Chapter 1 : In the Heart of the Darkness
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“I could not tell her. It would have been too dark – too dark altogether....”
– Joseph Conrad, "Heart of Darkness"
It was the smell that caught at her senses and sent them reeling down the corridor, out of reach. It was a part of Severus, the smell of dungeons and damp with a slight hint of must and sharp acid, long absorbed into his robes, ever-cloying, ever-beckoning. Lily liked to stand close to him, just so that she could experience that feeling of falling, of temptation.
Yes, she felt temptation each time their heads drew close, when he looked over her shoulder to watch as she stirred the potion they brewed, a little creation of their shared making. How much she looked forward to those times when they could be together, times that grew more rare as the world around them grew dark, shadows throwing up walls between them, casting clouds across their faces, obscuring truth.
There was only one truth between them, a silence that kept the dark at bay.
Her feet took her deeper into the labyrinthine dungeons, the endless corridors of stone through which every sound echoed with great volume. Each drop of water into a distant hole, each scrabbling of a rat’s claws, each tormented spider’s cry, resounded like a pealing bell. No words could be spoken that could not be heard by another. It was at once a place of silence and of endless sounds, the castle settling all around them, leaning into the mountain’s embrace.
A small stone, loosened from the wall, she supposed, tripped down the corridor before her, coming to a brief halt before the toe of her boot hit it once again. With clinks and cracks it bounced off the walls and along the ground, the pattern of its motion bringing a smile to her winter-blanched face, her eyes alighting like manganese lamps. She liked to disturb the silence, but not with words, those putrid, paltry things, never expressing things as they were, always approximating, thus missing their mark.
Words. They could be the softest caress of her name upon his lips. They could be the knife plunged into her heart by a careless sister. Too often they were everything. As she wandered the dungeons, without firm destination, she wished they could be nothing. Sounds without power.
She paused and stared into the darkness broken only by the slight flicker of the torches. It seemed an endless journey through the heart of the castle, a winding river of stone that strove to drive her back at every turn. Her childish mind called forth images of rotting skeletons chained to walls behind rusted doors and sorcerers bent over the bodies of the dead, seeking to reignite that precious spark too soon gone out.
Perhaps once, but no longer. Let the silence fall again.
The torches spluttered around her, then she continued onward, down, down into the depths beneath the castle to the heart of all darkness, the stones around her singing to the beat of her footsteps so that all around was a terrible din.
There are no words to describe that depth, that darkness.
She breathed it in and thought of him, her friend, that other side, her equal and opposite, all shadow where she was flame. His skin was cool to the touch, immune to her fevered passions, the emotions that burst from every pore as she whirled across the park while he would watch from the shade of a bending tree, shading his faded ivory skin from the damning light. When she strayed too far, he would call out her name, the syllables falling like leaves from his lips, and she would return to partake of the shadows, drinking in his silence, feverish fingers pushing back the hair from her eyes.
If he would kiss her... but he would not. The summer would drift away like those before it with the stream of passing days, down the forgetful river of memory into that darkness where all things will end so that they may begin again.
Further she traveled through claustrophobic tunnels, purposely taking the longest route she knew, playing her game of avoidance, her heart racing, an endless pounding against her ribs. With furtive glances she leapt through every intersection, fearing to meet those native to this depth, despising their haughty eyes and mocking smiles, apprehensive of quietly cast curses aimed at retreating backs. They would eat her alive if not for the bitter taste of her tainted blood.
Was it the blood that kept him at a distance? Did he look upon her and see the face, the body, the everything of a Mudblood?
It grew so difficult to remain his friend as the years passed, and no matter how much it pained her to admit, it also grew more difficult to trust him. It was as though a wall had been raised between them, as dark and damp as these dungeon walls, forever barring them from seeing, from hearing, from ever understanding one another again. Only in the silence was there still peace, a truce that rested on a delicate balance. The merest breath could disturb it. A single word could shatter it to pieces on the floor.
One day, it would. She knew that even then.
He was becoming an object of horror, a shadow too fine for her fingers to grasp, a mere spectre among the monsters. To see him as follower when he could be so much more.... He had a voice that could stir the soul, a mind as sharp as a fatal blade, but ever did he bury himself in the depths of these dungeons, a pawn in the games of others when he could be their king.
She squinted into the corridor before her, lost in her musing.
There could be no greater horror than to misuse one’s talents.
But did he? That was the question which pervaded her mind, drowning out the silence in half-remembered conversations. For all that he would seem to be a follower of the other, older, wiser Slytherins, his name was often mentioned, his words and actions forever on the lips of those who’d call themselves his allies and likewise his enemies, labels that changed, it seemed, from day-to-day. She alone was the exception.
Her feet came to an unwilling halt, caught in a mire of thought.
Once, she had been that exception. Once, she had been different. That, she feared, was no longer. Sometimes he could not even look her way when they met in the corridor between classes. Sometimes he would try to speak and his words were tainted by purity. Sometimes when his hands touched hers, they were so cold that she would shudder and turn away.
If only they had not been divided. If only she had been in Slytherin too, as he had wanted. Then, at least, they would be together, transforming into creatures of the depths, bound to each other in the heart of darkness.
But as things were, they sat at separate tables. They lived in separate houses. They stood on opposite sides of a battlefield.
She pushed herself onward, hand braced against the wall.
One day he would forget that she was different. One day she would remember that he was no different. One day he would break her heart, and she would break his.
With this in mind, she shut her eyes against the blinding shadow. How it shaded her heart, suffocating, consuming, the hate and cruelty of this place and its people issuing forth to snatch her from where she stood, dragging her deeper into the mouth of this dank hell, her flesh turning to ivory, her hair into the flaming torches, her eyes into the moss that clung to the walls. The darkness was so strong, but she could fight it. Fight or die. That was the horror of this place.
For him – for Severus – it was not too late. Sometimes, still, she saw in his eyes the light and colour of their childhood spent wandering the fields and streams of Mill Town, the chimneys looming above them, relics of a filthy age that cast no shadow upon the quiet love that bloomed just beyond their grasping fingers. She had been happy then, and so, she thought, had he. Those little smiles that played upon his lips so tempted her to lean forward and take them with her own to taste the last dregs of the bitter tea he drank each morning.
But those days were already faded, greys and blacks against an enclosed stone corridor.
Did he remember them with the same clarity? Could he feel the warm breeze and hear the distant calls of birds, the babble of the water over rocks? Could he see the sky and the trees above, or had he too long been buried in these dungeons, his heart slowly turning to stone? If he did, if he dared to forget, she would not be responsible for her actions, her words. They would pour forth, a raging torrent that would drown him, drown them both, and they would return to those days by the stream, that tiny spring of youth, of life, of love. Driven from the darkness, he would be forever drenched in light.
She felt so much, but if he were to appear, she would not find the words. Silence would reign, and he would never know these things she kept in her head. Something wet rolled down her cheek; her hands clenched tight into fists.
A brief sound of boot against stone echoed through the narrow corridor. Her breaking rage shook her every nerve, but she waited for him to approach. There could be no other, only him, the pattern of his steps as familiar as the sound of her beating, trembling, heart. She took in careful breaths with each step he took, closer and closer.
It could happen that she would shut her eyes and he appear, a great looming presence on the edge of her consciousness, his soft, melodic voice sliding through her ears like velvet against her flesh, setting the hairs on the back of her neck astir, all of her feelings throughout the years at last bursting forth. And he would respond in kind, yes. He must. His long hands upon her shoulders, his face bending down to hers, all would be right. They would have their world, their safe little world, all wrapped up in each other, the darkest part of the shadows, the deepest corner of the universe. Only then would they be safe from the monsters. Only then would they be safe from all the things their world inflicted upon them: the prejudice, the hate, the roles like ill-fitting clothes.
It all could be different, if only she could be sure of him.
He did not speak when he saw her. Who knows what he saw and how he read her face, the suppressed tears, the stubborn jaw, the clenched fists? He would not see her love. It was written in a language he could not understand. Anger was anger; it could not also be love.
Feasting her eyes upon his near-skeletal form, she took note of the fresh bruises on one wrist and the ripped sleeve of his robes, her breath halting in her throat, heart slowing in her chest. He had entered the battlefield and had returned, maimed, but not broken. They could not break him yet. Perhaps, without them, he would be different. He would have less of a reason to fall into this shadowy wasteland beneath the stones of Hogwarts.
How long would it take to lose him forever?
She could not wait.
Without breaking the silence, she stepped forward, placing her hands upon his shoulders, her freckles like spots of blood on ivory, already stained by the battles they would fight and win. It took so little effort to press her lips against his and drink from his soul, the flavours of light and darkness mingling on her tongue.
There was no reaction, no answer to her silent call. Her lips pulled at his as she retracted, all feeling imploding within, leaving only horror at what she had done, the monster unleashed, the truth revealed, the thing that could know no name.
It was the horror she saw reflected in the dark mirror of his widened eyes.
She would not name it now, not with this rejection. He did not speak, did not move. As though turned to stone by a Medusa’s kiss, he did nothing, his eyes hollow windows into the heart of an immense darkness, coming to life only as her footsteps died away, the last flash of her hair in the light of a sputtering torch little more than a splash of blood upon the walls of his dungeon tomb.
He raised a hand to his lips, but was it to remember or to hold back the words, the fury, the storm, the scream that came at nightmare’s end?
All that emerged was a whisper, the most despairing of cries.
Author's Note: reading "Heart of Darkness" while trying to come up with a Snape/Lily story is not recommended. The line "into the heart of an immense darkness" is straight from the novella, and if you know the book, you may be able to imagine Snape as Kurtz and Lily as a combination of Marlowe and the Intended.
This story takes place not long before "Snape's Worst Memory" in Snape and Lily's fifth year.