Author's Notes: Thanks to my beta readers, Alfrinsia and Somesadaffair, and also thanks to Somesadaffair for the title.
Quiet in the Library
The light changes, and Severus’ eyes immediately flick down to inspect his body. In this new light, he can clearly see that his Disillusionment Charm is even poorer than he thought it was and, even though it’s only been a few minutes since he cast it, he can already feel it beginning to break.
Too tired and impatient to start again, he glances at his surroundings until his eyes come to rest on the statue of Cornelius Agrippa, strategically positioned at the end of the corridor. With an impatient noise, he moves over to it and slings his failing book bag into the shadowed nook at its back. Then, clutching at Agrippa’s stone shoulders for support, he tries to press himself in after it.
He has just managed to wedge his foot into the tiny space between the poorly moulded plinth and the wall behind it, when he catches sight of her over his partially disillusioned knuckles. Apparently oblivious to his presence, she ducks easily through the library doors and vanishes between the stacks.
With his pulse speeding through his veins, Severus hastily fishes his book bag from the shadows at his feet, and struggles to free his foot from Agrippa’s impartial clutches. But he has been standing too still and casting weak concealment charms for too long. His movements are numbed and painful, and he mutters curses at himself because they are not fast or fluid enough in the least.
But eventually his foot deigns to re-join him, and suddenly he’s free and limping towards the library on tingling, ill-used legs. What’s left of his botched Disillusionment Charm breaks before he’s even gone three steps forward, but it doesn’t matter anymore and he forgets to notice.
The library is muted and close. It smells of polish and newly ordered books, and the librarian, Madam Pince, glares as he stumbles into it in a less than dignified manner. She is uncannily like a plucked vulture, all mottled skin and keen senses, stuffed into lurid, perfumed robes, and she pushes a stray book back into place with taloned fingers as she eyes him.
Ignoring her silent accusations, Severus quickly scans the cluttered tables and soon finds what he is looking for. Lily is sat alone, at a heavy oak table near the edge of the library, within range of the circling librarian. After a moment of thought, he slips into a seat at the table across the aisle from her. Even though it’s unlikely Lily will shout at or hex him in here, especially this close to Madam Pince, Severus doesn’t want to take any chances.
Lily glances at him, just as he’s turning back from hooking his bag over the back of his chair, and he offers her a tentative, half-smile. But her eyes are almost as cold as the cut stone they resemble when they meet his, and she quickly turns her attention to the book in her hands. At least she doesn’t get up to leave though, and her wand hand doesn’t so much as twitch.
Severus swallows back the bleak emotions that threaten to ruin him and anxiously taps his foot against the lacquered floor. Madam Pince glares at him again, but they both know that she can’t rightfully complain, because even though he’s scuffing his shoe against her only-just-polished floor, he’s not making an excessive noise about it. She grudgingly turns away and apparently becomes engrossed in re-arranging a line of ancient textbooks.
Usually, he is grateful of the woman’s abilities to detect and quash any and all vindictive behaviour; it’s partly why he has waited to ambush Lily in here, after all. But she seems to have singled him out as a likely suspect today, and she has now become a real flaw to his plan. He wants to use Madam Pince’s severe presence as a dampener to Lily’s temper, but he also needs to be able to talk privately with her.
Severus scowls at Madam Pince’s vulnerable back through dangerously narrowed eyes, before he turns his attention back to Lily. And, for a while, all he can do is passively study her profile as he re-thinks things. Then he suddenly realises that all he need do is pull Lily into one of the many hidden alcoves of the room, while hopefully whispering enough placating words to keep her from cursing his particulars off him.
In all truthfulness, the more rational part of him knows that it’s not the best idea, and it sounds mildly akin to kidnapping, but he’s running out of ideas. And before the thought can even finish forming itself in his mind, Severus is already pushing himself up from his seat to see it through.
But he’s frozen in place the moment he catches sight of Lily’s smile. His heart skips a beat, and he’s almost smiling at her in return… until he realises that hers is not directed at him, but at something just over his shoulder. As he turns to look, his stomach is already clenching in anticipation, and he’s not entirely surprised by what he sees. Sauntering in through the library doors behind him is Potter and his merry band of Gryffindor delinquents.
Severus drops back into his seat as the four new interlopers invade Lily’s table. He sinks down low, crosses his arms tightly across his chest, and ducks his head until his greasy hair swings forward to dull the luminous skin of his face. He waits with bated breath for an insult to be spat his way, but they either haven’t noticed him, or they’ve chosen not to, and it never comes.
Both Black and Pettigrew slump into chairs that give their backs to him. But, though they seem to fill his vision with their crimson trimmed bodies, they don’t obstruct his view entirely, so Severus is free to watch Potter as he moves to stand behind Lily. He’s free to watch Potter as he brushes his fingers along the back of Lily’s neck, touching her as Severus has never dared. And he’s free to watch Potter as he leans in close and murmurs into Lily’s ear, saying all the things that have died on Severus’ tongue.
Severus quickly grips the edge of his table, bites down mercilessly on his bottom lip for all he’s worth, and just manages to keep himself in check. But his bubbling jealously quickly turns to near rage when the werewolf takes a seat besides Lily and Potter just stands back and lets him. Severus’ already vice-like grip becomes even fiercer, his brittle nails almost splitting under the assault, and it’s almost all too much for him.
How dare Potter let that slavering beast anywhere near Lily? That bloody thing nearly ripped him apart not so long ago, and it wouldn’t hesitate to do the same to Lily. Potter is as good as offering her up to it on a silver platter, with a dim-witted smile plastered on his face. If Potter felt for her as he claimed he did, if he felt even a fraction of what Severus felt for her, surely he’d do anything to keep her safe. Surely he’d tell that werewolf where to go.
Severus almost stands up and tells the werewolf himself, but Madam Pince is still hovering, just waiting to swoop down on him, and he is more than outnumbered besides. So instead, Severus glares impotent daggers at the abused table and forces himself to remember why he’s here. He and Lily haven’t spoken to each other for five days, five very long, very painful days, in which so much has gone so wrong, and he needs to talk to her before he breaks.
He can’t stand outside her common room again. With his only protection from them now fervently denying his existence, the Gryffindors have taken to cursing him on sight whenever he goes near it. And the term is drawing to a quick end; after tomorrow night he’ll be at Malfoy Manor for the summer and it’ll be too late. Severus snorts as he imagines the expression that would twist Lucius’ face if he tried to send one of those pampered, purebred Malfoy owls to a… to someone like Lily.
Slowly, he begins to examine his remaining options one by one. He could try to levitate a note to her, but it would be too easily intercepted -- if not by one of Potter’s cronies or a poorly placed Slytherin scout, then by Madam Pince herself. He would be loath for something so personal to fall into the wrong hands, especially if it meant that Lily wouldn’t get to see it first. And from the way Lily had looked at him earlier, simply catching her eye and trying to coax her over wouldn’t work either.
But then, just as he’s halfway through exploring one of his more reckless ideas, the air around him becomes suddenly chilled. Severus shudders, and snaps his head up to see the spectral form of the Bloody Baron, drifting along the aisle between his table and hers. From his perspective, Lily looks as if she’s trapped inside the ghost’s translucent body and she’s almost covered by his silvery bloodstains.
It’s almost like looking at her through a glass bottle, and every time the Baron shifts, it’s like the bottle being turned. As the Baron starts to move away, Lily becomes violently distorted and stretched and the golden title of the book she’s holding is mangled, until it looks like it’s trying to create it’s own identity. And suddenly, the answer that Severus has been looking for has just neatly presented itself to him.
Twisting in his seat, Severus unhooks his book bag from his chair and drops it on the floor to ransack it. His eyes fly over the emblazoned titles of each of the books he shifts though, until finally they fall on something that he can use. Magical Hieroglyphs and Logograms.
He picks the attached book out and weighs it in his hands as he considers trying to cast a spell on it. But this one’s a library book he checked out last week and there’s no telling what would happen to him if he even tried to point a wand at it. So instead, he decides to simply use what he already has. He balances the book in his hands and twists his fingers around the title, so that they blot out the unwanted letters like knotted Tipp-Ex. When he’s done, only the word ‘Hi’ is readable, and highlighted between his fingers.
Testing his grip, Severus hastily considers his plan from all the more obvious angles. There’s no hard evidence to be found or intercepted, and there’s nothing to be confiscated. If anyone besides Lily should glance his way, the message is retractable, completely deniable, and easily dismissed. Satisfied that this is probably his best, and possibly only, option left, Severus looks to Lily.
As if on cue, Black barks something and Lily turns to him. Whatever Black has to say, it’s probably juvenile and crass, but it makes Lily laugh, and now her eye line is as near as it’s going to get to him. In fact, it’s so close that Severus can almost fool himself into believing that it’s him she’s responding to. Before she can look away, he flips the book onto the tabletop with a speed that surprises even him, and angles it towards her, hoping with everything he has that she’ll catch sight of it somehow.
And something works, because he can pinpoint the very moment that Lily’s focus shifts, oh-so slightly, to him. He makes the tiniest of gestures towards to book with his head and his eyes flick obviously down towards it once, before they rise to study her reaction. Taking the hint that he knows only she could have ever caught, Lily squints at the book. A crinkle of tiny frown lines creases the space between her eyebrows, as she tries to figure out what it is he wants from her.
A few erratic heartbeats later, her face smoothes and her eyes clear, and Severus knows she’s seen what he’s wanted her to see. And when he suddenly realises how absurdly childish he must look, with a book in his hands and the word ‘Hi’ picked out of the title, he hardly cares, because Lily has seen it and understands. It doesn’t even matter when she conspicuously rolls her eyes and makes a show of turning away, because he knows he has her now. And no one else has noticed any of it, not even Potter, as Madam Pince is scolding Black for being too loud and, somehow, that’s more interesting than Lily.
His first hurdle cleared, Severus drops the book onto the table and eagerly dives back into his bag for another. A Guide to Medieval Sorcery. This books isn’t as big as the other and so the title is smaller, but his fingers are just about slim enough to be able to cancel out the ‘ce’ in ‘Sorcery’ without completely ruining the effect.
And this is the most important one, the thing that he’s been trying to say to her all along. And even though this isn’t the way he’d like to say it, and it’s simplified to the point of parody, it’s what he desperately needs to get across while he still has the chance. His other hand easily covers the rest of the title and, once again, he looks to Lily and waits for his opening.
Black, Pettigrew and Potter are now sat together in a suspiciously huddled group with all three of their backs to him, and the abnormality is writing on something with his quill. Lily is determinately not looking his way, but Severus is patient because he knows what will happen eventually. And the second that it does, the second that Lily glances helplessly at him, he has the book ready and on the table before she can make herself look away again. Severus tips the book back slightly, to indicate himself, and then he nods to its modified title. I’m Sorry.
Even though Lily rolls her eyes at this, too, and he can almost hear her derisive snort from across the aisle, he knows that she’s thawing inside. She’s trying very hard not to let it show though, and if it were anyone else watching she’d be succeeding. But Severus can see that she’s biting indicatively on her lower lip and, though her face is still turned away slightly, he can feel her studying him furtively.
Unfortunately, the rest of the books in his bag don’t offer up any promising titles. But, fortunately enough, there are plenty more lying around. Severus’ black eyes fly over the neatly shelved books that fill the wall to his right and he swiftly discounts all of the un-workable ones. When his eye is finally caught by a title that interests it, his breathing hitches and he almost trips in his haste to retrieve the book attached to it. The Misuse of Legilimency: How Vulnerable is Your Mind?
Though he cringes at his imminent abuse of the English language, as soon as he’s back in his seat Severus forces one of his hands to cover up the ‘se’ of ‘Misuse’. It’s not perfect, but nothing about this is, and it’s as close as he’s going to get. He then threads the fingers of his other hand through the word ‘Legilimency,’ carefully covering the ‘eg’ and the ‘imency’ so that only ‘Lil’ is left. He deliberately cuts off the last ‘y,’ because Lily’s always hated the contraction of her name and he’s half hoping she’ll come over to yank his finger from it. Misu Lil.
But the only move Lily makes is to put down the book she’s holding. She flashes a half-hearted smile at him, and then she returns to chewing on her lip thoughtfully. Severus’ hold on his own book loosens, carelessly diluting his last message as he holds onto Lily’s gaze for all he’s worth. And when the werewolf turns to Lily to ask her a quiet question, when he notices her gazing too intently at something and curiously follows her gaze, the message is already gone.
After a moment of apparent indecision, Lily ducks under her table to rummage through her crocheted bag. When she straightens up, she follows Severus’ example and props a scruffy, well-thumbed book on the table. Achievements in Charming (One Hundred & Seventeenth Edition).
Severus is smirking unabashedly the moment he sees it. And it’s not just because of all the possible words he can pick out from the title, his own disliked moniker among them, but it is the book itself. The lines and bumps of this book are achingly familiar to Severus, and he can even pick out the little tear where Petunia once threw it against a wall. It was the first proper present Severus ever bought Lily.
They’d just started their second year of school together. He can still remember picking it out after what seemed like months of fruitless browsing through Diagon Alley. It had been clear to everyone that Lily had a talent for Charms very early on in her Hogwarts career, she’d taken to it so effortlessly. And even though the book had technically been three years too advanced for them, he’d known that it wouldn’t be a problem for Lily. He’d already seen her reading it a thousand times before third year, and she’d known it off-by-heart and back-to-front by fourth.
Now she is unarguably the best in their year and Severus likes to think that, with his first small token of encouragement, he helped her to achieve it. Even though he himself is just on the right side of average at the subject. Severus squirms in his seat and tries desperately to hold back a blush as he imagines the scolding she’d have given him if she’d seen his dismal attempt at a Disillusionment Charm earlier.
Seeing the traitorous blush that’s slowly creeping across his cheeks, Lily looks down at the sharp-edged book she’s holding and blushes too. Suddenly, it’s like they’re twelve years old again, and he’s just told her that he’s really sorry it’s late, but Happy Christmas anyway. And the book feels like a thank you kiss to his cheek and Lily’s arms wrapped around his neck.
It’s only by chance that Severus catches the werewolf’s reaction. He looks from Lily to Severus, taking in their equally flushed faces and the incriminating object in Lily’s hand. And though he can’t possibly have figured out everything that’s going on, he’s obviously realised that there’s something going on. Severus knows it the moment that their eyes accidentally meet.
Severus quickly pales as his anger at the intrusion rises. And within that second, he’s all but convinced himself that the uncivilised beast will tell Potter all about it. He’s doubtlessly been dreaming of this moment ever this since the night of the failed “prank”. Now he knows exactly how he can finish what was started. He can set Potter onto Severus by spinning lies about elaborately created, magical make-out sessions across the school library.
Once the hexes start flying, it’ll be all too easy for the hellhound to slip in a nastier hex himself. Maybe a strategically botched Obliviate, so that Severus ends up mindless in St. Mungo’s, or perhaps something even worse, something no one would ever think the “placid Gryffindor” capable of. Either way, his secret would be safe and so would his skin, because there would be no damning bloodstains on his claws or in his cage. And why is he still sat next to Lily anyway?
Severus is positively snarling as he turns to plunge his hands back into his bag. He moves so quickly, and his mind’s working so furiously, that he doesn’t see the shy blush that’s just starting to tint the other boy’s skin. Instead, he sifts through his belongings in search of his copy of Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them.
He knows that before The Prank, he’d told Lily many times of his suspicions and she’d brushed them off. And since then, having been forbidden from telling anybody outright, he’s been hinting at it relentlessly, and she still refuses to believe it. But, maybe, if he just tries one more time, he’ll create enough doubt in her mind that she’ll at least be wary of him, and hopefully that’ll be enough for her to realise that he’s seen them.
Just before he reaches the right title though, his hand brushes against a tattered old potions paperback. And one cursory glance at the bold text on the cover abruptly throws him off his course. He could use this one instead, to seriously say the very last thing that he needs to say to Lily while he still can and never mind the werewolf. Or should he just try to use it nonchalantly, in tandem with Fantastic Beasts, to help convey a friendly warning?
By the time he’s clutching his decision in his hands and straightening himself in his chair, Black, Pettigrew and Potter have already risen, and are now hauling the werewolf to his feet by his upper arm. Lily gently squeezes his free arm and smiles softly up at the beast. Then he’s being unceremoniously led away from the table by his dutiful pack, and Severus tenses as he waits for the Gryffindors to approach him and drag him outside.
But they pass passively by. Black, Pettirgew and even Potter blatantly ignore him as they do. But Lupin flashes a timid smile across to Severus, with something like an apology expressed around the edges. And then, miraculously, they’re gone without a fight.
Severus replaces his book by simply letting it slip indifferently through his fingers, to land sloppily on top of his other possessions. Lily has already packed her literary horde away and is now slinging her bag onto a shoulder as she rises from her chair. Severus watches her every move intently and when Lily notices his scrutiny, she smiles weakly at him.
His mind works furiously as he tries to narrow down the list of all the possible things he’s going to say to her the very second he gets the chance to. But just as she’s rounded the corner of her table, before she’s even started to cross the aisle that separates them, Lily stops dead in her tracks.
Severus is confused at first, until he glances around to see that he’s not alone anymore. Avery, Mulciber and Regulus Black have apparently come looking for him. Now they’re standing right behind him, looking like mildly comical bodyguards. They’re all crossed arms, thick scowls, and dark pride, crammed into silver and green trimmed uniforms.
When he turns back to Lily, she’s staring at them with something like guarded fear in her eyes, something that hadn’t even been there when a potential werewolf had slipped into the neighbouring seat. And suddenly, he realises. While there might be one potentially dangerous creature in Potter’s group of four, there are three in his.
Severus’ stomach twists painfully, and when he still sees the ghost of fear lingering in her eyes as Lily looks at him, he doesn’t blame her at all. And when he sees Lily’s thoughts flickering obviously between petulance and something sensible, Severus silently wills her to choose the latter.
He hopes against hope that he has unwittingly placed enough doubt in her mind with his poor word choice five days ago that she’ll be wary enough to stop. Because he can live with Lily’s doubt if he has to, and it can easily be changed if he needs to. But he doesn’t know how he’d cope with the guilt if she were ever hurt because of him.
Finally, Lily turns reluctantly away from him, changing her course. And all Severus can do is watch her go, as Mulciber grabs his shoulder in a bruising grip and mummers cautionary lines about what happens to Mudbloods and blood traitors in his ear. He has no doubt that if he tries to go with Lily, he will lose everything he’s worked so hard to gain, and Mulciber’s words are too laced with dark promises about her fate to be in any way unclear either.
Severus hopes that Potter will try harder to keep her safe from now on. And he hopes he will at least be able to find a way to say goodbye to her before he leaves. But even if he doesn’t, at least he knows that she will still carry his book with her wherever she goes.