When you were here before
Couldn't look you in the eye
You're just like an angel
Your skin makes me cry
Have you ever had a recurring dream? When I was a child, I often dreamt that I was in a great room, floating up near the ceiling, and below me was a vast and hideous army. I had to keep myself airborne, kicking hard against the walls and the helmets of the soldiers, or I would fall onto the points of their spears and into their upturned, sharp-toothed mouths.
I always fell.
I always awoke the moment before the blades pierced my little body.
Unlike most other children, I never ran to my parents’ bedroom; I was guaranteed no safe harbour there.
In adolescence, a different dream began to haunt my sleep. An innocent smile, a glance through her lashes; these were pleasures denied to me in the cruel light of day.
As a young man, I barely passed a night without her appearing before me. She was no longer innocent, but worldly, taunting, and more beautiful than ever. I would awake covered in a sheen of sweat, and bathed in desire. I could only momentarily relieve myself of that dreadful yearning, and any such lull was inevitably followed by a shame that seeped insidiously through the exhaustion; shame quickly gave way to self-loathing and, eventually, to hatred of the very angel herself. I despised myself for daring to hate the thing I loved most in the world.
She still returns to me as a dream, but for many years now her visits to my sleeping mind, to my restless body, have been rare and all too few. When I now lay down my head and will her to come to me, she does not. She comes and goes as she pleases, and she never lingers, leaving only her scent, her silence. When I sink back into darkness after these, the most beautiful of dreams, I can almost feel a hint of red hair, of bewitching green eyes, burned into the skin of my eyelids.
You float like a feather
In a beautiful world
I wish I was special
You're so fucking special
Everything seemed to go her way. She and I started in the same place. It was I who found her, I who showed her the world she was born to inhabit... we were equals. We were friends. And then at some indiscernible point, she eclipsed me thoroughly, moved on without me, turned her back on me and left me alone and hating myself, hating her, loving her, needing her more than ever.
Everyone knew her, and everyone loved her. And I, I who knew her before she even knew herself, was alone and disregarded, barely even noticed by those with whom I shared a dormitory. The more I tried to love her, the more I seemed to repulse her. I saw that she disapproved of the path I was following, of the alliances I was forming, of my experimentations in a darker science, but I did not relent; it was not long until her disapproval and anger were the only forms of attention she gave me, and I consumed the hurt expression in her wonderful eyes as if it would sustain me forever. The first time I called her ‘mudblood’, the thrill and the disgust which simultaneously coursed through my body left me almost unable to speak. When I recall now the stunned look upon her face and the fury that followed, I see the moment I could almost have lost her forever. I apologised to her again and again, but each apology only seemed to widen the gap between us. At night I would lie awake, furious with her and with myself, unable to sleep and therefore unable to dream. To be denied - both waking and sleeping - the pleasure of her smile, her kiss, her hair, her fingertips, was pure torture.
The boy who tried to take her from me lavished us both with attention in almost equal amounts. I bore the brunt of his envy, and then of his jealousy. No humiliation was too cruel for him to inflict on me. He hurt me. He laughed at me. All the while, he was watching her carefully to see if she would laugh too. But she never did; she was the only one who would not laugh. And yet, she slipped ever further from my grasp.
But I'm a creep, I'm a weirdo
What the hell am I doing here?
I don't belong here...
The word ‘potions’ is a mere accident away from becoming ‘poisons’. It would not - indeed, it does not - take much to alter one to the other. This thought was often in my mind as time went by. It felt so very satisfying to take up a knife and slice precisely, to grind to powder, to measure and count and control the liquid bubbling before me until it was exactly as I had imagined. As I brewed each potion, I would consider how best I could use them to my advantage; for weeks I carried a tiny vial of the Draught of Living Death, toying with it incessantly between my fingers and imagining how she would respond if she thought I was dead. Perhaps I would awake to find her crying bitterly over my body, her hands on mine and her tears falling onto my chest.
I longed to drop a strand of red hair into Polyjuice Potion just to see what it felt like to be her; I wanted to stare into the mirror and find her face reflected, whispering loving words. I wanted to feel her hair on my shoulders. I wanted to discover how her body lay when she slept.
Thoughts of Amortentia tormented me. There’s another one, you see. ‘Potion’ and ‘poison’. ‘Amortentia’ and ‘torment’ - or ‘I am torment’, to be precise. I imagined that all she needed was a sip to remind her that I was the boy she had loved first, who knew her best... It would clear, rather than cloud, her mind. And if not - she would still, finally, be all mine. She would love me, need me, desire me just as much as my sober mind loved and desired her. It would be a perfect equilibrium... it would be right.
Always I envisaged tipping back the boy’s head, pouring Veritaserum down his resisting throat and asking him, how do you make her love you?
I don't care if it hurts
I want to have control
I want a perfect body
I want a perfect soul
One night, one cold October night, everything changed. The Dark Lord had for some time been rising to greater power; I embraced his every advance, rejoiced in his victories, revelled in the pain he inflicted on the unworthy. He was able to do what I could not. The Dark Lord was never laughed at, nor was he ever humiliated. The Dark Lord had no fear of those who barred him from his desires. The Dark Lord was fascinating. I looked upon him with awe and respect until the day he turned his gaze on me. No - I misspeak. Her. The day he turned his gaze towards her. That day was the most fearful of my life, and yet... And yet, it was the day that finally brought her to me. I bless that day, as much as I once cursed and feared it.
I could not help myself; I went to warn her. I had been scorned by her, rejected and humiliated. The boy had stolen her from me, had turned her against me, had married, touched, impregnated her. She had borne that creature’s child, and yet I still tried to save her, despite my knowledge of the Dark Lord’s wrath against those who betrayed him. Surely that, more than anything, proves mine to be the greater love.
I want you to notice
When I'm not around
You're so fucking special
I wish I was special
Wearing black has its advantages, and I passed unnoticed through the village streets although there were people every way I turned. I saw children dressed as some foolish Muggle approximation of ghosts, white sheets flapping in the wind; I saw a little girl wearing a pointed witch’s hat, and I almost pitied her for her ignorance. These creatures had no idea of the world they lived in, like insects or vermin who lived only to put food in their mouths, to procreate, to irritate.
The lights in the cottage were blazing brightly, and I slunk from shadow to shadow as I made my way up her perfect, neat, little garden path. I could see the fire burning in the hearth, the clock ticking on the mantelpiece... The foolish girl had left the curtains open; didn’t she know they were being watched? The boy clearly wasn’t taking care of her properly, but of course he’d never known the true value of anything. When she became mine, truly mine, I’d protect her; that much I knew. I had no choice. My heart beats in her chest.
My hands crept over the stone windowsill, pale and shivery against the stone. I drew myself closer, and my eyes roamed with a mixture of greed and disgust over the little life they shared together. Then, as if she knew I was waiting, she appeared. She entered from another room, her hair falling around her shoulders, a thoughtful look in her eyes. The firelight made her hair seem to me the reddest, deepest, most powerful thing I had ever seen and my fingers twitched with the ache of wanting to touch. Desire swept over me and brought me to my knees, and I had to cling to the wall to keep myself from falling. I moved again to look at her, my breath forming a wet cloud on the window. The baby was held to her chest, his fists curled against the hollow of her throat. I stared; this was the child, the creature borne of my greatest pain. And yet, with his dark hair, I could almost imagine him to be mine, too. It would surely not be long before she and I could create our own child, a testament to true love ... patient, pure, first love.
She laughed at something, and turned, a smile on her face. God, she was so very beautiful. It’s surely a rare thing that reality is better than the dream.
The boy came into the room, and I tried not to look at him; he was of no interest to me anymore. I had come to save my love, and when I had told her all she needed to know, he would be of no more consequence to her, either. The exhilaration of it all thudded in my chest ... my life was about to begin again.
I was ready to make my move when the garden gate opened and an elderly woman walked up the path, straight past me, and knocked on the door. She had rheumy eyes and papery skin, but the moment the door opened and light spilled out into the garden, her face seemed to come to life as she cooed and reached for the baby in his mother’s arms. I could barely breathe as I crouched beneath the window.
A moment later, my love stepped out into the garden, a warm coat wrapped around her shoulders. She didn’t see me; her eyes were on her son. She spoke. She called the old woman ‘Bathilda’, and said something about taking the child around the houses quickly - I wasn’t listening to her words. Her voice... it was like I’d never heard music before. I could smell her as she moved down the path, and I inhaled deeply. My heart was pounding and I didn’t ever want to exhale. Suddenly faint, I threw my hands onto the grass and vomited.
Shaking, I sank back beneath the window pane and rested my head against the wet bricks. She was gone, but would be back soon. My message could wait a little longer. The Dark Lord’s voice was suddenly clear in my head once again; fate had a different plan for us than the one I had concocted during my hot, cold, feverish nights alone.
I arose carefully, looking in through the window now without shame or fear; the boy was still in the living room, his hair oh-so-carefully ruffled as always, and I began to feel contempt beneath my former terror and loathing. He was so very pointless. He glanced my way, and my breath stuck in my throat. I wanted him to see me, I wanted him to feel invaded, watched, frightened - but he was blinded by the lights of his own warm house and could not see a man dressed in black, although my lips were almost against the glass, cold on cold.
I moved to the front door and tried the handle; it moved easily. Stupid, careless ... perfect.
But I'm a creep, I'm a weirdo
What the hell am I doing here?
I don't belong here
The whole house smelled like her. Warm, bright, sweet - oh oh oh, it almost overwhelmed me. Thinking of it now, I’m shaking. I could see her everywhere, I wanted to touch, taste, feel everything. I saw a cat watching me inscrutably from the kitchen table at the end of the passageway, and remembered the mog Lily had brought to school with her. The damn thing was just a normal cat, not an ounce of magic. She’d cried in my arms when he went missing. I’d thought my antidote was ready; I hadn’t meant for him to stay dead.
There were no lights on upstairs, and I instinctively crept up towards the shadows. Passing a nursery, I saw tiny planets rotating by the ceiling, constellations of stars twinkling above the cot. Glancing into the next room, I felt my stomach twist; silk curtains, a pair of ladies shoes kicked messily under a dresser, photo frames covering a wall, and at the centre of it all, a huge bed covered in white linen. So pure, so clean, yet those sheets harboured the greatest sin that the boy had ever committed against me. Shuddering, I crept closer and reached helplessly out to touch. Images flashed before my eyes, of pale skin covered in a fine dew of sweat, of red hair spread on a pillow, and above it all an obscure dark creature moving ceaselessly - it could have been the boy, or me, or the Dark Lord, or darkness itself. I knew only that I had to get my poor love away from this cold white bed forever, just as I knew that the same bed should and would be mine.
I leaned forwards, my head resting on the soft blankets, my lips moving repeatedly over the prayer of her name. How long would I have to wait for her? I had waited all of my life, and another hour would be entirely exquisite, tantalizing, horrific torture to my poor heart and quivering body. Little did I know then, that the torture is never-ending. Oh, my body. Oh my heart.
She's running out the door
She run, run, run, run
I don’t know how long I knelt there, at the altar of my love, but I had barely steadied my breath when there was a sudden shout, and light blazed in the room. I was blinded by whiteness, near-paralyzed by fear. I have since spent whole nights dreaming of that one moment of stillness, of pure terror and bright, cold possibility.
I turned, our wands met in a blast of noise and we both watched as they were torn from our fingers by the force of the twin spells. He stared at me, fury and disbelief contorting his oh so handsome face. I moved first, darting towards the door, but his weight knocked me to the floor and pinned me there. I snarled, I spat, I twisted and writhed and the moment he began to release his grip, I brought my head forward and smashed it into his jaw. He was stunned, and the pain radiated through my skull as I crawled across the floor towards my wand...
... And then his hands were on my throat, tightening, squeezing, his shouts of anger and fear filling my ears, and as he squeezed I felt terror, I felt panic, and yet... and yet, I felt a thrill of exhilaration; those same strong hands had touched her flesh, had known her intimately, had held her when she cried, had cradled her child, and now they were on my own skin, around my neck ... and he was above me, physical and frightening, his eyes full of the bully I had known for so many years. And then suddenly, the wildness in his face gave way and he loosened his grip slightly. I scrabbled and scratched and blood bloomed on his face, and I twisted from beneath him and my fingers found my wand.
I wanted him to suffer, I wanted to stand over him and see him writhe, his body bucking and shaking, I wanted to finally make him tell me how he did it; how did he make her love him? Why him? Was it his pure blood? But the questions overwhelmed me, and my hatred flowed like poison, and my love bloomed painfully in my chest. The Dark Lord spoke to me, his voice filling my skull, and then green light - greener even than her eyes - filled the room like lightning and then there was nothing but silence, punctuated only with the thudding of my heart, Li-ly, li-ly, li-ly...
When I could see again, I found his corpse lying at my feet, pale and still. His eyes were wide with shock, and the blood on his face - his pure, untainted blood - had begun to congeal. As with most things, he looked smaller in death. At last, the Dark Lord had rewarded me for my devoted service.
Kneeling by the boy's body, I waited for her to come and see what I had done for her, to thank me and whisper sweet words in my ear. But when she finally came, and I smiled up at her, my gift lying before me, there was nothing but screaming. Screaming and tears, and nothing more, until many strong hands came and pulled me away.
Whatever makes you happy
Whatever you want
You're so fucking special
I wish I was special
I sit here now, in this cold space, and I can still hear her scream. It is still shocking to me, like glass shattering in my hand or ice cracking across a pond. I have long since forgiven her for frightening me so; she did not know then that we had just begun the rest of our life together, unbreakably bound to one another forever. It is time again, now. Through a fog of catatonia I manage to notice the passing of the seasons outside this tiny window, and with the shortening of the days I now spend my time watching for her.
My hands rest on cold stone, my fingers numb and raw, knots forming in the knuckles as I wait for her. After a heartbeat, or a day, she appears to me. She is moving this way, but cannot see me; I press my face against the window, her name is a whisper on my lips, a cloud on the glass. The dream is recurring once more. Sweet relief, thank you, thank you. It will not last, however.
Lily thanks the guard and kneels on the floor before Severus’s wasted body. He does not meet her gaze, and she is grateful for that. He is looking straight through her, his mind seemingly wrapped in an impenetrable veil of memories. She reaches out a hand, as if to touch the hem of his tattered robe, but cannot bring herself to do it. Her fingers fall to the cold floor, trace a circle in the dirt. Were it not for the ravages of time, cold and starvation, it would be easy to imagine that he’d not even moved in the year since she’d last visited. He is barely even human anymore; the only meeting in the frosty air of the cell is of two silences.
She lingers for as long as she can bear it, trying to think of a single word to say, trying to come up an explanation for why she continues to visit year after year, but can come up with nothing at all. Only one word occurs to her, but the thought of it makes her feel so sick, so confused - even after all these years - that she rises abruptly to her feet and demands that the gaoler open the door immediately. As they fumble with keys, the word echoes around her skull; ‘guilt’.
As the door opens and Lily moves to leave, a question manages to emerge from her frozen mouth.
‘Did you ever truly love me?’
Severus finally moves, his black eyes focusing on her face. He stares at her, hunger and tears moving across his face like a tide. His lips move, but no sound emerges. She looks at him for a long moment, but the curtain has fallen again and Severus is lost anew in a different time and place. She turns and leaves. He does not seem to notice.
She takes a deep breath of fresh air as she walks through the iron gates and into the thin grey sunlight outside. Harry glances sidelong at his mother as she takes his arm and lets him lead her gently down to the boat waiting at the crumbling dock. He tries to be understanding of his mother’s yearly journey to Azkaban, but he hates to see how upset she is after every visit. She will be quiet and distracted for days, now. Harry draws Lily closer to him and squeezes her hand. She smiles distractedly, her thoughts perhaps lingering in the same place and time as those of Severus.
‘How was it, Mum?’ Harry asks, not sure that he really wants an answer. Lily glances up at her son. He is eighteen years old, a man - but he has borne so much of her burden of grief over the years, has been a friend and confidant as well as a son, and she sometimes sees a much older man in the solicitude in his eyes. ‘Did he say anything this time?’
‘Nothing,’ says Lily.
‘At least he’s stopped raving about ‘The Dark Lord’,’ Harry replies, stepping into the boat. ‘I know how that used to upset you.’
Lily pauses before stepping off the dock. Her eyes fill with tears, unbidden. ‘He’s never once admitted it. Not once. Somehow, it would have made it all easier if he could just -’
‘I know, Mum. I know.’ Harry holds out his hand and helps his mother into the little boat. ‘But the Healers have always maintained that he’s completely insane; he really believes that there was a ‘Dark Lord’. He may never admit to it.’
In a small window, high up in the walls of the prison, a pale face appears and watches the boat disappear behind a veil of rain. A silvery light flashes briefly in his black eyes, and cracked white lips move over a single word.
... but I'm a creep, I'm a weirdo
What the hell am I doing here?
I don't belong here
I don't belong here ...
I watch my dream disappear for another year. It will have to sustain me, just as she has always sustained me. Now that she has left me again, I can answer her solitary question. The question she need never ask, for surely she knows... she must know. My Lily. My own sweet dream. She is mine.
Lyrics and title are from 'Creep' by Radiohead. Lyric in Chapter summary is from radio-edited version of the same song.
Thank you for reading my first literary foray into darkness! Please do leave a review and let me know what you think of it.