The Sacrifice

by darsynia

Notes: Set during Severus and Lily's seventh year at Hogwarts; AU of Deathly Hallows.
For gidgee. Written 7/07/07.

James thinks it's batty, but I find something very comforting about Hogwarts at nighttime. The halls are quiet, and I can examine the walls, speak to the portraits, and read the inscriptions on the suits of armor in peace—well, not always, of course. As Head Girl I'm given the chance to walk the halls at night so I can enforce the curfew, and an evening hasn't yet passed where I haven't had to send a pair of students back to their dormitories with a stern look and a threat to take house points next time. I've managed to convince James that it's a Bad Idea to patrol together, now that we're together, mainly because we're meant to be stopping other students from snogging in a dark corner, not doing it ourselves. That's not the whole reason, though. The truth is, I enjoy silence, and even when James Potter isn't speaking, he's rarely silent.

Tonight has been unusual—for one thing, there are a lot fewer students up and about than normal, though I expect the cold might have something to do with that. The real oddity had been finding a Slytherin and a Gryffindor together in an alcove; 'dueling' might be one way to describe what they'd been doing, but there hadn't been a wand in sight. I was so surprised at the time that I simply pointed towards the stairs, and the pair ran off immediately. I've never been a follower of the Gryffindors Against Slytherins At Any Cost movement, but after seven years here, it's a fact of Hogwarts life that our two houses don't get along. There was a time when I thought I could have made a difference in that sort of negative thinking, but... It turns out that a lone Gryffindor without possession of a thick skin to protect her is no match for centuries of such ingrained stereotypes.

My rounds have come full circle and I check my watch for the time. James may mock me for wearing it all he likes—and he does, the prat—practical is practical, whether you're a witch or a Muggle housewife. It's nearing on twelve o'clock; I know he'll have already gone back to Gryffindor Tower, and I really ought to do so as well. I'm not going back just yet, though—the truth is, I'm feeling a little sentimental, and I'm not willing to give up having the school to myself just yet, not when spring is so close, bringing the last days I'll spend at Hogwarts with it.

I decide to turn towards the dungeons, wanting to visit a certain portrait that I've always liked but rarely get to see. While someone like Sirius may see no link between prudence and courage, over the past two years I've managed to convince myself that I've been braver to stand by my convictions, rather than having the messy and miserable conversation I'd much rather avoid. As I walk the staircases leading down to the dungeons, I can't help but think about the circumstances that have brought me to where I am—to who I am, now. There's a sort of casual cruelty to the way James and his friends treat each other; I don't think that, five years ago, I would have ever seen myself as close to them as I've become. It would be easy to blame my de-sensitivity on my sister's few, but hurtful letters, on that awful moment on the lawn... but, sometimes I wonder if it's just a part of growing up—realizing that life isn't fair, that things won't always go the way you've dreamed they would.

"You should be in bed," a male voice says from the shadows, his tone terse, wary. Hearing that voice just as I'd been trying not to think about him knocks away the defensive wall I'd carefully constructed against his memory, against our memories. I'm too weary to draw strength from righteous anger, and I can feel the tears I've pushed away for years threaten to show themselves.

"You're one to talk," I say, wincing as my voice sounds too loud to my own ears. Severus is nothing if not perceptive, no matter how he tries to hide it from others—that was part of why he'd hurt me so much. "I'm doing my rounds," I say in a softer voice. I can't see him, but this helps somewhat. The few glimpses I've had of him since our falling out have shown him looking more severe, drawn. I don't want to think about how our changes in personality and association display differently in each of us.

"Will you take house points?" he asks with caustic humor. "James would—I would. You have a reputation to protect, after all."

"Don't let's talk about reputations," I snap at him, wounded. I want to hurt him, now, like for like, as though if I could just make him feel as I had, it would zero out my own pain. "-And you're not James," I add, a trickle of fear at my own audaciousness penetrating the fury. Severus hadn't been the only one in our friendship gifted with perception.

"No, I'm not." Severus says this with no hint of the enmity of his previous statements, stepping away from the shadows to lean against the wall across from me. With a calmly spoken phrase, he's managed to make me look unreasonable and spiteful in my own attitude. I realize in that moment, with sudden and frightening clarity, that part of why it had been so 'easy' to give up our friendship was that I'd never, ever felt in control of it. Sev had always somehow been in charge, even when he'd lost control and said such hateful things to me. Would that I could gain the upper hand, just once...

Well, I'm not a Gryffindor for nothing.

"I'd say you wished you were," I say, viciously, continuing with, "—but then you'd have a Mudblood for a girlfriend—"

"Don't!" he cries out, stepping forward quickly, an arm outstretched. The moonlight strikes his face, showing the anguish in his expression, the tenseness with which he holds himself. "Don't ever call yourself that, Lil!" he says, his voice breaking a little at his old nickname for me—but I tell myself my heart is stone.

"A trifle hypocritical, would you say, Sev?" I say, watching with a touch of unwilling remorse as my own use of his nickname causes him to react as though I've slapped him. He bows his head for a moment before surging forward and taking me by surprise; his eyes pin me in place as surely as his trembling hands on my upper arms hold me still against the cold stone at my back.

"For the last time, I didn't mean to hurt you," he says fervently, his grip tightening as he speaks as though he wishes to shake me, but doesn't. "You meant to hurt me just now—can you not see the difference?"

I'd told myself I didn't miss him. I'd ordered myself to forget our friendship, gone so far as to change my own personality so I could live with that decision—yet here he is, as much the same as I feel different. He is right, of course. I'd known that at the time, but the fact that he'd slipped and said it had been too painful to forgive. He should have walked away just now, said something equally hurtful, not come closer!

The tears I had told myself repeatedly he was not worthy of finally break through, and the only control I can muster is to prevent myself from sobbing. I turn my head to the side, only to see his hand on my arm, the closest I've been to my one-time best friend in almost two years. A tear splashes onto his hand, and when I lift mine to brush it away, he releases my arms to stop me, catching my hand in his, pulling it to his chest.

"Don't," he says again, in such a way that I can't tell if he's referring to my earlier insult or my tears. Unable to meet his eyes, I stare straight ahead, his robe looking blurred through the tears. My hand seems so small compared to his—we've both grown, changed in the time since we stopped spending time together. Through the silence comes an odd awareness, a recognition of the differences in each other, perhaps. His touch warms me in a way that James's doesn't; I feel guilty, but not enough to pull away. I feel compelled to speak, though, to somehow break the tension or refocus it on something less dangerous.

"I—I did mean to hurt you, just then," I admit, shutting my eyes against a new wave of tears. "I wanted you to... well, to feel how I'd felt, I guess." I am suddenly very afraid that he will affirm that I'd succeeded, so I rush on. "I see how—how it's not the same thing..."

His hand tightens on mine and he sighs deeply. "Thank you," he says, his voice completely devoid of any sarcasm or irony. I can't stop my surprised gasp in response, my eyes flying up to meet his, searching to understand.

"Severus, I just admitted to—" I begin, only to be interrupted by my companion.

"You let me back in," he says, simply. The words sound incongruous, not at all characteristic of him, and I shake my head, brow furrowed slightly. "Not fully, I know," he clarifies; "we've gone too far for that, haven't we?"

His words remind me of our strikingly different positions in life, him and his nasty friends, plotting for power, me and my admittedly callous new group of friends, secure in their—our—own righteousness. Thinking of James just makes me more aware of the fact that I'm standing in a dark hallway with a young man, something I'd never really thought of Severus as. Severus had always been 'Sev,' my friend, my confidante, someone to argue with when we inevitably disagreed on something.

I'd been looking at his face, his hair, cataloguing the differences in him, but now I look at his hands, noting the added strength to them, though they remain as pale and thin as ever. They no longer look like a child's hands, and neither do mine, in his grasp. This makes me blush, reminds me that, while James and I are of close to equal height, Severus is taller than me, tall enough to make me feel... well, feminine, as odd as that sounds.

"Lily," he says, and I can hear in his voice that he is noticing these things too. I feel a thrill rush through me as I look up, seeing the way he's looking at me, somehow recognizing that he'd always looked at me with hints of this expression, but never with such intensity. I squeeze his hand, and a ghost of a smile crosses his face before he shuts his eyes against it, squeezing back.

"Do those around us ever understand our impulses?" he murmurs cryptically, eyes still closed. I try to come up with a response that would in some way negate the influence his awful friends have on him, but he releases my hand and I look up swiftly when he moves to brush the hair from my wet cheeks. His movements are so gentle, yet so deliberate, that I begin to understand his enigmatic statement in just enough time to meet his eyes as he leans down to press his lips to mine.

I knew I should have turned away, but I could not. All my held-back emotion, all of the reasons I should have pulled away and run—everything that made a case for stepping back were exactly what held me, trembling, in place. Severus had always held himself in control—but not now. His hand slides into my hair, pulling me closer to him as his mouth slants over mine, kissing me with such passion that I cannot help but respond to it. I run my hands up his arms, reaching to clutch at his shoulders for support as the kiss deepens. When we finally break for air, I open my eyes and lift a hand to his face, touched acutely by the loving way he's looking at me, even after I'd treated him so coldly for so long. I feel as if something has changed, as though I've shifted back into the Lily I was before I'd retreated from him in such pain.

The fullness of emotion leads me to lift up and kiss him of my own accord, a long, sweet caress that leaves us both a little stunned from the power of it. He pulls me close, resting his cheek against my hair for a long moment before he speaks.

"You know, I would never ask—never want you to change for me," he says softly, and my hands close into fists, grasping at his robe in frustration. Why did he have to remind me of James, of the differences in myself that have come about because of him, right at a moment when I most wanted to forget him? I rest my forehead on his chest and sigh. It's a sweet thing to say, were it not for all of the other things it reminds me of.

"Sev," I say, meaning to thank but also gently admonish him for bringing up Our Issues at a time like this, but as before, he interrupts me.

"Lily," he says, reaching up to pull my hands from his robes and hold them in his own. I don't want to look at his face to see the reservation I'm afraid I'll see there. What I really want is to roll back to the past, start again at a time when I can influence him more, change his mind about the people he associates with, give him some perspective. As much as I'm starting to care for James, Severus had been right about him in many ways...

"Look at me," Severus says, and I do, looking into his eyes to find an odd sadness there, very different from the shuttered regret I had feared. I take an involuntary step back, breaking contact, and as I do so, he reaches into his robe. "I'm sorry," he says, his voice thick with emotion.

Confused, I can only stare at him as he lifts his wand.


I step back into the shadows to watch Lily move purposefully away to complete her rounds. I am already regretting my impulsive action but I know that it was probably the least selfish thing I could have done, under the circumstances. My sleeve had slipped up when I'd held her close, and the sight of the Mark—and the knowledge of what kind of commitment I'd made in order to achieve it—had been a painful reminder that, as Lily had told me the last time we'd spoken to each other, I'd chosen my way, and she'd chosen hers. The decision to deviate from that isn't mine to make, anymore, and the last thing I want to do is hurt her again.

James, selfish jerk he may be, is more likely to make her happy than I ever could, anyway.

I shut my eyes, playing in my mind the scenes as they had unfolded minutes before. The image of her beautiful green eyes, shocked and saddened, seem to be seared into my consciousness, and I know I will never be able to look at them again without remembering what it had felt like to hold her, warm, loving, and responsive, in my arms.