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There was never going to be a time to sit back and marvel at all the impossible things he'd done and all the hopeless situations he'd lived through. There were too many more of them queuing up to ambush him. So he learned to marvel on the go. He'd never had much to marvel at before, but he was a quick-study and a natural multi-tasker. You didn't stay alive in Spinner's End by dwelling on one thing for too long. He'd seen what that kind of thing had done to his mother. If you wanted to stay alive in Spinner's End – as opposed to undead in Spinner's End – you kept your thoughts moving.

Voldemort had moved his headquarters to Rodolphus Lestrange's house – the House of Pain back in the days when it was simply the House of Mild Inconvenience. And it was eerie to be walking through these corridors again, with the tiles unsmashed, and no bodies or blood or broken glass on the floor. It was as though a team of industrious House Elves had been brought in overnight, to sweep and scrub and polish, and make the place look good as new. Severus wondered whether they had also scrubbed and swept away the future in which all that mess happened. He supposed they wouldn't find out for a while yet.

But he was – most uncharacteristically – hopeful.

This was the third meeting he'd been dreading, but, in a lot of ways, the worst was already over with. Sure, he was going to have a lot of explaining to do – with Voldemort getting impatient and diving into his head like a jagged submersible – but he was used to this. He knew how to recover from it. And, with Lily safely tucked away at Hogwarts – a Lily who, incidentally, had looked straight into James Potter's rich, pure-blood, grinning-gerbil face and told him she didn't want him – there was nothing to break his concentration.

It hadn't been easy for Severus to hear about that. At his lowest ebb – when he'd had to go through the history of goblin rebellions just to stay conscious – Potter had been in the castle, following her, putting his hands on her, trying to bribe her with invisibility cloaks.

And he knew Lily had given him a highly edited version of the conversation. He was sure Potter had been more insistent – and more amorous – than she'd made out. In fact, he was sure that, if he had followed Lily into the castle and witnessed this little scene, he would have killed Potter. Cursed or not – loved or not – after all the things he'd been through and all the things he'd learned – he would have killed him.

But, because he'd tried to battle with the despair by thinking about goblin rebellions, he was not currently occupying a cell in Azkaban. Maybe one thought – one second – one poorly-remembered statistic – had saved him. That lonely half-hour under the beech tree – littered as it was with human and goblin corpses – could have been so much worse.

Amazingly, Voldemort's anger – when he'd been pitched out of the dream-world without any immortality to show for it – could have been worse too. There had been casualties, of course. They'd been in the paper. Muggles who crossed his path that night – who weren't lucky enough to be under the protection of Hogwarts and Dumbledore. Nobody knew how many, because the limbs hadn't all been found. There were nine heads, but too many arms and legs for nine people. According to the Daily Prophet, the muggle police were still searching. The Aurors had given up.

Severus had wondered whether those deaths were his fault. In fact, he hadn't wondered in any detail. He had touched the surface of the question, felt its sharp edges, and then backed away in alarm. Down that road madness lay. Voldemort wasn't immortal; Lily was alive; Madam Pomfrey had woken up; and Severus hadn't personally killed nine faceless – and now, headless – muggles. That was going to have to be enough for now.

He made his way down the bare corridors of the Lestrange mansion, breathing slowly, because the Occlumency state had seen to it that his heartbeat was just a distant, leisurely tap. It was getting stronger all the time. It was like a suit of armour that he could wear on the inside. And, sure, it was difficult to take off at times, but he had years to figure that out – and, anyway, Lily could burn through it with a casual glance, so he'd never be trapped, as long as he had her close by.

The problem was getting the suit of armour in place when she was close by. He had spent half an hour in a broom-cupboard before setting out this evening, arranging his head, teasing out the thoughts which he wanted to be conspicuous. It was not a nice process. In fact, it was a bit like unpicking the stitches on a gash that hadn't had a chance to heal. When he was with Lily, she made him feel almost… well-adjusted. But, when he was setting out to see Voldemort, he had to undo all her good work. He had to stick all the happy memories to the underside of the horrific ones.

Fortunately, he had lots of horrific ones to choose from. And that situation was not likely to change.

At the end of the corridor was the glass door the Boggart-Lily had stepped through after she'd killed Bellatrix Lestrange. Severus kept his eyes on it with every footstep – because he was reasonably sure that, if death was going to come from any direction tonight, it would be that one. He could see clouded movements on the other side of the glass, but nothing helpful. If Voldemort had arranged for Death Eaters to line up on the other side like a firing squad, he wouldn't know it until it was too late.

But he hadn't. There were no guarantees that he hadn't, of course, but it wouldn't make sense. Voldemort wanted to know everything, and dead people were notoriously difficult to interrogate. If he was kept alive long enough to talk, he had about a fifty-fifty chance of talking his way out of it. Those weren't great odds, as such, but he was good at this. And, even if the worst did happen, the fact that Lily was safe at Hogwarts meant that his death could be painful, but not excruciating. That was enough. When you'd grown up in Spinner's End, you developed an eye for small mercies.

He knocked on the door.

It was opened by Lucius Malfoy, who gave him a chilly look, motioned him inside, and then hastened out into the corridor, slightly faster than was dignified. Severus would have to do something about that too, but he could see that Malfoy wouldn't be hard to work on. He was positively glowing – even through all the Malfoy disdain, and the deference he was forced to adopt around Voldemort. He couldn't keep his happiness under control; it didn't just show up on his face, it shone out through his skin. He wouldn't stay angry with Severus for long – and Narcissa would be too pragmatic to make him. She would want to watch him.

And he would behave impeccably. He would sneer at all the right people. He would do all his shopping in Knockturn Alley. He would even find some way to get along with Bella. Just let Lily agree to his plan for keeping her safe, and he would be the most inoffensive, well-behaved Death Eater in the world. There was nobody he couldn't fool if she was safe, because, when she was safe, he was finally at liberty to concentrate.

Severus stepped through the glass door, and pretended he was looking at this room for the first time. There was no raised dais yet – no perfect copy of Slytherin's mahogany throne. There was just a dark, echoey expanse of tiles, with Voldemort in the middle of it like a lone, triumphant chess piece.

Although, in fact, he wasn't paying Severus much attention. He was pacing up and down in front of the glass door, cradling a book in the crook of his arm. Severus – who had developed a feel for the absurd since entering the wizard world – felt as though he should have been eating an apple. There would have been something insultingly casual about that. It would have given off the right message.

"You have taken your time," said Voldemort, without bothering to look up from his reading.

"My Lord, I came as soon as I could get away-"

Voldemort held up a hand. "Yes, I don't think we'll bother with words, Severus, if it's all the same to you."

He took out his wand, twirled it in his long fingers, and then made a jabbing motion in the air. For a moment, it felt as though he had actually jammed his wand up one of Snape's nostrils and into his brain, because the spell tore through his head like a buzz-saw. Through the jagged shapes generated by the pain, he saw the usual stream of jerkily connected images, moving like a flip-book animation. He saw the Boggart-Lily bleeding to death on the black rocks – but, because Voldemort was easily bored – especially by those who were weak enough to submit to the indignity of death – the scene was speeded up, and the blood gushed out, instead of oozing in the painfully slow way he remembered.

Then there was the cave at the foot of the cliff – and the horrible, jostling tide of people on Platform Nine and Three Quarters. Here, the flip-book images slowed down and the colours became brighter, because, eager as the Dark Lord was for explanations, he still relished the prospect of seeing James Potter get his face pummeled in. Severus – despite the fact that he could taste something metallic in his mouth, and was sure there was blood pouring from his nostrils – resigned himself to enjoying it too.  

Then the Slytherin common-room – the carved mahogany throne – the shrewd old man with the fussy beard and the scantily-clad mudblood lying across his lap. Voldemort slowed the memories down here too, so that he could catch every word of Slytherin's monologue. Through the disjoined images, Severus could see blood – presumably from his nose – spattering onto the floor. He felt drunkenly comforted by it – as though, after all the weird, misleading tidiness in the House of Pain, things were finally as they should be.  

When he'd listened to Slytherin's monologue twice over, Voldemort lowered his wand, frowning. "So it was a trick…" he murmured thoughtfully. "No opportunity for eternal life, just a misguided old fool who wanted a curse broken… How sad, Severus," he said, looking almost lost. "A beautiful Curse like that – thousands of years old, capable of breaking spirits so efficiently that the victims voluntarily throw their own lives behind its renewal. And these cowardly Healers think the only way forward is to destroy it."

"Yes, my Lord," said Severus, wondering when the anger was going to flare up, and whether it would be bad manners to wipe his nose. If he went back to Hogwarts with blood on his clothes, Lily would worry – although, of course, that hinged on the assumption that he would get back to Hogwarts at all.

"Why would you sacrifice your life to destroy magic like that?" Voldemort wondered, almost plaintively. "Simply for the sake of people who can never reward you and would never thank you? I don't understand it."

"The Boggart-Slytherin did say it was unnatural magic, my Lord," Severus ventured.

"He neglected to mention that it was also foolish. You know, I sometimes think, Severus, that I am destined to rule wizard-kind simply to save them all from their own stupidity."

Severus couldn't think of anything to say to that, so he fumbled in the pockets of his robes for a hanky, while Voldemort started pacing around again. But it wasn't a restless motion – more of an imperious kind of slither, as though he had to visit every corner of the room to make sure he still owned it.

"And so you were cursed, were you, Severus?" he said thoughtfully. "You should have come to me. If that doddering old fool with the mudblood in his lap could cure you, I'm certain I would have been able to."

Severus steadied himself against a nearby pillar. "I thought you would not want a cursed follower, my Lord. I feared… being left behind."

"Yes," said Voldemort, giving him a snarly smile. "I know. We have a great deal in common, Severus. Neither of us would permit the disadvantages of our upbringing to hold us back. This is why I've been so patient with you. The filth of the muggle world is not easily scrubbed off."

More pacing. The Occlumency state – which was obviously bored because nobody had tried to kill him in the past three minutes, starting counting the number of tiles he covered, to see if he moved like a chess piece – and, if so, which one.  

"Did Dumbledore ask you what you were doing in the dream world?" said Voldemort suddenly.

"I told him I wanted to help Madam Pomfrey, my Lord. I said I felt guilty for putting her in the coma in the first place."

"And he believed you?"

"Yes, my Lord. I think it's what he would have done, you see."

"The arrogant old fool," Voldemort muttered delightedly. "And so you think he trusts you, Severus?"

Severus thought about it. "As much as he trusts anyone, my Lord."

"And I daresay he wants to keep you close," Voldemort went on, steepling his long white fingers. "At Hogwarts he can protect you, and perhaps even persuade you to deliver information about the Death Eaters…"

He left the sentence hanging, but Severus knew just how to reply. "What kind of information would you like me to deliver to him, my Lord?"

Voldemort drew his lips back into a smile. "We shall discuss it, Severus. In the meantime, I think it would be a good idea for you to appease the old man by staying close to him. Perhaps he will even find you a job at Hogwarts. I wouldn't want you to apply for the Defence Against the Dark Arts post, of course – it would be a shame for you to step out of one curse and straight into another. But I believe my old friend Professor Slughorn is retiring at the end of the year. Perhaps you would not object to becoming the Potions Master?"

Severus said nothing. Voldemort's questions were not really questions, and when he said 'perhaps you would' he meant 'you certainly will'. It wouldn't do any good to protest, but, oddly enough, he didn't feel like protesting anyway. He didn't hate the idea of being the Potions Master. In every vision of the future he'd seen – in every memory and nightmare he'd been dragged through – he ended up as the Potions Master at Hogwarts. It was probably one of those cosmic inevitabilities, like Potter winning at Quidditch, or Dumbledore never giving you a straight answer.

Teaching at Hogwarts was not the glittering career of academic brilliance that he'd dreamed of, but it would allow him to terrify a few first-years and brew some interesting potions. Besides, he'd mainly been dreaming of Lily. Dark dungeons and moronic students were eminently bearable when she was the light at the end of the tunnel.

"Nevertheless," said Voldemort, with a sigh. "I am… disappointed in the Boggart-Slytherin."

Severus raised his eyebrows. He was feeling confident enough to risk a question. "You were expecting better of a household pest with a predilection for mudbloods, my Lord?"

Voldemort waggled an admonishing finger. He really was a natural teacher, Severus thought. "Let us not forget your predilection for mudbloods, Severus."

Snape grimaced. "That's all over with," he said, sticking his hands in his pockets like a sulky teenager. "She was so… Gryffindor."  

"Indeed?" said Voldemort, as though this was news to him.

In fact, it was unlikely to be news to anyone who studied at Hogwarts – and Voldemort must have his school-age spies, as well as his adult ones. They had staged a very public break-up in the Entrance Hall – complete with House-based taunts like: "That's exactly what a Gryffindor would think!" It had been – despite the fact that Potter was watching with gloomy interest from behind a nearby pillar – kind of fun. Severus loved it when they were working together, fooling everyone. And, when they were working together, everyone was suddenly so easy to fool. It had been so effortless that they'd even had time to try and make each other laugh.

The break-up was necessary. Lily had agreed to that part of his plan straight away. Voldemort was going to hunt her down anyway, after the way she'd thwarted him in Mapledurham – and especially after she'd told him to eat slugs. If Severus went on asking him not to, he was putting himself – and his position as a spy – at risk. It was better for him to pretend he'd severed all ties with her – the way any loyal Death Eater would – and try to come up with another way of keeping her alive.

That led them neatly on to the second part of his plan, but Lily had dismissed it out of hand.

He wasn't worried about that, though. He hadn't expected her to agree to it straight away. It was one of those last-ditch, desperate measures that had to grow on you.

"I'm glad you've come to your senses, Severus," said Voldemort, placing a creepy, paternal hand on his shoulder. "There are other, prettier – and, above all, purer – women in the world. And, I must admit that, after the inconvenience she caused me in Madam Pomfrey's nightmare, I would not have felt inclined to spare her life, no matter how much you protested."

Severus gave him a crooked smile. "In fact, my Lord, that was one of my reasons for breaking up with her. I know a dead woman when I see one."

Voldemort threw back his head and laughed delightedly. He looked exactly like Dumbledore in that moment – except with pointier teeth and more ghoulish enthusiasm. "You see, this is why I like you, Severus. This is why I trust you with Dumbledore. You are a man of sense – and a man of sense could never follow him."



The Occlumency state wavered as he saw the Hogwarts gates, but he yanked it back in place, and forced himself to keep his footsteps slow and steady. The gates were not going anywhere.

He had to keep telling himself not to relax yet. It wasn't safe yet. Let your guard down too early, and you could be leading all your enemies back to her. Still, he could feel his footsteps getting lighter as he walked through the deserted corridors, and climbed the chimney-rungs up to the rooftop garden. It felt as though he was throwing off the aches and pains like restrictive articles of clothing.

Lily would be waiting for him there – maybe tapping her feet impatiently against the slates. She hadn't been very keen on letting him go tonight. And, even when he'd managed to talk her round, her magic had tried to stop him leaving of its own accord, by forming Impediment Jinxes ahead of him, and tying his shoelaces together.

In the end, he'd had to tell her that this was all part of Dumbledore's plan. It had worked – and he hated that it had worked. He hated that she trusted him – maybe because he wished he still could.

But she had insisted on waiting up for him, and getting her medical bag ready, just in case he came back injured. He supposed it was her way of dealing with the worry that he wouldn't come back at all. You had to keep busy. You couldn't help your loved one, so you found something else to do, and pretended it would make a difference.

Severus had developed his own strategy for this. Before setting out for the House of Pain, he had spent several pedantic hours constructing an impenetrable barrier of protective enchantments around the rooftop garden, where Lily would be impatiently waiting for his return. There were Shield Charms, Disillusionment Charms, even muggle-repelling charms – in case some canny muggle managed to get through the five thousand other muggle-repelling charms that were already in place around the castle. You couldn't be too careful. Or, at least, you couldn't be too careful if you couldn't stop thinking about things.

The tightly-woven enchantments would even keep the rain off her – which he hadn't intended, but pretended that he had, because he'd never be able to compete against that bloody flawless invisibility cloak if he didn't take credit for things he hadn't intended.

He was starting to hate the invisibility cloak with a fiery passion. It had never exactly been his favourite article of clothing – given the number of times Potter had jumped out from under it to hex him – but now it was… personal. Lily was going to use it to justify a lot of risk-taking, he could tell. "No, Sev, it won't be dangerous for me to wander into the middle of a pitched battle between Aurors and Death Eaters, because I've got the invisibility cloak, and Potter says it repels all kinds of jinxes."

The worst part was that he'd investigated the alterations Potter had made to the cloak, and could find nothing wrong with them. It would have been nice if Potter's habitual carelessness had caused him to overlook something this time, but it hadn't. He had taken every bloody precaution. He had been just as careful as Severus himself would have been.

But the hatred – of Dumbledore, and Potter, and his bloody flawless pure-blood gifts – was a background sensation now. He was finding the bitterness… easier to marshal. He could snap his fingers, and the happy memories would shuffle obediently into the mental shadows cast by James Potter and Tobias Snape. But, with another snap, they would crawl out again, glowing and glittering and smelling of gingerbread. Nothing got lost. Of course, the unhappy memories – the dark, black, twisted, bitter-tasting ones – ran rampant through his head at times, but he was finding it easier to control them.

The memories had made him who he was; they could plunge him inexorably into gloom or winch him, dripping, out of it; they were violent and terrifying and, sometimes, he thought there was no 'him' apart from them – but they were also, somehow, under his control. They all had to live under his roof, so they would all obey his rules. He wouldn't be at their mercy again.

That meant concentrating all the time, but he could do it. Drug addicts and alcoholics had to concentrate all the time – start the fight all over again every single day – to stop themselves from relapsing. So, technically, Severus was only doing what his father should have done twenty years ago, before this mess got started. It was…acceptable.

It was more than acceptable when he reached the top of the chimney-shaft and looked at the sweet, flustered, curvaceous, gingerbread-scented help he was going to get in this daily struggle.

She was sitting on the slates with a piece of parchment on her lap, but she got up when she saw him, eager and cautious at the same time. He supposed she wanted to hug him, but was worried that the slightest touch might make him fall apart – and not just physically.

The rooftop garden was like calamine lotion for the eyes. In the moonlight, every object was a soothing, silvery monochrome, and Lily seemed to attract this silver coating more than most.

Later, when he found out about the glowing haze that Regulus had seen around her when he'd been able to see auras, he thought about this moment, and found it scientifically satisfying. Of course she would attract light. The light would get trapped in all those glowing particles, ricocheting off one and onto another. Even when you couldn't see the particles themselves, the bizarre interplay of light around her would seem to confirm that they were there.

Not that he would believe everything Regulus told him about his weird mystic talent, and its sudden disappearance. But, in the rare places where science backed it up, it was… interesting.

Lily walked over to him – and he could tell that she was thinking carefully about every footstep, trying to strangle the speed and the eagerness. He wished she wouldn't. Even if he did fall apart at her touch, it would be a nice way to go.

"Well?" she said, putting her hands on his shoulders, for fear that everywhere else would be too tender. She knew too much emotion would rattle him, so she kept the tone light, even though her eyes were anxiously scanning his body for injuries, and her hands were squeezing his shoulders so tight they were cutting off the circulation to his arms.

It was funny that they could express all this worry and desperation with their bodies, but not with their mouths. Of course, bodies could be a lot more eloquent. Especially hers.

"I'd call it a successful meeting," said Severus, marveling at the contrast between his steady voice and his wobbly knees. "He wants me to get a job at Hogwarts in order to spy on Dumbledore."

"Is that good?"

He shrugged. "It's the Death Eater equivalent of a nice, quiet desk job. It's probably as good as I'm going to get."

He put his hands on her shoulders, but stopped himself there, worried that he wouldn't be able to hold anything back if he started caressing her. All kinds of sensations were competing for his attention – the gingerbread scent, the silvery skin – and, because she wasn't wearing her school shirt, but the stringy little vest-top she sometimes wore to bed, there was a lot of silvery skin. After the icy silence of the Occlumency state, all these sensations were hot and deafening. Passion was like a tap for Severus Snape; he couldn't turn it on without worrying about flooding.

Lily didn't have any worries in that respect. She pulled him down onto the slates and pressed his ear to her chest, so that he could hear her slow, steadying, non-Death-Eater heartbeat. Of course, it was a complicated heart. It had probably been tempted to do things just as terrible as the Death Eaters did – maybe even worse, because she didn't suffer from their lack of imagination – but it was strong and confident and hopeful, and it made his churning stomach settle down.

"Was he angry?" she said. "About the Phoenix Curse?"

"Not by the time I got there. And, when he found out that immortality wasn't actually on offer, and all the clues left by Salazar Slytherin were about breaking the curse and being a good healer, he was sort of… sickened."

"Ha," said Lily under her breath, as though her worst suspicions had been confirmed, and she was darkly delighted to be proved right.

Severus didn't argue with her. He was too happy to be here. In fact, he agreed with Voldemort; the Phoenix Curse had been beautiful, and Healers were sickeningly masochistic. But, on the other hand, here they were, sitting under the stars, alive and well and only a little bit traumatized. For that, he would agree to anything – a circumstance which he was shortly to regret.

It took him a long time to climb down from the pitch of tension he'd reached over the course of the evening. It wasn't easy to lose the feeling that you were being watched – or the feeling that you had to weigh every word before you spoke it. Of course, he had to do that with Lily anyway. There was no peace before death, but there were degrees of conflict. Right now he'd settle – gladly – for the low-level war that took place during one of their conversations – the way he would try to persuade her that Meg Valance was an idiot, or try to pretend he was barely noticing the unnerving closeness of her body. Little wars, that he wouldn't exchange for any kind of peace. Because he suspected – although, Merlin knew, he'd never had an opportunity to test this hypothesis – that he wasn't the sort of man who would thrive in a peaceful environment. If there were no enemies, his brain would create them. At least with Voldemort and the Death Eaters breathing down his neck every second of the day he could put his paranoia to good use.

The hard part was over. He knew she loved him. Years of spying and keeping to the shadows and carefully rationing the moments he got to spend with the woman he loved – well, it would be a piece of cake compared to all the sick uncertainty he'd endured before he knew she loved him.

And, it was one of the inalienable laws of magic that, once something had been done – even if it had cost the most brilliant minds decades of effort and research – it became progressively easier to do, until three year-olds were doing it to pass the time while they waited for their parents to pick them up from school.

Now that he believed somebody loved him, it would get easier to keep believing. If you'd managed to trust somebody once, it was an easier feat to replicate, even with someone as perennially suspicious as Severus Snape.

Yes, the hard part was over. There would be difficult times ahead, no question, but he was equipped to deal with them now. He was frightened and anxious – and the Boggart-Lily had seen to it that he would be having nightmares for years – but this was all a vast improvement on what he'd started with.

He knew he would have to do a lot of talking to convince Lily that his plan was the only way to keep her safe. In fact, that was not the point to emphasize. He would have to convince her that his plan was the only way of keeping everyone else safe.

It wasn't a very Gryffindor plan, faking your own death. For a start, it had the word 'faking' in it, which was guaranteed to raise a Gryffindor's hackles. Severus had tried to think of a different way of phrasing it when he'd first proposed the idea. "We'll arrange things so that Voldemort thinks you're dead" – but Lily had put her finger on the problem straight away.

"And everyone else?"

"Hmm?"

"Will we arrange things so that everyone else thinks I'm dead?"

Severus had shrugged, as though his reply wasn't going to mean the end of the conversation. "Of course. Otherwise someone would tell him."

And that had been it. Nothing doing. But he was hoping the idea would grow on her – the way… well, the way he had grown on her. If that could happen, there was hope for everything.

He leaned back on the slates, looking up at the stars – which were only slightly blurry through the roof of protective enchantments. "How did you get on this evening? How's the paper on magical overdose coming along?"

Lily made a sour face, and held up a piece of ink-spattered parchment. Pretty much everything on it – except for the title – had been crossed out.

"I also set fire to the rose bush when I was practising the charm," she muttered, lowering her head to make it harder for him to catch the words. She saw his expression and added: "I thought Voldemort was going to kill you! Excuse me if I couldn't concentrate!"

Severus tried not to smile. The rose bush probably wouldn't recover, he had to admit, but the rest of the plants in the rooftop garden were flourishing – despite Lily's tendency to over-water her plants to the point of submersion. There were silver-stemmed lavenders in little terracotta pots, and dark, fragrant clumps of thyme and rosemary.

Severus felt a sharp jab to the stomach when he recognized the rosemary, because it brought back the Boggart-Lily, with all her riddles and threats.

Pray, love, remember.

And he wondered suddenly if that was what she'd been trying to do when she'd given Lily her memories – not warn them away from a terrible fate, but just… tell them her story.

Of course, she had been crazy – in a sweet, scary way – and probably changed her mind about what she wanted twice a minute. But the events in her memories – the things that had led to her downfall – had just been cruel, random events that couldn't have been avoided anymore than they could have been foreseen.

So maybe she had just wanted to tell her story. After all – God willing – it wasn't going to happen now. Nobody was going to see it. But it had resulted in a proud, bitter, beautiful, brave woman, and that deserved to be remembered. Maybe she had wanted them to remember her love, her madness, her little baby – not as a lesson to be learned, but just as a story that shouldn't be forgotten.

It had all happened, somewhere.

Lily squeezed his arm and brought him back down to earth. She was chewing her lip – a sure sign that she was wrestling with her Gryffindor instincts – and it lifted his spirits more than seeing Potter fall off his broom.

"I've been thinking about what you said… you know, about the second part of your plan," she said slowly. "Are you sure it wouldn't be like running away?"

Severus frowned. "No. Running away would be like running away. Would you like to run away? Because it would be miles easier; I just assumed you wouldn't go for it."

Lily ignored him, which was probably just as well. "I've been thinking… that maybe it isn't such a bad idea." But she hurried on before he could rejoice – not that he would have been naïve enough to rejoice anyway. "But I've got some conditions. Three conditions, in fact."

Severus didn't groan or raise his eyebrows. He'd been expecting this. "Let's hear them," he said, in a non-committal tone of voice.

"Firstly – and most importantly – I won't be kept locked away at home," she said, smoothing out the wrinkles in her skirt as though she was Narcissa Black. "I'm going to go on being a Healer. But, after what we saw in the Boggart's memories, I can appreciate that having fixed premises and regular colleagues could put people at risk. So I'm going to take the invisibility cloak, and a bag with an Undetectable Extension Charm on it, and just follow the fighting, wherever it goes. I can make Polyjuice Potion, for when I have to come out from under the cloak, and I promise I won't use the same appearance twice."

Severus, who had shut his eyes during this little speech, now opened them grudgingly. "Al-right," he said slowly. "I will agree to that if you don't join in with the fighting, and you don't try to heal the Death Eaters."

"No deal, Sev," she said, with a steely glint in her eyes.

"For which?"

"For either!"

Severus passed a weary hand over his forehead. "They won't care that you're trying to save them, Lily. They will hurt you at every opportunity."

"Secondly," she went on, as though his agreement was a mere formality, "certain people will have to know the truth."

"I am coming back to that first one," he assured her.

"Fine. What do you think about the second one?"

Severus settled into disgruntled silence for a while. "I agree with you," he said finally. "But I'm sure we've got different people on our lists."

"Dumbledore, obviously," she said – and he could tell that she was starting off with the acceptable ones to try and ease him into it.

"And?"

"And my parents."

"I see," said Severus, with an air of long-suffering patience. "And how long do you think it's going to take the Dark Lord to get the truth out of them when he starts delving into their minds?"

"We can relocate them!" she protested. "To another country!"

"Oh yes, because Voldemort wouldn't think about leaving Britain," said Snape sarcastically. "You can't trust the water, and you can't get a decent cup of tea anywhere."

"He'll have no reason to track them down, Sev – I'll be dead!"

"I'm not agreeing to this one yet," he said flatly. "Who else?"

Lily looked down at the lavender-pots, and rushed through the two words he'd been expecting, as though she thought he wouldn't notice them if they were said really fast:

"Just Meg."

He shut his eyes again. Expecting it hadn't made it any less infuriating. "Let me explain something to you about Meg," he said slowly. "It's never just Meg. She says exactly what comes into her head, no matter where she is or who she's talking to. If Meg knows something, then pretty soon her friends, her enemies – and even her milkman – will know it too, whether she wanted to tell them or not. Meg is not an island. She's a fucking thoroughfare."

"We could teach her Occlumency," said Lily – but there was less certainty in her voice now.

Severus thought that idea was too moronic to respond to, so he just said: "Not Meg Valance. Bruiser, if you like, but not Meg."

"It'll break her heart!" Lily protested.

"Maybe it would be good for her to have her heart broken."

Lily glared at him. "You know, it's not you who's going to have to pretend to be dead."

"I wish it was! I know how to be inconspicuous!" He looked at her expression, and lowered his voice slightly. "Besides, it's me who's going to have to take the boring desk-job while you're out every night risking your neck. Do you think that's likely to be fun?"

Lily's frown softened. She looked down at the lavender-pots for a moment, and muttered: "Alright, not Meg. But don't ask me to let my parents believe that their youngest daughter is dead. That would be unforgivable."

Severus grimaced. There was no way around it, was there? Well, it wasn't impossible. It wasn't as though he and Lily didn't have a brain – or an ounce of talent – between them. If they put their heads together, they could come up with something.

"What's your last condition?" he said quietly.

She blinked. "Oh, that's the easy one. You said Voldemort probably wouldn't come after me while I'm still at Hogwarts, right? So we've got time for me to finish my paper on magical overdose. I want that to be published in my name, so that everyone can see a muggle-born is capable of devising useful new spells."

Severus raised his eyebrows. "You really think that will make a difference? Muggle-borns have created ground-breaking spells before, you know. It's one of those facts that gets ignored by everyone who wants to ignore it, and acknowledged by everyone who wants to acknowledge it. They've all made up their minds already, Lily. Nobody in this debate gets convinced by evidence."

"I still think the evidence should be there," said Lily primly. "Just in case."

"Alright," he said, stretching out his legs on the slates. "Alright. See how flexible and open-minded I'm being? See how much easier it is when people are willing to negotiate, instead of folding their arms and stamping their feet and declaring that the idea they've only just heard and haven't had time to think about is wrong?"

Lily squinted at him. "Is this more Gryffindor-bashing?" she asked playfully. "Didn't you get it out of your system earlier on, down in the Entrance Hall?"

"My 'system' is inexhaustible."

She gave him one of her unbearably sexy, conspiratorial smiles – the ones that put an end to all cynical eyebrow-raising and made him an instant, earnest, breathless believer.

"I've noticed," she said.
Continuing from Mrs Fearless Pure-blood Gryffindor: [link]

Man, these long chapters are killing me! Hope they're not killing you too, lovely readers! :hug:

This isn't the last chapter, 'cause it sprawled over into two chapters. The last last chapter - apart from the epilogues - should be up later today.

As ever, thank you, thank you, thank you for reading! :hug: :hug: :hug:
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:icon28dragons:
28dragons Featured By Owner Oct 30, 2013
Lily agreed to pretending to be dead faster than I thought she would XD poor James, having to live with thinking she died... though it IS a big risk if her parents know the truth!

I'm glad that Severus can finally, FINALLY, start trusting that Lily won't fly into James' arms if he gave her half a chance XD
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:iconlilynoelle:
lilynoelle Featured By Owner Dec 26, 2012  Student General Artist
Beautiful chapter! I can't believe I'm almost done; this is one of my favorite stories of ALL TIME, I swear!
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:iconpolkadotpeony:
polkadotpeony Featured By Owner Aug 20, 2012
Ugh, your Sev and Lily never cease to amaze me. In face your characterization of any character you write is mesmerizing. You have a real talent. Poor Sev and his boring desk job. Him and Lily belong in the heat of danger together. :)
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:iconls269:
ls269 Featured By Owner Aug 21, 2012
:giggle: Yes, poor Sev, with his boring desk job! Still, he'd probably think there was something way too 'Gryffindor' about running around for death or glory every night! That was one of the things I loved about his canon story - the fact that he didn't get any glory until after he died, but it didn't matter to him, because he was doing the only thing he could for his Lily. :cries: I can never stop sniffling when I think about canon Sev!

I'm so glad you liked the characterization here. :hug: I love these characters to bits and am really missing them already!
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:iconwearesevenstudios:
WeAreSevenStudios Featured By Owner May 28, 2012  Professional Artisan Crafter
There were a lot of things I loved about this chapter, but I really mainly want to say, again, how hopeful this story is, overall. If there were one emotion, besides love, that would sum up your entire epic, it would certainly be hope.
You haven't left it at a happy ending, because there's so much still ahead of them. But Sev and Lily (and quite a few others) are heading into a pretty grim-looking future with determination and faith (even Sev, to an impressive degree) that it'll turn out all right. That does more for me than any "and they lived happily ever after" possibly could.
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:iconls269:
ls269 Featured By Owner May 29, 2012
Thank you! :hug: I'm so glad I managed to write a hopeful story, because you know I have a tendency to lean towards pessimism in my head! ;) But this story is where I reason away all that despair, so I guess it's fitting that it turned out hopeful. You know, another reader - when I asked him what he thought the story was all about - told me that it was about despair, and why it's always wrong, no matter how many powerful arguments it might have in its favour - and that really struck a chord with me because: a) I'm quite prone to despair myself, and this story helps me exorcize it, and b) from the very beginning, I was writing about characters who I knew were going to die, and I wasn't sure whether they'd be able to escape their canon fate (the canon story was very strong in my head back then, and even now, I still feel like an iconoclast for getting rid of it! ;)) So it was written under the despair of never knowing whether the characters' choices mattered, if that makes sense! Anyway, I'm rambling (which I shouldn't do after subjecting you to all these long chapters!), but, if my story can be summed up with the simple words "don't despair" then I'm very happy about it! :heart:
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:iconkielastalon:
Kielastalon Featured By Owner May 25, 2012
My soul's all tied up in knots now ... this is perfect! I can't even begin to tease out all the little bits I loved (and there are so many) since I'm still feeling overwhelmed and amazed by the whole. All these characters are so real and so very, very different from canon now, but they still make perfect sense, because circumstances have changed them. Sev is utterly transformed, but not in a corny, schmaltzy way. I love that he's still so much himself, but now there's a strength and certainty there that gives him the potential to become such a different man from canon, although all those qualities were always there, just so bent and distorted and twisted. I'm sure I'm not making any sense, but your chapters certainly did! Congratulations, too, for coming to The end ... Although of course you know I'm dying for the epilogues already (which isn't really fair,since you just posted these and must need a break). And to read anything else at all you write ... It's such a delight and privilege to be among the first readers of your work. Please please please don't stop writing!
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:iconls269:
ls269 Featured By Owner May 25, 2012
:w00t: :hug: Thank you so much! You've really cheered me up today (and, believe me, I needed it! :faint:) I'm so glad you liked these final chapters! I feel really tearful about getting to the end, because I love these characters so much, but I'm sure they'll be in everything else I ever write, 'cause they've made such a deep impression on my head/heart/soul/everything!

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:iconshyfoxling:
shyfoxling Featured By Owner May 24, 2012
"He wants me to get a job at Hogwarts in order to spy on Dumbledore."
"Is that good?"
He shrugged. "It's the Death Eater equivalent of a nice, quiet desk job.


lol!

And, it was one of the inalienable laws of magic that, once something had been done – even if it had cost the most brilliant minds decades of effort and research – it became progressively easier to do

Y'know, I've heard this from actual practitioners, comparing the 70s and further back to magical/spiritual contacts and workings now.

This isn't the last chapter, 'cause it sprawled over into two chapters. The last last chapter - apart from the epilogues - should be up later today.

Phew! To tell you the truth, it's been getting a little fatiguing, wondering for months just where is she heading with all this anyway? It'll be kind of a relief not to have it hanging there. (Particularly since the chapters have been getting rather long!)
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:iconls269:
ls269 Featured By Owner May 25, 2012
Well, thanks for sticking with this story in spite of all that, Lisa. You're a martyr to my ramblings! ;)
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:iconjustbecause62:
JustBecause62 Featured By Owner May 24, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Oh, I love this one so much! Must fav... I'm so sad that the story is ending, though. :tears: And no, the long chapters are certainly not killing me—just the opposite, in fact. Hopefully the epilogues are long as well. :D
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:iconls269:
ls269 Featured By Owner May 25, 2012
:hug: Knowing me, the epilogues will indeed be long! (One of them will just involve Sev and Lily bickering/talking aimlessly, which is my absolute favourite thing to write, so could go on for DAYS! :giggle:)

Thank you so much for commenting (and faving) :tighthug: I really appreciate it!
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:iconjustbecause62:
JustBecause62 Featured By Owner May 26, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
:w00t: Yes! Endless, meandering, Sev/Lily conversations! :iconlaplz:
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:iconjulesdrenages:
JulesDrenages Featured By Owner May 24, 2012
Oh Severus, you adorable SPY! :heart:
Now I don't want to read the last one. :depressed:
"Last one" ...it really sounds weird when told about this story...
I'm going, by the way. I'll take a deep breath and read it. I can do it.
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:iconls269:
ls269 Featured By Owner May 24, 2012
Meep! Last chapter! :fear: Lucky it's long enough to be a short story all on its own! ;)
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:iconswordhawthorn:
swordhawthorn Featured By Owner May 23, 2012
Wait, no! The next chapter is the last chapter? :dead: I don't even know what to say...I think I need counselling or something :tears:. I don't think I can read it yet, I think I have to go and sit in a dark room and do some breathing exercises, or drink some sweet tea or something (or save it forever so Sympathetic Magic never really ends).

Wow, I just read this back and saw all the 'I thinks'. Rambling alert!! I guess I'll write some proper comments about how amazing you are and what an achievement this is on the next chapter, but for now, I think I really should go and see about that room, or tea, or whatever...
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:iconls269:
ls269 Featured By Owner May 23, 2012
:hug: Don't worry, I still have to write the epilogues (and might go back to the story at some point, depending on how successful my attempts to live without it are! :faint: I'm not really very good at finishing things!)
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:iconswordhawthorn:
swordhawthorn Featured By Owner May 23, 2012
I do love a good epilogue. And sorry that you had to console me, I just have a serious(ly unhealthy) love for this story :hug:
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:iconls269:
ls269 Featured By Owner May 24, 2012
:no: Love for Severus-stories can never be unhealthy! :giggle:
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:iconswordhawthorn:
swordhawthorn Featured By Owner May 23, 2012
Just want to come back and correct myself, and change 'this story' to 'your writing'. I love your Sev & Lily because of your writing. Therefore I'm sure I'll love whatever you try next. The king is dead, long live the king! (Just wanted to make sure it was clear that I'm really grateful you've put so much effort into creating this, instead of sounding all moany that it's coming to an end!) xx
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:iconls269:
ls269 Featured By Owner May 24, 2012
:hug: Aw, thank you, you're an angel! I'm just so grateful that there are people out there who wanted to plough through this hefty story, and still spare the time to comment and encourage me! It's really given me a lot more confidence in my writing (and in how lovely people are - if that makes sense! :blushes:)
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