Severus Snape strode down the Great Hall as the last students filed out to their respective dormitories. The Sorting, the Feast, and the Headmasters speech all were passed, and all that remained was for the regular meeting and greeting expected on the first of September: Another year had begun at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
But this year already was very, very different, because Harry Potter had come to Hogwarts. Snape had eyed him curiously, apprehensively. The little dirt-speck was already a celebritythe Potions Master scowled at the thought. He would have his fathers arrogance, his ego, of course. Snape groaned, pinching the spot between his eyes irritatedly. The little twerp.
Evening, Severus, the Headmaster said, walking up alongside him as he exited the Great Hall.
Albus, Snape replied, with a stiff nod.
Always a pleasure, seeing the first years, isnt it? Dumbledore said, smiling thoughtfully. Snape did not return the smile.
Is it? he replied, with genuine disbelief. I havent the patience for them, myself. Theyre entirely too wide-eyed and addle-brained to be of interest, he said. Dumbledore chuckled.
Not much use to you until theyre N.E.W.T. level, are they? he asked, eyeing Snape over his half-moon spectacles.
They hardly realize theyre alive before then, Headmaster; I find their ignorant self-absorption intolerable, he grumbled. Dumbledore patted him on the shoulder.
Fortunately, as Im sure youve noticed, you will have the very great pleasure of educating Lucius Malfoys eager young boy this year. Snape scoffed.
Oh yes. And I was so dearly hoping hed be Sorted into some other House. Albus glanced at him questioningly. If hed gone to Gryffindor, Snape continued wryly, his father might have murdered himsaved me the trouble. He glanced morosely at Dumbledore, but the Headmaster laughed out loud.
See, thats what I love most about you, Severus, he said, smiling broadly and wiping little laughter tears from his crinkled, ice-blue eyes. Your tender, nurturing side is really quite endearing. Snape snorted, his mouth twitching into a momentary smile in spite of himself.
Nurturing; if I havent terrorized at least one first-year into hysterics by the end of the week, the students will think Ive lost my touch. He stood in the open entranceway, looking out over the moonlit school grounds. They were both quiet for a moment. Dumbledore cleared his throat.
Didnt I tell you he has her eyes? he asked. Snapes shoulders flinched slightly, but otherwise he didnt respond. Precisely her eyes, Dumbledore continued thoughtfully, removing his glasses and wiping their lenses with his overlong beard. Snapes lip curled.
But hell be just like his father, he said bitterly. Dumbledore replaced his glasses, and turned to look at him.
Is that what you want, or what you expect? he asked, peering at Snapes downcast scowl.
What is it youre insinuating, Albus? he growled through clenched teeth, his black eyes glancing up at the Headmaster. Dumbledore shrugged.
I wonder whether you would truly prefer he be like his mother, or if it would be more
convenient for you if he were like James. Snapes nostrils flared.
Dont look so scandalized, Severus, Dumbledore responded, a little sharply. It is obvious you have every intention of despising that boy. Snape slowly folded his arms across his chest, gathering his black robes around himself. Whatever else he may inherit, I wish it would not include an old schoolboy grudge, he said sternly. I sincerely hope every feud you had with James lies buried with him. Snapes face was practiced and unreadable. Severus, he said, more softly, whomever else he may beto youI ask you to remember that he is Lilys son. Snape started suddenly, and walked agitatedly out the front doors.
As if I needed reminding, he growled, walking hurriedly toward the winged boars at the entrance gates.
Severus, where are you going? the Headmaster called after him.
For a walk, evidently.
Yes, clearly, but where?
Godrics Hollow! Snape howled back, his throat constricted. He glanced back briefly, his angry glare seemingly daring the Headmaster to respond. A breeze ruffled the leaves in the Forbidden Forest, and whipped at his stringy black hair and his large-cut cloak. In a few more strides he reached the gates, and as Dumbledore watched silently Snape Disapparated and was gone.
No one was out on the quiet streets of Godrics Hollow when a figure cloaked in black Apparated with a small pop next to an old war memorial in the center of town. Severus Snape took a moment to consider his surroundings, especially his lack of Muggle attire, but decided there was a large enough Wizarding community here for him to pass somewhat unnoticed. Glancing at the memorial, he blinked with surprise when it shifted from a bland obelisk to a statue of three peoplepeople whom he recognized, whom he knew. Had known, he corrected himself; only the boy remains now. Snape turned his back on the monument to the Potters, and walked slowly toward a nearby church. He paused outside the gate to the cemeteryno, he wasnt ready
not for that. Not yet. He walked on, barely taking notice of the houses that lined the quiet streets. Suddenly, there was one house that did catch his eye, and after a brief moment to steel himself, he walked slowly, in a deliberate and trance-like gait, toward the house at the end of the street. It was utterly destroyed, but never had been torn down. It remained as a testamentto what, most in the neighborhood didnt know. But there it stood, a lifeless and empty wreck of what had once been a home. As he neared the front walk, a sign appeared. Snape glanced over it, but the very hollowness, the very distant feeling of the words, stung him: He focused, instead, on the untidy and enthusiastic words of comfort and encouragement that covered the sign. These were human, more than just words, and it was much easier for him to bear to look at these than at the sterile and unfeeling inscription meant to memorialize this broken home in Godrics Hollow. Snape paused a moment, considering a small scrawl down at the bottom of the plaque, unobtrusively scrunched into a corner:
I miss you!
Snape traced a finger over the words; he had not written them, but the simple truth of them made him wonder who had. For a moment he wanted desperately to know with whom he shared that simple, painful sentiment. He looked up at the house again, imagining against his will that it had been he--standing in that doorway, risking all to defend his home and his familyIf only. And then an unintended growl formed in his throat as a blinding anger welled up inside him. He hated themhe hated the Muggles who passed that memorial, and this house, every day, never knowing what they stood for. He imagined bitterly the disapproving exchanges as people stood lamenting the dilapidated houses unsightliness, its affrontery to their comfortable little lives. He spat in the dirt. And Potterthe Boy Who Lived
All over the world that day, Witches and Wizards had raised their glasses to honor the boy who had defeated Lord Voldemort. But that simply isnt so, Snape thought angrily. The stupid child; all he did was hold still. If his mother hadnt tried to save him, if she hadnt died for him, the Dark Lord would have killed him without trouble. Snape sighed. It was Lily who defeated the Dark Lord, when she
He snarled, turning his back on the house and stalking back down the street the way he came. Snape had never come to Godrics Hollow, having talked himself out of it the few times hed thought he wanted to do so. And now he remembered why.
It wasnt long before he reached the churchyard again. He hesitated at the brink, debating whether he wanted more to enter or to run away. Eventually, he pushed his way hesitantly through the kissing gate and entered the graveyard, stepping cautiously between the silent tombstones. He recognized several names as belonging to Wizard familieshe even gave a small start when he found the graves of Dumbledores mother and sister: Hed known that the family had lived here, and knew that some were dead, but seeing their names carved in somber stone reminded him of Albus humanity. He stopped to ponder whether he would owe the Headmaster an apology in the morning. Afterward, he walked on, searching for the grave that, in truth, he most wanted never to have to see. And after a moment, he stumbled upon all that remained of James and Lily Potter, the two headstones standing side by side in the quiet gloom. He gave James tombstone only a sneer and a curt nod, and then turned his complete attention to Lilys. He stood a few feet back from the grave, not wanting to stand on iton her body! The very thought was too terrible to contemplate; he shivered, drawing his heavy cloak tightly around his body, folding his arms defensively in his characteristic manner. He glanced around uncertainly, wanting to be sure there was no one nearby. Looking back down at the grave a moment, he cleared his throat.
he closed his eyes, inhaling through his nose, and then opened them again as he breathed out slowly. I saw your son today. For the first time, Snape said, addressing the tombstone. Albus is right: He has your eyesprecisely your eyes
He stood thinking in silence, unsure of what to say next. Lily, I
he swallowed hard, looking determinedly everywhere but at the grave. He looked down at his fidgeting hands, and then stepped closer, reaching forward until his hand hovered just shy of the headstone. I miss you, Lily. I miss you terribly, he continued, allowing his fingertips to brush the top of the cold marble. He stepped closer then, laying both his hands atop the stone. You were always so much stronger than I am, so much
so much braver, he said, rubbing the stone with his thumbs as though his hands were resting on her shoulders. And I was a fool. You were right; you were always right
He slid down to his knees, and traced the letters of her name with his finger. I wanted so much to be what you wanted, but I just
wasnt ready. You needed me to be more than I was, and I just wasnt strong enough to change. He reached up, gripping the top of the stone with both hands, feeling the rough edge dig into his palms. So maybe you
he gritted his teeth, hanging his weight on his arms as he leaned closer to the gravestone.
maybe you did choose the
the better man. He glared at the next stone over for a moment, and then looked back up at her name through the curtain his lank hair formed around his face. But I did love you, Lily. Maybe not well, but I didand I do, he continued, his throat tightening. There are so many times I made the wrong choice, and if I could go back and change any one of them, then maybe
maybe youd still be here, he sighed, dropping his hands into his lap and sinking lower to the ground.
Lily, he said softly, his eyes turning up toward the grave while his face remained downcast and taut. Lily, I
he breathed in and out sharply a few times. Albus never told you, Im sure. He swallowed again. It was me, Lily, he groaned. I told V he shuddered, wincing a moment. I told the Dark Lord the prophecy. I was the one who overheard it and stole away to report it to himlike a mangy cur, scurrying to its masters heel, he growled through his teeth, clenching his hands tightly until the nails dug into his flesh. He felt their bite, but only closed his fists tighter as anger built up again inside him. He decided the prophecy meant yyour son, but it was me
His breathing was shallow; he began to tremble. Lily, it was me! he said, turning his bloodied palms up toward the lifeless stone. Your Secret-Keeper turned on you, and the Dark Lord k-killed you, but it was all because of me! He was up on his knees again, his face so close to her tombstone he could feel his own breath on his face. He ran his hands desperately, entreatingly, over the cool stone, leaving thin smears of crimson across its smooth surface. Lily
Lily! It was all because of me! Its all my fault! He was clawing at the stone now, his eyes stinging. Its all my fault, and I
His voice quaked as his whole body trembled. Im
Im so sorry! he cried, and it was as though a dam had suddenly broken, all his self-control dissolving instantly: His entire frame shook violently, hot tears streaming heavily down his face as he gasped and sobbed, clutching the stone and hanging his whole weight upon it as though he were in danger of falling into a bottomless chasm if he lost his hold.
His body strained as it was wracked by each wave of grief that washed over him, and as his strength gently faded, he sank slowly to the ground, until he lay, exhausted, leaning sideways against the tombstone now flecked with his blood and tears. His self-control began to return to him, but even as his breathing slowed he drew his overly large cloak over himself, shivering from cold, sickness, pain, and fear by turns. Part of him wanted to retch, but he was too tired to do so. Turning toward the headstone once more, he caressed it lightly with his fingers, imagining it was her face, her cheek, that he was touching. Please forgive me, Lily, he said softly, his limp hair clinging to his damp face. I love you. He moved closer to the stone and, closing his eyes, pressed his lips to it with a lingering kiss. Then, he turned to lean against the stone once more, and wrapped himself in his cloak with a heavy sigh. Good night, Lily.
As the sun rose over Godrics Hollow, a pale, thin man, with tired black eyes and lank black hair, dressed in a billowing cloak, stood motionless on the walk in front of an old abandoned house. He reached into the folds of his eccentric garment, and produced three long-stem rosesone red, one white, one blackand stooped down to place them in front of the door. He straightened, considering his offering a moment, and then turned and walked out to the edge of town. The people of Godrics Hollow emerged later that morning, and many gathered to look at the three roses and the old house, to gossip about the dark man and the enigmatic gift hed left behind. There were some that suggested, quietly, that perhaps someone had died thereperhaps a family. And perhaps there were those who knew, for some people seemed to glance at the house with tears in their eyes when they passed by that day. A few said they thought they had seen the man lingering in the churchyard, so some went thereas though on a holy pilgrimagesearching for answers. Those who had lived in town for some time said they vaguely remembered when the house had been destroyeda fire, they thought it had been. In any case, the folk in Godrics Hollow spent a great deal of time thereafter talking animatedlyfor the first time in nearly ten yearsabout the odd house at the end of the street, speculating wildly about the family that had lived there and what had befallen them. They talked, too, of the strange, dark man who had appeared one September and left three roses on the threshold of that broken home, but he was never seen there again.