This was nothing like gently telling the sweet but boring Ravenclaw boy who she'd let buy her butterbeers in Hogsmeade all through third year that she didn't want him paying for her anymore. Telling Frank Longbottom that she was done meeting him behind the boathouse at the end of last year had been much easier, especially since they both knew he was really more interested in Alice.
She and Severus had history. Real history. Once she'd thought of him as a brother. Once she'd thought that their friendship would last their entire lives.
Then he'd changed. Had she seen the betrayal coming? Had she tried to ignore it? Had she always been so willfully ignorant? Had he changed, or had it always been there … something dark?
She hated doubting herself, and yet this self-doubt was always there with her in one form or another.
Was something dark there when he'd made that branch fall on her sister? Was it there when he'd dismissed Petunia so casually as they boarded the train for Hogwarts? Or had he merely been protecting her from her sister's scorn – the chivalrous brother – as she'd allowed herself to believe?
Here was the core at the center of the doubt that she'd been turning over and over in her mind; was he someone good who'd been corrupted, or had he always been evil? Did people ever really change, or did they just become more like who they always were?
It scared her to think this way. As alarming as some of his ideas about dark magic had always seemed, she'd once enjoyed their philosophical discussions on the subject.
“What makes dark magic dark?”
“Couldn't dark magic be used to do good, and, vice versa, couldn't 'good' magic be used to do evil?”
Philosophical discussions had devolved to debates, debates had devolved to arguments, and the arguments went on and on, leaving her drained. Even then she'd been hesitant to cut him out of her life.
She'd told herself that she didn't care what her other friends thought about him.
They don't know him like I do. They don't appreciate how smart he is, or how funny he can be.
And when he'd said things – the sarcasm, oh, the constant, biting sarcasm – that made her wince in pain, she'd told herself that it was only on account of the hard childhood he'd suffered, and that he'd eventually come around to the right way of thinking.
Except that that hadn't happened. He seemed to move only along the opposite path, in direct correlation to the amount of time that he spent with thugs like Mulciber and Avery. It didn't matter to him that they were only friends so long as they could copy answers from his homework.
At first he'd had the good grace to lament their behavior, but that had eventually given way to making excuses for them – no one really needed to know the causes of the Second Goblin Rebellion, their mean-spirited pranks were all in good fun, no permanent harm had come to their victims – just as she made her own excuses whenever Mary or one of her other friends put her to task for talking to him.
Eventually she'd reached the conclusion that he would say whatever was necessary to get her to forgive him for the time being, without ever meaning a word of it. That should have been the last straw. Months later she had still been making excuses – he was misunderstood, he'd been bullied most of his life – for him.
After all of her agonizing; weeks of sleepless nights spent staring up at the ceiling (glad of the velvet curtains that concealed her tears from her dormmates) a single word had made up her mind.
No sooner had it left his lips than she'd made her decision.
It stung her now, no matter how many times she repeated it herself.
Mudblood mudblood mudblood mudblood.
She repeated it until it ran together and lost all meaning, becoming just a random assortment of sounds buzzing over her lips.
It stung when she recalled him saying it, recalled the anger knit in the angles of his eyebrows, recalled the vitriol in his voice, recalled his upper lip curled in the trademark sneer that he never directed at her. Well, there was a first time for everything.
She should have seen it coming. She should have known that it was only a matter of time. She'd been silly to think otherwise; that she was special somehow, that she existed above the harsh realm of his judgement. She'd seen the derision etched on his face as he spat it out, and that was all she needed to end it.
She still didn't know what exactly to say. No words could adequately encapsulate the rage and hurt that boiled through her veins and burst out of her eyes. Perhaps a sustained scream would do; accompanied by her hands curled around his scrawny neck and her knee thrust (repeatedly) into his groin.
Unfortunately, revenge was unbecoming of a prefect, however much he might deserve it. She wasn't about to sink to the Marauders' level, anyway. She rolled her eyes at the pretentious name they'd assigned their little clique. Just because James had finally managed to grow a bicep or two ...
Her face burned red, and she reminded herself that James and Sirius snickered at her behind her back for taking her prefect duties seriously in order to cool it. She'd been wearing her prefect badge that day at the lake, but she would have stood up badge or not. She'd noticed Remus casually tucking his into a pocket as they'd made their way across the grounds that afternoon. She would have scolded him for not putting a stop to the proceedings if she hadn't realized that Severus might have spat out, “I don't need help from a filthy werewolf!” right there, in front of everyone.
That was just another of Severus' faults that she'd turned a blind eye to: his concocting wild stories about poor Remus Lupin's illness. So what if he just happened to fall ill every time there was a full moon? There must be all kinds of magical diseases that were influenced by the Lunar cycle … diseases she'd never heard of, of course. She shook her head to dislodge the seed of doubt that Severus had tried to plant there. Remus had done nothing to him or anyone else to deserve the prejudice that accompanied that label.
Deep down, way deep down (so deep that she barely acknowledged it) she felt a tiny sliver of shame, as well. This tiny nagging sliver of herself reminded her in a most obnoxious voice that she shouldn't have smiled at James Potter's idiotic prank, no matter how fleetingly brief that smile had been.
She wanted to stab this tiny nagging sliver's eyes out for ruining her revenge fantasies. Of course she shouldn't have smiled, but that didn't justify what he'd said. She'd done the right thing in the end. She'd stood up for him. She was the only one who did, who would, who ever would. None of his Slytherin Death-Eater-In-Training friends had stuck around once the trouble had started. None of them had come running and lifted their wands to defend him.
She was his only real friend, and Severus was too blind to see it. If he was too blind to appreciate her friendship, then what was the point? Why was she wasting her time making excuses for someone who, at the end of the day, was just as bigoted as the rest of his housemates?
This was the stage in her revolving circle of thought where her face twisted. She fought to hold back the tears that would inevitably win again, pouring out as she contemplated the fact that her best friend – the one who'd revealed her destiny to her, the one who'd assured her that she was more than good enough when she was sure that she was not, the one who'd commiserated with her when her housemates had annoyed her to tears – no longer existed.
His place had been taken by a dark, sullen creature who spewed hatred for anything that he was not. She could debate and cajole him all she liked, but never would she change his ways. Never would she get her old friend back. He'd sold his soul for, what? A handful of spells? The security provided by his Slytherin brethren?
Lily was lifted out of her thoughts by the soft padding of bare feet on the stairs to the girls' dormitory, immediately followed by the creak of the door. Lily lifted her head, clearing the latest flood of tears from her cheeks with a casual swipe of her hand.
“He's still out there, Lily,” Mary said in a trembling voice, shifting back and forth uncomfortably from one foot to another, not meeting her eyes. His presence made her friend very anxious. “He says he'll stay all night if he has to.”
Lily sighed and stood up, setting aside the book that she'd been staring blankly at for the past hour. “Sorry about that,” she said, wrapping herself in her old lilac dressing gown and sliding her feet into the bedroom slippers that had molded themselves to the exact shapes of the soles of her feet. “I'll go and get rid of him.”
She looked at herself in her wardrobe mirror before going out; charming her swollen, bloodshot eyes so that they looked clear and bright again, green as jade, betraying no sign that she'd been crying just a few minutes ago.
Most of the house had gone to bed, thankfully, so there was no audience to follow her progress across the common room to the portrait hole. A soft noise from the corner by the fireplace caught her attention as she was about to step out, and she turned. Remus had just shut the book that he must have fallen asleep over, and was now rubbing his eyes.
“Going to tell Snape off?” he whispered hoarsely.
“Something like that,” she said, crossing her arms over her chest. “Did he say anything to you?”
He smiled ruefully. “No, it's you he's waiting for.” He scratched self-consciously at the back of his head before adding, “I can go out there with you, if you'd rather not be alone.”
“No, no, that's not necessary.”
He stood and looked towards the stairs to the boys' dormitory, then sat back down again. “I'll wait right here, just in case.” Lily noticed that the prefect badge had returned to his robes, and wondered whether this vigil was his own way of apologizing for what had happened at the lake.
“Thank you,” she whispered. “I'll be quite all right.” She forced an impassive expression upon her features before stepping through the hole.
She found Severus propped up against the wall on the other side. Heavy lids were slid half-mast over his black eyes, oily black hair draped over his cheekbones.
He jumped, startled fully awake by her appearance. His eyes flew open as he stood up away from the wall and turned toward her, body suddenly tense and eager.
“Lily!” he cried, a smile breaking over his thin face.
“What are you doing here, Severus?” she responded coolly. “It's past curfew. You should have returned to the dungeons with your precious Death Eater friends ages ago.”
His smile faded at the distinct edge to her voice, and his eyes pleaded with hers. “Lily, please listen, I came to apologize. Please, just give me a chance.”
The corners of her mouth trembled for a moment as she struggled to contain the tears that threatened once again to leak from her eyes. The struggle lasted only a moment, however, as his voice
echoed once again through her mind. Her gaze hardened.
“Fine. Out with it. Go ahead and apologize,” she said, knowing that this was it. After this conversation they were through. Nothing he could say or do would ever make up for what he said, what he did, what he was.
His apology fell against her stony exterior and rolled away, unaccepted. She would not, could not forgive him. As it sank in that saying, “I'm sorry,” wasn't sufficient, he wracked his brain for an equivalent insult that she could toss at him. When he came up empty, he realized at last the enormity of his error.
If the finality of their conversation registered with him, breaking him in a way that could never be mended, then she didn't notice. When she climbed back through the portrait hole, it was only bitterness that she felt. He might have still been standing there when she turned and left. She couldn't allow herself to care; whatever else he had to say could never matter.
Remus still stood in the corner, exactly as when she had left.
“Well, I'm off to bed,” she said to him. “Good night.”
“I am a werewolf,” he blurted out.
She blinked. “What?”
“I am a werewolf,” he repeated, with a weak smile. “Just like Snape says.” He exhaled deeply, as if a huge weight had been lifted from his chest. “There, I said it.”
In that moment, it occurred to her that it didn't matter to her whether he was or wasn't. How much worse could a werewolf be than a witch? A mudblood witch. Neither one of them had any say in what they were.
“That doesn't excuse anything he's done,” she said crossly.
“Of course not, no. Definitely not the, you know, the m-word. I just wanted to tell you. All the Marauders know. Now you do, too.”
She placed her hands on her hips. “So, the thing with the whomping willow is true?”
“Yes, unfortunately, yes. I didn't have anything to do with that night, but I am the monster at the other end of the tunnel.”
Her brow furrowed, then relaxed. She shook her head. “You're still Remus.”
He smiled for an instant before turning serious again. “You're incredibly brave, you know that? You could be a Ma-”
“I don't want to be a Marauder.”
“No, I suppose not,” he responded. “Still...” he smiled again, picking up his book and heading toward the stairs to the boys' dormitory. “James fancies you. He has a funny way of showing it, I know.”
“James Potter is nothing but an arrogant--”
“Toerag,” he finished for her, smiling again. “Yes, yes he is,” he said, walking up the stairs. “Goodnight.”
“Goodnight, Remus,” she said in a small voice.
She paced back and forth across the common room long after he'd left, concentric circles of thoughts continuing to keep her up. Remus was a werewolf. Severus had been right about that, which meant that James Jerkwad Potter had probably saved Severus from becoming a werewolf himself. He'd also saved Remus from whatever awful fate awaited werewolves who bit people.
As arrogant as James could be, he wasn't completely horrible. She'd wanted to strangle him for bullying Severus at the lake. Now she wondered whether the animosity between them existed because James had detected something dark in Severus's makeup before she had.
She ground her teeth. James could be a bit of a fox, really, if only his head weren't so damned inflated. There. She'd admitted it. Another thought wormed it's way into her head. Was that why Severus had been so obsessed with the Marauders lately? Was Severus so insecure that he had to have her all to himself? As if she didn't have room in her life for both him and a boyfriend! Wasn't he the one who pointed out to her how boring that nice Ravenclaw boy had been?
True, Severus had also been the one to tell her that Frank was only trying to make Alice realize she wanted him by making her jealous. That wasn't an issue with James.
These thoughts chased themselves around her brain as she stomped up the stairs to the girls' dormitory. It was outrageous to think it, but what if she went out with James? Severus would never forgive her. She laughed at herself. Outrageous.
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