Turn around and say good-bye
“James Potter asked me out.”
Lily didn’t dare breathe as she waited for Severus’s reaction, bracing herself from an imminent outburst. When it didn’t come, she wondered if he had paid attention to her or even heard. But then he wordlessly retrieved his arm from around her waist, so that she had to lean again against the cold couch. She could already feel the solitude infiltrating her body; and she feared she would never get used to being so alone ever again.
“Why are you telling me this?” The tone left no doubt that Severus was gnashing his teeth. It was even worse, in a way, than if he had shouted at Lily; this cold, sudden fury felt like a bucket of icy water that would have been thrown over her head. “Potter’s been asking you out for years, why should this time be different?” his voice hid the barest of quiver, as if he had already guessed what the answer would be but feared to find out he was right.
“Because,” Lily said in an undertone, the subconscious part of her having probably decided that it would be less painful to hear if it was quiet, “I intend to say yes.”
He seemed to struggle for a while with speech before failing to find the appropriate words, and gave an enraged groan. That, more than anything, scared Lily deeply because he always managed to control himself. And surely, instead of flying into a temper, he reacted the only way he knew how to: he stood up and paced the room, and meanwhile his voice became distant and unforgiving. “You’re going to go out with Potter?”
“Severus, please, listen to me,” Lily pleaded, getting up too. “I don’t want to make this any harder on you than it has to be. I know how much this probably upsets you but−”
“Don’t give me that look!”
Lily stopped and folded her arms across her chest. “What look?”
“Like you’re actually feeling sorry for me− like you’re− like you’re−” He seemed to be exercising every bit of control he possessed to refrain from shouting. “Don’t patronize me on top of it all!”
They both stared at each other across the Room of Requirement like two adversaries judging their opponent’s strength before striking the first blow. Tonight the room was quite small; there was only a large couch to sit on with a small table in front of it− the ideal place for a talk, Lily reflected bitterly.
“All right, I’m listening,” Severus finally took a deep breath to calm himself. “What makes you think Potter− of all people− has earned the right to be with you?” He waited but she remained strangely quiet, and the uncomfortable silence seemed to stretch on forever. Then very quietly he whispered, “I thought you loved me.”
There. That was it. For Severus, there was nothing more to it than that simple, honest statement. He might be a mystery when it came to conversations with people he didn’t trust or barely knew; he might scheme and use convoluted manners of speech and employ sentences that carried underlying meanings when they weren’t together; but when they were, he spoke his mind.
Lily felt like she was breaking inside. “I do.” Gods, she loved him so much, and the fact that she wanted nothing more that to be with him certainly wasn’t helping her. But she had had to make a choice, eventually, even if she felt like she was sentencing herself to her own death. “Love isn’t the problem.”
She could feel his resentment growing, although his expression remained quite composed. Well, almost.
“Of course love is the problem, Lil.” There was no warmth in the way he spoke. “If you’d rather go out with that insufferable, egoistical, arrogant son of a−”
“Severus!” Lily called, but he didn’t stop. She’d never seem him so livid.
“− then fine with me! But do have the courage to admit that you have feelings for−”
Lily grabbed his left arm. He jerked it away.
“You see?” she said, feeling close to tears. “That’s the problem. Not love. It’s not that James has something more than you… There’s just something he doesn’t have, and it’s that Dark Mark burned into your skin. This is what keeps us apart,” she made a small, disgusted gesture at his forearm. “Not love.”
“You don’t get it,” Snape said harshly. “The ones I’m with, Malfoy and everyone else… we’re all part of the same group. I’m one of them; I belong with people like them. We trust each other and for the first time in my life I feel like I’m part of something special… that I’m happy.”
Lily stiffened. “Of course,” she said in a glacial tone, “You were never happy with anyone else, were you?”
“That’s not what I meant,” he said at once. “And you know it.”
“I just can’t live with someone devoted to the Dark Arts.” A tear pearled out of the corner of her eye. She wiped it out. “Not any more.”
His expression changed. It was anger; the next moment, it switched to anguish in a smooth, touching transition that made Lily want to take him into her arms.
“And I can’t turn back, not now. I know it’s never tempted you… you’re too honest, too straight, too trustworthy… you’ve never seen how much power the Dark Lord possesses−”
“Do you even hear yourself?” Lily interrupted him. “Dark Lord? You’re so sickly captivated by the Dark Arts…ever since you came to Hogwarts, ever since your very first days here it was clear that you knew more about them than the rest of the first years put together… No, I don’t get it, you’re right. So tell me what’s so fascinating, Severus. What don’t I understand?”
He didn’t reply. His entire posture stood as a proof of how much he was suffering, hands nervously clasping and unclasping each other. But she needed to get through with what she had come to tell him, because she knew she’d never find the courage ever again.
“We’ve been hiding for years now, lying to everyone so they didn’t know we were together. Do you have any idea how hard this is for me? You’re a Slytherin, I’m a Gryffindor. You’re a Death Eater, and I just want a family and a chance for a blissful life. This was doomed from the beginning, Severus, face it.”
His voice broke, and Lily felt something breaking inside her too. She had wanted to end it, but now she just couldn’t do that. More than anything else, she couldn’t bear the torment she saw carved in every line of his face.
“Then go to Dumbledore,” she said very quietly. “Tell him everything; tell him you don’t want to keep following the other Death Eaters.”
“It doesn’t work like that; they’d kill me−”
“Dumbledore could protect you if you asked. We’re almost out of Hogwarts, you’re never going to have a better opportunity.”
“He wouldn’t forgive me for not being loyal to him in the first place.”
“Of course he would. You never even gave it a try.”
Severus ran a hand over his forehead that was shining with sweat. Lily had the fleeting feeling that he was about to cry, but maybe she had misinterpreted the glint in his eyes− or maybe she refused to consider the possibility that he might be so desperate.
“Dumbledore would never listen.”
Lily took a step in his direction and made him look at her in the eyes. “The truth is, you’re too stubborn to go and ask.”
“It’s not about being stubborn.”
“No? Then what? You’d rather die than admit you made the wrong choice?” She closed her eyes, and when she opened them again, he was looking at her in silence. “Your problem, Severus, is that you fail to understand that it’s human to make mistakes. I don’t want you to die because you’re too proud to ask for help.”
“I’ll be fine.”
A moment went by. “You’re lying,” Lily pointed out quietly. “To me… and to yourself.”
When he didn’t reply she came closer yet, so that they were now only a few inches apart. Was it for the last time? Lily pushed the thought away with all her might. All she wanted was to take his hand in hers again; she craved to go back to him, to touch him and kiss him and…
This was over. Over, she repeated herself. One additional step was all it would take for her resolve to crumble like a castle of sand under the assaults of the tides.
She backed away, and just that little movement seemed to be taking an enormous effort. It was like standing on the bridge of a ship falling apart, sinking, knowing how it was all going to end but unable to do anything to stop it. She could almost feel her life slipping away between her fingers like water through a leaking pipe, and could only stare at everything she had ever lived for as it simply fled away from her.
If someone had told her just how hard it was to turn away, she might never have tried. But it had been her decision− and, even if it felt as if she had sabotaged her own boat, some part of her, later, would be glad that she had found the strength to make the right choice. She would have hated herself otherwise.
“If you’re going to walk out,” Severus said, his piercing eyes set, “I’m not going to stop you.” He was leaning against the wall, watching her without blinking. He seemed determined to stick to his decision, although she knew what it was costing him to make it. “And I’m not going to beg for anything. We’re not kids any more.”
Lily waited for the words to sink in. There was an odd ringing to them, but something didn’t fit. It just took her a few seconds to realize what it was. Then she muttered softly, “We were never really kids.”
The Most Magic Place
“Are you busy?” A feminine voice asked.
“Mmm,” Lily replied in a non-committal manner as she flipped over a page of the magazine she was reading. “If you need some help cleaning up a bit before the Order meeting tonight, I’ll be right there,” she quickly scanned the last lines of the article.
“No, we’ll manage for tonight,” Emmeline Vance shook her head. “But here−” Lily saw in her side vision that she had reached into a pocket of her cloak. “This just came in by owl and I have no idea who it’s from. Any idea, Lil?”
It caught her off guard. That word, so casually spoken by Emmeline, made Lily look up at her with undisguised shock and anger.
“Sorry,” Emmeline must have seen the expression on her face, for she seemed momentarily stunned. “I− I didn’t know someone had ever called you Lil.”
Lily did not answer and tried not to overreact. It must have been a mere coincidence if Emmeline had called her Lil− the woman had just said herself that she didn’t know it had been one of her nicknames. It wasn’t that Lily hated the name; she just hated it when it wasn’t him who called her that− but she could never tell anyone, could she?
Emmeline cleared her throat. “I just said that because− well, it’s written on the note.”
She held out the piece of parchment for Lily to take, apparently unaware of the fact that Lily’s heart had skipped a beat. There was a note that was intended for Lil? What kind of unpleasant joke was this?
At first she thought there was nothing more on the note than that single word, Lil, written in a small scrawl that was only too overwhelmingly familiar− but then she turned the piece of parchment and found more.
We need to talk. I’ll be waiting.
It was like being slapped in the face at the moment when you expected it less− and yet she didn’t think being slapped hurt more than this. It felt like something cold had washed over her, freezing her to the bone.
The mutter escaped her lips and she couldn’t have helped it any more than she could have stopped breathing.
Emmeline cleared her throat. “Anything wrong?”
“No,” Lily replied, a bit too quickly to sound convincing. She was still holding the piece of parchment between her trembling fingers, gawking at Severus’s small handwriting, at the way he formed his letters… how many times had she watched him writing? How many times had she been beside him while he scribbled some words in his old textbook during Potions? She still remembered the way he held his quill, the way he moved his wrist as though it were yesterday.
Cut it out, she thought; but far from leaving her thoughts the image of Severus made its way into her mind, and she ran a hand through her hair agitatedly.
“This makes sense to you?” Emmeline had her eyebrows raised and was watching her with perplexity.
“It’s not what you think−”
“What I think?” Emmeline didn’t seem amused. “What it there to think of a message that’s comprised of eight puzzling words or so?”
Everything, Lily thought. But she couldn’t quite say that out loud. “Who else saw the note?”
“No one.” There was some curiosity in Emmeline’s voice, but whatever she thought about Lily’s reaction, she kept it to herself.
Lily stood up. She didn’t know what she was about to do before she realized her subconscious had brought her to the Entrance Hall and she was standing in front of the dresser inside of which was her coat.
“Can you do me a favor?” she asked quietly, knowing that Emmeline was still with her. Her voice was oddly flat given the situation; detached and unnatural.
The reply was poised but it didn’t stop Lily from hesitating. This was a very wrong idea, to go and meet Severus; but on the other hand… he wouldn’t have written if it wasn’t important. And if he wanted to see her… didn’t she also want to see him?
She gave an almost inaudible sigh. Did she want him back? It was a good question indeed.
The worse of it was probably that she knew where to go. There was only one place Severus could be talking about, but she already knew that going there would not end anything− rather, it would reopen wounds that should have healed a long time ago. Why did it have to come back and haunt her now? Why, when she had thought to be over with it?
She wasn’t, it seemed. She had known all along that they weren’t done yet− that they never would be done with their former relationship. It all came down to something that, ironically, was pretty simple. A Slytherin. A Gryffindor. An impossible love that neither of them would ever forget, a love that would haunt them for the rest of their lives. That love was very much real, as was the invitation that Severus had just sent her.
“I’d appreciate it if you could keep this to yourself,” Lily said.
Emmeline nodded uncomprehendingly, but it was enough that she gave her assent.
It was early in the afternoon, and most Order members would be away until dinner or after. She had more than enough time to be back by then and no one− James included− would ever know anything. She felt truly bad to be hiding this even from him, but it was not something she could tell him about. James was very understanding, but there was no need to be a genius to figure out that he would be less than thrilled to discover that his soon-to-be wife and his worse enemy had been more than just Potion partners.
She looked around at the variety of trees. It was just like he had described it. Well, no: it was a thousand times more beautiful than that, and there was something about the enchanting place that simply couldn’t be described. Walking in measured steps on the graveled path, Lily advanced until she saw the bench she had known she would find all along. It felt as if her entire life had led her to this place, as if every moment she had lived was only meant to bring her to this heaven.
Severus was seated with his back to her, lost in thought, shivering slightly while the breeze froze his fingers every time he took his hands out of the pockets of his cloak. Had he grown? He hadn’t changed much, but he might be a little taller. His hair was tousled in his face, ruffled by the breeze, but he hadn’t bothered to disentangle it. In fact, he didn’t seem to be bothered by anything any more. He seemed so frail, shivering in the cold morning air, that it looked as though a slight touch would break him.
How long had he been waiting? It tore Lily’s heart to see him so hopeless; he simply sat there, his skin exposed to the cold, both so weak and so extraordinarily enduring.
When she finally reached the bench, she sat beside him. Although she kept a reasonable distance between them, she couldn’t help but notice how thin he had become. She felt like saying something along the lines of “I knew I’d find you here,” but it seemed unneeded, somehow.
“The leaves fall,” Severus finally began. “They always do in fall, and then they remain on the ground and die.”
Lily tried not to move, not to give a sign of the tumult that was going on inside of her as he spoke, but she had never been able to remain as impassive as him. Upon coming here, she had thought she knew how much it was going to hurt to see him again, but nothing had prepared her for the shock of seeing him so disturbed, so... shattered, in a way. Even his voice was raw, as if he had not spoken to anyone in a very long time.
“But the trees−” he went on, lowering his voice as though he was about to tell her a secret, “The trees are eternal. They’re always here whatever happens.”
She believed him− but wished, in that moment, never to have become accustomed to Severus’s metaphors. She understood too well the image, of two people still being alive but of something having died between them.
“But these leaves,” she said, “Once they’re on the ground… they never come back alive.”
He swallowed. “New ones grow.”
She shook her head, ever so sadly. “Why did you want to see me, Severus? To try and persuade me not to marry James? To complain about the way you’re being treated as Voldemort’s devoted servant?” She hesitated before adding, “To apologize?”
Not looking at her he said slowly, “Marlene McKinnon. Dorcas Meadows.”
Lily became very still. They were both members of the Order of the Phoenix.
He went on, staring ahead so intently it seemed he was trying to see past the trees. “Benjy Fenwick. Gideon Prewett. Fabian Prewett. Edgar Bones.”
Every name was like a chopping knife that cut through Lily’s flesh. “What about them?” she tried to sound detached, as though she hadn’t a clue as to what made them part of the same list.
“I know for a fact that they’re in the Order of the Phoenix.”
She let out a breath, her mouth slightly open in panic. “And how would you know that?” Marlene McKinnon wasn’t the problem; it was no secret her family had been against Voldemort for years. It was the same thing for the Meadows. But Benjy and Edgar, and the Prewetts… they had just joined in a couple of days before, and gods, this was a secret.
Shutting her eyes, she tried to stay composed. Maybe she was overreacting... “Severus, how do you−” she began again, but then the truth dawned on her.
“I don’t believe you,” she said, and her voice rose slightly. No. This wasn’t true, it wasn’t true. Snape was lying, he had to be. “Of course not,” she said forcefully, “There’s no traitor in the Order.”
Still, he didn’t turn to look at her. She knew he’d never answer; he wouldn’t cross that line and become a traitor himself.
“Who?” she asked, speaking with a calmness she was far from experiencing inside.
“I don’t know.”
She had no doubt he was telling the truth. Anyone else could have suspected a lie, but not her. She knew Severus Snape in a way few did.
“You came to warn me?”
He seemed to be uncertain for the first time. Lily wished he would meet her gaze instead of looking in the distance, but respected his wish to avoid eye-contact while they discussed these crucial facts.
“I wanted you to know the danger.”
She nodded, thinking it was the closest he would come to acknowledging that he wanted to protect her, and that she still mattered to him. She was wrong.
“I also came to tell you−” he took a breath and turned to her at last, making Lily’s heart skip a beat. “I wanted to tell you that you’re the best thing that ever happened to me.”
She felt a tear roll down her cheek, but made no move to dry it. It was heart-wrenching to see Severus almost begging her for something she could no longer give him, to see this man so cold and despised from the outside opening his heart to her without even trying to hide his anguish. Severus was here with her, the one she had always wanted, and the incarnation of her happiness. To have him within her reach was excruciating, because one word from her and they would be together again.
One word from her and she would never forgive herself.
“You represent everything that I’ve ever hated,” Lily said in a strangled voice. And everything I ever loved, too she thought silently. “The Dark Arts, violence, murders… You should be about to kill me now, because your world is only.... Cruelty.”
She looked down at his shaking hands, so close to hers now. She bit her lip, resisting the urge to touch his soft fingers… not cruel, only warm.
And then despite herself she asked, in a sharp murmur that cut through the wind, “How many have you killed, Severus?”
His face had been so pale already; she didn’t think he could blench more. It was as though the color was being drained from his cheeks.
When he didn’t reply, Lily knew she had her answer. “The day I joined the Order of the Phoenix, I made the vow all the members make,” she said. He clenched his jaw and she averted her eyes, knowing that if she looked at him again she wouldn’t be able to hold back her tears. “In that vow, I agreed to dedicate my life to the Order of the Phoenix, and I pledged to do my best to get rid of everyone who had sworn allegiance to Voldemort. Everyone who had the Dark Mark on his forearm.” She paused. “Everyone like you.”
“And you regret none of it.”
He didn’t make it a question, but she answered anyway. “There is one thing I do regret.”
“Really? And what might that be?” he asked with a trace of sarcasm.
“I wish you’d been there with me. If I had to do it again, I would, but I would have you at my side. And I would make that vow knowing I wouldn’t have to become your enemy. Gods, you could have been great.”
“But I’m not.” He spoke with a bitterness she had never heard.
Why couldn’t he have said that to her before; why hadn’t he regretted the path he had chosen before today? Like a couple of years earlier, for example, Lily thought as a cloud covered the sun for the barest of instants, darkening their surroundings.
“So what happens now?”
Lily looked up at him implacably, now trying to ignore how it felt to simply be here with him seated on the same bench. She craved to go back to him, to experience again the intense moments they had once shared together, but… too many things had changed.
“Now I’m going to go home with James,” she replied quietly. He winced at her words, as if the mention of James in her mouth was inflicting him a terrible pain. “Now I’m going to get up and say good-bye. Then you’re going to put on that black hood of yours. And one day−” she said in a choked voice, “One day we’ll end up taking out our wands and bowing before eventually one of us ends up killing the other.”
“I’d never kill you,” Severus said in an equally desperate tone. “Lil, you know I couldn’t hurt you.”
She tensed as he spoke the nickname he had used, once upon a happier time. It came so naturally to him, and she loved it when he said it that way. Gods, how much she would have given to get back to the times when they could lie on the grass together… what she would she have given to be close to him again, to be able to embrace him tenderly. One last embrace…
“Maybe it won’t be intentional… But you might not be given the choice.” There was a long silence again, and the she declared, “I should go. This isn’t−” she cast around for the best way to put it, then opted for: “This isn’t a good idea, Severus.”
His fingers trembled as she spoke his name. “What isn’t a good idea?”
“You know what I mean… You… Me… everything.”
“So why are you here?”
Was it a question meant to be answered?
Lily was painfully aware of his presence at her side, and it was agonizing to be sitting so close to him… it seemed as if all rational thought was escaping her, inexorably, no matter what amount of efforts she put into trying to stop it.
This was the life she longed for, all, within her reach; and she no longer knew why she was holding back. Past and present were slowly melting, leaving her with an indefinite sensation of uncertainty. It wasn’t that she wanted anything from him; she just wanted him with a longing she didn’t known was still there until this moment.
“You’re−” the words caught in her throat. She would always love him, she was now sure of it. It seemed unfair to leave him uncertain of it, because he deserved to know. He deserved more than what he had; he deserved more than just a quiet good-bye. “You’re also the best thing that ever happened to me.”
He reached tentatively for her hand, brushing one of his thumbs, softly, on her wrist.
She didn’t know who moved first after that, but the distance between them was suddenly crossed and she found herself wrapping an arm around his shoulders as he did the same around hers.
“Don’t−” she said weakly, but the words died in her throat as he brought his face to hers and kissed her.
She couldn’t believe it was happening− and yet she didn’t pull away. For the first time in years she was whole again, as if she had lived all these weeks and months with a part of her soul amputated. She kissed him back, their fingers entwined, holding him as if he were a lifeline. They were made for each other; there was no way around it. She could almost feel his mind clicking in place with hers as he filled the bottomless emptiness that had been with her ever since she had left.
Finally she found the strength to turn away, and to stand up. Her own hands were freezing now because of the bitter wind. She watched as a bird flew toward a cherry tree, landed on a bough and then took flight again, as light as the current of air that was carrying it away.
Lily forced herself to look at Severus. He returned her glance mutely, and it felt like the world underneath her fell to pieces. She would never forget his eyes, haunted, craving and so heartrendingly desperate. If she had some decency left there was only one thing she could do, for his sake and hers.
The idea that she might never see him again was horrible, sickening. Yet what was she supposed to say? That it was unbearable? That she’d never be able to forget, even for one second, what it was like to be with him, and that the ghost of their love would keep haunting her for the rest of her life? It was unnecessary: he already knew that, and so did she.
“Goodbye, Severus,” Lily made herself mutter in a soft whisper.
No one called her back but the plaintive moan of the trees weeping with her; nothing moved except a few leaves that fell to the ground at her feet, twirling before they lay still.
The wind howled in her ears as Lily walked away from the most magic place in the world.
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