A/N: I solemnly swear to limit myself to three fics this time. As you may know, I like my characters to be a bit more complex, have some meaning behind their actions, whether is a disability like before or what you'll find in this fic. This one will have the theme of over coming things one may not like about themselves. I never intend to offend anyone so I sincerely apologize ahead of time if that happens. This one is a bit different, you'll see why, but all will become clear shortly.
I certainly understand that this isn't everyone's cup of tea, but the problems detailed in this chapter exist for a reason and will begin to diminish after chapter four. I ask you to stick with me.
Disclaimer: I don't own any part of the Wizarding World.
The Order was fixed quietly around the table. After the deaths of the Prewett brothers only days ago a melancholy weight hung over each of them. They found no point to mingle, to share the good things in their lives when two young, inspirational men had been snuffed out. Molly Weasley's eyes were still ringed with red, as they had been for the past four days since the deaths of her brothers. Her short sniffles were the only things that filled the room. Frankly, Lily was surprised she'd shown up at all.
The dozen or so of them that remained stared in silence at the headmaster. Each unsure just what they were waiting for. It seemed they had all arrived and each was anxious to go home, to rid themselves of the overbearing sadness the meeting brought. The door to the safe house clicked open suddenly, followed by two hushed voices whispering to one another. Each head, other than Dumbledore's, snapped to glance at the newcomers. The first one to step through the door was a woman, she was overly thin, with her skin stretched tight over each bone in her body and held high on long legs. Her attention had yet to be given to those already waiting and all Lily could see was her stick straight blonde hair. She fiddled with her own, ratty red curls, feeling an unprecedented jealousy.
The woman finally turned, beaming at those waiting for her to get on with it. She seemed clueless, or careless about the mood the room was filled with. As she stepped inside the other person was made visible. Lily's heart plummeted for a reason she didn't quite understand. Standing in the doorway was Severus, looking quite a bit different than the last time they'd laid eyes on each other.
The ghost of smile he'd had upon entrance, the one given to the woman before him, easily fell from his lips. They quickly fell into a hard pressed line as he took a seat beside the snobbish seeming woman he'd arrived with. The two empty chairs had been assumed to belong to the late Fabian and Gideon, but it was clear now they'd been expecting others all along.
"Ah." Dumbledore said with a grin and a nod. "Ms. Novak, Master Snape, glad you could join us this evening."
Around the room eyebrows quirked and mouths hung agape. It had been well suspected that Snape had become a Death Eater even before graduation. This Novak person on the other hand remained unidentifiable. She passed an envelope to the nearby Dumbledore, speaking in an exotic accent Lily didn't recognize. "The paperwork you requested, Headmaster."
Dumbledore nodded carefully. "Yes, thank you both." Without another word to her or for way of explanation, he tucked the folder into the interior of his robes. "I regret we had to reconvene so soon, after the tragic loss of two of our valued members." He sighed wistfully as way of showing his grief before turning to look once more at Severus and Novak. "It seems however we have two new members interested in joining our ranks. I have not been immune to the rumors surrounding Master Snape, but I expect each and every one of you to trust my judgement and behave like adults." He gave first a pointed glare to Severus and then two more to James and Sirius across the room.
Lily followed his gaze, her own eyes landing on the clearly furious and confused one of James who fidgeted in his seat. She rolled her eyes away from him, directing her attention forward once more.
"If I may, Dumbledore?" The blonde woman spoke, continuing after the approval she was given. "My, eh…associate and I are pleased to fight amongst you, to end this…Vol…de…more?" She glanced quickly at Severus for his approval. He nodded almost imperceptibly, urging her on. "You may call me Zahrah." She smiled sweetly, turning her eyes on each of them.
"Thank you, Zahrah." Dumbledore returned the happy gesture before continuing. "For our older members, Severus attended Hogwarts with some of our very own, Lily, the Longbottoms, and our three troublesome boys in the corner." The comment earned dispersed chuckles. "Now, let's get down to business, shall we? I will be investigating the new information Zahrah has brought us before sharing it with the rest of you, but it seems we may have hit a lull. According to my intel-"
Lily felt the sudden heat of a pair of eyes boring into the side of her. She turned in it's direction, finding Severus' smoldering black eyes upon her. She met his stare, giving neither a smile or a frown and receiving the same in turn. His eyes searched her face and she fidgeted uncomfortably before turning away.
"-demort is seeking some particularly rare potions ingredients, for what we do not yet know. I would ask our shop keepers in particular to keep a record of anyone requesting such items. Merlin knows Lord Voldemort won't have good intentions for these items-"
Lily listened half heartedly, fidgeting with a stray thread on the hem of her sleeve as Dumbledore continued. The sight of Severus had thrown her off. She hadn't seen or even heard of his presence since the day they'd left Hogwarts. She hadn't exactly planned on it happening again either, they'd always run in different circles. Part of her was surprised he was even still alive, knowing what he was now. It wasn't necessarily his being here that disturbed her so, rather the ease he'd had with Zahrah, the expressions he'd thrown her way, the smile he'd come with that was meant for her. The blonde didn't seem to share the same affection, distancing herself carefully from him physically and sharing looks that meant she only found him to be a friend. Looks Lily recognized because she herself had given them to Severus once upon a time. She found herself wondering where Severus had been, how the two of them knew each other.
It was then she found her eyes drift down to his disappearing waistline. That was certainly different. In their short time apart he had clearly grown in size and Lily couldn't help but notice just how fat he'd gotten. She was surprised by her own rude thought and averted her eyes back upwards…where she found him staring again, knowing just what she had been thinking.
Lily whispered an almost silent "excuse me" and pushed herself away from the table she was seated at. She made her way to the refreshments that had been laid out for them and poured herself a cup of water. She turned, leaning back against the table and pretending to listen to Dumbledore as she sipped at the chilled liquid. Lily remained there, feigning interest and thirst until the meeting concluded.
As Dumbledore finished speaking the room was filled with a quiet hum of voices picking up and conversing. Some lingered her way while others stayed seated. It was Alice who approached her first, standing close by so only Lily could hear the words she spoke. "Are you alright? You seem…"
"Yeah, yeah." Lily plastered on a fake smile in an attempt to placate Alice's clear worry. "I was thirsty is all."
Alice lifted a disbelieving eyebrow at her. "It's him, isn't it?"
Lily dropped her eyes, focusing on swirling the water in her cup and wishing she'd opted for something stronger. "I wasn't expecting it is all."
Alice nodded, not pushing her any further. "What do you think of the new girl? He seems smitten by her."
"She's obviously not from around here." Lily dodged
"Lily." A deep voice interrupted them and Alice stepped away with a knowing smile.
"Severus." Lily replied, equally measured.
They stared at each other momentarily, neither sure what to say to the other. It was Lily who broke the silence first. "How have you been?"
"I've been well." He replied awkwardly. "Are you still in Cokeworth?"
She shook her head. "No, I moved to London with James some time ago."
"Ah, I haven't been there in some time myself. "
"Not even to see your family?"
"No." He replied simply. "I spent some time traveling Europe, only just got back."
"Is that where you picked up the arm candy?"
He smirked at her obvious jealousy, she'd never been comfortable in her own skin. "You could say that…James doesn't seem happy to see me." He pointed out the obvious.
Lily laughed suddenly, clapping a hand over her mouth. She looked over at James who was, once again in close proximity to Remus and Sirius. Their furtive glances in her and Severus' direction made it clear just what their topic of conversation was. "No, I can't say that he is."
"Well." Severus began, ending the conversation much sooner than she had hoped. "I must be going, I'll see you around."
He turned from her and Lily reached out instinctively to touch his clothed arm. He shifted on his feet, looking at her once more and she remained frozen, seeming to have forgotten her words momentarily. "It was nice seeing you." She dropped her arm back to her side as he gave her a confirming nod and stepped back to Zahrah's side. Lily watched as he placed his hand on her low back, guiding her from the building.
Lily cleared her throat, depositing her cup and following closely behind, off to her own home. She heard the resonating pop of Severus' disapparation as she stepped into the cold, winter air. With a turn on her heels she found herself back in her own apartment.
It was still clustered with moving boxes she'd been too lazy to unpack and had no plans to begin that night. Stepping past them and into the dark hallway she wandered to her lone bedroom, flicking her wand as she stepped inside. The black room was filled instantaneously with harsh, fluorescent light. She stepped from her robes, leaving them puddled on the floor before stepping in front of her mirror. She examined herself, her faults more specifically. Her face was covered in far too many freckles, a consequence of her red hair and pale complexion. It was nothing like the tan, unblemished one of Zahrah. Lily just seemed to be "too everything". She was too short, her thighs were too chubby and dimpled, even her eyes were too pale of a green. Nothing about her seemed to stand out, to grab a man's attention.
There had only ever been Severus and James. One she had pushed away while the other had done the same to her. It was no wonder James had left her, had found something better. She would have done the same thing if she were him. She sighed in disappointment, dressing herself in a thick nightgown that would hide as many imperfections as possible and climbed into her lonesome bed, shutting the lights off once more.
He didn't know why he bothered. It was clear Zahrah had no interest in him, he was just so desperate for some type of human touch, compassion, and he hungered after her. Their living situation was one of convenience, not attraction. Of course, if it had been a sexual relationship they wouldn't have had separate bedrooms.
They'd parted their separate ways as soon as they arrived, each to their respective quarters. Severus' was filled with the enchanting smell of cherry and alihotsy. He stepped towards the potion that was bubbling listlessly in the corner. Taking a large inhale of the fumes, he gave two more counter turns and watched as the liquid changed from a red to a dull, greying color.
Severus stepped away, taking a heavy seat upon the edge of his bed and untying his hefty, black boots. He sighed in disappointment at his thickening middle, his hand going instinctively to it as he sat up again. Merlin, even Lily had noticed. That much had been obvious, the way her eyes bulged at the sight of him. He'd dreaded today's meeting since deciding to join. There were the obvious pains of James and Sirius, but they weren't the only ones he'd attended school with. The reception of his presence had been better than he expected, he was more than grateful the Marauders hadn't approached him. But, the look on Lily's face had been enough.
He'd never been comfortable in his own skin. As a child and throughout his teenage years he had been overly scrawny, more bone than meat. There simply hadn't been enough food at home to feed the three of them. Once at Hogwarts, despite having the opposite problem, he simply didn't have much of an interest in it all, never having much of an appetite.
That had certainly changed he thought to himself as he stripped. The death of his Mum had changed him, sent him spiraling into a depression he'd only recently begun climbing out of. She'd been the only stability in his life and having lost her mere days after returning home from Hogwarts for the final time had been too much. He'd packed his few belongings the day after her funeral and hadn't seen his father since. The circumstances surrounding his Mum's death we're too suspicious. That, combined with a life with his abusive father had given him no reason to stay behind.
First came France, the land of carbs. It had been fun at first, exploring a new city everyday, living a life he'd never thought he would. But, as he traveled across countries the caloric increase, excessive drinking, and lack of exercise had begun to take their toll, until he became the utter butterball he was now. Severus fell asleep vowing to change things, if for no other reason than being back with his schoolmates – with Lily."
Severus found himself in the headmaster's tower only days later, pouring over the documents he and Zahrah had provided. The two men sat beside each other in matching armchairs, the papers spread out on a table in front of them.
"This is a rather detailed layout of the headquarters." Dumbledore pointed out, scanning the sheet Severus had drafted previously.
"It's protected by a fidelius charm, as you can imagine. Unfortunately we won't be able to touch it unless we can find a way around it."
"And just how did you get this information?"
"It was Zahrah, mostly. I can see the building, but I'm afraid it would be too dangerous for me to approach it." He shifted in his seat
"I'm afraid I'm going to need more of an explanation." Dumbledore urged as he placed the parchment back down and leaned backwards.
"Zahrah's a Death Eater, she bares the mark. She has never aligned herself with Lord Voldemort, rather joined his side purely for information. I on the other hand had originally planned to join him, to be an actual Death Eater should we say. Plans fell through after some extenuating circumstances and I haven't returned to his side since. He had yet to give me the mark and has no way of controlling me. I can't say my being there would be a welcome one"
"But you spent time at the headquarters previously?"
"Precisely. This time I was merely a lookout while Zahrah explored parts of the building that aren't as well known to either of us. With the use of your pensieve – thank you, by the way – we were able to reconstruct the warehouse by pooling our memories."
"Of course, being under a fidelius-" Dumbledore's voice halted as a light knock came at the doorway to his office. He pushed himself from the chair he'd been occupying and made his way, slowly, to the large wooden doors. As he opened them, he sent the papers he and Severus had been examining back into the folder with a jerk of his wand. "Lily, dear. Come in."
"I hope I'm not imposing." Came her small voice. "Rather I had some interesting information to share."
The headmaster stepped back from the doorway and she stepped in, eyes falling on Severus in surprise, much like they had shortly before. "Oh!" She startled. "I didn't know you had company."
"Nonsense, Lily." Severus spoke lightly. "Forget I'm even here."
Lily looked skeptically up at Dumbledore, asking with her eyes if Severus could be trusted. The old man replied by leading her over to the set of furniture he had previously been sharing with the other man. They each took a seat, Dumbledore back in the arm chair and Lily perching on the edge of the couch across from them.
"I found myself in Knockturn Ally this morning and overheard some whispers. It seems You-know-who is actively recruiting again. He practically had a booth and a sign up sheet set up. It was near Dystyl Phaelanges."
She watched as Severus and the headmaster shared a knowing look before Severus gave one curt nod, confirming whatever it was between them.
"What exactly did you hear?" Severus pushed to her surprise.
"Much of the same as before, guaranteed protection, a chance to make a difference. It seems our last hit did some damage to their numbers." Severus nodded again, seeming to confirm that as well which threw Lily off. "I'm sorry." She continued. "But perhaps we could use our words?"
"I'll have it looked into." Severus explained. "Did you make out any details by chance?"
She shook her head. "The typical black robes. I couldn't have gotten close enough to make out features without raising suspicion."
"Then how did you over hear them?" Severus asked with his own suspicion.
"Oh." She blushed. "I'd vacated a shop behind them, they didn't know I was there."
"Thank you for this, Lily. It does help explain the drop in activity I mentioned yesterday. Did it seem as if anyone was interested?"
"Quite a few, unfortunately. It is a seedy part of town."
"Perhaps the two of you wouldn't mind returning? Keeping an eye on the proceedings?" Both their heads turned quickly to look at their old Headmaster. He should know better than anyone why they'd had a falling out. "I believe The White Wyvern is nearby there." He dug into his pocket retrieving a sack of coins. "Have a drink while you're at it, on me."
Severus and Lily stared at one another awkwardly as Dumbledore stood, effectively dismissing them like school children once more. "But, sir." Severus protested. "The papers?" He cast a glance at the folder still laying on the table.
"I believe I can find my way around them. If I have any questions I can speak to you at our next meeting." Dumbledore turned his back on them, heading for his desk. Lily stood first with Severus right behind her. They made their way to and through the door in silence, walking the empty halls.
It was just after ten, classes would have started by now which explained the empty presence. The only sound that filled the corridor were the clicking of their shoes upon the ancient stone. "Bit early for a drink, isn't it?" Lily offered.
Severus pulled back a sleeve, checking the magical watch on his wrist. "Does it really surprise you?"
"No." She chuckled momentarily before falling serious again. "I see you kept it." She nodded at the time piece.
He frowned as if the reasoning was obvious. "I don't understand why I wouldn't."
Their voices slowly came to an awkward stop and they continued their journey to the gates in silence. Finally, when they were out pasf the line of apparition, Lily linked her arm through his which earned her a raised eyebrow before she disapparated.