfortably between them as he racked his brain for clues. Lily's head was bent over her crossed arms and she was prodding a broken Muggle fountain-pen on the floor angrily back and forth with her shoe.

'Is it because you think the Dark Lord is only interested in Purebloods?' he asked, going back to her odd remark.

Lily did not answer him, but the increased tenseness around her hunched shoulders and the savage rolling back and forth of the plastic remnants of the fountain-pen indicated she had heard him.

'Because it's not true,' he continued 'the Dark lord is interested in preserving magic, where that magic deserves to be preserved.'

Lily had stopped the worrying motion with her foot and stood perfectly still now, her head bent so that her hair covered her face. Her stillness was unnatural –like the calm before the storm, and it unnerved Severus. For the first time, he put out his hand to touch her arm.

'Lily, I know you don't want to hear propaganda speeches – so what's wrong!?'

Lily jumped away from his touch as though burnt, and when she looked up at him, he could tell, even in the dim light, that her cheeks were flushed angrily, though her eyes glistened betrayingly.

'Oh no, on the contrary, please do go on' she said in an unnaturally high voice, 'I would love to hear what your master has in mind for 'your red-headed Muggleborn friend' – that's what Voldemort called me, didn't he? I do not intend that you should give up on that Muggleborn witch' he told you. Not now that I can be soon be so useful to him – that our Combined magic can be so useful to him. Merlin, Severus, how could you?!'

Severus; face had drained of all colour. 'I – I thought you knew by now … that you realised...' he said, in a barely audible voice, 'That – that Christmas day, when that wandless spell revealed everything, you saw- you said you saw the Dark Lord and I – '

'I felt – not saw. It was a Legilimency of feelings, remember? I felt your admiration for Voldemort, I felt your sense of urgency and fear about a secret plan that involved me– I just did not know the details. I thought it was just a plan to get me to join forces with him, but I never imagined you'd go and tell Voldemort about our combined magic. It was our secret, Sev!'

'No – No, Lily you've got it all wrong!'

'Got it all wrong?! Got it all wrong?!' Lily's voice rose shrilly and she started pacing back and forth angrily, words tumbling out of her mouth like she couldn't say them fast enough, 'I was there, Severus, there, on that damned mountain, hearing every word! Long ago, you swore me to secrecy about the nature of our magic, and yet you go and tell him! Voldemort!' Her voice echoed loudly in the empty classroom and she flashed him an enraged look.

'Lily-' but Severus couldn't get a word in edgewise.

'I had suspected it, of course,' she cut across him, speaking fast and furiously '– why else would a Pureblood supremacist like You-Know-Who be interested in a Mudblood like me? But I was too damn blind to want to believe what I suspected! I was too ...' her voice quivered momentarily 'damn it all, Severus, how could you use me like this?'

'I didn't! I –'

'You did! I'm a means to an end for you! Voldemort sees in me – in us and our magic – a Death Eater weapon! And you offered me up to him!' Lily's eyes flashed dangerously, 'What's he giving you in return? A career? A rank your half-blood status doesn't entitle you to? Or – or something more sordid? What did he promise you?'

'Your life!' Severus shouted vehemently, grabbing her by the shoulders, 'Bloody hell, can't you see -?!'

But the instant he touched her, Lily pushed him away forcefully with both hands 'You're lying!' she choked.

Severus didn't answer her. He let out a stifled gasp of pain, having been caught off-guard by her action. He closed his eyes and clutched his chest, not daring even to breathe as the searing pain from his ribcage shot through his chest.

When he opened his eyes again, Lily was looking up at him with wide, horrified eyes, hands clamped round her mouth.

'God, Sev – he tortured you! He tortured you for letting James Potter get away!' the muffled words from behind her hands were no longer angry. If anything, they were tinged with guilt and something akin to pity.

The latter was always sure to elicit a prickly reaction from Severus.

'No, he didn't!' he bit out tersely, holding his chest, for breathing was painful 'You jump so easily to the bloody wrong conclusions where it suits you! The broken bones are a gift from Potter himself, so don't drag the Dark Lord into it!'

Lily said nothing but let her hands fall limply by her side, her expression wary, but not angry anymore. But he certainly was. Very Angry. Not only because he hated betraying any weakness – especially one inflicted by Potter – in front of her, but also because her words had cut to the quick. He had been through hell and back for her, yet she only saw him (as she did that first time in the cave) selling her out to Voldemort. He saw her eyes travel to his chest, her hands fidgeting nervously until she quelled them by the simple expedient of crossing her arms.

Scowling, he straightened up, taking his arm off his chest and ignoring the pain, which had settled to a steady throb around his sternum.

'W- when you said You-Know-Who promised you my life,' Lily started, not quite meeting his eyes 'What did you mean, exactly?'

There it was. The question he knew he should not answer.

'The Dark Lord swore me to secrecy.'

'You told me you were sworn to secrecy when I asked you what it was you feared last June. Is it him you fear, then?'

'No, it is not. It is for you I fear, Lily.'

'Secrecy be damned! It's too late now. What did he promise you, Severus?!'

He knew she was trying to harden her voice. Trying to find something to hate, perhaps. Or expecting to hear something to hate. Suddenly he felt incredibly weary.

'He promised me your life as you know it,' he said, 'In the Magic world, not the Muggle one.'

'My magic, in return for my soul.'

'Don't be melodramatic!'

'I'm not. You didn't ask anything for yourself, you asked You-Know-Who for my status in his ranks... You thought the day would come when I'd be grateful for it, and –'

'I didn't think that the day would come – I know that the day will come. Not when you'll be grateful,' he added with a bitter laugh, 'I can see that will never happen, but I know that the Dark Lord will win this war, and you'll need protection.'

'Protection?! Protection by persuading me to join that snake-faced, evil ...' Lily paused, for words seemed to fail her 'How could you ever think I would ever use my magic – our magic – for his purposes?! How could you ever think I'd be persuaded?!' she paused and buried her face in her trembling hands for a second, 'Merlin, but you did come close, at one point!' When she looked at him again, there was just a forlorn kind of puzzlement her eyes 'Why did you do it?' she repeated her question from earlier.

'It was the best solution, under the circumstances.'

'Circumstances you created.'

Severus stifled a sigh his sore ribcage couldn't cope with.

'Perhaps I have. I don't know,' he passed his hand wearily over his face. 'It was my idea to use Combined Magic that day by the sea, after all. That's when it happened – during that storm in Asby-St-Cuthberts. But it's not what you think, Lily - I never told the Dark Lord about our Combined Magic. The Dark Lord saw us. He recognised our Shared Magic for what it was when we used it to stun that Giant. He even knew we had used Combined Magic to stop the Cursed Clouds during that storm. He knew about the existence of Shared Magic, just as yesterday he knew about that obscure Earth Magic. He knows everything!'

As he spoke, Lily's expression became more stricken, and she was looking at him with one hand to her mouth, her eyes wide as she realised what he was saying.

'You didn't tell him… Oh, God, Sev, I – I didn't know,' she said in a tremulous voice 'I had forgotten -I didn't think he could've seen us!'

Her hand came out as though to touch him, but she stopped half way, as though thinking better of it, and pulled it back.

'What happened?' she whispered, her eyes fixed on his face.

'He summoned me. The Dark Lord is passionate about magic in all its obscure and myriad forms. You heard him yesterday. Ours is a rare and unusual skill. He wanted me to find out more...'

'Why didn't you refuse? Why did you go to him in the first place? That was the first time you met Voldemort face-to-face, I gather?

Severus said nothing but stared at her in exasperation – everything was so black-and-white for Lily, so simple, so Gryffindorian death-in-defiance! Couldn't she see the myriad consequences of one single careless action? One single mistake.

'I didn't know why he wanted to speak to me, although I had my fears. But besides that, I did not want to pass up the opportunity to speak to the greatest wizard of our time. You know what I think about it and I don't want to repeat it!'

He ended rather harshly - too harshly. Lily started, and her eyes glistened with tears. Fuck. He didn't mean to be so brutal about it, but he couldn't understand her extreme abhorrence – especially now she knew the Dark Lord had been so accommodating in her regards.

'I – I can understand why you didn't want to refuse Voldemort's instructions,' Lily said, taking in a deep breath, 'I imagine he threatened you, didn't he?'

She was trying to meet him half-way. He tried to control the bitterness in his voice.

'No, he didn't. But someone else did,' he started, pacing the room restlessly, 'Look, Lily – apart from magical skill, the Dark Lord appreciates loyalty – inordinately so: he does not tolerate traitors, and I've seen for myself his anger when betrayed. It's terrible to behold. I guess it's his one fault –' Lily gave him a look that clearly indicated she disagreed with the 'one' fault, and would probably have supplied a list of others, but Severus continued quickly before she could say anything, 'Given that he's a great Legilimens, he's almost always sure of the loyalty of those closest to him, and, as I said, he seems to know everything.'

He stopped his pacing and turned to face Lily. 'Or almost everything...'

Lily looked at him questioningly.

'He doesn't know about ... us,' he said, quietly.

'The leer on his face when he spoke about us having a 'falling out' tells a different story.'

'Yes, that's the way he saw our 'friendship' and I let him believe it: - an unimportant, but mutually convenient, teenage lust, with side-benefits for the war effort...' Severus moved a couple of paces to stand squarely in front of Lily 'But that's not what I meant, when I said the Dark Lord doesn't know about us... Lily ... look at me.'

Lily's head was bent, her dark hair throwing her face in blue-black shadow and her arms were tightly wrapped around herself. Surely she couldn't have forgotten? Surely she still remembered when their souls had been magically merged together, that one Christmas afternoon, that what he felt for her – what they felt for one another – was far beyond the pale of what Voldemort – or anyone else – could imagine, and there was no way they could have hidden or lied about it. He had thought, perhaps, that over this past year it had dimmed, but yesterday, in the Raven's cavern, he had seen it was still as strong as ever.

Lily still hadn't moved. Severus' heart fluttered uncomfortably in his chest and he moved closer to her, bending his head to try and see her expression beneath her shadowing hair.

'You know what I mean, don't you?' he whispered.

Then throwing caution to the wind, he placed his hand around her face, tilting it up. He half-expected she'd jump away again or slap his hands away, but when her eyes came up to meet his there was a single tear quivering on her lashes.

'Yes,' she said.

Her tone was firm, but there was so much sadness concentrated in that tiny little word, that it took Severus by surprise. He took his hand away, puzzled and worried at this sudden change.

'I – I was threatened,' he started, not knowing what to say 'Someone suspected there was more to our friendship than meets the eye, and that I would do anything – anything – to keep you safe, and away from it all, and –' he stopped, for the single tear that had trembled on her lashes now trickled slowly down her cheek, yet still she remained silent, large sad eyes gazing up at him.

He sighed, remembering how Mulciber's threats had seemed so real then – coming soon after he'd witnessed the unfortunate traitor Prewitts' gruesome death at Bellatrix's hands.

'The Dark Lord was to be told that my loyalty lies with you and not with him, and I believed it would ruin everything then, for I'd hoped, given that he knew of our Combined Magic, that it would be that self-same magic that would guarantee your safety. But I was threatened with betrayal, and that others would use harsh methods to coerce you into joining. I just didn't know how far the threats were true...'

'Why didn't you tell me?'

'I was sworn to secrecy, but more than that, I knew that anything I told you will be known to Dumbledore, and from him, to the Order members and possibly others. They would want to use our skills too. Our secret would be whispered far and wide and come back to the ears of he who had first demanded it.'

'I wouldn't have told Dumbledore, if you didn't want me to.'

'You don't need to. He's a Legilimens. Your mind is an open book for him. There are few wizards skilled in that art, and Dumbledore's one of them, as is the Dark Lord. Yesterday on Ben Cόrhveinn you've seen how dangerous it is! It can vary from a subtle intrusion into your mind that you're not even aware of, to something – something-'

'- something that leaves you bleeding and senseless. Yes, I saw. Voldemort did that to you! Dumbledore would never be so cruel!'

'Dumbledore will do exactly the same thing! He has his own private agenda for this war and for those students involved in it – only he does it nicely, with sugar-coated Legilimency and lemon sherbets!'

'Dumbledore's the most upright, kind and honest wizard in the world!' Lily's expression had hardened as soon as he said those words about Dumbledore (and he knew he had absolutely no hard evidence for saying what he did: it was just a feeling he got when looking into those twinkling blue eyes), 'I know you don't trust him, but the Headmaster would never hurt me, or any other student, even if the earth depended upon it!'

'Listen to me – yesterday, in that Standing Stone Circle, I was at my wits' end trying to keep everybody's mind from being read, especially when Potter turned up. Even you can't deny how dangerous Legilimency is! Even this conversation is dangerous – it can be dredged out of your mind so easily...'

'I – I don't want to get you into trouble, Sev, whatever you may think.'

'Bloody hell, this isn't about me – this is about you! Yesterday, you were a hair's breadth away from being discovered! You've got to be more careful. Legilimency is the most powerful, yet most underestimated, of all magic arts! You ... you should learn Occlumency.'

'What?'

'Occlumency – then you can protect yourself from Dumbledore, and – and the Dark Lord. I- ' he threw out his hands in a helpless gesture 'I don't know what else to do: sooner or later you will appear in front of both one and the other, and -'

'I can't learn Occlumency!'

'Why ever not?'

'I – I don't think I'll be any good. I don't think I will be able to look at Voldemort so calmly like you did when he read your mind and left you bleeding! I – I don't think I'm able to close off my mind like that! But I'm...' her eyes flickered up to his '...I'm glad you did, Sev. For everyone's sake.'

He shook his head slowly. 'I did it for you.'

'I know,' she answered sadly, 'I know you don't care about the others.'

'I don't care about many 'others'. But the particular ones you're referring to, have already tried to kill me once - worse than kill me - so excuse me for not tearing my hair out over their fate! You, on the other hand...'

He fell silent, for the words that had hovered on his lips were threatening to choke him up. If anything happened to her...

'You, on the other hand,' he spoke more gently and placed his hands on her shoulders, leaning closer so she could see the sincerity in his eyes 'mean everything to me. Do you remember my Boggart?'

She blinked, then nodded slowly, her eyes never leaving his face. 'There was a dark-haired witch at first...she resembled your mother.'

'My Great-Aunt. She was unwittingly embroiled in a dark story and sacrificed in a gruesome ritual the night Severus Prince killed himself. I saw this memory in Madeira's pensieve. The scene haunted my dreams for some time because it bore parallels to what was threatening to happen to you. The Boggart picked on that.'

He felt the warm shoulders twitch beneath his hands.

'I thought I was the Blood sacrifice in a Death Eater ritual,' she said 'I was wrong, wasn't I?'

'That Blood Sacrifice ritual pre-dated Death Eaters by many years. The Boggart picks on your worst fears – and your death was my worst fear, Lily.'

His hands involuntarily tightened round her shoulders as the image of the Boggart Lily came before his minds eyes, arms outstretched in a sacrificial position, dark blood oozing from a wound over her heart. He felt her tremble beneath his tightening hands.

'Your death is still my worst fear' he murmured grimly 'Yesterday proved it, for you came close.'

'So did you, Sev, and – and I'm sorry I was the cause of it, and I ...' she blinked rapidly '... I didn't know. I just didn't know about the threats. I didn't know what you were facing. I just thought you didn't trust me.'

'I tried to keep you out of all of it, Lily, but it just got so impossibly complicated after the Dark Lord found out about our Shared Magic...'

'So yesterday, you offered yourself up to Voldemort instead of me,' Lily's voice trembled slightly and the shiny trail of the tear-streak still glistened on her cheek 'But was that the only reason, Severus? When you offered Voldemort your loyalty and your skills – you meant that too, didn't you?'

There it was - a question the answer to which would push her away from him. It had done so before, and it would again, for he could change that answer even less now, than when she had first heard him utter his intentions to be loyal to Voldemort.

He fell silent and let his hands fall from her shoulders. Lily's face crumpled and another tear slid down her cheek as she found her answer in the anguished silence echoing between them.

'It's not so easy ... Look, I'm in too deep anyway!'

'So you told me last June! But you're not, Sev!' there was a note of desperation in her voice as she suddenly grabbed his hand and drew it to her, pushing his sleeve up. It was his left arm. 'You're not marked yet! You don't belong to him!'

'So who should I belong to then? There are only two sides to this war, Lily – you're either on one side or the other. Not joining either side is a coward's option, and I won't do it! I admit the Dark Lord's plans and ideals are far from perfect: whose ideas ever were, in all wizarding history? But at least he's trying to change things, while the Ministry's only trying to stifle and destroy magic through mismanagement and sheer incompetence. How can I ever side with them? How can I ever want to go back to this?' he swung his arms around, indicating the many pictures and posters of mundane Muggle life that hung on the classroom walls.

Lily gave a cursory glance at the pictures of bare light bulbs, vacuum cleaners, drills and typewriters that hung on the Muggle Studies classroom walls, and when her eyes returned to him there was an understanding look in them. Too understanding. She knew exactly what kind of Muggle place he did not want to go back to. She had seen it. He looked away, feeling his cheeks burn with shame. She probably thought his background had affected his choices. Well, it had, but only in part. There were other reasons. Besides, his choices had been forced onto him prematurely - almost before he realised he had any choice at all. It was so unfair! Why were things always so hopelessly complicated for him? But the prickling of a rising anger disappeared completely by Lily's next words:

'You asked who you should belong to...' Lily was saying. He dragged his eyes back to her and found her looking up at him sadly. 'Yesterday, in that cave, I thought that perhaps I could answer that question for you. I thought the answer to that question could've been...well, could've been me.' Her voice quivered slightly but her eyes, their pupils large and dark in the dim light, were fixed unwaveringly on his, 'silly, I suppose, but in that cave everything seemed... different. Everything seemed possible, somehow.'

'Everything still is! I meant every word I said then, Lily. I...' He paused, his hands itching to reach out and hold her to him. To show her he'd do anything, anything, for her. He had sworn to himself last June, that he would never ever again beg forgiveness or plead with her or anyone else ever again. But his resolve, as her eyes looked up at him so beseechingly, was fast dissolving. There was an unspoken plea in her eyes, and a desperate kind of hope she was trying to hide.

It would be so easy to tell her that from now on he'd have nothing more to do with Voldemort and his Death Eaters. It was so beguilingly tempting – he could feel his resolve wavering...

He'd do anything to have those eyes light up at the words she so wanted to hear from him. She'd be so happy...he'd let her convince herself she'd 'saved' him from Voldemort, and she'd fly into his arms, she'd kiss him, she'd make him as happy as he'd never, in his wildest dreams, imagined he could be.

But she'd be dead. Just like his Boggart.

He took a deep breath and took her hand in his, holding it between his own in an unconscious gesture of fealty.

'I do already belong to you, Lily,' he murmured 'whether you believe me or not, and whether you trust me or not, now. But if something ever happened to you because of my own selfish desires...'

'Remember my Boggart, Severus?' her hand trembled slightly in his 'It was myself in a Death Eater mask. Not that I can ever be a Death Eater, given my blood status, but as a collaborator: it's far more possible than I even dare admit to myself. Yet I hate it! I hate it and I hate what I would become! I would not even recognise myself and neither would you. That's why I wanted to speak to you today. That's why I waited in here for you.'

She gently extricated her hand from his and took a step backwards.

'I – I knew it wouldn't be easy. And now it's even worse…' she continued. Her voice quivered and she buried her face in her hands, overcome with emotion.

'I would never want to change you, Lily- ' he started, staring, confused, at her bent head.

He took a step towards her but she wiped her eyes fiercely with the back of her hand and shook her head.

'I want you to stay away from me, Severus,' Lily did not speak angrily or even warningly. Her voice had a kind of pleading hopelessness to it. 'I – I don't think I'm strong enough to do it myself anymore. I found that out the hard way,' She lifted her head and he saw tears welling in her eyes, 'I know it's a strange request, …and – and contradictory, but if you ...' the tears spilled over '...if you care about me, than please don't come near me. I can't keep up the pretence of ignoring you, I cannot. Not anymore. We're each other's worst nightmares as it is, and it can only lead to grief. I ...I just...Please, Sev.'

He subconsciously reached out for her, but she took a step backwards, hugging herself tightly.

Horrified and desperate, Severus said the only thing he thought might stop the direction this was going.

'Look – I- I'll change, if that's what you want! I'll do anything. I'll think of a way to get out of this mess!'

'You don't really mean that. You know you don't. And I can't, Sev, I just can't now- There's something I need to do first. Something I need to figure out for myself. I need time. It was James who –'

She stopped as though she had said too much. But the name felt like a cold shower to Severus.

''James'?!'

'James Potter. He – he did something that has me wondering whether there's more to him than- ' Lily spoke hesitantly, as though she knew whatever said would anger him.

She was bloody well right, it did!

'So you're on first-name basis now? You must've had a cosy trip down the mountain with 'James'. Bet he said he saved you, too.'

'Well, he did. The voices in my head died with Mendrick's death, but it triggered another funny turn. James Potter ensured I got back to Hogwarts safely, and –'

'Did he ask you out again? Is this what all this is about?! D'you need more time to think of your answer?'

His temper, never easily under control where Potter was concerned, but even more so where Potter and Lily were concerned, was already rising in choking waves, threatening to overwhelm him. This conversation was going nightmarishly wrong and as usual, it was Potter who tipped the balance.

'No, it isn't! He didn't ask me out! And even if he did, d'you think I could accept, after ...after yesterday? I know you saved me too, more than once and in an even more risky situation. I'm not belittling what you did. But why are you so unreasonable, where James is concerned?!'

'I am unreasonable, you're right! But you're also calling Potter 'James' and implying there's more to him than an arrogant bastard!'

'That's because I –' But Lily stopped.

'What more is there to him, Lily?'

But Lily wouldn't look him squarely in the eyes. She looked sideways and at her shoes and everywhere else. She was never a good liar. She was hiding something.

'Remus Lupin resigned his Prefectship today,' Lily said, finally.

'Why? What does that have to do with anything?'

'His reasons are his own, but Professor McGonagall called a meeting for us Prefects to see who to delegate Remus' responsibilities to, and I suggested James Potter.'

'What!?'

'I thought being Prefect might make him more responsible. I think that way he'll stop being an immature, arrogant arse and start behaving better.' Lily lifted her head and stared defiantly at him. Now she was telling the truth. 'McGonagall agreed. I haven't seen James since yesterday, but I'm told he did not take the news well. I spoiled his fun, I guess,' she attempted a half-hearted laugh.

'So is Potter's future as Prefect the reason why you need more time to think?'

Lily didn't answer him this time and wouldn't look at him either. What was she hiding?

'Bloody hell, Lily, did you hear what I've told you? Did you hear what I'll do for you? What d'you mean you need time to think? Don't you trust me anymore?'

The frightened look in her eyes answered his question. She did not believe him. And she did not trust him. There was something she was hiding and she did not trust him with it. He would put his hand on fire that it was something Potter had told her. He had gone so far as to foreswear his principles for her. And he'd done it against his better judgement, for, in the long run, he knew the repercussions would be on both their heads. But still, he told her he'd change – anything not to have that distance come back between them again.

A distance she was asking him to observe.

A black pall of helpless rage filled him – he should never have given in. He should have stuck to what he had promised himself. He had let his heart deceive him, and humiliation, as well as rage, threaded its way through the anger. She saw his reaction and put out a tentative hand.

'Sev, I –'

But he was already backing away from her and making his way to the door that led to the corridor outside.

'Perhaps we should never have looked for a way out of that bloody cave!' he muttered, not quite managing to disguise the anguish in his voice.

It was a stupid thing to say, but at that moment, Severus Snape didn't give a damn. Without another word, he went through the door and into the darkness beyond.