Lily Evans was skipping down a staircase as if the world were watching and admiring her every motion, her Light is Right girlfriends attending her every word as they twittered about how noble the redhead was for enduring the foul presence of Severus Snape in several classes.

Like the bitch has a say in what classes Snape or anyone else can take! Bloody cow. Adam Murphy, now in his second year and watching from the landing above, hated her.

He hadn't last year. Evans had been annoying in her lack of perception, but tolerable. These days, Adam found her righteous facade infuriating.

Although she was popular, had friends nearby and was a prefect, Evans had done no more than posture at her idiotic, brutish housemates before getting incensed by their victim's foul language when Severus was attacked last June. After watching Evans turn away from helping Snape, mocking him as she left him to his tormentors, Adam could feel nothing for her but contempt and disgust.

He'd tried to intervene himself, but a fellow first year had briefly paralyzed him, only releasing Adam when he promised not to fight the older, vastly more skilled wizards. Instead, he'd run for help the moment his friend released him.

Adam had been furious enough to inform Fremont later that they weren't friends anymore. Then it sank in that he was behaving just like Evans.

Adam wasn't about to emulate that self-righteous bint, so they'd made their peace. Fremont had wanted to save him from some of the worst enemies he could possibly make at Hogwarts. He'd forgiven the Ravenclaw and they'd corresponded regularly during the summer. Fremont had been fascinated by and surprisingly helpful with Murphy's make up work for his Muggle schooling.

Adam still didn't like what his friend had done last June, but could understand the logic. He had made it abundantly clear when he decided to return to Hogwarts that Fremont had better not ever do anything like that again. Fremont had agreed.

Adam was also paying a lot more attention to learning to use his magic. If those Griffin thugs or that asshole Wilkes pulled any shit this year he wouldn't be helpless again.

Using James Potter's favored tripping jinx on Evans would be easy, he thought. The clown had certainly used it in public often enough. Adam pulled his wand from his pocket.

"Severus won't approve," said a mild voice at his shoulder.

Adam spun. Joram Avery was standing behind him, a sympathetic expression on his face.

"I don't know what you're talking about," Adam bluffed.

"I can understand the temptation," the blond Slytherin said, leading him away from the busy stairway, "but you're too young to have heard the rule."

"What rule?"

"Back in our first year, Snape made it abundantly clear that anyone foolish enough to hurt Evans would pay for their stupidity." His hazel eyes held a hint of humor despite that deadpan statement, hinting that the Slytherin was laughing inside. "Mind you, he wasn't raised in the wizarding world so he didn't know many hexes yet. No one took him seriously at first."

"Well, you and Mulce would've helped him, you're mates."

Avery's lips twitched. "We were among the people he threatened. Neither of us was raised to think much of Mudbloods, ah, Muggleborns. Severus Snape was the son of a witch insane enough to choose to live her life with a Muggle. We weren't inclined to respect him. We certainly didn't care what he said about some upstart Gryffindor girl."

"Who happened to be Muggleborn," Murphy noted shrewdly.

"It didn't help," the older boy acknowledged with a brief grin. "Those first months were difficult."

"On him or you?"

Avery laughed. "We weren't prepared for his learning curve."

Adam laughed as well. He could believe it. "So after he hexed you enough you let her be?"

"He used his fists as often as not back then, and really, it wasn't that we singled Evans out. If he didn't approve of something we did he said so. Stridently." Avery looked more nostalgic than bothered by the fact.

"But you're friends now. Why should you still follow his rule about that stupid cow? Evans doesn't deserve his protection."

"He still cares, and we care enough about keeping his friendship to stay our hands. Believe me, if it weren't for that, she'd be paying a steep price for what she did to him."

Avery was always the thoughtful sort but right now, judging by the look on his face, Adam suspected those thoughts were unusually dark. "So we're going to let her get away with it?"

Avery smiled, noticing how he'd counted himself one of them.

"For the moment we'll restrain ourselves. To a point. Come to Study Club a half hour early if you want to hear what Anthony has in mind."

"I can do that."

He'd have to leave History of Magic early, but Binns wasn't likely to notice. The ghost rarely noticed anything.

Before Study Club

"Joram says you're no fonder of Evans than we are. The question is, do you really want to do something about her?" Anthony Mulciber asked when Adam entered the classroom and sat.

"Of course I do! She's a disgrace," Adam answered bitterly. "She and Lupin both should have had their Prefect badges taken away. The difference is, Lupin has never even pretended to give a fuck about anyone but him and those worthless friends of his, but Evans loves to talk about standing up for what's right."

"So she talks like every other Gryff," the big Slytherin said, unconcealed scorn on his freckled face. "Do any of them do more than that?"

"Fabian Prewett did in his day," Avery said. He was in front at the professor's desk rather than his usual seat in back. Mulciber had seated himself on the desk next to the one Adam chose. "My brother never liked him but he respected him."

"That was years ago," Mulce countered. "Where are the good ones now? They all applaud every bit of trouble Potter's lot get into."

"Evans doesn't."

"She's never done anything useful, though, has she?" Adam snapped. "She's all talk. She didn't even threaten to take points, let alone tell Mcgonagall."

"You seem to take her behavior personally," the blond sixth year noted calmly. "Is it because she's Muggleborn like you?"

The second year hesitated. He did hold Muggleborns to a higher standard, but in his books that just meant not being insane.

"It's the way she sets herself up as a bloody example," he eventually admitted, "but then she walked away from someone in need of help."

Mulciber scratched at his auburn curls. "So she isn't a saint. I'm hardly shocked."

"It's disgusting. My father would never do that," Adam said with conviction.

"You can't be so sure," Avery replied. "There is that saying about feet of clay, after all."

"Did you lot never notice my name?"

"Murphy? Should we have?" Mulce asked.

"It's Irish." In response to their blank expressions, he added with a sigh, "I guess there's no wizarding IRA."

Both purebloods looked baffled.

"Separatists. Irish who don't want to be governed by Brits," he clarified.

The older boys shared a look. "I think my aunt has said something about disagreements over there once or twice," Avery offered.

"Maybe it isn't as bad in the magical world," Murphy said, "but the IRA blows shit up in the real one."

"Well, Muggles aren't really..."

Murphy cut him off, almost snarling as he spoke, "Fuck you, Mulce! You don't know a bloody thing except what your parents have told you."

The second year glared until Mulciber nodded. "That's true. Sev's told me the same thing. And I do say stupid shit sometimes," he admitted with a grin, gesturing for the younger boy to continue.

Mollified, Murphy went on. "The IRA have killed people. My father's a copper. Stopping trouble is his job, no matter what kind of rubbish the people he's arresting say when they hear his accent. Or people he's trying to help. Or some of his bloody coworkers," he added with a scowl.

"Not always easy, I take it," Avery said.

"No it isn't. He's heard a lot worse than what Snape said. And Evans was too dumb to see that Snape was distracting Potter."

"Was he?" Avery looked doubtful. "I hadn't heard that part."

"Potter said he'd hex her," Adam told him. "Evans is too goddamned thick to think he'd do it, even after five years in the same House, taking classes together and seeing how he reacts to being crossed."

"While Sev knows better," Avery put in.

When Murphy nodded, Mulciber said, "Well, if you want to join in, here's my little notion about punishing her. She deserves worse, but Snape won't accept anything really foul involving Evans. Sometimes people can't get their just desserts, at least not right away. Someday, though," he added, his expression hardening.

"Go on, then," Adam replied, eager and relieved, "we need to do something."

Several Days Later

The tune echoed from every suit of armor Lily passed.

Bitch Lily, Bitch Lily, the Gryffindor cow, just watch the wench judge you, I just don't know how, so many can stand her contemptuous ways, that arrogant Gryffindor cow!

It wasn't the only verse. Some were cruder, with foul language and cruel insults. The worst, she thought, had been the one that called her a "scarlet haired, backstabbing cow."

The tune was distressingly infectious. Students were remembering and singing selected verses.

It doesn't make sense! People like me. I'm a good person! Lily was walking, cringing as she did, really, when she passed Sev--

Snape, she amended in her thoughts. He paused, scowling at the crooning suit of armor that he was approaching.

"How petty," he stated in that new, cold voice he'd adopted over the summer. It was disturbing. He was disturbing.

This harsh, confident, different Severus didn't look at her or deign to speak to her. Instead, he raised his wand, aiming at the offending armor.

"Finite doesn't work," Marlene McKinnon informed him from nearby. Lily realized she'd been right there and they hadn't been walking together.

"Of course not. I know perfectly well who came up with this," he replied, then said, "Bombarda!" followed, by a rapid "Protego!"

The singing armor exploded, the debris contained behind the second spell. There was a brief cacophony as its twisted and broken pieces clattered to the stone floor.

"Mr. Snape, what is this?" asked a familiar voice.

Lily relaxed at the sight of the Headmaster, but she noticed that Snape grew tense, although he replied in his new, chillingly controlled manner. "That idiotic charm has continued for quite long enough."

"Which is why Professor Vector asked that I come attend to the matter," Dumbledore replied, looking amused, "While I agree the tune was uninspired, surely the armor wasn't to blame?"

Snape sighed. "Perhaps not. Detention, I suppose?" He made the punishment sound expected but unimportant.

"Perhaps you can repair the armor instead," Dumbledore replied. "It might require a bit of research. These aren't ordinary suits of armor, after all," he added cheerfully.

"You would want me to apply the enchantments as well?" her former friend asked, looking more intrigued than daunted.

"Not without assistance should you require it, naturally."

"I suspect the original spells aren't in the library," Snape hinted.

"Not all of them." Dumbledore's eyes twinkled at Snape's barely concealed eagerness.

Is Dumbledore really going to trust him with school secrets? Lily wondered, fighting alarm.

"To begin with, then," Snape stated, "I will require a pass for the Restricted Section."

"Naturally," the Headmaster replied.

"You can't," Lily blurted out.

"I will grant that Mr. Snape acted on a chivalrous impulse, Miss Evans, but there must be an appropriate punishment for his actions. I simply cannot ignore the destruction of school property."

"Professor, he's a Death Eater!"

Behind her, Marlene gasped. Snape's face went pale, then blotchy red before his expression turned chilly and he turned to her. "You do have proof of this accusation?"

She floundered. "I... What were you doing all summer?"

"Working," he replied coldly. "My usual source of income became unavailable. I was offered the opportunity to catalog a library, so naturally I took it."

"For the Lestrange family, or so I was told," Dumbledore put in.

"Yes. I committed no crimes during my employment, I might add."

Lily could feel her own face heat with humiliation. "You didn't join Him, then?"

"Why, no, I was far too busy to go looking for the Death Eaters' recruitment center," Snape answered snidely.

"Excellent," the Headmaster put in with a jovial smile, "one's education should always remain a top priority."

Both looked at him then. Dumbledore was a very strange man sometimes.

The awful, meanspirited mockery went on. Rude songs, especially that one, kept being circulated, once by Howlers, seven in all, performing in chorus in the Great Hall, humiliating Lily and spoiling her appetite.

James Potter and Sirius Black had risen to try to blast the wretched envelopes, leading to enough chaos that, even though a Gryffindor had been the victim of the prank, their House lost thirty points.

Lily hated to remember just how many students at the other tables had laughed.

At The Next Study Club Meeting

"Macdonald is getting up another petition," Mary Ling said, sounding irritated as she set her books on a desk with unusual care.

Murphy suspected she did it on purpose rather than throw them. Ling was generally a sweet, well-mannered sort but she was clearly tired of the blond Gryffindor's attempts to shut down their club.

"Sod Macdonald," he said, "She's almost as deluded as Evans."

Evan Rosier chuckled. The dark haired seventh year, some kind of cousin of Snape's, was an odd bloke, but not a bad sort. He turned up only occasionally for their club because he played Quidditch and headed the marbles club or whatever it was. Some weird, smelly wizard variant, however named. Rosier was looking a little anxious as he said, "So... today we'll learn how angry Sev is."

Seated at the teacher's desk, Avery sighed. "It seems so. Still, we can honestly say we haven't harmed Evans, just embarrassed her a little. It's the only reason he was willing to discuss this here with all of us rather than hex Mulce and myself right away."

"Well, I haven't even embarrassed her," Ling snapped. "If I'm going to be blamed I should at least have been invited to help with the crime in question."

"You'd have been in with us?" Mulciber asked, clearly surprised.

"If I'd been outside instead of writing to Grandmother, I would have done something that day, and not just posturing for my friends, either," she said, restlessly fussing with her pile of books. "I wish they didn't separate required classes by House. Those thugs have gotten away with the worst behavior for years."

"Doesn't matter." Mulciber stretched his legs out to rest his feet on the chair beside his desk. "The Gryffin Goons are sneaky fuckers. They don't go after him when he might have backup."

"Which says a lot about Severus's oh so special best friend," Ling said, shocking Adam. He'd never heard the sixth year girl speak about anyone with so much venom.

"As to revenge," Avery added, "Snape's always kept us out of any payback. We live in the wizarding world and the Blacks are clannish. Only another Black can hurt one of their own."

"My grandfather traps, hunts and prepares potions ingredients," Mulciber added, "all that nasty stuff nobody likes to think about like extracting eyes and guts and drying or pickling the stuff. Fleamont Potter retired, but his name still has weight. Snape says I shouldn't do anything that might get my family blacklisted. He didn't say Potter'd ask for that, but does think that if the old man thought someone was hurting his precious little miracle boy, he might give their families grief on his own."

"How nice," came in Snape's most sarcastic, sneering tone, followed by, "all the little plotters, trying to justify harassing Lily. How she is responsible for Potter, I have no idea, and yet here you are discussing the arrogant twat."

"Fuck," Mulce muttered, "he's not feeling very forgiving today, is he?"

"Do share your comments with the room, Mr. Mulciber."

Murphy stifled a nervous laugh. That icy tone was pure Bastard Teacher. He'd had one of those prior to Hogwarts. It sounded like Snape had, too.

Snape was glaring at the lot of them, though, so Murphy, being the youngest and presumably most innocent, replied. "None of us is happy with how the Red Cow's treating you, Snape."

Those glittering black eyes narrowed. "What did you call her?"

"We've all called her worse, Sev." He heard choking noises but didn't look to see whether it was Rosier or Mulciber. Avery was unlikely and it was too low for Ling. He kept his attention on Snape, though. If he was really that angry, they might lose him. The notion disturbed Adam more than he'd thought possible for a friend, but then, with his disruptive magic, friends had been hard to come by prior to Hogwarts.

"Sev?" Snape repeated quietly.

Murphy swallowed. Snape had never invited him to use his name, let alone a diminutive form. Rather than feign shame, he gave the sixth year a glare. "That is what all your other friends call you. I suppose I figured you wouldn't mind me using it, too, us being friends. Am I wrong?"

He'd rendered Severus Snape speechless, he realized with something like glee when Mulciber chortled. Snape's face was pale but there were blotchy red patches on his cheeks. Is he really blushing?

"Well, since that's been settled," Avery said, "can we discuss your friends' desire to show Evans that she isn't as universally adored as she seems to believe?"

"She doesn't deserve to be harassed," Snape replied.

"She really does," Ling put in. "None of us would hurt her, Severus, but that doesn't mean we don't want to teach her a bit of humility. I've always considered her quite arrogant."

"That's hardly fair."

"How many people do I actively dislike?" she countered calmly. "Evans tops the list but have you ever known me to treat her, or anyone else for that matter, cruelly?"

"No." Snape was relaxing as they spoke.

Which was interesting. Snape didn't object to disagreeing with his friends, the bloke enjoyed a lively argument, in fact, but he'd come in tense and on the defensive.

"We aren't like that fucking bitch," Mulciber said, in a tone gentler than Adam had ever heard him use. "We aren't going to turn against you because you won't turn against her."

Snape twitched but relaxed again almost instantly. "She's been my best friend since we were nine."

"We respect that," Joram assured him. "Your feelings matter even if hers don't. We're merely registering our objection to her behavior. She should know that believing she's in the right isn't always the same as being right."

"Or righteous," Ling added.

"I won't pretend that she's anything more than a vile cow," Rosier said, "but I don't plan to hurt anything but her feelings. I do plan to do that when she deserves it, though. After what happened, I will never forgive her, Sev."

The Slytherin boys facing Severus shared a certain look, a sense of bitter anger that left Murphy wondering what was being left unspoken. Ling looked as puzzled as he felt, but Snape only looked saddened.

"That wasn't her fault," he said inexplicably.

"Wasn't it?" There was more than simple anger in Mulce's voice and Rosier looked ready to join in on his side.

What happened that they aren't talking about? Murphy wondered. They're angrier at Evans than at Potter's gang. Even more than I am!

"We managed to get you out of Cokeworth, at least." Avery rose from the desk, gesturing for Snape to take his usual seat. "If we handle things properly this year, I can't imagine not finding a similar situation for next summer."

"It's unlikely. Cursed libraries are hardly common," Severus replied, giving him a subtly grateful look as he sat.

It isn't for giving up the best chair, either, Murphy thought.

"We have all year to look," the blond said. His hazel eyes held a mischievous gleam as he took a seat beside Ling.

"Let's get this settled," Mulce said bluntly. "We aren't letting Evans completely alone any more because she deserves some shit, like it or not. What are the boundaries, Sev? What won't you forgive?"

"Making Evans uncomfortable is not going too far, Severus," Ling told him firmly. "She's never had trouble with others being embarrassed or uncomfortable, so there's no reason to deny her a little discomfort herself."

Severus didn't look too happy about it, but accepted his friends' unified decision. They began to negotiate.

You Can't Say It's Not Funny

Lily kept hearing giggles as she walked to Transfiguration. She dreaded looking to see why but finally peeked behind herself to find out. Nothing, she thought first, before the tail moved languidly into sight.

Her tail.

She gasped in dismay. The lower back segment of her robes appeared to have gone missing, revealing broad, speckled, brown and white hindquarters and a tail. They looked like a cow's, as far as she could tell at this awkward angle.

A nearby student chuckled at her squeak as the tail lifted. It didn't lead to the result she'd feared, however. Instead of a loud fart or something even fouler, there was a moo. She started to relax, but then the cow's hind end began to sing.

Moo-Cow Molly, hear her start to crow, acting like a bully everywhere she goes, making fancy speeches that are full of shit, then standing by when her friends get hit.

The music accompanying the lyrics was... odd. Upbeat and catchy in a way that all but invited clapping along or even dancing.

The nearby laughter grew more overt.

Lily raised her wand uncertainly. What if Finite Incantatum n't work again? What if the spell worked on the cow backside but her own unclothed bum was revealed to all when it disappeared? She clenched her jaw, thinking, I'll manage. I'm good enough at Transfiguration to fix my robe if I have to.

Still, she hesitated.

"Honestly, it's a simple illusion," came a waspish voice. Ling, an Asian girl she hadn't shared any classes with before this year, followed the comment with a simple Finite and the cow rump was gone, her robe intact.

"Thank you, Ling," Lily said. "I can't believe someone did something so awful!"

The Ravenclaw replied with little grace. "I thought you Gryffs considered pranks a fine old Hogwarts tradition. I suppose that only applies when it's you doing the pranking."

Mary Macdonald gave her a cold look as she took Lily's arm. "Come on, Lily. It wouldn't do to be late to class."

Mary was given an equally cold look in return before they all entered the Transfiguration classroom.

The girl then sat beside Sev-- Snape, offering him a greeting and a startlingly friendly smile.

He looked more concerned than pleased by the action, especially when Avery took the desk on his other side. Avery seemed to be making a point when he turned to study the Gryffindors in the room with a calm, inexpressive face.

Professor Mcgonagall came in then and they all focused on the lesson. NEWT level classes were more complicated than earlier years had been. Even Potter's gang were quieter since Professor Mcgonagall seemed less tolerant of their foolishness than in the past.

Well, this was a NEWT level class, she reminded herself. Games were all well and good in the lower years.

Class ended and all seemed well, but the torment wasn't over. In Charms, her ink turned invisible as she took notes. At dinner, a gravy boat turned into a small ceramic cow that danced jauntily across the table, stopped in front of Lily and blew a raspberry at her. The mockery was unbearable so she hexed it, but that just led to more laughter.

"I don't know why anyone would harass you like this," Marlene said that night while they dressed for bed.

Mary, seated at the foot of her bed, said, "I think Ling is involved. She's in that Slytherin club, you know."

The girl from that afternoon, Lily realized. The one she vaguely recognized from somewhere although they'd only shared classes since the year began.

"The Study Club," Dorcas corrected absently, braiding her brown hair in front of a standing mirror they'd all pitched in for last year. It was charmed to let you examine yourself from behind and close up, but didn't offer comments like some magical mirrors did. Marlene had put her foot down at getting one of those.

"Why would she want to bother me?" Lily asked.

"Snape started their club, right? Maybe he's punishing you for finally dropping him."

Lily hesitated. She didn't want to believe that of him, but Severus hadn't tried to make things right between them over the summer. He'd returned to Hogwarts acting so cold as well, seeming almost like a different person. He certainly hadn't sought her out to apologize again. "I suppose that's possible," she admitted.

As she settled under her blankets, Lily concluded that confronting Snape might be best. Even if he held a grudge, he had no right to treat her this way.

After Potions Class

NEWT level Potions was proving to be harder than Lily had expected, but Professor Slughorn was always glad to answer her questions. She noticed that he seemed to be ignoring Snape except for marking his work, which continued to be flawless as far as she could judge, so he probably wasn't suffering from the Professor's snubs.

Mulciber was still taking Potions, but so were both Remus Lupin and Peter Pettigrew (She was amazed the latter had qualified to study at this level.). It was a relief to know that she and Marlene weren't the only Gryffindors in the room.

After class, she moved close enough to her former friend to say, "We need to talk. An hour before curfew."

Snape knew where she meant and nodded slightly. Mulciber, having moved near as if to eavesdrop, gave Lily a murderous look. Snape moved between them and led the creepy git away.

When the time came, Snape was there, sitting on a bench in a small room stocked with ancient desks, chairs and other classroom furniture. He'd cleared the bench and its immediate area of dust, she noticed.

She didn't sit beside him. She also chose not to use the chair he'd cleaned and set across from it. Feeling unwilling to reward him after he'd set his friends on her, she summoned a chair from a stack across the room and wiped it down before sitting, giving him a glare.

He reddened but didn't speak.

"At least you seem to know you're doing something wrong," she said coldly. "How can you treat me like this? We were friends!"

"I didn't.. "

She cut him off. "You just let those nasty gits do it for you."

"They aren't happy with you, Lily..."

"Does that make it right? I used to think you were a decent person, Sev-- Snape," she corrected herself hastily.

"Honestly, you even lie to yourself!" Ling's voice sniped as she entered the room. Mulciber's bulky frame followed her in. Both looked at Lily with hateful expressions.

Snape stiffened. "This is a private discussion."

It was the old Sev voice, sharp if a little shaky, not the cold, unnatural one he'd acquired during the summer holidays.

"I told Ling about this harpy deciding she needs to shout at you," Mulciber said calmly. "We're all past that. If she's not your friend, there's no need to tolerate her shit any more. We've already decided not to."

"My... what gives you any right to talk like that to me?"

"About you," Ling corrected her. "Given a choice, I wouldn't talk to you at all, but Severus has always let you talk over him so someone else has to handle shouting at you in his place."

"Sev's just too fucking polite," Mulciber said drily. "So's Ling, but I'm not polite to mudbloods like you unless I bloody well feel like it."

"Mulce," Snape began, only to be cut off by the other Slytherin.

"I can be civil! You know I can. You aren't the only one of us Murphy considers a friend and I consider him one! But Evans?" He growled, tugged his own curls roughly, then took some deep breaths before addressing his friend as if they were alone. He appeared genuinely distressed as he said, "I can't deal with this bitch and I won't let you anymore. She'll do too much damage! She already has."

"That is enough."

Snape's voice had gone cold, but Lily could tell it was just a veneer. The undercurrents between the two boys were baffling, not to mention disturbing. Mulciber's freckled brown face held a strange, anguished expression. Ling looked on with as little comprehension as Lily felt herself.

"What haven't you boys told the rest of us?" Ling asked.

"Nothing of consequence."

"It's private," Mulciber said over Snape's trembling voice. "None of her business. It'll only be yours if he decides to talk about it someday."

Lily wanted to argue. She had a right to know why these people had turned on her!

Ling spoke before she could, though, saying, "I can wait, then." Apparently she could accept friends keeping secrets from her.

Lily Evans was made of sterner stuff. "I think I deserve to know why you've taken it upon yourselves to torment me!"

"Fuck off."

"You really don't."

Snape's friends spoke simultaneously, showing equal contempt, and Lily huffed angrily. "Is this the kind of friends you chose?" she asked him. "These spiteful bigots?"

Ling laughed at her before Snape could reply. "You believe you still have the right to lecture Severus like that? That you can tell him what his friends are like when you've barely spoken to any of us? And how dare you call me a bigot without knowing me, you judgmental twit?"

"I've never wanted to talk to her," Mulciber admitted, adding shockingly, "but I was willing to try back when Snape started our club. Remember how she turned right around and left when she saw us, Sev?"

"She had good reason not to like you or Joram, Mulce."

"What about me? Or Regina? We had never spoken a word to her, Severus. We're also in Ravenclaw so she couldn't just declare us evil Slytherins like the boys."

"She didn't know you, either," Snape countered.

"Isn't that why you join a club, to meet people?" Ling sounded like the memory still hurt.

Did I miss a chance to help Sev find better friends? Lily asked herself, but decided, No. Whatever she says, Ling still hangs around those two. So does Sev. Snape.

"You tried so bloody hard to change our minds, Sev. Hell, when it came to you you succeeded. Her nibs, though? Evans is the worst example of "special" or "brilliant" I've ever met!"

Lily had recoiled from the girl's scorn, but rallied at Mulciber's words. "Do you honestly expect me to believe you would give any Muggleborn a chance?"

"Murphy is Muggleborn," Snape reminded her sharply in a tone he'd never used towards her before. "Mulce and he get along too well sometimes."

The big Slytherin chuckled. "He's a good kid. Smart, no patience for bullshit. Not as swottish as you, but there are similarities."

He was talking to Snape with affection in his voice, for Sev and the younger boy both. This whole discussion is surreal, Lily found herself thinking.

"I'm sure they were horrible to you for ages," Ling said to her, "but I know that they intended to try to behave themselves, at least."

"It's too late now," Mulciber said. "I hate that she's breathing, to be honest, but Severus wants it that way, so here we are."

The threat in his comment alarmed Lily, but Snape just sighed. "Pranks are common enough that it seemed a safe enough compromise," he explained to her.

"Compromise?" she repeated. "Did these, these..."

"You usually call us aspiring Death Eaters," Mulciber said helpfully.

Ignoring him, Lily addressed Snape. "What else were they thinking of doing?"

"They're limiting any action to pranks, L-" he cut himself off, apparently guessing that she wouldn't appreciate his using her name. "The pranks from now on will be reversible by standard counters. Finite Incantatum won't always do it, but they've agreed not to use spells Madam Pomfrey or some simple research can't put right. Nothing painful or illegal will be used."

"You think treating me like this is acceptable? We were friends!"

"You consider it acceptable for your housemates to do worse to Severus quite often," Ling reminded her sharply. "Other students are pranked every day, Evans, but you were always immune. Did you never wonder why? Sev's friends might have insulted you, but have they done a thing before this year? After you proved what a shabby friend you really were?"

For a moment, Lily couldn't reply. "Do you know what he called me?" she finally responded.

"I weep for your poor ego."

Mulciber chuckled. "You aren't as soft as you've always acted, Ling."

"You can't be too soft in this wretched place."

"It's less than two more years," Snape said, as if Hogwarts were a sentence to be served instead of the finest magical school in Britain.

"I don't deserve to be treated like this," Lily insisted.

"They won't reconsider," Snape said, sounding tired. "They've agreed to limitations, but I can't isolate you from being treated like every other student has been any more. Pranks, but only harmless ones. No curses, nothing violent, because they know better. They won't go nearly as far as Potter's lot do."

She huffed. "Do you always have to bring him into it?"

He went still and silent while Ling hissed at her, "You're still defending those thugs? You really are sickening, Evans, do you realize that?"

"Enough," Mulciber said, impatiently. "You're done being Severus's friend. Fine, no fucking loss for him. Leave Sev be from now on and we'll ease up on you, but don't expect to be immune any more from being treated like any other annoying bitch when you act like one. That's the deal he brokered because he's still better than you in every way, you ungrateful bint."


"We won't ler her trample over your feelings anymore, Severus."

Mulciber continued as if his friends hadn't spoken. "I'll add a warning since you think all Slytherins are the same . Wilkes isn't part of our agreement. Neither are Mayfair and her crowd. Don't be alone around that lot. They're all too stupid to realize that you've still got a protector in our House whether any of us like it or not."

Lily couldn't think of anything else to say. Snape looked tired, but his friends were clearly ready to keep on arguing all night.

She rose to leave, addressing only Snape as the other two moved to let her pass. "If you've convinced yourself this is right, it just proves what I said last spring. You really aren't who I thought you were."

Ling scoffed. Mulciber said, "You're exactly who we thought you were. Now fuck off so we can clean up this mess."

"What mess?" she asked.

With a growl, the Slytherin grabbed her and pulled her out of the room.

"Let me go!"

Ling had gone to Snape, her hand resting on his shoulder as she spoke quietly to him. She didn't seem to notice as Mulciber towered threateningly over Lily. Snape had started to rise, though, and she felt a stirring of hope until Mulciber addressed him.

"I already promised not to harm Evans," he reminded her former friend. "All I'm doing is making her leave so she stops harming you."

"What?" Lily said indignantly while the big Slytherin pulled her from the room. "I never hurt Sev! Snape, I mean."

Mulciber's laugh had a vicious tinge. "Fucking blind."

He hauled her away from the room before releasing her arm to loom over her instead. "You've never wondered about never getting pranked like the rest of the school, especially the other Mudbloods, have you? Never wondered why a thug like Wilkes hasn't gone after you since first year? Why Avery hates your guts when he reacts like that to almost nobody? Try asking people what Mary Ling is like, because she's another one who isn't what you think she is. Then ask yourself why someone who doesn't think the Death Eaters are revolutionaries would associate with us if we're supposed to be planning to join? She doesn't, you know. She has serious doubts about You Know Who's motives but she's still our friend. Maybe she understands Sev better than you do. Shit, who doesn't?"

He sighed gustily and stepped back. Lily breathed a silent sigh of relief in reaction. Mulciber looked at her with evident disgust as he went on. "Sev isn't responsible for our behavior, Evans. Leave him the fuck alone. Any problems with the rest of us? Try taking it up with the Slug, or your own Head of House. Fuck, go to Dumbledore! Those are the people in charge, not Severus Snape, even if he could do their jobs better than they bloody well do them!"

He turned to go back to his friends. "Go away, Evans. And don't think you're invulnerable anymore. People are sick to death of you and they're going to show you how they feel. Some aren't even Slytherins."

She left, trying not to allow his harsh words to upset her. Lily knew she was well liked. Nobody would stand by if troublemakers wanted to harass her.

Days Later

Nothing had occurred over the last few days, encouraging Lily to hope that the spate of bullying was done with.

Snape never spoke to her. He certainly hadn't apologized for his horrible friends. Mulciber and Avery made their hostility clear, but only with the glares and veiled comments she'd grown accustomed to. Ling ignored her. Lily was perfectly fine with the girl's frigid dislike and returned it in kind.

Marlene and Mary both thought the "Death Eaters' hanger on" deserved some of her own back, but Lily remembered what Mulciber claimed, that Ling wasn't on His side, and told them that until she caused trouble again, they should let her be. She didn't mention her fear that the boys wouldn't tolerate anyone hurting the Ravenclaw, including Sev- Snape.

She and Remus were on duty that Friday evening, helping Madam Pince clear the library as curfew drew near.

Murphy was there, thankfully seated among some students from his own year rather than the older Slytherins she usually saw him with.

She approached the table with a smile. "Time to pack up, it's almost curfew."

A couple of the second years murmured thanks as the group began to clear the table or hurried to check out books.

Murphy didn't look at her, merely addressing the tall black boy she'd frequently seen him with. "Get Snape's opinion before you turn your DADA essay in if you're so worried. Nobody's better in DADA than him."

"Remus is top of our class in Defense Against the Dark Arts," Lily offered. "I'm sure he'd be pleased to look at your essay."

She didn't use the boy's name. Lily didn't think she'd heard it before but wished she did know it. There had to be a way to draw these younger students away from that club and its dreadful members.

"No thank you," the boy said politely, not quite covering Murphy's scoff. "I've seen how well your fellow Prefect defends people."

Before Lily could summon a reply to the baffling words, a shrill, anxious voice called out, "Fremont! We should go before we're late." The olive skinned girl who joined them was tiny. Lily couldn't imagine how she'd managed to carry the huge stack of Herbology books she was now attempting to fit into her bag. "I don't want a detention."

"It'll be fine," Murphy assured her, picking up some of the books to carry. "Flitwick wouldn't discourage anyone from using the library, would he?"

The question was clearly aimed at his friend, who shrugged. "He shouldn't be too harsh towards a first year."

"Very reassuring," the Hufflepuff said drily. "Let's go, Lesser Rosier."

The girl huffed, tossing her head to get the black hair out of her eyes. "I don't know why you think that name is so funny. My mum would probably hex you for being rude."

"She'd hex him for being a Mudblood," Fremont said without a hint of malice.

"That's not acceptable language," Lily put in sharply.

"Mum and Dad say it all of the time," the tiny pureblood said. "I'm sure they know better than you how to talk."

"Move your arses," Murphy said impatiently. "I need to get back to the dungeons once we deliver Her Nibs and her books to your tower."

"I don't need a Mudblood's help," she said haughtily, and Lily opened her mouth to take points, only to realize she couldn't speak.

Fremont looked her calmly in the eye, slipping the wand back up his sleeve while telling his younger housemate, "I think you'll find that you do. Besides, this one's almost as bad as Snape for doing what he wants regardless of what you'd prefer."

"Oh, Snape," the girl said with a huff. "Evan insists he's our cousin."

"Genetics exist," Fremont said, rubbing her head as he picked up his own bookbag. "You're related whether you wish to be or not."

"Like Wilkes. You're related to that arsehole, too, right?" Murphy put in.

Her nose wrinkled. "Snape's better, even if his mum is a blood traitor. What's genetics?"

The three hurried off, leaving Lily utterly baffled. Fremont had used the vile word without a hint of spite. He had, in fact, seemed to be making a point. Murphy hadn't acknowledged the insult as such, either. And the girl's comment about Severus Snape implied that he was preferable to a fellow pureblood yet somehow inferior.

"Lupin," she asked while they worked their way back to Gryffindor Tower, "what makes someone a blood traitor?"

"It's not something decent people care about," Lupin began, looking uncomfortable, "just blood purists, really."

"But what makes a person one in their eyes?" she persisted.

It was an enlightening, disheartening conversation. Potter wasn't quite considered a blood traitor, although his family was believed to be leaning in that direction more and more, but Sirius Black had gotten himself disowned for his loudly proclaimed interest in Muggles and their culture as well as his hostility to the Dark Arts. Remus confided that his father was certainly considered a blood traitor because he'd married a Muggle woman.

"Like S-Snape's mum," she said, earning much too perceptive raised eyebrows.

"However did you hear that? It's hardly the kind of thing they admit to in Slytherin."

"Those second years knew," she admitted, not bringing up that she and Snape lived near one another. "The girl is a Rosier. She said Evan claims him as a cousin."

Lupin frowned in thought. "I suppose if there's a family connection he may feel obligated to admit it."

"Black was disowned even though he's a pureblood, but the Rosiers would claim a halfblood like Severus? This is confusing, Lupin."

"You could use my name if you like," he offered, sounding almost shy, "at least when we're alone if that's the way you prefer."

"Remus, then." She'd never disliked him the way she did Potter and Black. Lupin knew how to act like a gentleman. Peter Pettigrew, poor thing, was lucky to share a room with Remus as well as the others. That timid little soul would probably have been bullied worse than Sev without him!

The admission behind that thought made her wince inwardly. Severus hadn't sought trouble with her housemates any more than he did back in Spinner's End. He just seemed to attract unwelcome attention and wasn't capable of backing down.

And yet, he had developed friendships, even if she couldn't stand those friends.

Lily pushed the chain of thought away. Snape wasn't her friend or even her business anymore.