Hugo was the one who found the door.
Lily would have spotted it way before him, but she was, as always, preoccupied with making a decision about her character. When they played in the forest behind Uncle Ron and Aunt Hermione's houses, she became whatever she wanted to be. Some days she was a powerful Auror tracking down Dark Wizards, like her dad. Other days she took on roles she'd seen in storybooks: a goblin queen, a daring knight, a peasant girl who was secretly a princess.
Hugo ran ahead, chasing after the balls of light that shot from the old toy of Uncle Ron's he'd found. Lily dawdled, holding up her skirt and taking delicate steps like she was a lady from centuries ago. The type of lady who concealed a dagger in her voluminous petticoat, but a lady all the same. Thick mist curled over the carpet of dead leaves, making her think of that morning at Kings Cross. She dropped the skirt and held her head higher. No, not a lady. She was the newly appointed Head Girl at Hogwarts. Her brothers, who had both left school without even becoming Prefects in this scenario, burned with jealousy.
"Lily!" Hugo shouted, ruining her moment. "Look at this!"
Lily decided Hugo would not be permitted to be Head Boy, as he'd interrupted her imaginary triumph. She rushed to his side to see what could possibly be so important.
The door was made from weathered, unpainted wood, set back into a tangle of brambles. It was short enough that even Lily and Hugo would have to bend down in order to squeeze through. The brambles arched over it in a way that made it invisible from the main path. They must have walked right past it hundreds of times.
"Should we open it?" Hugo whispered.
Lily reached out for the carved doorknob before he finished the question. It was tingly and warm under her fingertips, like the irresistible rush of accidental magic. With a click, the doorknob shimmered and turned under her grip. The door creaked open.
Lily and Hugo stared at each other for a beat, but neither had to ask whether they were going inside. Of course they were. Lily led the way, brambles catching at her clothes as she wriggled past. They emerged from the leafy green tunnel into a clearing with a murky pond and a crooked wooden cottage. A lopsided bridge stretched across the water.
Like the door, both the cottage and the bridge were built for someone much smaller than the average witch or wizard. Fortunately, Lily and Hugo were both still little enough that the bridge held up under their weight. Upon reaching the front of the cottage, they exchanged another look. Hugo knocked. A sparkle of magic spread out from his touch. Another click sounded, and this door, too, opened for them.
"We can't just go in," Hugo said. "Right?"
The wind pushed at Lily's back as if urging her into the cottage, lifting her hair into a red halo.
"Of course we can," she said. "Both doors opened for us. We're supposed to be here, Hugo. I just know it."
Because he was Aunt Hermione's son, Hugo said, "Or we're supposed to walk into a trap."
Lily sighed. "It'll be fine. If it isn't, you can say that you told me so a million times, OK?"
"I'm going to haunt you if I die," Hugo said, but he took her hand when she reached for him.
Together, they crept across the threshold and into a warm kitchen. All of the furniture was miniature as well, from the cast iron stove to the easel set up next to a window, inspiring Lily to change her mind from Head Girl to Snow White. She had once watched most of the film at Cousin Dudley's house. Dudley's son, Vernon, had turned it off so he could watch something with a lot more punching.
Once Lily had thoroughly explored the cottage… Well, she wouldn't clean everything like Snow White had. Even if she was inclined to pick up a mop, it looked tidy enough. She would just sing and make friends with the animals of the forest until the dwarves came home from the mines. Hugo could be the huntsman or the evil queen, depending on his mood.
A narrow corridor branched off from the kitchen, leading to several other rooms. The first door to the left was already open. Tiptoeing forward, Lily and Hugo peeked inside. The contents of the room made them gasp in unison. Someone had already claimed the role of Snow White. A long glass box held the still, silent form of a man with black hair and pale skin.
"Is he dead?" Hugo asked, squeezing Lily's fingers.
The man did look as if he'd already encountered the poisoned apple. Unwilling to move any closer, Lily squinted. There. His chest moved.
"He's breathing," she said. "See?"
Hugo let out a long breath of his own. Something about the man was familiar. It took Lily a few more seconds of studying his large nose and thin lips to place him. This was Severus Snape: a man she'd only ever seen in photographs. The bravest man her dad had ever known.
"Hugo!" she whispered. "That's Snape! The Snape."
"No way. Are you sure?"
"Of course I'm sure. I saw his face all over Flourish & Blotts last week."
Hugo grimaced. "Yeah, Rita's book. He does kind of look like him, I guess."
"That's him. Oh my gosh. Do you think he's in an enchanted sleep? He must be, right? No one just has a nap in a glass coffin. My dad said Snape used to call himself the Half-Blood Prince. Oh my gosh. He's a prince in an enchanted sleep. Should we try to wake him?"
"How? We can't exactly cast Rennervate, can we?"
Lily wrinkled her nose. "Kiss him? That's how it works in the stories."
"Erm, I don't think either of us should go around kissing sleeping men who used to be friends with your gran. It's weird."
"Yeah, I guess, when you put it that way. Hmm. Maybe we should get your mum? She'll know what to do."
Hugo shook his head. "Granddad Granger and Rita are coming over sometime today."
Aunt Hermione was out of the question, then. Rita Skeeter would latch onto the story and spin it into something different before they could say a word to contradict her. And anyway, Hugo and Lily would probably get into trouble if they told Aunt Hermione that they'd gone barging into someone else's house. She'd make them write an apology letter to the owners, even though said owners were clearly up to no good. They kept an unconscious war hero in their spare room, for goodness' sake.
Eventually, they decided to bring Hugo's dad to the cottage. Lily pilfered a tube of paint from the easel in the kitchen and dabbed splodges of bright blue onto the trunks of trees as they scurried back through the forest, to make sure they could find the door again.
Uncle Ron and Aunt Hermione's houses were on opposite ends of the same stretch of land, separated by an apple orchard and Uncle Ron's vegetable patch. Lily and Hugo sneaked past the pumpkins, ready to dive to the ground if they spotted Hugo's mum, but they made it safely inside. The air in Uncle Ron's kitchen smelt sweetly of ginger, cloves, and dark treacle. Grinning, he waved an oven-gloved hand at them.
"Uncle Ron," Lily said, tugging on his arm, "you have to come with us. We have something to show you."
"All right," Uncle Ron said. "Give me just a minute. Do you kids want some gingerbread? The first batch should be cool enough to eat by now."
"Dad." Hugo huffed, taking the other arm. "This is important, trust me. We have to go now."
"More important than gingerbread?" Uncle Ron raised his eyebrows. "That is an emergency. We'd better hurry, then."
Lily didn't care that he was humouring them, as it meant he followed along as they traced their way back along her blue marks. When they reached the door in the brambles, Uncle Ron confirmed that he was the best choice out of all of the grownups they knew, except for Uncle George: he didn't pause for a second before crouching down and clambering through. He did grumble about being scratched by the thorns, and he went around the pond instead of taking the bridge, but Lily let that slide.
"Err," Uncle Ron said as they neared the still-open door of the cottage, "tell me you didn't go inside a stranger's house."
"Fine, we won't tell you," Lily said, not at all intimidated by his crossed arms and disapproving frown. "You can punish us later if you really have to, but right now, someone really needs our help."
That last bit was the push Uncle Ron needed to stoop over and enter the cottage, though he muttered about how Aunt Hermione was going to flay him alive if anything bad happened. To Lily's relief, Snape was just as they'd left him: still in the glass coffin, still breathing.
"OK," Uncle Ron said, "where is this person—"
His words died on his tongue as he caught sight of Snape. Lily knew her uncle was an Auror, of course, but she'd never seen him in Auror mode before. In that instant, as he drew his wand and his expression hardened, she could easily imagine him deflecting deadly curses and rushing in to save the day.
The fact that he was still wearing an apron that said, "Bake the world a better place" only slightly spoilt the effect.
"It's him, isn't it?" Lily asked. "That's Snape."
"Sure bloody looks like him," Uncle Ron said, "but it can't be. I watched him die. It has to be some sort of trap."
Hugo puffed out his chest. "That's what I said. I told Lily it was probably a trap."
Not allowing Hugo to be Head Boy was definitely the right choice.
"You still came in here with me," Lily said.
"Right," Uncle Ron said. "First things first: you two are going back to the house, and then I'll get some Aurors out here to help me deal with this." Raising his hands up and placing his palms out in a placating gesture, he talked over Lily's protests. "I know it doesn't seem fair, since you're the ones who found… whatever this is, but I care more about keeping you safe than being fair. This isn't up for debate. Come on. Now."
As he turned to usher them away, one of his hands moved across the threshold of the room. A bright flare of magic shot from the tips of his fingers, colliding with the glass box. The lid of the box rose lazily, as if waking from a long sleep.
Uncle Ron froze. "Shite," he said under his breath.
Snape opened his eyes.