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If death is a doorway, I am gate seeker

Chapter Text

Lily Potter is dead.


Lily Potter should be dead.

The cheerful little owl clock on top of the dresser hesitates, then ticks onward. The baby in the crib sucks in another eager breath, and wails anew. The dead girl on the floor- the should be dead girl on the floor- opens her eyes. She sees nothing but dancing black spots. She blinks again. The hardwood floor is cold and dusty underneath her. One would think a bomb had gone off in the little nursery. A gaping hole in one corner ushers in cold autumn air and the wind rattles the shattered window, glass clinking grittily.

Burn marks scour the walls. Plaster drifts down lazily from the battered ceiling like early snow. The almost corpse on the floor stares up at it, having stopped blinking, now uncomprehending. The baby’s wails grow louder like a siren, then fade back down to a low, hoarse series of sobs. The girl lying prone on the floor is covered in ash and dust, and her chest burns and burns. Her bare toes curl up reflexively. She still doesn’t understand, is still in shock, but instinct and adrenaline take over.

Lily Potter slowly, painfully, pulls herself up to a sitting position, grasping at the bars of the crib like a drowning man. Then she leans back against it. Her head pounds and throbs. She sucks in a rasping breath. She wants a drink of water more than anything. Her chest continues to burn. She limply scrabbles at her dressing gown, pulls down her thin camisole. Lighting sears down her chest, a brand slashing its way between her breasts. Her fingers trace its arc, and she flinches.

“Mama,” the baby says insistently, having given up his sobbing, rooting his little hands in her hair through the bars. “Mama!”

“I’m here, baby,” says Lily reflexively, and then she realizes, like a stone sinking into water. The baby. Her baby. Harry. James. Him. She bolts up onto her feet, and wavers, the room spinning around wildly like a dark carousel. She braces herself on the crib and scoops up the baby with one arm, presses his warm body against her burning chest. He’s wet his pajamas but he still smells like her Harry, and she breathes in his baby scent, nose pressed against his dark curls. There is a scar on his forehead, raised and red, a miniature version of the one lancing down her chest. She doesn't care. He's here. He's alive. Her head is aching and her throat hurts and her chest burns and the room is finally slowing down but she can’t- she doesn’t- “James?” she calls out, only it comes out barely more than a whisper. Lily sucks in another breath and takes a timid step forward, legs weak and shaky. “James?”

The cottage answers with hollow silence, and as her initial shock ebbs away like the tide, reason begins to fill the gaps. She starts to remember. She remembers what they ate for dinner, she remembers watching the children in their costumes out the window, peering into the gathering dark, she remembers the cat purring on her lap, she remembers James laughing with Harry. She remembers James. She remembers James’ scream for her to run. But she couldn’t. She couldn’t run, there is an anti-apparition ward on the cottage, she didn’t have her wand. Her wand. Her wand is in their bedroom down the hall. And James. James is downstairs. Silent.

Lily stands there for a few moments, willing it not to be true. But she heard the curse. Heard him fall. She had already broken at that point, when she heard his body come crashing to the floor below. She had already given up hope of escape. And now- she doesn’t know what happened. She has always hated not-knowing, has always been curious, too inquisitive for her own good. But Voldemort was here- and now he is not. Only ashes remain and dust and the moaning wind remain.

She wants to fall to her knees but she can’t. She has to see it with her own eyes. Has to see him. Slowly, haltingly, she takes a few trembling steps, edging around the broken furniture and splintered wood and shattered glass, Harry sleepy and unknowing in her arms, and moves into the narrow hall. There are strange new shadows on the walls, on the stairwell. At the bottom of it lies James. Lily stares down at him for a few moments until a low groan escapes her, and she shakes her head and silently screams at him to get up, cry out, do anything-

But he is still. Harry pats at her wet cheek. “Da?” Lily quickly turns around, feeling lightheaded. She doesn’t want him to see. He wouldn’t understand even if he saw but she doesn’t want him to see. She steps away from the stairs, afraid she might collapse down them at any moment, and walks quickly into their bedroom, sets Harry down on the bed, snatches up her wand from the night table. If she’d had this maybe James would be alive. If she hadn’t been such a stupid, foolish girl-

She closes her eyes for a moment and Voldemort is in front of her again, and she is trembling with terror but she cannot, will not move, she has never known him to offer a reprieve before, cannot think why he would bother, why he didn’t kill her as soon as he entered the room. To draw it out, to bleed the wound a little more? All she knows is that it went wrong. Something went wrong. She knew what he was going to cast before he even raised his wand. She knew she was dead. But… she isn’t.

Lily sits on the bed with her shaking hands clasped in her lap beside her half-asleep toddler, and bows her head as if in prayer, trying to block it all out. No. She needs to think. She can’t- James is gone but she can’t- Harry needs her. Her baby needs her. If she gives up now, gives into it all, her mind will shatter right here, and no one will be there to put her back together. She has to hold on a little while longer. More could be coming, looking for their master. They have to run. They have to get out of this house.

She forces herself to stand, rummages through the wardrobe in the corner, doesn’t dare look at James’ things. She claws off her dressing gown and camisole and pajama bottoms and stands there haggard and naked in the moonlight, and then dresses. Bra, underwear, trousers, her thickest jumper. Who knows how long they might be outside for. She puts on wool socks and shoves her feet into her sturdiest boots, which she hasn’t worn since last winter.

She pulls on her coat and scoops up Harry’s limp form, hurries down the hall and back into the nursery. No time to wrestle him out of his pajamas- she crunches broken glass underfoot and pulls out a pair of little shoes and a coat and hat, jams them onto his feet, bundles him in the coat, pulls the hat over his head. “Hold on to Mummy,” she tells him in a voice that does not sound like her own; it is cold and flat and dead. His little arms tighten around her neck; she needs one arm free for her wand.

It is time to face the stairwell and James once more. Lily pauses at the top, then steels herself and grips the banister, fighting back the inevitable tears. Don’t think, just move, she tells herself harshly. Just go. Take Harry and run. She walks stiffly downstairs like a soldier marching into battle, then stands before her husband’s body. He is lying on his side, his face turned away from her, but she can see the glint of his glasses. Lily chokes and coughs, every fiber of her being screaming to throw herself over him and scream until there is nothing left inside. But she has to go.

Lily moves around him, blinking furiously, and then the broken front door creaks on its remaining hinges. Someone is just outside. She doesn’t think much; she moves as she has moved in dozens of fights before this one, angles herself so she is shielding Harry, and raises her wand. She has never cast an Unforgivable before but there is a beast in her chest, screaming and screaming for something to sate it, and it will not be satisfied with a simple shield charm. And she has only one thing left to lose, and it certainly isn’t mercy.

“AVADA KEDAVRA!” she shrieks, and her Killing Curse sings out emerald green and true, and misses Severus Snape by a matter of inches, shattering the door frame even more. He flattens himself against the ruined door, face white with shock, and then they lock eyes. He looks like a man who has just seen a mirage in the desert. His lips move with her name.

Her next spell is not an Unforgivable, but it does send him flying into the front garden, where he skids across the damp grass, fumbling for his own wand. Lily steps out into the night air. Harry is wide awake and terrified now, clawing and scratching at her with his tiny nails, and she presses a hot kiss to his temple. “It’s alright,” she chants under her breath, “Mama’s got you, Mummy’s right here, love-” Another few yards and she will be able to apparate.

She points her wand at Severus again as he scrambles to his feet, back against a wind-tossed oak tree. “You’re alive,” he rasps. He raises a thin white hand in supplication or warning or both. “Lily, you’re alive-,”

“Give me one reason not to kill you,” Lily says, and again she does not recognize the sound of her own voice. The beast is still snarling inside her kill him hurt him rend him bleed him I want him dead I want them all dead look what he did to James my love I want them dead I want you back I’ll kill them all I swear I will come back darling I love you I want him dead I want him dead-

“I’m not here to hurt you,” Severus says. “Lily, please-,”

“Then get out of my way,” Lily hisses. “Get out of my way, Severus, before I do it-,”

“I’m here to help you,” he nearly shouts it, but the night swallows up his voice, is on the verge of consuming both of them. His matted hair is falling into his gaunt face, and the circles under his eyes are more pronounced than ever. Lily last saw him nearly a year ago, but that was in battle, and only from a great distance. She had been trying to decide what she might say if it came down to the two of them, whether or not she should try, one last time, to bring him back to the light.

Now? Now it is not a question of bringing Severus back from a path he chose years ago. Now it is a question of whether or not she carves her own bloody path straight through his. She could do it. She could kill him. He would defend himself, might even kill her, but she knows she is his match in dueling. He’s weak. Lily has known she is an open sore for him for years now. His weakness for her will make him hesitate to land a fatal spell. She could kill him. Her weakness was always James and James isn’t here. Is he?

“Help me?” Lily can barely do more than utter it. She wants to laugh and cry and pull out her hair like a raving madwoman. She does not lower her wand. “He came. He came here tonight,” she rises to a scream once more, “he came and he-,” she can’t get the words out, they are stuck in her throat. “He-”

“He spared you,” says Snape, eyes alight with manic hope. “He did, he spared you-,” and then for the first time he glimpses the toddler bunched up in her coat, and shock ripples across his face. “But-,”

“He tried,” Lily whispers, “he tried but he failed. Your dark lord failed tonight. Harry’s alive. He’s gone. I don’t know where, but he’s gone,” her fractured tone takes on an almost lunatic edge. “He’s gone away and what will you do now, Sev? Go tell the others?”

“I have to tell Dumbledore,” he says blankly, and Lily sinks into stunned silence. Her wand wavers.

“Put your wand down,” Severus takes a step towards her. “Lily. I won’t hurt you, or- or the boy, I swear it. Put your wand down, and come with me.”

A queer laugh snarls in her mouth. “I’m not going anywhere with you,” she half-chuckles, half-sobs. “Murderer. You think I don’t know what you’ve done? Monster. You stay away from me, or I’ll kill you, Sev. I will.”

She almost murdered him just minutes ago, so what does that make her? Lily does not think she would have wept, if she’d stepped over his corpse as she ran. She would not have even cared. It doesn’t matter. He doesn’t matter. None of this matters. Nothing matters but Harry. She has to get him somewhere safe. Hogwarts. It is the only safe place right now. The Fidelius Charm- she thinks briefly of Peter, and white hot fury courses through her veins. She would tear him apart with her bare hands, were he here.

Severus takes another cautious step. “Lily. I’m working with Dumbledore. Let me take you to him. It will be safe there.” He stretches out his pale hand towards her. Lily considers it. Then her wand slashes it open with a nearly wordless curse, and she bounds past him, through the gate, onto the street, and whirls away with a crack like a gunshot, leaving him still grasping for her.

She reappears in Hogsmeade, having splinched off three of the fingernails on one hand, but Harry is unharmed. The streets are silent, the shops dark aside from the pubs, but she cannot risk entering either. Instead she runs, sprints across the cobblestones, head down against the wind and the rain sleeting down across the highlands, runs for the hilly dirt road leading up the castle. A figure in silvery white robes like a wraith meets her at the gates.

“Lily,” says Albus Dumbledore somberly, as she pants breathlessly in front of him, hunched over, Harry squirming in her arms. His tone is controlled but even she can see the shock in his bright blue eyes. He says something else but her ears are ringing terribly and the rain and wind are howling around her and all at once the wet earth rushes up to meet her and there is merciful silence once more.