Chapter 5 : Goodbyes
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The next morning:
The students were subdued and quiet the next morning at breakfast, and spoke in whispers behind their hands, especially after the Daily Prophet was delivered and featured the headline An Unprecedented Occurrence at Hogwarts—Three Students Expelled from Gryffindor! Never Before Have So Many Students of One House Been Expelled at the Same Time. They were also whispering about Lily Evans and Severus Snape, whom almost everyone knew had been an item, the Romeo and Juliet of their time, students of rival Houses who went in the face of every convention to be together. And now they were badly injured, possibly permanently. Some of the more rigid purebloods and the Slytherin Death Eater children found their devotion revolting and muttered that they had gotten what they deserved. Others, however, especially the girls, found the odd couple terribly romantic and wished they might know a love like that someday.
Alice, who had been Lily's closest friend besides Severus, was very worried about her best friend and decided to write her a get well card, and also one for Severus as well. Her opposite, Regulus Black, who was Severus' closest friend in Slytherin, was also planning to write a letter. He was terribly embarrassed at the fact that his older brother had gotten expelled, and knew he was going to receive a letter from his parents soon admonishing him to behave and comport himself with decorum and honor as befit his station. He was ashamed that Sirius had caused Severus and Lily to be injured and wished to apologize to them.
Dumbledore observed the students from the staff table, his heart heavy as a stone within him. He regretted the fact that he had to expel the boys, but they had left him no choice. They had committed a crime and had to pay the price for it. He hoped they would learn from it. He had been up to the secret room to make certain Lily and Severus were recovering, and had told them he would write their parents that morning, made sure they were taking their potions and had eaten breakfast. The Headmaster picked at his breakfast of fried potatoes, eggs, bacon, toast and kippers. He was not hungry, for the first time in a long time. For he still had the hard task of writing to Severus' parents—Eileen and Tobias Snape—and telling them the dreadful news. They were sure to be horrified and angry, and they had every right to be.
He picked at his toast and wondered sadly where he had gone so wrong with the Marauders? He had been too lenient, it appeared, and unfortunately, three innocent students had paid the ultimate price. Hopefully, he could prevent something worse from occurring. He pushed back his nearly untouched plate and excused himself, hurrying to his office to pen one of the most difficult letters ever written in his career.
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Snape,
It is with deepest regrets that I write to inform you that your son Severus has been the victim of a grave and terrible prank. . .
The Headmaster sat behind his desk, his purple robes embroidered with silver moons and stars arranged neatly about him as he waited, stomach churning, for the arrival of Eileen and Tobias Snape. He knew Eileen from his days as a Transfiguration professor, she had been one of his most talented students, and he deeply regretted putting her through such grief and pain. She was an accredited Potions Mistress and Healer, patenting several healing elixirs and renowned for her compassion and determination. He knew her husband only by reputation, Tobias Damon Snape had served in the Royal Air Force and been decorated for bravery and awarded the Victoria Cross for valour during the conflict in Korea when he shot down an enemy MiG F-15 with his Sea Fire aircraft. The dogfight had been even more incredible when you considered the fact that the enemy pilot had a better aircraft—faster, more firepower, and a greater maneuverability. But despite that, Tobias had managed to surprise the other pilot and get in one precise killer shot. It was an amazing victory, and that single kill saved the lives of hundreds of his comrades and American allies. Tobias was hailed as a hero and his name set down in the ranks of distinguished RAF pilots. He went on to distinguish himself further with his brilliant flying and tactics. He had been 19 then, upon his return home in 1953, he met the enchanting Eileen Prince, courted her for two years and then married her in 1956. Theirs had been yet another unconventional marriage, but it had outlasted every obstacle thrown at it, such as the lifelong disapproval of the Prince family. Severus had been born four years later.
Abruptly, the fireplace across from the Headmaster's desk flared with green flames and two figures stepped through onto the hearth. One was a tall witch with ebony hair and eyes, elegant and radiating power. The other was a lean man, a bit taller than his wife, with a shock of reddish hair cut close and blue-green eyes filled with a sharp intelligence. Clearly, Severus had inherited the best from both his parents. Eileen was wearing pale green robes and a pair of emerald snakescale boots and Tobias was wearing more casual gray trousers with a navy collared shirt and a brown leather bomber jacket decorated with dozens of patches from his RAF days.
"Professor, we came as quickly as we could," Eileen said, her eyes full of worry.
"Good morning, Eileen and Tobias. Welcome to Hogwarts. I wish this meeting was for another purpose—"
"Don't we all," Tobias said flatly. "Let's cut to the chase here, Professor. How and why did this . . . accident occur, and where is my son now?"
"Please, be seated and I shall explain." He Summoned a house elf and had tea and cakes brought, though neither of the elder Snapes partook of it. "First off, Severus is recovering and so is Lily. I have them in seclusion, and no one but me in this castle knows that. Everyone else assumes they are at home and no one knows the true reason about their injuries save me and the boys who were responsible." Dumbledore said smoothly. He told a small white lie, not wishing the Snapes to know that Remus had visited the two, fearing they would not understand.
"Not even their parents?" Eileen asked.
"They know the truth, as do the parents of the student, Remus Lupin, who . . . bit them accidentally. You must understand, Remus was as much a victim as Severus and Lily, he never would have attacked them if James and Sirius hadn't . . .did what they did. When I informed him of what had happened that night, he was horrified and remorseful. He knew what would happen if the Ministry ever learned he had bitten two students."
"What would happen?" asked Tobias.
"They would order him put down, like a mad dog."
"You mean to tell me they would execute a kid for this?"
"Yes. You see, Mr. Snape, according to Ministry law, werewolves aren't seen as people, but non-humans, and if one goes rogue, our laws allow them to be hunted down and killed, no matter the circumstance. Most people regard it the way you would killing a wild dog."
Tobias' lip curled. "That's disgusting."
"It is why I have to hide Remus, because eventually someone may learn of the truth, and there is a professional werewolf hunter in Hogsmead right now, a stone's throw away from the castle. But we can discuss that later. As I said in my letter, I deeply regret that this ever happened, I have spoken to all the boys involved, as well as Severus and Lily, and this is what they told me . . ." He recounted the events of that fateful night.
Eileen and Tobias listened quietly until he was finished, then Tobias leaned forward in his chair, his big hands clenching and unclenching, and spat, "Let me get this straight. You're telling me those three boys had problems with Sev dating Lily? That it went against some kind of bullshit code you wizards have? That they considered my son inferior to them because he wasn't a Gryffindor pureblood?" The blue eyes flashed.
"Unfortunately, that is the prevailing attitude. It is not one I agree with at all. Didn't Eileen ever tell you this?"
"Oh, I know all about the way you wizards regard Muggles like me," Tobias drawled, his voice soft and lethal. "My wife's family would sooner spit on me than acknowledge me as a person. Not that I give a bloody damn. They can go hang for all I care. But you knew about this House rivalry and did nothing about it? How many years have you been a teacher, Headmaster?"
"I was a Transfiguration professor for 18 years before I became Headmaster, and I have been Headmaster for 21 years," Albus answered readily.
"Over thirty years as a teacher and yet you didn't see that this schoolboy rivalry was getting out of hand? That's bloody fucking amazing!" Tobias sneered. "Those three little bastards persecuted my son and you just sat there and did nothing?"
"Tobias," Eileen said, laying a hand on his arm. But the look she turned upon Dumbledore was frigid. "How could you have let this happen, Professor? The rivalry between Gryffindor and Slytherin is no secret, it has always been there, even in the days of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. After he became the Dark Lord, it grew even worse, as I myself can attest to during my schooldays. But that was nothing compared to how it is now. It has become something vicious and brutal, if three students can conceive of such a plan to . . . remove my son permanently from the school because one of them fancies himself in love with Lily and cannot accept her choice!"
"You are right, and the fault is mine. I am as much responsible as Misters Potter, Black, and Pettigrew for what has occurred. I can only say that at first I believed the boys to be harmless pranksters, I did not realize they were targeting Severus exclusively, or that their pranks were cruel and humiliating. Nothing was ever reported to me, and the three were well liked and popular, at least among their own House. I had the occasional complaint from a teacher about them cutting up in class, but nothing to truly be alarmed at . . . or so I thought. If Severus had told me what they were doing . . ."
"My son would have never done that, because he probably didn't trust you," Tobias snapped. "It was their word against his, and he probably figured you wouldn't do squat, seeing as you were a Gryffindor too, and these kids had been getting away with murder. So he kept his mouth shut. He never mentioned anything like this to us either, he was probably too embarrassed, otherwise I would have put a stop to it right quick."
"But you should have seen the signs, Dumbledore. You were there. My husband is right." Eileen added. "If it had been a Ravenclaw or a Hufflepuff they were mistreating, would you have noticed sooner?"
"Lady, you are right to chastise me, I admit that I was blind. There has always been rivalry, as you say between Slytherin and Gryffindor, and I tend to turn a blind eye to most of their scrapping, or else I would be up to my ears mediating countless quarrels. I confess, I have also been busy trying to checkmate You-Know-Who, and so did not keep as sharp an eye out as I should have."
"Sounds like you need to learn to delegate, professor. Then maybe you can do your job properly," Tobias said scathingly. "There's never any excuse for negligence, this tragedy could have been avoided if you'd made a secure place for that kid Lupin to transform."
Dumbledore coughed. "I thought I had. I planted the Whomping Willow to discourage students from finding the tunnel and there had been rumors about the Shrieking Shack for years before. I never counted on those three being clever enough to follow me and watch how I entered the secret tunnel, James had an Invisibility Cloak and knew how to use it, and they became illegal Animagi as well."
"He had an Invisibility Cloak and you never confiscated it?" demanded Eileen irately. "You knew he carried it?"
"I . . .suspected it. It was a family heirloom."
"And all this time, you never bothered to check it out, or do bedchecks or something to make sure the students stayed where they ought to instead of wandering about the grounds in the middle of the night playing chicken with a werewolf." Tobias shook his head angrily. "Old man, you really fucked up, and my kid and my friend's kid paid for it."
He rose to his feet and began to pace the room, swearing quietly, his face a mask of terrible anger, grief, and fear.
Finally, Eileen called, "Tobias, quit pacing like a caged lion and sit down!"
"Shut up, Eileen," he ordered hoarsely. "Either I pace and swear or I strangle somebody, which would you like it to be?"
Eileen turned back to Dumbledore. "Have you told Amy yet? Because I think it best if you let us handle it. She doesn't have much time left, but even so I know she'll want to know about Lily's condition and make sure she's looked after. Toby and I promised we would help Lily any way we could, since her older sister Petunia despises her for her magic and is married besides. We were hoping that Amy would leave Lily the house at Spinner's End, but now . . . that might not even be an option. Albus, what was done to those three miscreants? Were they punished?"
"You mean you didn't see the morning headlines in the Prophet?" Albus asked, astonished.
"I live in a Muggle neighborhood, Albus, and even as remote as we are, an owl flying during the day would look mighty suspicious," Eileen scowled. "I don't get any wizard publications delivered to my home. I read the paper at work, if there's time and usually there isn't."
"Of course, forgive me. I could not, of course, reveal the real reason why James, Sirius, and Peter were in trouble. Not without making everyone aware of Remus' condition and putting him and Severus and Lily in danger. So I spread a story about how Severus and Lily were badly injured by the Whomping Willow, that the boys had pushed him beneath the tree in a nasty prank and Lily went to help him. I expelled them yesterday morning. All three of them. Here are the pieces of their wands." He pulled out a drawer and showed the pieces to Eileen. "Their Animagus forms are now registered with the Ministry and they are forbidden to transform without express permission from a Ministry official. Their parents know that your son and Lily were the victims of a werewolf bite. I should hope they would make their children apologize for what they did, with a letter if not in person."
Tobias finally quit pacing, his temper leashed, and returned to his seat, stretching his long legs out until his boots were almost under Dumbledore's desk. "All right. Let's discuss options. What do we need to do to keep those kids safe? How does this werewolf curse manifest?"
"As for the curse, I am not as well-versed as say, Rachel and John Lupin are in the effects before and after the full moon, but what I can tell you is that every month when the full moon is up, the victim is forced to transform into a . . .half-wolf and half-human beast. While in that form, he or she becomes savage and hungry and will lash out and try and eat anything . . . or anyone . . . that comes in range. They can infect anyone if they bite them, the curse is transmitted through saliva. You can feed a young werewolf raw meat, such as a deer or other large animal, a cow, a sheep, and once they have fed, they grow calmer. However, they are still dangerous and I chained Remus with a collar and chains of silver, since most werewolves are allergic to it and it burns them if they touch it. It's also the only thing that will kill them, besides burning or a magical attack. Remus has also told me that when he transforms, he cannot think like a human, he thinks more like a wolf, and when he transforms back, he cannot remember what he did as a werewolf, that it is very hazy, like a dream."
Eileen shuddered. "Great Merlin have mercy! My poor Sev! Poor Lily too! With the restrictions placed upon them by the Ministry, what kind of future can they have?"
"That is one of the things I am attempting to change in the legislature, Lady Eileen. I am an advocate of werewolf rights and equal treatment of them. You may want to contact Remus' parents and discuss the nature of the curse more fully with them. They would be the best ones to advise you on what to expect."
Eileen nodded. "I will do that. It would be good to talk with someone else who understands how . . . we feel. It's a terrible shock . . . and I'm still not . . . ready to accept it, even though I know I must . . ." Her voice broke then and she turned away to dab at her eyes with a handkerchief.
Tobias put his arm about her comfortingly. "You said something about a werewolf hunter earlier. What do we need to do about that?"
"Let me handle her. I believe I can distract her and throw her off the scent. She suspects a werewolf is in the area, but does not yet know anything more. If she finds nothing after a time, she will leave. Meanwhile, to safeguard the children, I suggest hiding them somewhere far away, somewhere they can transform without worrying about harming anyone. Since they cannot continue their education at the time, I shall send along books and other apparatus and a course of study written out that they may follow and so keep up with their classmates academically."
"For how long?"
"At least the rest of this term and the summer. After that, we shall see about arrangements being made for them to return to school, and I shall have to consider a new location for them to Shift."
"Where will you send them?" Tobias asked next.
"It is best if you do not know the exact location. That way should Ministry officials try and question you, you can tell them nothing, even under Veritaserum." Dumbledore said.
"Why would they do that if no one knows the truth?" Eileen asked.
"It is a precaution, Eileen. Who's to say that the Potters and those other parents won't go to the press and blab, or tell somebody in the Ministry because they're mad that their kid got expelled or whatever?" Tobias said softly.
"But they'd be dragging their own Name through the mud too!" objected his wife.
"That won't matter if they're out for revenge," her husband said wisely. "We can't trust them. We've got to think about Sev and Lily. I won't have them hunted down like animals. Right now it's safer if they just lie low. Till that hunter is gone."
"Maybe we should leave the country."
Tobias sighed. "We can discuss that later, Eileen. Dumbledore, you had better find them a place so remote that even the bugs know each other, so a stranger won't be able to sneak up on them. Will we be able to communicate with them somehow? Or will you be changing their identities?"
"It won't be safe for you to write letters, that's too easily tracked. But . . . I do have another method that might work, though I'd advise against using it too much, or at the same time of the day." He reached into another drawer and produced two small hand held mirrors. One was carved of rosewood, the other of maple, and each bore a rune on the back signifying communication. "These are two paired Mirrors of Mystical Speech. I shall give one to you and the other to Severus and Lily. When you wish to speak with them, you have only to hold the mirror in front of your face and say, "Severus, I would speak with you." The mirror will then show you the person who holds its twin and you can speak with each other just as we are doing now. They are very rare, the art of making them was lost centuries ago." He handed the maple mirror to Eileen.
"Can Tobias use this?" she asked immediately.
"Only if you're there as well, holding the handle." Dumbledore told her. "As for changing identities, I may have them change their last names, and be brother and sister, since that would be more acceptable for them to live together. If Remus joins them, he can be a fraternal twin to Severus. But the place I have in mind is far from any kind of town and hopefully they will not need that cover story for too long. I shall make certain they have all they need in the house, food, clothing, ectera. They will lack for nothing."
"Except their families and their freedom." Tobias reminded him darkly. "If I were ten years younger, I'd be tempted to take all of this out of your hide, old man."
"I'm truly sorry for this, Tobias. If I could undo what happened, I would. But alas, that is beyond even my magical talents. Now we must simply keep calm and carry on."
"You sound like my bloody CO back in Korea," Tobias snorted. "Where's Severus and Lily? I want to at least say goodbye to them and Lily ought to be able to see her mum one last time."
"Tobias, I'm afraid Lily seeing her mother is out of the question," Dumbledore began.
"Like hell, old man!" the other exploded. "You wizards have Invisibility Cloaks and other spells you use to walk unseen among us, isn't that right? Then you can bloody well use your magic and let that little girl say goodbye to her mother! The woman's on her deathbed, dammit!"
"—is negligible, and you know it," Eileen declared, her voice hard as iron. "We shall take her there and back ourselves, as we have been doing for the better part of a year. It is cruel and inhumane for you to even think of denying them this, Albus Dumbledore! Amy clings to life by a thread, I think she remains here only for Lily, because she cannot bear to leave her alone. I have been dosing her with some of my potions to ease her pain and make her more comfortable, but she is too far gone now for even magic to save. The doctors think it a miracle she is still alive. She deserves to see her daughter one last time."
"Very well. But keep it brief." Albus acquiesced. He sensed that if he did not, they would disregard him and go anyway. Then he also rose. "If you will follow me, please."
He led them through the secret stair to the hidden room.
Dumbledore entered the secret room first, saying cheerily, "Severus, Lily, you have visitors."
The girl and boy had been sitting on their beds, the tray table between them, playing tic tac toe on some parchment, they had called for a house elf to bring them quills and ink, they had been going to write letters to their parents, but had thought better of it at the last minute. So to relieve the dreadful boredom they began to play a few games, like Hang Man and tic tac toe, with the parchment.
"What kind of visitors?" asked Severus suspiciously, moving to grab his wand.
"Hello, Sev," came Tobias' voice. He nudged Dumbledore aside and came into the room.
"Lily, how are you, my girl?" Eileen said a moment later, hurrying over to hug the girl she considered the daughter she never had.
"Dad! Mum!" Severus exclaimed, lowering his wand and placing in on the table. "We were going to write you—"
"The Headmaster already did that, Sev." Tobias told him, walking over and examining his son, noting the bandaged arm. "How are you feeling, son? Does your arm hurt?"
"Not really. It's healing," Severus looked up at his father. "Dumbledore told you about it . . . right? About how I'm cursed to become a . . . monster." He dropped his eyes abruptly, his hair falling forward to cover his face.
Tobias reached out and pulled his son's head up. "Severus Tobias Snape, you are not a monster, and I never want to hear you say that again. You hear me, boy?"
"Why not? It's the truth," his son cried, the words bitter as bile. "What do you think I'm going to become on the night of the full moon, Dad? A bloody beast and a killer!" His eyes were bleak pools of despair and terror.
"Whatever you become, Severus, you're still my son. You may be cursed, but you'll always be that and we'll never abandon you. So don't you dare give up. We can beat this." He pulled his son into his arms and hugged him hard.
Severus allowed himself to be held, shaking with the force of his misery. He had tried so hard to be strong for Lily, but now with his father's comforting arms about him, he allowed himself to release the stranglehold upon his emotions. He began to cry softly. "Dad . . . I'm scared . . . I don't want to go mad . . ."
Tobias stroked his son's hair, murmuring, "Shh . . . It's going to be okay, Sev . . .we'll figure it out . . . your mum is going to try and invent something to cure you . . ."
Severus shook his head. "There's nothing . . . once you're cursed, it's forever . . ." He breathed in the familiar scent of leather and spice, they clung to his father's jacket and brought back many memories of his childhood, sitting on Tobias' lap and listening to him tell stories of his service in Korea, and the friendship he shared with those he served with, and coming home to find Amy Flynn, his best friend, going steady with Harry Evans. "Once I thought I was gonna marry her, Sev. But she fell in love with Harry and then I met your mum and well, it all worked out okay in the end. And now you and Lily are friends, just like I was with Amy." Severus had always liked that story, of a childhood friendship that was still strong even into adulthood. Oh, how he wished he were seven again, and innocent, and his father could solve all his problems. "I'm a damn outcast, Dad!"
"No, you're not!" Tobias said firmly. "Not to me! I don't care what the bloody Ministry calls you, you'll always be a Snape and I'll always be proud of you, Sev." He began to rub circles on his son's back. Then he looked up and saw Dumbledore standing a few feet away, watching the sorrowful reunion, and suddenly he was furious all over again. "Damn you!" he snarled. "Get out, old man, and leave us the fuck alone! Give us some privacy!"
Dumbledore immediately withdrew, leaving the small family to make their farewells as best they could.
"How's my mum, Eileen?" Lily asked, hugging the older witch close. She could feel her eyes start to leak tears again.
"About the same," Eileen said softly, stroking the girl's fiery hair. "I visited her a few days ago. She's not in any pain now that I gave her some of my Triple Strength Pain Reliever."
"That's good. I hate to think of her in so much pain. I wish . . ."
"I know. But even magic can't cure everything," Eileen said sadly. "Believe me, I've tried."
"Yeah. I know." Lily sniffled. "I guess you know about . . . me and Sev getting bitten."
"Dumbledore told us. Lily, dear one, I shall try my hardest to find a cure for this curse. I know everyone believes werewolves are cursed forever, without hope, but I refuse to believe that. What magic has done, magic can undo. It's simply a matter of finding out how. And I am a Healer, I shall never stop trying."
Lily burst into tears. "Eileen, I'm so sorry! It's all my fault Sev got bitten, stupid Potter was fighting over me . . . if I hadn't . . . if I wasn't with him, then Sev would be all right now . . .!"
"No, my girl. You have nothing to feel sorry for, Lily Amelia Evans. That boy made his own choice to hurt my son, you had nothing to do with it. Like Sev, you were a victim in his clever twisted scheme. Loving my son is not something to be ashamed of, ever. It is beautiful and special and you should cherish it."
"I do. But I'm afraid . . . what if it isn't enough to get us through this . . ."
"It will be. If your heart is true, you can endure anything," Eileen reassured her. "Trust me on that. I know that better than anyone. Now, would you like to visit your mum? She's been asking for you." She smoothed the hair back from Lily's brow and gently wiped the tears from her eyes.
"I would, but . . . is it safe? For her to see me now that I'm infected?" Lily's green eyes were bright with trepidation and longing.
"It certainly is, you are not dangerous in human form, unless you plan on hexing someone, that is."
"Oh. All right." Lily gave her a tentative smile. "I'd like that. Do you think I ought to tell her about this?"
"Yes. She should know, she's a strong woman, Lily. She's not going to faint dead away. Not even now."
"When can I go? I don't want to wait too long."
"Perhaps later on, after we discuss a few things," Eileen said, sitting Lily down on the edge of the bed. She then switched places with Tobias, hugging and comforting Severus while Tobias did the same with Lily.
After the two teens had composed themselves, Eileen told them about Dumbledore's plan, and gave them one of the Mirrors of Mystical Speech. "Once you arrive at your destination, please contact us, I want to know if you're all right," she said. "After that, we can speak with each other once or twice a week, but we'll need to vary the days and times, so there's no pattern for anyone to discover. Just remember, this isn't forever, and in the meantime, I'll be doing my best to brew up a potion that if it can't cure you of the curse, will at least mitigate the effects."
"That's going to be almost impossible, Mum." Severus said.
"Well then, it's a good thing I'm not a quitter, isn't it? I'm going to do a lot of research and speak with the Lupins. Remus may be joining you in your secret place, he will be able to help you through your first transformation."
Severus looked rather put out. "Wonderful! Now we have to make friends with the one who infected us."
"Sev, it wasn't his fault," Lily reminded him. "Not really."
"He bit us, Lily!"
"True, but the kid was a weapon, Sev. Those other three bastards used him like they would have a knife to cut you open. They're at fault, them and your Headmaster for not keeping a tighter rein on them. Not Lupin. He's as much a victim as you." Tobias said firmly.
Severus sighed. He really didn't feel up to arguing with his father. "Whatever you say, Dad. Are we all going to see Amy now?"
"Yes. I just need to inform the Headmaster, then we can Floo home and go from there," Eileen said.
Only the soft hum of the electrical monitors broke the stillness of Amy Evans' hospital room. Unlike many others, she had her own private room, with a window that overlooked a small plot of grass with a flowering cherry tree. The room was rather sterile, but Eileen and Lily had done their best to brighten it by bringing in vases of fresh cut flowers and pictures of Lily's dad, Lily, Petunia, and the Snape family. A colorful quilt lay across the foot of the bed and a few novels were in a small basket upon the table. Amy also had an attached bathroom and a small TV upon the wall. Her robe was wrapped snuggly about her and soft lavender slippers rested beside her bed. She was pale and had two IV's, one in each arm, and was hooked to a heart monitor as well, but otherwise she looked almost well.
Her reddish-blond hair was spread about her on the pillow, like a fiery halo. Her skin was parchment pale, but seemed luminous, as if a light touched her from within. Her nurses often claimed she looked like an angel, and wondered silently how much longer she was going to last. Her doctors had long ago stopped predicting how much longer she had to live, as there was no point in it, she had lasted far beyond the three months they had initially told her. Part of that, she knew, was Eileen's magic potions, slipped to her in the guise of protein shakes and fruit smoothies. The Pain Relievers and Strengthening Solutions preserved her failing body, but even then they were not enough to explain how the dying woman clung to life. Eileen claimed it was by sheer force of will, for Amelia Evans was the most stubborn woman she had ever met.
Amy turned her head at the sound of her hospital room door opening. Since her diagnosis, she had found that her hearing, oddly enough, had become more acute, or perhaps it was simply that she paid attention more to small sounds than she ever had before. "Toby! Eileen!" she exclaimed happily. She tried to prop herself higher on her pillows, but could barely manage it.
"Hi, Amy," greeted her oldest friend, he gently assisted her to sit up. "You're looking good today. Like a million pounds," Tobias teased, trying not to show how much it grieved him to see the vibrant woman reduced to such a state.
"Liar." Amy chuckled. "Eileen, how do you put up with him? He lies like a rug."
"He only flatters you if he loves you, Amy," the other responded. "I've brought you a surprise."
The door opened again to admit Lily and Severus.
Amy's face lit up. "Lily! Come here, I've missed you!" She held out her arms to her youngest, who resembled her the most.
"Hi, Mum!" Lily hugged gently, blinking away the threatened tears. She had learned months ago to suppress her tears until later, because she did not want her mother to get upset. "Are you feeling a bit better? Did you get the book I sent you? And the sweets?"
"Of course! The book was wonderful and so were the chocolate mints. I'm so glad you came. I wasn't expecting you till the end of term." Then she saw Severus and extended a thin arm to hug him as well. "Hello, Sev. God, but you're so tall you could probably touch the top of that tree! How did I miss that?"
"I grew overnight, Amy." He said, bending down to give her a kiss on the cheek. He bit his lip to keep from gasping at how fragile she looked since the last time he had visited, before Easter a few months ago. She had an odd, almost unearthly glow about her. He sat down on the other side of her, taking her hand in his, thinking sadly that she reminded him of a ghost. Why did the worst things happen to the best people? Amy should have had decades left to live, to watch her daughter finish school and marry and see her grandchildren. He blinked hard and looked over at Lily questioningly.
Lily drew in a deep breath. "Mum, Sev and I have something to tell you. It's the reason we're home early from school. You see, something happened a few days ago . . ."
Somehow Lily managed to tell the whole horrible story without breaking down. She drew upon an untapped well of strength somewhere deep within her, reciting the whole incident calmly, only her eyes betrayed her, they were glistening with tears. "That's why I came now, because this might be the last time . . ." she choked up and could not go on.
Amy reached out and cupped her daughter's cheek in her palm. Her touch was butterfly soft and yet it conveyed a deep and abiding love. "Lily . . . Severus . . . listen to me. You mustn't give in to despair. What happened . . . it was terrible, but you can survive. I know . . . I had the weirdest dream . . . I dreamed of four wolves running . . . running in a forest—one was a huge silver one, one was black as midnight, one was gray with white markings, and the other was deep russet with gold fur on the underside. All of them were running for the sheer joy of it, through a thick stand of pine . . . and it was peaceful and somehow . . . somehow I looked at I knew the wolves were you, Lily. You and Severus. You were so beautiful . . ." Two tears trickled down her face.
"I don't understand, Mum. They couldn't have been . . . werewolves don't . . . they don't become full wolves . . ." Lily said, blotting her mother's face with a tissue. "We become . . . a mix . . ." An abomination, she thought but did not say aloud.
But Amy shook her head. "I know what I saw, Lils. Trust me. I dreamed that two nights ago . . . and every night since. It's a sign."
Tobias rolled his eyes. "Here we go again, you and your signs, Amy. You sure you're not a witch too?"
Amy mock-glared at him. "Don't make fun of me, Toby. Didn't I tell you that someday you were going to meet a girl who could do things I could only dream of? And look at you now. Wasn't I right?"
"Yup, you were." Tobias laughed. "I can't deny that."
Amy's hands gently closed over both teenagers' and she whispered, "Remember what I said. And don't be afraid. You'll be fine. Eventually. And someday you'll marry and have lots of children too. I wish I could be there to see them."
"I wish that too, Mum," Lily said.
"We'll name our first girl after you," Severus promised, then turned away to swipe at his eyes.
"Don't mourn too long for me, Sev," the dying woman hissed. "For everything there is a season . . ."
" . . . and a time for every purpose under heaven," Severus finished the verse. "I know. But it's just not fair."
"Isn't it?" Amy gently drew his head around to face her. "Sev, I've lived a good life. It might have been short, but it was full of meaning and love. In the end that's all that matters. I have no regrets. Now it's your turn—yours and Lily's. Right now you've got a raw deal. But you can do two things about it. You can give up and let the curse consume you . . . or you can fight and learn to live with it. Don't let them win! Go out and live your life, curse or no curse. You have the most important things in the world to live for. Each other and your family. Never forget that. It's what's kept me going. Understand?"
He stared into her eyes and something passed between them, a spark of pure unadulterated courage and conviction. "I'll remember. Thank you, Amy."
She pulled him close and whispered, "Take care of my Lily, Sev."
"Always. I promise, Amy." He kissed her forehead. Somehow he knew this would be the last time he would ever speak to her. He stood up and said, awkwardly, "I'll . . . I'll see you soon." Then he walked quickly from the room.
After a moment, Tobias followed, his own eyes moist.
"I'll be back in a bit," Eileen said, giving her a smile. Then she too was gone, leaving Lily and Amy alone.
For long moments, Lily remained curled up next to her mother, listening to her breathe. At last she whispered, "Mum . . . are you afraid . . . of leaving us?"
"No, love. Not anymore. I know what awaits me. The bright country . . . and your dad. He's there waiting. It'll be like going home."
"I love you, Mum."
"Love you too, little one." Amy's lips brushed the top of Lily's head. "Remember, Lily. The courage of your conviction will see you through the darkness . . . and your love for Severus. Hold fast to that and never let it go."
Lily smiled through her tears. "Did you always know then? About Sev and me?"
"Child, I'm not blind. You were always inseparable, even as wee ones. At first I thought you were just like me and Toby, but soon I saw that there was something more there, something Toby and I lacked. The spark was there with you two, and it burned brightly. It was never that way for me and Toby. I loved him like a brother, not a husband. And he loved me the same way only it took him longer to realize it. But you and Severus are different. He is your other half."
"He really is."
"Hold on to that, Lily. Now go and live your life, my brave one. Live, love, and be happy."
Lily promised she would. It made a dying woman happy. But she had no idea how she was going to keep that promise.
Back at Spinner's End, Tobias bid goodbye to Lily and Severus, for he would not be returning to Hogwarts with Eileen and the two teenagers. He hugged Lily and whispered, "If anything should happen to your mum, I'll let you know. All right?"
"Thanks, Toby," Lily hugged him back.
"Take care of yourself, girl. And don't let my son cop an attitude with you. If he does, just kick his arse."
Lily started snickering. "What, like Eileen does to you?"
"Yeah, just like that," he grinned. "We'll keep in touch."
He turned to his son. "If you need anything, Sev, use the mirror. Doesn't matter when, anytime of the day or night."
"I will, Dad." Severus hugged him tightly. "I'll be home soon."
Tobias nodded, a lump in his throat. Then he drew away from his son and pulled off his leather jacket. "Here, take it."
"But that's your favorite jacket," Severus protested. "It's the one you wore when you flew all your missions."
"I know that. Saw me through some tough times. Now it's your turn. It brought me luck, it'll do the same for you. You'll be fighting a different sort of war than I did, and it'll help." He pressed the jacket into Severus' hands.
"Thanks, Dad. I'll take good care of it."
"Take good care of yourself, Sev. And Lily." He crushed the boy in his embrace.
Then he released his son and stepped away, watching as they disappeared into the Floo Network. He prayed they would all come home safe, whole in mind and body. If not, however, he was going to personally kick a certain old wizard's arse.
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