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He leapt out of sleep like a salmon, torso jolting upwards and legs swinging out of bed of their own accord. He didn't manage a single step before they buckled under him, and pain completed the excruciating process of waking him up. Stupid, stupid, stupid. He'd probably been in a coma for days. How had he expected his legs to behave?

He dragged himself into a sitting position – because, wherever he was, and however close to death he'd come, he was not going to be discovered lying on the floor – especially not by Lily.  

He rubbed his eyes hard and tried to get his bearings. It was dark, and the floor underneath him was cold. For anyone else, that might have been a paucity of information but, for Severus, it was enough to work out that he wasn't in the Valance House, where he had fallen asleep. The bedrooms there were lushly carpeted, and never completely dark. Silversmith oiled his way through the rooms at night, lighting candles and torches – presumably so that he would have some proper shadows to lurk in.

And there was a familiar smell in here – something that was causing the feeling to rush back into his numb limbs - dragging a lot of aches, pangs and twinges in its wake. Dittany. Dittany and floor tiles. He was in the Hospital Wing.

There was a slow, silver brightening above his head, and he realized he was lying in a puddle of moonlight. In fact, there were six puddles of moonlight, arranged at intervals along the floor, spilling in from the six arched windows above him. And, because the windows were arched, the puddles of light on the floor looked like silver tombstones.

Don't do that. Don't get morbid. They woke up too. They must have done.

The moon must have disappeared behind a cloud, because it was suddenly dark again. Severus held his breath in the blackness and listened for the sounds of other people's breathing. But he was listening far too eagerly – and the thumping of his heart was drowning out every other sound in any case – so he felt his way back to the bed and used it to pull himself upright.

There'll be other beds, said his thudding heart. But he didn't want to fall over them, or scrabble around in the darkness for a light and draw attention to himself, so he sat still, chest heaving with impatience, while his eyes adjusted to the gloom. In a very misjudged attempt to soothe him, part of his brain pointed out that, if Lily and Dumbledore were dead, they weren't going to get any deader.

But he could hear breathing now – if he wasn't imagining the sound out of sheer desperation. And he was beginning to make out the angles and creases of occupied beds beside him. Severus clenched his teeth and tried gingerly to put weight on his feet. It wasn't so hard this time. His knees didn't buckle, at least. He still needed to take most of his weight on his arms, though, so he lunged silently for the metal hand-rest at the foot of the next bed, and used it to steady himself.

Dumbledore. Glory be. What the fuck have you done with my girlfriend, you bastard?

Severus concentrated on that initial reaction in order to avoid acknowledging the relief that was welling up in his chest at the sight of Dumbledore.

Of course he's alright, he told himself. He's always alright, isn't he? Always standing there, chuckling and twinkling in the middle of the chaos, like some kind of cruel, confusing fairy godmother. I am not relieved. Fuck him.

Severus recognized Madam Pomfrey before he'd even reached the next bed, and spent a few moments counting her breaths with cautious optimism. He hadn't seen her on the cliff-top. He hadn't been able to see anything but Lily and his own impending doom, of course, but still… he hadn't expected Madam Pomfrey to survive. He would have been happy about it – but for the grim conviction that he was going to have to explain things to her at some point – tell her what she'd done and, worse still, what he owed her.

The occupant of the next bed was harder to be sure of, because he kept telling himself not to believe it until it was absolutely beyond all doubt. He counted at least a hundred of her breaths. He didn't trust his hands to be steady enough to feel for a pulse without waking her – and, for the moment, he just wanted to pore over her features in the darkness. The last two times he'd seen her, she had been dangling over a precipice with Voldemort's hand wrapped around her throat, and bleeding to death on the rocks. A Lily out of immediate danger was a wonderful, healing sight.

Caladrius was in the bed next to hers – and that was just the bitter element Snape needed to convince himself that Lily being alive was not too good to be true. His hand was even drooping over the side, as though he had fallen asleep in the act of reaching out to her. Severus very gently, but very emphatically, lifted the arm and placed it back on Caladrius's chest.

With a further tightening of his stomach, he recognized Potter in the bed next to that. At least the bastard seemed to have broken his arm. That was some comfort – although Severus wouldn't have put it past him to catch a Snitch and steal his girlfriend with his hands tied behind his back.

It seemed that, whoever was now in charge of the Hospital Wing, they had a good grasp of student grudges, because he and Potter had been rather pointedly placed at opposite ends of this little row of beds.

In any case, he was too exhausted to dwell on those hated, gerbil-like features with much energy. There would be trouble when either Potter or Caladrius woke up – probably, there would be a lot of awkward questions about the future – but Lily was alive, the Hospital Wing was blissfully silent, and Potter had broken his arm. That was enough, for now.

He concentrated on the three beds which actually contained people he liked – or people he needed, anyway. He walked from one to the other, hoarding up the silence and pressing it close to his chest. They were alive; their breathing was regular – even Madam Pomfrey's. He spent a few minutes poring over each figure, counting breaths the way a miser would count pennies. Yes, they were alive. He wasn't entirely sure he was awake, but he was sure they were alive.

There was one thing he still needed to do, though. Very gently, he pulled back the covers on Lily's bed, eased his hands underneath her shoulders and knees, and picked her up. Then, on unsteady feet, he carried her back to the bed he'd just vacated – the furthest bed from Potter's – and laid her down on it. It was the only way to relax.

As an afterthought, Severus levitated one of the screens from across the ward, and set it down between Lily's now-empty bed and Caladrius's, blocking his two least-favourite people from view.

There. Now the world could be perfect for a while. His little makeshift family on one side, and all the bastards of the world on the other. Of course, the screen was very flimsy – it wouldn't be much of a barrier when the bastards of the world woke up – but it was something.

Narcissa didn't rush to inform her grandmother of Moribund Prince's death. She changed out of her evening dress in a stately, unhurried manner, with occasional help from the House Elf, who stood on a stool beside her, loosening ribbons and unpinning her hair. Malfoy was pacing up and down in the corner, fidgeting and fuming as progressive inches of her pearly, powdered white skin were unveiled. When she was down to her shift, he abruptly dismissed the House Elf, and stood behind her, hovering his hands a bare inch above the skin of her arms in that way he had, as though he was warming himself by a fire.

Narcissa looked into the mirror in front of her – there was always a mirror in front of her – and allowed the pride she was feeling to swell her chest ever so slightly, while keeping her stomach emphatically tucked in.

She was proud of what she could offer him – proud of being devastatingly visible again – proud of having such a fiancé, who would track down and outwit scheming commoners to get back what was rightfully hers. It would take more than a few weeks of invisibility to humble a pure-blood daughter of the House of Black – especially one who looked as good as this.

Malfoy tilted her chin up, and whispered that she was the queen of the wizarding world, and he would make sure she got everything that was due to her. He was going to make her kingdom worthy of her.

And she thought to herself: I mustn't give in. It would have been so easy to lean back in his arms and close her eyes. They had everything they needed right here, in their glowing, golden bubble of content. But a daughter of the House of Black was a rare delicacy to be savoured, not a feast to be scoffed. She had to keep him hungry. And, over and above that, she had to keep her independence. He could supply all her needs. He could ensure she never had to think again. It was gloriously tempting, but most emphatically not the future she had in mind for herself. Contentment was a state that every decent Slytherin should fight against with all their might. There were challenges to be met, and enemies to be repaid. Most of all, there was her hopeless, helpless, nerve-grating family to be looked after.

It was strange, the way Malfoy's various perfections made her realize how much she needed the imperfections of her family. And, Merlin knew, they were hopeless. Either graceless and frenetic like Bellatrix or clueless and out of control like dear – like poor – like Regulus.

And yet she felt tied to them. They were ridiculous, but they were her family – the last lingering drops of pure wizarding blood in this compromised world. They needed someone who wasn't completely deluded to look out for them, and, even at the impressionable age of sixteen, Narcissa could see that she was the only qualified candidate.

Severus sat on a chair beside the bed he'd just carried Lily to, and tried to find a position that didn't make him ache. He couldn't close his eyes. That wasn't possible yet. His muscles wouldn't accept the idea that the danger had passed. Every tingling nerve expected some new terror to leap out at him – the ceiling would collapse, Lily would stop breathing, a Dementor would crawl out from under the bed and clasp its dead, grey hands around his throat.

It would take him hours to coax his muscles into a state of relaxation even if the danger had passed. But Potter and Caladrius were lying behind that screen, waiting to prize Lily away from him with doom-laden predictions and gerbil-faced charm. There was no point trying to relax before that. At least this way, he was braced for the impact.

Somebody had left a Daily Prophet on one of the bedside tables. Severus limped over and unfolded it with some care. He was jumpy in any case, and the moving picture on the front page was thrashing around and flashing teeth at him. It turned out to be Greyback, still half-feral even in his untransformed state, rattling the bars of a giant cage. Oh Jesus, they'd put him in a cage, like some kind of circus animal. And they were supposed to be the good guys! Voldemort's enemies recruited more followers for him than he did! Death Eater membership would probably double overnight, if only from the wizarding world's huge population of demented animal-lovers.

Still, the accompanying story deflected any sympathy Severus might have been feeling for Greyback, if he'd been inclined to. It was about the six-year-old girl he had mauled to death last year. When Ministry officers had caught up with him, he'd had a ribbon from the little girl's dress stuck between his teeth, like a strip of dental floss. It was little details like that that lodged themselves in your memory, long after you'd fought off the impulse to be sick.

Apparently, he was being executed on Friday, which – assuming this was today's paper – gave them another three days before all hell broke loose. Long enough to get Lily to safety, but nowhere near long enough to convince her that 'safety' was where she needed to be. Maybe Dumbledore would help. Severus couldn't help but feel that, on any given day, Dumbledore owed him about five hundred favours. Unfortunately, instead of repaying these favours, on any given day, Dumbledore just got himself deeper in debt.

It wasn't as though Voldemort even liked Greyback, that was the stupid thing! If the sentence had been life imprisonment, the Dark Lord wouldn't have lifted a finger to rescue him. If he'd been put in the stocks, half the Death Eaters would have turned up to throw things! But, because the sentence was death – because the Ministry was full of stupid, melodramatic bastards – Voldemort would have to step in. He couldn't let people think that the Ministry had the power to execute his Death Eaters.

And the Ministry certainly didn't have the power. They weren't ready for this war. They didn't know how many of their Departments had been infiltrated. They didn't know that the man who'd volunteered to lop Greyback's head off was actually a Death Eater who had an unhealthy relationship with his beloved axe. But oh no, Greyback had to die, didn't he, because their pea-sized, bureaucratic little brains couldn't accept anything else as justice.

Because of crippling stupidity on both sides, the war was going to start several years before it needed to, and probably claim several thousand more lives. Voldemort could kill quicker than that, of course, but he had an enduring sense of drama, and knew instinctively how to pace out the destruction so that everyone had a chance to properly dread it.

Severus had never thought about preventing it before. The war had always seemed inevitable – an opportunity for advancement, even. And, as long as he could keep Lily safe, he hadn't dreaded any potential casualties. Now his priorities were – cautiously – splintering. There were other people he wanted to save – stupid, infuriating people, certainly – but, somehow, their stupidity didn't count against them anymore.

He had seen Dumbledore sweat. He had seen Madam Pomfrey – the tyrant of the Hospital Wing – bent almost double under the weight of grief.

And he didn't want them to die.

Now the war was something to protect his loved ones from, rather than an opportunity for advancement. Was this growing up or giving in? Maybe it was both. Maybe the one entailed the other. That was a depressing thought.

Now, more than ever, all this aggression and war-mongering seemed like something he should take personally. It threatened his people – his little makeshift family. And they were his because they counted on him – and, anyway, who else was going to save them?

He had never felt that before – an almost feral urge to stand in front of them and snarl at any potential attackers. These are my people. This is my territory. And, if you come any closer, I'll rip your throat out.

How strange. Who did he think he was, one of those strutting, illogical Marauders, half-animal and half-man? (Actually, that wouldn't do – the Marauders were at least three-quarters animal, and they only wanted their loved ones around to massage their egos). No, this illogicality was all his own.

He caught a flutter of movement out of the corner of his eye, and looked down at Lily, who was starting to stir.

Damn. She was going to wake up before he was ready to handle it. She was going to wake up and wonder why he was shaking.

Well, maybe she would be sufficiently bleary-eyed not to notice. She wasn't a morning person, after all, and mornings this early were probably second only to Bellatrix Black in her league-table of hatred.

She woke with a jolt, and he caught her. He couldn't have said whether she leapt up to meet him, or whether he scooped her out of the covers and into his arms – they were just, all of a sudden, holding each other tightly. And he was acutely aware of her thumping heart pressed against him – and her ragged breath in his ear – and how close to death she'd come – and how death was still hovering over them – and how he couldn't relax for a moment – not for a moment – if he wanted to keep her from the grave.  

"It's alright," he said, without thinking – or caring – about the accuracy of the statement. "It's alright."

"I thought you were dead," she moaned, pressing her face into his boney shoulder. "So many times!" She was shaking and sniffling, but still clinging on with all her might. "I've got…" she hesitated, and then plunged on, in a tone of masochistic determination. "I've got so much to tell you…"

Severus shut his eyes tight. He could feel the desperation of the past few hours prickling behind his eyelids. If she started to cry – or tell him she loved him – he wouldn't be able to hold it back. So he tried to grope his way back to the safe emotional territory of their teasing conversations – where he was cold and practical and always pointing out the flaws in her excitable, adorable logic – and said, in a shaky version of his most unimpressed voice: "Is it about the 'eat slugs' remark?"  

From the direction of his shoulder, he heard Lily give a splutter that he hoped was the beginning of a laugh.

"I mean, was he trying to steal your dinner-money?" he went on. "Did he say mean things about your mother? Did you think you were facing nothing worse than a Bat-bogey hex and a detention? Because that's the dumbest death-defying speech I've ever heard."

"Shut up," she croaked into his shoulder, sniffling and laughing at the same time.

"See, that's better," said Snape, in a casual voice which was slightly undermined by the rib-crushing tightness with which he was holding her. "'Shut up' would have been fine. It might not have made the history books, perhaps. You wouldn't be included in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations – but it's good, solid, conventional stuff."

"It was just the first thing that came into my head," she protested.

"I fucking love that it was the first thing that came into your head," said Snape, biting back the enthusiasm which was queuing behind that sentence. "Now don't ever say it again."

And that was it. It was as simple as that. He couldn't blame her for all that careless, thoughtless, idiotic bravery, because he loved it. If she took better care of herself, she wouldn't be Lily anymore. The hours of sick, sweaty, heart-thumping uncertainty she put him through were just the downside – and an insignificant downside, in the long-run – to her beauty.

But her reaction was typical Lily. Whenever he said something that came close to expressing how he really felt about her, she wanted to look at him. Why did women always want to watch you going to pieces?

She pulled back and examined him, raking those bright green eyes over his face, which suddenly seemed red-raw. And Severus clenched his jaw and blinked furiously back at her. He hadn't wanted to see her eyes yet. He couldn't stop thinking about the time – maybe only half an hour ago – when he had watched them close terminally. But then something seemed to distract her from the contemplation of his face.

"Hey, did you stun Voldemort?"

Severus, temporarily reprieved, let a slow, sly smile spread across his face. "Did it look like I stunned Voldemort?"

"Well, no." Lily frowned. "It sort of looked like the Stunning Spell was coming from behind him."


"Well, was it or wasn't it?" she asked impatiently, and he was reminded – with an electric jolt – of the days when he used to read to her, and he had pretended to lose his place, so that he could withhold the information she was dying for until she was ready to snatch the book out of his hands – although she always tried the icy: 'I don't care, you know; I'm as cold as Narcissa Black' routine first, because she so desperately wanted it to be true.

He pursed his lips, mainly to keep from smiling. If he didn't watch himself, he would be grinning stupidly at her all night. "Have you ever heard of Trigonomancy?" he said. "Involves conjuring a series of mirrors for your curses to bounce off so that you can hit your enemies from unexpected directions?"  

"No," said Lily, looking outraged at the very idea – or maybe just at the very idea that she hadn't heard of it.

Severus shrugged. "Yeah, I'm pretty sure everyone else in the classroom was asleep that day. I wanted to be asleep that day. The preamble to this amazing nugget of information was so tedious, even by Professor Binns's standards. I felt as though entire lobes of my brain were shutting down in protest. I think he was reciting goblin genealogies for forty-five solid minutes before he got on to Trigonomancy. Orguk begat Rotgut – that kind of thing. Even when he mentioned it – a way to curse your enemies without pointing your wand at them – he made it sound like a National Rail Timetable. But, once I'd stripped away the tedious words, I started to realize that my inability to sleep in pathologically dull lessons was a handicap that could work for me. I knew something my enemies didn't, because they were all lucky enough to be asleep."

"Wow," said Lily, with a completely straight face. "This is a fascinating insight into the workings of your psyche."

"I cleaned it up a bit," Snape admitted.

"But Voldemort could still do Priori Incantatem on your wand and find out it was you who cast the Stunning Spell."

"That's why I'm going to perform about seven hundred innocent-looking spells before I next see him," said Severus. "He's not a patient man. It should be OK."

"Were you tempted to kill him?" Lily asked, absent-mindedly lining up her palm with his, as though she thought she could get her answer more efficiently that way.

"Of course," he said. "But I only had one shot, and I needed something that would work. There has to be a reason why nobody's succeeded in killing him, besides the ineptitude of other wizards."

"And witches," said Lily primly.

"You want equality even in ineptitude?"


"Alright." And he wanted to say: 'You're perfect – you're perfect for accepting this irrelevant conversation as a substitute for hugs and kisses and I-love-yous. God, an ordinary woman could have pulled me apart at this moment! You could have got the most insane, demeaning drivel out of me in this state. But you didn't. You just let me be. That's what you always do – and maybe it's the most miraculous thing you've ever done, because I find it impossible to just be with anybody else.'

Lily tilted her head, frowning. "Do you really have time to think all that stuff on the spur of the moment?"

Severus gave her a blank look, wondering where to begin. If he told her about all the technical, tactical, paranoid details that passed through his head at any given moment – all the contingency plans and worst-case-scenarios – would she think he was boasting? Or worse, guess that he was suffering? He decided to give her a cautious nod. "Yes?"

"That must be nice."

Just as cautiously, Severus shook his head. "Not really. If it keeps you alive, I'm happy enough." And then – because she seemed to be in danger of raking those eyes across his face again, to check for any cracks in his casual façade – and, Merlin knew, she would find them if she looked, he added: "Where's Elsa? You must have used her to get into the dream world. Is she alright?"

A shadow settled over Lily's glowing face. "Um… yes."

"How did you convince Bruiser to let her help?"

"I… um…" Lily stopped lining up her palm with his, presumably because she thought it would give too much away. "Well, I  told Bruiser I was going to mix her up a potion for dreamless sleep, and I told Elsa it was going to be a fake – you know, because she wanted to help rescue Madam Pomfrey – she's really sweet about Madam Pomfrey… But what I actually did was mix up a potion for delayed dreamless sleep… so that Elsa passed into a dreamless sleep as soon as she'd got us into the dream-world. So now both Bruiser and Elsa want to kill me, and -" Lily broke off, colour kindling in her cheeks despite the gloom. "Are you laughing?"

"No," said Severus automatically, trying to straighten his face. When she continued to glare, he went on: "Well, what? That's brilliant, isn't it?"

"She's never going to speak to me again!"

Snape raised his eyebrows. "I bet she thought that was a really terrible punishment when she said it."


"Oh, come on," he said, unable to suppress the smile for long. "What's broken here? Elsa's alive and you still came after me. Explain to me how that isn't the best of all possible outcomes."

"A Gryffindor would have trusted her to fight," Lily mumbled.

"That's just another way of saying a Gryffindor would have got her killed."

"And…" Lily's voice got quieter. "…Dumbledore wouldn't have done it.."

"I agree. Dumbledore would have left me to die. And, while I'm sure he's succeeded in convincing you that the life of a Slytherin is worth a fraction of the lives of regular people, you can't completely agree with that course of action, can you?"

Lily laughed. And that was another thing he loved about her. Things were usually funny before they were appalling – not that the 'appalling' could be put off forever. "You know he wouldn't have left you to die!" she protested.

Severus didn't say anything. Quite apart from the fact that Dumbledore could have been eavesdropping, he genuinely didn't know whether the twinkly old bastard would have left him to die. It certainly wasn't an idea he would have dismissed out of hand.

"God, I've got so much to tell you," Lily went on.

"Uh-huh," said Severus absent-mindedly. Her excitable breathing was causing wonderful, hypnotic tremors in the fleshier parts of her body, and it was difficult at the moment to pay attention to anything else.

"Regulus came to the Valance House, and he poisoned me with Jincan –"

It took Severus a while to process the meaning of that sentence but, when he did, it broke his eye-contact with the breasts by snapping his head up painfully. "What?"

"The kind that's only fatal if you inhale the fumes," she added hastily. "Otherwise I would have spotted it, obviously. But it turns out he was doing it so he could perform an energy transfusion Charm on me – to sort of reverse the process that made him overdose on my magic – you know, because it was killing him."

Snape was still staring fixedly at a point in the wall over her shoulder. "The bastard!"

Lily shook her head rapidly. "But listen, Sev – he saved me."

"You know, I don't think that counts if he was the one who endangered your life in the first place."

"No, he was – I was at Death's door – you know, the place I pulled Regulus away from the last time? And I…" Her face grew suddenly defiant, which was never a good sign. "I didn't want to go back with him."

"What are you talking about? Where did you want to go?"

Through the door. She didn't actually say it, but the thought smacked into Severus so hard she might just as well have bellowed in his ear.

Oh god, it was so unfair of her to spring this on him now! He had watched her bleed to death on the rocks, and now she was alive – and just as adorable, irrelevant, and big-breasted as ever – and he was too happy to shout at her! You could almost believe she'd planned it this way!

"By the way," she chattered on, in a kind of miserable excitement, "I know this story doesn't start well, but please stick with it, 'cause it has a happy ending – or, I don't know, the potential for a happy ending." She met his glaring gaze, bit her lip, and added: "Maybe."

"Where did you want to go?" Severus repeated slowly. He didn't know why this was bothering him so much. It wasn't exactly new. He had always known she was suicidal – no, maybe that wasn't true. He had always sort of hoped that it was her impulsive nature, or all that incomprehensible trust she lavished on the undeserving – which made her constantly risk her life. The idea that she would do it for no reason – knowing full well what she was doing – and, more specifically, what she was doing to him – was hard to bear.

But, no, that wasn't new either. She had put on wet, skimpy clothes and thrown open all the windows in Madam Pomfrey's office on a freezing night. Damnit, he'd been warned! He'd been given a chance to prepare for this! Why was he so stupid?

"Look, you don't have to worry about it –" she went on wretchedly.

"I have to worry about everything!" he snapped. "Forever! And I don't care," he added, in a kind of snarl. "It's worth it – because it keeps you alive. So before you start accepting dinner invitations from the Grim Reaper, please bear in mind the fact that I have chosen – willingly chosen – a lifetime of headaches just to keep you away from him!"

Lily's eyes flashed – with either anger, tears or amusement – or a combination of all three – and she went on. "If it makes you feel any better, I can tell you why I was doing it."

"Why would that make me feel any better?" said Snape, through gritted teeth.

A shadow of a smile flickered over her face. "Well, you're a Slytherin, aren't you? Don't Slytherins like to know things?"

Severus supposed – in a gloomy, mechanical way – that he couldn't argue with her there.

"I was scared of being alive," she said bluntly, "because being alive meant loving you and hating pure-bloods."

Severus stared at her. It was a soothing – if slightly bewildering – sentence to listen to. After all, those were all of the things he wanted her to feel. But, since it kind of implied that she would rather die than feel them, he was determined not to get too comfortable yet.

"Maybe you could expand on that a bit?" he asked wretchedly.

"I hate pure-bloods," she said, as though she was determined not to soften it.

Severus didn't point out that this was more repetition than expansion. Instead, he said, with a half-hearted attempt at a smile: "Thank Christ for that. Maybe you'll stop letting them buy you drinks now."

"I'm serious!" she protested, and the determined expression began to give way to hot-cheeked distress. Severus couldn't help dragging her back into his arms. He had to do it gently, because he was also trying to resist the urge to shake her by the shoulders and shout.  But, in spite of everything, a weird kind of relief was bubbling through him. Was that it? How could she think he would like her less for hating pure-bloods? He had actually lain awake at night worrying about the fact that she didn't hate pure-bloods. Didn't she know how sexy spite could be? Especially coming from her, because it lit up her eyes like two smouldering green fireworks.

"No, listen," Lily persisted, pulling away from his arms. "This isn't easy to say or understand! I didn't want to admit I hated them, alright? I was scared of what it would do to me. I thought it would mean I wasn't a real Healer – or that I'd run off and join the Death Eaters at any moment."

"But that's so dumb," said Snape, unable to restrain himself. "It's good – it's human – to hate the people that hate you!"

"I wanted to be better than human!"  

"There's nothing better than human," he said quietly. "And nothing worse."

Lily almost smiled, and Severus was amazed to find himself smiling in return. He knew what was coming next. Maybe he'd even thought about it. And it was nothing like the horrific revelation she thought it was.  

But she still flattened out the smile and forced herself to go on. It was painful to watch. "So I persuaded myself that it was your fault – that I hated them because of your influence. And when you… when you called me 'mudblood', I… well, I was hurt too, of course, but I also saw it as excuse to stop seeing you. Because I was scared of what my feelings for you would make me do. But, in actual fact," she added, with the same miserable excitement, "it had nothing to do with you, and I can't stress that enough. I just hate pure-bloods because I hate pure-bloods, and I'm prepared to believe – even if I don't exactly love the idea – that there might be some good reasons for that now."

Without his permission, Snape's face twisted itself into one of those strange, exasperated smiles. "Is that it?"

Lily started at him. "What do you mean, is that it? I blamed you for all my anger, and made your life miserable!"

"Alright," said Severus, with a shrug. "But it wasn't your fault. Stop picking up all this second-degree blame. You didn't dangle someone upside-down in front of the whole school and you didn't call anyone a mudblood. If you were selfish after that, big deal. Nobody's perfect, and so many other people you know are chronically imperfect that you should be feeling pretty good."

"Stop being nice!" Lily shouted. "I hate it when you're nice!"

"Maybe that's your punishment."

"I want a proper punishment!" said Lily – and, if she hadn't been sitting up in bed, he was absolutely positive she would have stamped her foot.

Severus pulled her into his arms again. He was laughing against her skin as he pressed his lips to her earlobe, her jawbone, the soft skin of her neck. She wasn't dead, and he didn't have to stay away from her for the rest of his life. Best of all, she was beginning to realize – even if he still wasn't sure she should whole-heartedly believe it – that he wasn't the devil. It was hilarious that she thought anything else mattered now.

He tasted her skin as he kissed along her neck and felt a shudder of longing run right to the tips of his fingers and toes. Oh god, he'd forgotten about that. In all the pain and chaos, he had forgotten how she could make him feel. What could she possibly think was more important than that?

Still, it was strange that he didn't feel so much as a pang about that mudblood thing. It had really hurt, at the time. Every time she had walked past him in the corridor and refused to meet his eyes, it had felt like another arrow in his chest. Of course, at the time, his chest had been full of arrows. The school was an obstacle-course of snooty looks and hurtful remarks. His chest had been a bloody dart-board in any case, but Lily's darts were the only ones which had the power to hit the bull's-eye. And, my god, hadn't they just.

And he had seen her arguing with her Gryffindor friends. When she fell out with Meg Valance, she forgave her after three minutes! Severus had watched those Gryffindor-reconciliations like a starving man watching somebody else scoffing themselves sick at a feast. And he had wanted to shake her by the shoulders and scream: "Oh God, you wouldn't be this cold to the fucking devil! Why are you doing this to me?"

But, somehow, it didn't matter now. Seeing Lily cry and shiver and torment herself over what he'd suffered then would make it all worse. He hooked her little finger in his own and thought about how everything that happened to that little finger had consequences for him. He couldn't feel what it felt, but he would protect it as though it was his own flesh because, somehow, it was.

"Very well," he said at last, looking up and suppressing the smile. "I shall require you to make it up to me by meeting me in the Room of Requirement over a series of nights for no-holds-barred sexual congres."

Lily gave another splutter of unwilling laughter. "And you think that's a fitting punishment, do you?"

"I couldn't say. It's the business of the justice system to rehabilitate, not punish."

"Hmm…" Lily put her head on his shoulder and pretended to consider it. She played the game, even though her eyes were filmed-over with tears. He loved that too. "I'll certainly feel more fit to re-join society after a few nights with you in the Room of Requirement. But I'm afraid that this manner of rehabilitation might encourage me to re-offend."

Severus shrugged. "The rehabilitation doesn't necessarily have to stop when you've served your time. You can never be too habilitated."

"Oh, good," said Lily, passing her hands over his exposed collar-bones, and then his shoulders, tracing his skeleton the way she used to back in Spinner's End. It was a gorgeous, shuddering, teeth-chattering moment, but it didn't last long enough, because Severus caught a flutter of movement in the corner of his eye, and snapped his head round so fast that his neck gave a horrible crunching sound.

He peered through the pain into the darkness beside them. Dumbledore was standing next to Madam Pomfrey's bed, dressed in star-patterned pyjamas which were definitely not cute enough to soothe the alarm and annoyance that the sight of him had kindled in Snape's chest.

Jesus, how did he move like that? He was an old man! You should have been able to hear his joints clicking! At the very least, there should have been an audible groan as he tried to pull himself out of bed. But he seemed to have gone from lying to standing without even taking a breath, and was now pottering from bed to bed with silent energy, taking pulses, filling water glasses from the full jug on his bedside table. The moonlight was reflecting off his spectacles, making him look extra twinkly.

He had removed the screen blocking Potter and Caladrius from view, too, which Severus was sure could only have been done to spite him.

"I find," he said, without troubling to look up at them, "that when conditions are a bit strained, and attending to the emotional needs of my companions is quite frankly beyond me, it is as well to start by attending to their physical needs. You'd be surprised how many questions of existential angst can be answered by a nice cool glass of water."

Severus couldn't help but notice that the glass of water he had poured for Madam Pomfrey was much larger than the others. He still suspected it wouldn't be sufficient.

Lily gave him a guilty smile, and tried to hide her hands – which had been questing all over Severus's torso – behind her back. "Do you know how we got to the Hospital Wing, sir?"

"I assume we were brought here by Professor McGonagall. She's certainly the only person in the castle with access to my rooms." He leaned towards Lily and added, in a conspiratorial whisper: "I'm only thankful that I remembered to put on pyjamas this evening. I am notoriously absent-minded when it comes to sartorial matters. Do you know, I once threw my robes into the Pensieve instead of the laundry basket? Do you have any idea how hard it is to wash memories out of velvet?"

Lily giggled. Her cheeks were glowing – maybe with the remembrance of the previous conversation, or maybe with the consciousness that Dumbledore could have overheard every word of it. In fact, Snape suspected that all this joking around was due to remorseful awkwardness at the eavesdropping. But you could never tell with Dumbledore. It was certainly dangerous to assume that he ever felt remorse.

"At any rate," said Dumbledore, "there will be time for questions. I, personally, am planning on directing a lot of them at Severus." He gave Snape a bright smile, which did nothing to dispel the gloom which had suddenly descended on him at the sound of those words. "In the meantime, I think we'd better start by taking care of our companions."

He indicated the three remaining sleepers. They looked like illustrations from a manual of sleep-disorders. Potter was snoring contentedly; Caladrius was tossing and turning, as though trying to burrow his way into the mattress, and Madam Pomfrey had her hands clenched on top of the covers, and her eyes determinedly closed. Severus was pretty sure she was awake, but anxious to avoid any unbearably sympathetic conversations.

He suddenly felt an overwhelming stab of solidarity for her. The others didn't know what she needed, because they were nothing like her, but Severus understood the urge to squirm away from sympathy as though it were a disease-addled rat. She had saved the day – at the expense of everything else – and she needed to get through this moment without fuss.

"You'd better check on Caladrius," he said, trying to forestall the moment when Dumbledore realized that Madam Pomfrey was awake. It was probably the most selfless thing he'd ever done for someone who wasn't Lily – and questions of selfhood became complicated with Lily – because, the sooner the Divination teacher opened his mouth, the sooner he could voice some doom-laden prediction that might separate Severus and Lily forever.

He didn't care. The giddiness of exhaustion and relief were calling the shots now, and he would have happily scrawled 'Eat Slugs' over Caladrius's bald head if there had been a pen nearby. Let them try to take her away from him.

Dumbledore took a tentative step towards Caladrius's bed, and – as though he'd triggered some kind of alarm – the Divination teacher sat bolt upright, holding up a hand to shield his face. "Don't come any closer!" he shouted. Terror was rising off him like clouds of steam.

"Oh, yeah," said Severus, his voice dripping sarcasm. "He just needs a glass of water and he'll be fine."

With great difficulty, it seemed, the Professor's wild eyes managed to focus on Dumbledore, and there was a suggestion of recognition. Without thinking, Snape's hand began to drift towards his wand.

"What did you do?" shouted Caladrius. "What did you do?"

Lily threw herself out of bed, stumbling a little, but waving away Dumbledore's hand when he reached out to steady her. "Professor, are you alright? It's me, sir – it's Lily. Are you in pain anywhere?"

Caladrius stared at her woodenly for a few seconds, and then turned back to Dumbledore, shaking his head. "Nothing," he said. "I'm usually digging my fingernails into my palms by now!" He wriggled forward almost childishly, as though he was trying to ensure he filled Dumbledore's entire eye-line. "Something happened, Dumbledore. About half an hour ago. I know you know what I'm talking about! Even as a bird, I could still see – I was sitting beside Fawkes on that perch, watching your death for three damn weeks! But tonight, something changed."

Dumbledore laid a hand on Snape's shoulder. "Severus, would you please find Professor McGonagall and bring her here at once?"

"That's not good enough!" said Caladrius, slamming his hand on the bedside table. "You're not talking to me!"  

"I am endeavouring to be sure of my facts first, Henry," said Dumbledore serenely. He tightened his grip on Snape's shoulder. "Severus, please."

"I'm not going if he's going to flip out like that," said Snape stolidly. "He could be dangerous."

"Me?" snapped Caladrius. "I could be dangerous, you piece of Slytherin filth? I didn't kidnap my teacher and sell him to the Dark Lord!"

"He got you back again, didn't he?" Lily shouted. "And he saved us on Azkaban when all you did was fly away!"

Caladrius blinked at her again. Some part of that sentence had dodged around the clouds of terror and smacked him right in the face.

"That's enough," said Dumbledore quietly – because, Merlin knew, he never pressed an advantage against a Gryffindor. "Henry, you will have to excuse us; we've had a long night. Please believe me when I tell you that Severus and Lily are your friends – as, I hope, am I. We will do everything we can to find out what has happened to you."

"I won't believe they're gone," said Caladrius hoarsely, shaking his head. "If I believe they're gone and then they come back again, it's really going to hurt."
Continuing from Eat Slugs [link]

Happy New Year, lovely readers! :hug: Just managed to get the new chapter finished before I have to go back to work... :cries:

This one is dedicated to ~loyanini, who has been waiting for Sev and Lily to be reunited for so long, and to lovely ~JulesDrenages because it's a little bit like 'Once Upon a Time', which she very sweetly made into a comic for me for my birthday! [link]

Thank you for reading, and hope 2012 is an awesome year for you! :hug:

EDIT: I think the original chapter was too long, because it doesn't seem to be displaying, so have clumsily carved it into two chapters.
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28dragons Featured By Owner Oct 29, 2013
So many pieces of win in your story ;-; did you mean for Dumbledore's "Severus, please" to echo his last words to Severus in canon? That was a little chilling ^^ I wonder what happened to Caladrius' visions - did they change because of the events last night? What's going to happen to Sev when he sees Voldemort next? so many questions!!
ls269 Featured By Owner Oct 31, 2013
Oooh, I don't know if I thought about that 'Severus, please' being an echo of Dumbledore's last words in canon. Unfortunately, it's been so long since I finished this story that I can't always remember what I was trying to do! ;) I do remember that my favourite, favourite EVER canon quotation is Severus's 'Always', and I tried to echo that as often as I could! 
laventadorn Featured By Owner Feb 15, 2012
It's late, but I just had to jot this comment down. Throughout this fic I've loved the way you've written Lily. A lot of fanfic portrayals of her are just frustrating (as I'm sure you've experienced); she's either a horrid person or some angel of sweetness and light. But what you've done is make her so in love with virtue, she's turned it into a vice. Everything she does (that I can remember) that's foolish and wrong springs from some flight of goodness gone absolutely mad. That's masterful. She's as powerful and unreal as your Severus -- "unreal" in the sense that one can't believe people like this could really exist (without self-destructing, which they almost do even in fiction) -- they inhabit the world of fiction so superbly, I would never have it any other way. You're a virtuoso when it comes to larger-than-life characterization. I love it so much, you probably think I'm pulling a Mr Collins and over-flattering. :D But I mean every word.

PS I see you have new chapters! I hate the fact that my body needs sleep -- that hours must pass before I get to read them! Wretched, wretched.
ls269 Featured By Owner Feb 15, 2012
:hug: :w00t: Thank you so much! That's exactly what I was trying to do with Lily - I wanted to explore how a selfless angel would be absolutely maddening to live with! She isn't very close to the canon Lily, I'm afraid, because I have terrible trouble writing Gryffindors (that's why I've avoided Potter as much as is humanly possible in this story! At the moment, he's getting punished for acts of bullying I haven't even had the courage to write about! :faint:) but I've grown to love Lily as she is in this story. I think (I hope) the larger-than-life nature of the characters comes from all the mythological images and references in this fic. I'm totally in love with myth and legend, and I wanted to weave that into the story, to make it dark and melodramatic. (I like realism and all, but it doesn't really capture my imagination...)

Anyway, never, ever worry about over-flattering! There is totally nothing I love better than the opportunity to talk about this story! :blushes: (I loved the mention of Mr Collins too, by the way. Pride and Prejudice is AWESOME (I can recite that BBC version with Colin Firth WORD-FOR-WORD! Not sure whether I should be boasting about that, actually... :ashamed:)

Thanks again your your lovely comments, and sorry for making you miss sleep! :hug: I hope you've caught up on some now. ('Cause the next chapters are loooooong ;))
lilynoelle Featured By Owner Jan 20, 2012  Student General Artist
Nice! I couldn't pick a favorite line, but this one made the list: "Do you know, I once threw my robes into the Pensieve instead of the laundry basket? Do you have any idea how hard it is to wash memories out of velvet?" teehee
The idea of Dumbledore in starry pajamas is grand. ;)

Man there is SO much tension between Severus and Lily! I almost feel SORRY for them. As for Narcissa and Malfoy, it was very good to see them again, if only briefly - I like them both, or at least reading about them. And I AM glad you didn't go with canon on their ages. In my own story, they're young, too - because, to me, it just makes better sense to have the Blacks and Lucius at school with Lily and Severus.

For all its moments of worry and some tension, I think this was a long-needed happy chapter and it was quite delightful.

Keep going, Lucy - unless you WANT to end it soon, I think you could keep going with this story, or a continuation of it, for ages. There is so much still to work with. And, of course, so many people who still want to read it.

ls269 Featured By Owner Jan 21, 2012
Thank you! :hug: I'd like to keep going with it, but I promised myself I'd try writing my own original fiction too (you see, that's what I've always wanted to do, and I feel as though I have to at least try it, even if I never get anything published). Will maybe take a break from the fanfic when I come to the ending I originally planned, and then perhaps continue with it later, when I've tried writing some of my own stuff. (Oh heavens, I haven't even thought about what it's going to be! But, whatever it is, it will owe a big debt to J.K. Rowling and her characters!)

I'm so glad you liked this chapter! I agree about Lucius and Narcissa - it's nice to have them at school with Lily and Severus, starting those feuds and relationships which blossom in J.K Rowling's story. (We mustn't let canon facts get in the way of dramatic tension! ;))
lilynoelle Featured By Owner Jan 21, 2012  Student General Artist
I know what you mean. I wrote a lot of original stuff, but it's harder for me than fanfiction since nothing is pre-planned. I use my HP stories to work on writing skills, my Sev.Lily stories to get out my own questions and explanations, and my original work has benefited from that SO MUCH. I think if i stopped writing fanfiction I wouldn't fall into the original stuff as well. It's very good practice. Kind of a safety net.

It's jus hard to find time for both!
ls269 Featured By Owner Jan 22, 2012
:nod: You're so right about fanfiction being good practice! I would never have had the confidence to try writing my own stuff without all the experience and encouragement I've received from writing fanfiction! But, yes, it's hard for me to find time for both (it's hard enough to find time for the fanfic at the moment! :faint: I'm made of fail when it comes to organizing my time!)
lilynoelle Featured By Owner Jan 23, 2012  Student General Artist
I started with my own, then I had so many questions about Sev and Lily that I figured I would write their story, for me. I was so pleased when people read it! And continuing with it, be it their story or other fanfiction, has been such a huge learning experience! I'm awful at time management too. The worst!
hhimring Featured By Owner Jan 15, 2012
It's nice to see Sev getting protective (or do I mean possessive?) about Poppy and Dumbledore!
ls269 Featured By Owner Jan 16, 2012
:giggle: Hee hee, yes, Sev can't seem to separate protectiveness from possessiveness! He can't be sweet without also being a teensy bit scary! Still, at least he's being scarily possessive with other people besides Lily. I guess that's progress, of a sort... :faint:
WeAreSevenStudios Featured By Owner Jan 12, 2012  Professional Artisan Crafter
In a very misjudged attempt to soothe him, part of his brain pointed out that, if Lily and Dumbledore were dead, they weren't going to get any deader.
My brain does that all the time. At least it's trying...

Severus concentrated on that initial reaction in order to avoid acknowledging the relief that was welling up in his chest at the sight of Dumbledore.
I am
not relieved. Fuck him.
It's such an interesting relationship Severus and Dumbledore have. I think you've done a really remarkable job taking their relationship from the canon and rewinding it some fifteen or so years.
At times, Dumbledore is exactly like 'the cavalry' of James Potter and Sirius Black, arriving in the nick of time to take all the glory. He can be the very worst of Gryffindor. At other times, he can seem to embody the very worst of Slytherin, using people for his own purposes (even if those purposes are for, ehem, the greater good). At once, Severus sees through him completely, but he is still Dumbledore, the savior, the one you can generally count on to save the day (though not a moment too soon).
It's easy to see the mutual respect these two will have for each other, leading up to the days when Dumbledore will be the one relieved to see Severus.

And finally,
He spent a few minutes poring over each figure, counting breaths the way a miser would count pennies.
great line. :D
ls269 Featured By Owner Jan 13, 2012
My brain does that all the time. At least it's trying...

:rofl: It's a step in the right direction, I guess! :hug:

Yes, I totally agree about Dumbledore embodying the very worst of Gryffindor and the very worst of Slytherin! He has that infuriating Gryffindor habit of always coming out on top - always seeming like he's done the right thing - and yet he uses people constantly. The Sorting Hat must have EXPLODED with indecision when it was placed on Dumbledore's head! (Oh, how I love him! :heart:)

Thanks for coming back with a detailed comment! Your comments rock! :hug:

loyanini Featured By Owner Jan 4, 2012
-"Alright." And he wanted to say: 'You're perfect – you're perfect for accepting this irrelevant conversation as a substitute for hugs and kisses and I-love-yous. God, an ordinary woman could have pulled me apart at this moment! You could have got the most insane, demeaning drivel out of me in this state. But you didn't. You just let me be. That's what you always do – and maybe it's the most miraculous thing you've ever done, because I find it impossible to just be with anybody else.' -

Oh they really are just made for each other aren't they.

This chapter literally had me on the edge of my seat and filled with ecstatic energy. They have been reunited! And Severus really has grown up hasn't he. I love this character development he's gone through. It feels very real, as though he truly could have taken this direction had the circumstances only been different. Not to mention Lily's development. I love that she is just a deep and complex character in this story as Severus. Many times fanfiction writers tend to keep her rather simplified, but you have taken the time and used the story to develop her far deeper than anything I've yet to see. I love it, especially the part when she revealed to Severus that she wanted to be beyond human and how Severus said,

-"There's nothing better than human," he said quietly. "And nothing worse." -

To me that rings so incredibly true.

Anyway this was an amazing chapter and I'm so happy you dedicated it to me! *hugs tight!* I wish I could do more to show my appreciation for this story but I think I'll have to just be content with passing it down to all of my Snape fan friends and proclaiming what an amazing, insightful writer you are!
ls269 Featured By Owner Jan 5, 2012
:w00t: :hug: Yay! Thank you, my dear, I'm so glad you liked this chapter! And no worries about the dedication - we Hufflepuffs must stick together! ;) There are so few of us!

I was worried Sev and Lily's reunion would be anticlimactric after such a long time apart, so it's a relief to hear that you enjoyed it! It was awesome to have a chance to write their teasing conversations again! :heart: And, yes, I totally agree that Severus is growing up in this chapter - he hardly thought about punching Potter at all, even though the guy was in the same room, snoring through the proceedings! :giggle:

Anyway, you're awesome for writing such a lovely, detailed comment - thank you so much! (And sorry for the late reply - I have about half an hour of free time per day at the moment, and it's tempting to spend it all sleeping! ;))

Lots of love to you,

Melorik Featured By Owner Jan 3, 2012
Most epic line in this chapter:

"You want equality even in ineptitude?"


I think you'd be a great spokeswoman for the feminist movement Lucy. We men would feel a lot less threatened if we were reassured that you're only trying to fail as much as we do ;)

I'm quite relieved to see that you've finally given Severus a break. These last batch of chapters I was thinking... "how much more can he take?!". It's quite nice that he's now gotten some R&R from all of that insanity.

Loved the convo with Claudia as well. Especially the last bit where she tells Narcissa she's no match for Severus :p. Now Sev vs Claudia in a battle of wits.. hmm... do you think he could outwit Narcissa guided by Claudia? Of course.. we'd never find out unless there was a sequel at some point *whistles nonchalantly* ;) . Also, I think Bruiser should run for Minister of Magic :D. This way he could execute Greyback and claim that he simply died from the injuries he gave him when he was apprehended :P. After all, it's not like one could survive having claws jammed through their chest.

I'm looking forward to more as always.

Happy New Year!


ls269 Featured By Owner Jan 4, 2012
:rofl: :nod: Absolutely! We demand the right to fail! (I don't know if the feminist-movement would think much of that slogan, though...)

:hug: I'm happy you liked this chapter! It was so much fun writing Sev and Lily together again (Sev/Boggart Lily and Sev/thorn-garden Lily just weren't the same! ;)) And, yes, I don't seem to be doing a good job of tying up all the loose ends - I think I must subconsciously want to write loads more of this story, because I can't stop setting the scene for future troubles! (But then, that's 'cause I'm as paranoid as Severus and I can't stop imagining future troubles!)

Anyway, will hopefully write more soon. Now the action bits are over it should be easier :fingerscrossed:

Happy New Year to you too! :glomp:


polkadotpeony Featured By Owner Jan 3, 2012
Oh man! I think I checked here at least every other day waiting for a new chapter. :D I'm a bit obsessed with this story and your amazing writing.

I cannot get over how much I love the way you word things. It's positively perfect. Lily/Sev scenes are the best things in the entire freak'n world!!! I love them, I love them, I love them. Ahhhhhg! I don't want this story to end! ::stamps foot like Lily:: I refuse to let you ever stop writing Lily/Sev. :)
ls269 Featured By Owner Jan 4, 2012
:w00t: :hug: Yay, thanks, my dear! Don't worry, I'm sure I'll write loads more Lily/Sev scenes before this story ends (and, even when it ends, I can't imagine giving up these characters entirely! I love them so much :heart:)

I'm really happy you liked this chapter. It was fun to write them back together at last (especially with them arguing/ mentally undressing each other! :giggle:)
JulesDrenages Featured By Owner Jan 2, 2012
*gah! sorry...pushed the wrong button :ohmygod:... follows from above*

As I said, their conversations are hilarious, to me. Well, Sev's sharp tongue is, mostly.
But I can't stop thinking about him waking up and falling right to the floor, or Dumbledore throwing his laundry into the Pensieve and the trying to wash memories away...
I don't know if it's right to the spirit of the chapter to feel this way, but I can't stop laughing... :D

Thank you, thank you, thank you! Love it! :heart:
ls269 Featured By Owner Jan 2, 2012
:w00t: Thank you! So glad you liked it! And, yes, it's definitely in the spirit of the chapter to laugh at it - the silly jokes are usually my favourite bits! (I still remember a bit about 'Dubious Hagrid' a few chapters back that I was stupidly proud of! :faint: Very silly Lucy!)
JulesDrenages Featured By Owner Jan 2, 2012
I laughed all the way down to the end, this time! :rofl:
ls269 Featured By Owner Jan 2, 2012
:w00t: :hug: :w00t:
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