Chapter 1: Seventh Year (Part I)
One might have imagined he would be shocked to see them together. Surprised. Horrified.
He was the third one, at least. But he could not honestly call himself surprised.
He’d seen it coming. He’d known it from the beginning, some unconscious part of him recognizing the signs as they appeared before him, trying his best to find some other interpretation but always coming to the same inevitable conclusion.
He’d tried to reassure himself through the years that she loathed him just as he did. But it wasn’t until now, as the feelings of betrayal and anger washed over him like Stinksap, that he wondered whether she’d ever uttered those words at all. Had she ever said something disparaging about him that he, Severus, hadn’t wrestled out of her? How had he come to think she despised him? What hopeful, stupid, naïve whim had led him to believe she could see Potter for what he truly was?
The truth of it all was that he’d always hated Potter most of all (even though Black was arguably the crueler, more vindictive of the two) because he knew in his soul that she didn’t.
No, the fact that they were together now was equal parts agonizing and utterly unsurprising.
Chapter 2: Second Year
He realized it like a punch to the stomach: painfully, suddenly, and accompanied by slight nausea.
James Potter fancied her.
He’d thought, before, that Potter was always interrupting them and getting her attention purely to bother him, just another way for Potter to bully him and prove he was better. But, as he saw Potter slide into the seat next to hers at breakfast, staring at her with a sort of longing expression on his face, entirely unaware of Severus watching him, it dawned on him suddenly that Potter was not interacting with Lily for Severus’ benefit, but his own.
He saw it, clear as day, as Potter nicked a piece of toast from her plate in a transparent ruse to steal her attention, as Lily glared at him and said something cutting in response, as he smirked at her with an impossibly arrogant glint in his eye.
He fancied her.
He didn’t know why this felt so alarming to him; other boys had fancied her since she stepped off the train. Benjy Fenwick had an embarrassingly large crush on her; Wendell Greengrass had confessed in the Slytherin Common Room that he thought she was pretty. This had always niggled at him. He had noticed her first, had cared first, had cared most; this seemed important, somehow. They didn’t even know about her Muggle sister or the way she sometimes had a dark sense of humor or the fact that she hated the flavor of peppermint. The news of every new bloke who fancied her always irritated him, but something about Potter fancying her felt even more intrusive, invasive, wrong.
He stabbed at his sausage with a bit of extra venom, and continued watching them.
Potter was saying something to her, probably bragging about his ability to ride a broomstick or his piles of money, and Lily was rolling her eyes.
Good, he thought savagely. Go on, Potter. Show her how awful you are.
He said something else, and then she laughed, throwing her head back the way she did when she found something to be particularly funny, and Severus’ savage pleasure was replaced with something that felt like dread. What had Potter said to make her laugh like that? And just as quickly: had he ever made her laugh like that?
A flicker of unease arose in his stomach. He had always been reassured by the eye rolling and tutting and telling off, but perhaps... no. She couldn't.
“Oho, settle down, settle down!” Slughorn called genially in their first lesson of the morning. “That’s right, now, today we are going to brew a tricky little potion. Who can tell me the purpose and typical usage of the Hair-Raising Potion?”
Slughorn always asked stupidly easy questions, but Severus never answered them. Whether it was because he didn’t want to call attention to himself, or out of disdain for Slughorn, he was never sure.
Rosier gave the answer – to evoke a sense of unease and suspicion in someone, useful for situations of subtle manipulation, or if you wanted to enhance your own ability to perceive the slightest wrongdoing.
“Excellent, excellent,” complimented Slughorn. “Take ten points to Slytherin. You’ll have the entirety of the lesson to brew the potion, instructions to be found on page 411. Work in pairs, please. Off you go, off you go!”
The low chatter of students slowly filled the classroom as they began working.
He and Lily worked together at a table, the only pair in the classroom that wasn’t composed of entirely Gryffindor or entirely Slytherin. He coveted the hours they spent working together, where they could work as a team and chat like real friends without any interruptions.
“This should be easy for us,” she said with a wink, and Severus felt his heart soar. They were both good at this, and better at it together.
They brewed it perfectly, and at the end of the lesson it was the exact sheen of silver it was supposed to be. Slughorn fawned over it, giving most of the praise to Lily, whom he favored, but Severus didn’t mind that she got all of the attention. She typically took all of his, too.
Lily held out her hand under the table for him to slap in a low-five. He gave it, feeling his fingers tingle as they brushed her palm. “Nice work, partner,” she said, inflecting her voice with an American Southern twang.
“Your accent is terrible,” he commented dryly, at which she grinned.
“Tell me that after you watch True Grit.”
“You know my parents don’t own a television.”
She sniffed. “Hm. Pity.”
His reply was drowned out by Slughorn’s booming and yet jovial feedback to James Potter and Sirius Black. It was difficult to tell from across the room, but it appeared their potion had congealed and lay, useless, at the bottom of the cauldron.
“Now boys, what is this?” asked Slughorn, in a tone that was entirely too fond. It was no secret that Slughorn knew both James and Sirius’ fathers, and favored them rather obviously despite displaying no particular proclivity for the subject he taught.
“Sorry, Professor,” answered James, not sounding sorry at all and messing about his annoyingly untidy hair. “I think I know what happened.”
“Well then, what was it, boy?”
“We used my hair, for the potion ingredient. I reckon it sabotaged the potion out of self-preservation, see? My hair can’t raise any further than it already has,” he explained, gesturing to the mess atop his head.
Slughorn let out a booming laugh. This was just like Potter, escaping consequences with a stupid, unfunny joke. He turned to Lily, hoping to share a look of exasperation, but found that she was looking over at Potter, a slight smirk on her face, her green eyes twinkling with mirth.
Chapter 3: Third Year
The crisp wind whipped through his shabby cloak as though it wasn’t there, and he shivered.
“I told you to wear a scarf,” Lily admonished beside him, sparing him a quick smirk before turning her attention back to the match, the wind catching hold of her dark red hair and causing it to swirl around her face.
“I’m not cold,” he told her stubbornly. In truth, his secondhand scarf had grown so careworn that wearing it made no difference, but he didn’t want to tell her that.
“Sure you aren’t,” she said flippantly. “The sky isn’t blue, and Slytherin isn’t losing terribly to Gryffindor, either.”
“We’ll come back.”
“Keep living in your delusions, Sev,” she said, grinning so that her eyes sparkled. “I’ll be over here in reality. Let me know if you care to join me.”
They both stared up at the players flying dangerously above them. She was right, of course. Gryffindor was beating Slytherin’s Quidditch team rather soundly, and he was irritated by it all. Especially because bloody Potter played no small part in the lead they held.
He was good. Excellent, really. Severus had naively hoped that Potter’s arrogance and frequent bragging about his Quidditch abilities over the last two years would prove to be unfounded.
The boy in question pulled a particularly annoying, spinning maneuver to get around Evan Rosier, leaving him free to speed toward the goal posts and to score yet another goal, his fifth. The crowd around them stood and cheered madly. Potter lifted his arm up in celebration and grinned broadly at the stands, reveling in the raucous cheers he had elicited.
“Look at him, he can’t get enough of it,” Severus commented darkly, nearly shouting over the vicious wind and roaring crowd. “Thinks he’s a gift to the universe.”
Lily, who had been celebrating rather loudly herself, turned to look at him, still elated. “What?”
“Potter,” said Severus through gritted teeth. “He can’t get enough attention.”
“Oh, you’re just sore that he’s scored so many points,” Lily teased. “Actually, I can’t believe he’s doing so well for his first match.”
Severus felt a pang of mingled jealousy and irritation. “He isn’t as special as he thinks he is.”
“I know,” said Lily, lifting one shoulder and looking a bit bewildered. “It’s only Quidditch.”
Right. What did it matter if Potter was good at something so ridiculous and mundane? There were more important, impressive things to be good at. Things Lily actually cared about.
“We’ll see how special he is when his potion explodes again on Monday,” he hissed.
Lily merely shrugged weakly, and turned her attention back to the match.
Her lack of agreement with him niggled in his chest. He wanted to say more, wanted her to agree with him that Potter was terrible at Potions, but his half-concocted insults were interrupted when Lily (and the crowd around them) suddenly let out a chorus of loud groans.
“Oh my goodness,” said Lily, clutching her hands to her mouth. “Is he okay?”
Severus followed her gaze to see James Potter, balanced precariously on his broom and clutching at his arm, which was twisted in an unusual angle.
“A Bludger,” Lily explained, wincing. “It hit him right as he was extending his arm, that looked awful.”
“I suppose he’s isn’t as good as he thought,” said Severus snidely. “I hope it’s broken.”
Lily furrowed her eyebrows. “Just because you don’t like him doesn’t mean you actually want him to get hurt, does it?” she asked, with some measure of disgust in her voice.
“Madam Pomfrey will fix it in no time,” he said dismissively. “He’s fine.”
She narrowed her eyes, but remained silent. She turned back to look at the pitch, where Potter was now stepping off his broom to the ground, holding his arm gingerly.
“Oh, he’ll be so disappointed,” said Lily, almost to herself. “He’s been talking about this match for weeks.”
This statement begged so many questions it was difficult to decide which to ask. How did she know he’d been talking about it for weeks? What did she care if he was disappointed? Did she want him to do well? Did they sit up in the Gryffindor Common Room together and talk about it? Did she fancy him? Did she wish she were sitting here with him instead?
“Disappointed he’s not in front of a crowd of fans for five minutes,” he said instead, unable to keep the contempt from his voice.
Lily’s answering click of her tongue was far too non-committal for his liking. “I don’t know why you’re so bothered.”
She turned back to stare down at Potter again, now getting medical attention from Madam Pomfrey on the side of the pitch. Her eyebrows knitted together with concern.
Why, indeed, he thought to himself bitterly.
Chapter 4: Fourth Year
“Remember the theory behind cross-species switching that we’ve been discussing for the past few weeks. Today we’ll be practicing transforming guinea fowl—” said McGonagall, pausing to swish her wand in demonstration, causing the guinea-fowl on her desk to change form effortlessly, “—into guinea pigs. MacDonald, you help me to distribute these.” She gestured to the cages of birds lining the walls.
The mousy Gryffindor girl, for whom Severus had never had much respect, raised herself from her desk to help pass the cages around, and the class began chatting amongst themselves.
Severus turned to Lily, sitting beside him at their table. “Have you done the Charms essay yet?”
“I only just finished before breakfast this morning,” replied Lily, smiling at him excitedly. “Summoning Charms will be dead useful, won’t they? I can’t wait until we’ve actually—”
“Oi, Evans,” called James Potter’s obnoxious voice from behind them. He was always doing that, trying to catch her attention, as though he could pilfer it all away and stash it to relish in later. “Have you got a quill I could borrow? Only someone seems to have nicked mine.”
To Severus’ irritation, Lily turned in her seat and gave Potter a strangely smug smile. “Why do you need a quill, Potter? Or did you forget we were using wands today?”
“Oh no, I remember,” replied Potter, rolling his wand through his fingers lazily. “It’s just that I think someone has my quill and I want it back. I don’t abide by petty thievery, you see.”
Lily sniffed. “Are you accusing me of something?”
“Are you denying it?” he challenged.
“I don’t know what you’re on about,” she said, though she was still smiling enigmatically.
“I think you know exactly what I’m on about,” said Potter. Severus thought he was doing a very poor job of pretending to be irritated with her. Or perhaps he wasn’t even bothering to pretend at all. Instead, his greedy eyes were feasting upon her face. “Last night, in the Common Room. Ring any bells?”
“She doesn’t have your quill, Potter,” spat Severus, half to remind Lily that he was there, and half to prevent Potter from revealing what, precisely, had happened between them in their Common Room the night before.
Lily glanced at Severus shiftily, her smile sheepish. “Er… actually, I sort of do.”
“She admits it!” Potter exclaimed as Severus’ heart plummeted from his chest to somewhere in his stomach.
“You’ll get it back when you admit I’m right!” she sang, spinning in her seat again staring at Potter challengingly.
“You can’t hold my quill hostage, Evans. It’s just not the done thing.”
“Try and stop me.”
“I wouldn’t dream I could do that.”
“Good, then you’re not as stupid as you look.”
Potter laughed at her jibe as though it hadn’t penetrated his thick skull. “I didn’t know you were this petty.”
“I am when it comes to tea, Potter,” she replied, her lips quirked up at the corners.
Severus stared back and forth between them for a few moments. Lily, her whole body leaning toward Potter and barely containing a smirk. Potter, sizing her up obviously and without shame. When had they gotten so chummy? When had they started spending any time together at all? Severus was about to comment about how annoying Potter was, when he interrupted again with a dramatic sigh. “Fine. I admit it. Evans, you were right. Are you happy?”
Lily’s smirk spread into a satisfied smile, her eyes twinkling with suppressed laughter. “Delighted.”
“Great, give it here, then,” Potter said, extending his empty hand. “It’s my best one, and I really do want it back.”
Lily appeared to consider his request for a moment before smiling and replying with a simple, “No.”
Lily shook her head, her hair spilling over her shoulders in tumbling waves.
Potter looked oddly pleased by this, considering he’d just made such a show of wanting it back. “Want something to remember me by, do you?”
“Not quite. I just don’t have your stupid quill.”
Potter looked baffled for a moment, and then grinned at her crookedly. “Ah, but Evans, you just admitted that you did.”
“I said I sort of have it, don’t you listen? I did take it, but I don’t have it anymore,” Lily explained in a matter-of-fact tone.
Potter ran a hand through his insufferably untidy hair as he continued to ogle her. “Well, where is it, then?”
She paused for a moment, seeming to relish in his confusion. “Why don’t you ask your mates?” she said finally, smiling slyly and turning her attention back to their table, where a guinea fowl had finally been delivered.
Severus stared at her carefully while Potter guffawed loudly behind them and began accusing Black of base treachery, feeling rather as though a rug had been pulled out from under him. He thought her cheeks looked a bit flushed. “What was that about?” he asked harshly.
She jumped as though she’d forgotten he was there entirely, and looked at him with expression Severus imagined looked a bit guilty. “What?”
“You and Potter, what was that about?”
“Oh, something stupid,” she said, waving her hand dismissively, though not quite meeting his eye. “We just had a silly argument yesterday, that’s all.”
“Oh, I don’t even remember now,” she said vaguely. “Did you do the reading? I’m always dreadful at understanding Transfiguration theory from the textbook.”
“It certainly seems like you remember,” he accused, ignoring her blatant attempt to change the topic.
She looked at him squarely again, her eyebrows furrowed. “Sev, it was nothing, honestly. Just some stupid argument about whether coffee or tea was better.”
“I don’t see where quills got involved in an argument about beverage preferences—”
“I didn’t realize you required a full transcript of the conversation,” she snapped, suddenly irritated. “I’ll have it on your desk by tomorrow.”
Severus’ heart sank; Lily had never used to become annoyed with him, but it seemed he was annoying her with alarming frequency lately. “I don’t need—that’s not what I – I just want to know why you’re going around stealing quills from Potter.”
“Because I wanted to!” she hissed. “He was annoying me so I stole his quill. It isn’t that complicated.”
“I just thought we both agreed that Potter was obnoxious, so I’m a bit confused why you would even be talking to him—”
Lily’s green eyes flashed dangerously. “I don’t need your permission to speak to anyone, actually. Can’t you just let it alone? I promise you I’m not so flighty that I change my opinion of people on a whim, alright?”
“I know that,” Severus replied, feeling a bit ashamed of himself. “I just thought—"
“Let’s just get to work, shall we?” she said shortly, turning her attention entirely to the guinea fowl.
They worked in near silence for the remainder of the class. Severus’ panic was slowly rising with each second she spent avoiding his eye. He didn’t know what he’d done wrong. Sure, she didn’t owe him a transcript, but it was fair to ask her about a conversation that had happened right in front of him. Besides, she had clearly lied about it. Friends didn’t lie to one another. And Potter was an arrogant, foul git, who’d done nothing but mock Severus from the moment he met him. Anyone would be annoyed. She was the one in the wrong, not him.
When the bell rang to signal the end of class, Lily made to rush from the room quickly but he stopped her.
“Lily, are you… angry?” he asked hesitatingly.
She sighed, her bright green eyes looking skyward for a moment before meeting his own, a hardness in them he was not used to. “Honestly, Sev, I’m just… tired of having to defend myself to you all the time. I haven’t done anything wrong. So what if I chat shit with Potter sometimes? We share a House, it’s bound to happen occasionally. But we aren’t mates or anything. I wish you’d stop making it out like I’m betraying you or something every time I so much as speak to the bloke.”
“Well he obviously wants to do more than chat shit with you,” Severus spluttered, his own temper rising. “And I would have thought, given how he’s treated both of us that you’d be a bit more considerate of—"
Lily glared. “And I would have thought that you’d stop hanging round with Mulciber after the way he’s treated me. I’m not even mates with Potter, you hang round with Mulciber every day!”
“That isn’t the same thing!” he protested hotly. It wasn’t the same, he just didn’t know how to explain that it wasn’t.
“I’m going to be late, I told Florence I’d meet her after class,” she said snappishly.
“Are we… are you…” he stammered, unsure what he wanted to ask but desperately needing her to validate that he had not gone and ruined it all.
“It’s fine,” she said curtly, though it didn’t sound fine. She pushed past him, leaving him feeling entirely hollow.
Chapter 5: Fifth Year
Severus was having trouble concentrating. He and Lily were meant to be studying for their OWLs together, but he was rather caught up in studying her instead.
Her books were sprawled across the table they’d secured in the back corner of the library, and she leaned her cheek against her delicate hand. She’d done her hair differently than usual. Rather than falling in loose waves down her back, she had half of it pulled back into some elaborate-looking twist, with small pieces hanging out and framing her face. Her eyes looked strangely greener, too, like she’d done something to them to make them stand out more.
She was far more interesting than the theory behind Switching Spells, anyway.
“Urgh,” she groaned, looking up and catching him in the act of staring at her. “D’you think professors hate marking our exams as much as we hate doing them? Maybe we can all just agree to do away with them entirely. A win for all of us.”
Severus smirked. “Depends who you ask. I imagine McGonagall gets a bit of pleasure from taking marks away, don’t you?”
Lily smiled back, revealing the small dimple in her left cheek that he loved. “Only from Slytherin.”
“I’m glad you’re finally admitting she favors Gryffindor, then.”
“I’ve never pretended otherwise,” she sniffed, her eyes sparkling. “It isn’t as though Slytherins don’t get enough favoritism from Slughorn.”
Severus scoffed. “Only if you’re rich. And besides, which of the two of us at this table has a standing invitation to the ‘Slug Club’? Because I don’t think it’s the Slytherin…”
Lily waved her hand dismissively. “Only because you’ve rejected every invitation he’s given you.”
“He only invited me after I got top marks in Potions,” Severus explained. “Potter meanwhile got an invitation the moment he stepped off the train.”
Lily looked momentarily irritated, but it passed so quickly that he couldn’t be sure it was there at all. “Well you can’t complain he stopped inviting you after you never showed any interest, can you?”
“Wasn’t complaining, just pointing out that all the Professors favor you.”
She threw her hair back over her shoulder exaggeratedly, shooting him a wink that made his stomach swoop painfully. “As they should.”
Severus privately agreed, but thought it best not to tell her that.
“Anyway,” she continued, “it’s getting late, I should probably head back soon.”
She was right, of course, but Severus couldn’t help but feel disappointed anyway. “Wish we could go back to the same Common Room to study,” he said.
“You could, you know,” she said thoughtfully, looking eager. “Mary brings Stebbins back with her all the time, and he’s in Ravenclaw. It’s probably not strictly allowed but it’s not that big of a—”
“Lily,” he interrupted. “You know I can’t.”
“Why not?” she asked. “I don’t think McGonagall would do anything other than send you back to yours, really.”
“I don’t think I’d be entirely welcome,” he muttered, the venom seeping into his voice. He thought of Potter and Black and looks on their faces if he deigned to walk into their Common Room. Things between them had never been amicable, but after the incident… well, it wouldn’t do for him to spend any time with them that wasn’t forced upon him.
Her face fell slightly. “Oh, well, it was just a suggestion.”
“Why don’t you come to Slytherin’s instead?” he asked, hating that he had caused her any disappointment.
Lily shifted uncomfortably, tucking the strand of hair behind her ear. “I… I don’t think that’s the best idea.”
He knew immediately that she was right, and wanted to smack himself for suggesting it. She’d been making increasingly pointed comments about his fellow Slytherins over the past few months. They’d been making similar comments about her, too, but he hadn’t told her that.
“I wish you’d been sorted into Slytherin,” he said desperately, for what felt like the thousandth time. How different things would have been…
Lily crinkled her nose. “Yeah, Slytherin would love to have me, if it weren’t for the fact that half of them would like to do me in, and the other half would buy tickets to watch,” she said dryly.
She always surprised him with comments like this, little moments of sarcastic, dark humor that seemed so unexpected coming from someone so outwardly kind. “That’s not—”
“Don’t tell me it isn’t true,” she said curtly, her eyes flashing again.
“We’ll just come back to the library tomorrow, then,” he said, sensing that she was getting angry, as she so often did lately whenever the topic of his mates in Slytherin came up.
She sighed heavily. “Yes, let’s.”
They slowly gathered their things and wound their way through nearly empty tables and out the doors. To return to the Slytherin Common room, he needed to go off to the right and down the staircase. He didn’t know precisely where the Gryffindor Common Room was, but he knew Lily would be going in the opposite direction to him.
“D’you want me to walk you back?” he asked, somewhat hopefully.
She laughed, though her smile didn’t quite reach her eyes. “I think I’ll make it alright on my own.”
“See you tomorrow, then,” he said, relishing the in the last few moments he had to look at her.
It physically hurt him, sometimes, how pretty she was.
“Night Sev!” she said, turning on her heel and walking away, her red hair swaying behind her as she walked.
He had begun walking himself, rounding a corner and wondering whether he might try to get in a bit more practice before turning in for the night when he heard it.
At the sound of that horribly familiar voice, he stopped in his tracks and doubled back so he could peer around the corner.
Potter was trotting after Lily, evidently having just left the library himself.
Lily had stopped and turned at his call. She greeted him with a small smile, and a cordial, “Potter.”
Severus stood frozen. He couldn’t follow them. Lily would be angry to think that he followed her, to think that she couldn’t deal with Potter herself.
But the thought of the two of them taking a stroll together, unaccompanied, through the castle was nearly unbearable.
“Walking back to the Common Room, are you?” he heard Potter ask.
He saw Lily nod her head.
“Mind if I join you? I’m walking there, myself.”
“I’m surprised you aren’t taking a detour to the kitchens,” she said wryly. But still, she permitted him to take the spot beside her, and they turned to begin walking together, in the presumed direction of Gryffindor Tower.
“Fuck,” he breathed. Without pausing to consider the consequences, he turned to follow them, telling himself that it was only to make sure that Lily was okay, to make sure that Potter wasn’t bothering her. He cast a Disillusionment Charm over himself, lest they turn and spot him.
“Studying for OWLs, then?” he heard Potter ask as Severus hurriedly and quietly closed the space between them so that he trailed them at a safe distance.
“No, actually, I was doing shots of Firewhiskey in the back corner of the library on a lark,” replied Lily dryly.
Potter snorted. “I always took you for an oak-matured mead sort of bird.”
“Well, you’ve got it wrong, haven’t you?” replied Lily. Severus thought she might’ve shot him a bit of a smirk.
“Apparently,” Potter agreed. “Well, I, for one, was actually revising for OWLs. I might as well have been doing shots with you, though, for all the good it’s done.”
He could nearly hear Lily roll her eyes as they began ascending one of the staircases that liked to move around on Tuesdays when it was raining. “Oh don’t pull that,” she said scathingly.
“What?” asked Potter, the laughter apparent in his annoyingly posh voice.
“Pretending to be all modest as though you aren’t going to get O’s on everything without even trying.”
Potter wasn’t that intelligent. Sure, he did well in most classes, and most of the Professors loved him. But that was because he was rich and loud and well-connected. He felt annoyed that Lily apparently thought differently.
“I didn’t know you thought so highly of me,” Potter replied. For once, Severus agreed with him.
“Oh, did that sound like a compliment? My mistake,” she answered cheekily. “I meant to imply you were arrogant.”
“Mm,” he hummed. “I must’ve missed that bit. I’m just going to ignore that, and assume you think I’m extremely clever.”
“Shocking that you’d miss the criticism and come away with fictional flattery.”
Lily laughed, and Severus felt his guts twist. Potter was being obnoxious and big-headed. Why did she find it funny all of the sudden?
“What were you revising for, then?” she asked. She was being polite. She didn’t actually want to continue the conversation, surely?
“Potions,” he answered darkly.
“Oh, you were right. You’d’ve been better off drowning yourself in Firewhiskey, mate.”
Mate, she called him.
“Was that an invitation to join you in your next bout of alcoholism, then?” Potter inquired silkily.
“No, it was an insult actually,” she said cheerfully. “But you’re forgiven for missing it, that one was a bit harder to detect. That time I was implying you’re shit at Potions.”
Potter laughed. He laughed, as though her insults meant nothing, because perhaps they didn’t. “You’ve got me there. No chance I could pick your genius brain? Offer a bit of help to the poor sod who’s shit at Potions?”
Lily snorted. “That depends. Do you actually want help or are you just going to use it as an excuse to flirt with me?”
Severus thought his insides might’ve turned entirely to ice. He’d never heard her talk to him like this, never heard her acknowledge aloud what he’d known since second year: James Potter fancied her. Always had done. Did they openly talk about it then, Potter’s ridiculous infatuation with her?
“That depends,” Potter replied, sounding thoughtful. “Will you still help me if there’s a bit of flirting mixed in?”
“No,” she answered bluntly, though she didn’t sound as angry about it all as Severus thought she should.
“Ah, but flirting is a critical Potions ingredient. I would’ve thought you, as our resident Potions prodigy, would know that.”
“I haven’t seen it listed in the text, funnily enough.”
“Necessary for many love potions, actually.”
“You don’t say,” Lily answered sarcastically.
“Perhaps that’s why all the ones you’ve given me haven’t worked. Not enough flirting going on while you brewed them,” Potter said cheekily, pointing at her accusingly.
“And yet you’re still the one begging to flirt with me,” she said, thoughtfully. “Seems like you don’t need the help of any potions.”
Rather than sound abashed, Potter seemed to grow in confidence. “You’ve got me there, Evans.” He paused for a few moments before continuing. “You won’t allow it, even if it’s just to tell you I like the way you’ve done your hair?” he asked, with a cavalier nonchalance Severus hated and envied at once.
Severus couldn’t see her face from his position trailing after them quietly, but he saw her hand lift almost unconsciously to twirl the end of a strand around her finger.
“How do you know that I’ll have done my hair nicely in this future hypothetical Potions studying session?” she evaded deftly.
“Ah, but Evans,” Potter countered, “you’re failing to realize I always like the way you’ve done your hair. It looks particularly nice tonight, though.”
There was a long pause. Severus felt his heart pounding nonsensically, as though he’d been the one to tell her he liked her hair and he was anxiously awaiting her answer.
“You’re so full of it, Potter,” she said finally, trying to sound exasperated but doing a poor job of it.
“Your eyes are wicked, too.”
“What?” James asked innocently.
“Potter,” she said, her tone dripping with exhaustion. “You know I don’t… just… stop, alright?”
“Fine,” he sighed, sounding genuinely put-out for the first time. “No flirting, Potions only. Will you help me, then?”
“I don’t know if I believe you can actually follow those rules.”
“Evans, I’m known for rule-following, don’t you know my reputation?” he said, and Severus could hear the arrogant smirk in his voice.
She was too clever to fall for this. Of course he was going to keep flirting with her. Of course he didn’t actually want her help with bloody Potions. He just wanted to badger her and show off for her and weasel his way into her good graces.
She could surely see that from a mile away.
She wouldn’t agree.
“Fine, I’ll help you,” she said. “But only because you are truly, truly, shit at Potions and I’m not entirely convinced you won’t get a T if I don’t.”
“You mean it?” asked Potter, sounding genuinely surprised. “You’ll actually help me revise for Potions?”
“You didn’t think I would?”
“Er,” he said, running his hand through his untidy hair again. “Honestly, no.”
“Well, I’m not an oak-matured mead sort of bird, and I’ll help you. So I guess you’ve had two surprises this evening.”
“I’ll help you with Transfiguration, if you like,” Potter answered quickly. There was something different to his voice, Severus thought. Something less arrogant and posh and obnoxious than usual. Something hopeful.
“Ooh, would you?” asked Lily eagerly. “I’m dreadful at Transfiguration.”
“You aren’t dreadful, but I’d be happy to help. It’s only fair, if you’re going to help me in Potions,” he said reasonably.
“Well I suppose so,” she said happily.
“Only…” said Potter, his voice suddenly unsure.
“What?” asked Lily.
“Well, you have to promise me,” he began seriously, “If I agree to help you with Transfiguration, you can’t, under any circumstances, for any reason, flirt with me, Evans. I won’t allow it.”
Lily paused for a moment while his words sunk in. Then, she threw back her head and cackled. She swatted at his arm chidingly while Potter grinned widely. “Now that I can promise.”
Severus stopped walking and allowed them to continue climbing what felt like the fourth staircase they had traversed. His stomach was too heavy and leaden to continue.
They continued chatting up the stairs about OWLs until Severus couldn’t hear them anymore. He was left standing on the step with only his own bitter thoughts for company, the loudest of which was that while he was absolutely certain Potter would not be following those rules, he was almost equally certain that Lily wouldn’t be, either.
Chapter 6: Sixth Year
It had been humiliating, asking for the invitation. He wouldn’t ordinarily have done it. In fact, he wouldn’t ordinarily have come even with an invitation.
But it was the only opportunity he had, and Slughorn had been amiable enough when he’d asked.
He felt awkward. Most people had come in groups or with dates, but he had come alone. The sort of people he hung round with weren’t invited to these little parties.
To give himself something to do, he went over to the drinks table and poured himself a glass of something that he thought might have been mead. He didn’t usually drink, so he wasn’t certain. With his drink clutched a bit too tightly in his hand, he retreated to a corner and scanned the crowd.
She would be here. He was sure of it. Slughorn had invited a slew of famous Potioneers and Healers tonight, which was the cover he’d used to feign his interest in attendance to begin with.
In truth, he had no intention of making connections and rubbing shoulders with famous Potioneers to secure a future employment opportunity. He had different, better plans for after Hogwarts than that.
But Lily would.
It wasn’t long before he spotted her, nestled between an ornate potted plant adorned with twinkling Christmas lights and a velvet curtain. She was chatting animatedly with Jonathan Abbott, an annoying Hufflepuff in the year above them whom Severus had never had much occasion to think about before, but now realized was a bit of a prat.
His breath caught in his chest as he stared at her. She was stunning in flowing dress robes of dark green that made her eyes stand out even from across the room. The whole thing was complemented by her dark red hair and red lips so that she looked like the very picture of Christmas. Abbott was laughing, because of course he was, Lily was witty and dry and cheeky and wonderful.
He took a large gulp of his mead, hoping that it would calm his nerves. It didn’t, but then he supposed if this could be solved by a sip of mead then perhaps what he was about to do would have been unnecessary in the first place.
He strode over to her before he could lose what little nerve he had left. “Lily,” he interjected, not caring that he was interrupting some (surely idiotic) thing that Abbott had been saying. “Could I have a word?”
To say that she looked unpleasantly surprised to see him there would be an understatement. Her eyes hardened the moment they landed on him, her lips pressed together in a thin line, her eyebrows shooting upward. He heard her take a bit of a steadying breath before she said, “I was just having a conversation with Jonathan, here.”
Abbott looked between them with some measure of confusion. “Er, it’s alright Lily, if you’ve got things to talk about…”
She turned her attention fully back to Abbott and smiled sweetly at him. “Not at all, Severus and I haven’t got a single thing to talk about.” Her tone was rather pointed, and Severus understood that this comment was directed at him.
“Just a minute, Lily,” he pleaded, a note of desperation creeping into his voice. “Please.”
She glanced at him again, exhaling through her nostrils. She appraised him inscrutably for a moment, and then turned to address Abbott again. “I’m really sorry about this, Jonathan, we’ll talk later, alright?”
“Not at all,” he answered slowly, his eyebrows puckered together as though asking her for some nonverbal affirmation that she was alright. Severus could have hexed him for it, as though he were in a position to offer her protection from anything. “Sure, we’ll talk later.”
Abbott smiled weakly and walked away, throwing a concerned glance over his shoulder before he disappeared into the crowd. Once he was gone, Lily turned to him, her gaze hard. “What?” she demanded coldly.
“What are you talking to him for, he’s an—” he heard himself asking before he could stop himself.
“What do you want?” she interrupted. “I was having a perfectly lovely conversation with a perfectly lovely person at a perfectly lovely party that I’m sure you weren’t invited to attend, and you’ve come over and rudely interrupted me, to… what? Insult Jonathan Abbott?”
“No,” he agreed. That wasn’t why he was here. “I wanted to… needed to talk to you. Can we go somewhere private to—”
“No,” she snapped. “You can talk to me here or not at all.”
Irritation swelled inside of him. How could she speak to him this way, after all they had shared together, after the friend he’d been to her? How little had he meant to her that her opinion of him could be smashed to bits after a single slip of the tongue? He had thought at first that she would cool down over the summer, and then that she might warm up to him during lessons, or ask him to study in the library as they used to. But none of that had happened, and they were now approaching Christmas hols, and she was just as frosty with him as she had been the night it had happened. “Fine,” he conceded. “I just wanted to tell you that I’m s—”
“Not that you’re sorry, surely?” she asked incredulously. “Not again?”
Severus felt his cheeks flush. He didn’t know why he had convinced himself that this time it would go differently, why he had thought that she might be more receptive to his attempts at reconciliation under the twinkling Christmas lights than she had been any of the other numerous times he’d tried. “You don’t seem to believe me,” he accused. “I thought if you just understood then--”
She laughed humorlessly, and it sounded like breaking sticks of chalk in half. “I believe you’re sorry. Does that help?”
“I just thought better of you,” he said, hurt flashing painfully in his chest. “I thought our friendship meant more to you than this. What kind of person just throws away years of—”
She began to stride away from him in the middle of his sentence, her lips pressed together, and a surge of fear filled him again. “Lily, no, wait, that’s not what I—”
She whipped around again, her long hair fanning around her face. “I’ve heard this all before, Snape. I’m a shit friend, I owe it to you to hear your explanations, I’m not who you thought I was. It used to hurt me, when you said those things to me. It doesn’t anymore. I don’t care. In fact, I hope you think all of those things of me because then maybe you’ll leave me alone.”
“Lily, I’m sorry!” he pleaded desperately.
“Weird that shouting ‘sorry’ at someone repeatedly doesn’t guarantee forgiveness,” she retorted dryly. “Especially when you’re not even sorry for the right thing.”
Here it was, something he could grab onto, some possible path to her forgiveness. “What am I meant to be sorry for? I never meant to call you that, it was Potter and his stupid mates—”
“God,” she said, laughing humorlessly again. She looked skyward, as though realizing something, and began speaking in a tone of dawning realization almost to herself, “You’re so clever, I used to think you were the smartest person I knew. But you can’t see it, can you? You can’t see why I’m not begging for our friendship back.”
“I know I hurt you, and I’m so sorry,” he explained, feeling oddly hopeful despite the harshness of her voice. She’d never said this before, never explained where his apologies were falling short. Perhaps if she would just explain…
“I forgive you for calling me Mudblood,” she said, looking back down to meet his eye with flat determination. Though, her tone contained none of the warmth or forgiveness that he had imagined it would when she uttered those words to him. “You were being antagonized and humiliated, and it slipped out in the heat of the moment. I know you would never have called me that under different circumstances.”
“No,” he agreed, “I wouldn’t have, I’m so sorry that I said it, it’s the biggest regret of my—”
“Great, I believe you. Are we done here?” she asked, everything about her from her folded arms to her hard expression entirely closed.
“Are we… you forgive me?”
“For calling me Mudblood? Yes. I forgive you,” she answered in clipped tones.
He glanced around, feeling self-conscious that she had thrown that word around so cavalierly in this crowd, but nobody seemed to be paying them any attention.
“So… are we… friends?” he asked, feeling wrong-footed by her tone, so incongruent with the words he’d so desperately wanted from her. This question felt so inadequate compared to what he wanted to ask her. Did she care about him? Did she miss him the way he missed her, desperately and terribly and as though things would never be right again without her? Would things go back to the way they were? Did she know that he loved her, beyond anything he had imagined himself capable?
“No,” she answered shortly. “I’m not typically friends with people who are planning to do me in, funnily enough.”
“Do you… Lily I would never hurt you, what are you—”
“Still planning to join up with him after school?” she asked pointedly, an eyebrow raised.
This was the sticking point. She had never understood or bothered to consider his point of view on this. The Dark Lord employed certain means that were less to his taste than others, it was true, but didn’t she see the greater picture, the bigger plan? “If you would just let me talk to you about—”
“That’s what I thought,” she answered. “Then you lied. You would hurt me. Or at least, you’d help people who are planning to. It all comes to the same thing, really.”
“That’s not how I see it,” he explained. “Life will be better for people like you and me—”
“I want to hear your pitch for Voldemort even less than I wanted to hear your millionth apology,” she interjected. “We’ve nothing more to say to each other.”
“That’s it, then?” he asked, anger and deep loss filling his chest. “You’re just throwing away everything because—”
“Oh, I’m so fucking sick of you telling me I’m the one throwing our friendship away, when you’re the one who is choosing bloody Voldemort over me,” she hissed in frustration, pointing an angry finger at him. “So let me ask you the same thing. You’re just throwing everything away? Joining up with him means more to you than our friendship?”
Words failed him. She didn’t understand, perhaps couldn’t understand. The world they lived in would never accept him, it had proven that a million times over. He wanted a world where he and Lily didn’t have to hide who they were from their dirty Muggle relatives, didn’t have to pretend that they were lesser than. With the Statute of Secrecy removed, he’d never have to take another word of abuse again from his drunk of a father, and she would never have to hear her sister call her a freak again. Didn’t she see this was for her? For them?
“It doesn’t have to be a choice—”
“It does. It is,” she replied simply. “I can’t be friends with you if you’re joining up with him, if you believe in him. I don’t know how you can’t understand that.”
The only thing he understood was that his apologies were futile, because the thing which she couldn’t forgive was the thing he was unwilling to change. “You’ll see, in the end,” he vowed finally, realizing that perhaps only action would ever convince her. And for her, he was willing to wait until she saw what he could not explain.
“So will you,” she answered, a note of sadness to her voice now. “So will you.”
She gave him one last hard look before turning and striding away from him, her silky hair tumbling down her back as she went. He watched her go, realizing for the first time that he was in for a long wait for the return of her friendship. He knew he would wait as long as it took her to see that he was right.
She would come back to him, though. She had to.
He was about to leave the party and sit with the empty feeling in the pit of his stomach when he saw where she had gone. She was no longer chatting with Jonathan Abbott.
It felt as though someone had taken one of the enchanted icicles lining the ceiling and stabbed him in the heart with it.
She was in the corner of the room, wiping at her eyes with the corner of her sleeve, being comforted by none other than James Potter.
He’d noticed they’d been chummier this year. She’d been paired with him for some project, and since then it seemed they were, if not friends exactly, something resembling it. It had caused Severus no small amount of bitterness that Potter, apparently, had earned her forgiveness while he could not. Apparently Lily thought torturing somebody was a forgivable offense. Still, he had not been prepared for the idea that she would run to him for comfort, that it would be Potter to whom she cried.
Perhaps it was some sort of masochism that forced him to skulk around behind them so that he could hear their conversation, or perhaps it was something more akin to watching a train wreck. Whatever it was, he shielded himself behind a large suit of armor not six feet from them, just close enough to hear their conversation.
“I feel so stupid,” he heard her say. “I hate that he still makes me upset. I shouldn’t care about what he says.”
Potter rubbed his filthy hand on her shoulder in what Severus imagined was supposed to be comfort. “Evans, you are a lot of things, but stupid has never been one of them.”
She snorted. “Yeah well, what do you call getting upset when a person you already know is planning to join up with Voldemort confirms he’s planning to join up with Voldemort? Hardly shocking news, is it?”
“Weird, I’d call it kindness,” James replied simply. Severus felt a rage build inside him that he’d never felt before. That James Potter was comforting Lily Evans about him was nearly too much to bear. He could have hexed Potter on the spot, nearly did before the thought better of it.
“Kindness, weakness,” replied Lily, waving her hand airily. “One and the same.”
“Do you think so?” Potter asked, an eyebrow raised.
Lily sighed. “No. Not really. But it feels that way, sometimes.”
“I could go and hex him, if you like.”
“I want to.” Severus tightened his grip on his wand. “He’d deserve it.”
“That wouldn’t help though, would it?”
Potter seemed to contemplate for a moment. “If I can’t hex him, can I tell you something really fucking cheesy, instead? It’s something that my mum said to me once; you know her, she’s full of unwanted wisdom. But this particular bit has always sort of stuck with me.” He paused, and nudged her with his elbow. “I reckon you might need to hear it, too.”
Lily glanced up at him in some amusement. “Go on, then. Share your mum’s infinite wisdom.”
Potter smiled down at her. “It was last summer, after fifth year… you know. Not my best year. I was having a bit of a go at myself about… well, everything. And, after she told me to get a grip on myself and set the table, she said: you can forgive yourself for not knowing things before you learned them.”
Lily looked up at him. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
James shrugged. “Young, impressionable James took it to mean that we’re not perfect, and it’s okay to figure things out later than we would’ve liked.”
She stared at him for a few moments, her eyes bright. “Wise woman, your mum.”
“I like to think so.”
“Young, impressionable James took this bit of advice to heart, did he?”
“He did,” Potter replied, bowing his head. “Of course, he also very much internalized his father’s recommendation to hex Mrs. Norris at every available opportunity, so on the whole it’s been a balance.”
She snorted in amusement, before her eyes turned soft. “So you’re basically telling me to forgive myself for not knowing what Snape would become, is that about right?”
“That’s the long and the short of it, yeah.”
“Hmm,” she mused. “Of course, accepting that ruins the bit where I crumble to a million pieces if I don’t do everything perfectly at all times.”
“Unfortunate, that. You’ll have to cancel some major crumbling plans.”
“It’ll be disastrous for my schedule.”
“I don’t know how you’ll cope.”
She laughed, eyes still a bit watery but her disposition a great deal more cheerful than it had been.
“You alright, Evans?” he asked her after a pause.
“No,” she answered simply. “But I’m not going to let him ruin my night. I refuse. It’s fucking Christmas, your mum might know what she’s talking about – I’m reserving judgment – and I love this song.”
“Of course you love The Potioneers. Very on-brand.”
She rolled her eyes, but with none of the disdain that Severus had once imagined she had for him. “Shut up and come dance with me.”
Potter looked momentarily stunned, but he took it in stride, offering Lily his arm and pulling her out into the dance floor where they joined the raucous group of sixth and seventh years jumping around to the beat of the music, leaving Severus to stare after them, his heart in pieces on the floor.
Chapter 7: Seventh Year (Part II)
No, the fact that they were together now was equal parts agonizing and utterly unsurprising.
He watched them cozied up together at a corner booth in the Three Broomsticks. Potter’s arm was draped over her shoulders casually. They were chatting, he couldn’t hear about what, but occasionally he would hear Lily’s melodic laughter echo through the place, punctuated by Potter’s loud chuckle. What they had to laugh about, Severus had no idea, as he had never felt less like laughing in his life.
He hadn’t followed them here, exactly. Not with any sort of intention, anyway. It had just happened. He had spotted them coming out of Scrivenshafts, hand in hand, and he’d walked surreptitiously behind them as the bitterness and betrayal washed over him.
“You and those bloody sugar quills,” Potter had commented.
“You filthy hypocrite,” Lily had retorted, swinging their entwined hands back and forth playfully. “You spent ages picking out fudge.”
“That was a gift for Remus, Lily,” Potter chided teasingly. “D’you want me to tell Remus you made me feel guilty for his gift?”
“Oh, Remus typically eats five pounds of fudge, does he?”
“He’s very hungry.”
“Apparently. And I thought he didn’t even like strawberry?”
“He’s… broadening his horizons. It’s good for the bloke, can’t just have chocolate all the time.”
“Nice of you to expose him to the ways of the world.”
“I’m great that way, aren’t I?”
Lily had looked up at him then, the teasing look from her face entirely gone. “Yeah, you’re pretty great.”
Potter had smiled back down at her, the fondness on his face made Severus want to vomit. “Well, I’ve got great taste, anyway.”
Severus didn’t think he was referring to the fudge anymore.
They’d carried on like that the entire way to The Three Broomsticks, and Severus had trailed them, transfixed, as though he were a man being lead to the gallows. And now here he was, occupying a small table in the corner of the pub with a view just big enough to see their booth.
He pondered himself with a sick sort of clinical removal. It was all so glaringly obvious, in retrospect. He had been right to question her about Potter all this time, right to pick up on the little moments of flirtation and laughter between them, because she had lied. She didn’t hate Potter, perhaps never had. He was the bitter fool whom she hated.
He tried to hate her for it. Tried to feel nothing as he stared at them. Tried to tell himself that she was a filthy little Mudblood anyway, that she wasn’t worth a minute of his time or an iota of this agony. Tried, but failed, as he stared at her and the way her cheeks went slightly rosy when she drank butterbeer and how her socks were always pulled up to just below her knees and the way she brushed her hair away from her face.
As she and Potter had become sickeningly closer over the last few months, as it became more and more apparent to him that she fancied him back (long before Potter himself had realized it), he had pondered the matter, perhaps in some attempt at self-preservation. He had tried to imagine what the worst part of seeing them together would be, and he had thought it would be watching her kiss Potter the way he had always imagined she would kiss him.
As he watched Potter pull her in for a kiss and she ran her fingers through his ridiculous hair, he realized he had been wrong. It was funny, in the way that something can be funny without being funny at all. The worst part of it wasn’t the kissing at all.
No, the worst part of it was how palpably, undeniably, agonizingly happy they seemed. The way she seemed to glow when she looked at him, the look of incredulous wonder he had on his face when he glanced down at their entwined hands. He had always imagined that no matter what idiot Lily was with, he could find comfort in the fact that he loved her, truly loved her, and for that reason alone he would always be the better choice. But, as he watched them pull away from their kiss and linger, foreheads still touching, looking for all the world as though they were alone in the place overflowing with students, he realized that he’d never shared a moment like that with her, and likely never would.
He hated James Potter with his entire soul. He was arrogant. He was cruel. He’d never struggled for anything. And most of all, he hated him because she didn’t.