Severus Snape was not accustomed to snooping around anyone's office, but McGonagall had called him here and was missing for more than half an hour. She was probably saying goodbye to Potter and his disgusting little friends, thought Snape, uncrossing his legs and getting ready to get out of his chair and her office.
It was then that he noticed something glinting in the sunlight streaming through the window in McGonagall's office. It was small, so easy to miss in the clutter on her desk, but he recognized it as soon as he saw it. The Time Turner sat innocently on her desk. What was it doing there? Weren't they all sequestered in the Ministry of Magic to prevent misuse?
Instinctively, Snape reached for it, handling it carefully and slowly remembering how it worked. Each turn was one hour…
How many turns to Lily? He thought immediately, almost involuntarily, his heart racing. Suddenly, every memory of her filled him with fresh pain as though he had lost her only yesterday. Her hair, her fragrant skin, her sweet smile and the one time she blushed as he defended himself to her. He had to see her… he had to see her one more time.
He clutched the time turner to his chest and looked around, suddenly aware of his surroundings. He felt like a child. Outside, the chimes of the clock tower announced that it was noon. There wasn't anyone on the grounds and doubtless, McGonagall was headed up to her office any minute now. She could move much quicker as that pesky, bespectacled cat. All he had to do was come back to this office before she got back from wherever the hell she went.
He clutched the time turner and ran out of McGonagall's office. He needed to get far away from Hogwarts so he could do what he needed to do. Suddenly, he thought of Godric's Hollow. That was the last place Lily lived. Yes, that is where he wanted to go.
When he approached Hogsmeade some twenty minutes later, he was panting heavily and squinting against the bright sunlight. He thought hard of Godric's Hollow and disapparated.
He arrived right outside the dilapidated house that was once the Potters' residence. He pushed past the gate and went into the backyard. It was overcome with weeds and the grass came up to the tips of his fingers. He stood rooted to the ground… overcome by the enormity of what he was about to do.
How many turns would it take? Twenty years would take him back to their third year at Hogwarts. They were still friends then… no…that was too far into the past. If he went back thirteen years, he'd see her as an adult… even if she was married to Potter and a mother to Harry, he thought resentfully.
Without spending too much time on the precise mathematics of the thing and partly because his hands were shaking badly, he started to turn the screw; the metal glinted in the sunlight as it turned and soon became a glittering blur. He did not count the number of times he turned it, but he must have miscalculated because when he stopped, it was windy and there was the distinct chill of mid-Fall in the air. The backyard in which he stood was no longer untended, but beautifully kept with a small swing that looked largely new and unused.
He saw a flash of red in the backyard window and realized that it was Lily getting ready to exit the kitchen with a baby in her arms. Her eyes were on him and so did not even notice the dark figure standing in the middle of her backyard. He stood there frozen, watching her through the back door window. Her hair was longer than he remembered, but her smile was just as radiant. He saw the child in her arms was giggling happily and was reaching eagerly for something she was holding in her right hand behind her back.
He quickly cast a Disillusionment Charm on himself and moved behind the bushes, just in case they came toward him. Suddenly, he was ten, peeking at her and her sister at play. He felt childish yet again.
She was wearing a green turtleneck sweater that made her eyes glitter even more in the sunlight and the baby was in Gryffindor colors of red and gold, with a red cap tied around his head and ears.
"Now Harry…" she said patiently, laughter in her voice, "you have to be careful alright? What would Uncle Sirius say if he thought you were being reckless?"
Then, more to herself than anyone, she said with a laugh: "Well, he'd be right proud of you, wouldn't he?"
She revealed what she was holding behind her back – a tiny broomstick that looked scuffed as though it had been the only toy with which the child ever played.
Harry reached for it, immediately mounted it and flew around the backyard, around his mother twice squealing with joy. Lily's face broke into a bigger smile and she started to laugh as she watched her son fly around her.
Then it happened. As if noticing Snape crouching behind the bushes, Harry headed toward him, squealing loudly. Snape ducked out of the way, but lost his balance, and fell out of the bushes and the Disillusionment charm lost its effect as easily as if it had been an Invisibility Cloak sliding off of him.
Lily screamed and Harry zoomed toward her, abandoning the broomstick as he fell into her arms. She held him tightly and reached for her wand, tucked in the front pocket of her apron.
"Petrif-"she started, but he was too quick for her, he was already on his side.
"Expelliarmus!" he said quickly, aiming carefully at her arm, throwing the wand from her some six feet into the rose bushes beside them.
When he got up, the hair fell away from his face, revealing to Lily Potter a much older ex-best friend. Her eyes widened and slowly, her lips parted, in a weak smile.
"Severus…?" she said weakly, as though she were testing her vocal cords for the first time in her life. She put Harry down and he started to crawl toward his broom determinedly.
"Lily… I… You weren't meant to see…" he said, quickly putting his wand away and looking at the ground.
When he looked up, she was close to his face; tears welling up in her eyes as she smiled. She put both her arms around his neck and hugged him tightly. His hands went automatically around her waist and he was crying on her shoulder silently. He had not felt joy like this in such a long time. Here was his first and only love, his best friend, holding him. She was real, unlike all those recurring dreams that haunted him for the past two decades.
It happened so naturally, he pulled away from her and they kissed. It was just as he imagined it all those years ago. She smelled sweet and her lips were soft and receptive. Their tears mingled as they kissed, years of estrangement forgotten in that moment of blissful reunion. For a few moments, he was lost in her and she was his and his only. She didn't pull away until Harry zoomed past their heads squealing loudly.
"Sev…" she said, blushing deeply, "What… what are you doing here?"
He stared at her wordlessly, drinking her in and then replied softly,
"I… I had to see you… one more time…" he said, unashamed of the tears that trickled down his pale face.
"What do you mean, 'one more time'?" she said, grabbing Harry off his broom, causing him to cry angrily.
"I… nothing… I have to go now."
"What? No! You haven't even met my son, our son… James and mine… This is Harry!" She said, panicked, thrusting the crying infant toward him.
Harry stopped crying for just a moment and reached for his future Potions master. For a moment he realized that all three of them were tear-stained and his face turned into an anguished smile.
"Lily, I can't stay. I should never have come back." He said, turning away from Harry, who started to cry again.
"But, wait… I haven't seen you in years, Severus. Please…" she pleaded, but he wouldn't look at her.
Then, he turned slowly, catching her eyes, knowing at last what he must do.
"I love you, Lily. I always have and I always will…" he said at last and reached for his wand again.
"Obliviate!" he exclaimed as he pointed his wand at her.
Her eyes glazed over for just a moment, and he seized his chance to start turning the screw on the time turner the other way. He had to get back before she came to her senses.
But, just as she faded away into the past, he heard her say:
"You were always rubbish at that charm…" she smiled sadly and then, "Happy Halloween, Severus…"
His eyes widened as he reached for her but she was gone and he was standing once again in that unkempt backyard. The sun was overhead and it was a beautiful summer day thirteen years later. Still in shock, he disapparated almost automatically to Hogsmeade. He was running toward Hogwarts, toward McGonagall's office and toward the world he had come to accept.
He stood in the deserted courtyard and the silence gnawed at him like a wild animal trapped inside his chest. The chimes began, it was almost noon. He rushed up to McGonagall's office just in time and placed the time turner on her desk exactly where he found it. He felt numb.
When McGonagall entered her office exactly five minutes later, he was standing over her desk staring at the time turner, fresh tears forming in his eyes.
"Ah, Severus, I'm sorry I kept you waiting. I had to inspect the Gryffindor common room to make sure those Weasley twins didn't leave any surprises for us when we get back from summer holiday."
He didn't hear her, but turned absently toward the doorway where she stood, his eyes unseeing, his face shining with freshly shed tears.
"Later…" he pushed past her to make his way to his office, but motioned to the time turner once more to mutter, "get rid of it…"
"O…Ok…" McGonagall replied, clearly taken aback.
Snape reached his office in less time than it usually took and slammed the door behind him. He grabbed an empty vial from the closest shelf and collapsed to a sitting position behind his door. He grabbed his wand from his cloak and set it to his temple. Slowly, he withdrew his latest, most precious memory and placed it carefully into the vial. He left this vial unlabelled and stowed it in the deepest parts of his trunk and sealed it.
That memory would never reach the Pensieve or anyone's hands. Not if he had anything to do with it. It was his and his only and he did not want to think on it any longer. He was safer with it stowed away in a vial. Maybe he could hold onto the last shred of his surety and sanity if that memory didn't haunt him in addition to countless others.
Oh, but how he wished he could remember it as he lay there, looking up at Harry's green eyes, Lily's green eyes, moments before he left this world. All that remained was that hint of sweetness that was left behind after he had extricated his most precious memory. But for now, as the light engulfed him, he had all he needed; her eyes were the last thing he would see before he drifted into the unknown. There was no fear now, for she watched over him before this and would soon be by his side and with him...