Dozens of miles away and almost an entire summer later, Lily Evans found herself thumbing through a stack of letters on her desk at home. She counted them again, as if knowing the number would somehow help her. “Thirty-seven,” she spoke aloud to no one in particular. Lily sighed. These letters, of course, all came from one person. Severus Snape. Lily hadn’t seen Severus all summer. She had all but ignored him when he tried to say goodbye at school and again as they exited the Hogwarts Express at Kings Cross Station. After years of close friendship and an entire summer away from one another, the first since they were nine, she couldn’t stop reliving moments from the previous school year.
Far from being the quiet, picked-on schoolboy he had always been before, Severus had changed. He had always taken a certain interest in the darker materials in the restricted section at Hogwarts, but when she saw him leaving those stacks last September, it was the first time he wasn’t alone. He was with two Slytherin house-mates, Avery and Mulciber, both of whom had a well-known interest in dark magic and similarly well-known views on the importance of blood purity. Worse, from the bizarre wand movements he was surreptitiously showing them, he appeared to be teaching them spells of some kind. Hexes, she thought sadly.
Lily had always tried to stand up for her best friend when he had been picked on, pranked, or hexed by James Potter and his gang of prats in years past, but last year, Severus always seemed dismissive of it. He insisted on fighting his own fights. As much as she hated to admit it, as the year went on, he started to instigate fights with Potter on his own. Though they never seemed to come off, it was clear to Lily that Severus was trying to best Potter with a different kind of magic than most students at Hogwarts were familiar with.
It had all come to a head toward the end of May. Potter, encouraged by his chief accomplice, Sirius Black and ignored, much to Lily’s chagrin, by their only shared friend, Remus Lupin, had hexed Severus again. This time it was with one of the strange spells that Severus had tried to use against Potter before. She had been able to put a stop to it at first. Potter even had the gall to use her care for Severus to try and get a date out of her. She had shot him down immediately, but at least Potter had let Severus down. But rather than thank her, even later, privately, Severus had said it. He had called her that name. She shuddered reliving it. Severus, her best friend since age nine, had called her a mudblood. Lily had been furious. She had told them both off before storming away.
The thirty-seven letters she now held in her hands were thirty-seven separate attempts over the nearly two months they had been out of school to apologize. The letters were lengthy. Pleading. Increasingly desperate. And of course, living so close to one another, Severus had tried to apologize in person. She had tried to internalize his words. She had tried to find a way to accept them. But the more Lily thought about them, the further she moved away from forgiveness. After all they had shared together, Severus simply missed the point every single time. While the name had stung, cut even, coming from him, the problem was bigger than that. Severus had changed. He was no longer the resilient victim, he was no longer the boy she had met so long ago, with a pure love for all of magic. He was bitter. He was aggressive. He was being slowly consumed by darkness. The slur? A cruel, hateful word. But the problem was what it meant about who Severus had become. As she counted the letters a final time, Lily realized that the person he had become was a person she simply couldn’t reconcile with.
With a quill in her hand, and parchment on the table, she began to write:
15 July 1976
I know you stopped by many times this summer to try and see me. I know Petunia sent you away. I got your thirty-seven letters, trying to apologize for what happened in May.
This summer without you has been painful. There have been so many times that I have wanted to write you or find you. But something has always stopped me. No matter how bad Petunia has gotten or how lonely I’ve been, I keep running into a wall. Your letters have all told me how much you value me as a friend and as a witch. I’ve read as you’ve poured your heart into those pages, apologizing for the pain you caused me when you called me that terrible name.
Still, the pain that moment caused me is nothing compared the pain associated with what I realized before starting this letter. We have been friends since we were nine. I know your life at home in Spinner’s End has been a hard one and I know that while Hogwarts has magic, your life there is not much better. As your friend, I always tried to help you. I always tried to make it better.
But you’ve changed. You didn’t turn to me for support after a hexing. You turned to the books in the restricted section. You didn’t turn to me for comfort when your spirits fell. You turned to plans for revenge on Potter and Black and anybody else who hurt you. You didn’t turn to friendship in your worst moment. You turned to hate.
You see, before I started writing this letter, I realized that it was never the slur that was stopping me. It was what it meant about you. I am afraid for you Severus. I am afraid of how the magic you keep chasing is changing you. I am afraid of the effect of the company you keep. I am afraid that if our friendship wasn’t strong enough to keep you from turning to hate, then you are being consumed by darkness, from inside and out.
When you turned that hatred on me in May, I didn’t want to see it. But I can’t ignore it anymore. I can’t justify our friendship anymore when any common values we ever had are so withered away.
Please don’t try to change my mind. You’d only be wasting your time.
When she finished writing, Lily set down her quill and cried. Before she could stop them, several had managed to splash the page. Finally, as her sobs subsided Lily glanced at the clock on her wall. It was 4:30 in the afternoon. In the corner of her room, Lily saw her owl, Frederick, looking early toward her, his eyes begging to be released from his cage to deliver the news. As she folded the letter and tucked it inside a fresh envelope, she turned back to the owl with a sad smile upon her face. “I’m sorry Frederick. This is a letter I need to deliver myself.”
A/N: Decided to switch POVs here. This is something you should come to expect in future chapters and even within chapters going forward. I think it’s crucial to see inside both James and Lily’s heads. You can also expect both omniscient narration and third-party POVs in the future.