Acacias and Willows – April, 1979 : Opening Up

With a growl, he tossed the latest edition of the Prophet into the fireplace after seeing the headline of one of the minor stories on the front page and followed it with the collection of letters from the Ministry. There had been a stack of them on the kitchen windowsill this morning and he’d recognized the official seal on them almost immediately. No doubt they would be filled with all of the pleasant formal apologies that the Ministry sent to the widows of Aurors and he was not going to let Lily see that drivel.

It was bad enough she’d lost her husband. She didn’t need those emotionless apologies.

Severus stared moodily down into the fire for a moment, watching the edges of the parchment curl and crack into embers, and finally turned away as there was another hoot at his open kitchen window. This owl didn’t bear the mark of the Ministry and it eyed him almost suspiciously as he walked into the room.

“She’s asleep,” he said, addressing the bird politely. While he’d never owned an owl of his own, he’d always had a respect for the creatures. Mostly it was a product of his youth, from one of the wizarding stories his mother had told during those earliest days when she’d still held a semblance of clarity and self. Extending his hand, he added, “I will give it to her when she wakes.”

The owl cocked its head at him then let out a low hoot before it held out the leg that the letter was fastened to. After untying it, Severus gestured at the shallow bowl full of water he’d placed on the sill earlier in the day and glanced at the scrawl on the outside of the parchment. A sneer immediately curled at his lip as he saw Black’s untidy scribble and debated flinging it into the fireplace as well.

He stilled the urge, however, because despite everything he felt Black was Potter’s friend and this letter would not be empty consolation. For that alone he’d keep it. Taking a breath, Severus carefully placed the letter in the center of the table with the handful of others that seemed honest.

Glancing once towards the owl who was still drinking, he turned away from the table and towards the aged hulk of a refrigerator. Opening it and glancing about, Severus cursed at the meager state of his food stock as it wasn’t anywhere close to able to feed one person let alone two at the moment. He didn’t want to leave Lily alone in the house, however, so he shrugged the aside and set about to making tea.

As he waited for the kettle to boil, he collapsed into one of the kitchen chairs and smiled wryly to himself. If he closed his eyes, Severus could almost imagine that he was back in the tiny loft above his master’s shop that he’d occupied after leaving Hogwarts, boiling water for tea with a spell. Despite the fact that he’d been living in his childhood home since early January when his father had died (a loss he certainly hadn’t mourned), sometimes he still woke up thinking he was in that loft with nothing but his trunk and a bed.

It had been a miserable sort of living what with grabbing what sleep and relax he could above the shop between grueling hours of learning, eating almost solely at the Cauldron, and trying not to get caught when the Mark burned. Yet it had been simple, far more so than having to take care of a whole house that he still wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to keep.

Though having the house had allowed him to be there for Lily when she needed him. That alone made it worth putting up with living with the memories ingrained in the walls.

Thinking of Lily needing him led him back to the events of the night before and Severus frowned bitterly in remembrance. She’d been in obvious distress with tears streaming down her cheeks when she’d shown up and had flung herself at him as soon as the door had been open. Initially he had thought she’d been attacked and had slammed the door shut, warding it a moment later as soon as he fished up his wand from his pocket. Then he’d heard the two words that had made part of him happy for a brief moment before reality had brought him crashing down.

James and dead.

Scowling now as he remembered that split second of happiness, Severus rose from his chair as the kettle began to shriek and pulled it off of the hob. As he fixed his cup of tea – a spoon of sugar with a daub of honey – he paused a moment then prepared what would be a second cup of with a bit of peppermint leaf mixed in with the tea leaves in the infuser. It was the way he recalled Lily always taking her tea and he hoped that that hadn’t changed in the years of their estrangement.

Cup in hand, he moved into the living room and sank down onto the threadbare couch, sipping carefully at the hot liquid for several long moments before he dared let his thoughts drift back to the events of the evening before. He’d spent little time sleeping after he’d esconced Lily in his room, giving her one of the Dreamless Sleep Potions he kept on hand for his own occasional nightmares. Instead of obeying his tired body last night, Severus had obeyed his whirling mind and had not gone to sleep until the sky had begun to lighten. He was going to regret it in a few hours when he had to show up at his master’s shop to do his turn at minding it for the afternoon while the older man worked on projects in the back but that was minor to everything else.

Only getting a handful of hours of sleep was old hat for him now and he could suffer through it. Lily, his Lily, was suffering from a hurt he could never fix.

Cursing at himself aloud, Severus shook his head. His Lily indeed. She wasn’t his anymore than she’d ever been Potter’s. That had been one of his hardest things to shake, when he’d drifted into brooding and blaming everyone but himself despite knowing better deep down. He’d blamed Potter for stealing Lily, for taking her away from him, and he’d held to it so hard that for a moment he’d almost believed it.

Joining Voldemort and seeing just exactly what he’d gotten himself into had given him a good shake of reality. It was too late by that point, of course, but he was trying to make up for his mistakes, past and present. Though he wasn’t exactly sure how he was going to excuse the poisons he was having to brew for his true master as Bellatrix liked to taunt. He was never entirely sure of what they were used for or just how much blood might really be on his hands now.

Severus scowled then and closed his eyes as he sat his cup aside, lifting both hands to press his fingers against his temples. He really was tired if his thoughts were drifting there.

The sudden creak of one of the stairs made him bolt off of the couch and move forward, finding Lily slowly making her way down the stairs. Her feet were bare and she had a familiar shawl wrapped around her shoulders – his mother’s that he had taken before Tobias could toss everything in a fit of drunken rage after her death. She blinked at him for a moment, pausing on the stairs, then said softly, “Hi.”

“Good morning,” he greeted in return, unsure of what he should say. Severus then remembered the tea in the kitchen and gestured in that direction, saying, “I boiled water for tea if you want some.”

Lily just nodded and he pointed her towards the seat he’d vacated on the couch as he headed towards the kitchen himself. For some reason his hands were shaking as he poured the water into the cup and he cursed under his breath. He had no honest reason to be nervous! This was Lily, his friend.

His friend who’d just lost her husband, a dearth of emotion that he couldn’t even begin to connect with. Oh, he’d been heartbroken when his mother had killed herself but it was more for the woman she’d once been than her death. The only other time he’d felt such a loss was when he’d thought their friendship gone forever but that was still different.

Shaking himself, Severus carefully picked up the cup and headed back into the room to hand it to Lily. She smiled wanly and closed her eyes as she breathed in the smell of the tea, her hands wrapped around the cup as if to draw all of the warmth from it. “Peppermint,” she murmured after a moment and blinked open her eyes to look up at him. “Sev, you remembered.”

Feeling his cheeks heat up in embarrassment, he shrugged helplessly and felt like his fourteen year-old self again on the cusp of realizing what he felt for his best friend. “I remember most things,” he admitted quietly before he picked up his cup from the side table. He was intending on moving to sit in the armchair when her slim hand came to rest on top of his.

“Sit with me. Please.”

There wasn’t a question about refusing. As he settled himself onto the cushion next to her, Severus said, “You don’t have to say please.”

Lily just frowned and replied, “It’s polite.”

He started to open his mouth but snapped it shut because his words were inappropriate in the current situation. Her husband was dead and much as he’d loathed Potter, now was not the time to tell her that she never had to beg him for anything. All she had to do was ask and he would do it.

“Of course,” he said simply, choking down the words that felt like they wanted to explode out of him. As he settled down next to her, Severus tried to search for something – anything – to say but every set of words seemed all too hollow. Saying ‘sorry’ was what was supposedly appropriate in response to her loss but he honestly wasn’t sure that he was.

Sorry she was hurting, yes. He wasn’t sorry at all for Potter’s loss.

So he just sat in silence until she spoke, saying, “I’m sorry about last night, Sev. I don’t…” Lily paused and took a breath and he turned to look at her then, frowning at how wan and pale she seemed. “I meant to go to Mum’s. As soon as I Apparated there, though, I couldn’t go into the house.”

“Why?”

“Because she just lost Dad and I…I didn’t want to burden her.”

Severus’ frown turned severe at her words and he leaned forward to curl his fingers around the hand she had left in her lap. As she turned to look at him, he said firmly, “You are not a burden to your mother. And I think that after having gone through something similar, she would want to comfort her daughter who also lost her husband.”

“You think so?”

He arched an eyebrow and gave her the look he’d perfected in school when one of his ‘friends’ had questioned him about something Potions or Dark Arts related. It made Lily laugh and she nodded before squeezing his fingers as she said, “You’re probably right. I just…I couldn’t face her right then, so I started walking here. And…” She trailed off then, closing her eyes as if in pain, and sniffed.

“Lily?” he questioned, a bit confused as to the sudden change in her demeanor.

“Sorry,” she apologized, opening her eyes and smiling weakly at him. Lily then shook her head and said, “I just started thinking along the way how funny it was that James was dead and I was coming to you. How he would have been so angry that I didn’t go to Mum or Remus or even Sirius before I came here. That was when I started crying.”

Nodding, Severus murmured, “Right before you threw yourself at me.” When she grimaced, he flinched at how that had come out and hurriedly spoke again. “I meant nothing bad about it. You were distraught last night. I just…”

Lily shook her head and turned her hand underneath his to curl her fingers around his hand as she said softly, “It’s fine, Sev.” She then let out a ragged breath and closed her eyes before continuing, “I should be out of your hair soon.”

Terrified that he’d made her think that he didn’t want her around, he blurted, “No!” When she looked at him in confusion, Severus forced himself to take a deep breath and moved to grasp her hand with both of his own. “What I meant,” he said as evenly as he was able, “is that you can stay however long you have to. I don’t mind and I can’t imagine being alone in your house would be good for you right now.”

She just sat there watching him for a moment and he wondered what was going on behind those green eyes. Was she considering it? Or was she appalled at his offer? Perhaps trying to think of a polite way to deny him?

“Okay.”

“Okay?” Severus repeated, startled out of his ever more depressing thoughts of her denying his offer.

Lily just nodded and he breathed a sigh of relief before smiling at her. As her fingers squeezed his hand, he said, “My home is yours for as long as you feel you need it, Lily.”

Her smile in return was all of the thanks he needed.

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