Apologia* * *
By Daphne Dunham
* * * * * * *
She sees the announcement in the newspaper that morning—a coincidence, really, as she usually reads the Daily Prophet nowadays, not her parents’ Times. But the paper is open on the kitchen table when she comes down to make her morning tea, and while she waits for the water to boil, she can’t help but flip absentmindedly through the tattered pages. Certainly obituaries don’t usually catch her eye, but the familiar name, the familiar face staring out at her make her pause. The image is motionless—unlike in wizarding publications—and very familiar: the large, hooked nose; the cold, black eyes; the dark hair. She shivers involuntarily just looking at him.
Lily has never liked Tobias Snape: Even if it weren’t for Severus’ reluctantly told stories of his biting words and heavy fist, the one occasion on which she met him—the only time Severus had ever taken her back to that sad, little house and his father had come home early, drunk and angry—had left quite an impression on her. Watching the way Mr. Snape bullied his son, it had seemed difficult for Lily to believe how different a man he had once been, that he had been a chemistry professor at a Muggle university, an intelligent man with a lot of promise… until he’d published that controversial paper—the one heavily influenced by his witch wife’s Potions experiments, the one that ruined his career in utter disgrace, the one that forced them to move to Spinner’s End from Oxford.
Nonetheless, Lily is sorry that Tobias Snape is dead—not so much for the loss of Mr. Snape himself… but for his son. It’s the first time she’s felt this way toward Severus in weeks—since the incident following O.W.L.s and their argument outside the Gryffindor common room that night, when she’d refused his apology. Even when she found out the next morning at breakfast what James Potter proceeded to do to Severus after she left the scene, Lily didn’t regret having added to his hurt and humiliation; he had, after all, also hurt and humiliated her—and, worse, betrayed her. But looking at the obituary now, she can’t help but feel rather sorry for it all.
She leaves her tea behind when she decides to go to the cemetery; it sits cold and untouched on the kitchen counter in her absence. Outside, it’s overcast. Lily walks quickly, checking her watch anxiously, hoping she’ll be able to find them before they leave the burial grounds, hoping she won’t get caught in the rain. She isn’t quite sure what she wants to say to him: She knows Severus’ feelings about his father—but she also knows that regardless of these feelings, a loss is still a loss. And Lily knows they aren’t technically friends anymore—she saw to that personally before they left school for summer holiday—but she also knows that times like this have a tendency to bring people together again. And, what’s more, Lily knows that even though she’s sworn Severus has disappointed her for the last time, forgetting the years of friendship they’ve shared—ceasing to care—has been infinitely more difficult than she suspected.
A cold drizzle begins to fall just as she’s swinging open the iron gate at the cemetery entrance; the drops slice through the otherwise warm, summer air like tiny knives. Lily’s tee shirt sticks to her back, and her trainers make squishing sounds as she jogs along the gravel walkways of the cemetery, weaving through the tombstones, searching for the open grave and doubtlessly small group of mourners around it. She’s glancing at her watch again, about to give up, when she sees them in the distance: two figures huddled under a dark umbrella, heading for the side gate in the distance.
Although their backs are to her in rapid retreat, Lily still recognizes them. Their Muggle clothes, though appropriately black, are—in the case of Severus—mismatched, and—in the case of Eileen Prince Snape—apparently from the previous century. Severus has his arm around his mother’s shoulders, steadying her while they walk; her thin frame, draped in that shabby, lacy dress, is shaking and her hands are covering her face. She’s crying. Mrs. Snape has, after all, loved her husband, and she’s always blamed herself for what they’ve become. Severus is considerably more stoical, his stride fluid, apparently unaffected by his father’s death—or his mother’s irrational reaction to it; evidently Eileen doesn’t remember the argument she’d had with her husband just hours before he’d died—and seems not to have noticed that her son still wears the mark of Mr. Snape’s cruelty: a gash above his eye that Tobias forbade Eileen to use magic to heal.
“Severus!” Lily calls after them. She cups her hands to her mouth as if to make a trumpet, to make her voice carry through the rain, over the graves.
He doesn’t hear her, though—not through the rain, not through his mother’s whimpering, not through the growl and zoom of the cars passing by on the nearby road. As she watches him disappear through the gate and down the sidewalk, Lily’s heart aches from missing him. She misses the awkward little boy from the playground—the one with the dark, unkempt hair who’d told her, his eyes wide and wild, that she is a witch. She misses the adolescent with the freshly bruised cheek whom she’d bashfully kissed, sitting on his bed, after Tobias Snape had left again. And she misses the teenager whom she’d studied for exams with late in the library, heads together and teasing until Madam Pince finally shooed them away. She misses her best friend.
Drenched, Lily turns to leave when she sees Severus turn the corner, out of sight. If she had a Time-Turner, she’d gladly have gone back to all those horrible moments she had watched him make the wrong decision, say the wrong thing. She’d make it so that when the Sorting Hat offered him Slytherin or Gryffindor, he’d have chosen the latter over the former. She’d make it so that he never even met Marcus Mulciber. And she certainly would have made it so he never called her—or anyone else, for that matter—a Mudblood.
But Lily doesn’t have a Time-Turner, and she knows she can’t rob Severus of his free will. So she walks home alone in the rain instead.
Lily is relieved for the silence that fills the cottage when the last guest leaves. She clears the dishes with a flick of her wand; the plates collect themselves, scrape themselves clean of any lingering bits of lamb, and stack themselves—soiled but orderly—by the sink. The washing can wait until the morning; she’s exhausted and her head is aching and she has much on her mind: Hosting her first dinner for the Order of the Phoenix has turned out somewhat differently than she had expected, after all.
There had, first of all, been the shock of finding out about that attack on the Muggle neighborhood in Bath. And then there had been the news of the damage to Alastor’s nose, which he was still being treated for at St. Mungo’s. The most startling revelation of all, though, had been the shock of finding out that Remus Lupin is a werewolf—that James has been hiding this from her for years—and the casual way Sirius had said it when she’d asked why Remus couldn’t make it to dinner tonight.
“Merlin’s beard, Lily, why did you think we’d always called him ‘Moony’?” Sirius had chuckled. “I’ll give you a hint: It certainly wasn’t because he liked astronomy.”
And James had laughed, too—then Peter, though more because the others were. Even Arthur looked slightly amused. If anyone had noticed the way Lily’s face had paled at the revelation, they didn’t let on.
Now, Lily climbs the stairs soundlessly, extinguishing the candles that light the cottage as she walks. The house settles, one swish of her wand at a time, into quiet shadows. James is already in the bathroom, and although she’d like to brush her teeth, she forgoes waiting. Instead, she slips into her nightgown, alone in the darkness of their bedroom, and crawls immediately into bed. Moments later, she hears footsteps in the hall, across the wood floor. The mattress shifts as James climbs in beside her. There’s the rustle of covers and the squeak of springs while he settles in. It doesn’t take long before his hand is playing explorer, crossing the ocean of the sheets in search of the land of her hips and breasts. Lily feels her husband leaning closer to her, his breath on her neck, then his lips. The events of the evening are still weighing heavily on her mind, though, and she squirms uncomfortably under her husband’s touch, shrugging him away.
“James, don’t…” she whispers.
“All right, Lily?” he asks, bemused, unaccustomed to this response.
“Yes… yes, of course,” she murmurs. “I’m just… tired, that’s all.”
She’s not all right, though: Remus Lupin is a werewolf. While this new knowledge doesn’t change the way she feels about Remus, it still fills her with a sense of sadness and regret. Lily can’t help but think of that afternoon in the courtyard at school when Severus Snape had tried to warn her about James and his mates, when they’d argued for the final time about Remus. Severus had been right; he had known the truth. He’d tried to tell her, but Lily had refused to listen to him.
There had been an intensity in Severus’ stare as he’d looked at her, his eyes struggling to convey the words he was too afraid to speak: He loved her and didn’t want to see her make a mistake. Severus had known what love is—even back then, even with the uncaring childhood he’d had—and Lily had been too young, too naïve to understand. But she’s not anymore. For years she has lived under the assumption that she’s been right; Severus has been wrong. Matters have been less black and white, though, than Lily has believed. She won’t make excuses for Severus; he’s made mistakes. However, she’s made her share of mistakes, too—she sees this now: She has alienated him, dismissed him—him, Severus Snape, her oldest friend, the boy who’d warned her, cherished her… even when she refused to believe in him. And she is suddenly very sorry.
Lily feels hot tears burning her eyes. Her mind is screaming his name: Severus—Severus Snape. She brings her fingertips to her breasts, grazing over them briefly, barely breathing as she finds herself surprised by how quickly she responds to her own caress. She can hear James’ soft snore beside her as she stares into the darkness of the room. Severus Snape had been her first kiss, her first love; he had always been right, had always tried to tell her but she’d never listened. Lily closes her eyes and slips her hand under the covers, beneath her nightgown and into her panties. It’s Severus’ face—thin and sallow, harsh yet simultaneously loving—that she imagines as she touches herself tonight.
* * *
“You’re sure you don’t want anything else—no ice cream?”
“No, James, I’m just thirsty, that’s all,” she giggles. “You want me to get fat eating sweets—well, fatter than I already am?” She brings her hands to rest on her womb as she laughs. Pregnancy has been good to Lily Potter, no matter how she teases herself about her distended midsection: Her cheeks have a warm glow and her eyes do nothing but glisten, and she hasn’t, in truth, gained too much weight—just enough to keep the baby healthy and bring an endearing fullness to her face. James has been telling her daily how beautiful she looks like this, and she thinks he’s already making plans for other children they’ll have after this first child—a son—arrives.
“Lily, I would love you no matter how many chocolate and raspberry sundaes you eat,” James chuckles. With a chivalrous flair, he pulls out a chair from one of the outdoor tables outside Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour and helps her to sit down. “Rest here—I’ll be right back with your pumpkin juice.”
Lily’s still giggling as she watches her husband slip inside the shop, a gleeful bounce to his step. It’s a pleasant day, warm and sunny and cloudless—a rarity lately, it seems, with all the Dark events pervading the news and even, on occasion, the weather. She had insisted that they avoid looking at the Daily Prophet today when the owl delivered it; she did not want the joy of this last shopping trip for items for the baby’s nursery to be spoiled by news of abductions and attacks. Now, surveying the bustle of Diagon Alley, she sees she’s not the only one who has had this idea today.
She’s watching two laughing children toting a parcel from Gambol & Japes walk by when a familiar figure on the street corner by Knockturn Alley catches her eye. Severus Snape is slightly older than the last time Lily saw him—the final glimpse she got of him getting off the Hogwarts Express and disappearing into the crowd on Platform 9 ¾ after N.E.W.T.s. But the man is certainly him: still pallid, still slim—the result of a childhood of severity and malnourishment; his hair falling in lank, dark curtains around his face; his eyes like onyx. There is a hardness about him that didn’t exist before, though—a dullness to his eyes, a haughtiness in his movements. Lily is at a loss to describe it.
As their eyes lock, Lily smiles—although somewhat hesitantly, cautiously; they have been estranged for so long, and she’s unsure of herself and her feelings. She lifts her hand slightly as if to wave a greeting, but she stops short when she sees the look in Severus’ face change. A flush fills her cheeks as she follows his gaze: It has shifted down from her face to the unmistakable swell in her womb, revealed to him when she had lifted her hand. He knows she’s pregnant; he knows James Potter is the father.
The pain in Severus’ eyes is unmistakable; it hovers darkly like a storm cloud on the horizon. His lips form a thin, terse frown, and he seems suddenly farther away, as if he has already disappeared into the gloom of Knockturn Alley even though Lily knows he hasn’t moved at all since spotting her. His anguish is infectious. It takes aim on her across the crowd, piercing her heart as surely as an arrow from a bow. Instantly, Lily is sorry: She’s sorry that she can’t share the joy of her pregnancy with Severus, who had been her best friend for so long. And she’s sorry because having James’ child has closed the door for certain on any hope she may ever have of restoring her friendship with him. Mostly, though, she’s sorry she has hurt him.
Trembling, Lily brings her hands at once back to her womb, to hug her unborn child protectively, to shield him from the ooze of sorrow and guilt that fills the space between herself and Severus Snape. It’s reflex, she thinks, that causes her to stand up and take a step toward him, to murmur his name as if in apology. Before the awful incident after O.W.L.s that ended their friendship, she had spent years, after all, trying to defend him and protect him, and her instinct is to do the same now…. The tables have turned, though—rather than guard him from the criticism of Mary Macdonald or the bullying of James or Sirius, the person she needs to shelter Severus from is herself.
But before Lily can approach him, Severus makes a startling motion. His eyes harden again and he deliberately touches his left forearm. At once, the vague change in him that she’d had difficulty identifying is clear to her: He’s taken the Dark Mark; he’s a Death Eater. Some may have taken the gesture as a threat, but Lily knows better. Without words, he is telling her what she already senses: Between her child and his Mark, their paths have irrevocably diverged, and there is no turning back now. Then, with a swirl of his black robes, Severus is gone, disappeared into the sinister shadows of Knockturn Alley.
Lily is still staring after Severus, at the place where he had stood, moments later when James emerges from Florean Fortescue’s, two take-away cups of icy pumpkin juice in hand. He kisses her on the cheek as he cheerfully hands her one of the cups.
“For the most beautiful witch in all the British Isles,” he tells her.
Forcing a smile, Lily accepts the drink. “Thanks,” she says, a bit more dispassionately than she intended. James looks at her questioningly, and she immediately takes the straw to her lips to avoid having to say anything further for a few seconds while she regains her composure. “Mind if we stop at Madam Malkin’s?” Lily asks him, as brightly as possible after a few moments. “I want to see if she has anything new for the baby.”
James’ grin widens at her suggestion; being reminded of the fact that he has sired a child appeals to his sense of his own masculinity. If he is suspicious that his wife isn’t being completely truthful with him, his bliss prevents him fully admitting it to himself, let alone expressing it to her. He struts—yes, struts—across Diagon Alley, toward Madam Malkin’s shop window.
* * *
They didn’t have time to spare—surely Lily has understood this. Albus thinks he has explained everything quite clearly: the Prophecy, its meaning, the fact that there had been intelligence suggesting the Potters are in grave danger, the urgency of going into hiding immediately. Nonetheless, to the headmaster’s amazement, Lily lingers behind in his office, encouraging James to take the baby, to go ahead for a moment.
“Go on—I’ll be right down,” she reassures her husband as she hands over the child. James is reluctant, but she insists, kissing Harry on the forehead, then closing the door behind them before he can resist. When she turns back to the headmaster, there is a heightened frenzy on her face, in her eyes—an agitation beyond having just found out she is a marked woman.
“It was Severus, wasn’t it?” Lily blurts suddenly. “The spy—the one who told you You-Know-Who is after us—it was Severus.”
Her question stuns the headmaster. He says nothing at first; his eyes only twinkle sadly. Since the moment that Severus Snape had come to him, Albus has been so harsh with him, so doubtful of his motivations, so skeptical that a Death Eater is capable of loving as profoundly and selflessly as he claims to. But as he looks into Lily’s face and sees the mingled panic and eagerness there, he knows at once that it’s true: She and Severus have indeed shared a special bond, regardless of the very different lives they now lead. Albus sighs heavily and lowers his chin in a slight nod, a hesitant admission of the truth.
“Severus has risked his life in attempt to save yours, Lily,” he tells her weightily. “I trust you will not reveal the secret of your savior to anyone—not even James.”
At once, Lily brings her hand to her mouth. It is through her hand that she becomes conscious of her own reaction to Albus’ words: She can feel her breath, short, stunned bursts against her palm—and she can feel her tears, dripping slowly onto the fleshy ridge of her fingers cupped against her face. Lily has never felt more ashamed about how matters have deteriorated between herself and Severus than she does right now, knowing the great danger he has placed himself in for her sake.
“I’ve never stopped…”—She’s about to use the word “love” but thinks better of it, thinks of James and, more significantly, of Harry; she is unable to betray them by speaking the word, even if she suspects from the bottom of her heart that it is, to some extent, true—“…caring about him, Albus.”
Lily sighs shakily, knowing that she must appear manic to the headmaster—and callous to be speaking of her feelings for another man at a time like this, when her husband and baby are both standing feet away on the staircase. “Severus is a good person, Albus,” she says firmly, in defense of both of them. “He’s done things… and he can be unkind. But he’s good.”
The bewilderment in the headmaster’s eyes has already dissolved, though; instead, it is replaced with compassion and empathy. “Yes, Lily,” he agrees, reaching across his desk to pat her hand with paternal affection. “Severus is a good man—and I don’t doubt that he still cares for you as well.” Albus pauses, choosing his next words carefully, trying to decide whether or not they will be more helpful or more hurtful to her at this moment in time. “Did you know he didn’t become a Death Eater until he knew you were lost to him—the night you married James?” he tells her at last, solemnly, deciding the helpfulness outweighs the hurt.
Relief unfurls the puckers of worry across Lily’s face, even though Albus’ words are no comfort to her; instead, they seem to make all this worse in a way: To Lily, this new knowledge validates that she has betrayed Severus as much as she has felt he has betrayed her, that he’s thought of her all these years as much as she has him, that he has hoped for her to change her mind as much as she has hoped for him to do the same. Neither of them has yielded, though—not until now, anyway, when it’s too late. Self-loathing washes over Lily in a cold current; her moan is low and long, and she shakes her head slowly, tortured, as if a wounded doe in the woods. She will always feel partially responsible for Severus Snape’s fate, just as he’ll always feel responsible for hers.
“I’ve hurt him so badly, Albus,” she whispers in horror. She blinks away a fresh set of tears, and when she looks up at the headmaster, there is new determination in her eyes. “Severus has risked his life to try to keep me safe. You’ll do what you can to protect him, too, won’t you, Albus?” she begs. “You’ll try to keep him alive—and out of Azkaban?”
The great white beard shifts, bobbing up and down as the headmaster nods. “Severus’ will is strong, but I will do everything in my power to keep him from harm,” Albus assures her.
Only then does Lily look remotely consoled. She forces a grin of gratitude through her tears. “And I’ll tell him,” she promises, a vow made more to herself than to Albus. “After all this is over, I’ll thank him and I’ll tell him that I care—and I’ll apologize… for everything.”
But she never has the chance to.
* * *
Technically, today could have been worse, he supposes: He was able to quickly diagnose the toxins in the horribly botched Felix Felicis those sixth year boys were laboring over while his back was turned—and Peeves didn’t reap as much havoc in the Slytherin common room as he could have, although Filch will certainly still have his work cut out for him. And he technically did make it through the day, despite his melancholic intimations to the headmaster that he didn’t feel certain he’d be able to, that it’s too soon, that he’s still struggling with what happened to Lily.
Sulkily, Severus opens the door to his office. It’s a relief to return to the silence and solitude of the dungeons, and after a day like this, he’s actually looking forward to the tedium of grading papers. With a wave of his wand, flames spring boldly to life in the fireplace and tiny flickers appear on the candelabras around the room, casting a golden glow across his shelves, his cauldron, his desk. It’s then that Severus sees it: On his desk sits a tiny bottle, perched atop the centermost stack of papers so as not to go unnoticed. It’s made of crystal, intricately chiseled with a starburst and diamond pattern, and there’s a ribbon tied around it—a shimmering one, crimson with metallic flecks which sparkle in the firelight dancing irregularly nearby.
Severus draws closer. He moves hesitantly at first, puzzled. It isn’t until he picks up the flask and sees the distinctive silvery blue liquid within that he realizes it contains a memory. What’s more, there’s a note beneath it. Severus’ eyes fall across the parchment, recognizing the thin slanted handwriting at once. She would have wanted you to know, it reads. Severus sighs. He removes the crystal stopper hesitantly; the headmaster’s riddles and cryptic messages never fail to cause him concern and exasperation. He dips his wand into the flask slowly, swirling the tip along the bottom to catch its contents. As he withdraws his wand once more, Severus watches, skeptically, as the light glints elegantly off the silver thread of thought. He doesn’t have a Pensieve, and he figures that if Albus had wanted him to see the memory in his presence, he would have asked him to his office instead. No, the headmaster has intended Severus to view the memory alone, and so he does: He raises the glistening strand overhead and tilts it toward his temple.
Severus closes his eyes and concentrates. It takes a moment for the foreign memory to center in his mind. Hazily, it begins to take shape, solidifying into the headmaster’s office. He’s in, Severus realizes dimly, Albus’ own thoughts. In his mind, Severus seems to be standing behind the headmaster, who is seated at his desk. It’s night, and the room is dimly lit. Albus is talking to someone, to a woman… He’s talking, Severus sees with a start, to Lily Potter.
Severus sees her so clearly through Albus’ memory, just as he himself remembers her: her hair, shiny and bright like citrine; her eyes, vivacious and multifaceted like green tourmaline; her scent—yes, even her scent is the same—like clean linen and flowers. Lily seems so close in his mind; Severus wants to reach out to touch her, but when he extends his hand toward her—to brush her hair with his fingertips or touch her cheek—his fingers at once become misty, amorphous, reminding him that this is not his memory—that he never stood with her before the headmaster, and he certainly never touched her so delicately in this setting.
Although disappointed to have lost his sense of touch, he watches the scene play out, gazing yearningly at Lily all the while.
“It was Severus, wasn’t it?” she’s asking. Her voice is soft and sad but simultaneously sweet and full of hope. And Albus… he gives a slight nod of his head and swears her to silence. They continue to talk, a solemn exchange of sorrow and secrets that tugs on Severus’ heartstrings and torments him head to toe.
“After all this is over, I’ll thank him and I’ll tell him that I care—and I’ll apologize… for everything,” Lily promises at last through her tears.
The memory fades then, dissolves in the same haze out of which it had begun. Severus opens his eyes, dazed. Beneath the flask still sits Albus’ note: She would have wanted you to know. He blinks. Two tears drip, falling forward onto the parchment and smudging the headmaster’s delicate handwriting. Lily had always cared for him, and she had wanted to tell him; she had asked Dumbledore to protect him as he had her, and she had wanted to say she was sorry….
Funny, Severus thinks: He has never considered her the one in need of apologizing.
* * * * * * *
A/N: This piece was written for the LJ community snape_after_dh with the prompt “Did Albus tell Lily who gave them the warning?”