Author: musamihi *
Ship: Lily/James, Snape
Summary: When Severus was her best friend and guide, there was no question as to how he compared to James Potter, of all people. But a lot can change in seven years.
Disclaimer: Characters and situations are drawn from Harry Potter, which I do not own.
It was Friday evening, with perhaps another hour of twilight left in the day. The weekend lay out in front of her like a sudden clearing in a thick forest, the first pause in the harried, unbelievable days that had been her first week at school. Lily felt like she was out of breath. It was all still so new and – well, magical - and so very, very different from home. She felt out of place in the vast, mysterious grounds. The hills swept away from the castle farther than she could see, farther than she had ever seen before; the sky seemed bigger, clearer, cleaner than it ever had been in the little town where she’d grown up. It was frightening, but it was exciting. Seven years seemed like an eternity. Surely she would have time to discover everything there was to know before she left again.
Severus looked out of place, too, but in a different way – as though he’d been gone too long and was only now remembering how to settle back in. Lily felt she’d been dropped in the middle of something new, something wonderful; Severus seemed to feel like he’d been brought home. She was a little jealous of him, which made her feel silly. But he already knew how to do so many wonderful things. He had already made a name for himself with the students in his House, even the seventh years; she’d seen him, all puffed up and pleased, accepting praise from that tall blond Slytherin prefect with the cruel eyes and the sharp mouth. Of course, he couldn’t eat with them or anything – he was too young – but she doubted if anyone outside of first year knew she existed, and while she felt like she was bound to be good at something here, so far she’d only just kept up with the rest of the class.
She sat down in the grass by the side of the lake, and Severus sat beside her. Almost instantly his hand came shooting down onto a newt in the mud, and he trapped it between his fingers and leaned close to the ground to watch it. Lily laid back and stared up at the washed-out looking sky, transfixed by its impossibly pale yellow color. There were no soot-spewing chimneys, no flapping clotheslines, nothing but free clouds and a gentle haze by the horizon.
“What do you think you’re going to be best at?” she asked after a few minutes of nothing but silence and the little squishing noises that came from Severus toying with the newt in the mud. Her anxiety about school was hard to shake, even out here where everything seemed too peaceful to be anywhere near the bustle of hallways and cramped classrooms.
“Dark Arts – Defense,” Severus said instantly, looking up from the ground with a smile that was almost smug. He pushed his lank black hair out of his face, leaving a little dirt on his forehead. “I know you’ll be good at it, too. I was watching you in class,” he continued, a little rushed, “And you’re really good. I can tell. You like it, don’t you?”
“Yes,” Lily said, not really sure what she liked best, yet. Defense Against the Dark Arts was interesting enough. “But I think I liked Potions, too.”
“Oh, me too. I’m not surprised. Best friends always like the same things, don’t they?”
Lily smiled a little and looked back up at the sky, with a nod. She thought she was glad to have a best friend, here – she felt small enough that she’d get lost without one, no question.
The Great Hall was almost empty, and absolutely silent. It was nearly curfew. Severus sat at the end of the table nearest the entrance, his books and parchment spread out across a space wider than he was tall. He’d insisted on studying here tonight, explaining to his classmates down in the common room that he needed more room for his papers. It was true – the OWLs might not be until next year, but he’d taken the professors’ warnings to heart and started preparing well in advance. He’d had other reasons, too, that he hadn’t seen fit to mention. His chances of seeing Lily here were slim, but they were nil down in the dungeons. The last couple of days he hadn’t spoken to her outside of class. She’d been strangely busy, and while it wasn’t so bad (he had plenty to talk about with his Housemates, of course), it felt like it had been far too long.
No luck tonight, either, he noted with a little frustration. In five minutes he and everyone else would have to be squarely tucked away for the night. He gathered up his books, feeling slightly sullen, and set out into the hall, towards the staircase that would take him down to bed.
At the end of the corridor, he just barely caught sight of a slender figure turning the corner, dark red hair disappearing after half an instant – the color of the trees he could see from the library windows in fall, distant on the hills and crossed with the iron window casements and distorted in the thick, twisted panes of glass, but always there and always recognizable.
“Lily!” His voice carried too far, too loud – but she appeared around the corner again, with a smile for him.
He hardly realized he had run over to her until he was standing breathless by her side. It really was different, seeing her after they’d been so long apart. “Hey,” he said, suddenly conscious of the fact that the hallway was blessedly empty, and their little corner was dim and quiet and mostly out of view. “- Where have you been?”
“Been?” There was something wrong about the way she asked it. Severus was very good at telling when he was being lied to, and this wasn’t a lie – it wasn’t a statement, so it couldn’t be untrue – but it wasn’t genuine. She knew what he meant, and she was pretending not to. She didn’t want to tell him why they hadn’t seen each other. It gave him a terrible, sudden sinking feeling. He forged onward, eager to speak so that he wouldn’t have to hear whatever explanation she would give him.
“I’ve been studying a lot, personally,” he said, looking down at the books in his arms, trying to sound very busy.
“Oh, yeah, there’s heaps of work,” she agreed, her smile broadening. “I think everyone’s been stuck inside writing essays over the weekend. I’ve got about a ton of Transfiguration to get through.”
Severus straightened. “If you want any help –”
“Maybe later,” she cut in, looking slightly embarrassed. “We’d better get going, don’t you think? It’s almost curfew, we’ll be caught out.”
“Oh, is it that late? Yes – well – goodnight, then,” he trailed off, watching as she turned with a little wave and walked briskly on. He stood there for a minute, still, and feeling inexplicably disappointed – he didn’t know what he had wanted to do, exactly, but it had seemed on the tip of his tongue, and now … it would have to wait. Whatever it was. Only the sound of boisterous laughter coming up behind him in the direction of Gryffindor tower set him on the move again, and he disappeared down into the staircase just as a group of boys drifted past, filling him with dread.
Groups of students passed in currents through the courtyard, or huddled in corners to exchange a quick word between classes. Lily tugged her scarf a bit more tightly against her face, and made her way slowly along the perimeter, where the crowd thinned slightly. She had nowhere to be, save the library – not her preferred hideaway for the afternoon, but she’d put it off long enough – and was eager to absorb what little sun was left in the day. The light left early this late in the year. It had already abandoned the edges of the courtyard; in the deep shadow under the colonnade, a little pack of Slytherins was hunched over together peering intently at something on the floor, all but obscured in the shade. Suddenly one of them gave a yelp, and fell backwards after hopelessly flailing his arms. The rest of them burst out laughing. As one leaned down to offer her scowling classmate a hand up, Lily caught sight of Severus. He was tucking his wand away, his face a careful mask of complacency. But she recognized instantly the dark gleam of satisfaction in his eyes that always appeared when he was pleased with himself.
She stopped, watching from behind the come-and-go of other students as the group disbanded, splitting off by years to go to their respective lectures. After a couple of minutes there was no one but Severus, who furtively drew his wand again and began to wave it in a complicated pattern at the flagstones at his feet. A gratified smirk was stealing out across his face now that he no longer thought he was being watched.
“What are you doing?”
At the sound of her voice he jumped, his shoulders tensing; one of the stones, which had begun to glow a strange purple color, faded once again as he pushed his wand back into his robes. She was taken a little off-guard by his reaction. It was suspicious, no doubt; and yet, it was hard not to compare him to certain people who seemed all too happy to be watched.
“Nothing,” he said, his voice curt and closed. It gave her a sinking feeling that had become all too familiar, recently; if he didn’t want her to know what his classmates had found so amusing, odds were she didn’t want to find out. She changed the subject immediately.
“Are you finished for the day, then?” She adjusted the stack of books she was holding under her arm uncomfortably. “I’m just off to the library; I’ve been really bad about keeping up with Astronomy the past few weeks, and now I’ve got to dig myself out from under it.”
Severus’s lip curled a little, but his tone was sympathetic. “I can’t wait until I’m finished with that nonsense,” he said, scuffing his shoe along the ground. “How on earth they’ve managed to fill up five years with it, I will never understand –”
“Reckon you’re used to that, though,” came a crowing interruption, echoing slightly in the open hall. A small, impatient sigh escaped her; she turned her head, in spite of herself, and found – as expected – Potter, looking like he’d just come through a gale-force wind. Pettigrew was half-running to keep up with him as he strode towards them. “All right, Evans?”
She very pointedly ignored him. “I think it’s because it takes ages to get through any of the assignments properly,” she said, turning back to Severus. “I spent a good four hours tracking down all of Jupiter’s moons, and I know at least half of them were off.”
“If you need help,” Severus replied, casting a particularly vicious glance at Pettigrew, “Potter’s got more first-hand experience than most with satellites. Not surprising, given the size of his head –”
“The trick is being able to fit behind the telescope, actually,” Potter retorted, with a grin so lop-sided it must have been affected. “Which I guess would be pretty hard for you, with that beak you’ve got. Were you actually born like that, or did you get it caught on something when you were –?”
“Alright,” Lily said, half to herself, when she saw that color rise up in Severus’s face and his mouth open to spit out a reply. She wanted no part of this; she’d seen all of it before, and it was nothing but a waste of time. Potter was insufferable, and, for some reason, whenever Severus came within five feet of him he became just as ridiculous. “I’ll see you later.”
She left before either of them could object, spinning on her heel and setting out across the muddied open plaza with her head ducked into the wind. It was strange, but when the two of them went at it like that, she almost always began to feel angry with herself - it was uncomfortable, and surely wrong, this gnawing sense of satisfaction that threatened to break through into a hint of a smile. There were times when it felt good to resent Severus, even if she could only do so vicariously. He was too close, almost always. When they spoke, these days, she had the decidedly unpleasant feeling that there was something he wanted to say but wouldn’t, something flowing under the surface of everything they did together; and she knew, on a visceral level, that she wanted nothing to do with it. The way Potter made him small was … wonderful.
And it made her feel terrible.
She looked over her shoulder, dreading the sight of Severus hastening after her, as he often did when she attempted to go off on her own – but all she saw was him and Potter quickly looking away, then shooting a baleful glare at one another before going their separate ways, as though they had forgotten what they were doing.
James heard the dull echoes of his footfalls against the low ceiling of the earthen tunnel as he sprinted, light from his outstretched wand bouncing madly off the root-ridden walls, further and further underground towards the shack. He knew the slope of this place pretty well, by now, knew how far he had to go by the way the path leveled out and began to ascend again. The light reaching out ahead of him encountered nothing but emptiness. He began to feel a little sick to his stomach. Snape had probably gotten too much of a head start; he was probably too late. His heart beat too quickly, feeling high up in his chest. What would he find when he arrived? Did he even want to see? And then, this would be it, for Remus – he’d have to leave school, no question, through no fault of his own – and Sirius, too. His fear seemed to barrel forward into anger as he ran.
What the hell had he been thinking? Had he, at all? On some level, it was hard to blame him, because you couldn’t really argue that Snape didn’t deserve whatever he got – and they all liked a good joke, now and then – but tripping the slimy git down a flight of stairs or hexing his nose half off was something very different than making sure he got ripped to bloody shreds by a mad werewolf. He wondered, sometimes, about Sirius. He would never have said anything to him, of course; he was a good bloke, he knew that, if only by the way he had recognized his family for what it was and had the decency to split off. But … he had been raised by them, and their blood ran in his veins, and James could at times see some of their sharpness in him, some of their cruelty. And while Sirius only directed it at people who had earned it … Well, it was the sort of thing no one ever really earned, wasn’t it? Like this. There were lines that Sirius crossed that he didn’t care to approach.
Finally, desperate for any sign of life, he heard someone breathing heavily up ahead – but it was, as he had feared, too late. A wedge of light opened out into the tunnel as the door to the shack was pushed slowly open. He saw Snape’s skinny, hunched, coiled silhouette, saw him jerk clumsily backwards like a lurching insect as Remus – fully transformed, teeth bared, eyes empty – tensed and launched himself at the doorway.
”Impedimenta!” James shouted, aiming for Remus. It worked: the wolf jolted in mid-air as though he had run into an invisible wall, and the rickety door rattled in its frame, swinging half shut again with the momentum. Snape whirled on him just as James ran headlong into him, smashing him up against the wall, unable to stop himself in time. He felt the other boy’s wand arm struggling under him, and heard him draw in a breath. He struck out at his hand just in time to knock his wrist away, and Snape’s spell – nothing he recognized – connected with the ceiling rather than with his head.
Good thing, too, he thought, as the walls around them gave an ominous rumble. He heard a rough, angry snarl, saw Remus’s furiously contorted face flying closer once again – and then, everything went black.
He coughed weakly. There was something crushing down on his ribs. He began to panic. He couldn’t breathe, could hardly move; his hand was the only part of him that seemed willing to follow his order, and he groped for his wand, feeling nothing but loose clods of dirt and torn roots. That was when he realized, with just as much relief as horror, that he was buried. He began frantically to tug himself out from under the pile of debris, clawing into the ground for purchase. When he finally pulled himself to his feet, panting from the effort, he despaired of ever finding his wand. But luck was with him, and after no more than ten seconds of feeling along the floor on his hands and knees he found it once more.
Snape was just breaking free of the collapsed section of the tunnel himself. James could hardly see, his glasses were so caked with mud. A quick attempt to wipe them off with his equally filthy sleeve only smeared them hopelessly. There was a lonely, angry howl that seemed to come from far away – they were safe, at least from Remus. For now. He nearly tripped on Snape’s wand, and scooped it up before its owner could claim it. He’d done enough damage.
Snape brushed himself off, shaking his robes and sending large flakes of earth falling to the ground. “So,” he said, quietly, and James could perfectly imagine his stupid, smug little smile, though his eyes were flashing with anger in the dark, “A werewolf. What a surprise. Who ever could have imagined -”
“Shut up.” He pointed his own wand at Snape, and jabbed it in the direction of the school. “Start walking.”
“Came to watch, did you?” he spat back, staying right where he was. “Not content to picture someone getting mauled – had to come see it for yourself, I suppose? So sorry to disappoint –”
“I saved your life!” he shouted, incredulous. The injustice of the accusation stung him, and made him start to wish he hadn’t bothered.
“After you tried to kill me!” There was a desperate note in his voice, almost hidden, but undeniable.
It was Sirius’s idea, he almost said, but stopped himself in time. “I said, start walking.” He gestured with the wand again, not at all willing to let Snape follow him out. The other boy hesitated for a moment, and then set out along the tunnel with a determined air.
“I’m going straight to the Headmaster,” he said, sounding shaken, but gleeful. “Just you wait until he hears about this – you’ll all be gone, every last one of you – I should pack your things now, if I were you –”
“Shut up,” James said again, feeling nothing but contempt for his gloating. What the hell did Evans see in this little prat, anyway? The thought of her made him bring his wand to bear and fire off a stinging jinx at Snape’s heels. The way he scrambled forwards buoyed his spirits slightly, almost enough to shake off the cold, seeping feeling that the heavy ground was going to swallow them both up again. Let him go to Dumbledore, if he wanted. James almost wished he could be there with him, to see the rage on his face when he realized the Headmaster had known all along.
He let Snape run out onto the grounds ahead of him, not bothering to chase him down. When he had disappeared back into the shadows of the castle, James sat at the foot of the tree, his back pressed up against the spot that stilled the branches. He felt a little winded. The black tunnel opened next to him like a waiting mouth.
The muted rustle of the trees and the dead rattle of leaves blowing along the road always reminded her of the beginning of the school year – and it always would, she knew, grow as old as she might. This little town, with its charming church and carefully planted rows of warm-looking houses, was nothing like the great vaults and expansive forests of Hogwarts; but the air, the darkening, clouded evenings, and the deep orange of the branches that stretched out over the tranquil little cemetery drew her always back into her time at school.
Harry was curled up peacefully (for once) in the sling that kept him close against her chest, no more than a tuft of soft, black hair and a small, tightly clenched hand. He had turned one year old, this summer. It had been years since she had last stepped away from the platform to board the train that would take her, once and for all, away from Hogwarts, which had changed so much for her.
And yet, even now, it was hard to separate the feeling of fall from the boy who had been the first to guide her ten years ago through the world that was now hers. The path he had chosen was horrifying, despicable. She believed she knew what had driven him to follow it – they had been friends long enough, after all, that she could articulate his failings, even if she couldn’t understand them. There was pity mixed with her revulsion. And sometimes she wondered, usually when the weather took this nostalgic turn into the descent of the year, whether she might see Severus again, someday far in the future, when this had all ended. She knew there was enough good in him, if his pride could be overcome, to pull him back from the mire he was in. James would tolerate it, even if she doubted he would understand the effort. He had a cleaner, simpler take on forgiveness than she did – which she found a little out of place, considering how very much he had changed in the recent past.
But, in truth, too much had changed. Any chance Severus might have had of returning to her as a friend had vanished a little over a year ago, when her son had been born. Her friendships, the redemption of men she had known and lost before Harry had come along, were second always to her new responsibility. She had only to ask herself if she ever wanted Severus, who had been capable of throwing his lot in with hateful, twisted murderers, to be a part of her son’s life – and she knew that she would not see him again.
It made her sorry. But the feeling faded as she walked towards home, to the father of her son, her fingers slipping lightly over the iron gate that passed into the graveyard as she turned the corner.