October 31, 1981
"Lily, take Harry and run! I'll hold them off...."
The door blasted open and Bellatrix Lestrange's ferocious, cackling laughter roared above the explosions. "Will you do it, Potter?"
Lily felt cold shivers running along her spine as she frantically reached Harry's cradle. Her wand was hidden under her robe, but she knew drawing it out would not be of any use when they were so clearly outnumbered. Peter had betrayed them...out of all the Death Eaters their Secret Keeper could have led to their sanctuary in Godric's Hollow, the Lestranges were the worst ones. They represented a horrid combination of bloodlust, experience, and skill.
Yet she and James could have had a chance to survive this ambush if only Avery and Nott had not accompanied them.
Clutching the infant to her chest, Lily swore she would lay down her life if it meant saving her son. Maybe if she offered her life as fee and the Death Eaters refused her, if she worded her plea the right way, blood magic would keep Harry alive and safe. A blood oath...it was her only hope. But would it work?
A savage scream interrupted the erratic flow of her thoughts. It was Bellatrix.
"You'll pay for this!"
Hushing her crying child, the red-haired witch felt an overpowering wave of regret; if only she had been able to Apparate Harry somewhere safe....
She could not know James had just killed Rodolphus Lestrange, embittering his consort's hunger for revenge.
In few moments her prayers would fall on deaf ears, and then Lily Potter would be lying on the ground, Stunned by an eager-looking Bellatrix while her husband James screamed her name, panic slowing his reflexes in his duel with Nott.
In a few moments, nobody would be able to stop Bella's fury from crushing Harry James Potter, Crucio after Crucio.
When Lily came back to consciousness in the stiff embrace of a shivering Sirius Black, she hardly noticed the other woman's corpse stretched out before her. The first sight that met her eyes was that of James, immobile and horrified, staring at something little and weird convulsing on the floor.
Its movements were so little like a human's that it took Lily a while to recognize that it was a boy - her little boy.
" Harry ? "
Two years later
"I can't believe you're really leaving," Lily Potter said in a steady, flat voice, although she felt as if, inside her, everything was about to shatter. Her green, clouded eyes skipped from her husband's trunk on the floor to his face, searching for signs of hesitance where there were none.
To be honest, she didn't know why their absence hurt her so. Last year, when James and Sirius had been so involved in tracking the Death Eaters who ran abroad after You-Know-Who's fall, James had been absent so long and so often that the distance between them when he came back home was impossible to ignore. Yet the finality of his departure now scared her; it denied her the hope that things might someday be okay again.
"I don't see you trying to stop me, Lils." His voice was weary, like his gaze. It felt wrong, somehow, after all the nights they'd spent up arguing lately, but she couldn't deny he was right. Even before, Lily had never asked him to stay home. Her mind was always on Harry, and after what Peter's betrayal had exacted from them it was too difficult to entrust her son to anybody else. Even leaving Harry alone with his father or godfather for more than a few minutes used to stifle her with anxiety...and before she realized how it had happened, James was there and she was frustrated as hell because he didn't know how to be a father to a special child like Harry. Somewhere in her mind, she wondered if she had never given him the chance to learn.
Was it her fault? All of it? A little bit?
Lily shook her head vehemently, gritting her teeth when James spoke again.
"I'll be always here for Harry."
"Oh, really? Those are tough words for someone whose idea of parental care until two days ago was locking him up in Saint Mungo's. "
Perhaps sarcasm wasn't useful, but it made her feel a lot better. Even while it hurt her, it hurt both of them; and maybe it gratified her only because it gave her the sensation of putting her and James on the same page about something once again.
"I've only suggested we might not to be able to give him the kind of care he needs. He is my son and I love him, but we can't stop living because he's -" James' mouth opened and closed for few seconds as if he had extreme difficulty saying "disturbed".
Lily kept her eyes tight shut and willed herself to slow her breathing until she calmed down. It wouldn't do at all to revisit the same argument again and again until they were senile. James was Harry's dad, no matter how much difficulty he had playing the role to a imperfect son.
An insane son, a cruel voice whispered painfully from the darker depths of her mind. But she could not abandon Harry just because parenting him was harder than she had anticipated it would be. If his mother gave up on him, who else would fight for his recovery?
"I understand what you feel, James, but Harry - the kid who's upstairs right now, completely catatonic, as his dad leaves - is my life. I will see him through this, even if I must wait a lifetime to have him recognize me even a little."
"Then you're braver than I am. I wish...."
Lily never knew if the loathing embedded in that single admission was directed more toward himself or her.
Dark magic can change you; this was a lesson Severus Snape had to learn the hard way. It was something his mother used to repeat often to him when he was a child, but it had not diminished his interest in the Dark Arts. If anything, this concept had increased his fascination with those mysteries which held the power to completely pervert one's nature as much they had the potential to lead the way to greatness.
"Remember, Severus: the wizard becomes the magic he practices, because your magic is naught but your heart's reflection. Every act of destruction must be compensated by an act of creation, otherwise those basic, natural impulses which are the root and the backbone of Dark spells - anger, regret, sadness, and pain - will fester until you know nothing else. Don't ever forget. "
Severus had never forgot Eileen's teachings; years afterward, when Albus Dumbledore refused to expel Potter and his clique for almost driving Severus to his death, it was as if a dam inside him had broken and he wanted nothing more than to allow the flow to drive him away, to somewhere above human weaknesses and failures. Without the soothing presence of his only friend, it had been an easy choice to let the darkness reach his very core, hoping he would become another, stronger man.
Lost among the shadows of his heart, eventually he welcomed with relief the realization that something deep and vital in him had gone silent and cold.
It wasn't until the Prophecy that he began to glimpse how far his loss of control had extended and what kind of man he had willed himself to become. Only when he had discovered that his hatred was about taking his only love from him had Severus felt the stirrings of a vague, undefined regret. He had compromised himself with two Masters to keep her safe, and Lily Potter, whose name he still found it difficult to articulate even in the secret well of his mind, had lived.
The Dark Lord had chosen to visit the Longbottom family, sending the Lestranges to finish off Harry Potter. Dumbledore wouldn't need the Potters now that Neville Longbottom had been marked. Lily would be safe...yet....
Her son had been tortured into insanity because of information he had delivered. Finally Severus Snape had the complete, utter certainty of having damaged James Potter far more than the other man had damaged him. It should have been a cause for celebration, knowing that no miniature replica of that arrogant, undeserving moron would walk the halls of Hogwarts any time soon. Severus should have felt triumphant because he had caused James a defeat from which he would never be able to walk away. In spite of Lily's suffering (which he could not have prevented anyway), he should have rejoiced.
But his victory was short-lived. Gods, it seemed as if James Potter had won even when he lost, and Severus could only hate him more for it. Because when Snape's gaze had fallen on the only photo the Daily Prophet had ever managed to publish on the matter (a leak inside Saint Mungo's, it was said, easily discovered after the article went out) he took hardly any notice of the trademark disgracefully pleasant Potter features on that puffy, childish face. All he had seen were those eyes, so vacant yet so similar to Lily's, eyes that had seen him happy so along ago.
For some reason, he could not put them out of his mind. So Severus had called it an academic challenge and he began researching and working on formulations. Certainly, once he got to the bottom of this problem, those green eyes would cease to follow him from sleep into waking.
Two years later, Severus Snape was still teaching at Hogwarts, although it was a living he loathed. He would not have been able to say what truly kept him here, whether it was a doubt that employment of the same prestige would have been accessible to him after his trial as a Death Deater, the awaiting of the probable (if not certain) return of the Dark Lord, of the unexplored concept that he might have been more vulnerable to falling back into his addiction to Darkness away from the Castle and its constant reminders of his mistakes.
He knew Dumbledore had plans for The Boy Who Lived, but Snape wasn't certain how far those plans involved him. He had continued with energy and constant dedication his search for the potion that would draw Potter Jr. back from his pathetic state to unleash his unparalleled genetic flaws on the unsuspecting world. It was the only thing he could still do for Lily.
Even with Potter and Black in Albania for some time now, Severus knew better than to ask her for something he could not have; her attempts to bridge the distance between them after the trials were met with the cool sarcasm he was capable of. Any friendship Lily Potter had offered to him wouldn't have lasted beyond her discovery of what he had caused to happen. There was no doubt in his mind that she would find the truth, if he allowed her back in his life. Regardless of how his dealings with the Headmaster had begun, Snape felt his future was bound to the old coot's barely mentioned projects.