It was, she had decided, a very good day. Not just an ordinary good day, either. The kind of good day that was so important any more. The kind you could wrap in memories and file away in a safe little corner of your brain to bring out and pet softly on the bad days or cling to like a lifeline on the really bad days. It was surprisingly warm, but not too warm for her uniform, bright and sunny in laughing defiance of such trivialities as January and London and shouldn't-it-be-pissing-mist. There was a sense of hope and contentment in the weather, in the world, or maybe it was just her and the neatly solved and closed case file on her desk and the fortnight without having to hear anyone regretting to inform anyone of anything when the Order met.
True enough, it was still clear to even the most blind that things were still dire, but Diagon Alley was still safe enough for a woman wearing Auror green to walk in broad daylight a hundred yards or so from the Ministry exit. A little girl in the window of Madame Malkin's nearly fell off her measuring stool watching Lily pass in a blatant haze of I want to be just like you, and she laughed, waving back at the awestruck child and crossing her eyes as she stuck her tongue out in a silly face. Never good to take oneself too seriously, especially when others were looking up to you. Especially now that she was going to be someone's mother.
It was still a new idea, a little strange, a little unreal, and she caught herself at the last instant before she would have indulged the recent instinct to touch her stomach, tugging at the wand holster at her belt instead. New and strange and dangerous and too impossible and too easy to forget at the same time. Like the shiny ring on her left hand that kept clicking on things, or the new surname that kept being recalled halfway through signatures that at least now read "Eotter" more than "Evanter" these days. It was different, but different was good. They were fighting for different, the sting and ache of the fresh burns and bruises from her last encounter with Voldemort's forces earning the future of the increasingly notable snugness of her waistband.
Florean's was usually all but empty this time of year, but the unseasonable weather seemed to have caused quite a few people to share her idea, and she was tempted to flash her badge and fake an emergency when she saw the size of the queue. Alas, ethics. Or at least alas, the thought of what Frank would say when he found out. She glanced at her watch, fingering the money in her pocket. There wasn't that much time left, but the heavenly smells of chocolate and cream and fruit and nuts argued their case so very persuasively in chorus with her newly ferocious appetite, and she frowned, running the figures in her head. If X=18 the time remaining and Y=15 the number of people in queue ahead of her with Z=1 the average time per order and A=the value of ice cream and B=the reaming she'd get from Moody for being late….
"Lily." She turned to the voice, feeling that it was somehow familiar, but then she saw the robes, heavy and black and velvet-edged with the ebony snake and skull in cruelly subtle relief on the sleeve. Calculations were forgotten and her watch dropped to bounce at the end of the fob as her wand snapped into her palm with razor-honed precision. Not here. Couldn't she have ONE DAY without -
The Death Eater had not drawn on her. It was not a dueling posture. In fact, they were…holding ice cream. Out to her. And as her eyes traveled up the body from the important wand-holding parts to the face, the voice connected to the face and dropped her jaw as dramatically as her watch. "Severus! What are you doing here?"
His mouth took on a thin smile, one eyebrow quirking as if in amusement that she could miss the obvious. "Waiting for you." He held out the ice cream again, motioning with the other hand to indicate both that it was for her and to point out a small table for two that he had apparently been holding in the back of the crowded little establishment.
Lily was instantly suspicious – a necessary survivalist partner of bafflement in these dangerous times – but there was nothing overtly threatening in her former friend's offer, and she decided not to make a scene for the time being. She took the dish, following him to the table, though her other hand never left the handle of her wand even as she returned it to the holster. "That doesn't make sense. I didn't tell anyone I was coming here. I didn't know I was coming here until ten minutes ago."
They sat, and Severus steepled his long-fingered hands on the tabletop proudly, resting his chin on them as he leaned forward to look at her. "It's Wednesday. On Monday you don't want to deal with all the paperwork that's piled up over the weekend and you make excuses."
His stare was making her uncomfortable, his accuracy moreso. She tried to use the ice cream as a distraction, but it only served to increase the surrealist feel of it all. Two scoops of the flavor of the week, cup not cone – cones got soggy – with almonds and fudge sauce but no cream. Exactly what she'd been planning to buy. Severus was still talking. "On Tuesday you have to handle that plus Monday's, and you swear it won't happen again, so Wednesday you do your paperwork immediately and feel proud of yourself so you take the first tea interval to get a treat."
His logic was impeccable, and she poked the fudge with the spoon, narrowing her eyes at him as she decided to let the suspicion show. "Fine, but what made you think it would be here?"
"Flavor of the week is blackcurrant fudge." The smile widened a little bit, softened a little bit, looked almost hopeful. "I cannot believe you've changed that much in only a few years."
Oh, but she had, and they both knew it, and so had he, even if he remembered that the only rival for her weakness for blackcurrant was her weakness for chocolate. The loss of three mandatory meals a day intruding on his laboratory schedule had not been kind to his already thin frame, and his cheekbones stood prematurely harsh sentry on either side of the nose that seemed to have grown more vulpine as his eyes had sunken into the familiar dark circles of no one sleeps enough in a war. He was still single - his fingers were bare and no one was reminding him to wash or comb or cut his hair – and his eyes were as old as the mirror.
"Maybe not." She lied at last, taking a first deliberate bite. There was a bezoar in her pocket just in case. Standard issue. Augusta had started that. No tingle, no burn, no funny taste, no sudden symptoms. Just rich bittersweet chocolate and tart, creamy, fruity ice cream and the toasty crunch of almond. A smile that shyly wondered if it remembered tried her mouth. "Thank you." He nodded, and she took a second bite. "So that still doesn't answer why you're waiting for me."
Now, it seemed, it was Severus' turn to be discomfited, something she found strange considering that he had been the instigator. His shoulders tightened, his head pulling high in the protectively aloof image she'd long learned to read anyway. "I'd heard rumors. I wanted to see if they were true." He glanced deliberately at her hand, then, worryingly, to her beltline. "Which clearly…."
The spoon fell back into the dish with half a bite still on it and she pushed back from the table, getting to her feet with a fierce shake of her head that could have hidden from anyone but him and maybe her husband how unnerved she was. "No. I'm not doing this. I was willing to…." Lily stopped herself, hands on her hips now as she caught the panic and leashed it into reproach, not caring who saw or heard. "You know, we were friends, even if we split badly, and I told myself 'you can be an adult, Lily, you can have a civil conversation in a fucking ice cream parlor,' but if you're going to be a creepy, stalkery child because yes, I have married Jim –"
"It was rather what I'd heard as to why." His voice and face were frigidly supposed to be unreadable, but she could see her words had stung the back of his eyes as he reached into his robes, extracting a small, sealed vial and extended it on the flat of his palm. "I prepared something for you. I want you to have it."
It was something about the way he said it, or maybe something deeper than instinct that just knew as a witch, and it made the blood crawl in her veins as she took it despite herself. "Severus, is this…."
He nodded, and she had expected anything but the real compassion he allowed the control to break into as she slowly sat again. "It will take effect almost instantly," his voice was pitched lower than usual, keeping their privacy and making her lean in to hear him, "so you should be somewhere suitable, but it will be over in a few hours and should cause less discomfort than your usual courses. I've been sure of that."
The confirmation of her gut fear that it was an abortificant curdled the touch of the glass and she put it down immediately, fighting the urge to fling it across the room in a false, tight laugh that skirted the admission that it might be relevant to her. "I still say if you sold whatever that was you used to make me, you could build a house out of Galleons. Makes me miss you like hellfire."
"You only miss me once a month?"
His question was honest, open in honor of the past. So, in fairness if not comfort, was her answer. "I miss what we could have been a lot more often."
There was a hissing catch of breath and teeth. "And that would be?"
Lily knew what he meant, and she felt her stomach sink into a queasy loss of appetite away from the next bite that was already poised on the spoon. She hadn't until this moment realized how much she'd hoped that was over, but she tried to hide her disappointment in a firm kindness. "Still friends. We were good friends." Ignoring the lurch of revulsion, she picked up the vial again, reaching across the table to press it into his palm as she smiled into the eye contact. "Thank you. This means a lot to me; that even after all that's come between us, you don't want me trapped by an accident. I know the rumors too."
His jaw tightened in that way she knew meant both anger and triumph and she had seen too many times when they were teenagers. "Then it wasn't intentional."
"The baby, no," she admitted, but immediately turned it to inform and enforce her clarification. "But the marriage, yes. And we are happy about it," She cut a warning of emphasis into the word. "Whether or not this is exactly when we would have planned things."
"Things could change. Things are changing." The hesitance with which he reached across the table to take her hand and push the vial back into it belied the confidence of his voice. His hands were colder than she remembered, the pulse fast. Was he using his own stuff? Oh, she'd hoped he was smarter than that. What an awful waste if he was. Merlin, let him just be nervous, even if he didn't seem nervous, even if he seemed downright patronizing. "Don't entrap yourself, Lily."
There was a long nothing, the kind that a dozen years of friendship can fill with a thousand words without need for one. It was a pity so many of them were such old arguments, moreso that they resolved no better in silence than in speech. She returned the vial to the table in front of him with a precise, definitive click of glass against glass. "I think I've made it clear enough what side I'm on. As have you."
She had expected the anger, but not the strange, hungry eagerness behind it that was closer to passion than anything she'd ever seen in him that couldn't be written in chemical notation. "You're standing on a sinking ship. It's more hopeless for the Order and renegade Aurors like yourself by the day." Hearing the daily odds of her death presented so blithely from the mouth of a friend made the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end, all the more as his eyes widened over even further enthusiasm. "But I've been doing well for myself, Lily. I'm in a very strong position. If you'd give me a chance, I could still earn your –"
Lily cut him off with an upraised finger. "No." He stopped, clearly offended, but she ignored how much he hated interruption, her patience for this fight long ago exhausted. "Don't you see? That's exactly the problem! You can't earn me!"
"Because the brilliant James Potter already has." And they might as well have been back in red and gold against silver and green rather than green against black as his lips twisted onto the playground sneer. "Though I remember you once telling him that he didn't have a chance either."
"Jim didn't earn me." She was coldly matter of fact in her retort, no passionate defensiveness needed and aware of how easily it backfired with Severus. Nothing was available to be dismissed as emotion, every syllable carved. "I'm not a prize. I don't come in the post if you collect six box tops and good marks on your final exam. Jim changed, and the person he became was someone that I fell in love with. Please, tell me you at least see the difference."
"I see no difference whatsoever." He insisted stubbornly. "I see that Mr. Potter was right. If he kept at it long enough, he could have you. And it seems for the time being, he has."
"There is no 'time being' in this."
The narrow shoulders shrugged in schooled nonchalance. "Things may change. Life is unpredictable." He had glanced away to add effect to the casual gesture, but when his dark eyes returned to hers, there was a dangerous spark to them that she had once only half jokingly called the warning light for his own little apocalypses. "I will not always be the laughingstock of the schoolyard who was so grateful for your friendship even when you would not reciprocate my love."
It hurt as much to hear as the first time, aching the flesh beneath her skin with a tightness that made her feel too small for herself, her throat too tight, her joints stiffly ill-fitted. And that was more than just tightness making it hard to swallow. Oh no. No tears. Fuck hormones. Fuck them forever. She blinked furiously, slashing copper across her vision until it cleared. "You don't love me."
There were those who called her brave, she even had a few medals to that effect, but it wasn't enough to let her look at his face through the pause that followed her refusal. His voice didn't seem to fit his throat either. "You have no right to say that."
Now she did look up. She made herself do it, and all the medals had been easier, though it meant abandoning the fight against the tears. Hormones. So unfair. "You haven't even asked if I'm happy, Severus. If you loved me, that would be your first question, and the answer would matter. But it doesn't. You're just angry that from where you're sitting, your enemy took something that belonged to you."
"I would do anything for you."
It was an oath and a confession and a lie, and she called him on it, too naked herself to permit him the shelter. "You wouldn't turn your back on them. And they don't even consider me human."
The taut-shouldered defensiveness again, and it was like watching a soul sandbag itself as his eyes reassembled the bitter superiority that had never remembered to spare her, even when claiming to fight in her name. "I'm important enough with them now that it wouldn't matter!"
"It matters to me!" she spat.
His walls were there in full now, the shield line impenetrable and fronted by the jagged barrier of his studied sneer. "What is Potter offering you? Money? Adventure? That roguish bad-boy charm you once found so resistible? Is he that good in bed? Or are you going to tell an old friend the truth about wanting a surname for your accident?"
Someone who didn't know them would have expected her and her legendary temper to lash back against such a crass accusation. Someone who didn't know them would have expected a slap, stalking off, maybe bursting into tears, at the very least a brutal rejoinder. Someone who didn't know them would have been very surprised that the little moan that escaped her lips was one of such total sympathy, that she wrapped both of his hands in hers and lay a long, sisterly kiss on the back of thumbs that were scarred with acid burns and tasted of bitter alkaloid, that her voice was that of a mother reading a last bedtime story to a child already dead. "Once upon a time, Severus, I knew two boys who were utter prats. One of them, I'd known since we were very young. I knew he could be so much better…or that he had been, once. They both claimed to love me. They were hurting each other and me trying to earn me. And I told them both to fuck off."
His thumb traced a circle on the back of her hand. Nothing else moved. He seemed to murmur without breath. "Except it seems that for one, you changed your mind."
She shook her head, causing a single thin strand of ginger to fall into her eyes. It was not brushed away. "Not at all."
"How does your little fairy tale have it, then?" It tried to be cynical again, cruel again, to fire from behind the walls again. It failed; not a brutal salvo but a single child crying threats from the rubble of a broken castle.
"Both boys kept pursuing for a while," she admitted, "but eventually, they both understood that the most I would ever offer was friendship, and not even that if they were going to behave this way. So both boys walked away."
"I never stopped loving –"
The tiny shake of her head, barely enough to sway the loose hair, was still enough to stop him. "You walked away, and you kept on the same path. You got that." A flick of the eyes to the brand under the embroidery. "You joined people who see me as nothing more than an object, and I can't really believe any more that you don't feel the same way, even if you tell yourself otherwise. You made not getting me one more notch on the list of things you brood over, and you think eventually your feelings and your success will – or should or could – 'earn' you your prize."
"And meanwhile, Our Hero…."
"Jim walked away too." There was a dark little chuckle that surprised her from herself, and she shrugged. "Ok, yes, he just got bored with no. But when he came back, he had genuinely accepted that I was offering nothing but friendship, and he was ok with that." She looked up, praying that he could read the truth in her eyes, trying to let him see that yes, it was real. That as much as it might hurt him to understand in the short term, she hadn't been trapped by a pregnancy or charisma or sex, but simply by love. Knowing that if he really did love her, that happiness would have been some small balm. Knowing that it wouldn't be. "Truly ok," she pushed quietly, "not willing to take it as a first step towards what he was sure to get if he was patient. He had seen in himself the ugliness I'd seen. He changed. And I decided I liked it. I decided. Not he won."
Another pause, one where his hands pulled away from hers and wove into themselves like the tumblers of an impossible lock. "What would it have taken for you to decide on me?
It could have been a harmless question, a rhetorical or nostalgic assessment of the road not taken in search of closure, but there was a calculating undertone to it that she did not miss, and it infuriated her. "You're still thinking of it like a formula for one of your potions!" Lily did not care if she was very nearly yelling, much less who heard or that she had just gestured with the cup of ice cream that was mostly melted now, slopping purple and brown swirls onto the tile floor. "People don't work that way! It's not a pinch of this, a dab of that, get the proportions just right and brew it long enough, be patient enough and talented enough and bam, a perfect batch of me!"
She was flushed, not nearly done, so close to the point of no return on so much that she hadn't said in years but should have said years ago, but it didn't matter. Everything was cut off by the cold, mechanical trill of her watch's alarm, and she took a deep breath, pulling the Auror back into place with a pass of her hands over her face. When she pulled them away again, Severus was waiting with eye contact that felt like a touch on unwillingly bare skin. "This isn't over."
"Yes it is, actually." It was so much easier like this, when she could do it not from the place of friends that had been and had almost been but from the professional who just last month had survived the chaos of an ambush playing dead beneath the still-bleeding bodies of the Prewett twins. "This conversation is over, and we're over. Because you've still decided to choose things I can't be friends with and as far as anything else, no matter how you frame it - whether you want to say he won me or admit that I chose him - it's over. I made a vow, and it was before I knew anything about this, and I meant it: better or worse, 'til death do us part."
"I will always love you, Lily." By all rights, it should have been so different, but his mask was in place now as well, and it was just as inhuman, making a mockery and a threat out of the devotion.
"I know you believe that," she conceded, "And that scares the hell out of me." She stood up again, holding out a handshake that she knew would be and was denied before clasping her hands behind her back with a respectful little nod. "Good bye, Severus. I will miss my friend. I'm sorry you didn't find that worth more."
He said nothing. Not as she turned, not as she threaded her way through the shop, not as she opened the door, but even though his voice would have been low for their conversation across the tabletop, it managed to travel across everything to strike the base of her spine like footsteps on her grave. "I won't give up on us."
It had ceased to be a good day.
The rest of it didn't matter, really. There was work, but not the kind that recruited starry-eyed kids into the Department, just the kind most of the job was actually made of. There was conversation with her coworkers, but nothing important, just the practicalities of keeping things running when everything was falling apart and the pleasantries of pretending that no one knew any of the things they all did. There was food, but nothing good, just something from the commissary that was brown and had crust and maybe gravy. There was the trip home, but no one spoke to her as she waited her turn to Apparate from the lobby, as she watched the slush squelch beneath her boots in the gutter shadows up the street to the little cottage in Godric's Hollow.
There was life, but it didn't seem real, didn't seem to matter until she was through the door and it was closed behind her and locked. Not until she was into the living room and the green robes were Off and Away, the holster unbuckled and shed onto the coffee table, boots unlaced and puddling onto the mat with the socks bunched into the toes like Christmas oranges. Not until she had stripped all the way down to bra and knickers and skin and crawled under the afghan on the lump of husband on the couch that had dozed off waiting for her because he'd had the night shift and not gotten home until ten that morning.
Not until his arms were around her and he was blinking awake, trying to focus without the glasses still on the floor beside him but automatically holding her, automatically molding to her, responding to the softness of her skin, seeking out their baby with the gentlest press of his palm. She kissed him, once on the lips, once on the chin, her tongue lapping out to catch the texture of the spot beneath his jaw that he always missed in something too intimate and comforting to be as sexual as it should have been. He murmured her name, nuzzled her hair, and she let her eyes close. "Honey?"
"Mmm?" It was throaty, clotted with sleep, but she knew him well enough to know that he was as awake as she needed him to be.
Her fingers slid beneath his t-shirt, tracing talismans across his chest. "Will you make me a promise, even if it doesn't make sense or hurts your pride or means Sirius would never understand?"
One dark eye cracked open, his brows twitching together, and though he didn't move beyond that, she could feel the lassitude vanish from his wiry body beneath her. "What's going on?"
"If you ever see Severus Snape again, just run. Don't ask why." She didn't mean to sound so mysterious, and she sat up a little, hating to lose the contact but wanting him to see her eyes. "I ran into him today and…I don't want to get into it. But promise me you'll do anything you can not to get in a fight with him or heaven forbid eat or drink anything he might ever give you."
He had relaxed again, but Lily did not mistake that for dismissal, knowing it to simply mean that the information had been taken and processed and would not be fretted over further until or unless relevant. It was at once one of his most maddening and most intoxicating traits. His hand had moved from her belly to the small of her back, his fingers pressing and kneading expertly for the wad of knots she carried home there each day. "Still that cross about all the business at school, then?" he mused absently, "Snivelus still trying to get even with ol' Prongs? I'm still in his books?"
She shook her head, wishing against the world it could be that easy, but aware that it never was and terrified that she knew what it meant and wishing with all her heart to be wrong even as she knew she wasn't. "Worse, Jim. As far as he's concerned, you're still in his way."