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Chapter 19: Dreaming Again
2 November 1981
He wasn’t supposed to be there. As he listened to the titles being rattled off – “Quidditch Captain, Head Boy, father, husband” – all of the things that Severus Snape was not and would never be, he knew that those words were not meant for his ears. He had delivered the prophecy to the Dark Lord. James Potter was going into the ground because of him.
The air tasted like the thick, spicy smoke of a wood stove. Severus could see the breath of it exhaling from chimneys, smearing into the drab gray sky. The cemetery itself was too wet, too ripe with the scent of Halloween celebrations still lingering in decorations between doorways; sweet chestnuts and leaves had stewed in the rain overnight, ripping apart their crumbling five points to leave an emaciated mess of sycamore veins behind. Albus Dumbledore had flung charms all around the fence to shield the ceremony from prying eyes. Each time the kissing gate swung open and clanged closed, Severus thought about how the Muggles couldn’t hear it, just like Lily couldn’t hear it.
Where was she? Was she watching? Was she lost forever, as though she’d never been born? He couldn’t see her face from where he hid underneath the Invisibility Cloak that Dumbledore had allowed him to borrow for the day, as the rain had prevented it from being an open-casket affair.
Her wide gaze was still branded into his brain in a series of images so fast that she might have blinked in a few of them, even as she lay utterly still in his arms on the floor of Harry’s nursery. They would be closed now, but he would always remember them that way, gaping up into his own eyes without realizing it or intending it, the thin bluish film already beginning to creep over her green irises to create a sickening sea-foam color. And when he’d tilted her back, just a little bit and completely by accident, her eyelids had fluttered halfway closed like a porcelain doll’s might.
He didn’t want to think about the beautiful young woman in the casket, didn’t want to imagine how she would steadily decompose in a wooden box during the months to come. How she would rot with her wand clasped lovingly in her hands, even though it had failed to protect her in her last moments. All that would remain of her in a faraway future was a skeleton in a virginal white dress, just as chaste as her mouth had been when his tears wiped them clean.
He had been the last to kiss her goodbye, which was a secret he treasured, knowing that in a twisted sort of way, he’d gotten her in the end, after all. Those were his arms around her and his lips on her forehead, and his tears sliding down her temple and into her hair as she stared at the wall opposite with blank features.
The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.
Her name would lie next to James’s for centuries, until the tombstone broke into small chunks from a combination of age and weather. Her engraved name would be rubbed away in time, just like her memory, just like her existence and the spellbinding magic of her caring words and confident smiles – and no one, in the distant future, would remember Severus Snape and how Lily Evans Potter had so greatly affected him.
Water trickled down the shining white stone, waiting for the husband and wife to descend beneath it so that the rain could continue to beat away at them, flooding through mulch that would soon be scattered over the grave. Severus’s throat closed up as if by allergic reaction, unintentionally reminded that Lily would be so cold down there, underground.
It would be so dark and cramped. She would have no air and no company, aside from the noxious corpse of James in a nearby coffin, and would have nothing to listen to for the next millennia except for the pitter-patter of rainfall and boots led by strangers who wanted to visit the fallen Potter heroes. The approaching winter’s frost would crystallize the marrow in Lily’s bones, draw cracks over her white oleander skin until it disintegrated into dust.
Perhaps the Resurrection Stone…perhaps it was real and he could find it…
He wept into his freezing hands, his bones as unbending as lead. There was nothing left for him in the world. He’d been assured by Dumbledore that measures would be taken to keep Lily safe (death! She was gone! She was actually gone, no he couldn’t believe it…), had been assured by the Dark Lord that Lily need not die if he could only have the boy, just to wipe that little nuisance out of the way (and it was Harry’s fault, it was all Harry’s fault for ever being born; and oh, it was such a relief to have someone else to blame. It was James’s fault, too, for taking his beloved Lily away from him to create this vile, disgusting little spawn who was barely over a year old and already creating terror in the world).
Together, with white and black promises from both Dumbledore and Voldemort, the two most powerful wizards in the world, Severus had felt secure in the light and the dark, in the pure and sinister, and thought that their entwined chains would be strong enough to hold Lily to earth.
They were not.
The worst part was that Severus would not be able to visit Lily’s grave again because it was juxtaposed with that horrid man’s – he was eternally hoarding Lily, keeping her all to himself when Severus was the one who deserved her. He would have taken care of her. If she had only chosen him, she would have lived to be an old woman. Severus was certain of it. He felt betrayed by James. He’d unwillingly surrendered Lily to James in their fifth year at Hogwarts, and from there on out, even though Severus still loved her, he didn’t have to be consumed with her. That was Potter’s job. As long as Potter was alive, it was Potter’s duty to keep her happy and healthy and strong. In Severus’s eyes, James had failed.
James Potter was an irresponsible, careless swine and Severus wished that he would have taken his son with him on his way out – Harry, a constant living reminder of the prophecy, the last loose end that Severus had been required to tie – so that Severus’s life would be liberated of the memory of him and the fact that Harry had more or less killed his mother.
Beautiful, wonderful Lily, doomed to an unfair fate because James’s son was every bit as evil and selfish as the father. Neither of them deserved her. It would have been so much more bearable if only the infant had perished, too. He’d stolen Lily’s cold-cutting eyes but he was nothing like her – no, he would be just like his father, of course, and drain the last bit of vitality out of Lily’s benevolent heart.
A green-eyed monster.
Severus had not dreamed up the rain, at least.
Lily still swirled in his thoughts long after he roused himself from fitful dreams, in visions of a decaying skeleton with Slytherin-green eyes and a lovely young woman who flitted down the street with Potter and Black.
He was dead, and James was dead, and Lily was dead. They were all here together in three shadows of their former selves, and yet Severus was still consumed by her. The fever had not burned out as he would have wished, being in the middle of a nightmare where he could still never get rid of that stupid man and the memory of their stupid son. It would have been so much easier to wipe her from his memories, to be able to hurt himself enough by saying over and over that he was too old for her now, too damaged; but not even her indifference could pain him enough to stop. It was an illness. He was starting to realize for the first time that it was an illness, and instead of searching for a potion to soothe his soul, he just kept picking at his wounds.
He thought that he would never have to reflect on Harry Potter ever again. He thought that in death, he would at last be spared from seeing the boy’s face, but Severus continued to see him everywhere he looked. That black hair and those round spectacles decorated posters and pins created during the war in support of Harry, as well as in newspaper articles dedicated to what Harry was up to as of late.
While on earth, Severus had never been able to look at Harry and not see a cruel caricature of James Potter staring back; now, the only thing he saw was all of the minute differences between them. Harry didn’t resemble James nearly as much as James resembled Harry, and Harry was all over Lily, too, in places one never thought to look. Her posture. In her expression of surprise or worry. In the way their arms swung at their sides. Their gaits. James was in Harry, who was in Lily, who had begun to adopt James’s mannerisms, and they’d become such a warped mirage of monsters in Severus’s head that it was tiresome to try to extricate one from the other.
He had to hear them, too. He listened to Lily make polite chit-chat with the sales boy behind the till in Taffet’s Trunk. He overheard Salazar confiding to James that James had nothing to worry about as far as his love life was concerned. Slytherin had drawn bitter comparisons about them all, saying that James was Godric and Snape was Salazar, and Lily would do exactly what Rowena had done and choose the easiest option.
That certainly wouldn’t be Severus. Nothing about him could ever be easy.
Perhaps he was reaping his due, receiving punishment from James now that he was dead, because Severus himself had punished James’s memory so many times by making snide remarks at Harry. The Potters had no way of knowing that Professor Snape ever treated the legendary Harry Potter any differently from his other pupils. James was such a numbskull that it felt possible that he never even learned of Severus’s feelings for his wife.
They were all under gravestones now, and Severus had buried himself in the bitter earth years and years before his death. No one would trim the weeds around his monument, no one would have attended his funeral; but none of it mattered, because he’d been entombed with the memory of her and he was now a phoenix rising, ready to seek out his old ghosts. Would Lily have told James that Severus had always nursed a soft spot for her? Severus didn't think she would. Their relationship, their memories, were sacred. Lily would honor that. Yes, it seemed quite likely that Severus’s secret love was safe with Lily, as she had taken it to her grave.
She was the safest person for his secrets, a locked box waiting to be opened.
It was dawn when he stopped pretending that he was going to go back to sleep, and so he decided to venture into the village.
There was a pair of repellant black Wellingtons in his foyer, left by the previous inhabitant who’d moved out in a rush, but Severus stepped out into the light rain wearing only his regular shoes, his upper lip curling when he saw the array of puddles. Cliodna’s Clock was just as leaky as Britain.
There was nothing awaiting him outside, but there was nothing for him indoors, either. He was indisputably a nobody, with nowhere to go, and no one wanted to be with him. He decided that this suited him perfectly, since he didn’t particularly want to be around anyone at the moment, either. If anyone just so happened to escape their strangling husbands for a few brief moments (he envisaged Lily hovering at her living room window, waiting for James to disappear so that she could go look for her dear friend Severus), then so be it. He certainly wasn’t hiding.
He walked past the Potter house two times before scowling at the pavement in crushed anger, shoving both hands into the pockets of his cloak that had been a hand-me-down of Merlin’s. Fine. If the cowardly James Potter wasn’t going to let Lily speak to Severus, then he wasn’t going to waste the rest of the morning pacing the road while the clouds dumped all of their misery on top of him. A few other neighbors were peeking through their window blinds, wondering what he wanted or perhaps knowing already.
His love for her was not such a well-kept secret anymore, not since Harry had viewed his memories in the Pensieve and portraits of previous headmasters stationed all around Dumbledore's study attested to what Harry saw, to what he said.
It provided a bold sense of empowerment; his heart exposed on his sleeve lifted the weight of ‘maybe if she knew…’ off of his shoulders. No one could say that he wasn’t trying, and no one could say that he wasn’t right for Lily. Once again, James had proven just how unfit he was to care for Lily. He’d let her die once and now he had been ready to do it again for the seventeenth time.
Seventeen. It clawed at Severus’s heart to think about it, and his eyes flashed with red. Severus had only entered the tournament so that he could speak to Lily. All he wanted was to say hello to his old friend, and he couldn’t even be granted that? He’d been so caught up in the hope of being assigned to Lily’s team so that he could happen upon her, away from James’s prying eyes, that at first he’d not processed the frightening dangers Lily had repeatedly hurled herself into year after year. Maybe it was because James had never held Lily close while her eyes gazed right through him, not seeing. Maybe it was because James didn’t care. No matter what the reasoning, his decision to sit around and do nothing was inexcusable.
Didn’t he view Lily’s life to be as precious as Severus saw it to be? Didn’t he value her at all?
He thought that she would never speak, never run again, that she would be confined to a coffin for all eternity. And now, miraculously, she wasn’t. She was up and walking around like it was as ordinary as anything, as if her mere existence wasn’t a phenomenon. And she was risking this second chance, all to see a boy who was already safe, already looked after? It was such a tragic waste. Someone should have told her long ago to stay far away from the Devil’s Duel. If worst came to worst, Harry would be killed and would come to Cliodna’s Clock to be reunited with his parents. Was that really the most terrible thing that could happen? He didn’t understand Lily’s reasoning. He didn’t understand how James could sit idly by while it continued.
James saw her once upon a time and he wanted her and so he took her – and he disregarded the consequences. Once Lily was attached to him with a ring and a child, he didn’t care about her wellbeing anymore. This had to be true, because Severus knew what love was and he knew that he would not have allowed Lily to die. So if this was the case, then that meant that James did not love Lily enough. Wasn’t love the all-important emotion that Dumbledore prattled on about exhaustively? The source of passion that could cure all evils?
He hoped that James would be victorious in Round Three, which would take place tomorrow, so that he could meet his permanent downfall in Round Five of the Devil’s Duel. Severus had spared him enough leniencies already and James had dependably screwed them all up, time after time. He could not be trusted anymore.
I’m here now, and I’ll make sure that you will live forever.
The prophecy and the Dark Lord and Severus’s personal involvement twitched in the far recesses of his mind, reminding him of his failures and wrongdoings, of his misdirected anger towards Harry Potter and the mistreatment of him. There was another word, too, the one that sealed his fate:
No. He shook his head, black hair slicking down his face in a raven waterfall. Not my fault. I would never have said something like that. Rain was dripping down his cloak, over his shoes, soaking through his socks. He couldn’t see clearly, and the distorted vision did something funny to his mind, as well.
It never happened. He pressed it over his loud thoughts with so much conviction that he gasped out loud in the middle of the road – he couldn’t tell which road, for it was pouring buckets – while searching for a sweet, forgiving grin and gleaming garnet hair, almost believing that his own willpower had caused a cosmic miracle, making it all come true. Freeing him from guilt so that he could be free to loathe and love without shame. He looked around, eyes disoriented, wondering if he’d somehow just undone his past mistakes. In a place like this, anything was possible.
Nothing seemed to have changed.
Water was dribbling from the end of his hooked nose and onto his parted lips, and then over his chin. It tasted like sand. An old flier advertising sign-ups for the tournament blew past in a soggy shock of blue. Without thinking, Severus lurched forward after it, one pale hand outstretched. He had nothing else to do, so he might as well go on following rubbish in foul weather. The spying village probably thought he was a nutter, anyway.
He blinked away the aquamarine beads of rain, wishing not for the first time that he’d never met Lily, that he’d never loved her. It would have saved his life instead of Harry’s, if things had gone an easier way. Some people were hailing Severus as a hero, but he didn’t feel like one. Even now, he would have taken all of it back – all of it – for the chance to run away from home when he was eight years old like he’d planned to do after his parents had had a huge fight, leaving behind Cokeworth and the future letter from Hogwarts and subsequent temptation that Voldemort would provide when he was too young to know better and too old to use that as an excuse.
If James died, would he ever really be out of the picture? Would Lily latch onto his memory and love him from afar as Severus did with her for so many years, leeching all of the reality out of the situation?
He trudged around a curved path after the something-blue that he wasn’t even sure was an old flier anymore, weary with himself. He would have given anything to be James for a day, to be easy and careless and to have a perfect wife who loved him in spite of his numerous flaws. He would have given anything at all.
A creaking noise alarmed him, prompting him to snap his head up. Until then, he’d only been staring blearily at the soaked grass, halfway waiting to drown in it. The creaking had emitted from an ancient swing set, one of its seats thrown over the bars so many times that it was much higher than its fellows. A yellow roundabout lay about thirty feet to the left, undergoing a tremendous thrashing from the rain and what looked to be splinters of hail. Only the pits in its dented metal surface remained yellow – the raised counterparts were stripped of paint.
He knew this play park.
Severus felt his blood ice over. All around him, he saw landmarks that he recognized. That was the same exact grove of Judas trees, and there was the same play equipment, and the same sandbox. There was the drinking fountain that Severus and Lily had tried to fix one summer when it was blisteringly hot outside and he didn’t want to go over to her house because Petunia was home...she always gave him withering looks to make him feel unwelcome...
There was the old flagpole that never had a flag on it, and the slide that was nothing more than five pieces of sheet metal bolted together, which hurt like hell to go down. This was their hallowed territory. Their heaven.
Severus took a step forward, his shoe almost burying a little white square sticking up out of the muddy ground, only one of its corners poking out. It could have been rubbish, like the flier, but he plucked it from a bed of sodden clover and then instantly dropped it.
His heart hammered away at his ribs, knocking against his lungs. His eyes were wide, pupils enormous.
It was a photograph, and a familiar one. It was exactly like the picture that Lily had buried in the sandbox when they were young and he had pretended not to keep it, but that he knew was currently residing within the pages of a children’s book on his shelf back at home on Spinner’s End.
And yet, here it was: A white oak tree with its trunk twisting up into a ‘Y’ shape, blurred because its photographer had been running when she took it.
He couldn’t feel the sharp edges pressing into his numb skin, and was no longer aware of the abysmal rain. There was only the creaking of the swing and the peeling paint on the roundabout, and the sign that he hadn’t noticed until just that moment. It was a wooden post with carved words, staked into the earth next to the dysfunctional drinking fountain.
Welcome to Parasol Park
A/N: Credit for the epitaph "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death" goes to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling, page 328 in the USA edition, which was in turn taken from 1 Corinthians 15:26 in the New Testament of the Bible (King James Version). Also, I’d like to extend a shout-out to forsakenphoenix because her one-shot Into the Darkness of the Grave inspired this chapter. Go give it a read!