Disclaimer: The Potterverse belongs to its original author, J.K. Rowling, and to her publishers worldwide. The OCs are mine.
Author's Note: I've had parts of this chapter written for almost four years, but it was just waiting for the right time to be part of the story. Many of you have been waiting a long time for this chapter... I can't believe I've been working on this series for almost four years.
I always welcome constructive criticism from my readers. Thank you for following along with this sequel!
Lily dropped her water glass on the table. Harry laughed and splashed in the rivulets running toward his high chair, but Lily made no move to wipe up the spill. "You can't be serious."
Severus exhaled through his nose with a short, involuntary puff of amusement. "Unfortunately, I am."
"Possessed? Sev, that doesn't just happen."
The water from Lily's glass flowed to the edge of the scrubbed wooden table and dripped slowly to the flagstone floor. Severus reached over with his napkin and blotted the place in front of Harry dry.
"All the pieces fit together. The ravings – the dreams – acting like someone else when the fits are upon her."
"But who's possessed her? I can't believe I let something so horrible get past me. I thought it was the curse… it's all my fault." Lily snuffled and blotted her eyes on her wide flowered sleeve.
Severus couldn't tell Lily what he suspected, not until he was sure. His instincts led him to protect her even though he knew her fierce strength and courage. He mastered his fear and answered her as calmly as he could. "How could you have known? Dumbledore didn't suspect a thing, and he's spent as much time with Melora as I have since her injury."
"I suppose you're right." Lily smiled as Severus finished wiping the water off the table with the soaked cloth napkin. "Thanks." Lily lifted her wand and levitated the wet napkin toward an overflowing willow laundry basket in the corner.
"What happened to Myra's rules about using magic around the house?"
Lily exhaled heavily. "I couldn't do it. God knows I tried for a couple days… with a baby and an invalid? I've only got two hands."
"And magic gives you a few more. I understand."
Lily smiled. "Myra told me you really kicked back against the house rules when you first got here."
"Naturally. I did enough Muggle cleaning at my parents' house to last one lifetime." Severus leaned back and crossed his ankles, stretching his tired legs under the table. His foot brushed something soft and warm, and Lily jumped. "Sorry."
Lily tucked her rumpled red hair behind one ear. The ghost of a blush receded from her cheeks. Was that for me? wondered Severus as Lily rose swiftly from the table and started clearing plates. He tried to help.
"Sit down. Just act like a guest for once in your life, it probably won't kill you. I'll get the cake."
Lily had baked a lemon cake with poppy seeds; Harry fussed for more when his little plate was clean. "Not a chance. I'll be very sorry I gave you icing at this time of night; it's nearly seven-thirty." She plucked the whinging toddler from his seat. "Say night-night to Sev." Harry only grunted and swung his little fists at his mother's back. "Harry James Potter, we do not hit Mummy. I'll just put him down… he's tireder than he seems. I'll be back in a bit."
Severus leaned back from the table and glanced out the leaded-glass window. Outside, the early spring twilight dimmed over the wooded slopes. Invisible in the trees above stood the peak of the great mountain. Severus was a lifelong skeptic, but he felt the power growing in his bones. The Welsh mountains held secrets as old as Merlin himself; under Myra's tutelage, he had only begun to understand.
Severus opened the front door and sat on the wide stone step where the cool spring air flowed over and past him. It was surreal to be able to sit like this in the open, in the midst of what should have been the enchanted rowan hedge. Lily hadn't known how to reset the protective charms and Melora hadn't yet been lucid enough to help… perhaps she never would be. Severus didn't want to think of the alternative, where the young girl's lucidity foretold disaster.
Inside, Lily sang a lullaby. It was the same Muggle song she had sung to Harry each night in the weeks before Myra's death; before Severus killed Malfoy, before the world shattered to pieces and reformed into this new one he barely recognized.
This world is better, thought Severus guiltily as Lily's off-key voice drifted through the thick circular glass panes and into the night air outside. The love in her voice pierced him, even if it wasn't meant for him and never would be. I would take this world in a second, given a choice.
"It's pretty out here," said Lily, sitting down beside him. Severus moved over to make room for her, but she pressed herself against his side. "It's cooling off, though. I think there'll be a frost."
Severus didn't dare to move; he could barely breathe, or he might frighten her off. Small, furry shapes darted and squeaked in the oak canopy above. "Look, the bats are coming out."
"Oh, it's early in the year for them. Poor things, I hope the bugs aren't all killed in the frost."
"They'll go down in the valley."
Lily smiled and let more of her weight rest on him. He told himself sternly that Lily was only feeling cold, but she turned her face into his arm and stroked her cheek against the woolen sleeve of his frock coat like a cat. His heart stuttered in sudden panic.
"I'm so glad you're here." Severus coughed a little awkwardly, trying to hide the rush of emotion that threatened to submerge him. "No, really. I missed you. Every minute of every day since... since we stopped talking."
"You don't have to say that."
Lily lifted her face from his arm: her eyes were emeralds lost beneath the ocean. "I should have given you another chance. I was just so afraid you were slipping toward them: Mulciber and his disgusting friends. Part of me wanted to get it over with because I just couldn't stand it anymore… like ripping off a bandage. It's going to hurt one way or the other, so it might as well be quick."
Severus's chest constricted. "I'm sorry I ever said it." Mudblood. "I should have called you anything but that."
Lily giggled, but it sounded like a sob. "What would you have called me instead?"
"Hag," he began, running his fingers down the back of her hand. Lily wove her fingers through his and squeezed. "Harpy."
"Banshee," she suggested playfully.
"Oh, you wish."
Severus kissed her. Lily curled her hands at the nape of his neck and locked them in his tangled black hair. She broke the kiss first, and he drew away hastily.
"God, Lily, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have…"
"Stop acting so bloody sorry for everything." Lily got slowly to her feet, using the square-hewn doorframe to pull herself upright. She extended her hand and helped him up. Hands laced together, Severus and Lily stood in the open doorway, looking up at the darkening night sky through the crossed, leafless branches.
One by one, the stars emerged, shining from so far away and so long ago, they would be gone by the time their light reached Earth. Lily tugged at his hand and he closed the door behind them.
"I should never have let you go," she said quietly.
"You don't have to do this…"
"I do." Lily Potter – Severus pushed her married name out of his mind as far as he could, pushed Potter's smug, bespectacled face out of his memory – Lily Evans held both his hands and drew him to the horsehair sofa by the fire.
Lily pushed him over on his back and settled herself warmly against his chest. Severus rejoiced in the weight of her body on his own, so solid and real. The last time he'd held her this way, she was sixteen – she'd softened and rounded since then, becoming far more than a girl. Her warm scent would likely kill him if he breathed in too deeply: wood smoke from the fireplace, vanilla and lemon from cooking, and the darkly floral fragrance of her hair melded together into something he could not, could never live without again.
Severus's heart and soul already belonged to Lily Evans, but he had managed with great effort to keep his physical desires under control. With Lily herself stretched along the length of his body, encouraging him, he was absolutely lost.
Severus lifted her flowered shirt at the waist, running his calloused hands experimentally over her skin and bracing himself for a slap, for a rejection. Lily murmured appreciation against his lips. He didn't care whether she was only using him for comfort. If in her mind, she was kissing James Potter, he didn't give a rat's arse. He would gladly give himself up; he was like a starving man grasping for breadcrumbs on the pavement and shoving them greedily into his mouth.
Severus's fingers slipped into the slight crescent depressions stretching across her belly; they were stretch marks from the child, Potter's marks of possession upon her very skin. Severus kissed Lily harder than before and tugged at the hem of her blouse, wishing for the chance to see what his own child with her would be like. Her graceful fingers moved to the front of his frock coat and unbuttoned swiftly.
Don't fly too high, warned a voice in his mind, the ground is far below and strewn with boulders.
A scream pierced through the woods.
Lily struggled to sit upright. It was pitch black. Was she dreaming or had she heard that scream? Lily moved to the right and nearly tumbled out of the narrow bed. A warm hand steadied her. "Shh. It's all right… Just an owl."
"Don't worry. Go back to sleep."
Lily settled awkwardly, rolling over to face away from him, and pulled the old linen sheet up to her chin to cover herself. My God, what have I done? A terrible vacancy had swept her up, a need for comfort and companionship so urgent she felt she would die without it, and she had fallen on her oldest friend like a sun struck veela. He'd tried to stop her at first, but she had bowled right over every one of his sensible objections. Stupid, stupid girl.
At the back of her neck, her lover's breathing suddenly eased once more into sleep. Lily felt a swell of warmth and affection for Severus, but she was only five months widowed. She loved James, would always love him. James was loyal and faithful, kind and forthright: the perfect husband, the perfect father, and now buried.
Lukewarm tears pooled in the corners of her eyes and slid down across her flushed cheeks, dripping onto Severus's forearm and running down to make cold, damp spots on the sheets. Beneath her palm, Lily felt the unmistakable knot of the Dark Mark in Severus's skin. The Mark had receded since the battle, but never fully healed. Lucius Malfoy's ghost spoke in her mind. "Not dead… only gone."
When Lily cut Severus Snape out of her life, she knew very well what she had given up. James worshipped her, but he did not truly know her in the way Severus always had. It wasn't James's fault that he didn't possess that soul-deep knowledge – Lily had purposely kept him at arm's length, hoping to avoid ever being hurt so badly again.
Mudblood: such a small word and so facetious to Muggle ears, yet emblematic of the division that once cost her Severus's friendship. It was a loaded word, redolent of prejudice and hatred. Lily understood precisely why Severus hated Muggles; she knew Tobias Snape and Petunia… and she knew how deeply Severus resented being a Muggle's son. She'd thought he hated her, too.
Severus's entire body jerked and his arms tightened around her waist. His heart pounded hard against her bare back. She turned over in bed, snuggling guiltily up to the curve in his collarbone and pushing his heavy black hair away from her eyes. "It's all right. You were dreaming."
"I love you."
"Sev?" asked Lily in a tiny voice, halfway hoping he had spoken in his sleep.
"I do. Always."
Severus shifted and rolled on his side facing her. "You've never called me that before."
Remorse threatened to swallow her whole. "I'm sorry."
He drew her close. She resisted, fighting to pull up the covers. Tucked back in, she buried her face against his shoulder. "It's all right. I know it was too soon." She nodded furiously into his shoulder and hiccupped a sob. His dark baritone voice thrummed through his body as he chuckled. "You were very, very persuasive."
"Shut up," she said grumpily.
"I'm yours… Do with me as you please."
Lily's breath caught in her chest. "Will you take a leave from Hogwarts and stay with me until Melora's better?"
Severus didn't answer at first, just methodically stroked her loose hair down her back. Her fear grew as she waited – she was sure he'd say no.
"You drive a very hard bargain. Are you sure you weren't a Slytherin?"
Lily blushed. "Professor Slughorn might be able to come out of retirement for the rest of term. I'm sure he could use the money… Sirius said he won fifty Galleons off him a couple weeks ago."
Severus sneezed. "I don't want that slob back in my storeroom. Gods, you have no idea what a wreck he left the place."
"I'll Owl Dumbledore in the morning." Lily smiled.
From the next room, a full-throated wail erupted, the frustrated cry of a toddler who had been whimpering unheard for quite some time. "I've got to go," said Lily reluctantly.
Severus kissed her cheek as she wriggled out of the slender bed. Lily wrapped her old gray dressing gown around her body, pulling the ties as tight as they would go and tying a hasty bow. Somehow, his friendly parting kiss affected her even more than the burning heat of the night before, even more than the incredible power of the connection they had shared. Still confused, Lily went to settle her son.
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