Chapter 1 : To this City, a Love Song
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EDIT NOTE: This story was nominated for best one shot at the 2012 Dobbys, so if you like it, feel free to cast a vote. Thank you.
And if you have five seconds to spare
Then I'll tell you the story of my life
- the Smiths, Half a Person
The first time he sees her, she’s standing in the middle of the field, screaming her lungs out, hollering for the world to start moving. Behind her, the sky is bleeding out. Speckles of light are caught in the red burnt shade of her hair. His steps are subtle in the night air but they mar the beauty nonetheless, like cracked mirrors on perfect reflections. She is a waterfall of colours; she is the canvas of life. His life. And he is mesmerized. (He’s still mesmerized).
It is as if no conscious thought could have ever been made. The soft sonata of her voice carries him on waves of wonder, rises him above the ground, like magnets cutting through spaces in between, parting the waters, all to get to her. Then he is standing right in front of her. She pauses then. Puzzled. Who are you, her eyes ask, wide and green, and he answers, the future, the future, the future.
The beginning is tantalizing in its beauty. Two alienated kids playing make-believe in a field of green, picking up fairy dust between petal-smiles.
But this? This has always been about the end.
The second time, it is no longer a coincidence. And let’s be honest: there has never been anything coincidental about Lily Evans. His steps are springing, skidding like romance novels, and he’s right there, with his heart ten feet above the skyline. She’s sitting cross-legged in the middle of the field, lilies twisting all around her, reaching towards the sky, their mouths gaping open wide. Her smile is like arms, stretching, reaching for him, saying welcome – you are welcome here.
She’s always been his home.
“I feel like I should be more careful,” her rosy red mouth twists, “Mum always said not to talk to strange boys.”
They are lying side by side and the words have escaped her like breath leaving hot-air balloons, deflating slowly. Severus reels at the intimacy, feeling oddly stuffed but liberated all the same in this open space. The air burns with dreams of young people just as the sun fades to red dust and he can count the beauty in all their breaths of air.
“I’m not dangerous.” He says it quietly, maybe in wishful thinking, or maybe not, because after he says it, he raises his head and he looks at her. It’s an ode to childhood innocence, yet the light shall soon be tarnished in the soil. Sitting there in front of him, blocking the sun, her expression is a blur of emotions. And then something. Something that reminds him of his mother and the way she used to look at him in the dusk, before going to bed. Hopeful. He looks away before the image burns itself into the back of his mind.
“Oh, I know.” Her eyes are steady, her mouth quirked up. She rests a hand on his arm, the touch foreign but pleasant all the same and he has to look up.
“I saw right through you, Severus Snape.”
Respect, Father’s fist hisses.
There is the smell of cigarettes and decayed dreams waving in the door. He turns the moment they stop breathing. It is not sadness, nor is it a tragedy; there is no need for pity.
Lesson learned: this, too, shall pass.
“It sounds brilliant.” Chin down, Lily’s eyes turn up to meet his gaze in a feeble attempt to cover the excitement. Her large eyes suck him into the spaces between laughter.
“Is brilliant.” Severus tries to hide his smirk. He can see Petunia lurking in the shadows of the tree but ignores petty glares in favour for this beauty.
Her face is a wide expand of land, innocent and unconquered. But there is darkness stirring, lurking in the shadows as it waits to attack.
“You’ll fit right in,” he smiles widely, the lie crinkling in the dusty air like the static of the radio he listens to every night in the dark corners of a house that's ceased to feel like home decades passed.
He is philosopher, a dreamer. He is a charming prince. He is all she could ever want – will ever want. Illusions stick like shadows to his fingertips, billowing in their turning coats as he sits in front of her. The train sets into motion, softly at first before gaining speed.
They watch themselves leave the world leave behind - or they watch the world leave them behind (that is the question, isn’t it?).
“Wave goodbye to your life, Sev.” Lily’s outstretched hand twitches on the window. Her breath is heavy, carefully even. Petunia had not showed up and the spot between her parents is vacant but there, nonetheless, awaiting the sister who will never come around.
“No,” he takes a breath, “say hello to your life, Lily – this is it –“
She has tears dripping onto her hands and seems unable to tear her eyes away from the landscape as the train takes her on – onto greater things, onto brooms, witches and wands and boys who tell you you’re beautiful without any makeup on. It takes her onto fate – love and hate and death. Death creeps slowly towards them, even in its pace. For the moment, though, they are eleven and Lily’s always been just fascinated.
“It’s just so magical, isn’t it?” she sighs at the window.
She glances at him briefly and he gets the distinct impression that there is a point he’s not getting.
Severus is unable to tear his eyes away, too. He knows the time has come, not the time, but the time. Their time is running out. So he stores her profile in his mind. Tugs it into a corner safely hidden away, traces the familiar spatter of freckles until they are star ridden maps in his mind.
It will be years later, in the terror of luring nights, that she’ll still be the eleven-year-old girl he met and wooed, boo-boo patch and all. Her tentative whisper shall forever hold a momentum of his vicious surrender, you can do it too. It's a beacon in the fathomless night, straining against the dark as each day sets its heavy foot.
This ends with a name:
Mudblood, Nott had said, lips curling.
The flash of Lily’s scared face, unfolding like pages ripped from a book keeps on playing in his mind. Each page torn into pieces as they fall to the ground in mournful shivers, like tears crinkling parchment. He could imagine another time, another era, dream up an exotic location, the ever constant intention of dreaming a young man’s dreams.
“What if –“ his voice young now.
“No.” Her breath is sharp against the jut of his jaw.
It’s dangerous: playing around with dreams. Go too far and you end up living them. People always say that endings are final, with drumroll and applaud echoing in the fathomless room. In real life it was stolen glances, empty words, promises they never should have made.
“I’ll change - ” Be better.
The first kiss is unintentional. He is almost sixteen, romanticised by star-crossed lovers and tales of wrath.
He shifts back to watch her, letting out a nervous chuckle. She’s frowning, crossing her arms.
“So,” she pauses, “was that it?”
Their thigh brush together, lips twisting his name.
“Huh?” His fingers find her knuckles and palms press against palms.
His mouth pours over hers, tongue rolling over hers as she gasps into his mouth. There are many things he could say, proper, let’s talk and I’m not good for you. But Lily’s never been unsure or that kind of girl and he’s always been selfish, poised to grab the moment.
Afterwards, she reaches for a fag.
“I’ve never understood it,” the ghost of a smile filters across her lips, “why we can’t have it back at Hogwarts, too.”
Her voice sounds hopeful, bitter even, but he doesn’t succumb to the wishful thinking.
“You know why.”
“Actually I don’t.”
Envious, he watches the nicotine rising from her plumb lips like halos. He could never make dying beautiful like that.
“Lily – “
Her gaze is heavy as he reaches for her, hands clumsy against her face. He’s heard this before, met this version a while back, and he’s buried most of their secrets in the back of his head.
She allows him to pull her into his embrace, burying her head in the crook of his neck.
“We could –“ she starts, but stops again. His fingers drift underneath her jumper, over the pale stretch of skin.
“There’s nothing to do.” His mouth folds over hers, honestly for once. She sighs and sags against his chest, bruised lips moving against his.
He’s running from his shadow.
And yes, there’s an irony to be found here:
He’s been running from his family all his life, escaping, twisting and buckling underneath the weight. Credits: Potions. Honours: Dark Magic. It’s like a shadow, finding himself stepping into footsteps made before him in the sand. He’s walking backwards, blindfolded, as he reaches for the finish line. Yet he is like a piece fitting into the grand puzzle. His edges fit perfectly to the slippery smiles of foes.
He is a Prince though he tries to run from it and in the end embracing darkness is far, far easier than running blindsided into the sun. They’re gonna catch you by the throat in the end.
“I thought we were friends, Sev?”
( - were friends – were –)
The retort is poised on the tip of his tongue, frighteningly simple as it is:
You left me first, remember?
The sweaty stretch of summer is the same, too. For the last time. When they lie to each other through their teeth, pretending that they know no other world than this field of green, yet he can feel the no lingering too close to the surface in his throat.
“I want to lie here and never return.” Lily’s hands find his face, drawing imaginary maps and lines across valleys and borders. She makes him a masterpiece of waterfalls and fields.
“What stir it would cause,” he hums against her fingertips, lips parting soundlessly, “Lily Evans, Head Girl and prodigal daughter running away from home - ”
Her nose bumps along each notch of boned rib, “We could do it, you know.”
“Your parents would kill me,” his mouth presses against the sweaty patch of skin of her shoulder. She’s radiating in this place, glowing so hard he finds it hard to look at her.
Her fingers ghost along his lips, “So proper you’ve become, Sev.”
(So alien you’ve become).
Her touch is familiar still, but the words spilling from her lips haunt him with their eagerness and alienism. As the sun comes to set behind the valleys of trees, Severus comes to realize something too.
She is gone.
Her body remains, like earthly pieces decomposing in the mould, slowly crumbling between his fingers. It slips away until nothing remains but the ghost of a girl who changed his world. This body in his hands is merely a ghost of pasts, hazy in the sunlight spilling across her skin. Her name remains stillborn, lodged in his chest. He did not know it could feel like this.
His hands find her face. His fingers are curled against her jaw. And then his mouth drops against her forehead. She’s sharp underneath his lips and he begins to wonder what more he’ll miss. The truth sets itself in stone; she belongs to him only in between the shoulders of September.
His heart is heavy in his chest, each beat trips across a heartbeat, terrified to stop beating. He’ll watch her smile, swim in the depth of those moss-green eyes. She touches a hand to his neck, the touch scorching but haunting in its brilliance.
“Promise you’ll never change, Sev,”
When the green-eyed girl swallows your heart – run.
It’s quite simple when it ends.
“I can’t – I can’t be who you want to be, Severus.”
“You’re exactly what I want –“
“No –“ Her breath juts out against his skin, warm and tender; still human. “I’m a Mudblood – just – you hate everyone of my kind – why should I be any different?”
“Lily – you’re being stupid –“
“No. I don’t think I am, Severus. Just – I – I can’t –“
Lily’s back is beautiful in the moonlight even retreating.
Regret’s a dangerous thing.
“You’re drunk, Severus. Go away.”
“I’ma nottt drunk –"
“Yes, you are –“
“I love you –“
“Just go home. Sleep.”
September swings in slowly.
This year they're costuming as young prisoners of war in her room; on her bed, words twisting in and out with each exhale of their breaths, openmouthed kisses with weak lips. Lily presses her mouth against the arch of his throat, I'm sorry.
Somehow, they've been saying goodbye for years now. It's a return to sensible hatred yet he cannot quite muster anger with her lips scorching his skin.
There's a moment. With the ticker of laughter and a hollow breath that spreads across eons of space. His eyes catch hers in a moment of surrender. Her breath stills. His hands, young still, touch the planes of her face,
"My fault -"
“How could you – I mean, seriously? Seriously –“
“He’s not all bad, you know.” Her hair covers her face and he wants to reach out and push it away. “He’s actually very kind –“
“Kind?” Severus splutters, “he’s arrogant, selfish –“
“Is that why you called me out here? To moan?” Lily’s eyebrow arches, “Who I'm dating doesn’t concern you.”
He studies her pallid features. She looks the same; all fire and ice. Beautiful and wonderful. He can remember the field of green mere months ago with her skin against his. Her laughter in his ear. It seems like a cheap imitation of love with her fuming here in front of him.
“He’s a good man. And when he sees at me –“ her voice wavers, “When he sees me, he sees a warrior. Someone who can change the world. And he - he wants to change it with me.”
“You can’t possibly –“
“I can and I will. I'm not fragile -”
Her eyes burn with anger almost glowing in the darkness. He can remember cold mornings and her, stealing kisses in dark corners. Sharing air as if they would never breathe again. He can remember seeing her for the first time, second time, last time. He thinks about those last words a lot.
“Don’t you – don’t you remember what I said?”
Lily’s eyes burn scars into his heart.
“I... I don’t love you, Severus.”
"Here." He hands her the books, their fingers touching each other briefly. She smiles, her smile brief but kind. The bell rings, parting their ways. He's headed North, she South. It seems that they are always parting, hauled in opposite directions.
Against all order he runs a finger along her cheek, trailing a long lost pattern. Her eyes flutter, Sev....
His fingers are fresh, still. It'll be years later when he won't be able to touch anything.
No one falls in love at ten –
“My choice has been made.”
He tries to find a waver to her voice. He’s looking at her slowly, carefully and he’s missing the point. Fingers cut gashes into his palm, “Please –“
He stops then. He can feel his face slowly breaking. Lily’s staring at her hands in front of her, still as the house in front of them. Cold as the bottom of their lake he still has trouble swimming in. Far away like their field of green that’s the exact colour of her eyes. There’s something sad in those eyes and he feels like asking really? even though he knows that she’s more deserving and better off without him.
He tries to make an effort but succumbs to selfishness once more.
The why? cuts through veins, bones and fingertips, splitting open their world as the blood seeps onto the floor in splashes of wet, scorching liquid. This is them, bleeding out in the middle of a battlefield as the stars are put out one by one.
I'm sorry, is all that remains in the space between them.
He is not thinking about her. He is not thinking about her.
The first one is the hardest.
With fingers cutting gashes in the wrong place, the crack of bones and the curling of the wrist. Then follows the flash like a drumroll to the epic finish of an unloved man. The body falls, limbs sagging like a dead flower, uncurling and writhing on the floor as it gasps for empty air. His fist knits, tracking bloodless veins on pallid features. This is something water cannot erase.
This is no tragedy.
He finds it hard some days to remember -
They used to stick together like glue.
Lily’s freckled face and trembling lips, We’ll stay together, right?
And his beaming smile with long, gangly limbs, Always.
(How could you have known?)
In a moment of weakness, her hair still wild and red, he tells her: I should have said yes.
And there he stands. On the porch. Waiting like he’s waiting for the rain during a drought,or for the sun to break through the clouds on a rainy day. He’s waiting for forever, for her eyes to tell him that you are home. He’s waiting and she’s opening the door, smiling, beaming.
She’s coming and he’s waiting. Waiting for her yes, waiting for her breath against his mouth; the taste of her skin. She’s opening the door and she’s smiling. And he’s smiling too, gushing, clutching the flowers closer to his chest, words pressing on his lips, threatening to bubble over.
And she is opening the door and he is waiting like always, always waiting and she is greeting him, smiling, laughing, Severus. And words are burning in his mouth, boiling like water. They are big words; words he’s never said, words that can change the world – change his world. And even though he’s no courageous Gryffindor he’s coming around now. She’s opening the door, coming. And he’s waiting, always waiting, ready to come for her now, ready to change the what if to a this is it.
And he is waiting, always waiting. And she is smiling up at him, standing in the doorway, shining like sunshine. And there is a ring on her finger. The wrong ring.
His life is no longer about speeches tearing into the night but faces quavering in dark corners of houses, breathing to the night air, please –
It’s funny. In between the flashes of green, short as the blink of an eye, he can see himself, crumpled form in the corner, five years old, hiding with his ears covered and eyes squeezed shut. The image replays repeatedly like the half-hearted reminder of an innocence long lost.
He wears guilt well across the curve of his mouth.
He recognizes her the moment the doorbell clings, announcing the arrival of his past wrapped in unuttered confessions and heart-breaking regrets. The bustling of the pub masks his gasp as eyes roam her form. There's a roundness to her that he has forgotten. His hands form fists as the skin is pulled taut across knuckles of wary bones, jealousy running rampid inside disloyal veins.
He's still in awe by the letter nonetheless. Black-ribboned with crooked letters, which had arrived with the morning sun. A talk it had said, unsigned. She'll find a letter soon, too. Pressed between childhood books with a single lily. I miss you seems oddly distant but rings true in a world of sticky shadows and with veins of liquid guilt.
Lily slips in, gliding past cubicles like the ghost of someone he once thought familiar. Wet eyes meet his, soft but distant, and he grips his glass, anchoring himself to the tiniest things inside this empty place. Her smile is crooked, reminding him of the man he lost her to.
Regret's smart like that.
There's a deep worry-line pressing into her forehead and he eyes it warily, sorrow spreading like hot liquid in the pit of his stomach.
She still looks the same.
Even after all these years, the same fierce determination, the same utter vivacious strive for life – for a life-altering purpose, is still jumping in her eyes, embracing his form. The remembrance of her eyes bleeding out, you could do this, too.
She steps into the cubicle with her gaze burning patterns into the back of his skull. His breath strains in his throat as she takes a seat in front of him, folding her hands neatly in her lap. There's a new curve on her body, traitorously womanly as she sits. He sits halted by the bump, feeling the hatred bubbling in his throat.
When she meets his eyes there is a memory pressing, pressing, pressing against the back if his mind. He can see her uttering the words, a mere ghost of pasts lived as the syllables roll off her tongue, her silhouette filmy and wavering. Her voice, singed with the whisper of a decade; I want to do something, be something – change it all.
In the end she changed the world; changed him. Her weakness; being a woman was the thing that made it possible. Her death was the reason the world kept standing. And the reason he fell to his knees. And really, he’s not sure he could ever be that selfless.
Him succumbing to carnal weaknesses again:
“Difference. Would it have made a difference?”
Her shoulders giving, “Severus - ”
The last time he sees her she’s standing with a baby perched on her hip.
There’s a fresh new scar cutting across the soft expand of her cheek, marring her porcelain-skin. And he starts to wonder what else he’s missed. (Correction: what else he’s going to miss).
“Lily – “
They stand there for some time, silent as the sound of life remains in motion around them. The baby gurgles and she starts rocking him back and forth absentmindedly.
“What do you want?”
“Stop it,” she hisses, the sound is harsh and foreign coming from her lips. His outstretched arm falls limply to his side.
“Sorry.” He looks down.
“Just – you can’t –“ Lily squeezes her eyes closed for a moment, “you can’t just come here and tell me that you’re sorry – it’s not –“ her eyes open and nail him down with the truth, “It’s not good enough.”
His breath catches like broken glass in his throat, “I know it isn’t, but –“
Their house is beautiful with a white porch and hardwood floors. He takes a moment to look at the place where Lily Evans got her Happy Ending. She shifts in front of him, presses her lips together, pink to white.
“I loved you,” she chokes out, words spinning and spiralling off into the dusk, swallowed whole by the moon.
“Lily – “
“Not anymore,” she shakes her head, one hand clutching the baby to her chest, the other gripping the railing with such force he fears it might splinter underneath her hand. “Not now that you’ve become what you have – I can’t – I can’t love a monster. Besides, James - Harry - they're all I have - “
He places his hand on hers tentatively. She clutches it with the same earth-shattering force and he has to wonder how anyone ever stood a chance against Lily Evans. Her touch shares the same foreign-hood of a stranger but she’s the closest thing to home he has.
“I wish –“ his breath catches in the back of his throat and he takes a step closer, “I wish it had turned out differently. That you – that you’d seen me -”
“Oh, Severus,” she smiles and the words end there, “I’ve always seen you.”
The baby turns its dark head to look at him. Blinking, he stares into the green depths unable to grasp at this.
His eyes are hers.
Words are burning on his tongue, words that could make a difference to perception; to death and life. But the tinkling giggle of the infant renders him speechless. Instead it ends with this;
“Told me – you should have told me –“
It is not simple when it ends.
A whimper escapes his lips as he cradles her crumbled body. Lily's head is rolling backwards, her mouth frozen for the sound of her son's name. Her unseeing eyes stare right past him as he holds her, pressing fingers against a pulse that's long gone. He can feel the momentum hauling on him. James's body is lying on the stairs, his neck crooked like a bad imitation of a rag doll and the baby's whimpering in the cot, Lily's gaze following him.
He grabs her hand. The cold metal of a ring is jarring against his warm skin as he attempts to infuse warmth within her. He releases a shuddering breath, fingers slipping off the ring with such ease. The blank faces say nothing and all he can hear is the ringing in his ears, drumming out the numbness.
There are whispers, the press of warm lips at the nape of her neck. They murmur words of apology and forgiveness against pale-blue skin that lights up the darkness, one last eternal gesture to the world. The tears fall silently upon her pale face, snaking, translucent trails slipping down the cold expand of her face as the sky remains to the torches, the only sense of light.
He leaves the ring on the table.
The last time he’s standing in the middle of the field, screaming his lungs out, hollering at the world to stop moving.
Behind him the sky is bleeding out. Speckles of light are lost into the glittering night sky. The city is bearing its soul to him. It is an echo of the dismembered sunset, reeling as the earth grabs for him; poignant in its loss. They’ll never know but she was the better one. The only one.
His cries are carried by the wind, written in star-scattered letters across the void. The words burn themselves through his tongue, acidly ripping up his throat as terror wraps around him, tightening like a vice, deadly in its scorching beauty. The ugliness is blaring against the splendour but he lets the air leave his lungs; leave him breathless, empty in the haunting grief. He lets it all spread out endlessly until this, too, is lost to the world.