Chapter 16 – Goodbye to Hogwarts

The Headmaster's office was full of rustles and clicks from the devices that filled it, and the occasional snore or snuffle from a portrait. But these little sounds only emphasised the library-like quiet. It was an intent, listening quiet. Albus Dumbledore sat in the midst of it all, writing with a splendid phoenix feather quill. He bent low over his work and frowned when there was a knock at the door.

After a minute, the knock came again, and this time Dumbledore sighed and tutted with exasperation. 'Come in,' he called curtly, not looking up from his work.

The door opened and Horace Slughorn sidled in. For such a large man, he was trying very hard to look small. He looked across at his employer, as if willing him to glance up. Dumbledore did not. Eventually Slughorn cleared his throat, and when that failed, said, 'Um… Albus?'

'Yes, Horace?' Dumbledore's voice was cold and flat. He might as well have said 'go away.'

But Slughorn was not put off. 'Albus, I need to talk to you.'

Still the Headmaster did not look up or cease his writing. 'Can't it wait?'

'I… no, no it can't. I need to talk to you quite urgently. This is important, it's important Albus.' Slughorn's voice was picking up, getting louder as his confidence grew. 'I must talk to you now…'

Dumbledore sighed so deeply it was as though every disappointment from his ninety five years of life had been put into that exhalation. He lay down the quill very slowly, and raised his eyes to his colleague. 'What is it, Horace?' He waved his hand towards the chair in front of his desk.

Slughorn moved to the chair and sat nervously, on the edge of the seat. His hands plucked at his robes, and he did not look Dumbledore in his face. 'Albus… I have concerns… grave concerns… about the situation… that is to say, the circumstances. Not that we can be sure… but given what has happened… lessons from history and all that… I know you can't believe everything you read of course…'

'Horace, I do not have time for you to talk in riddles. Say what you need to say, or come back when you are feeling more coherent.' The ice in Dumbledore's tone would have surprised those who saw him as a twinkly old man with a liking for lemon drops.

Taking a deep breath, Slughorn pulled himself together with a visible effort. 'Albus, you know what is happening out there.' He waved a hand that could have indicated anywhere from the staircase outside to the world as whole. 'Pureblood elitism, Muggle baiting on the rise. This Dark Lord… You-Know-Who-'

'Voldemort. He calls himself Voldemort,' broke in Dumbledore helpfully.

'Yes, him. He is gaining followers all the time. People who buy into his beliefs, even if they don't agree with all the killing. There are plenty who think that these things are worth a couple of murders, as long as they don't have to commit them. Anyway, this… Dark Lord, he has charisma. He can present a very charming face. If he is… who you think he is – which I'm not saying he is, mind! – then that person was very personable.'

'He would not be the first psychopath to be able to charm people when it suits him. Clearly he has many followers. I am still waiting for you to make your point.' Dumbledore began to toy with the quill, as though barely able to contain the urge to return to his work.

'Our students are at risk,' blurted Slughorn, causing Dumbledore to pause and look up at the Potions Master. Seeing he had the great man's attention, Slughorn tried to capitalise by talking very fast. 'Vulnerable young men and women, who feel aggrieved. Even those who don't. They are getting sucked in, and once they join, they can never leave. The brightest and best students, Albus!'

'Your favoured few, you mean?'

'Never mind who favours or doesn't favour them! They are young, so young. Vulnerable to grand ideas and hopeless causes! Carried away with their passions and unable to realise the grave consequences their decisions may have! Albus, we must do something. For some it is too late, but there are others we could yet help – redirect.'

Dumbledore steepled his fingers and gazed levelly at Slughorn. If the teacher's words had alarmed him, he showed little sign of it. 'Well, that is good news indeed, Horace. I presume you will go about 'redirecting' them, in that case.' He picked up his quill again.

'No!' gasped Slughorn, trying to grab back Dumbledore's attention. 'Albus… I can't… it won't work. He is very powerful, very captivating. I can only do so much, they won't listen to me.'

'You mean you are too deeply indebted to those who follow Voldemort to be seen to actively campaign against him,' said Dumbledore coldly.

Slughorn blanched at this. 'I wouldn't put it like that,' he blustered. 'It's just… well, I am just 'old Sluggy' to them; they see me in classes every other day, they won't pay any heed to me. Not compared to some dark, shadowy stranger. He has… glamour. I can't compete with that. Familiarity breeds contempt, you know.'

'How convenient for you. So what do you propose is done, then Horace? To 'redirect' these poor vulnerable souls who so accidentally fall in with Voldemort upon leaving school?'

The Potions Master took a deep breath. 'As I say, my word is unlikely to have much impact on them. But if you were to intercede, Albus – not a lot, just if you took a bit of interest in them – well, I think that might make all the difference. They look up to you, Albus, they respect you. Already the Prophet is saying you are the only person that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named fears. If you were to take a little time to mentor those at most risk, steer them away from those aspects of his philosophy…' he trailed off, looking hopeful.

Dumbledore's frown deepened. 'You say you care deeply for these students, but yet you cannot bring yourself to help them. You would have me do the job instead. If indeed I am the only one that Voldemort fears, don't you think there are more worthwhile things I could be doing than 'mentoring' the students that you are too ineffectual to impress?' The angry scorn in Dumbledore's voice was enough to cause Slughorn to shrink back in his seat.

The Headmaster continued, 'No, Horace. Youare a Hogwarts Professor of many years' standing, you are the Head of Slytherin house. I am employing you to care for the students, to guide them, to instil appropriate values in them. You spend so much time handpicking and grooming these 'favourites' of yours, if you cannot influence them, I very much doubt that I would be able to. I am sorry Horace, but if you believe your students are at risk of radicalisation, it is up to you to do something about it.'

Slughorn spluttered for a moment or two, then became abject. 'Please, Albus. I am begging you. Not for my sake, but for theirs. You can punish me all you like for being an old fool, but don't punish them because you disapprove of my Slug Club. They are good children, Albus. So much promise, so much talent, I can't bear to see it go to waste! I can't bear to see them fall in with Him…'

'Then do something about it,' said Dumbledore shortly. 'You have a choice, as do they. Which is more than those innocent Muggles that fall prey to Voldemort's Death Eaters have. There is no reason other than your own dislike of difficult conversations not to 'intercede' as you put it. And if these children are so 'good' then why are they choosing to join forces with Voldemort, knowing full well the atrocities committed in his name?'

'Choice? You talk about choice as though you yourself have never made a bad one! Besides, what choice do some of these children have, really? You've seen how families like the Blacks treat their offspring when they digress in even the smallest ways from their ideals!'

Dumbledore was unmoved. 'Horace, you are mistaking a difficult choice for no choice. Now, this conversation is at an end. I expect you to support your students in making good choices, and no, I will not be doing it for you. Do shut the door on your way out.'

Still spluttering into his moustache, Slughorn left the room defeated.

After Lucius' near-escape, Severus determined to learn everything there was to know about medi-magic. Lucius treated this obsession with an indulgent amusement, as though Severus was a small child going through a fad. He seemed to suffer no long lasting effects from his wounds, and was remarkably unworried about future injury, shrugging off any suggestions it might happen again. 'I'm not normally front line,' he told Severus once. 'I was never a fan of duelling. My talents lie elsewhere.' He refused to be any more specific, and Severus had the feeling the older man enjoyed the power of being mysterious.

Back at Hogwarts for his final year, Severus was horrified to discover James Potter had been named Head Boy. 'Him? Head Boy?' he spat in disbelief to Regulus Black, who happened to be sitting opposite. He felt a wave of rage and hatred so strong he was nearly sick. 'How? How can he be Head Boy? The most determined rulebreaker… nearly bloody killed me…' he trailed off in incoherent fury.

Black, who had his own reasons for disliking Potter, merely pulled a face and speared a potato with unnecessary violence. 'Dumbledore likes him though, and that's all that counts in this school. It's just a stupid popularity contest.' He glanced around and added, 'We don't need that. There's only one person it really pays to be popular with these days.' He waggled his eyebrows, and Severus resisted the urge to growl with irritation.

But more worrying in Severus' eyes was the growing chumminess between Lily and Potter. At first he tried to deny the clues, mentally block them out, whilst at the same time desperately searching for more. He'd hoped that Lily might have had some concern for him since his dramatic collapse the year before, but she showed no sign of caring. Potter and Black did fainting impressions for a couple of weeks, until they tired of it. Fortunately they seemed to have also tired of the idea that Severus had murdered Happenstance. He told himself he didn't care about Potter or Lily, but it bothered him. It bothered him so much that sometimes he felt like he could hardly breathe from the unfairness of it all.

As if all that weren't enough, Slughorn was acting very strangely. He kept cornering Severus after classes and giving interminable lectures about how important Muggle rights were and how he should select his own path in life. 'Have you given any further thought to your eventual career?' the Professor asked one day in what he probably thought was an offhand way. Severus was tempted to say 'Death Eater' just to see the look on the old man's face.

'Healer,' he replied. 'I want to be a Healer.'

'Well! That's excellent, excellent!' cried Slughorn, wringing his hands over-excitedly. He probably thought that Healers couldn't be Death Eaters. 'Of course, I'll have a word in a couple of ears, see what can be arranged. Maybe I'll ask Caspar Merriweather along to the next Slug Club get-together. Now you will come, won't you? Perhaps you could start re-forging your friendship with Miss Evans. Such a lovely girl, don't you think? It's high time you two made up.'

'Tell her that,' muttered Severus. 'She won't forgive me.'

Slughorn tutted to himself. 'Well, maybe I could talk to her. I know you didn't really mean what you said. You didn't, did you Severus? You're not really interested in all of this pureblood supremacy nonsense, are you?'

'My Dad's a Muggle,' said Severus shortly, not specifically answering the question.

'Of course he is, of course. One tends to forget.' Slughorn stroked his moustache. 'You're a good boy, Severus, a good boy. You just need the right influences. Yes, the right influences. I'll have a little word with Lily, see if I can make her understand. We all make mistakes, after all.'

Torn between the desire to cling onto any chance he was offered, and suspicion that Slughorn was only likely to make things worse, Severus said, 'It's very kind of you sir, but…'

'You don't want me to put my foot in it? Don't you worry, my boy. I can be very subtle when I want to. I won't even mention your name.' Slughorn was pleased with this ruse and went around beaming for the rest of the day. He was so jovial at dinner that McGonagall asked him what on earth he'd found to smile about. Most of the staff were sunk in gloom over the murder of some prominent Muggle rights activists the previous evening. Nevertheless, he replied cheerily, 'Ah, just a little matchmaking, Minerva. Playing cupid, if you will.'

'Not with the students I hope?' she said sharply. 'That's a very bad idea, Horace. Nothing good can possibly come of it.'

But he didn't even hear her words of warning. He had seen a way forward, a way to make things right in his little world. He was never happier when shaping the lives of his special young people. A word here, a nudge there, a whisper in the right ear, a delicate suggestion, and then sit back and watch it all fall into place. That was what he was best at! He'd been doing it for years , after all. All this business with Death Eaters and that dreadful Riddle boy had shaken his confidence. He needed to get back in the saddle.

It was easy to corner Lily after the next Slug Club. She had a soft heart, and was always happy to help with the tidying away. And as it happened, he could see she wasn't entirely happy, which meant there might be a chink of weakness he could exploit. Once they'd finished stacking the tea things, he said very kindly, 'Now my dear, are you going to tell me what's wrong?'

Her hand flew to her mouth, as though to disguise the lie. 'Nothing's wrong, Professor.'

'Come now, I know you better than that. I know all my little Sluggies. Tell me what is troubling you.' He gave his biggest, most cosy smile, and sat down invitingly at the table.

She hesitated, then sat too. 'It isn't anything important, really. So many bad things are happening in the world. I don't… I mean my problems… they're not really problems, when you compare them…'

'We live in difficult times,' he said sorrowfully. 'But nevertheless, our own personal dilemmas do not wait quietly for matters in the wider world to resolve themselves. Now, if you'll forgive me for being so bold as to guess, I suspect this involves a young man. Am I right?'

The blush that rushed across her pretty freckled cheeks told him even before she spoke. 'Well yes. It does.'

He nodded sagely. 'I thought as much. And you don't know how you should feel about this young man? You're confused. Perhaps your head says one thing, but your heart another?'

Nodding in wonderment, she ventured to say, 'Is it that obvious?'

'Only to me, only to me. I see everything, my dear. There's nothing about my special few that I don't understand. Is it not my job to nurture you? Are you not the brightest hopes of tomorrow? So let me guess, with this young man there has been a… difficult past, shall we say? Some sort of unpleasantness.'

'Something like that,' she agreed.

'And you don't know whether you should forgive and forget, or continue to be wary?'

'What do you think I should do Professor?' she asked suddenly, the words spilling out as though a dam had burst. 'I don't know what the right thing would be. I'm scared of messing it up, and looking a fool, but then I'm scared that if I don't do something, it will be too late. He won't hang around forever.' She sighed heavily. 'Do you think people can change, Professor?'

'Yes, of course they can! Especially at your young age. Why, someone at fifteen is often an entirely different person from the same youth at seventeen! I can't tell you what to do,' he continued, in a voice that suggested he could and was about to. 'But I think you should give this boy a second chance. After all, what's the worst that can happen? If he lets you down again, then you can call it off. But I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.'

'Really?' She seemed to give his words some deep consideration, then her face lit up in a smile. 'Thank you, Professor! You've made me feel so much better.'

'Don't mention it, m'dear, don't mention it,' he murmured smugly.

Two days later at breakfast, Severus was hunched over the Prophet whilst spooning up cornflakes. He was reading an article about Muggle baiting, which was apparently now rife. An irate comment from Barty Crouch's father pointed out that Aurors were too busy investigating the murders and disappearances caused by Death Eaters to do much about biting teacups and cursed garden hoses.

He was vaguely aware of some sort of commotion amongst the girls around him, but paid no attention. They were always whispering about something or someone. He considered himself above all that. But then he heard a name that always got his attention; Lily Evans. He looked up sharply, to see three sixth years opposite him, all craning round towards the Gryffindor table. Unwilling to show too much overt interest, he edged along the bench, trying to see. Two Ravenclaws got up from their table and moved away, giving him a sudden unimpeded view.

The sight had a similar effect on him to being hit by an express train. He couldn't breathe, couldn't move. He stayed upright only because his body had frozen. The world seemed to spin around him, to blur, but it rotated around a fixed point that stayed horribly clear. And that fixed point was Lily, kissing James Potter. He didn't hear Black's gloating cry – 'Look at Snivellus!' None of it mattered.

A small group of Slytherins arrived at the breakfast table, and mercifully blocked his line of sight. Finally able to move again, Severus fled the hall, and didn't stop running until he reached his dorm. He flung himself face down on his bed, and stayed stubbornly in the Slytherin quarters until the evening of the next day, when Jones – eyeing him like a dangerous animal that might attack at any minute – brought him a summons from Professor Slughorn.

Unwashed, uncaring, Severus made his way to the teacher's office. 'You wanted to see me?' he asked, not even bothering with the 'sir'.

Slughorn had laid out tea things, with places set for two. He placed a meaty hand on Severus' shoulder, which the boy longed to shrug away. 'Severus, my boy. I hear you haven't attended classes for two days. Are you unwell?'

'I'm fine,' he said, through gritted teeth.

'Sit down, sit down. Have some tea? A bun? Now Severus, I know you might be a little upset…'

'A little upset?' Severus interrupted him. 'A little upset? You said you were going to sort things out with her! You said you'd make her forgive me. And now… now she's… she's…' he could barely force the words out from between his lips, 'going out with him.'

'Severus, I did my best. I did talk to her. I did try-'

'Oh, I bet you did!' Severus suddenly exploded. 'I bet you tried! It's your fault, isn't it? You went and said something that drove her to Potter!'

'My boy, you can't…'

But Severus was beside himself, and after destroying the room and raging about Time Turners, he stormed out. Despite Slughorn's entreaties, he refused to attend Slug Club again. Instead he spent hours in an empty dungeon, experimenting with potions and inventing spells designed to main, to hurt, to inflict pain to match what he felt inside. He scrawled them into his Advanced Potion Making textbook, writing 'For enemies,' against his favourite, a slashing spell. He tortured countless insects and flobberworms, imagining each was Potter.

It was a truly miserable year, all in all. Never overly interested in hygiene, he couldn't be bothered to bath at all, and his dorm-mates began making snide comments about the smell. He didn't care. He spent Christmas alone in Lucius' flat, tormented with thoughts of Lily and Potter decorating a tree together. He still nourished a small hope that Lily might tire of Potter, that they would break up and perhaps – just perhaps – she would resort to her old friend to console her. But every time he saw them, they were draped around each other.

Just before the NEWTS, he happened across them on his way back from Herbology. They were with a group of others, gathered around a tree watching Lupin and Pettigrew trying to coax down someone's cat. Lily was standing very close to Potter, leaning against his chest. As he watched, her hands crept down to fondle Potter's bottom. Cold sickening fury swept over him. Couldn't they keep their hands off each other, even in public? Did she think that was something to be proud of, to be seen touching another person's bum? Or was she so wrapped up in Potter that she didn't even know what she was doing, didn't even care what her actions looked like to others, how it might make them feel?

Up in the tree, Pettigrew was now edging along the bough to where the terrified cat was perching, all four legs rigid, claws sunk deep into the wood. Lupin, another branch down, was looking on uselessly. Black was lounging against the trunk, glancing up into the leaves and calling unhelpful advice. But Severus could see only Lily, only Potter, and his hand was whipping out his wand, his anger was intolerable – he was going to kill them, kill them both, kill them all.

Unable to push down the welling rage, he raised his wand to the luckless cat and threw his slashing curse with every bit of his might. The spell sliced through the air with a perceptible shimmer, the magic so powerful and so dark that the onlookers felt the hairs on the backs of their necks rise. Lily screamed as the full force of Sectumsempra hit the cat. The creature's head was sliced right off and tumbled down, catching amongst the branches. Blood spattered the indecently green leaves. Lily was gasping, saying 'Oh God, oh God,' and all he could feel was victory, that he'd done something to smash her smug little world.

Hogwarts had inadvertently taught Severus to be quick and stealthy. He dodged behind some bushes and made his way around the edge of the lake before the group had gathered their wits enough to look for the perpetrator. Their cries faded away as he doubled back to return by a different route. His heart was thumping, blood pounding in his ears, from shock at what he had done as much as anger now. But his face and breathing were calm, his eyes clear and untroubled. Severus carried his turmoil deep inside.

There was no evidence to link him to the crime, though that didn't stop Potter and Black doing their best to pin it on him. He was interviewed by Slughorn and McGonagall, both looking stern. 'Where were you at the time of the incident, Snape?' asked McGonagall, making notes with a quill. She had taken the cat's death rather personally, which he supposed he could understand given her Animagus form.

'When was this?' he asked casually.

'Shortly after the end of the fourth lesson, early in lunch break,' replied McGonagall curtly.

He took his time answering, affecting Lucius' supercilious manner. He would never quite equal his friend's languor, but he could do a good impersonation. 'Well… fourth lesson was Herbology, so I would have walked back from that – I was a little late leaving, I hadn't finished copying down my notes. Then I went straight back to lunch, I think – I can't remember if I dropped off my books or not, I think not.'

'So you didn't witness the incident?'

'It would appear not. In fact, I'm a little puzzled as to why I have been called here at all, since I was nowhere near at the time and know nothing about it.' He looked McGonagall dead in the eye.

She had the grace to appear a little uncomfortable. 'Mr Potter and Mr Black are under the impression you were somehow involved.'

'Oh I see, so if Potter and Black say so, it must be true. Tell me Professor, would you bring them here on my word? Since Potter and Black were both there at the time this occurred – and since they have a track record for – ah – 'pranks' that go horribly wrong, perhaps this is nothing more than a diversionary tactic to deflect attention from themselves.' He leaned back in his seat, and glanced over at Slughorn, who looked like he'd rather be anywhere but there.

McGonagall leaned forward to catch his eye, holding his gaze. He felt her scrutiny raking along the surface of his brain like cold claws, and he fought back, making his mind blank and mirror-like and innocent. But that wasn't right either. He carefully allowed some images to surface, his genuine memory of leaving Herbology, and of walking back to the castle the alternate route. For good measure he added the glimpse he'd had of the werewolf Lupin, just to make his point.

She drew away, and now her cheeks were a little flushed. 'Very well, Mr Snape, it seems you had nothing to do with the incident. Thank you for your cooperation. You may leave.'

He rose from his chair but decided to push his luck. 'So will Potter and Black be punished for slandering me?' he asked, channelling Malfoy. 'After all, some of us have a revision plan that we're trying to follow. All this disruption a week before my exams… and for nothing more than a malicious rumour.'

Slughorn rumbled into life. 'Severus is right. We should dock points from Potter and Black.'

McGongall's lips went very thin, but she said, 'Very well. Five points from Gryffindor.'

Severus left the room feeling like he'd won a small victory. Not only had he got away with the cat incident, he'd managed to fool McGonagall's attempt at legilimency. That would teach her to dare using mind magic on him. The Half-Blood Prince could not be read like a cheap novel. For a few minutes the triumph made him feel good, but it was short lived and soon the hollowness crept back again.

It seemed nothing could remove the taint of sorrow that the loss of Lily had left him with, not even being offered an apprentice Healer's post to start the week after he left school. Every day was another day closer to the time he'd no longer see Lily every day. He could hardly imagine how miserable he'd feel when he couldn't watch her from afar. No matter how much pain the sight of her brought him, it was like a drug that he couldn't get by without a regular fix of. His only hope was to somehow impress her, win her back.

He enjoyed a pleasant daydream whereby the Death Eaters had finally taken over the country, and Lily was awaiting execution for being a Muggleborn. At the last minute she would be saved, and hardly able to believe her luck, would ask how come. 'Our leader, the Dark Lord's right hand man, asked for you to be spared,' the junior Death Eater would respond. Then later, as Lily relaxed in a garden of some sort, she would come face to face with her saviour, none other than Severus Snape.

'Didn't I say I'd always protect you?' he'd ask her, with a smile, and watch as realisation dawned over her face. He'd give anything to be able to fast forward to that moment, where Lily finally understood that her truest friend was, and always would be, Severus Snape.

Severus climbed out of the Hogwarts Express onto Platform Nine and Three Quarters for the final time, blinking in the sunlight and swirling steam, flustered by the noise and confusion. He fought his way through the crowd, elbowing past jostling mothers desperate for a glimpse of their offspring, pushing aside embracing friends parting for the summer. He found her at last, right at the far end of the train. Of course, she would have travelled in the Prefects' carriage.

Her hair shone in the sunlight, reminding him painfully of all the happier times he'd gazed entranced at the glint of copper. How simple and happy life had been when he could approach her, talk with her, rather than lurk like a thief! Now he stayed back, disguised by the steam and the crowds, an unwanted observer. She was laughing, presumably at something Black had said. He was showing off as usual, swaggering along the edge of the platform.

Potter was manhandling the trunks, loading them onto the trolley Pettigrew had fetched. He levitated them with a flick of his wand, then sent them chasing after Pettigrew. The little group roared with laughter as the ungainly youth dodged the luggage, finally finding his own wand and sending the trunks back towards Potter, who danced out of the way. Severus took advantage of their distraction to edge within earshot, trying to focus purely on the sound of Lily's laughter in the midst of the general mirth.

Now they'd bored of their game, and were stacking up the trunks. A good natured argument had broken out about which pub they should go to. 'The Leaky Cauldron does the best cocktails,' Black was saying.

'Oh, very la-di-dah, Padfoot! Since when did you drink cocktails? More like you fancy the waitress.'

Black swiped at Potter. 'Well, what if I do? I'm a free agent.'

'Where would you like to go, Lily?' asked Potter, and Severus leaned forward slightly in his eagerness to hear her voice.

'Since it means so much to poor Sirius, let's make it the Leaky Cauldron,' she said, a smile playing on her lips. Severus recoiled from the 'poor Sirius' – it was not so many years since Lily had referred to the same boy in the coldest and most derogatory terms, and then only by his surname. But she was turning to look back at the steam train, causing Severus to hastily focus on the ground for fear of being caught eavesdropping. 'It's rather sad, isn't it?' he heard her say. 'Just to think we'll never go on the Hogwarts Express again!'

Risking a glance up, Severus saw Potter had put a proprietorial arm around his girlfriend. 'Yeah, I suppose it is. But come on, we had a great time! And now we're moving on to better things. Then one of these days, when we're old and boring, we can come back to wave off little James Potter junior!'

Now Lily laughed again and pushed playfully at him. 'Oh we can, can we?'

Unable to bear any more, Severus made his way towards the exit, his eyes smarting. From the smoke, of course. As he trudged across the platform, levitating his trunk behind him, he stole another look back. Lily was laughing again, head thrown back, illuminated by a beam of sunlight like an angel in a painting. And when he thought of her in years to come, as he would many times, it was always this image he saw, burned onto his consciousness.

But it was only a moment, and then she was surrounded by his enemies, and lost forever. He turned away from them, and walked into the shadows of the station. One of the shadows detached itself, and became Lucius Malfoy. 'You took your time,' he drawled conversationally.

'Lucius! I didn't know you would be here,' Severus stammered, his mind wrenched from Lily. He felt as though he'd been caught in the midst of doing something he shouldn't.

The older man shrugged. 'Didn't have anything else on. Thought we could go for a drink. Then there's someone that wants to meet you.'

Severus' eyes widened. 'Him?' he asked, in a whisper.

Malfoy just smiled. 'What've I always told you, Severus? Stick with me and you can't go wrong.'

Author's notes

That's it for this story. There are two sequels which I'm working on. I always finish a fic before I post, but the next story, 'The Worm That Turned', should be ready in the next couple of months. So do look out for it on FFN. In the meantime, you might enjoy my Neville-centric fic 'Resistance', also available in full on . I would like to thank everyone who has read the story, I hope you've enjoyed it, and in particular those who have taken the time to review. It's been great to have your encouraging comments and I'm pleased that so many people have enjoyed the story.