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Chapter 11 : Chapter Eleven
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In which Lily comforts James, and Sirius fights with Severus.
Shock reverberated through the room after James’ exit. Lily immediately got to her feet, and, after sharing one brief, anguished look with Remus, hastily disappeared after James. Sirius moved as if he was going to follow but Remus put a hand out to stop him, giving only a gentle shake of his head when the other boy frowned questioningly at him; Sirius would only rant and snarl about how much of a git Snape was. James needed someone to soothe his anger, not inflame it. He needed Lily.
Neither of them paid much attention to Severus, who was trying to make himself as unobtrusive as possible in his corner. Part of the Slytherin boy felt deeply ashamed hearing about the way he would, or might, in future treat an eleven year old boy, but another part of him railed against being blamed for something that hadn’t yet happened and might never happen. If he was honest, there was also a small part of him that kept thinking it was Potter’s son. A living reminder to his future self that Lily would choose that arrogant, insufferable snot over him… Well, did they really expect him to be nice to him?
No, a quiet, not often listened to voice said in his mind, But they didn’t expect you to be cruel to him, either.
Lily had been worried that, in his anger, James might do something to hurt himself. To her relief, she found him halfway down the corridor. He was leaning against one of the window frames, staring down into the castle grounds with an expression of mingled anger and sorrow. With the afternoon light slanting through the glass and illuminating his face, in such a way that made his turmoil all the more obvious, he had never looked more vulnerable.
“James?” she said softly, coming up beside him. She reached out to lightly touch his arm, but unsure how such an action would be received at the last moment she let her hand drop back to her side.
For a few moments James didn’t reply, apparently so lost in his thoughts that he was unaware of her presence. Then, just as she was wondering if she should turn back and leave him alone, he said, “Am I such an awful person?”
Confused, she frowned. “What?”
“I must be,” he continued heedless. His voice was thick with a self-loathing Lily would never have expected. He glared down at his feet. “I know I’ve done some awful things, but I never thought … I never kidded myself, I knew he hated me. Merlin knows, the feeling’s mutual. But to hate me so much that he would take it out on a child.” He turned to look at her and Lily could see the consequences of his youthful arrogance and callousness had come crashing down on him like a tidal wave. His hazel eyes were bright, and he looked so uncertain, so close to breaking, that her heart went out to him. “Am I that awful a person?”
“No.” Her own voice was choked, so she shook her head and took a moment to compose herself. “You are not a bad person. You’ve done bad things. You know I won’t defend them. But I will defend you. And you are a good person, James.”
“But I did this. I did this, Lily.” His lips twisted into a bitter smile. “I don’t know how the Sorting Hat could have placed me in Gryffindor. I’m not brave, or chivalrous. I’ve been terrible to him. And now, because of me … if I had even been the slightest bit nicer …”
Lily stared at him. This wasn’t the James she knew. The James she knew was confident and self-assured; everything seemed to slide off him like water off a duck’s back. While she knew that he did have things in his past to answer for, she was surprised just how much she hated to see him torturing himself. Her insides seemed to constrict with sympathetic pain.
“No!” She seized his face in both her hands, forcing him to look at her. “No. You didn’t do this. Yes, you could have, and should have, treated Severus better. But he is the only one responsible for his actions. He might be justified in hating you, but that doesn’t make it okay for him to take it out on a child. It definitely doesn’t make it okay for him to abuse his position as a teacher to be cruel to a student! This isn’t your fault.”
“It’s not your fault. Do you think I haven’t had this argument with myself? That I haven’t blamed myself for not being able to stop him throwing his lot in with the Death Eaters? That I haven’t hated myself for ending our friendship, for feeling like I abandoned him even though I know he’s involved with dark magic?”
James’ eyes were wide as he looked at her, as she revealed a little of how her friendship with Severus had eaten her up inside. Her hands had dropped to his shoulders, and he now brought one of his own up to push her hair back behind her ear.
“You can’t blame yourself for that,” he said, as if puzzled that she ever would, “You can’t make him do something he doesn’t want to do.”
Slowly she nodded. “Exactly. In the end his choices are his choices. Not mine. And not yours.”
He lowered his eyes, uncertain. “But you never did anything wrong. The way I’ve treated him…”
“Hasn’t helped,” Lily sighed. “But you didn’t make him this way, James.”
James frowned. “What do you mean?”
She hesitated, biting her bottom lip, unsure whether or not she should say anything. “He … his life hasn’t been easy. It’s not been pleasant. That’s all I’m going to say,” she added quickly as James opened his mouth. “It’s his story to tell. But just … know that you might have made him worse, but you didn’t make him what he is. And you are most certainly not responsible for what he may do in the future.”
He didn’t say anything, mulling over her words. Even so, she could see the guilt still in his eyes. After the silence had stretched on for what seemed like several minutes, she spoke again.
“The way you treated him was awful. It was wrong.” He physically flinched at her words. She hated herself for hurting him, but knew it needed to be said. “But when it came down to it, you saved him. You were willing to risk yourself for him. And you know you were wrong. You’ve admitted it. You’re learning from it. That’s what makes you a good person, James.” She paused a moment, then added quietly, “And that’s what makes you different from Severus.”
James held her gaze, a multitude of emotions clashing in his expression. Slowly, finally, he nodded, but then said in a voice of terrible sadness, “I want to believe that. It’s just … thinking that something I did might have hurt my son …”
The pain in his face was a reflection of her own.
Stepping forward to close the small distance between them, she wrapped her arms around him and hugged him fiercely. His hands rested lightly on her waist, but he seemed unsure whether or not to return the embrace.
She turned her face up towards him and spoke quietly next to his ear. “It’s not just because of you. It’s because of me, too.”
With that confession she let herself just collapse into him. His arms came up around her, pulling her closer and holding her as tightly as possible, and she felt him bury his face in her hair. Only a few hours earlier she had been admiring the curve of his forearms and wondering what it would like to be held by them; she thought how sad it was that now the moment had come they were both hurting too much to appreciate it.
No longer sure who was comforting whom, they stood in silence for some time and let each other’s embrace soothe away their pain.
The silence that James and Lily had left behind them in the Room of Requirement was unbearable, so much so that Remus thought he might actually be able to see a slicing spell cut through the air. He watched with a tense, worried expression as Sirius angrily paced the length of the room. Severus seemed to be trying to sink as far back into his chair as was possible, but his head was still bent forward so his dark hair fell across his face like a greasy curtain. With his expression hidden, Remus couldn’t tell what the other boy was thinking or feeling. Was he angry? Scared? Ashamed? Or was he completely unapologetic?
Every now and then Sirius would glance over at Severus’ chair, and each time a muscle twitched in his jaw. Worried about James, frustrated that there was nothing he could do to help, angry at what Harry would one day be put through, and feeling not a little ridiculous that all of this was because of a book, the seeming lack of reaction from the Slytherin boy was only serving to irritate him further. He felt like there was something boiling just beneath his skin, an itch he couldn’t quite get at to scratch.
The pacing wasn’t helping. He stopped by the one of the windows, but kept shifting from foot to foot. Time seemed to stretch on endlessly. Each tick of the clock on the wall felt like the Room was mocking them. Where the heck is Prongs? What in Merlin’s name are he and Lily doing?
This is all Snivellus’ fault.
He looked over his shoulder again. Severus hadn’t moved, not so much as a twitch. A growl rose in the back of Sirius’ throat. Unable to bear in any longer, he turned around and snapped, “Well, I hope you’re happy.”
“Sirius…” Remus’ tone contained a warning, but Sirius ignored it.
The curtain of Snivelly’s hair shifted, just slightly, so that Sirius could see his black eyes looking at him with glittering menace.
“Just what,” he said contemptuously, “is it about this situation that you think would make me happy?”
“I just thought you enjoyed being a miserable git to people. You do it often enough.”
“As opposed to you, who’s never anything but saintly.”
Sirius flushed, and Severus knew he’d hit a nerve. With effort the Gryffindor boy seemed to restrain himself from using his fists, and instead spat through clenched teeth, “At least I’ve never been cruel to a child.”
“Right. Because I wasn’t a child all those times you and Potter ganged up to curse me.”
“You can act the innocent victim all you want, Snivelly, but we both know you hexed me and James as many times as we did you. You are just as bad as us.”
“Is that so? I don’t remember ever trying to trap you in the Shrieking Shack with a werewolf,” Severus said coolly.
Sirius snarled and lunged forward. Grabbing the front of Severus’ robes he almost lifted the other boy off his feet, and replied in a voice thick with fury and loathing, “No, you just tried to expose Remus to the rest of the school and get him expelled out of pure spite.”
“Don’t you dare.” The harsh tone of Remus’ voice cut through the room like a whiplash, causing both boys to turn in surprise. Remus had got to his feet and was glaring at Sirius, his usually calm demeanour gone. “Severus’ malice does not justify what you did, Sirius. Don’t you dare try and pretend it was some twisted attempted to protect me.”
Sirius looked away. He had thought they had managed to put this behind them, but in truth he knew Remus would never quite forgive him what he had done. It didn’t matter that he hadn’t actually meant for Severus to get hurt – he had just wanted to scare the slimy git stupid – but if anything had happened to him, Remus would have had to live with the guilt as much as Sirius. As far as Remus was concerned, Sirius had been willing to use him to get back at Snape and that was something he couldn’t forget.
A quiet cough from Severus made Sirius realise he was still holding the other boy by the robes, and with a sound of disgust he shoved him away.
“Maybe I was wrong to do that. But it doesn’t make you any better.”
“Is that so?” Severus sneered, straightening himself out.
“Yes it is,” Sirius snapped. “What you and your Death Eater pals have done to some of the muggle borns in this school is just evil. Or are you going to try and tell me you’ve not had anything to do with that?”
The silence that fell across the room seemed to quiver, like a rubber band stretched to its limit. A shadow passed over Severus’ face, and his expression closed off. For several seconds he stood, meeting Sirius’ challenging gaze, then asked quietly, “Would it matter if I did?”
Sirius raised an eyebrow. “No.”
“Well then. Let’s just wait for them to get back and carry on with the stupid book.”
Without another word Severus turned away and settled himself back in his corner. After exchanging a brief glance with Remus, Sirius did the same.
A sullen mood was draped over the room when James and Lily finally returned. Severus took one look at their joined hands and looked angrily away, wondering why he had bothered to stay.
As the pair returned to their seats, Remus made the choice to continue before anyone else said anything to cause the tension to boil over. For once he wasn’t interrupted as he narrated Harry and Ron’s walk down to Hagrid, and the greeting the boys received from the gamekeeper and his boar hound. In fact everyone remained uncharacteristically quiet until Hagrid mentioned chasing the Weasley twins away from the Forbidden Forest.
“That sounds familiar…” Lily murmured quietly, glancing at James and Sirius. Faint smiles flitted over the boys’ faces, but they were obviously only half-hearted.
The tension deepened briefly when Harry turned the subject to Snape and why he seemed to hate him. Despite Hagrid’s evasion, they knew the truth would have to come out sooner or later. James couldn’t help thinking about how disappointed Harry would inevitably be when he found out.
“He works with dragons?” Sirius said when Hagrid changed the subject to Ron’s brother Charlie. “Awesome…”
“Yeah, if you like getting burned,” James pointed out.
They were all distracted from their bad moods when Harry found the clipping about a Gringotts’ break in. Even Severus stirred in his corner and looked around. It was rare that anyone was stupid enough to try robbing the goblin bank – it was unheard of for anyone to succeed. If you could call it successful when the vault targeted had already been emptied.
“Well, Harry’s obviously right about it being the package,” Sirius said. “And it’s got to be in the forbidden corridor, surely?”
“I’d imagine so,” Lily nodded. “The question is… who tried to steal it?”
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