"No, listen, I didn't mean -"
"To call me Mudblood? But you call everyone of my birth Mudblood, Severus, why should I be any different?"
He wants to find the right words, those which would reset this awful incident, but they don't come. Lily is a different brand from everybody else - he has thought so since they were children - but he doesn't think there's a way to get her to understand without revealing feelings he doesn't want to or is unable to express.
His silence disgusts her; he can read it in the contemptuous flashing of her jade eyes. Angrily, she turns around as if she's about to storm off, and Severus understands with painful clarity that he's going to lose her for the last time unless he speaks. Although there's a part of him that wants to just let her go - it would be so much simpler - he grips her forearm almost violently, desperate to stop her.
"Because I love you!"
Her expression, suddenly wiped clear of anger, is something wild and beautiful to see.
"I've tried not to," he justifies, his voice dropping a tone, "but I can't any more. Particularly not if I must see Potter chasing after you every sodding day of the week." He looks in her eyes, trying to detect whether she has understood the feelings he is trying to convey: so far from platonic than it's just pathetic. His mind brushes against hers tentatively, hesitant to violate her privacy but unable to do otherwise. Lily's mouth opens and closes soundlessly; then she twists her arm out of his grasp and runs away and through the portrait hole.
Standing out here by himself, Severus feels unbearably stupid. He has always known holding her back is hopeless and purposeless. Lily Evans has nothing to do with what he is or what he thinks he might want in his life. So why the hell has he bothered?
Lily avoids him for a week before Slughorn pairs them together during a Potions lesson. They work in silence and Severus pretends he doesn't hear Black and Potter's callous remark two desks behind them, nor the sharp intake of Lily's breath when his hand accidentally knocks against hers above the beetle wings.
The same day, she waits for his lesson to end and follows him as he comes out of the Ancient Runes classroom, hurrying up to keep up with his pace so they're walking side by side.
"I miss you," she says. "I'll give us a chance if you'll do the same."
So Severus stays as far away as it's politically correct to do from Avery and Mulciber until the term ends, but the loss stings less than he anticipated. Fifth year is almost over, after all, and his head is too full of Lily, of their secret dates and long study sessions, to miss them. She'll never know he still talks with Nott in the Slytherin common room. He tells himself he's only doing it for their safety, and not because the Darkness whispers to him anyway.
That following summer slips away so swiftly, like sand between their fingers. Lily kisses him in July, for the first time. They are lying on the grass, at their spot by the river, books scattered and forgotten on the ground, her head on his shoulder. She rolls over and looks down, glowing like a fire-fairy, as she smirks at something he has said.
"You're either the bravest boy I've ever met or the most insane."
"In my experience, the two are often synonymous," he scoffs, and then there is a moment when his heartbeat speeds up and her gaze gets deeper. Her lips are soft and pliant on his, her tongue warm as she sucks on his bottom lip; the sensation almost undoes him.
Sixth year comes and goes with imprudent joy. Mulciber sees them snogging inside an empty classroom when everybody is supposed to be at the Slytherin-Gryffindor Quidditch match, and their secret is no more. Yet Severus is surprised to learn he has both the knowledge and the talent to defend himself from his enraged housemates, and everything runs more smoothly when Slughorn steps in after a few dreadful accidents occur. The Marauders leave him alone a bit more and he is a guest in Lily's house during the Yule break, although her parents call it Christmas and he is not fond of her sister.
When summer catches them by surprise, Severus Snape feels like a king.
Every time they make love, Severus thinks this power is all he needs: the power to make Lily sigh and beg and kiss him as if he is beautiful. When he is inside her he forgets about the war, Tobias, and strategy. About a future which might not be. Of his summers and his winters, Lily is everything he can remember; and if he can't live with her forever, he would be happiest to die by her side. Yet he knows it isn't fair or right to feel this way, as if she is the only thing that matters and his whole other life fades. This intensity should be coming from him, not from him-with-her.
Finally they graduate, but Eileen is not there for the ceremony. He buys an enchanted engagement ring for Lily that sings his proposal in his stead and almost runs away after slipping it on her finger. But Lily runs after him and embraces his shoulders from behind, shouting "Yes!" in his ear.
Two months later, Severus comes to Spinner's End to find the Dark Mark looming over it. The miserable house seems intact except for his father's guts splattered all over the sitting room ceiling, his body sprawled over the floor.
"Eileen?" he calls, but his mother doesn't answer. He breaths in deeply, calling up his Occlumency shields before hurrying upstairs.
The woman who used to be his mother is lying across her bed, legs spread and body naked, her skin bloodless and marred by oblique purple cuts. Her eyes are open and opaque.
She won't ever know of his plans for marriage.
"Please, I'm begging you. Don't do this."
Lily holds onto his black robes and his sleeve slides up, exposing the red, angry Mark burned into the flesh of his forearm. For a handful of seconds the sight seems to exercise a horrified fascination on her, but then she looks up at him again.
"They won't believe it. You'll die." Her eyes are red and blotchy, her face puffy, wet ,and flushed. It should make her ugly, but nobody has never cried for him and this alone makes the sight of her priceless.
"I can be persuasive," he barks, his voice cold and hard.
Lily sighs, a shudder running along her spine. "I won't leave you."
Her stubborn insistence consumes his will. Severus desires nothing but to give in, forgetting Dumbledore and his project of having him offer his services to the Dark Lord. Lily is the only faith he knows, and he can't keep her and still play the double agent. Too much risk on too many levels.
Then he remembers Eileen, her body and spirit violated in so many ways. Must he let her go ignored in death as she had been in life? Nobody else would care to deliver justice to the last, exiled Prince, just as nobody had bothered for him when Lupin had risked mauling him. Eileen might not always have been much of a mother to him, but he is still her son.
"I'm not giving you other options. When I come back I want you gone from this house or I'll throw you out."
Severus Snape and Lily Evans' tale would be over before it began.
Severus trains himself to not feel, to not hear the screams of the Muggle huntings over the years. Finally he sees who he is with clarity: a double agent, a soldier, someone whose life or death makes a difference. He takes pride in this at least, and in the unexpected solidarity he finds in Albus Dumbledore of all people, like a truce between ancient accomplices. He wills it to be enough to get him through solitary nights and peaceless days.
In January 1984 Peter Pettigrew weasels the contents of the prophecy out of James Potter and Sirius Black. Neville Longbottom loses a family, but Severus Snape gains back his freedom.
Remus Lupin sits beside Lily during Severus' trial. Severus hates Dumbledore in silence for painting him like a hero when he feels only rotten and filthy inside. He grits his teeth in anger when he sees the werewolf wrapping his arm around his would-be wife during the recording of the rather brutal testimony. He should have known too much time had passed by.
A letter offers him a DADA teaching post at Durmstrang, but he refuses. He's tired of all this starless blackness. Lily keeps owling him, and from the address on her envelopes he learns she is living in London. He feels too lethargic to answer her, yet he reads her missives nonetheless. His awareness of her existence is like the air he breathes: intangible, yet necessary for survival.
Lily comes to him, beautiful and within reach, at his new house. Her jade eyes are sad as he tells her of the things he has done in the years they spent apart: of people he has saved, of those he has failed to save, risks he has taken or avoided.
He remembers loving her more than he has loved anything in this lifetime. She looks like if she belongs here, between his dusty potion volumes and gleaming vials.
"What do you want with me, Lily? "
She shakes her head with something more than sadness and frustration etched in her visage. "Don't you get it? Just look...." She takes out her wand and twirls it expertly as an incantation flows from her lips. "Expecto Patronum!"
From the wooden tip of her wand soars the silvery, glowing shape of a raven. Severus watches the bird flying around the room and then bouncing on the floor with disbelieving amazement.
"Do you still... after all this time...?"
Creamy skin and dark red locks look good against the pale grey of his sheets, Severus registers while he observes this woman of ancient eyes and childlike grins who curls lazily around him.
"Ask me again," Lily says, placing a ring he recognizes in his cold, white palm.