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Chapter 1: A Multitude of Sins
There are seven deadly sins; Severus knows them well. It is not a fact that he can forget, despite the fact that knowing it is a slightly shameful reminder of the Muggle side of his upbringing: Sunday afternoons stuffed into his best clothes (which weren’t very good at all) so that his mother could pretend to fit in with the rest of the ordinary people of Spinner’s End.
He finds he thinks about them a lot now. He has a lot of time to think, holed up here in the office that was once Albus Dumbledore’s; this, he suspects, is how Dumbledore grew so wise in the first place.
Seven deadly sins. Seven capital vices. Lust, greed, gluttony. Wrath, pride, sloth. And envy.
He reflects on them often here, in the throne-backed chair that he knows he was never truly meant to occupy. After all, he has the time. He can see his life, mapped by those sins, and though he does not want to think about them – though they speak to the half of him he has tried, for nearly forty years, to smother – Severus is not foolish enough to miss the obvious parallels.
They are a list in his mind. Lust, greed, gluttony. Wrath, pride, sloth. Envy. He had shaped them into that precise order; the reason why, is painfully obvious.
All sins are attempts to fill voids. – Simone Weil
Lust, greed, gluttony.
Severus remembers the first time he ever saw Lily Evans. It was not the first time he spoke to her, though that memory is, perhaps, pushed a bit further to the front of his mind, when he forces himself to suffer through those memories at all. This one is foggier, as though he is scrying through frosted glass to reach it.
He was small, she smaller, delicate as feathers fallen from birds. She played with her sister a lot in those days, before Petunia found out what she was. The park – their favorite haunt – was eight minutes from Severus’s home. Six, if he walked quickly and pushed the muscles in his legs to move faster.
He thought he’d never wanted anything so badly in his life, even then. His reasons changed, as reasons are wont to do (teenage years, after all, are finicky things), but the logic behind them never did.
It was, then, only slightly short of being something miraculous when she deigned to speak to him, the peculiar boy who could do peculiar things. Her name was Lily, she told him, drawing out the vowel sounds on her childish tongue. He knew this, of course, but it was a beautiful name, more so coming from her lips, and he wanted to hear her say it.
Severus wanted a lot of things, back then, and went through much to get at them, though in retrospect they were trifles. He would do very nearly anything to see her smile, equal parts wicked and lovely; he would risk his own minor safety in stunts just to hear her laugh.
And the more frequent her reactions, the more delighted and thoughtless and natural, the more he found that he would endure to win them. They were the small favors of being in her presence, collected in the corners of his mind and studied when he was home, when her laugh seemed a thousand, a hundred thousand miles from here. He tidied up his mind; his father’s yelling transformed into Lily giggling; his mother’s tight-lipped smile morphed into her look of wonder at what Severus could teach her.
These were small lights that did not puff out when storms blew strong.
He hoarded them hungrily, scraping them together in larger and larger piles and filling his mind with every bit of her he cared to stow away to remember in the future. Severus gorged himself on her laugh and her smile and, when he was close enough to be able to collect them, her eyes and her freckles and her copper-penny hair.
But, soon enough, there came a time when his collections overshadowed his reality. There was no more Lily Evans; there was Lily-collected, Lily-shielded, Lily-his. And he had no room in his tidily organized memory fragments for Lily-someone-else’s.
We are punished by our sins, not for them. – Elbert Hubbard
Wrath, pride, sloth.
From the very first, he had told himself that he would never, ever be angry with her. He had seen what anger could do; there was nothing gratifying in it. Severus knew almost at once that there was too much to love about her for him to ever find something to yell, to shout, to hiss, to say in a thousand other ways that might have conveyed ill temperament.
But she was stubborn (and he might have guessed it long ago), and so of course she chose her own path in life. And for a while, that path included him, though it was not his path; they were two roads converged, entirely the opposite of the poem he has long since forgotten the name of.
Yet, though he cannot justify it, even now, he was angry still. Couldn’t she see how wrong she was, and couldn’t she have listened to him? He never wanted to lose her, did not want her to be on the side of suffering. Especially when he considered what she was, and he did not do this often for precisely that reason.
Why couldn’t she see how stupid, how blind she was being to the war going on right under her nose? To the way that the odds were leaning, way back when?
But he never pushed her, never pressured her, even when it all slipped from his grasp, and Severus rather thought he should have been commended for this, on the whole. Even if he had wanted to, he couldn’t have. Whatever else he might have been, Severus was proud, and you could not be both proud and pleading. To have begged her to see reason would have been to acknowledge a folly in his character, to have been weak.
He watched as she grew away from him, and his heart broke.
She never knew, in those early years, how different they were – or, if she did know, she never acknowledged it. Not once. He often wondered if she came to realize it later, when he was out of the picture, but he never got the chance to ask, and never sought out the answer with intentional direction.
He was strong yet, and he waited for her to make the first move. He waited until her death for that.
He thought of a hundred ways to address the fact, especially after he used that word (though he’s not deigned to use it since). He could not count the number of letters he started to her that he never had the energy to put down on parchment; his mind buzzed with the conversations that he never summoned the courage to say.
He could not bring himself to do it, any of it. And so he did nothing. And this – this, more than the anger, more than the unwillingness to appear weak, was perhaps his worst judgment of the lot. That bitter pill he swallowed forever remained lodged in his throat; he could never rid himself of it.
Martyrdom covers a multitude of sins. – Mark Twain
Severus wasn’t ever a man to sit back and be tolerant about something, except where Lily was concerned. He accepted every hard turn life twisted his way as his penance for insulting her that day by the lake. He wanted her to forgive him, desperately, but he knew, deep down, that she wouldn’t, and that he would be Atlas forevermore, carrying his due on his shoulders.
But then the tables turned, and it was Lily who did the unforgivable.
He could not bear, could never bear, to see Lily with James, or to see the rest of the world act as though the pair of them together was the most natural thing in the world. His entire body burned when he caught a glimpse of their eyes meeting, or their hands touching. It was not an angry burn, not like before, but of intense longing.
Severus never, ever got over just how badly he wanted to be in James’s shoes. His mind was a constant refrain of That should be me.
That should be me, walking her to class and carrying her books.
That should be me, helping her cram for her Charms N.E.W.T.
That should be me, being able to love her so freely and openly.
Instead, Severus was forced to wish to be the man he hated almost more than anyone else in the world, and that was what stung most of all. He had to be jealous of an arrogant man, who turned into a doomed man, who turned into a dead man. And there was nothing more degrading in this world than to be envious of a corpse.
And yet, he was.
There are seven deadly sins; Severus knows them well. They are not just the things a person should strive away from, after all. They are very personal to him, even still, nearly seventeen years after Lily’s death, because those sins are the exact path he took to losing control of everything he had once aspired to.
It was true, then, what they said about those sins, that they were the destroyer of man. Wasn’t he, Severus, a man? Hadn’t they destroyed him, despite the warnings of his childhood? If he had listened… But he would never have listened, and he knows this very well.
Lust, greed, gluttony.
Wrath, pride, sloth.
But there is one more, he thinks, rising from the headmaster’s chair and crossing to one of the tall, narrow windows dotting the tower. It is perhaps the most persistent sin he has committed, wrapped amidst the other seven in a false cloak of good tidings.
Through everything – the early-on days of having Lily and being able to just be when he was with her; the precarious days of having that thread of friendship fray; the fruitless, interminable days of losing her forever – he had hope. Hope that he could wake up and be able to relive it all; that everything would, in some way, be normal again, somehow, someday.
And this, he is sure, is what destroyed him most in the end.
A/N: You will have noticed by this point that there are three quotes in this one-shot that, although brilliant, are not mine; they remain the rights of Simone Weil, Elbert Hubbard, and Mark Twain, respectively, and are used solely to add a bit of depth to this story. In addition, there are references to Robert Frost's poem "The Road Not Taken," as well as to the mythological Atlas. I do not own either of these allusions, either.
That being said, I hope you had enjoyed this story! Somehow Severus seems to be my go-to when I'm in the mood to write a one-shot, but I had fun writing this, anyway. Thank you for reading, and if you have time, a review would be very much appreciated!