The man looked up at the familiar voice, smiling despite himself as its owner ran towards him. She was beautiful, her coppery, red hair trailing behind her as she approached, emerald eyes sparkling, a brilliant smile gracing her lovely face. Nearly two weeks had passed since he'd seen her last. Two weeks since that night he had held her in his arms... since he had expressed his love for her without reserve.
"Lily..." He had scarcely breathed her name before she launched herself at him, throwing her arms around his neck and peppering his face with kisses. Embarrassed by such a display in public, he blushed. Nevertheless, he still caught her lips a moment as she stepped away.
"Miss me?" Lily grinned up at him, knowing full well how he felt about showing affection in front of others.
"You have no idea," he drawled, tucking a stray strand of hair behind her ear and allowing his hand to linger a few seconds. Much had happened since their last – and most intimate – meeting. Since then, his life had changed even more drastically than he had anticipated. His distress over how he could possibly broach the subject with her must have shown on his face, for she frowned.
"Severus?" she asked. "Severus, what- ?" As her slender hands gently gripped his forearms, he flinched. After widening a moment in surprise, those green eyes narrowed shrewdly. Sliding her fingers under the hem of his left sleeve, she started to shove it up.
"Stop," Severus growled, jerking his arm away, but not before she caught a glimpse of the tell-tale black now marring his pale flesh.
"You took the Mark." It wasn't a question. Severus sneered in response. Her accusatory expression softened into something else. "I... I don't understand," she said. "Voldemort hates muggles – he hates muggleborns!"
"The Dark Lord," the man snarled, "will rid our world of the weak and unworthy, and protect us from contamination by such unmitigated filth."
Lily looked like she'd been slapped. "I'm muggleborn." She had spoken so softly that Severus might have missed it but for the damning words which crossed her lips.
"What?" The world shifted on its axis. An odd ache filled his chest, making breathing difficult. His mind floundered helplessly. She was speaking. He tried to focus...
"... thought you knew," her voice was strained, distraught. "If I thought it mattered to you, I would have-"
"How could it not matter to me?" he demanded, his tone icy. "I am a pure-blooded wizard. How could you possibly believe that – that your parentage wouldn't matter to me?"
"But, Sev, you've-"
"Don't call me that!" he snapped. "Just... leave."
"Severus, I..." Lily began again.
"I told you to LEAVE!" Severus shouted. He was angry, hurt. He'd been deceived. "Leave. I don't have room in my life for a mudblood," he quietly intoned. "Why are you still standing there? Can't leave? Is it too complicated for you? Fine, then. I'll go." He swept past her and down the street.
Lily pivoted to watch his progress, but said nothing more. After he had disappeared into the crowd, she pressed her palms together, rubbing them unconsciously. Never before had Diagon Alley seemed so void, so empty. The girl wandered along the road, failing to notice the people around her, the dry rasp of skin against skin too quiet to be heard.
"Lily?" a voice addressed her. "Lily Evans, right?"
A young wizard with unruly black hair and glasses stood before her, smiling in recognition. He was clearly happier to see her than she was to see him, but Lily thought an unprovoked 'drop dead' would be rather inappropriate. Besides, she hadn't seen James Potter in months and she was quite beyond caring at the moment.
"Hey," James spoke again, concern claiming his features. "You alright?"
"I'm fine," Lily answered, cursing the way her voice wavered.
"What's wrong?" he pressed, though his tone hadn't really been commanding. If it had, she probably wouldn't have responded.
"Nothing, really. I just found out the man I love doesn't feel the same. Because I'm..." she babbled, shaking her head.
James extended a hand towards her, asking softly, "Why don't you tell me what happened?"
She drew back abruptly, straightening almost haughtily. "Like I'd speak to an arrogant prat like you," she snorted derisively, "you couldn't even be civil to him while we were at school!"
James stared at her for a moment, before once more reaching out, this time to take her gently by the elbow. He led her over to a vacant table in front of Florean Fortescue's, where she sat in the chair he pulled out for her.
"You're talking about Snape, aren't you?" he asked quietly, as he took his own seat. She opened her mouth to retort, but he continued. "Look. I'll be the first to admit that I never saw eye to eye with him, and I never hesitated to give as good as I got, but I'm not going to sit here and judge you. I just... I want to make sure you're alright."
The witch's mouth snapped shut. She gazed blankly at him until he reached across the table and took hold of her wrists. Her palms were raw from her persistent rubbing.
"Look, you're clearly in shock," he told her. "I think it would help if you talked about it."
"Yeah," Lily agreed shakily. He returned her nod and released her wrists, but she didn't press her palms back together. "Well, I met Sev... I mean, Severus," she paused to swallow the lump in her throat. "I met Severus on the Hogwarts Express. We were sorted into different houses, of course, so we never got to know each other very well. Until after, that is. Somehow, in all that time, he never heard that I – somehow, he never knew..." her voice broke miserably as tears began to trail down her cheeks. "He didn't know I was muggleborn..."
Elias & Rosalind Potter proudly announce the marriage of their son, JAMES ELIAS POTTER to Miss LILY MARIE EVANS on...
The old announcement and its accompanying picture was crumpled into an unrecognizable wad before being stuffed into the crate which one Severus Snape was packing. The vials, of course, would be spelled to remain stationary during transport, but the Potions Master was a careful man who chose not to leave such things to chance – particularly since he had no intention of making any more potions for the obsequious little waif who owned this particular apothecary. He most certainly would not be making any more business transactions with the brainless vermin, no matter how much he offered to pay.
If he had noticed the photograph, Snape made no indication of it. Indeed, he tried not to think about any Potter, if he could help it. James Potter had tormented him in school, then later took the girl he loved for his own. Lily, he often reminded himself, had deceived him. Not only in regards to her parentage – he would have forgiven her for that, quickly, especially after he'd turned on the Dark Lord. No. What hurt him still were the obvious lies concerning her involvement with Potter. She had married him in January and had borne his child in July. Snape had excellent deductive reasoning and mathematical skills; clearly, Lily had betrayed him even before their falling out.
Then, there was Harry Potter, the current bane of his existence. Snape couldn't decide which bothered him more: the boy's bright green eyes, or his perpetually messy hair. That didn't even take into account his insouciant behavior and blatant disregard for rules. The boy was of the worst sort, having already caused more than enough mischief for the year – and that before school was back in session.
Blowing up his aunt... Surely, the boy was too old for such bursts of accidental magic. And running away from home! How Dumbledore had managed to get the child out of the mess he'd made was beyond Snape, though, the Potions Master had no doubt the headmaster would go to great lengths to keep his little golden boy under his own jurisdiction.
"I can't even work in my own private lab without the brat bothering me," Snape muttered darkly. And in this frame of mind, he sealed the box and went to mark the third-year Potions essays.
Hermione Granger winced as she reviewed the essay Snape had handed back to them during Potions class that day. Ron Weasley looked up at her.
"You, too?" he asked in surprise, referring to the scathing comments the professor always wrote. Hermione's work was usually good enough to avoid the truly demeaning remarks.
"He must have been in a bad mood when he marked them," she finally shrugged. "He's always meaner when he does."
"As if the greasy git isn't mean enough, already," mumbled the redhead, then addressed the boy across from him. "How'd you do, Harry?"
Harry Potter sighed, rolling up the marked parchment and setting it aside. "I'll let you know when I can tell the insults from my essay."
"That bad?" Hermione asked.
"Worse," Harry replied with a grimace. Ron reached across and gave his shoulder a sympathetic pat before they settled into their studies. By unspoken agreement, the two boys put their detestable Potions homework off till last, despite having looked over their marked essays at the beginning of the study session. While Hermione didn't put it first, she was still working on one of their easier classes by the time her comrades pulled out Snape's latest tortu – assignment.
'List the six properties of dragon's heart, the various types, means of acquisition, and how each affect the potions in which this ingredient can be brewed.'
Harry idly wondered if Snape copied out their essay topics by hand or if he used a spell. Looking down at the spidery, yet elegant script, he decided his mind – undoubtedly damaged from so many other such assignments – was wandering. With a sigh, he pulled out his Potions text. The essay wasn't due until the end of the week, but putting it off probably wouldn't do his brain cells any favors.
Dragging out a fresh piece of parchment, Harry opened his book.
"Ah, Severus, my boy," Albus Dumbledore greeted, closing the book he'd been reading. "How good to see you again."
"Headmaster," Snape returned, ignoring the incessant twinkling of the man's blue eyes. "You wanted to see me?"
Dumbledore smiled. His Potions professor had never been inclined to small talk. Which, of course, was largely why he took such joy in trying the younger man's patience. "Have a seat." He waved to the chairs in front of his desk before extending a candy dish. "Lemon drop?"
Severus gave him a baleful glare which told him he wasn't fooled by the act. "Albus," he drawled, "while you may have the time to dither about eating candy and making chitchat, I do not. I trust you do have a reason for pulling me from my lab?"
"Now, Severus," Dumbledore admonished, "if you're busy, you should have told me."
"I did," the Potions Master uttered dryly. The fact that he remained standing told his employer that he really was in the middle of something and not just being antisocial.
"Straight to the point, then," he acquiesced, rising to his own feet. "I've been going through some of the things retrieved from the Potters' old house, and found something that might be of interest to you." He took a small, leather-bound book from the box that was sitting on the corner of his desk and held it out for Severus to take.
"I thought everything had been sorted through years ago," Severus pointed out, gingerly taking the small volume between two fingers with a sneer of disgust.
"Yes, well, that is to a large extent true. There were many things, however, that we simply didn't have time to examine in great detail and it simply slipped my mind until just recently."
"And what interest could I possibly have in an unmarked book of Potter's?"
Albus settled back into his chair. "Actually, I do believe that that – along with several others – belonged to Lily."
Without conscious thought, Snape's fingers gripped the narrow volume more carefully before his other hand came up to flip it open. His sight was met by a graceful script that he would have recognized anywhere, a penmanship which could only belong to one person. Heart clenching painfully, he snapped the book shut again and glared at the older wizard.
"You read her diary?" he demanded, not a little anger tainting his tone.
The headmaster gazed calmly back at him. "I simply perused the contents of her journals for anything that might prove to the Order's benefit... or detriment," he shrugged. "I admit, I may have read this last one a little more closely. What Lily had to write was rather illuminating, actually. I'm quite certain you will feel the same, my boy."
Severus' scowl would have turned a basilisk to stone. "You cannot expect me to invade her privacy in such a way!" he snarled. "I won't do it!" He threw the book onto the desktop.
"In this instance, Severus, I really think you should."
Before Snape could retort, there was a knock and at Dumbledore's invitation, Minerva McGonagall entered the room. "I have to get back to my lab," he growled, turning to leave.
"Severus, my boy," Dumbledore called as he reached the door. "You forgot something." The younger man looked back to see him holding out that accursed journal, patiently waiting for him to take it. McGonagall's mildly curious expression told him that she had no idea what it was. Not about to offer his colleague any insight into the situation, Severus stepped back to the desk and snatched the book from the headmaster before leaving.
Upon arriving at his quarters, the Potions Master placed the journal on his desk. Despite having returned in plenty of time to tend to it, the potion he'd been brewing was ruined. It was all the headmaster's fault. If it weren't for the meddling old coot, he would have never been so distracted.