Disclaimer: Stuff you recognize = all J.K. Rowling’s and borrowed with love. Story, plot elements, and original characters: Mine! Mine! (cue the seagulls from Finding Nemo…)
Author’s Note: The beginning of Lily’s dream bears a resemblance to Georgia Weasley’s lovely one-shot, “Magic Moment.” I originally wrote this scene a few years ago, but GW may have inspired me through an eddy in the space-time continuum, because she’s awesome like that.
This chapter starts to get into the dark/horror realm, so buckle your seatbelts, folks… Hope you are continuing to enjoy the story!
Lily pushed her way through the close-grown conifer branches. She was supposed to meet James at sunset… he had something to show her. Strictly speaking, she knew she shouldn’t be in the Forbidden Forest at all. She was supposed to be a good example. James was just as bad, Head Boy and trying to lure her out in the forest for goodness knows what. Would he drop out of a tree and scare the piss out of her, or was this some colossal romantic plan to get her to shag him at long last? Lily clamped her hand down on her mouth to hide her laughter.
Something rustled in the underbrush. With her hand clamped to the wand in the right hip pocket of her blue jeans, Lily turned around. Tree roots and rocks pressed through the thin soles of her old penny loafers. She lost her balance and caught herself against the roughened trunk of a gnarled little Scots pine.
Another rustle and a crunch of broken twigs – closer this time. “Hello?” Silence. Lily lifted her wand and pointed it into the brush. “Answer at once! I’m Head Girl!”
Something large and heavy parted the brush, stepping forward and shaking its slender velveted antlers. It was a young stag.
Lily’s heart thudded with terror. She felt like she was going to run screaming into the forest or throw up on the ground, or both at once. The stag stepped toward her. She lowered her wand and pulled her magic into a tight sphere inside her chest, ready to be unleashed.
“Lily,” said the stag.
Floating between her dream and reality, Lily remembered. Dead, gone. Prongs couldn’t speak aloud.
The stag moved forward to caress her cheek with his damp black nose. “Come into the forest.” Lily’s hand moved involuntarily to his shoulder, feeling the fine chestnut-colored pelt beneath her palm. She threw her arms around him, and her half-awake self rejoiced that the dream did not end, that the solid shoulder and musky-smelling warmth did not turn to smoke in her embrace.
Oh, Gods, let me stay asleep, let me stay asleep this time, this is when I wake up alone and James is still dead…
Lily walked with her arm over the stag’s high withers, stepping carefully along beside him through the bracken. Prongs nuzzled her hair, and she laughed, startling a robin from its nest.
The forest closed in around them and the standing trees turned to stone, becoming the corners of Myra’s bedroom. The narrow bed by the window held a sleeping figure with tangled linen sheets pulled up to its forehead. Black hair, clumped and tangled, spilled out over the pillow. Lily’s stomach clenched.
Severus pushed the sheet down. The stag’s antlers were silhouetted in the unrelenting darkness of his eyes. He called her name. “Lily?”
“Snivellus!” the stag challenged.
Severus fumbled for his rowan wand in the bed sheets, but it was gone. Lily clung to Prongs’ shoulder, trying to drag him backward even as he advanced on the helpless figure in the narrow white bed.
“Don’t!” Lily cried. “James! Don’t!”
The stag’s muscles shifted under her grasping arms. When he turned his face toward her again, she opened her mouth in a soundless scream. Hollow eye sockets burned red from deep pits in the ivory skull. Tattered velvet hung from the stag’s ruined antlers.
“How could you do this to me? I thought you loved me!”
“I do, I do love you!” she sobbed. The skeletal being speaking in James’s familiar voice was the worst thing she could imagine. Wake up, wake up! She begged herself, but her physical body was bound in sleep as surely as with a Body-Bind Curse.
“He’s a Death Eater! Foul, evil!”
Severus stepped out of bed, partly wrapped in the sheet, which fell to the ground as he walked forward. The rowan wand trembled in his right hand. To Lily, he was achingly vulnerable and beautiful and wanted. She released the skeletal stag and stood between Severus and the specter.
“You chose him over me,” said the apparition in James’s disbelieving voice. Before she could say or do anything, the stag’s mouth opened and its curved fangs dripped with sticky white saliva. Bare cloven hooves drove toward her chest.
The pain remained as Lily struggled into consciousness. Her heart and lungs felt as if they were torn out from the inside and flung across the room: the leavings of a vicious animal’s kill. The warm depression in the bed beside her lay vacant and a single coarse black hair lay across the pillow.
When Severus returned, Lily was sitting up in bed with her arms wrapped around her knees. It was all she could do to control her breathing so she wouldn’t scream and cry and rage.
Lily heard, rather than saw, Severus kneeling beside the bed. A warm calloused hand stroked her sweaty hair away from her burning face. She whimpered.
“Lily,” he said gently, “Are you all right?”
Lily’s hands clenched at her calves. She wanted to feel his bare shoulders under her palms again; she wanted to kiss him and let the sweet rush of their physical connection sweep her dreams away… but she couldn’t.
“I’m so sorry.”
“Why?” Severus was confused.
“You know I care about you so much. I should never have used you that way.”
Severus exhaled a short puff of air through his nose, and even though she refused to look up, Lily knew the expression on his face – a sideways little smile of self-deprecation.
“Lily, I told you last night… I’m yours. Use me up and throw me away.”
“No,” she said with rebellion against the vivid urges that pushed her to do just that. “You deserve better.”
“No. I don’t.”
The finality in his voice tore a jagged hole in Lily’s heart. “I’m not a goddess, Severus. You don’t have to worship me; you don’t have to lay your life and your heart and your soul on the line for me every damned day. I’m just not ready for that. I’m just a person, I’m just me.”
Only silence answered. Lily lifted her head from her knees. Severus’s face rested in his hands. Appalled to think of Severus crying, she reached out to lay her palm on his shoulder. He shrugged away as if she’d burned him. She clasped her hand to her chest like a bird with a wounded wing.
“I’m so sorry I asked you to stay. Please, don’t feel like you have to…”
He cut her off. “I understand.”
“Severus, it isn’t that I don’t want to be with you… just not now. Not yet. It wouldn’t be fair to anyone, you most of all.”
Severus pushed himself up from the floor and dressed. “I’ll tell Dumbledore about Melora.”
“You’re going right now?”
“What sense is there in staying?”
“Aren’t you even going to say Happy Easter to Harry?” Lily derided herself as soon as the words left her mouth. Stupid.
Severus laughed bleakly. “Lily, you can’t have it both ways.”
Oh, how it hurt her to see the hieratic masks of sarcasm and detachment drop over his features once more. For just a few hours, she had held the real Severus in her arms, the one she knew when they were young: before James, before Hogwarts, before the artificial divisions of Slytherin and Gryffindor.
And now, by force, Lily was pushing him back into hiding. Why? Because it would be wrong to go on the way she had begun; she couldn’t take advantage of him that way. As much as she already longed to relive the night, the sun crept steadily skyward and time was passing.
Severus pulled a soft golden object from his battered leather satchel. “This is for Harry. Professor McGonagall says to tell him Aunt Minnie will be up in the summer to teach him all about Quidditch.”
“Oh,” said Lily, clutching the velvet Snitch to her chest and sitting back down on the bed.
Severus pulled the cuffs of his frock coat straight with quick flicks of his fingers. “I’m sure Dumbledore will be in touch once he hears about Melora. I’ve got to go into the Ministry and do some reading on possession.”
“The Department of Mysteries.” Tucking his crumpled nightshirt down into the bag, he fastened the heavy brass buckle.
“Good luck getting in there.”
“I’ve got connections,” said Severus with a smirk. Lily looked up from Minerva’s gift and their eyes met, obsidian and grass green.
“I’ll miss you,” she said.
Severus wavered. Lily flung the toy Golden Snitch aside-- it hovered in mid-air. With two running strides across the bedroom floor, she was in his arms. He kissed her harder than he had the night before, his hands gripping the back of her head like a Dementor siphoning away her very soul.
When they broke apart, Lily blushed. Severus lifted his satchel from the floor with clumsy, shaking hands.
“Please be very careful with Melora. I’m going straight back to Hogwarts to wake that meddling old coot and Poppy as well, if I can get hold of her. Try not to wake Melora until they arrive.”
Lily dashed tears out of her eyes and hiccupped a laugh. “Get out of here, Snape.”
Severus Disapparated. In the next room, Harry woke at the sound with a frightened cry. Lily had no more time to blame herself or to regret what she had done; it would keep until later.
After she buckled Harry into his high chair with a cut-up banana and a covered tumbler of fresh milk, casting quick charms against falling and choking as an afterthought, Lily slipped in to check on Melora. The girl lay fast asleep, her face ghostly pale against the white linen pillowcase.
Lily lifted the kicked-off quilt from the floor and bumped into the bed frame. Cursing herself silently, she stepped back as Melora’s eyes fluttered open.
Lily dropped the blanket and sat close beside her. “Oh, you know me today. I’m so relieved, dear.”
Melora smiled weakly. “I’m thirsty.”
“Of course you are.” Lily helped her drink water from a jam jar. “There, that’s better.”
“My foot hurts.” Lily winced, remembering how Severus’s Levicorpus spell had flung the possessed girl toward the greenhouse ceiling. Lily had bandaged the heel and applied antiseptic herbs, but she should have checked it overnight. She blushed at the reason she had forgotten to tend her patient as she gently peeled back the dressing.
The wound was closing nicely and bore a healthy color with no sign of infection. The bruise on her heel had darkened in the expected way. “It’s doing all right, considering, but no wonder it hurts. You took quite a blow.”
Melora rubbed her scar with bleary eyes. “What day is it?”
Lily’s vision clouded with tears. Usually Melora remembered her rages, at least in part. Sev was right; she really was much worse. That bastard always manages to be right.
“Dear, it’s Easter morning. You’ve been very ill,” she said delicately. “I think the curse may be interfering with your memory.”
“What?” Melora clutched the blankets in white-knuckled hands.
“Professor Dumbledore is on his way,” Lily reassured her. “He’ll sort this out. Severus said…”
Melora frowned. “Severus was here?”
Lily tried her best to sound brisk and matter-of-fact. “Yes, he’s just gone back to Hogwarts.”
“Oh.” Melora stared after Lily as she plumped the pillows and turned back the bed covers.
“We’ll hide the eggs we colored for Harry later on, when you’re feeling better. Are you hungry?”
“I think I’ll go back to sleep.” Melora turned her face away and closed her eyes.
Lily drew the door closed softly. In the kitchen, banana liberally smeared the table, chairs, and Harry’s small face.
“Lovely… Mummy didn’t charm anything clean, that’s what I should have done.” Lily raised her wand. “Tergeo!” Harry giggled at the spell slurping the banana puree from his cheeks. Before his mother could stop him, he patted his palms in the mess on the table, joyfully finger-painting. “Oh, you are just dreadful, Harry Potter.” She gathered the sticky boy in her arms, burying her face in his warm, banana-smelling hair. “Bath time before Professor Dumbledore gets here.”
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