Most of the characters and situations in this story belong to J.K. Rowling, Warner Brothers, and other entities, and I do not have permission to borrow them. All others belong to me, and if you want to play with them, you have to ask me first. No infringement is intended in any way, and this story is not for profit. Any errors are mine, all mine, no you can't have any. Opinions expressed by the characters may or may not be those of the author. Price subject to change without you noticing. Void where there's a vacuum.
Still new to this fandom; still assuming that it's all been done already. Any unoriginality is accidental.
Much gratitude to Cincoflex and Trialia for looking after this one!
Thanks to everyone who read and reviewed!
Severus warded the cottage door carefully and headed out through the garden, taking note of the tentative new growth and idly plotting what he would do if the land were his. He liked the cottage very much, more for its isolation than the building itself, and now he felt free to dream of what it might be like to share such a place with Lily on a permanent basis.
He tucked the thought away for later, and latched the sagging garden gate behind him before setting off down the path towards the village. Lily would be on her way back by now, and he wanted to meet her and share the walk, to spend just that much more of their precious time together. There was only one more day left, and—
His reflexes had his wand dropping from his sleeve to his hand, but as his fingers closed on the wood Severus felt his muscles stiffen into iron, and his yelp came out as a muffled grunt as he overbalanced and toppled hard to the ground. He landed on his side, unable to wince at the pain in his fingers, and—fortunately for his nose—fell backwards instead of forwards, ending up half-propped on the verge of the path. The position allowed him to see the figure that stepped onto the narrow path; his attacker wore casual Muggle clothing, but the messy hair and spectacles were instantly recognisable, as was the malicious smirk.
"Well, well, Snivellus. Surprised to see me?" James Potter crossed his arms in a blatant display of contempt, his wand poking back over his shoulder. Severus fumed in rage mixed with fear, but contrary to his expectations his other three tormentors didn't duck out from behind the hedge. Potter appeared to be alone.
Severus snarled silently, grateful on some level that his wand was still mostly up his sleeve; it would be just like Potter to take it away too. He glared at the other boy, daring him to speak.
"It's taken us a while to find you," Potter went on conversationally. "Nice little hidey hole, this." He tilted his head at the cottage. "Must belong to Evans; there's no way your family could afford something like this."
The dig was so familiar that it barely registered; Severus had been hearing such things all his life. He kept his gaze on Potter, trying for calm, trying to think. The spell that kept him paralysed wouldn't last forever, but Potter surely had something foul in mind—
Potter frowned, focusing on Severus. "Here's how it's going to go, Snivellus. Evans is going to come running back here in a fright—Sirius is seeing to that. But—too bad—her boyfriend won't be here."
If he hadn't already been paralysed Severus would have stiffened in horror. What was the swine going to do to Lily?
Potter crouched down to peer into Severus' face, amused cruelty quirking his mouth. "In fact, he'll be gone entirely, with all his things. And he'll leave her a note, telling her that he's changed his mind."
Severus stared back unblinking, vile oaths piling up in his head. It would take Imperio to make me do that and even then I would fight you.
"And guess who'll be there to comfort poor Evans when she returns home?" Potter continued softly. "Poor betrayed girl. Should have known better than to trust a Slytherin."
I will kill you myself— Severus concentrated. Last year they had begun learning nonverbal spells, and he'd been quite good at them, but this was no classroom.
Potter toyed with his own wand. "If you're thinking you can explain later, don't bother," he said, voice colder. "By the time I'm finished, Evans won't even spit in your direction. She's my girl, Snivellus. You need to remember that." He stood and pointed his wand at Severus. "Mobilicorpus!"
Severus felt himself rising into the air. Potter started back through the garden, pushing Severus' body along through the air like a stick on the surface of a river, and Severus held his breath, reaching, straining…
Only an effort of will kept his muscles locked. Severus resumed breathing, hope surging along with a wild terror of what might be happening to Lily at that moment. Potter halted at the cottage's back door, letting Severus drop carelessly to the ground as he began poking at the wards.
Severus slid his wand the rest of the way into his hand, gripping it firmly, and in one smooth motion that belied his bruises, rolled over. "Stupefy!"
Potter crumpled like a rag doll. Severus pushed hastily to his feet, resisting the urge to kick Potter in the ribs in passing, and ripped down the wards long enough to float Potter inside and stuff him in the hall closet, nudging his attacker's wand away with one foot and letting it roll down the hall towards the front door. He set triple-strength lock spells on the door before tearing back out and down the path.
Lily felt a scream building in her throat as Black leaned down, but before his jaws reached her a flash of silver lit them both. The monster above her flinched sideways, bounding off her and turning as if at bay. Lily gasped as a huge glowing stag halted at her side, lowering its antlers threateningly at Black. A Patronus—but who—
The dog's startlement ebbed, and it paced back towards her, growling. Lily fumbled for her wand again, hands gone numb from Black's grip; the enormous deer couldn't actually harm him. But before she could make her fingers work a harsh voice spoke from behind her, the spell crackling over her head. "Sectumsempra!"
Black yipped as it struck, and a long gash opened in his flank, spattering the path beneath him with crimson. Lily rolled over to see Sev pelting closer, wand extended and face contorted with fury. He slid to a stop next to her and leaned down, yanking her up into the circle of his arm and throwing another curse at the big dog.
Black dodged with a roar, hackles raised and eyes reddened with rage. Lily clung hard to Sev's arm around her waist, head spinning, watching as the Patronus charged the big dog, but Black held his ground and the stag dissolved into silver mist. I have to—
Before she could clear her mind enough to form a defensive spell, the dog sprang forward. Sev's grip tightened, and he threw another of the hissing curses at Black, this time hitting a hairy foreleg. Black staggered, leaving bloody pawprints as he circled, but the rage in his maddened eyes did not abate.
"Give it up, Black," Sev shouted, voice distorted with equal fury. "Potter's lost and so have you!"
The big dog's snarl was chilling, but Lily finally forced her hands into motion, pulling her wand free and raising it even as Sev whipped his own through the air. The curse sliced halfway through Black's ear, and he howled in pain, shaking his head so that blood flew everywhere. He locked eyes with Sev, and for a breathless moment Lily thought he might charge them.
For the first time in her life, she readied a lethal spell.
Black broke. With a final snarl he spun and ran, limping out of sight and leaving a scarlet trail behind him. Within seconds they heard the bang of a clumsy Disapparation.
Her knees weren't working correctly. Lily tried to straighten and stand on her own, but her legs buckled, and with a muttered oath Sev stuffed his wand into its pocket and pulled her into an embrace. He was shaking visibly, and his arms were so tight they hurt, but Lily hung on as best she could, knowing she was not only trembling herself but on the point of vomiting.
"Are you all right? Did he hurt you? Lily, Lily, say something—" Sev was babbling, but she couldn't spare breath to answer him. Lily buried her face in his shoulder, feeling like she'd found the only safe place in the world.
His grip tightened further, and then they were spinning, and she gritted her teeth on the nausea as they emerged in the cottage's kitchen. Sev shifted, lifting her off her feet with an ease that startled her slightly, and carried her into the living room, sinking down on the divan with her more or less in his lap. "Lily—"
"I'm all right," she managed to gasp, her arms still tight around his torso. "I'm all right."
His hard tension ebbed slightly, and Lily felt him press his face into her hair. Gradually Lily relaxed, trying to corral her emotions, but as her fear lessened her anger at Black rose. How dare he?
Finally she lifted her head to meet Sev's worried gaze. He was white with either fear or residual fury, his eyes too black to see the pupil, and a strange shiver ran over Lily at the memory of what he'd done to the Animagus. He did that to protect me.
She lifted a hand to stroke Sev's cheek. "You saved me. He was going to bite me and…" She ran out of air.
Sev's eyes widened further, and he turned his head to press his lips to her palm, but then jerked back with a gasp. "You are hurt!"
Lily blinked, then yelped as he caught her hand and turned it over. Her wrist was bruised and bloody, the skin scraped from the dog's claws, and as if the sight were a trigger, she suddenly felt the pain.
Gently Sev took her other hand as well, snarling silently at the twinned injuries. Lily bit her lip; the claws hadn't dug deep enough to sever the bigger veins, but blood was still trickling slowly down her arm. She was rarely squeamish, but the sight made her dizzy again.
She could feel bruises forming on her knees and palms as well. Sev swore vilely and shifted her carefully onto the divan. "This needs dittany."
She was in shock, Lily thought distantly as he summoned the vials he wanted and bent over her arms, murmuring a cleansing charm. Normally she would insist on doing it herself. But all she seemed to be able to do was hold still and let Sev tend her. The exquisite care he took in dabbing on the healing substances made her eyes prickle; the pain from the dittany seemed far away, and then vanished entirely when he followed it with a bruise healer.
Finally he wrapped the fragile new skin in gauze, sealing the cloth's edges carefully. "Are you hurt anywhere else?"
Lily shook her head. "Just a little bruised, I think." She lifted one bandaged arm and brushed his hair from his eyes. "Thank you."
Sev's mouth tightened, but he didn't pull away. "I'm going to make tea," he said, and pushed to his feet, gathering up the medical supplies.
Lily endured the solitude for about three minutes and then rose to follow him into the kitchen despite her still-shaky legs. When Sev glared at her she glared right back, and sat down at the tiny kitchen table, watching as he heated water for the pot. The hands that had been so steady in treating her injuries were shaking now, and when his grip slipped and the steaming water splashed, his oath was barely past his lips when Lily was around the table and taking his burnt hand in hers.
The scald was light; Lily conjured a bit of cold water to soothe it, then pressed her lips to the pink spot, feeling the tears come at last, hot and stinging and spilling over.
They clung to one another for a long time, ignoring the steeping tea. It wasn't until the muffled thumping coming from the front hall penetrated their consciousness that Lily lifted her head.
Sev swore. "I forgot," he muttered. "I should have stunned him harder."
Lily tensed. "Stunned whom?"
He let out a heavy breath. "Black came after you…Potter came after me."
Residual fear gave way to an icy anger. "He did what?"
Sev blinked, his arms loosening as he looked down at her, but he didn't step away. "He caught me off-guard—he was going to do something, I don't know what, but you were supposed to come back and find me gone. With a note rejecting you."
Lily felt her jaw tighten, and now Sev did release her. "He was going to comfort you, afterwards," he added, his voice more dry than resentful. "Or try to."
She lifted her chin. "And you didn't tell me because…?"
He shook his head hard. "I was going to, Lily, but you were hurt and I forgot." His face was a mix of pleading and hurt. "All I had time to do was shove him in the closet, because he said Black was going to—to scare you and I—"
He choked, and instantly Lily wrapped him in another hard hug. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry, Sev. You're right, I—"
It was her turn to choke, but Sev held her close and his shaky breath against her cheek was enough to let her know he'd forgiven her. The thumps and the occasional smothered shout scarcely registered.
Finally Lily took a deep breath and stepped away, lifting her chin. "You took care of Sirius, Sev…I want James."
She thought he might argue, but instead Sev smiled, a slow, chilly expression. "By all means."
They went into the hall together, and Lily scooped up James' wand, holding her own ready while Sev undid his spells. As soon as he was finished, he swung open the door.
The light revealed a dusty, blinking Potter crouched on the closet floor; a tangle of wire hangers around him hinted that he'd bumped his head on the coat rod. His spectacles were askew on his nose. He stared up at them both, gaze flicking between them. The puppy-eyed look he settled on her might once have softened Lily, but even if she'd been tempted she'd seen the glimmer of hate in his glance at Sev. "Evans—" he began.
"Stand up," she told him coldly.
Potter rose cautiously, neck bent a little to keep him from bumping his head a second time, and tried a smile she used to find charming. "Lily, listen to me. I don't know what Snape's been telling you, but—"
"Be quiet." She pointed her wand at him, and perhaps he remembered their last confrontation, as he fell silent without the need for a spell.
Lily stepped closer to him, feeling Sev's silent presence at her back, protective and ready, and blessed him for not trying to take this justice away from her. Her fury was feeding into her magic; she could feelit running like sparks along her nerves. "I told you I don't belong to you, James Potter, but you can't seem to listen."
Potter flinched ever so slightly. "You're going to listen now," she told him, keeping her voice low and hard. "You lost the right to speak to me when you broke your promise."
"I've tried to apologise," Potter began indignantly, but Lily raised her wand and he closed his mouth.
"I'm not interested in your apologies. You betrayed my trust. You sent your precious friend Black to bite me."
The colour drained from Potter's face, and he straightened, nearly bumping his head again. "What?"
Behind her, Sev growled quietly. Lily glared at James. "'Will your snake still rut after you when you're ugly, Evans?'" she quoted. "Did you think that maiming me would make me run to you, James?"
Potter shook his head hard. "No. No, I never—I never asked him to do that, Lily! Believe me, I would never hurt you." His mouth twisted, and he looked stricken. "Lily, I love you. All I wanted to do was show you that."
Sev's palm was warm on the small of her back, just the support she needed. Lily frowned at Potter. "You have a funny way of showing it."
Potter rubbed his forehead. "It's true. But you wouldn't let me apologise. He's not right for you, Lily, I am." His gaze went past her to fix on Sev behind her, a sneer settling over his features. "He's nothing but a lousy Death Eater-wannabe, and if you—"
"Enough." Lily slashed her wand through the air, using no spell but cutting him off all the same. She could feel herself trembling deep inside, and her bruises stung and ached.
She reached back with her free hand, and instantly Sev's wrapped around it, steadying her. Lily touched the tip of her wand to her own chest, and felt the Fides spell flare with warmth; its golden binding shimmered over them both for a moment, proving her connection with Sev. The light reflected off of Potter's spectacles, and as it faded she saw his eyes darken with loss.
I guess he really does care. She hadn't been certain how much of it had been lust, or just the desire to take something away from Sev; the sight almost touched her. But James had ruined his own chances, and kept company as dreadful as any Sev ever had, and she had no sympathy left.
Lily straightened and drew in a long breath. "I will say this only once more, James Potter. I am not yours, and I never will be. Leave us alone."
It wasn't a spell as she understood them, but the wizarding romances she read often mentioned a ritual used to sever acquaintances. Lily had the feeling it was used more in the past than currently, but in this case—
She held up her wand between them, pointed straight at the ceiling, then brought it sharply down. "Renuntiare!"
Potter's face went white once more, and he flinched, hard. "Lily!"
A long arm reached past her, wand extended, and Sev's voice spoke. "Stupefy."
Potter collapsed. Lily staggered a little, and Sev's arms wrapped around her from behind. "Are you all right?"
Lily considered a number of responses, and decided on honesty. "No."
Sev made a sound that combined agreement and concern, and the next moment she was being lifted off her feet. She let him carry her into the bedroom and set her down on the mattress, but when he would have stepped back she put her own arms around his waist and held on, closing her eyes tightly.
She could hear his heartbeat, still too fast, and Sev's hands slid into her hair, holding her closely. "That was inspired," he said after a while.
Lily smiled tiredly against his chest. "We're going to have to tell McGonagall about all of this," she said.
"I know." His sigh was heavy.
She tilted her head up to look at him, and Sev stroked the hair from her brow with a touch so gentle that her throat ached. "I need to deal with him."
Lily wished that Potter would just Vanish on his own, but she knew that wasn't practical. "Just drop him somewhere, Sev, okay? I don't want you to get in any trouble because of him."
Sev's mouth twisted petulantly, but he nodded. "I won't answer for any bruises he has from the fall, however."
That made her giggle, if reluctantly, and his face lightened. Sev bent and kissed her hard. "I'll be back in a couple of minutes. Stay right here, do you understand?"
Lily nodded back, and handed him Potter's wand, and watched as he left the room. A minute later, the bang of Side-Along Disapparation echoed through the cottage.
She wondered if Black was still out there, and shuddered. Time to strengthen the wards, I think.
She looked far too fragile. Severus paused in the doorway of the bedroom when he returned, caught in the sight of Lily sitting on the bed, arms wrapped around her knees as if to fit into the smallest space possible, and his rage at Black and Potter smouldered higher. But when she smiled and held out a hand, he could do nothing but go to her.
"You need to rest," he said as their fingers meshed. "Lie down and I'll tuck you in."
Lily's amused sniff was weak. "I'm not a child," she said, but obeyed. But when he reached for the covers, she caught his arm and tugged.
"Don't leave me alone," she said, her voice wavering, and without hesitation Severus kicked off his boots and slid into the bed with her.
She burrowed into him as if still frightened, and Severus held her hard and added curses to Black's name for reducing his fierce valiant love to this.
But she was safe, and in his arms, and he felt some of the terrible burn of anger gradually ease. The room grew dim with evening as they lay together, sharing breath and touch and comfort. He thought Lily might have slept a bit, though he never closed his eyes, but eventually she stirred, lifting her head. The lost look was gone; she only seemed tired, now, and she smiled at him.
"Thank you for saving me," she said quietly, and kissed him, a soft warm press. "My knight in woollen armour."
Her words made his throat knot. How many times had he wished to do her some service—but he'd never imagined anything like this—
Severus buried his face in her hair and held her as if a thousand Animagi would snatch her away if his grip loosened. "I will kill Black," he muttered.
"No." Lily's arms were tight around him, but her voice was clear. "No, promise me you won't. Sev, he'll have to live with it the rest of his life, that you beat him. That's plenty; after all, he didn't actually manage to hurt me." She winced. "Much, anyway."
He kept silent, but she pulled her head back until their eyes met, and he was lost; as ever, he could deny her nothing. "I…I promise."
Her stern expression melted into relief, and the knot tightened at her look of utter trust. "Good."
He didn't cry, but he had to close his eyes for a while, feeling Lily humming against his skin and her fingers stroking his face gently.
"That was a very impressive Patronus," she said after a while, when the room was fully dark. "Much bigger than James' deer."
Severus had to clear his throat before he could speak. "His is also a stag?" He felt vaguely insulted.
Lily chuckled. "That was no ordinary stag, Sev. Didn't you see it? For an instant I thought it was James', and I expect Sirius did too, we all saw his in class. But then it was obvious."
He'd only cast it out of desperation that he wouldn't reach Lily in time, pulling up the searingly bright memory of their first kiss, and he'd scarcely seen more than the huge shape springing at the beast threatening her. Puzzled, Severus made himself release Lily and sit up, feeling for his wand in the dark and remembering.
It came as easily as the simplest of first-year spells, a massive shaggy creature far too tall to fit in the room that nevertheless did so, its antlers reaching nearly wall to wall. Its gaze was grave and proud as it regarded them calmly.
"An Irish elk?" Severus gaped at it. "But they're extinct."
"So's the 'ō'ō, and Serenity Chaffin has one for hers." Lily sat up too, summoning her own wand, and repeated the spell. Her doe looked tiny next to Severus' Patronus, but it raised its muzzle fearlessly to the stag, which lowered its enormous head in a delicate touch of nose to nose. The two faded away together, leaving Severus' eyes dazzled with afterimages.
"Told you you could do it." Lily's voice was rich with satisfaction and amusement, and Severus felt himself smile.
"You did," he admitted, finding her by touch to hold her again.
"Mm." She yawned. "Sev…I'm too tired to do anything, but can you lose the trousers at least?"
Severus snorted, amused himself, and used the clothing-removal charm on both of them for simplicity, though Lily clung to her shirt. She curled up against him once more, and he stared into the warm darkness, keeping watch.
It was enough.
They didn't see each other at all on the train back to Hogwarts—as Head Girl, Lily had to monitor carriages full of energetic students, and Sev was dragged off into the lead carriage that the Slytherin seventh-years had claimed as their den. But she had the private, delicious memory of the past two weeks to sustain her, and the faint constant warmth of the Fides spell to reassure her, like a talisman hidden beneath her robes.
Besides, she thought wryly as she broke up a race up and down one narrow corridor, it's not as though we haven't been apart before. And in truth it was easier now, and not just because of the spell.
He's mine, body as well as heart.
Part of her was slightly appalled that she had promised to marry Sev before either of them even turned twenty. But witches and wizards tended to marry young compared to Muggles, and in the eyes of the wizarding world they were adults—no one there would so much as blink. And you know perfectly well that at least a third of your year-mates are planning on doing the same.
Besides, it was Sev. Her very best, oldest friend. Marrying, living together, was simply an extension of what they already had.
I know we'll have to adjust to each other. He's got a temper, and so do I. But the idea of sharing living space with just one person after years of sharing with three was appealing, and she knew that while Sev enjoyed solitude while working, one of his deepest fears was that he would end up completely alone.
We'll make it work. Lily hid a smile and confiscated two nose-biting teacups and a block of Wonder-Wart Fudge from a mixed group of third-years. We're both highly motivated, after all.
She was less worried about Black and Potter. They'd sent an owl to Professor McGonagall the night before, and her return note had been terse but satisfying. Lily and Sev would have to give evidence against the two boys, but Lily knew her Head of House and anticipated a swift and just resolution to the problem.
She could do no more than wave to Sev at supper; Slughorn collared him genially directly afterwards, and Lily chuckled at Sev's look of mock dismay and sent him a wink. They had Transformation together in the morning; they could talk then.
Still, she had to admit to some wistfulness as she undid the straps of her rucksack to unpack before the evening's patrol. After only a few hours, she missed Sev already, and—
The flap of the bag lifted, and Lily gasped. Out poured a cascade of heather and thornless gorse, piling higher and higher on her coverlet, the sweet wild scents filling her room—far more than her rucksack could possibly hold, blossom upon blossom and every one laden with memory.
How did he manage that? I'd swear he never even touched my bag. Enchanted, Lily swept up an armful and pressed her face into the flowers, breathing in the sweetness and the unspoken love. Oh yes.
We'll do just fine.