Please note that this story is written in reverse chronology. It can be read from IX to I or I to IX, depending on what you prefer.
Seasons of Discontent
It is not always right to start at the beginning. Sometimes, the ending provides the best introduction, putting forth the problem and its solution all at once, leaving the reader to make the final judgment. Either he or she will quietly close the cover and put it down, shaking head in disdain, or she will crease an ivory brow and turn the page, seeking not the answer, but the question.
This is not a new story, but it is not the story that one would expect. It does not tell of that ideal, but very fictional, story of love and hate reconciling in sweeping romance. It does not tell of the famed and the infamous and the story that tore them apart. It merely tells of a girl who could not decide what she wanted her story to be.
Her story is well-known, to a degree, but there are always secrets, even in the lives of the beloved and the virtuous.
Lily Evans was by no means perfect. She herself knew it most of all. She felt it most of all in that moment when she, sitting across the table from her husband, one quiet, lonely night, their dinner plates empty before them, a stain on the cloth where she had spilt some sauce, had looked into his eyes and stopped.
It was the same face that she had known, perhaps a bit more tired, pale and drawn, but there was something in his eyes that struck her like a knife to the heart. She had never felt this before, not with him.
She always knew that James’ eyes were hazel. It was just one of those facts about a person, the colour of their eyes and hair, the twist of their lips, the setting of their features. She didn’t need to stare uselessly into them to find happiness. She had never known their depths, nor what it meant to get lost with them. They weren’t like those other eyes, those eyes she refused to forget.
She knew that, as a witch, she could easily rid herself of memory, all those memories, but although it had, in the darkest hours, crossed her mind, she could never bring herself to that point. Perhaps it was the loss that frightened her. All of those things, they made her who she was. She could not exist without them, even if they were a twitching pain, festering within.
Although she looked into her husband’s eyes and saw them as they were – soft, vibrant, anything but dull – she also saw within them the illusion of the eyes that, for so long, she has wanted to see. For so long a time, she wished that they were the eyes of another, one whose pride would never reduce him to–
“I’ll wash tonight,” she said, chair screeching on the linoleum when she rose, too fast. She tottered a little, but placing one hand on the table, she steadied herself. She must be careful in her condition.
The spell was broken, but the curse remained. His eyes followed her to the door.
“Are you sure, Lily?”
Her head appeared around the corner. “I wouldn’t say, otherwise.”
In the kitchen, she could be alone, if only for a little while.
She picked up a dish and her wand and saw her reflection in the window, her face consumed by the night.
His shadow did not darken the doorway, though she waited, staring into the night and watching the reflection of the room in the window, waiting, always waiting. Another one gone. Another night, another man. It was all the same. They were both the same.
She put down the last knife and wiped her hands before returning to the dining room where still he sat on, though not yet stone, his hands clenched and his mouth in a painful, twisted frown that reminded her so much of the other’s smile, but she could not think of the other now, his absence from reality and presence in her mind far from important. It had taken her this long to see it.
“James.” She sat down across from him and took up one of his hands in the flickering candlelight that prevented her from seeing his eyes, obscured as they were by the reflection on the lenses of his spectacles. “Is it really too late? Can't we have–”
Her words cut off. She knew too well that they were cliche, the words of another from long ago, equally desperate for much the same reason. She felt her heart fall through her stomach, felt her stomach fall through the floor, not knowing what it all meant because this was the first time, the very first time that she understood what it meant to love.
And there he was, before her, unmoving, unfeeling, less alive than the shadow that had haunted the back of her mind for so long a time that it felt eternal, that old love, if it had been love at all.
He opened his mouth to speak, the only one who can judge her crimes, all those days, months, years, that she has killed him over and over, all the times that she broke his heart, sometimes without knowing, often without caring.
But now, she looked at him, the one who has, always been there, always looked upon her with admiration, always seen her as the person she really was and loved her anyway, and she hoped that he could love her now that they are both fated to die.
When his words came, his fingers twined with hers across the length of the table.
It was, after all, only in the darkness that she truly mistook One for the Other. They would merge, then, mist and shadow, neither light nor darkness, both composed of shades of grey, her desperate mind unable, even unwilling, to distinguish them. She knew that, often, too often, she was divided between them, her heart split in two.
Once, this would have pained her. She would have despaired that the love she had for Severus, so pure and unyielding, even as time passed without view of him, without word that he even existed, was fading. She was losing that last piece of her childhood and all the dreams it had carried. Once it would have been a crime to love him less than the dream deserved. But now...?
It would have equally been a crime to love James Potter.
Once, she had flattered him in her mind with the thought that he was, really, more like a brother, a friend, a flatmate, rather than a husband, but these thoughts were hers and hers alone. He was as vigorous in seeking marital bliss as he was in hunting down Death Eaters, and she sought to match his bargain with all the smiles and laughs she could bear to exude.
But now... she could sense a change in the winds, the winter breaking into... into...
“How do you think I look?”
His eyes met hers in the mirror, always guarded these days.
She laughed, turning to face him, her eyes too bright. “You always say that, James.”
He tilted his head, thinking, eyes blinking quickly behind his spectacles, before he smiled.
“I didn’t marry the prettiest girl in England for nothing.”
For a moment, the light from the lamps hazes around him, leaving him in shadow, his shadow, not his own, but that of the Other. Oh, how could she have forgotten the wafting of his hair those few times that he bothered to wash it, mostly at her bidding, or the thinness of his shoulders, though he was strong, far stronger, the bones solid beneath the slim muscle, the way that he was himself, always wishing to be another.
What was it that he’d said to her once? She grasped at her memories with eager hands, sorting through the threads of many colours until she could pick out the one most lacking in colour, the one greyer than the rest.
She sees the quick smile cracking the porcelain of his face, revealing his teeth, so rarely seen. She smells the pollution from the mills in the air and in the creek near where they sit, together, in the park, hidden from view behind the bramble. She tastes the remnants of the Sunday lunch from which she left early to meet him. She hears the water trickling past them and hears his voice.
“Better to spend the day with the most beautiful girl in Milton than–”
The rest is gone. Those words alone have survived the intervening years, drowned out by the waters that rose above their heads, consuming them in shadow and hate.
It is the words alone that she has since needed.
But he has faded, the day has faded; the night has come and, once again, she was with her husband in the room of their little cottage, and she wondered where she had put her earing.
He knew of course. James knew the truth. It was impossible for her to comprehend how or when or why he knew. Equally impossible to know how it affected him, changed him, hardened his shell, but she could see its change, the heavy lure of summer into autumn, the leaves, once green, fading into brilliance.
She had not discovered this until, one day, just sitting in a chair by the window of their home, in a rare hour of silence of stillness, she looked up at him and felt something within herself that was dying to burst forth, a sapling eager to find the spring light, even from beneath the final blanket of snow.
“I love you.”
The words emerged from her lips before she fully understood what they were.
When he turned, it was with trepidation, his brows creased over the rims of his spectacles, his arm muscles tensed beneath the fabric of his robes. His eyes focused on hers, and she could not miss the surprise within them. The spectacles only made it worse, magnifying everything that passed across those glassy eyes.
Something rose within her, something terrible, ancient and raging.
“Does it shock you to hear me say it? Merlin, James, do you really think–”
He reached out to touch her hand, gripping it with iron fingers.
“Never, sweetheart. It’s just that–”
“Next time I won–”
“No, Lily, please–”
But she had extricated her hand and walked away, hand rubbing a throbbing temple. She had made an error, that was all. She should not have spoken, should not have put into words what did not exist. It had been a trick of the light, the way that his hair was growing too long, the way that the shadows had darkened his eyes, the way that his robes were getting shabby.
For a moment he was someone else, too frequently an occurrence in these days of darkness, the endless mist surrounding them, ever hungry, grabbing at their heels, just for a single taste of the blood they scrubbed off the soles of their feet.
She refused to turn off the light that night, sitting huddled in the chair by the fire, staring into its depths, shivering with the chill of winter.
When she looked at her husband, she still caught herself looking for the face of Severus Snape. They were not that different, after all, a couple of inches off, one with softer features, the other with piercing black eyes.
She could not forget those eyes, and she never doubted that they had forgotten her.
That had, perhaps, always been the greatest problem. She never stopped being the pretty, intelligent, and talented Lily Evans of comfortable home and pleasant disposition, and it seemed as though no insult, no war, no suffering at all, could alter that fact. Her place was at the top of the pedestal, gazing down at the world below. Never had she abandoned her dreams, especially when they lay, shattered, at her feet.
Failure was not an option. It never had been, which was why she had fought to be the best witch Hogwarts could have produced, against all odds, even going so far as to defy Voldemort and the Death Eaters without an inkling of fear.
That she was reckless was taken for granted. It was why, many said, she had married James Potter in the end. They were simply too much alike.
If only they knew the truth.
But no one had ever found it out. No one had ever questioned her plastered smiles, her pitchy laughter, her inability to worry when he was not on time. Instead, they called her stoic and courageous, the best kind of wife, so in tune with her husband, their minds and hearts so intertwined, that regular communication was unnecessary.
To her, it was a poor excuse.
“That was fun, wasn’t it?” James removed his spectacles and wiped his forehead, leaning on the wall inside their cottage, cheeks flushed with the exhilaration of the kill.
She leaned against the doorjamb, lungs heaving, feeling the spots on her hands, the spots that don’t come off.
“If that’s what you call it, then no.”
When his eyes flicked toward her, she could feel their disappointment. Not disapproval, just disappointment.
“We’ve got to fight, Lily. You know that more than–”
A wild laugh barked out of her throat, the result of all this killing, all this death that she has caused, even desired with the darkest part of her blighted heart. There was no enjoyment to be gained from the deaths of others, even if they were one’s enemies, as those men and women were, had been, were always to be.
Every time she has returned home after these skirmishes, she wondered if he was now amongst the dead, killed by her own hand or the hands of those supposedly on her side, and all she can feel is the darkness growing within her, its long-nailed fingers scratching into the core where it will find, it will find–
It was her own voice that disrupts the madness.
“I know it because I hate it, James. That is all. It makes us no different from them.”
He stared back, and in the shadows cast upon him, she could imagine a different nose, above which a pair of darkly searching eyes would glare through her, the line of his mouth twisted in irony, greasy strands of hair hanging low over his forehead and shoulders.
When James turns on the light, she shields her guilty eyes.
She wanted to see him again. She could not write more than a few lines before her clenched hand had set down the quill on its own accord, restraining itself to the barest essentials before the truth emerged, not unbidden, but encouraged, driven on by the tears growing at the corners of her eyes.
Severus, I need you. I made a mistake, not with James, but with you. If only you knew the truth about what I did...
He can never know. The idol would shatter and she would lie in pieces at his feet. She had been selfish, he had been the failed goal, and James had been collateral damage. Perhaps the most willing example of collateral damage she had ever come across, but it only made him less deserving of that fate. Always relegated to second in her heart when, all this time, she had been first in his.
Her role was perhaps the least complicated, the most unforgivable. She had no excuses for what she had done to both wizards, the men who had loved her for herself and herself alone even as she had been, to them, anything but herself.
She no longer knew what “herself” was.
The quill fell from her hand and she stared down at the letter, hands flat on the desk, her tears staining the paper before her fingers, fumbling wildly, takes it and crumbles it into a tight ball before tossing it into the wastebasket, wiping her eyes, and walking away.
Once more unto the breach.
She would be fine for long periods of time, almost normal, in fact, but then the dream would come again, the long road to the river where they had played as children, their hiding place among the shrubbery still untouched by the corrupting hands of time. She would wake in the night beside her husband and wonder whether he heard her saying the wrong name in her sleep, sweat beaded around her throat like the necklace she wore at last night’s gathering.
He hung on the edge of her existence, the shadow that rose to meet her in the morning and fell behind to dog at her steps each evening. She would tell herself to forget, that it was over, that he had failed her and thus she should hate him, but then the dream would come again and she would be lost.
From the bed she rose, careful not to disturb the limp form beside her, but the sound of her frantic heart woke him.
“What is it?” He sat up, blindly flailing for his spectacles. “Something wrong?”
She shook her head before remembering that he would not see. “No. I’m just thirsty.”
In reaching for his spectacles, he brought his eyes close to the clock.
“Might as well stay up. Have to go early.” He rubbed his bloodshot eyes like a child.
She, having stopped by the window to look out upon the quiet grey street, the snow long melted, spring still long to come, looked back, the moonlight on her hair.
He shrugged and tossed back the covers. “Once more unto the breach and all that.”
She made coffee for them both, her cup half empty before he emerged, hair still tousled, old robes dusty, a missed bit of stubble in the crease of his jaw, to swallow the whole.
“See you at the meeting.”
Her eyes followed him out the door, her thoughts retreating into the gloom.
Behind the fairytale, there had been only reality. Quiet, unassuming reality. She had expected something far less, and thus was thankful for the smaller victories. It was too evident that the victory she had once desired, still did in that secret place of her heart, could never be achieved. It was that thing that constantly stood just beyond her reach. It was the figure of a man, robed in black, his hair black, his eyes black, his mood anything but.
She simply can’t get him out of her mind. It’s no better than being a lovesick girl, constantly mooning over his every movement, his every word, even if they are few and far between. It makes her feel low, the very thing that he could not want from any girl, especially her. Only her, actually. That’s what made it so much worse.
“...do you take this man to be your lawfully-wedded husband?”
There is a ring on her finger and a lie on her lips, and still he did not come. It needn’t have been in shining armour or riding a night-black steed through the chapel to carry her away. He only needed to have shown his face and she would have tossed down her bouquet and thrown back her veil and walked out to him, hand reaching for his. Then they would be innocent again, safe from harm because they were together, united.
“Come on, Sev! Just what we always wanted.”
Before the lie came, she had looked back at the door, a silly thing, really, but she still had needed to be certain. She could have just walked out on her own. She could have sought him out for herself, taken his hand, looked into his black eyes, and told him that it was all a big mistake, wouldn’t he have liked to start again?
It is too late for that now. Too much time has passed. He was only a dream, hanging on the edge of her consciousness. Sometimes she heard his voice, but it was only a distant echo. Sometimes she saw his face, but it was that of another. What she never saw was him. He became a shadow. He slowly became nothing.
Or so she told herself, touching the ring she wore with nervous fingers, turning and turning it around her finger until the skin beneath turned black.
She had given him chances to come and rescue her from the mouth of the dragon – or was it lion? – but still he did not come and she remained the damsel in distress, cursed to show the face of happiness to the world when all she felt within was sorrow, even despair. She looked for him in every crowd, but no one could compare. James, when he stood by her, smiling with every fibre of his being, was least comparable.
It was impossible to forget that this was the man she had hated for so long, the one who had tormented her days, the reason for the cracking of her heart.
She could be told over and over again that pride was the issue at hand, the true reason for Severus Snape’s failure to arrive, but over and over again she plugged her ears and eyes and listened for his footstep on the stones outside her house, watching for his shape among the people striding past the window.
Pride was the creature that, for so long, stood between them, his shadow larger than the light of their once eternal love, extinguishing it like it had extinguished the lives of so many, muggle and wizard alike. Her wounded pride, silencing her tongue. His tortured pride, beaten into hatred. She was the thing that his kind was meant to despise, an insect beneath his velvet heel, and he was the monster she yearned to slay, the thing that her kind was meant to fear.
It was all wrong from the start.
“You look gorgeous, Lily.”
Her heart, raised in despairing hope, forced her to turn–
“You shouldn’t be here, James.” She turned back again to the mirror, reaching up to straighten a flower in her hair and test the durability of her lip colour against a paper napkin. “They say it’s bad luck.”
He put his hands on her shoulders and beamed down at her, his spectacles somewhat askew from sneaking into the gorgon’s chamber, but this Perseus could strike off the head of Medusa while meeting her eyes in the mirror, and all she could desire was to turn his heart, like hers, to stone.
“There’s so much of that going around that a little more wouldn’t hurt, would it?”
He could be so gleefully pessimistic, and not for the first time she wondered how much depth he hid beneath those glassy hazel eyes and silly expressions.
When he bent to kiss her cheek, she pulled away. “Don’t. My makeup.”
A long sigh and a shrug were, at first, his only response. He walked around the little room, looking up and down at the pictures, the old toys, and the books, all neatly in their places without a speck of dust to be found on, beside, or beneath them. His footsteps took him further and further from the walls as though all this order disturbed him.
“Your mum’s glad that Snape decided not to come.”
Her hand, caught in the act straightening a stubborn lock of hair, froze in place, her eyes raising to look at him as he looked back at her from the centre of the room, studying her reaction.
“She would be.”
He thrust his hands into his pockets, face betraying nothing. “He won’t come.”
She settled the lock in place with a sticking charm. “You already made that point.”
“Then why are you still expecting him to show up?”
Again, her hand froze in its motion, this time, of placing the items on the dressing table into their boxes, and then placing the boxes into the drawers, careful not to chip the polish on her nails, a shade that, due to the last minute advice of her aunt, who was in the know regarding such things, reflected the colour of her hair.
“What makes you think that I am?”
His pause was all the answer she needed. Rising, she turned and walked up to him, triumphant that, in these shoes, she was his height, or nearly enough, but he is impressed rather than cowed, all the wrath of a woman’s fury unable to wipe the smile from his face.
“It didn’t rain like you said it would.”
“You turned your table to the window.”
“To improve the lighting.”
“He called you a Mudblood.”
“It’s what I am.”
Nothing. She felt nothing. Only the darkness surrounding her.
“No, Lily. That’s where you’re wrong.”
His voice had changed, though it did not register until she felt his breath on her cheek, the lone finger tracing the line of her lips before being replaced by his own.
She did not know what he meant by this. It was not the ruination of her makeup that bothered her. She could not care less about it. Nor was it the fact that they were in her room, alone, on their wedding day, the guests all waiting for them at the church down the road, her parents checking their watches, the organist cracking his arthritic knuckles amongst the mumble of politely lowered voices.
As she came up from the dungeons, she heard rumble of students, expectant for the end of term, filling the grand entryway of Hogwarts. They were milling about the corridors, streaming out of the doors into the sunlight, reaching their hands toward the orb like the little plants sprouting in the gardens, and although their arms were loaded with books and parchments, those things will be ignored for much of the afternoon as the students of Hogwarts take in the light and the life of spring.
For a moment, she watched from the shadows and knew what it was like to be him, his hair and robes shading his pale flesh from the scorching light of the sun, of the torches, of the light that once shone in her eyes before he spoke that word a year ago. He would not speak to her still, though she did her own milling about, wafting past him like the scent of freshly baked scones, his silence reaching forth to strangle the spring from her step and the hope in her heart.
She passed into the light, shading her eyes, and when she hears her name called out from her right, she does not need to look to know who it was.
“Over here, Lily!”
They were not by the water for once, perhaps because he knew how it wounded her, and being the new, conscientious and kind James Potter, he ensured that he would never inflict upon her the necessity to sit beneath the tree where the course of her life had altered.
What was a celebration for him was a crushing defeat for her.
She worked forth a smile before making the final approach toward the four Gryffindor boys, one of which had fashioned himself into the faintest shade of the one she loved. James was standing, and with a sheepish grin at his friends, he takes her arm and lead her toward the outskirts of the forest, the only place possessing the potential for privacy.
“I have something to ask you.” It emerged somewhat garbled, and she looked at him with creased brows and one hand on her waist, wondering what in Merlin’s name he was doing.
She turned her eyes to the ground, sought out an appropriate stump, and made a seat upon it, preferring to rest her chin upon her hand and stare up at him with somewhat tired and, dare she say bored, eyes. They had been, as everyone always said, the greatest match that Hogwarts had ever produced within its many walls, but she was sure to make it clear from the beginning that all his talk of Quidditch and pranks did not make for appropriate conversation. If he had come to ask what she would think of him joining the national league, she would–
“Will you marry me?”
Her eyebrows and chin raised in order to regard him more thoroughly, and now she wondered whether he was entirely in his right mind. At the daring age of seventeen, they were only a casual couple, though that seemed, time and time again, to be limited to her side of the situation, from which convenience more than anything else required her to be in possession of a boyfriend of consequence rather than a friend who was her equal in mind and spirit.
And yet, there seemed to be something useful in his question, something that may provide her with the opportunity of gaining back that friend of equal mind and spirit for whom her heart would cry, leaving her to wake in the depths of night, her pillow wet with tears.
One word, that was all that had destroyed her paradise and now it would be one word that would raise it again like Atlantis from the raging seas. She could see it now, could see him coming forward, hand stretched forward to take hers, and he would draw her near so that they would be forever inseparable, that perfect marriage of true minds she had dreamed of as a girl, staring up into the sky to pick out the profile of her handsome prince in the clouds, high above.
The word leaked from her anxious lips, but when he came forward, she realised, too late, that she had spoken the wrong word to the wrong boy. This was not the one of the sharp nose and sharper eyes, of distant smile and wise, measured words, but what could she do? It was too late for him, for her, for this other who now held her in his arms, glowing with satisfied pride. When he kissed her, she leaned into his arms and imagined that he is her prince, her Sev.
Sev would never have kissed her that way.
It was the only word of his that she could hear, the only part of him that still resounded in her mind, drowning out the rest, drowning out even him in its surging wave until all she could hear was that single, dreadful word with its deep, resounding consonants that echoed in her ears like the bells of the church down the street from her parent’s home.
She had yelled at him, glared at him, raged and seethed and wished to the core of her heart that she could hate him, denying him all sense of decent feeling when he came to apologise, practically grovelling outside of Gryffindor tower.
“Lily, please, you must–”
“Must? Must what? Must I stand back and let you throw insults at me just for the sake of your bloody reputation as a Death Eater?” She was sure that everyone in the school could hear her. Good. That was what she wanted.
Fear, real fear, crept into his eyes, filling their dark depths and brimming over onto his face, adding to the near-dead pallor of his flesh.
“You mustn’t say that!”
She threw up her hands. “Must again? Will it always be about musts with you?”
“No! Why can’t you–”
“Because I don’t listen to people who call me mudblood.”
He fell silent at her words, perhaps at that single, fatal word. It had killed so much between them, and although she waited for him to say something of significance, more than empty apologies and vapid demands, but instead the words that he must actually want to tell her, all the things that hadn’t needed saying before.
The next thing she heard were his footsteps, taking him away, stretching the distance between them until she could feel her heartstrings snap and inwardly she bled, her heart fading to nothing as she stared into the darkness.
A voice, small only in its volume, came from behind her, and only peripherally she felt his hands touch her shoulders in a patient caress, so filled with longing and sympathy. She mistook it, at first, for his voice, heralding his return.
“It’ll be alright.”
More empty words, but perhaps, within them, was the seed of something else.
A little idea came into her head, as though whispered into her ear by the tempting breeze that entered through the open window on her left. She listened to its soft, cloying words and fell prey to their power. The girl who had been, by all accounts, quite perfect, quite intelligent, quite brilliant for her age and background, opened her green eyes and thought about jealousy.
This was where it all began.
Author's Note: this story is the result of many ideas converging to create a rather Frankenstein-like creature. I wondered what if Lily had never stopped loving Snape, accepting James's proposal of marriage only to force Snape into reconciliation. It's a very naive idea, and of course it fails. Snape does not come, and Lily must go through with the marriage and everything else that comes after until she realises, after all that time, that she's actually in love with James.
Thanks to the folks at TGS for their help with story ideas, though I don't think the result is quite what any of you expected.
- the story title is derived from the first line of Shakespeare's "Richard III".
- the line "the pretty, intelligent, and talented Lily Evans of comfortable home and pleasant disposition" has been adapted from the first line of Jane Austen's "Emma".
- "Once more unto the breach" is from Shakespeare's "Henry V", III.i.1