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Chapter 5 : One Step Forward
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The sleigh ride passed by in stony silence, with Snape trying to come to terms with the fact that all the evidence pointed to the fact that this was his life, and he had somehow lost eighteen years of his memories and fifteen years of marriage. He tried to hide his resignation as he admitted as much to Alara when they readied for dinner. He promised her he wouldn't try any further to look for a way back to his old life.
She accepted his promise with a level of trust Snape had never experienced before. She promised to help him learn all the students and rebuild new memories. If they could make it through the week, they could get to their holiday home in Hogsmeade, break the news of his condition to the children, and start to re-build.
His after-dinner events passed by in a haze of emotions and experiences. Rather than work on re-learning more names of students, Alara had determined to cement his commitment to stay in her present. She was so subtle in her seduction of him that he didn't even realize her intentions until well after he could resist her advances. Fifteen years of marriage had taught her precisely how to manipulate him, impassion him, and please him. What fifteen years of marriage and two children had not done was take any kind of toll on her body. It was supple, yet firm and beautiful and she knew precisely how to use it to both take what she needed from him and provide him with delights beyond his wildest imagination.
Now Snape lay in bed, his mind reeling as Alara slid a leg over his and draped her arm across his abdomen in sleepy contentment. He hugged her against his chest tightly for a moment and kissed the top of her head, then relaxed his grip. Even in the late hour her perfume still lingered around her, inviting him to awaken her and begin their passions over again. She was intoxicating. She was perfect. And she was completely his. Not even Snape, with no experience in love previous to this, could deny that simple fact.
He reached over to the bedside table for his wand and used it to pull up the blankets around them to ward off the increasing chill from the dying fire. She responded to the disturbance by lifting up her head slightly and kissing his chest before settling back down into the nook of his shoulder and sighing as she drifted deeper into slumber. She had been correct when they argued earlier, love had not weakened her, it had strengthened her to weather the storm they were currently in. Snape's hatred of love seemed very far away in the lateness of the hour and the warmth of their bed.
Still, his devotion to Lily nagged at him, he loved her no less. When Alara's breathing slowed and Snape knew she was completely asleep, he once again slipped silently from their bed and grabbed his wand. Calling his clothes to him he stepped out of the bedroom and into the front room where he quickly dressed.
Leaving their apartment, he stepped into the cold hallway and walked through the corridors not sure where he was walking or what he was doing. His body wasn't his own, his desires weren't his own. And yet, they were real. Alara may have seduced him, but she certainly hadn't forced herself on him. Yet Snape felt he had betrayed Lily in some way. He pulled out his wand as he kept walking. "Expecto Patronum...." A silver doe immediately sprang from his wand and walked with him along the castle corridor. He was conflicted to see that his patronus remained a doe. "Lily..." he whispered his love for her washing over him like a flood. It was peaceful. It was true. It was singularly devoted. It was how love was supposed to be. It was what Alara deserved. Not to be trapped by a bitter man who's Patronus would always remind him of someone else. The doe nuzzled his hand, as it often did. It was as close as he could ever come to touching her again.
"Lily," he repeated, his heart breaking anew.
"Severus?" A voice came from the doe and Snape stared at it in disbelief.
"Severus?" The doe said again.
"Lily, that can't be you..."
"Severus?" The doe repeated again, this time in Alara's voice. "Come on, wake up...."
Snape shot up in his bed panting, great beads of sweat on his forehead.
"Easy!" Alara took a step back. "It's just me." Alara's face was young again, all touches of grey were gone and her bright blue eyes looked at him with concern instead of love. "You all right?"
He looked down at his left hand; there was no wedding ring on his finger. He looked around; he was in his bedroom at Spinner's End.
"Sorry to intrude..." she said softly. "But it sounded like you were having a horrible nightmare. You kept shouting Lily's name. Are you all right?"
"Uhm... yes....." he whispered, breathing a sigh of both relief and embarrassment as he readjusted to reality and realized that Alara had caught him at a vulnerable moment. "It happens."
Her voice was kind as she stepped back, grabbing his robe from the floor where he had kicked it during his dream. "As the Irish would say, you were hagridden."
"What does Hagrid have to do with my dream?" Snape reached for his wand and lit the bedroom lamps. He looked at his window. While it was morning, the day looked cold and rainy.
"Not Hagrid, hagridden," she corrected him. "It was in the notes from your trip. Hag folklore says when a nightmare like that happens the Old Hag has come and sat on your chest sending you nightmares." She held his robe out to him. "Although I still want to know about those runes meant."
"I'm sure it's in one of my syllabaries down stairs," Snape grumbled. After living in a tent with her while on the run from Bobbie Pimentel he didn't mind being seen in his pajamas, but his embarrassment over being caught in a dream like the one he'd just had was growing.
Alara ignored his ill humor. "It beats being eaten by one as a child I suppose." She walked back to the door to leave. "And speaking of eating, Maggie is up and about, thanks to your help with that potion. She has decided to repay your kindness of putting us up by cooking you a feast of a breakfast. So get dressed?" She stopped at the doorway. "Unlike me, she really is quite the cook."
"I suppose she's reorganized my entire kitchen while she's been at it," he groused as Alara closed his bedroom door. He was pleased she didn't dwell on the dream. He didn't want Alara to see it, but his dream was embarrassing. It showed a distinct lack of emotional control to get so caught up in one. Snape sniffed the air: the aroma of sizzling sausages greeted his nose and his stomach rumbled his agreement with Maggie's present, even if his head did not.
His stomach was not disappointed. Maggie had not just cooked up sausages, but farm fresh eggs, hot toast and steaming fresh tea. She asked if she could start cleaning on the upper level to further repay her thanks for a warm house. Snape reluctantly agreed and she trotted off to attend to her chores, reminding him that he was not to bother with the dishes, she would happily do them.
Alara sat down opposite him laughing. "She's been bored this summer with me in the States and her stuck at my old apartment in London. Thank you for allowing her something to do."
"House-elves work," Snape replied flatly. "It's what they were born to do."
"Still, I thank you: if not on her behalf, then certainly on mine." She folded her hands and rested her chin on them. "There's a kind streak in you Severus. I don't think I've ever knew that until these last two days."
"Yes, I was thinking of strolling down Diagon Alley whistling a happy little tune this morning. I thought I'd stop for ice cream at Fortescue's," he said sarcastically. "What are you plans?"
"Checking you in to St. Mungo's just as soon as I see that," Alara poured herself a cup of tea as she grinned.
A loud crash from above interrupted them.
"Maggie!" Snape growled. They both bolted from the kitchen table, Snape reaching the stairs before Alara. He dashed up them, barely missing Maggie, who was tumbling down. Behind her, on the landing was a broken closet door, with several old, musty boxes strewn all over the floor. An old Wizard-in-the-box lay haphazardly on the floor, its little toy wand sending up pathetic little puffs of smoke because it was too old and broken down to send up proper sparks.
Predictably, Maggie was in a panic. "Professor Snape! Professor Snape! Maggie is so sorry!" She tried to climb back up the stairs, but was prevented by a late falling box. "Maggie was simply looking for...."
Snape looked murderous as he cut her off. "You little...."
"Severus!" Alara cut him off sharply; then calmed her voice down. "It's all right, we'll clean it up." She pointed at the closet, still brimming to the door jam with old and forgotten boxes from his past. "That closet is just too full, we all have one of those." Maggie climbed back up the stairs and stood terrified behind Alara. Alara stepped over a box carefully, and she lowered her voice. "It was an accident. Why don't we go back downstairs and finish breakfast? Now that Maggie knows the closet is too full, I'm sure she can put an extension charm on it."
Maggie peaked her head meekly around Alara's legs.
Snape looked down at Maggie, who was covered in cob webs and dust. Still embarrassed from being caught in his dream, shame filled him for how he'd let the old house go, and the old Wizard-in the-box put him over the top. At once he was the small boy wounded by his parents arguing and a gangly teenager bullied by James Potter and his humiliation needed a place to vent. He looked back up to Alara, seeing the eyes that loved him in his dream. He forced his anger down. "Hrmmmm." He walked back down to their breakfast.
At the bottom of the stairs Snape's breath caught in his throat. There, in a small broken down box lay a thin gold bracelet with alternating blue and green gems. The gems were as dirty as the box; any shimmer they may have held in their former days when the bracelet belonged to his Grandmother Prince was long gone. He stooped down to pick the bracelet up and continued to the kitchen.
Alara was close behind him. "What have you got there?"
"Nothing." Snape muttered as he threw it on the kitchen table and sat back down to his breakfast.
Alara picked the old bracelet up and examined it. "Severus, this is beautiful! Was this your mother's?"
"Grandmother's. On my mother's side." He had no wish to even think of his father's side. His mother: cold, severe, neglectful and abused by his Muggle father, was no charmer either, even though she was his link to his magical world. His grandmother, what little he could remember of her however, was warm and insightful. It always amazed him that his cold-blooded mother could come from such a warm-hearted soul. It was she who provided Snape with his earliest good memories of magic, unlike his mother who seemed to shy away from it, especially when it could provoke his father's temper. "She died when I was five, but what few memories I have of her are fond ones."
"Was she a Slytherin like you?"
Snape shook his head. "I never asked. While she lived I was too young to understand House structure, and my father never permitted the conversation to discuss it.
Alara smiled kindly. "I'm glad you have good memories of her. Those can carry us through the rough times."
"So, what are your plans for the day?" Snape changed the subject, not wanting to broach his original desires to present the bracelet to Lily as a gift. Lily was gone. She was gone even before she died and it was high time he accepted that.
"Speaking of memories..." Alara avoided his gaze.
"What? Snape took another bite of the eggs Maggie had cooked up for them. They were delicious. For whatever skills Maggie lacked in the 'keep calm under stress' areas, she clearly made up for in the regular duties of a House-elf.
Alara sighed, unsure of how to broach the subject. "Today is Marcus' birthday. Last year I visited his grave, I had hoped to go again today. I just need to talk to him."
Snape took a sip of tea. "Talk to him?" As far as he knew Marcus wasn't a ghost, he had no clue how to talk to the dead otherwise. Séances were for ignorant Muggles, and Alara was neither.
"Haven't you ever visited Lily's grave and talked to her? Told her that you missed her? Asked for her blessing to move forward in something?"
Snape put his tea down. "Why would I do that?" He asked in spite of knowing exactly why he'd never been to see her. He couldn't bear it. He buttered his toast so hard that he ripped it in half.
Alara stared at the toast, then looked back at him with kind eyes. “'Give sorrow words,' Severus. 'The grief that does not speak knits up the over wrought heart and bids it break.'” (Macbeth, Act 4 Scene 3)
"I know Shakespeare, Alara." He said trying to keep the irritation out of his voice.
“And yet you ignore his advice? I know the cemetery where she’s buried; my grandparents on my father’s side are there as well.” She stood and moved over to him, holding out her hand. "We're not due back to Hogwarts until this evening, let's go change that."
An hour later the laughter of Muggle children playing assaulted Snape's ears as they walked through the streets of Godric's Hollow. The sun shone brightly through the trees, still a vibrant green in defiance of the coming autumn. He knew the war memorial in the center of town celebrated Lily, but it also celebrated the bully James Potter as a war hero and so they avoided it. They stopped at the entrance of the small cemetery and he reached for the gate, but then he hesitated. The children were too wrapped up in their games to notice them, hurrying past the place of death. In the bustling village they were alone.
“You've never been to see her in all this time?” Alara asked, her voice un-accusing.
Snape shook his head, a lump forming in his throat. “I couldn't. Not without jeopardizing my mission. Dumbledore knew that the Dark Lord would return, and we agreed that when he did he would trust me more if he believed I had forgotten about... 'the Mudblood' as he called her…" Snape's voice cracked, choking on the words as they came out of his mouth.
Alara winced at the slur.
“When he finally fell, I was hospitalized, then sent to Azkaban until my trial, then...” Snape struggled for a moment, carefully holding his face still until he could speak again. “...After all this time I don't know what to say,” he finally managed. “I don't know how to explain myself to her.” In all his battles against the Dark Lord, he never felt more vulnerable.
Alara touched a gentle hand against his sleeve. “It's not a matter of what you're going to say. Lily already knows the man you've become and what you did on her behalf. It's a matter of letting her talk to you.”
Her touch strengthened him and he swallowed hard as he faced the cemetery. He took a few steps forward, then looked back at Alara. She smiled kindly at him from the gate, not following him in. "Well?"
Alara shook her head negative again. "Private conversation. You don't need me with you." Her face was warm and supportive.
Snape scowled: "She's not a ghost, Alara. This isn't going to be a conversation." He wished she were a ghost, because then he could talk to her. He wished he could talk to her so very badly.
"Not as you and I think of a conversation, no. But it will still be a conversation if you have the ears to listen. Shakespeare knew that, I think." Alara stepped to him, took hold of his arm gently again. "Take whatever time you need, I'll have some tea waiting for you in the pub." She squeezed his arm giving him strength and turned toward the high end of the street.
Snape turned and faced the graveyard, his breath shallow in his chest as he walked. After checking to see that no one was watching, he pulled out his wand and conjured a single red rose. Everything seemed suddenly very surreal as he found her grave, then knelt down by the white rectangular slab of stone standing ignorant of the importance of the woman that lay beneath its markings. He ignored the left side of the tombstone and focused on the words he dreaded seeing. Lily Potter.... Died 31 October 1981. It had been eighteen years since the words had been carved in the stone. Eighteen years since the absolute love of his life had been ripped from him forever. In Loving Memory the stone read. The stone had no idea how much Snape cherished his memories of her. It had no idea how much his heart ached for her presence, for the sound of her voice and the sight of her green eyes. He placed the rose under her name and reached his finger up to trace the letters etched in the granite, the emotions welling up in his chest and throat until he could barely breathe. For a brief moment he was alone in the universe, alone with the woman he adored, buried deep beneath. "The whole world knows now that I loved you," Snape finally whispered to her. "But they don't understand. They don't understand how much I love you still, how I will love you always. How I miss you." He waited, knowing there could be no answer.
"I'm so sorry," he continued, his voice cracking. "I'm sorry I joined the Death Eaters, I'm sorry I lost you, I'm sorry I overheard the prophecy, I'm sorry I took that prophecy to the Dark Lord, I'm sorry I couldn't protect you. And I'm so, so sorry I was never brave enough to come and see you before now."
Behind Snape a sudden breeze blew through the cemetery and he turned, half expecting to see her apparition. But nothing was there, he knelt alone in the small graveyard. He closed his eyes and listened closely: nothing. He stopped caring who saw him. He stopped caring who knew about his show of emotions as he turned back to the monument and re-traced her first name with his fingers again. As he touched the granite, more than twenty years of control drained from Snape until he was empty inside and the tears ran unashamedly down his cheeks as he leaned his head on her gravestone. “I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me.”
His answer came not from the wind in the trees, or from his ears, but down inside his heart where Lily still lived. Her voice was soft, and sweet, and everything he remembered that was good about her.
"Live, Sev. Live."
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