Disclaimer: All recognizable characters, concepts, riches and fame belong to JKR and Co.
Icy rain hit her in the face, but Lily was thankful, because it gave her something to think about other than what had just happened. Reflex made her duck her head anyway, except that made the rain spatter onto her scalp. She groped for the collar of her jacket, trying to pull it up over her head and at the same time keep propelling herself forward, because if Sev—if Snape—came after her she didn't know what she'd do—scream and hex him silly maybe, or cry, and she didn't want to do either, even if it was to bloody Severus bloody Snape—
"Oof!" She heard the grunt at the same moment she realized she'd just barreled into someone.
"Sorry," she gasped, trying to shove past, but she found her upper arm seized. For a wild moment she wondered if it was Sev—Snape! Goddammit! The bloody boy hadn't even apologized for calling her a Mudblood or looking to be a Death Eater, and she couldn't—
"Where you goin', luv?" slurred a beery breath in her face.
Oh, for the love of Merlin. And now she was being accosted by a group of drunks. How would the restriction for underage wizardry prosecute if she explained she'd hexed the balls off several drunk Muggles only because they'd tried to grope her on the street?
"I'm going away, thank you," she snapped, pulling on her arm. The drunk just grinned and teetered toward her, which made his friends giggle like drunken perverts.
Lily kneed him in the fork, and he went down. She started to push past him, but one of his friends grabbed her from behind.
"Let go!" she shouted, trying to elbow him in the stomach.
"Oh, no," his voice sloshed in his ear, "I'mma get me some nice cherry—"
There was a kind of crunch, and his arms dropped away, his body slumping to the pavement with a sound like a bag of wet cement dropping. Lily whirled around—
Of course, it was Severus—with, of all things, a crowbar in one hand. It extended from his fist, black and menacing, the lights from the storefronts around them shimmering in the rain drops that sluiced off the metal. His face was stark white, and his eyes glittered in a way that made some of her more important organs, like her heart, vanish as if someone had wordlessly Summoned them away.
She heard erratic footsteps pattering away. Blinking, she looked around to find that it was just her and Sev and the two fallen drunks—and a bunch of spectators, who'd realized something interesting was happening and had slowed in the rain to whisper and point.
Severus stepped over the man he'd hit—with a crowbar—and stopped in front of the one she'd taken down. He was groaning, trying to push himself up. Severus hooked the crowbar's claw under his chin and tipped his face up. The man was cross-eyed. Lily had an odd urge to laugh and then throw up. Or maybe throw up and then laugh.
"What do you think your punishment should be?" Severus asked him, his voice low and menacing and silky soft, even more so than it had been in the diner, before she had run. She had never known Severus possessed that voice. When she'd known him in school, he'd still been trying to squash the Northern burr out of his voice, but this was slick and perfect and terrifying. "You don't think you've earned enough, do you?"
"Sev—" She grabbed his arm and tugged, even as a part of her screamed, What are you doing, why are you touching him— "Sev, there's Muggles all round us—we can't get picked up by the cops, we'll get—expelled—"
Severus wouldn't look away from the man on the ground. "I haven't used magic. This is a legitimate Muggle defensive-style weapon."
"For thugs!" A man was starting across the street toward them. "Oh God—" She scrambled inside her jacket for her wand, trying to hide what she was doing, but the man saw, and he shouted, "Any weapons you have, drop them! I mean it!" Lily checked desperately to see if he was a cop, but she didn't see a uniform—of course, he could be in plain clothes—
Severus turned as if he'd been charmed and dropped the crowbar with a metallic clatter. "Of course," he said, suddenly and utterly calm.
The man stared at him for a moment, and then he said, "All right then, just so that's clear. Run along now." Then, while Lily—and everyone else—stood in stupefaction, he turned to the crowds and said, "All of you, run along, nothing to see—just a little misunderstanding—"
Lily's feet understood that Severus was trying to make her walk and trotted her along beside him, past the crowds that parted with ominous (and confused) muttering. Lily didn't dare speak. She didn't dare look up at Severus, or pull away from him, even though her skin was crawling. He was just touching her elbow through her shearling jacket, but her skin felt like it was trying to writhe away from him. She kept hearing the crunch of the man's skull, the sound of that low, nasty, alluring voice—and now she was wondering if the glistening drops on the crowbar had been just rain—
They reached the end of the street and turned off it mechanically. Lily glanced over her shoulder, but Severus said in a cold, curt voice, "We're not being followed."
"You used a Confundus on that man," she stated.
"Of course I did."
"You hit that man in the head with the crowbar."
"Observant, aren't you." A part of Lily wanted to shrink, and another part wanted to slap him, and a third was confused. Severus had never spoken to her like that. He'd never had that creepy command over his voice, either—or looked like he'd done in the diner, like he was hanging onto sanity by a thread—
He must be a Death Eater already, and it must have changed him—
Lily was surprised by how much the realization made her want to weep. She'd thought she'd be able to stop it—that this time, she'd be able to change things, and then everything wouldn't go so horribly wrong—that somehow, if she could undo the damage from that day when he'd called her a Mudblood and she'd refused to forgive him, she'd be able to stop Voldemort from growing stronger and the Marauders splitting apart, and James dying, and Harry—
But I'm too late, I'm too late—they took him from me again, already, they've got him—
She had to get away. She had to—she couldn't be here with Severus, who'd already gone over to the Dark Lord, who'd already been taken, who'd let her best friend be erased, whom she'd never get back again. Somehow the failure was more bitter the second time.
She shoved Severus, only realizing when he staggered and knocked into a metal trashcan that he hadn't been holding her arm anymore—but she took off anyway. She sprinted, ignoring his shout, the frozen rain knifing into her face, the way her feet slithered on the slick pavement. She veered around a car passing up the street, leapt over a bench, and pounded through the play park, over the sodden grass, past the creaking, rusted metal of the swings that swung empty in the starless December night. If she tried, maybe she could forget who she was and what she was doing—could forget that she had watched her husband die, that she'd begged a monster for the life of her child, knowing it was no good, but unable to stop herself, certain to her very core that whatever he'd asked her to do in exchange for Harry's life, she'd have done it—she'd have died in a heartbeat—and she had . . . she had . . .
And what a strange kind of afterlife this was, waking up in her bedroom in her parents' tidy suburban home, realizing she was a teenager again, back before a time when she'd ever married James Potter and had a son and defied a Dark Lord and died—
Except that she had, and she knew it. It was everyone else who didn't have any idea.
The cold night air was burning in her lungs, scorching her mouth and throat as she panted. She was almost to her street; there were the stairs that led down from the play park to her road. Maybe she should pass them up, keep running, until she was so exhausted she forgot everything, even her own name . . .
. . . but even if she forgot Lily, would she forget Harry?
Her foot slipped on a patch of ice that had already frozen at the top of the stairs. With a pulse of annoyance she noticed she was falling. She grabbed for the handrail, but it was slippery with rain, and her hand slid right off. With surprise she realized she was about to fall headfirst down the stairs.
Well, that's a funny way to go twice in one day—
Someone grabbed her by the back of her coat and yanked, and she went staggering back into their arms. She smelled musty old mothballs and cooked cabbage, two scents that she'd always associated with Severus, that he'd always hated, because they pervaded his house and clung to him during hols no matter what he did.
Severus shoved her onto her feet and spun her around. She blinked up at him, wondering when he'd gotten so tall, because at the end of fifth year he'd still been just her height. She realized he was half-shouting at her:
" . . . think you're doing, running flat-out in the dark, with everything half fucking frozen! You could've broken your neck, you could've . . . "
She stood mutely, letting him rant at her. His accent was fluctuating in and out of his voice, particularly when he swore.
She let him run himself out. At least, that was the plan, but after a few minutes she wondered if that were possible—he seemed to be on a roll. Had he spent the last half a year building up steam? She tried to listen to his exact words, but as usual when Severus worked himself into a temper, he was virtually incoherent. All she could understand was that he apparently thought she was a reckless bloody Gryffindor and before she went and got herself killed, she ought to think for five seconds if there was a way she could do something so simple as not fucking die.
"Like walking down the stairs?" she interrupted.
Severus clamped off his voice like her words had shut off a valve. For a split second, his face was wild again, almost deranged. A thought echoed inside her mind, as if her head were a dark, empty cave:
What happened to Severus to make him like this?
She wanted to take his hand. She wanted to scream at him. She wanted to beg him to leave Voldemort, to come with her, to save Harry, to keep her from going mad, because her baby should be in her arms and he wasn't; a madman had come and murdered her husband and she'd seen green light and then here she was.
"I'm not suicidal," she said to Severus, wondering where that rational-sounding voice came from. Inside, she felt as mad as he'd looked twice tonight. Who had Severus lost?
"Well then." He was breathing fast. "Walking down the fucking stairs would be a good fucking start."
"I'll try that. Here." She turned and managed to avoid the icy patch as she began navigating down the concrete stairs. "Watch me and make sure I don't die."
She hadn't been serious. But when she looked up the flight of steps and saw Severus standing at the top, the cold, white-green streetlight turning his face into planes of light and shadow, she knew that he was as serious as death itself.
"As long as I live, I will keep you alive."
Lily blinked. He suddenly withdrew, pulling back into the shadows outside of the streetlamp's glow.
"Go home," he snapped. She pictured him drawing his coat around him, tucking himself inside, like a turtle into its shell. "Before you freeze to death. I can't control the fucking weather."
"Right," Lily said slowly. She walked down the street toward her house, aware of every press of her foot against the pavement, the sound of her breath over her lips, the crunch and hiss of bushes moving in the wind. At the foot of her sidewalk she stopped and glanced back the way she'd come, and sure enough, Severus stood at the bottom of the fateful staircase, watching her.
She went up to the side of the house, seized the ivy, and began the climb up to her bedroom window.
Severus stood for a long while after Lily had vanished into her own hedges, watching the spot where she'd stood. In part he stood there because Lily had simply walked off like it was normal—not like she was breaking with him forever, or vanishing somewhere he couldn't follow—just like they had spent the evening together, doing something dull and regular, and it was time for her to be home. How many bloody times had he stood at the foot of these stairs, watching her walk down to her house, pause at the foot of the drive—like she'd just done—and wave (like she hadn't)? Too many past counting. But each one had been precious. He couldn't remember them all, but he knew they were somewhere inside his memories, all the same.
He'd never gone down to her house much because her parents hadn't liked him. He didn't think they'd be thrilled to know their daughter had been running around town with him after—shit, what time was it, anyway?
The impulse to check his wrist for a watch because it enraged his mother when he was out late made him realize how very real this all felt. It wasn't just that his fingertips and nose felt frozen, or that he was still hungry, or the rough polyester material from his trousers rubbing a raw spot on the inside of his thighs; it was the psychological bits, too. He remembered how his mother had told him, when he was fourteen, that if he missed curfew, he could sleep in the bloody yard. Even the freckles on Lily's nose were accurate.
The static details were realistic, and yet events were mutable. He didn't remember coming back here for any holiday. He knew he'd never met Lily like this, whether in a diner or on a desert island. After That Day, they'd never spoken.
They had certainly never faced off across a formica-topped table, throwing the past into each other's faces. He'd never hospitalized a would-be rapist on a Muggle street, and Lily had never, as far as he knew, kneed another so hard that he'd probably wished he'd gotten Severus' crowbar instead . . . what with rounding off the evening by saving her from breaking her neck and then ranting at her for God only knew how long, he could safely say he had a failure so massive he wasn't sure it might not actually be a resounding success.
At what, he couldn't tell. Failure, probably.
Well, in any event, he couldn't go home; his mother warded the house after seven, and the hour had to be far advanced by now. He didn't want to go home. Why in all the flaming hells had he trundled back to this arse-end of misery for Christmas? He ransacked his memories, but he still drew a blank. There must have been some very strong reason, because in general, if someone had given him the option of cutting off a toe or willingly returning home, he'd have chosen toes until he ran out and then offered up ten fingers.
He wiggled his toes in his shitty boots. The sole on the right was coming untacked, but all ten toes seemed to be in evidence. So, what then? Perhaps it was due to the Different-ness. . . or was the gap in his memory evidence that this wasn't real? It had been years since he'd been allowed the luxury of forgetting even the most insignificant shit. It wasn't like him to forget.
It wasn't like Lily to speak to him willingly, even if hostility was her only motivator.
He wandered back toward the town centre, thinking he should get out of the play park or risk looking like a pervert. He reminded himself that he was nearly-seventeen, not thirty-eight, so loitering in a play park after dark would only look like a pathetic act of deviance. Still, he didn't want the police coming up with suspicious eyes to turf him out, so he skirted the park, with its eerily creaking swings and iced-over see-saw, and the street light that cast a stark, sickly glow across the landscape.
He decided to wander some more, in his pathetic coat and coming-apart boots. Most people seemed cheerful, God damn them. He heard the strains of choir music and looked across the street at a church, buttery golden light shining from its windows. He couldn't remember the last time he'd been in a church, if he ever really had. He seemed to have a blurred memory of an altar and candles, but he could've just seen it on the telly as a child during one of his father's programmes. His father hadn't been the religious sort of Muggle, and wizards and witches never were; it was too hard to get enthusiastic about a religion that said you should be burned at the stake. They celebrated Christmas, not the solstice, but it was really a habit of fitting in, from centuries of living thick among Muggles. The most Severus had ever been exposed to Christmas had been as a child during primary school, where they were expected to do stupid things like make red and green decorations out of glue and scratchy paper.
The memory of his bedroom calendar appeared in his mind. It was December 23rd today, unless he was mistaken, and he didn't do mistakes any more than he did memory loss. At least, he'd thought so.
Wait. He pictured the bedroom calendar again. He'd circled a day . . . which one? December 31st. Nothing written there, just a circle, in thick black ink. Why the 31st? He wouldn't have circled it for no good reason. Was that why he'd come home? It was driving him mad that he couldn't remember!
He kicked a trashcan in frustration, knocking it rolling into the gutter, the trash expelling like the guts of a thing eviscerated.
"Hey now," protested an old man, and got a glare that made him shrink into his coat, which was much nicer than Severus'.
"Shelter's over there, young man," the old wife said, pointing across the street; and then, "Come on, Arthur, let's get out of this wet . . . "
Shelter? Severus looked where she had indicated. She'd pointed at the church. Churches, he recalled, were frequently associated with charities . . .
Like homeless shelters.
He considered it for a moment, and then decided it was a decent idea. He needed a place to sleep, and he had no money. Were he of-age, he could have Confunded his way into a hotel, but it would be risky to do magic twice in one evening in a major Muggle area. A shelter, however, was something he could talk his way into; and if Severus had successfully fooled a Dark Lord during two separate wars, a scrawny boy in obviously second-hand clothes should be able to finagle his way into a homeless shelter.
He hoped they had something to eat, because Lily had interrupted his eggs.
For a moment, he entertained the thought of going into the church and doing something vaguely religious, like lighting a candle and offering up a prayer to whoever had sent him to this shitty, miserable, hopeless place, where Lily still lived.
To be continued. . .
A/N: The concept of Lily climbing the ivy to get to her window is not mine; I believe it wouldn't get out of my head after reading a similar move by Severus in kellydofc's The Road Not Taken. I considered it pretty sensible - I mean, with Petunia on the watch, as you know she'd be, the front door would be right out. . .