Notes: Written for you Caroline, finally a Harry Potter fic. Please do not regard it too harshly. This one surprised me, even though I knew the general idea of what I planned to write little twists appeared. To all other readers, welcome to my first foray into the Harry Potter fandom. It's quite the departure from my usual. True to the books, Severus Snape's mind is a very difficult place to get into, but it was a fun challenge and I hope I did him and the setting proper justice.
The silence in the Great Hall far from absolute, to the contrary the air itself seemed to hum with excitement. Though every new student's sorting was cause for anticipation, this year there was one specific student who stood out above all others. This was the year that the Boy who Lived, Harry Potter, entered Hogwarts and in mere moments he would be assigned to a House. It was no secret that each of the professors had their own ideas about where he would be sorted and why, each favoring their own House for reasons they thought obvious. Now was the moment of truth, all the talking and theorizing would come to an end and the decision would be made.
Each of the students and all of the professors were leaning forward, eager for the moment of revelation and Professor Severus Snape was no exception. He sat, his usually sallow complexion positively waxy as sweat poured from his brow, leaving his lank hair clinging in clumps. Lost in their own excitement, none of the other professors noticed his state, and even if they had it hardly would have stood out as anything exceptional when they all believed themselves to be feeling the same way.
Little did they know his reasons were unique and far removed from the events unfolding in the hall, but intimately, uncomfortably, close.
It had all taken place so many years ago, when he was still halfheartedly playing at being a Death Eater and hating himself the whole time. An owl had arrived, the letter it carried unsigned, but who it was from was obvious, the neat and curving script tearing at him with all the power of the crutiatus curse. He could have ignored it, should have, or reported it directly to Lord Voldemort, but he hadn't. It had eaten at him for two weeks, the timeframe set by the letter. A date, a time and a place. That and a plea for help.
At any point he could have made a choice, but he didn't. Instead he waited until the last possible moment, marveling at how angry he was. Except it wasn't the sort of anger he was used to, it was righteous indignation that such a request would be made after so long, after what he had said and done, but there was more to it. Why had the letter's sender been reduced to reaching out to him when they had so many other friends?
One the last day at the very last hour he made his decision.
The location was a safe one, from childhood memories and known only to himself and the letter's sender.
She was waiting for him when he got there, Lilly Evans, except she was Lilly Potter now and that changed everything.
Part of what she wanted to do was apologize, to make amends with him, even though he had been the one in the wrong, the one who had ended their friendship, as fragile as it had been.
He refused her apology on those grounds, because she had nothing to apologize for. That, he had hoped, would be the end of it, but it wasn't. There was something else she wanted from him, help with a potion, one that she believed only he could brew. Flattery wasn't something that normally worked on him, but coming from her it was different, she wasn't shallow, manipulative, looking for her own gain, so he listened. It was the beginning of the end for him, not that he knew it at the time, the start of what would bring him back to the right side of things. She and so many of her friends, his former antagonists, were members of the Order of the Phoenix, an organization to counter Lord Voldemort and his Death Eaters. Everything she was telling him would have made him a hero if he reported it back to Lord Voldemort, but he was already beginning to bristle at calling Voldemort 'master'. It had been one thing to fall into the pureblood rhetoric, to pretend to be a part of something, but the contradiction was eating at him. It wounded his sense of pride and he feared it was only a matter of time before he acted on that frustration, telling Lestrange and the others exactly what he thought of their fawning, pretentious devotions to what amounted to their own sense of superiority. Even then Severus had known he was arrogant, but one of the things that he prided himself in was that he wasn't a hypocrite.
Except he was, wasn't he?
So he listened to Lilly as she explained that his old foe, Remus Lupin was infiltrating the werewolf underground, actively working to undermine Greyback's influence, and needed help. There was a potion that she'd read of, something new and possibly dangerous, that would allow a werewolf to remain in control of their mind on the night of the full moon and she felt that it would be vital to Remus' survival, that it might prevent him from doing something he'd never forgive himself for.
Her faith in his brewing skills and the promise of seeing her again when the potion was done brewing was enough to make Severus to agree to something he'd never forgive himself for and set in motion a sequence of events all the more unforgivable.
Instead of giving the information to Lord Voldemort and instantly becoming the Dark Lord's most favored servant he went about his brewing in secrecy, exchanging clandestine owls with Lilly and, if he were to be honest with himself, feeling better about who he was since he'd been a child. Voldemort wasn't his master, notions of blood purity meant nothing to him, he wasn't about to throw his lot in with Dumbledore and his poisonous idealists, Severus was simply working for himself and his own interests. There was no point in trying pretend otherwise and deceive himself into thinking that he was a better person for the self-deception. Let others fall over themselves like House Elves, trying to prove that they were the most loyal, the most righteous, the most deserving of whatever it was they felt they deserved, he would simply do what he wanted to because he wanted to. That was what he told himself and by that ponit in his life he was a master of self-deception.
When they met again Lilly thanked him, begged him to join the Order and he refused, proudly explaining his reasons, that he despised both sides equally, but saw no reason to leave the side that would win. The Order had its rules, laws that it at least paid lip service to, and Voldemort was bound by no such frivolities.
Yet he was still helping her, something that she should have thrown back in his face, but didn't.
There would be another meeting the next month, another delivery of the potion.
And when the time came she thanked him with tears in her eyes.
Another step towards the inevitable end.
The messages they exchanged grew longer, more frequent and he, in his own circumvent way, grew open about his disdain for both sides of the war. Lilly on the other hand told him of her constant fear, the way she worried about her friends while she stayed safe at home, pretending to brew Remus' potion and genuinely brewing countless other, more minor, concoctions under his guidance.
If their letters were ever intercepted it would have been the end, but somehow that never happened. Luck, for the time, was with them.
Neither of them believed that luck would ever run out so they continued to make their foolish mistakes. Foolishness building on itself higher and deeper until in culminated in the ultimate foolishness.
It had been a slow build though, months and months of stress and only being truthful with each other. Remus, she explained, would never accept the potion if he knew the truth of who was brewing it and Sirius would put a stop to their meetings if he ever found out. She didn't elaborate, but Severus knew what she meant. Black had always taken things a bit farther than the others, not enjoying being a bully, but going along with his friends, pushing that much harder out of a twisted sense of loyalty. Black would kill him because they were at war.
So he and Lilly were united in deception and loneliness.
There were times when it seemed that they were the only ones that understood each other and one night, when Lilly's friends were out being heroes for the Order, leaving her alone to fret over what might become of them, she'd invited him to come home with her.
Because she was too afraid to spend the night alone.
It was during what everyone assumed was the turning point of the war, when it seemed that the Order would only hold out so much longer before Voldemort would crush them.
Against his better judgement Severus had agreed.
In her house they stayed up late into the night as she poured all her concerns out onto him, her fear for her friends, her own life and how horrible she felt for making him risk his life to help her, that there was no way she could thank him enough. He agreed, and then made things even by stoically sharing his own concerns with her. Drink may have been involved to get him to that point, some details of the night were fuzzy to him. He knew he could have pulled it back in perfect clarity, but he never had. Knowing wouldn't change anything, wouldn't make any of it better.
Their respective guards worn down thusly and filled with a sense that they were the only two people in the whole world that truly understood each other they did what finally, after all the years, killed their friendship dead. Words were said, actions were taken that had left the two of them mortified once done.
She asked him to leave and he did, respectfully. He made no attempts at justification, of his own actions or hers.
They remained in touch, cool and formal in their writings back and forth. She would ask for assistance with particularly difficult or complicated potion brewing, he would give it. The monthly wolf's bane potion deliveries continued.
He learned that she was pregnant by way of her questions about which potions might release potentially harmful vapors. It was all very subtle, though there was an underlying element of fear, for both of them.
A few specific potions were discussed, the questions framed purely academically and he gave appropriately clinical responses. No emotional investment in the inquiries, nor his responses because under it all was fear. Fear and shame because of the unspeakable way in which their mutual deception might be discovered.
There was eventually a letter where emotion finally showed through, the beautifully written announcement of the birth of her son, Harry James Potter. The emotion was relief.
There was a photo included, making him certain that it was the same letter that she'd sent to all of her friends and acquaintances. The placement of her signature said as much, enough space left so that James could sign his name next to hers. It was blank on his, so at least in that his copy would be different from all the others.
He spent hours agonizing over the photo, like some diviner sitting over a bowl, searching for some inscrutable omen. He never figured out what he was looking for in that picture of the happy family, never found it. He burned the picture, but kept the letter. All her friends had surely received the same announcement, marking him as a friend, but the version he'd been sent was from her alone to him alone. An unspoken apology where none was needed.
A response was necessary. The message took him hours to compose and he'd thrown out countless drafts. Yards and yards of parchment were crumpled and thrown away when the ink smudged or the writing failed to convey the proper sentiments. Finally, after a sleepless night he managed.
'Congratulations' was all it said.
After that it was back to the usual detached correspondence, questions, dates, ingredients and suggestions.
And then the letters stopped.
She'd gone into hiding. He knew that much because it was his fault. He'd been the one to tell the Dark Lord about the prophecy and Voldemort had decided that the one it spoke of was none other than Harry Potter. In a fit of madness Severus had begged the Dark Lord to at least spare Lilly, a reward for bringing the information. Full of his own assured immortality, arrogant beyond all measure, Voldemort refused, stating that he chose how to reward his servants and that they were to be grateful for it in whatever form it took.
A reminder for Severus to be mindful of his place, which he was from that point forward, more so than Voldemort understood.
Doing what he should have years ago, he went to Dumbledore and swore loyalty to the one cause that mattered; Lilly's safety.
They were no longer friends, but if she survived there would be a chance for him to apologize, not just for that night, but for everything. Her forgiveness was all that mattered to him. It wouldn't set things right by any measure, but it was what needed to be done.
She knew that the warning, though given by Dumbledore, had come from him, it was clear in the carefully worded message that Dumbledore sent to him, vague enough that if it was intercepted nothing would come of it, but pointed in such a manner that it was obvious that Lilly had relayed her secret thanks.
In the years that followed he would wonder if that had been a lie on Dumbledore's part. The man was ruthless in his own way and it was something that Severus could admire, manipulating people to do good and act in the best intentions of themselves and others even when they had no thought of doing so.
When that horrible night came, when the world rejoiced and he went into quiet, secret mourning. Everyone called him the Boy Who Lived, speaking the title in the same awed tones the Death Eaters had used when talking about Voldemort but they were wrong. Harry Potter was the Boy Who Killed. His greatest accomplishment was killing Voldemort, framed by the death of his family around him. That was what Severus thought of him as and when he accepted the duty from Dumbledore to keep him safe at Hogwarts when he enrolled, a duty which he was about to have to fulfill, he had assumed what it meant was obvious. It would be the task to serve as a mentor to the boy, guide him through his years as a Slytherin and protect him from the truth, readying him so that when it would be revealed he wouldn't fulfill it by truly becoming the Dark Lord's equal.
He would tell Harry about what a brave and wonderful woman his mother was, find it in himself to say something, anything nice about James, though he would temper it with warnings about letting popularity go to one's head and how easy it was to be casually malicious. In time he might find it necessary to say nice things about some of her friends, for the boy was sure to ask about them, which wouldn't be too hard. Many of them were dead after all and it was easy to make heroes out of the deceased, forgive the myriad of flaws that they had possessed in life.
The silence as the all the students and professors waited for the boy to be sorted was deafening and when the Hat finally shouted its decision the room exploded into applause.
It had said 'Gryffindor'.
In that moment hope that he hadn't even been aware of was dashed. Of course there was no chance to make amends, Lilly was years dead and thinking he could fix things through her son had been a foolish fantasy, nothing more. Still, he'd given his word to Dumbledore to protect the boy, keep him safe, because both he and the Headmaster were sure of one thing, that Voldemort couldn't have died so easily, and even if he was dead, there were those who would seek vengeance in his name, go after Harry in some misguided show of loyalty to a dead cause.
It would be a far more difficult task he'd imagined and the boy was sure to hate him, but it would be necessary. Showing favor to a student from his own House would have been frowned upon, but dismissed as expected. All of them did it in countless little ways, but to show favor to one from another House, a Gryffindor of all things, would raise suspicions.
So while the rest of Hogwarts celebrated Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived, joining its ranks, Severus sat in silent mourning, both for Lilly's death and the death of the pathetic little fantasy he'd built up around the boy. It had been foolish to think that through her son he could make up for his involvement in Lilly's death. What he'd done and hadn't done were both unforgivable and after fretting over it for so long he was ready to let go, not to forgive himself, but to stop pretending that things could be made right.
Tonight, when he returned to his chambers, he would burn the letter as he had the photograph that had accompanied it. Then he would turn his attention from the past to the present, dealing with a boy who didn't know or understand the sacrifices that had been made for his sake, and as per Dumbledore's orders, never would.
The boy would hate him, but no more so than he already hated himself.