Lily was a little surprised when she saw the address written on the piece of parchment.
She wrapped her arms tightly around herself as she walked along the badly paved road that led to Spinner’s End, tugging at the sleeves of her thin sweater as she felt a brisk wind come swooping by. She couldn’t tell whether the shivers that played up and down her spine were a result of the October chill or her apprehension about journeying so close to her former house. Maybe both causes were contributing jointly to her present discomfort.
Her auburn locks flew gently out of her face as she approached the familiar fork in the road. This time, however, she continued moving forward, passing the left-hand sign that marked the turn down to Mill Town, where her parents still lived. Most daughters would be pleased at the chance to visit their mothers and fathers, but Lily had no interest in interacting with her parents, now or ever. She wondered if her mother still suspected that her father dallied with the Muggle women.
As she approached the little house, a tiny smile lit up her normally gloomy features. It was small and squat, just as Severus had described during their initial journey on the Hogwarts Express. One of the windows was missing a shutter, and a few of the shingles had fallen off of the aging roof into the dirt in the front garden below. The bright pansies planted there caused Lily’s smile to grow a little wider. Whoever tended to these plants showed an admirable amount of devotion to the job, and such efforts helped to make up for the deterioration of the rest of the house.
She took a deep breath, biting her lip and knocking gently on the door. A few moments passed, punctuated only by the cool autumn breeze that billowed around her. She backed up a little, glancing up at the windows upstairs to see if she could spot anyone, but the shades were drawn. Lily sighed, trying her knock again. She wondered if he could see her, hiding out somewhere so that she didn’t notice him watching. Maybe he was just ignoring her. Finally, she gave up, tucking her hair behind her ear and stepping away from the house. Maybe she would try again later. She couldn’t just allow him to remain ignorant of the immense danger he was in.
Lily was only a few yards down the path, heading back to the fork, when the door opened at last.
“Lily?” His voice was painfully familiar; it brought back years of feelings she’d tried to repress.
She turned very slowly, trying to give herself time to think about her phrasing. She should have planned it out better, perhaps, but there really was no nice way to say what she needed to say.
“Hi.” She started softly, finally allowing her eyes to meet his.
He looked awful. It was shocking for her to see that his hair had become more ragged, gaining an inch or two in length as well. Even at a distance, she could see that his eyes had become colder and more unfeeling. She was afraid that he would turn away at any moment and shut her out of his life once more, but she couldn’t resist moving closer, approaching a little at a time in her search for the kindness and warmth that had once inhabited those charcoal irises. She got right up close to him, able to smell his skin, and she saw that there was nothing left. He was a shell.
“What do you want?” This time when he spoke, there was no curiosity, only exhaustion.
She paused for a moment, collecting herself, and then she replied. “I came to make sure you were all right.” She said slowly, planning out each and every word. “I suspect you may be in danger.”
His expression faltered interestingly. It wasn’t a look of total surprise, causing her to suspect that Dumbledore may have mentioned something to him, or perhaps someone else. But no, he had looked genuinely taken aback to see her standing there in Spinner’s End. The tiredness still shone through his features, but it revealed a deeper ache now, the cliff from which one leaps off into despair. Her words were not news to him, not really. It was curious to observe this.
He still had not responded to her. She cleared her throat. “May I come in?”
He jolted back to consciousness, nodding briefly and opening the door for her.
“Tea?” He asked customarily, and she nodded, thinking that the warm drink would do wonders for the chill beginning to settle into her bones. He set the kettle on the stove, tapping it lightly with his wand, and returned to the living room, where he leaned against the door frame. “So, what have you come to warn me about?”
“The Dark Lord has taken an interest in your skills as a potioneer.” Lily said, pulling her sweater a little more tightly around her. Apparently the house really was just as drafty as it looked from the outside. “He seeks to recruit you to join the Death Eaters. He won’t appreciate a refusal.”
“You’d think he’d have gotten the point the first time.” Severus murmured, moving into the kitchen to pour the tea as the kettle began to whistle loudly.
Lily stood up, following him. “What do you mean, the first time?”
He shoved the cup gently into her hand, and she felt a rush of gratitude for magic, which had ensured that the water boiled more quickly than normal so that she might be warmed up sooner. His next words, however, drove an icicle into her heart. “He sent them here three years ago.”
She stared at him breathlessly, wondering how she’d remained ignorant of this fact.
“It was a few months after the wedding. We were just starting to settle into married life.” He said, and with a jolt Lily remembered the haughty blonde who should be there in the house with her old friend, the one he had been so excited about settling down with after graduation. No wonder it was so quiet; no one was there to insult her. “They came by one evening when I was out with friends, and they found her here home alone. She told them I would never agree to it, and she wasn’t interested in joining up either. She’d been dead for four hours when I got home.”
Lily realized her mouth had been hanging open slightly, and she closed it shamefully. “I’m so sorry, Sev—Severus.” She corrected herself at the last minute.
“You don’t have to be.” Severus, who had been staring sadly into his cooling tea, glanced back up at Lily. “She was awful to you at school. You’ve got no reason to miss her.”
“I still wish it hadn’t happened to you.” She said, a tinge of regret tainting her voice.
“Well, thank you.” He replied with a gentle frankness, taking a sip from his cup at last.
The silence hung between them like a wall for a few moments, and Lily wished for a split second that she hadn’t come. It would have been so easy to just keep her mouth shut and let Sirius and Regulus come out here to do Voldemort’s dirty work. But she cared about him too much for that.
“I’m sorry about what I said.” She admitted at last, finishing her tea. Not a day had gone by that she hadn’t regretted her foolish words. In fact, her remorse had grown to dominate her life. It infected her steps as she went from one Death Eater meeting to another, stealing her concentration even as the Dark Lord dealt out missions to Sirius and the others. It was the last part of her that resembled anything good. If that fragile thread was ever torn away, she knew she would become the perfect Death Eater, impeccable in her cruelty, free of human emotions like regret. The irony of it all was sickening.
“It’s all right.” He whispered, and she knew it pained him to say it. “You said something stupid. That’s all. I’ve never held it against you.”
“Never?” She asked, remembering how he had ignored her, even as their names were called at graduation.
“Not for a long time.” He corrected himself. “I just wish you hadn’t waited so long to apologize.”
She looked down, unable to stare into those eyes right now. If it was true, then fate was more unkind than she could have ever imagined. If she had sought him out years ago, maybe even right after the incident, would he have forgiven her even then? Could she have been saved?
Her stomach turned uncomfortably, and he took the cup gently from her hands. “Thank you for the warning, Lily.” He said, setting the cup down on the counter. “I appreciate you coming by.”
She realized that he meant for her to leave. She couldn’t, not like this. Surely it was no coincidence that Narcissa was gone, that the Dark Lord had brought his case up once more. But she didn’t know how to convince him to let her stay, not without revealing the full depth of her feelings. Then again, a handsome man with so many talents wouldn’t think twice about a girl like her. Any romantic confession would likely have him chasing her out the door at double speed.
He seemed to have noticed the fact that she was still standing there. “Did you want some more tea?” He questioned, looking a bit awkward. “Or perhaps you could stay for dinner? Catch up?”
Lily took care not to relax too visibly. “Yes, that would be lovely.” The man was impossibly perceptive.
Severus nodded, turning to pour the tea. The tiniest of smiles emerged from behind his black eyes.
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