Severus left his last N.E.W.T. feeling confident that he had done well and knowing that it didn’t matter in the slightest. In a week, he would be “initiated”. He would become a Death Eater. Severus knew this, he had come to terms with it.
Yet something held him back.
That something had a name. Lily. Her bright red hair danced as she gaily skipped to the lake, glancing once over her shoulder to see if he was following. At one time, Severus would have been the one she was waiting for. Now, it was him. James Potter. He joined her and they held hands, walking to stand at the edge of the lake. Severus stood in the shadow of a tall tree and looked on. And such was life. Such was his life.
Disgusted with them, with himself, Severus turned away. Avery promised him that when he was a true Death Eater, he would have power that Potter couldn’t even dream of. Severus tried to find comfort in that but couldn’t chase the image of Lily fromm his mind.
The image of what could have been his, could still be his.
Unable to resist, Severus turned back to look once more at the girl he still loved as she stood by the lake, hair fluttering delicately in the warm summer’s breeze. He watched her turn to the side, saw her face light up, before he knew what was happening. Potter was down on one knee, offering up a small dark object.
No, no, Severus screamed within. If he had been able to make a sound, his words probably would have come out in a low keen. He staggered towards them without thinking, joining the slowly growing thong.
Potter’s voice carried on the breeze. “Lily Evans, the most beautiful, perfect girl in the world. Lily, will you marry me?”
Potter was right on one account, Severus thought numbly. She was the most beautiful, most perfect girl he had ever laid eyes on. And now there was no hope she would ever be his. Severus’s breath caught as he pushed through the people blocking his view. No, there was still a chance. She hadn’t said yes yet.
Severus broke through the ring of people just as Lily looked up, her green eyes bright with happiness. Severus didn’t need legilimency to see that.
“Of course,” she breathed. Raising her eyes, she met Severus’s.
Severus could only imagine the expression on his face at that moment. One of horror, perhaps, or maybe devastation. Either way, it would reflect what he was feeling inside. Something flickered over Lily’s face before Potter stood and enveloped her in a hug, kissing her deeply. Severus didn’t wait around to watch. Before they separated, he was gone.
Snape felt the pain as fresh, as acute, as it had been on that day. Yet somehow, the pain bolstered him to keep going. It grounded him to reality. The pain of being human, of feeling the sting of your dreams, hopes, fantasies crashing into the pit of despair that was slowly overtaking him. As hard as it was for him to do, Snape kept watching.
Severus wandered about in a daze for the rest of the day, finally finding himself in the gardens as the sun sank below the horizon. He stared out over the rolling hills of the Hogwarts grounds, yearning to run, to get away from here. Seven days, he reminded himself. Seven days and he could do whatever he liked. He would be free, in a whole new way. The chill of the summer’s night touched his skin but Severus paid no heed.
“May I sit here?” an all too familiar voice asked from behind Severus.
Severus closed his eyes and didn’t reply. He felt the brush of her robes as she sat next to him on the stone bench. He smelled the lavender scent of her hair. It was almost too much to bear without breaking.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Lily said conversationally.
Severus opened his eyes and turned to her. “Shouldn’t you be with your fiancé?” he asked with open bitterness.
Lily gave him a look of deep sympathy. “Sev, I know you don’t like him, but I do. I love him.”
Severus looked away, out over at the horizon. “What do you know of love?” he asked rhetorically. After a beat he said, “So you finally decided to talk to me. Ignored me for two years.”
“I saw you were upset and I just wanted to tell you that...” Lily shook her head angrily. “I don’t know what I wanted to tell you. I just felt bad. But if you can’t be happy for me, for my happiness, then maybe I shouldn’t have tried.”
Severus didn’t look at her, didn’t reply.
Lily stood abruptly, irritated. Her fist balled at her sides, ring glinting in the dying light. The shine from the diamond cut through Severus like a knife. “Listen, there’s a war coming and it’s coming soon. Now, we chose to take happiness where we could find it, would you take that away from me?”
“You are eighteen. Are you really sure you want to marry Potter?” Severus spat, ignoring her point. “I thought he was an ‘arrogant toe-rag’,” Severus said, using her words from years ago.
“He’s changed,” Lily snapped. “Obviously you haven’t. I’m sorry I felt bad for you. Goodbye, Severus. I guess I won’t be seeing you at the wedding.”
Lily stormed off and Severus watched her go in an odd state of detachment. He showed no reaction. He wasn’t sure he would ever have real emotion again. As she left him there, in the garden- no, as she met his eyes after accepting Potter’s proposal, something broke within Severus. Something broke that could never be repaired, never atoned for. As she left him there, now, Severus was free. He was free to do as he pleased, to join the Death Eaters, to help the Dark Lord rise to power. He was free to do that but he would never again be free to love.