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The Pensieve by academica
Chapter 1: A Flower in a Jar
You keep the lily in a delicate glass jar on your desk.
I think you are afraid to touch it, because I have been watching you for seventeen years, and I have also been watching it gather dust. The petals dance gracefully under the water’s surface, folding and unfolding with the tide every time you accidentally bump your desk as you move about your tiny, ingredient-filled office. They have retained their pale pink coloring, but they look so fragile, like they might break at any moment. I wonder if you think of me in this way.
Sometimes I wish I could just put it out of its misery.
I imagine myself pushing it off the desk, standing tall among the shattered glass and spilled liquid and giving you a rather large piece of my mind. See? See, Severus? Nothing ever stays. Yes, that’s what I’d say to you. You would stare at me in horror, able to craft a potion from memory but unwilling to accept the thought of your precious flower telling you to let her go.
I don’t. I can’t. The way you glance up from your work in the midst of grading and check to ensure that the petals are still intact is too precious, and instead I remain mesmerized by the thought that just once, you might look up and soften your face, or maybe even shed a tear for me.
You’ve cried already. I’ve seen that memory, too. See, Severus? I’m imperfect. Selfish.
It returns now, because this is why I hate you. It’s why I chose James. You bring out my worst.
The door opens unexpectedly, and you stand immediately, nearly knocking the jar to the floor. Minerva is standing there, looking at you in that uncertain, faintly pitiful way she always does.
“Severus, Albus has asked to see you. He’s in his office.”
You nod sharply, screaming at her to leave you alone without saying anything. I almost smile, knowing that you welcome almost any distraction from grading, and watch you stand up. But you’re all business, just as you’ve always been. You cross the room slowly, and I wonder what Dumbledore wants. I’ve never watched him, but I’ve heard something is wrong with his hand.
There are no more floorboards between you and the exit. You step forward, passing right in front of my nose. I wish momentarily that I could hold you, but nothing ever stays, so you walk away.
In the opaque stillness of the enclosed room, the noise echoes like thunder.
You slam your fists onto the wooden table again, grunting under your breath as you scrutinize the bruises forming under your pale skin. Your hair is hanging ragged in your stormy eyes, and the exceptionally unkempt way it appears is the only witness to the fumes and heat that filled the small laboratory only moments ago. You move to the side to wash your hands, and I can now clearly see the dying toad on the table, its limbs curling in on itself, as if it were attempting to shield its corporeal form from your dangerous hands. In that moment, you remind me of your father, and I find myself backing away, though you cannot touch me.
The vague grunting has been replaced by muttering, and I watch as your lean form hunches over the table again, blocking your victim from view. I feel my feet moving away from you once more, unable to avoid enduring a brief mental image of a human body in place of the dying toad, unable to not imagine you tucking your face behind a mask and finishing what you’ve begun. In the next instant, though, you cradle the animal with a bizarre gentleness in your hands, gingerly moving it over to a clean place on the table, far from the poison that has brought it to its doom. Suddenly, I am standing right over your shoulder, watching you work with as much curiosity and wonder as I felt that very first day of Potions class. You were already a master in the making.
A pang of guilt, as I recall the way those hands softly held mine, walking with me to the Sorting.
I stand back, though I’m not in your way, and observe you reaching for the vial of orange liquid. Adding the hue that suggested warning was just another of your brilliant ideas, the ones you only casually acknowledged in my presence, even as they added up in your much-altered textbook. I watch as your hands, which always shook in the presence of James Potter and Sirius Black but now retain a perfect stability, pour a tiny drop of the liquid onto a spoon and feed it to the next toad in line. Soon, the animal begins to shudder, an indication that your deadly brew is working. Quickly, you rinse off the spoon and fill it with a friendlier blue liquid from the next set of vials. You offer to the toad, spilling half of it as the animal shakes more violently. Some is ingested.
I love this moment. It’s why I endure the rest of the painful scene, just to watch as the animal slowly calms to a halt, looking up at you with a cheerful ribbit! It’s a congratulatory gesture.
To move up in his ranks, of course, you must work a bit harder on the poison, the orange liquid.
We smile, though mine lasts longer and forms deeper pockets in the corners of my mouth than yours. You never did learn to smile properly. No matter, you’re on to the next order of business.
Ignoring your groundbreaking achievement, the one that will ultimately allow you to attain the title you so desire and deserve, you turn back to the dying toad, whose limbs are still seizing.
I gingerly touch the toad, attempting and failing to offer comfort, as you withdraw a tiny cylinder of purple fluid from the pocket of your filthy robes. You wash the spoon again, offering three small droplets to the subject of your testing. It drinks them greedily, and the shaking stops at last.
This could be considered poison or antidote, and thus you conceal it. It’s our little secret.
Then, with practiced hands, you place the living toad back in its cage. It’s time for another trial.
No one ever comes to visit you.
I am angry at her, with her stiff expression and expensive coat, as she stands in your cramped living room with tears streaming down her face. Her older sister is staring at Peter, who is sitting in the corner by a large stack of old Potions textbooks, and finally he caves to her silent pressure and leaves the room. I wish I could leave, too. I have not met her in person, but she is terrifying in photographs. I think of you, wanting to stay and protect you, but you do not seem to be afraid.
She is trying to talk you into helping her son, and though some small part of you may feel concern for the boy, I know the real trouble is that you cannot resist saving a beautiful girl.
I nervously play with the fringe on my scarf as I watch you make a vow to do as she asks. There is something wrong with my stomach. Perhaps it is the way in which Bellatrix’s voice sounds so much like Sirius’s voice when she whispers to you that you are a coward. Perhaps it is the way in which your voice softens just slightly when you speak to the Malfoy woman. Am I jealous?
When they leave, you take advantage of the fact that Peter is still gone, sitting down at your old wooden table and beginning to make notes to yourself, notes on how Albus Dumbledore can be killed. I have never been enough of a Gryffindor to have the courage to actually watch you murder him, but I know how the story ends. I have seen you staring into my son’s green eyes.
Right now, I cannot think of that, cannot think of the fragile way in which Harry watches your veins empty themselves of blood. I fixate upon your cold gaze, your determined movements, the scratching of your quill against the faded piece of parchment. You are not my friend, not today.
You’re not in the place where we meet, under the tree. I watch myself wait four minutes before I panic, and the sensation is rising up in my chest, replacing the cold feeling that death brought.
I know we didn’t spend much time together this summer, but we met at the playground every year on June sixth, the day before my family left for our annual trip to my Muggle grandparents’ house. I always told you that I needed this meeting so that I wouldn’t miss you, my best friend, too much while I was away from home. But I really did it for you, so you would have a memory of us laughing and trading stories about the previous school year to carry you through the nights while I was gone. If I had known the length of my absence, I would have asked to meet more.
You’re not here today. You’re always here first. Something is wrong. I watch the girl run away.
She walks briskly down the stone path that leads from Mill Town to Spinner’s End, accidentally dragging her beige jumper along the ground. It’s a bit small for a fourteen-year-old girl, but she hasn’t grown that much, and her father’s already sparse work hours have been reduced. I know this because my sister and I had heard him talking with Mum the week before about whether the trip would be a good idea this year, whether he shouldn’t be asking to work during that week.
We are barely two steps into your neighborhood when I hear another argument in full swing.
You are sitting outside your house, your back leaning against the stone wall. At first it looks like your arms are shaking, but then I hear your father’s heavy footsteps storming up the stairs and I imagine the whole house shuddering with the weight of his anger. I stop walking, looking at you.
You glance up at the girl through long, oily black strands, and then immediately look away.
Her first instinct is to extend her hand to you. I stare down at you, steeling my gaze, as I wait for you to accept her invitation to leave this place behind and return to our precious spot beneath the willow tree. Your eyes fall to the chipped red nail polish that stains the ends of her fingers.
Your arm tenses, and then begins to extend upward. I smile. The house has fallen silent.
Just then, the sleeve of your shirt, too big for you as usual, slips a few inches down your arm. I catch a glimpse of a trail of black ink, your pale skin reddened where it has been scratched by a quill. My eyes follow the path, watching it cross over your visible blue veins and back again as it loops around. You have painstakingly etched the serpent’s scales into the top layer of flesh.
You jerk your arm back, and fear erupts in your dark eyes, bringing them to life. I close my eyes, trying to force my fourteen-year-old self to believe that you have merely paid testament to your beloved Slytherin House, that there is not a skull crowning the immobile serpent you have drawn proudly on your arm. She has seen a similar drawing on the arm of a seventh year she passed in the corridor. I remember it because he flashed it at her on purpose, pairing it with a cruel smile.
It was not done with a quill.
When the girl becomes a Prefect, she will give people like that detention. Will you join them?
You have folded your arms safely across your chest now, but you are still leaning forward slightly, as if you want to find some other way to come with her. You stare into her eyes.
When she starts to walk away, you follow. We are tempted to tell you to stay behind, to leave us alone. The girl wants to be alone suddenly. When we part ways, she’ll have to go and pack.
We say nothing. I let you follow her to our place at the playground.
You need us more than ever.
You’re watching me marry James.
I don’t know why you keep this memory. I didn’t even know that you were at the wedding. I had noticed my sister frowning as she stood at my side, clutching a bouquet full of the flowers our parents named me after, but it wasn’t until the reception that she told me she’d been watching you in your position up above, crouched in a corner of the balcony. You were not invited.
From your vantage point high up in the small church, I watch myself walk slowly and methodically down the aisle, gently holding my father at my side to keep an even pace. I really do look beautiful in the magnificent ivory dress, and James couldn’t smile any wider if he tried. I can’t stand to watch this memory as often as you do, though. I have to avert my eyes sometimes.
I can almost feel you go cold as my lips touch his, sealing your fate.
The small crowd gathered around us throws pink petals into the air, with Sirius offering an especially enthusiastic toss that sprinkles my hair as James escorts me back down the aisle. As Remus moves to give me a warm embrace, you stand up lightly and sneak out of the building.
I leave my happier self behind, letting her squeeze her new husband’s hand and accept the congratulations of her plentiful friends, and follow you until you collapse in the alleyway. I still have not convinced myself that we are separated by time, and I try to comfort you, try to make up for the way in which I never forgave you, never told you that I had once imagined you in his place. Now that I think of it, we never made time for the playground wedding I used to envision. But my touch falls into empty air, and I realize once again that I gave up my chance to hold you.
You will see my corporeal body one more time, save for the day when I appear in a photograph with James and a baby boy who bears his likeness. It will be in the early hours of an autumn morning, when my funeral has not yet begun, and you are laying white lilies in my frozen hands.
Then, in the space of either a thousand years or a few seconds, you are here.
Most of them wake up slowly when they get here, like they’re drifting out of a pleasant sleep and clinging to the last moments between life and death. Not you. You jerk back to life, just as reactive as you were when you still took breath. Your caution and quick reflexes fit your mortal life well, preparing you for the many twists and turns your days took, but you look so out of place here. You are still wearing your usual black robes, constantly prepared for a funeral.
“Severus.” I have kept you in a jar and stared at you for so long, and now you are here.
I wonder how my voice sounds to you, because to me it sounds too soft and contains a touch too much yearning. I pause, waiting for you to respond, but you are too busy simply staring at me.
“Lily.” My name finally falls off your lips, almost like it slipped out without you noticing.
You are stumbling toward me now, forgetting in your haste to check for James before you approach. No matter, he isn’t here. This is my heaven and this is my hour without him. I’ll return to him later and be glad for his warm arms and kind smile, and especially the way he trusts me enough not to ask what I do with my endless hours in paradise. For now, though, I’m here with you, watching you realize your death at about the same pace as I am now. For now, I can finally find out what I was missing, standing in my clean kitchen and being a housewife for your enemy.
I can have my husband, and I can have you, too. This is my heaven.
You’re coming close, nearly tripping over yourself with excitement as you cross the wide field that separates us, the final gap that has kept you from me for so long. It does not become you, but I don’t have time to think of that now. I need to know what to say when you finally reach me.
I scramble over all of the possible combinations of words too quickly, and one paralyzes me.
What if all of this is a dream?
It could be. I’ve stared at the spot where you appeared enough times. I return to the image of the crumpled, dying flower, and you are reaching out to me and I cannot bring myself to reach back. What if I hold you too tightly? Nothing ever stays, not really, right? Not those long summer days in the playground, or the quiet hours we spent in the Hogwarts library, or the life a person lives.
I am shocked when I feel you touch my hand. Your fingers are much warmer than I remember.
Nothing ever stays, not really, right?
Hello, lovely readers (and hopefully reviewers)! As you may have noticed, this story is written in a non-chronological fashion. (If you didn’t notice, hopefully this note helps.)
Now, a message for Liz – I don’t know if this is enough to make you ship Snily, but I opened my heart and this is what came out, so I hope you enjoyed it. I had been looking for a new Snily project since I finished At Great Personal Risk, and your challenge was perfect.