The Sugar Quill
Author: A_Wash1979 (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Where Would I Be If I Didn't Know You?  Chapter: Default
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

Stay in My Corner

Author’s Note: I have to thank Athena for the conversation that took this story in a different direction. Also, her feedback was extremely helpful. And of course, I have to thank the best beta in the whole wide world, PirateQueen. Her helpful hints and Britpicks have helped my writing improve tremendously.

 

“Love cannot save you from your own fate.”

Jim Morrison

 

Where Would I Be If I Didn’t Know You?

 

Lily watched with pride as a pile of laundry neatly folded and stacked itself into a basket. After seven months of marital bliss, she finally felt like she had mastered the magical art of housecleaning. Not having grown up in a magical household, Lily had had to endure James’s teasing as she learned various housekeeping spells. She didn’t mind cleaning the old-fashioned way. She was accustomed to it and at times preferred it to using spells. However, she’d learned early on in her marriage that the time saved by using magic to do her daily chores had many… pleasurable benefits.

 

After a while she figured out that she had been concentrating too hard. Listening to music as she cleaned seemed to help her relax enough so that her folded laundry landed in the basket and not three feet to the left of it. Old soul music yielded the best results. Lily smiled, watching her socks dance as Aretha Franklin demanded some respect.

 

With the laundry nearly finished, Lily shimmied her way across the room to look out of the window of their small flat. A multicolored sea of umbrellas greeted her eyes as she looked down at the people making their way up and down the street. It had been a particularly nasty day—cold, wet, and much too miserable for a Saturday. It was the kind of day that made her want to curl up under the covers and hide from the rest of the world—everyone but James, of course. No, James should be curled up with her, warming her body with his.

 

He’d been gone for a week and she missed him immensely. She hadn’t known what to do with herself during his absence. It was heartless of her to be annoyed that James had chosen to spend some time with his parents. Neither one of them was in very good health; who was Lily to begrudge her husband the chance to spend time with his parents during what could be the final days of their lives? Yet she couldn’t stop wishing that James was standing there, draping his arms around her as they both watched people going about their business on the street below.

 

A sigh born from guilt and longing escaped her as she let go of the simple white curtains that framed the small window. Lily hated the way she felt. What she needed was a distraction, since cleaning was clearly not working. An insistent pounding at the door served this purpose with the added bonus of scaring her out of her wits.

 

“Coming!” she shouted as she rushed to the door. Afraid that she’d been playing her music too loud again, she flicked her wand at the record player, quickly hushing Aretha’s soulful commands. Lily stashed her wand in the waistband of her jeans and pulled her t-shirt down to cover it. With her hand on the doorknob, she began apologizing at once.

 

“Mrs. Wilkins,” she began, turning the lock on the door, “I am so sorry about the music. I didn’t think I had it up so loud this time, I prom—” The ability to form words failed her at the sight of the person standing at her door. Dripping wet and—judging by his chattering teeth and blue-tinged lips—chilled to the bone, Severus Snape stood before her.

 

“I-is he h-here?” he managed to ask by way of greeting.

 

Still in a state of shock, Lily did not answer. Severus had not spoken to her since the end of their fifth year; or rather she had not spoken to him. As she goggled at the man standing at her door, she tried to think of a reason why he would seek her out. Nothing came to mind.

 

“How did you find me?” she finally asked.

 

“W-wasn’t difficult. J-just had to f-find the right p-person to… p-persuade.”

 

Lily’s stomach lurched at the thought of what method of persuasion Severus had used and who it may have been inflicted upon. “Why are you here? And why didn’t you dry yourself off when you came in out of the rain?”

 

He looked down at himself, as if he hadn’t realized he was soaking wet. When he looked up again his expression was unreadable, though if she’d been forced to guess Lily would have said it was despair she saw etched into his face.

 

“I n-needed to see y-you. Is he h-here?” Severus asked again.

 

Knowing full well to whom Severus was referring, there was a note of desperation in his voice that compelled Lily to truthfully answer, “No, he’s not. You can come in.” Just as he was about to step over the threshold, Lily said, “Wait!” She checked the hallway to make sure it was empty and pulled out her wand. With a wave, hot air began to blow from the tip, drying Severus from head to foot.

 

“Sorry,” she said, shrugging her shoulders. “I’ve just cleaned up. Come on in.”

 

Keeping her wand readily available, she stepped aside and allowed him entrance into her home. A million questions ran through Lily’s mind, tripping over themselves as they raced to the fore of her thoughts. Ignoring all but one, she said, “I don’t want to sound inhospitable, but why are you here, Severus?” She leaned against the door, folded her arms across her chest, and unleashed what she hoped was her stoniest expression. “Why not go to one of your other… friends?” Lily hoped she’d laced the word with enough contempt to let him know she was well aware of the company he continued to keep.

 

His dark eyes rested on her wand for the briefest of moments before scanning the room and looking in every direction but Lily’s. She didn’t know why, but this irritated her immeasurably.

 

“I… I had nowhere else to go.”

 

“Well, why did you have to go anywhere? Why can’t you just give me a straight answer—?”

 

“She’s dead,” Severus said flatly, finally locking his gaze onto Lily’s. “My mother, she’s… dead.”

 

Lily felt her stomach drop to her knees. She didn’t know what she’d expected him to say, but it definitely wasn’t that. “Oh, Severus, I’m so sorry,” she said, crossing the physical distance between them and throwing her arms around his neck. As the distance of time, mistrust, and heated emotions began to melt away, a small part of her couldn’t help noticing how much higher she had to reach to hug him. It was also apparent that he had no qualms about hugging her back as he had when they were still in school. In fact, he practically clung to her, as if he was being sucked into a powerful void and she was his anchor.

 

“Your hair still smells of vanilla,” he whispered, his hand slowly inching up the nape of her neck. “Some things never change, do they?”

 

As he began to weave his fingers through her hair, Lily’s eyelids fluttered closed of their own volition. Her mind began to journey back several years to the first time the two of them held each other this way. Remembering the outcome of that embrace sobered her—they were heading into dangerous territory.

 

Drawing herself away from him, she said, “Why don’t you sit down?” She took him by the hand and led him to the small dining table in the kitchenette. Severus silently removed his coat, revealing a white shirt and black trousers. He draped the coat over the back of his chair and took his seat.

 

Turning to the cupboards, Lily said, “I’ll make some coffee.” She reached on tiptoe to retrieve two mugs from the cupboard, feeling his eyes on her as she did so. “I have to warn you,” she said, looking over her shoulder to see that Severus was indeed staring at her, “it’s instant. I hope that’s okay.” His eyes had a glazed look to them, and she knew that his mind was not in the here and now.

 

“What?” he asked.

 

“Never mind.”

 

Setting about the extremely uncomplicated task of scooping coffee granules into the two mugs, Lily thought about her unexpected visitor. The fact that he had risked coming face to face with James told her just how desperate Severus had been to see her. Despite her angry words the last time they spoke, it seemed that he still cared for her a great deal. Otherwise, he would have sought out someone else, wouldn’t he? Of course, he himself had said that he’d had nowhere—and presumably no one—else to turn to.

 

Hot water spouted from the tip of her wand into the mugs. “How do you take your coffee?”

 

“Black.”

 

“Of course you do,” she muttered under her breath.

 

After preparing her own coffee with plenty of milk and sugar, she set both mugs down on the table and sat across from Severus. As he slowly reached for his coffee, Lily studied him. The dark circles under his eyes seemed to intensify the blackness of his irises, causing his eyes to look even more fathomless and completely devoid of light. His usually straight back was slumped and made him look boneless like a dark rag doll. She watched him grimace at his first bitter sip and waited for the inevitable insult that never came.

 

The two of them sat there for several minutes—Severus staring at his mug and Lily silently sipping as she waited for him to speak. When they were younger there were times when she had to pry information out of him, often pestering him until he caved in just to be left alone. Lily now found herself in uncharted waters. Despite the years of estrangement between them, Severus had willingly come to her this time. Rather than bombard him with endless questions as she had done in the past, she thought it best to patiently wait for him to begin the conversation on his terms.

 

“I found her,” he said, breaking the silence as he gazed into his coffee the same way a Seer would study tea leaves.

 

“When?”

 

“Yesterday. I found her in her bed. She had died in her sleep.”

 

“Had she been ill?” Lily knew his mother had not been very old, and illness seemed a logical reason a relatively young woman would die in her sleep.

 

“No. They transferred her… body to St. Mungo’s to be examined. She was in good health, but her heart just stopped functioning.”

 

“Well, do they know why?”

 

“The healer rattled off a load of technical piffle that basically meant, ‘We haven’t got a clue.’”

 

With the life Severus chose to live, there was another unpleasant possibility. Lily was reluctant to voice it, but she could no longer avoid the elephant in the room. “Her heart just stopped, did it? I think we both know a way something like that could have happened, don’t we?”

 

His head snapped up and he looked stricken, as though her words had slapped him across the face.  She forced herself to look into his eyes as she said, “Haven’t pissed off any of your mates, have you?”

 

“Do you think I would be sitting here with you if I thought foul play was involved?”

 

Severus was right when he’d said that some things never change. Lily knew that if he truly suspected someone had used the Killing Curse on his mother he’d hunt that sorry sod down and strike back at him with no more thought than swatting at a fly. “No, you wouldn’t. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that.”

 

“Don’t apologize. It’s nothing less than I expected.” His eyes flicked to the slender, innocuous-looking strip of wood that was resting on the table beside Lily’s right hand. “You know you have nothing to fear from me, don’t you?” he asked, his eyes sweeping over her face. “You know I’d never hurt you.”

 

“Do I? Do I really? I seem to recall being very hurt by something you did to me.”

 

“I’ve apologized for that! There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t regret what I said to you!” Severus cast his eyes toward the surface of the table, his voice barely audible as he said, “Not one day.”

 

“You shattered my trust in you. All things considered, you can’t deny me a bit of security, now can you?”

 

“I suppose I can’t.” Severus turned slightly, reached into the pocket of his coat, and withdrew his wand. Lily’s hand immediately jumped to hers, but she relaxed in an instant. He was gripping the wand by its tip, presenting her with the handle. “Take it. If it will give you peace of mind and stop you from looking at me like you expect me to attack you at any given moment, you can have it.”

 

Lily stared at the wand in his steady grasp. There was a momentary battle between her heart and her mind that kept her from immediately grabbing it. She looked into his eyes, her heart seeing the strange boy who befriended her years ago, her mind seeing the man who had pledged his allegiance to… him. She did know that he’d never physically harm her. Yet try as she might, Lily just couldn’t trust him completely.

 

As she reached for the wand, she paused. Maybe this isn’t about me trusting him; it’s about him trusting me. Once she had his wand in her possession, there was nothing stopping her from restraining him and alerting the authorities that a suspected Death Eater was in her home. Severus wasn’t stupid; he had known this was a possibility the moment he’d made up his mind to visit her. By relinquishing his wand to her, he was leaving himself vulnerable, a condition that he’d never been comfortable with. With one seemingly simple gesture, Severus was telling her that even after all the time and distance between them he trusted her as he trusted no one else.

 

Lily’s hand closed over the handle of the wand, her index finger extending along its shaft. As she secured her grip on the wand, the pad of her finger rested against his. She moved to take the wand from Severus, only to find that he continued to keep a firm grip on it. It was on the tip of her tongue to tell him that though she had not asked for his wand it was too late to renege on his offer. Then she felt his finger lightly brush over hers. In that fleeting moment, his motive was clear and the scolding died on her lips.

 

Ignoring the slight shiver that ran down her spine at his touch, Lily gently tugged the wand again, and this time Severus let it go. She set it on the table next to hers and looked up at him, waiting once again for him to pick up the thread of conversation.

 

“She gave up,” Severus said, looking down at his open palms.

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“Do you remember what it was like after my father died?”

 

Lily nodded. She remembered the summer between their fourth and fifth years vividly, recollections flitting through her mind like the scenes of a film committed to memory. She remembered being shocked by Severus’s indifference at learning his father had drunk himself to death. She remembered feeling a need to be there for him, holding his limp hand in hers during the funeral. She remembered seeing his mother, who had seemed to age twenty years overnight, and thinking that the poor woman must have siphoned Severus’s pain, compounding her own loss. She remembered not seeing Severus for days afterward, wanting to help him deal with his loss and feeling powerless because she didn’t know how.

 

“After his funeral, my mother was a wreck. She would not take care of herself. She didn’t eat. She couldn’t sleep. She would stay in bed all day, everyday, crying. When he died it was as though she had died along with him. So I stayed at home. I took care of her when she refused to take care of herself. I was too scared to leave her alone. I was afraid of… what she might do… to herself.”

 

Lily’s eyes widened in astonishment. At the time she’d thought Severus had just needed a little time to himself to grieve or deal with his father’s death in his own way. She never could have imagined that he’d been keeping a suicide watch over his own mother.

 

“Severus,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper, “I’d no idea things were that bad, that you thought she might… You never should have had to deal with that on your own.”

 

“There was no one else. If I hadn’t done it who would have?”

 

“I wish you would have come to me.”

 

“What could you have done? She was too far gone to care for her own son. I doubt you would have had an effect. Besides,” he said, his dark eyes latching onto hers, “I didn’t want your holiday ruined because of me.”

 

“You thought I cared about that? You thought I cared more about some stupid family trip than I did about you? We were friends! I would’ve dropped everything to be there for you!”

 

“Exactly!” he exclaimed, pounding his fist on the table. Quickly regaining his composure, Severus flattened his hands on the table. “You might not have cared, but I did. I wanted you to be happy and far enough away that my family’s misery couldn’t touch you.”

 

Lily opened her mouth to tell Severus she’d spent the entire trip worried about him and hadn’t much enjoyed it, but changed her mind. He had taken on a huge responsibility and shouldered a considerable amount of anguish all by himself, just so she could have a fun summer holiday. She didn’t want him to think that his sacrifice had been made in vain.

 

Severus took another sip of coffee and grimaced again. “You call this swill coffee?” he asked, pushing the mug away from himself as though its presence was an affront to his very existence.

 

There’s the insult I was expecting earlier, Lily thought. Someone must be feeling a little better. As she gritted her teeth and briefly wondered why she had invited him into her home, Lily managed to utter, “I warned you it was instant.”

 

“At any rate,” said Severus, completely ignoring his rudeness, “she finally got out of bed a week later. Little by little, she began to do more and more for herself, but she was never really the same after that. It was as though she was doing everything by rote. She was doing things because they were what she had always done—they were routine. I could have been a strange boarder living in the house for all the consideration she gave me. She didn’t even come with me to see me off to Hogwarts that September, remember?”

 

“Yeah, I do,” Lily said, slowly nodding her head. She brought her knees up to her chest and hugged them, her toes hanging off the edge of her seat. “I thought it was strange at first, but then I just assumed that maybe you’d asked her not to come, that you thought the others would try to use her presence to embarrass you or something.”

 

“I know. That was what I had hoped you would believe. I didn’t want to talk about it, any of it. I just wanted to forget it had ever happened.

 

“So,” he continued, “that is the way things were between my mother and me. I would come home during the holidays, and we would coexist like two strangers living under the same roof. I just couldn’t understand why she reacted that way when he died.”

 

“Severus, he was her husband! Why wouldn’t she grieve for him?”

 

“Tobias Snape was a drunk, a bully, and a coward,” said Severus, his tone as bitter as the coffee. “He was a waste of space not even worth shedding one tear over.”

 

“He may have been all of those things and more, but he did love you and your mother. He worked to take care of his family when he could have left you both to fend for yourselves.”

 

“Ah, yes,” he sneered, “you and my mother both shared the same stupidly optimistic theory that my father was actually capable of caring for someone other than himself, despite all the evidence to the contrary.”

 

“When it comes to you I suppose I’ve always been stupidly optimistic, haven’t I?”

 

“What do you mean by that?”

“Don’t play dumb, Severus, you know full well what I mean.”

 

“I don’t want to get into any of that. That’s not why I came here!”

 

“Why did you come here?”

 

“I’M ALONE!” he bellowed, his chair flying out from under him as he jumped out of it. Startled, Lily shoved her feet against the floor, quickly pushing her own chair away from the table, and slammed herself—chair and all—against the counter behind her.

 

Bracing his hands on the table, Severus stood over it and said, “I have no one! I could fall off the face of the earth and there’s not one person in this world who would care!” He exhaled slowly as he hung his head, his shoulders slumping as if the last shred of hope he’d possessed had drifted from him on the current of that expelled breath. “No one… not even you.”

 

“Severus, that’s not—”

 

“I had hoped,” he interrupted, “that maybe there was some trace of what we were to each other...” He drew himself up to his full height and said, “But you said it yourself. I chose my way, and you chose yours. It was stupid of me to think that you might be able to see past that. I think it is time for me to leave now.”

 

Lily saw his hand reach toward the two wands still lying innocently on the table. She leapt from her seat and slammed her hand on top of them. “You can’t leave. Not yet.”

 

“I have imposed upon you long enough,” said Severus in the cold, formal manner one reserves for passers-by on the street. “Please give me my wand, and I’ll be on my way.”

 

“Stop speaking to me like that!”

 

“Like what? Like a stranger? It’s not as if we’re friends anymore, Mrs. Potter. You have made that abundantly clear.”

 

Lily could feel the prickly tingle in her eyes, that accurate, fool-proof indicator that tears were soon to follow. Blinking to stave off the inevitable, she said, “I’m sorry, Severus! I’ve tried to just forget all the pain you caused me, but I can’t! I want to help you deal with your loss, but at the same time there’s a part of me that wants you to hurt. It wants to lash out at you and cause you the same pain that you inflicted on me all those years ago.”

 

Her vision began to blur, and she gave up, closing her eyes to let the pooled tears slide down her face. “I’m a terrible person, and I’m sorry. If you want to leave, I can’t force you to stay.” Lily used the back of her hand to wipe the tears off her face. “But I wish you would.”

 

“I don’t see why I should,” Severus muttered, casting his eyes elsewhere to avoid her gaze. “You don’t care about me.”

 

“But I do care, Severus! I’ve always cared!”

 

“DON’T LIE TO ME!” he screamed, still refusing to look Lily in the eye. “Do not stand there telling me things you think I want to hear just to assuage your own guilt!”

 

“That’s not what I’m doing. I-I can prove it to you.” Lily picked up her wand, pointed it toward her bedroom, and said, “Accio chest!” Within moments an intricately carved wooden chest about the size of a breadbox soared into the room and landed on her outstretched hands. She shifted the chest under one arm, walking over to Severus and grabbing his hand.

 

“Give me a few minutes more, and listen to what I have to say.” Lily began walking toward the sofa, tugging his hand when he remained immobile. “If you don’t like what I have to say, you can leave, all right?” She pulled again and this time Severus followed, both of them taking care to step over his long forgotten chair. When they reached the sofa, they both sat down, sinking into the plush cushions.

 

“Do you remember this?” Lily asked.

 

“Of course I remember it,” Severus said, irritation causing his voice to raise slightly, “it’s your treasure chest. I always wondered what you kept in it. When we were children, I would’ve given anything to have had a half-hour alone with it.”

 

“You know the things that are inside this chest are very important to me and very personal. I’m not about to show you everything inside it, because there are things in this chest that have nothing to do with you. But there are a few things I think you should see.”

 

Lily set the chest on her lap and tapped its clasp, silently unlocking it. She pushed back the lid and pulled out an envelope, slightly yellowed with age. Placing the envelope on Severus’s lap, she said, “You should know what that is. I’m sure you kept yours, too.”

 

Severus ran his fingers over the broken wax seal. “Your first Hogwarts letter.”

 

“I didn’t keep it for the obvious reasons. Well, I did,” she said, rolling her eyes, “but there was another reason I kept it—a more important reason. When Professor Dumbledore came to explain everything to my parents, when he put that letter in my hand, I knew in that moment I could trust you, Severus. Everything happened just the way you said it would, and I knew then that you were really my friend.”

 

Lily didn’t dare look at him because she knew she’d lose her nerve if she did. She reached back into the chest to pull out another folded piece of parchment. “Here,” she said, “take a look at this. But be careful when you unfold it, the creases are worn from being refolded so many times.”

 

She watched as Severus carefully unfolded the parchment. His hands were trembling, telling her that he knew exactly what he would see when the parchment was opened.

 

“My sketch,” he said, his fingers lightly tracing the outline of a portrait of her he had drawn their fifth year. “You kept it?” He looked at her with confusion in his eyes, strongly reminding Lily of that little boy she met by the swings all those years ago.

 

She looked down at her hand-drawn doppelganger sitting by the lake on a blistery autumn day, tugging a locket back and forth along its chain. “I’ve taken that picture out countless times and wondered where you were… what you were doing… if you were safe. You don’t draw anymore, do you?”

 

Severus slowly shook his head. “Not since… I had no one to show them to. You were the only one who ever saw them.”

 

“I’ve got one more thing to show you,” Lily said, carefully refolding the parchment and placing it and her letter back inside the chest. “Remember the locket I was wearing in that drawing?”

 

“Of course I do. It was the locket you gave to Petunia, but she sent it back to you with that letter.”

 

“Yes, that letter. The one where she said I was a blight on the family tree and not to write to her ever again. I wore that locket around my neck with that letter tucked inside of it, subconsciously punishing myself for being who I am… until I got so angry with you that day fourth year.”

 

“You threw it at me,” Severus said, the cock of his eyebrow cracking his sullen expression. Lily bit back a smile; she had forgotten that he did that, usually when he thought someone was being less than honest, but occasionally when he was amused.

 

“And you kept it. You transfigured the engraved ‘P’ on it to an ‘L’ and returned it to me for Christmas. One of the best Christmas gifts I’ve ever received.” Lily reached into the chest and withdrew the locket. Light glinted off its polished surface as she draped it over Severus’s open palms.

 

“It looks brand new.”

 

“I take it out and clean it regularly. I…” Lily whispered, “I wore it on my wedding day.”

 

Severus snapped his head up to stare at her. “How did you manage that?”

 

“It was my something old. To this day James thinks my great grandmother gave it to me. I feel guilty every time I look at it, but I can’t bear to let it go.”

 

“You’ve kept all these… mementos all this time?”

 

“Yes,” she answered, her fingertips lightly grazing his palm as she picked up her locket. She gently placed it back inside the chest and closed the lid. “I’ve kept them safe in this chest.”

 

Severus cocked his eyebrow again, this time as an act of incredulity. “He has never tried to find out what is inside?”

 

“No, James hasn’t. I told him I’d turn him into a cockroach and crush him under my foot if I ever found out he’d tried to open it.” Smirking, she smugly added, “That threat was a powerful motivator for you too, as I recall.”

 

He snorted. “The only reason that so-called threat ever had any affect was because I thought you’d irrevocably turn me into some Kafkaesque monstrosity, not because I thought you could successfully do what you claimed.”

 

“Either way it scared your sorry self straight, didn’t it? Well, that day anyway.” Lily couldn’t resist taking the mickey out of him like she’d done so many times during their childhood. She moved the chest to the coffee table and twisted on the sofa so she was facing him. For the first time since Severus had arrived, there was the barest trace of a smile around the corners of his mouth.

 

Taking his hands in hers, she said, “Listen to me, Severus. Even after all this time you know me well enough to know that I’ve never been the type of person who tells others what they want to hear. I wasn’t lying when I said that I still care about you. Even though we stopped being friends, there’s always been a part of me that cares for you… and worries for you... and prays for you. The part of me that’s you will always be here.” She lifted their joined hands and placed them over her rapidly beating heart. “Always.”

 

There was an unfamiliar sparkle of moisture in his eyes. Tears. In all the time she had known Severus, she couldn’t recall ever seeing him cry, not even when his father died. Lily wondered if he had yet shed any tears for his mother.

 

How presumptuous, scoffed a small voice in her head that sounded very much like Severus. Did it ever occur to you that the tears in his eyes are for his mother? A wave of guilt washed over Lily, and she realized that she was still clasping his hands against her chest.

 

“Now,” said Lily, dropping his hands as if they had burned her, “you never finished explaining what you meant when you said your mother ‘gave up.’”

 

Severus folded his hands in his lap, his eyes now desert dry. “When I found her, she was in bed surrounded by pictures of her and my father together when they were young. This sounds completely asinine, but I think she willed herself to die.”

 

“It doesn’t sound asinine at all,” Lily said. “You said that she was never the same after your father died. Her heart was broken.”

 

“I cannot understand why she didn’t just… end it all sooner! If she was just going to give up, why do it now?”

 

“Maybe she held on as long as she did for you, Severus. Maybe she wanted to make sure you could take care of yourself before she…” Lily licked her lips, finding it hard to say, “…before she decided life wasn’t worth living anymore,” out loud.

 

“Last week, I was beginning to think that maybe she was getting better, that she was finally beginning to move on.” His wry, humorless chuckle filled the air between them. “We actually had a real conversation, although looking back on it now it seems as though she was putting her affairs in order.”

 

“What’d she say?”

 

“She apologized to me,” Severus replied. “She said it was her fault my father was the way he was. She didn’t tell him she was a witch until after they had already married. According to her, that’s what led him to drink—his inability to understand our world and knowing that his inadequacies would hinder his ever being a part of it.” He leaned over, resting his forearms on his knees. “She also apologized for not being stronger. She admitted that she should have taken me and left him, but she couldn’t. She… loved him too much.”

 

“It sounds like she wanted to you understand him… to forgive him.”

 

Severus slowly turned his head to look at her, his eyes cold and hard. “That will never happen. Nothing and no one forced him to live his life the way that he did. He chose to drink himself into oblivion instead of facing his problems head on. He was weak.”

 

Choices, Lily thought, sighing. We are who we choose to be. She wondered if Severus was really listening to what he was saying. If not for the alcoholism and weakness, he could have been talking about himself. Thinking it best to keep this thought to herself, Lily continued to listen silently.

 

“There was something else she said. She said the Prince family, her family, was cursed.”

 

“Er, literally or figuratively?”

 

“Mother said several generations of Princes have had a proclivity for being… doomed when it comes to matters of the heart, or as she put it, for falling in love with the wrong people. At the time I was certain she meant it in the figurative sense, but now,” he murmured, his eyes searching her face, “now I’m not so sure.”

 

Lily’s eyes widened and her hand went to her mouth, covering it in shock. Severus had all but admitted to being in love with her. She’d always suspected as much, but to hear him almost say it made it shockingly real.

 

His sudden determination not to look at Lily let her know he was aware of his slip of the tongue. He stood and said, “I have to go.”

 

Lily swiveled, kneeling on the cushions and leaning over the back of the sofa to watch him walk to the kitchenette to pick up his wand. “Severus, are you in l—”

 

“There are arrangements that must be made,” he said, interrupting her as he righted the knocked over chair and picked up his coat which had fallen with it. He kept his back to her as he swept the coat around his shoulders and shrugged into it, tucking his wand in a pocket. “I cannot stay here any longer. Good-bye, Lily.”

 

She wasn’t aware of leaving the sofa. One moment Lily was watching Severus walk toward the door, and the next moment she found herself standing behind him, gripping one of his arms as his other hand grasped the doorknob. Before he walked out the door and out of her life forever, she had to know.

 

“Do you love me?” she demanded. Lily watched his back rise and fall as he took deep, shuddering breaths. She could not see his face; she hadn’t a clue, not an inkling of what was going on in his mind. Relaxing her grip, Lily slid her hand down his arm and grasped his hand, lacing their fingers together. “Please… just tell me.”

 

Severus slowly turned around, his head bowed. With her free hand, Lily tipped his chin up until she could see his pale visage. There were tears in his eyes again, but this time a lone prisoner had managed to escape its dark prison and was sliding down his face. She brushed the tear away with her thumb and cupped the side of his face. He covered her hand with his own, slowly brought it to his lips, and placed a single kiss in the palm of her hand.

 

“Yes,” he whispered against her palm, “so much so that I am consumed by it. I’ve tried to forget you, to replace you, but I can’t. I wake up alone everyday, and my first thoughts in the morning are always of you. As sure as I am standing here I know that my last thoughts this side of the veil will consist of the same.”

 

Releasing her hand, Severus lowered his forehead until it was resting against her own. Lily could feel the trembling in his hands as he lifted them up to cup her face. His hair was a heavy black drape enclosing their faces, blocking out everything except the new reality that she might just be in love with two men.

 

I can’t be in love with two different people, she thought, enjoying the feel of his cool hands on her face all the while. Things like this only happen in smutty romance novels! They don’t happen to normal people like me, do they? Of course they don’t. This is platonic affection that I’m feeling for him and nothing more. I’m just a little confused right now, that’s all.

 

Severus lifted his head and looked into Lily’s eyes, holding her gaze as though the secrets of the universe could be found within their depths. All of her rationalizing ceased.

 

“When I found her dead,” he said, stroking her cheekbone with his thumb, “there was nowhere else in the world I wanted to be than with you. If I didn’t know you, if you had never been a part of my life, I do not know where I would be right now or what I would be doing. I know you will never care for me the way I care for you, but right now I feel as though there is at least one person who cares whether I live or die, even if only for a while.”

 

Severus leaned closer to her, and Lily’s pulse quickened in anticipation of the kiss that was sure to follow. She felt his moist, warm breath on her lips as shallow pants issued forth from his mouth, and she wondered why he had hesitated before making his final move. Was he trying to torture her, hoping that her expectation would drive her to the brink of madness? Maybe he was giving her an out. He had made his choice, and now he was waiting for Lily to make hers. He was waiting for her to initiate the kiss rather than passively accepting his advances. Perhaps he wanted the assurance that this was something they both wanted. In that moment, Lily realized she did.

 

Hoping her actions would be a balm to his grieving heart, she closed the virtually nonexistent space between them and seized his lips with her own. For a moment his hold on her face tightened, expressing to Lily his surprise at her decision. Then his fingers relaxed and slid up into her hair, sending ripples of pleasure from her scalp, down the length of her body, and all the way down to her bare, red-tipped toes.

 

When they were younger, Severus had never been one to do anything half-heartedly. Lily had always admired his all-or-nothing approach to his studies. As he deepened their kiss, she was pleased to discover that this attitude applied to his other endeavors as well. This man needed no wand to conduct magic. There was magic in his words… in his lips… in his hands. Magic that was now telling her that she needed to get closer to him. She wrapped her arms around him and squeezed him tight.

 

This is definitely not platonic affection. Lily surprised herself by actually forming a coherent thought through the haze of desire that was rapidly saturating her mind and body.

 

“Insatiable,” Severus murmured between kisses.

 

“Who’s insatiable?” Lily managed to utter on a moan. She playfully tugged on his bottom lip with her teeth, releasing it as she asked, “You or me?”

 

“I am,” he said, pulling back to explore her face with his eyes. “I have hungered for you, thirsted for you for so long. Now that I have had a sip of you, I want more. I need more. I feel as though I’ve been drinking ocean water. The more of you I drink in, the harder it is to slake the thirst.” His dark eyes locked onto hers as he said, “I need more of you, Lily.”

 

She knew exactly what Severus was asking of her. He was giving her another out. Lily had no delusions that he was doing this out of respect for her marriage. No, this was for him and him alone. Without saying it explicitly, he was telling her that if they were to continue beyond this point there would be more than a few forbidden kisses between them. All or nothing, she thought.

 

Lily knew that the choice she made in that moment would affect her entire future, but it wasn’t a choice she was making for herself—she was making it for him. There was no one else in all of Creation that could ease his pain but her. She leaned forward to kiss his temple and whispered in his ear, “Then drink your fill, Sev.”

 

“Say it again,” he said, his voice a deep rumble in his throat.

 

“Drink your—”

 

“Not that… the last part.”

 

Leaving a trail of little kisses from his ear to his mouth, Lily pulled back and smiled. “Sev.”

 

Without warning Severus spun the both of them around, and a yelp escaped Lily’s throat as he slammed her back against the door. Desire—now spiked with fear and adrenaline—coursed through her body and left her teetering on the precipice of ecstasy. Lily closed her eyes, reveling in it. If this was what it was like to walk on the dark side of life, she could understand why so many—why he—had succumbed to it.

 

Finding her hands and linking them with his own, Severus slid her arms up the door and over her head as his mouth lavished her neck with passionate attention. Lily was unaccustomed to this newfound sense of reckless abandon, and a nagging little voice of reason was fighting to be heard.

 

“Can’t…” she said, biting her lip in frustration. She was trying to form thoughts into words, but the link between her brain and her mouth was weakened each time his teeth scraped across the delicate skin of her neck.

 

“Can’t what?” Severus said, pausing as he shifted his mouth to the other side of her throat.

 

“You can’t… can’t mark me… can’t leave marks, Sev.”

 

“Use a spell… a glamour.”

 

Oh, right. Witch. With that final thought, Lily mentally smacked that pesky voice into a corner. She knew what she was doing was wrong, so very wrong, but this was what he needed from her and she refused to feel guilty about it.

 

Feeling air on her neck, Lily opened her eyes to see that Severus had abandoned her throat and was now feasting his eyes on her lips. “What are you waiting for?” she asked, her chest rapidly rising and falling with every shaky breath she managed to take in.

 

“You know what I’m waiting for.” His lips curled into a smirk and her stomach flipped. How she had missed that smug expression.

 

“Kiss me,” she commanded, gasping as he crushed his mouth against hers so hard she knew that her neck would not be the only part of her body to be marked by him.

 

Lily longed to touch him, to feel his body underneath her hands. She tried to free her hands from his grip, but he held them tighter in response. She arched her back off of the door, desperate to feel more than just his lips and hands on her body. Lily could feel a grin in his kiss as he held his body just out of reach.

 

He’s teasing me, she thought savagely. He wants me to beg. I’ll just have to show him I’m not the begging type. Just as suddenly as Severus had pinned her against the door, Lily hooked her left leg around him and yanked him forward with all her might, forcing a surprised grunt out of him in the process.

 

Pulling his lips free from her, Severus returned the wicked grin that Lily was giving him. “Point well taken,” he rasped and released her hands.

 

Lily wasted no time in helping him shed the black coat that he was still wearing and freeing his shirt from the waistband of his trousers. She ran her hands underneath his shirt, sliding them up his stomach and over his chest. “Let’s take this to the sofa, shall we?” she suggested, draping her arms around his neck.

 

Severus hitched up her other leg and hefted her up in response, eliciting a shriek from Lily in the process. He carried her over to the sofa and sat down so that she was now straddling his lap.

 

Things progressed rather quickly from that point. Before she knew it her t-shirt had been thrown over the back of the sofa, and Severus had pushed one of her bra straps aside so he could focus on her bare shoulder. His grip on her body was still firm—controlling and possessive—like he was marking her as his and his alone. His touch was nothing at all like her husband’s, which was passionate but gentle. There was selflessness in James’s touch, as though his own pleasure was heightened by giving instead of taking.

 

James, she thought and her body tensed. From the moment she decided to kiss Severus, Lily had been careful not to think her husband’s name. Now that she had, she could see his laughing face in her mind’s eye. What the hell am I doing?

 

Severus leaned back against the cushions and frowned. “You’re thinking of him, aren’t you?”

 

“I love him, Severus. I can’t do this to him. I can’t—” Her voice broke as shameful tears welled up in her eyes.

 

For a moment Severus said nothing. He simply stroked his hands back and forth over the worn denim covering her thighs. Even as she sat there feeling guilty about betraying her husband, she wondered how the same action would feel on her naked skin. Lily knew she should still his movements, but she didn’t.

 

“You know I will not force you to do anything you don’t want to do,” he said, his voice deep and soothing. Severus stopped his hands. “But if we are to go any further, it has to be just you and me. Not you, me, and him.”

 

The two of them sat there staring at each other for a minute or two as Lily tried to make a decision. She loved James and if he ever found out about this it would devastate him. On the other hand, this was probably the last time she would ever see Severus; she wasn’t naïve enough to believe that any of this meant he would stop living his life the way he had chosen to live it. She knew they would never see each other or speak of this encounter again.

 

“I knew it,” Severus spat. Apparently he had taken the heavy silence between them as a bad sign. He began to remove Lily from his lap, but she pushed him back against the sofa and slowly began unbuttoning his shirt. He grabbed her hands, impeding her progress. She looked up at him and saw his black eyes widened in shock.

 

“Why?” he asked, visibly confused by her decision.

 

Lily pulled her hands away from his, pushed his hair back from his face, and placed a kiss on his forehead. “Before you walk out that door, before you leave me forever, I want you to know that you are loved. I want you to know that even though we may not ever see each other again, you’re not alone in this world. If you die tomorrow, you will be mourned and you will be missed.”

 

She hugged his head to her chest and kissed his forehead again, whispering, “It’ll be all right,” when she felt beads of moisture rolling down the top of her breast and into her bra. In that moment, time ceased to have meaning. As they sat there holding each other, they had no past or future—their present was the only thing that mattered.

 

A knock at the door made both of them jump. Severus quickly clamped his hand over Lily’s mouth, holding his index finger up to his own lips. Maybe she will leave, he mouthed, clearly thinking it was a neighbor at the door. The next minute seemed to last an eternity. Just when the two of them were about to relax, there was another knock, this time accompanied by a male voice saying, “Lily, are you there?”

 

Lily pulled Severus’s hand away and mouthed, Sirius! Horror caused her eyes to stretch to their limits.

 

“Yeah!” she yelled, “I’ll be there in a minute!” She jumped out of Severus’s lap and began a frantic search for her t-shirt.

 

“Did you know he was coming?” hissed Severus as he followed behind Lily, snatching his coat from the floor and digging through the pockets for his wand.

 

“I forgot!” she hissed back, wildly shoving her shirt over her head. “What are you doing?”

 

“I am preparing myself for the inevitable moment when he bursts through the door!”

 

“Um… Lily,” called Sirius’s muffled voice from the other side of the door, “are you okay?”

 

“I’m fine! Just a minute!” she answered, pushing Severus toward the bedroom door. Turning her attention to him, she whispered, “He won’t burst through the door. He learned that lesson the hard way. A few months ago he walked in on James and me… polishing the coffee table, so to speak.”

 

Severus grimaced in response to her euphemism. “I could have lived the remainder of my life without that visual, Lily—AAAHH!” Lily covered his mouth as he clamped his own hand over his left forearm. A quick succession of emotions passed over his face—fear, annoyance, and something else Lily couldn’t quite place.

 

“Lily, what’s going on?” Sirius sounded like he might indeed burst through the door if she didn’t let him in soon.

 

“Nothing! I hit my elbow on the doorjamb! Severus,” she said, lowering her voice again, “what’s wrong?”

 

Severus reached up and touched her face. “I love you, Lily Evans.” He pulled her into him and kissed her. Lily could feel every emotion he was carrying in his heart in that kiss. For a moment, the world fell away and it was just the two of them, sharing this bond together. Then he pulled away and the moment was gone. “I will always love you. Never forget that.”

 

“I won’t,” she replied, irritated that this delay would cause Sirius to become even more suspicious. “Now get in the bedroom and keep quiet!”

 

Severus swept into the bedroom without another word, closing the door behind him. Lily sprinted over to the kitchen table and grabbed her wand. Moving over to the sink, she flipped her hair over the basin, pointed her wand, and quietly muttered, “Aguamenti!” A jet of water softly ran over the length of her hair much more quietly than running the tap would have. She quickly wrung the excess water from her hair and finally made her way to the front door.

 

“Sorry,” she said breathlessly as she opened the door and let Sirius in. “You caught me as I was stepping out of the shower.”

 

“Oh, you didn’t have to rush to get dressed on my account,” he replied, reaching out to give her a hug. “Answering the door completely starkers would’ve worked just fine for me. Ow! Or not!” Sirius rubbed the spot on his arm where Lily had just punched him. “All jokes aside, didn’t I tell you I would be here around 4:30?”

 

“You did, I just forgot.” Lily walked to the sofa and began fluffing the cushions, behaving as though nothing was amiss. However, her heart sounded like a bass drum in her ears; she was sure it would give her away any moment.

 

“I hope you’re not trying to spruce up for me. Your time would be better spent drying your hair.” Lily looked up in time to see Sirius grinning from ear to ear. “The drowned rat look doesn’t suit you.”

 

Lily narrowed her eyes at him as she replied, “I’m laughing on the inside, Sirius. Really.”

 

Casting his eyes toward the kitchen table, Sirius asked, “Had some company today, have you?”

 

The deafening rhythm in her ears sped up as Lily looked at the two abandoned coffee mugs on the table. Silently cursing herself for neglecting to obliterate this damaging evidence, she walked over to the table and said, “For someone who says I don’t need to tidy up you certainly have no trouble pointing out my messes.” She grabbed both mugs and poured the unfinished coffee down the drain. “Mrs. Edison stopped by earlier, and we had a nice chat over coffee.” I have got to get him out of here!

 

As if picking up on the fact that Lily wanted him gone, Sirius said, “So, what is it I’m here to pick up exactly? James was a bit stingy with the details.”

 

“Oh,” Lily replied as she washed out the mugs, her edginess making her momentarily forget to use her wand instead. “When she heard they weren’t doing so well my mum made a quilt for James’s parents. She just finished it yesterday, so he wasn’t able to take it with him.”

 

“Mrs. Evans is a class act. It’s no mystery where you get it from,” said Sirius, inadvertently making Lily feel slimier than bubotuber pus. “Well, I’d better get going. I’m supposed to be helping James cook dinner this evening, and if I’m late he’ll start without me. I don’t think I need to tell you how big a disaster that would be, so if you’ll just tell me where the quilt is I’ll get it and be on my way.”

 

No, Sirius, the real disaster would be letting you get that quilt. Lily turned away from the sink, nervously drying her wet hands on her jeans. “I’ll go get it for you,” she said, taking steps toward the bedroom.

 

“No,” Sirius said, stepping in front of her and intercepting her path. “You’re going to dry your hair and t-shirt before I see more of you than I saw the day I… er… interrupted you and James. I’ll go get the quilt. It’s in the bedroom, right?” Not waiting for an answer, he took long strides toward the bedroom.

 

He was already to the door when Lily protested, “No, Sirius, I’ll—”

 

“Blimey!” she heard Sirius call after he’d stepped into the bedroom.

 

Anticipating the worst, Lily raced into the bedroom, withdrawing her wand on the way. The sight she saw as she stepped over the threshold was a bigger shock than what she expected to find. Sirius was standing there with the quilt in his hands, and Severus was nowhere to be seen. He’s left me. Forever.

 

“This is beautiful, Lily,” Sirius said, marveling at the quilt. He ran his hands over the intricate pattern of tessellated flowers of varying shades of blue. “Muggles never cease to amaze me. Lady Dee will love it,” he said, using his affectionate nickname for James’s mother. “Blue is her favorite color.”

 

“I know,” Lily said absently as her feet guided her to the padded bench which sat at the foot of her bed. Sinking down on it, she realized the passionate kiss and declarations of love Severus had bestowed upon her mere minutes ago had been his farewell to her, and she had been too stupid to see it.

 

“Lily, what’s wrong?” Sirius placed the quilt on the bed with care and knelt in front of her. Frowning, he said, “You look like you’ve lost your best friend.”

 

She closed her eyes, a hollow, melancholy laugh erupting from her. “You have no idea how true that is.”

 

“You miss him, don’t you?”

 

Lily simply nodded. She knew Sirius was speaking of James, yet her heart was so twisted and confused she didn’t know whom she was referring to—her husband or Severus.

 

“You’ll see him again soon,” Sirius said, giving her hand a supportive squeeze.

 

“Will I?” she asked, angry with herself as tears welled up in her eyes.

 

Sirius stood up and placed a quick peck on the top of her damp head. “Course you will. Won’t you be joining us tomorrow?”

 

Lily took in a deep breath, blinking away the tears. “Yes, I will. It’s dumb, me being so emotional over this.”

 

“I told James it was a bad idea to leave you here by yourself for so long. With everything that’s going on right now, I knew you’d be worried about him. But he insisted, the stupid git.” Sirius picked up the quilt as he added, “I’m going to let him know just how stupid he is when I see him.”

 

“No, don’t do that,” Lily pleaded. “Just tell him I miss him… and love him.”

 

Sirius bowed reverently as he backed out of the bedroom. “Your wish is my command. I’ll let myself out. See you tomorrow, Red.”

 

“Later, Black,” she answered, a wisp of a smile flitting across her face at the familiarity of their banter. She listened as the annoying brother she always knew she never wanted opened the front door and left her alone with her guilt. The silence enveloping her was less than golden. With only her own dark thoughts to keep her company, the silence was a rusty nail tortuously being pounded into Lily’s brain. She sat there staring at the same spot on the wall as the dimming of the evening sky left her shrouded in darkness.

 

Author’s Note: The title of this story is from the song “Where Would I Be (The Question),” by Kindred the Family Soul. Just in case you were wondering, I decided that James’s mother should be named Deirdra. If you liked what you read and would like to know when I've uploaded a new story, stop by my LiveJournal from time to time for updates (http://yemeron.livejournal.com). Reviews are love! J

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