First love hit Lily when she was fifteen. Later she would hear a French phrase she thought described it well: a coup de foudre, a complete surprise. But Lily's first love was not quite so unexpected; perhaps as surprising as getting struck by lightning while standing on top of a tall building, holding a metal umbrella.
It happened on a Sunday. It was Lily's habit to have a lie-in on Sunday mornings and work twice as hard in the afternoon, so after a leisurely lunch she headed straight for the library. She found herself a table at the back and set to work on an Arithmancy essay that was due in a few days. She found it useful to start assignments long before they were due in order to have first pick of the library books, as everyone else in her classes seemed to start their assignments the night before the deadline.
But when she went to look for Perceval Dalrymple's Treatise on Recipriversexclusons, someone else had beaten her to it. And she didn't have to be a Seer to figure out who.
She found Severus Snape alone in the Divination Section, poring over Dalrymple with a look of intense concentration on his face. She had to clear her throat twice before he looked up. His face turned impassive when he saw her. "Good afternoon," he said evenly.
She was looking round. "Divination? You need these books?"
He shrugged. "No, no one does. That's why it's quietest here. Did you want something?"
"Yes, actually. Are you almost finished with Dalrymple?"
He shook his head. "I've only just started. It's going to take me some time."
Lily sighed. "I really need it too. Can't you speed-read or something?"
He stared at her for a moment with that unreadable expression. "Do you want to take this outside?" he asked abruptly.
"The book," he said, indicating Dalrymple. "I was about to go outside. It's so stuffy in here. If you want you can come outside with me and we can read it at the same time."
"Oh," said Lily, who for one wild moment had thought he wanted to fight her for the book. "Well—I don't know if library books can be taken out of the castle."
"Well I'm sorry, Madam Pince," he smirked. "You're a prefect, who would question us?"
"The real Madam Pince," Lily pointed out. "Or the Head Girl and Boy."
"Admittedly I'm not a prefect, but there's no rule against it as far as I know."
"Oh. Well…" She was still hesitating; but how could she, a staunch and vocal advocate of inter-house relations, admit she had reservations about walking out alone with a Slytherin?
He read her mind. "If you're afraid something might happen…" he began, his nasty smile widening.
She flushed. "No. Let's go, I know a bench by the lake where we can sit."
They both gathered up their things and left the library together. Lily did feel she could breathe better as they went out the front doors. The air outside was cool and crisp, with a sad note of frost in the breeze. She knotted her Gryffindor scarf tighter round her neck and, while pretending to adjust the hood of her cloak, snuck a glance at her companion. He was wearing only a light cloak, better suited to spring than autumn, but he seemed quite at ease.
"Where's this bench then?" he asked.
She pointed. "About five minutes that way, round the lake. You've never seen it? It's in a rather pretty area."
"I… I don't come outside much."
"I can believe it," Lily said gravely, observing the pallor and vellum texture of his skin.
He flicked her a glance, which she returned levelly. He did not reply.
They walked on round the edge of the lake, and she was surprised by how neatly matched their strides were. He stood nearly a full head taller than her and appeared to almost glide along with his long, graceful stride. Her legs were much longer than his, but she habitually took short, brisk steps. Side by side they proceeded at exactly the same pace—an eerie attunement, she thought. She had never had occasion to notice it before. In fact, this was probably the longest amount of time she had ever spent alone with Severus Snape. She doubted they had spoken twenty words to each other before today.
"So what are your electives this year?" she asked.
He shrugged. "This and that. Arithmancy obviously, as well as a few classes in Advanced Potions and Dark Arts."
"Defence Against the Dark Arts," Lily said.
He paused. "Defence, of course."
She wasn't sure what to say to this, so she began to babble a bit. "Well I've been taking a lot of Advanced Charms, I'm finding it really interesting but I wonder if it could be a bit more challenging, sort of like you must feel in Potions I suppose, everyone knows you're head of the class—no, probably of the school—in that."
"Aren't you even trying in Potions anymore?" he asked, with what she fancied was a touch of disappointment in his voice. "I wasn't always first. Didn't we have the same grade on the first year exam?"
"Oh, that! Child's play compared to what we're stuck with now. I can't believe I ever thought Forgetfulness Potions were hard. Now we've got Memory Potions, Draughts of Peace, Blood-Replenishing Potions, and so many poisons I can hardly keep track anymore."
"Are you really having trouble? Memory Potions are quite simple. I'm actually quite bored in Potions nowadays. I'm thinking of asking to be moved up to the sixth year class."
"Really? Maybe I could try going into sixth year Charms. They're learning about Fidelius Charms already—I'd love to be doing secret-keeping spells instead of bloody Cheering Charms."
He gave a faint, slightly sardonic laugh. "What secrets could you possibly have that require such drastic measures to keep?"
As she turned to glare at him, the backs of their hands happened to brush. He went faintly pink and she quickly turned away. "Sorry," they both muttered, avoiding each other's gaze.
After an awkward interval she risked a glance at him. She was frankly astonished by the fluidity of his motions. Standing and sitting he had all the gracefulness of a stick, but when he moved he seemed to turn into an eel. Then she wondered why she was thinking about him like this. Hastily she looked away, upward, where clouds painted the sky a uniform pearl, diffusing an even, clinical light across the landscape. The whiteness seemed to presage the impending snows. "It will be winter soon."
He followed her glance skyward. "Not for several weeks. It's still only October. The sun will come out tomorrow morning and burn off the clouds, and everything will be sunny and beautiful again."
"Beautiful," Lily echoed softly. She had never heard him say that word before.
She felt that she hadn't properly understood its meaning until this moment. He really made it sound like what it meant. The sound of his voice forming that word filled her with an unfathomable warmth, despite the chill air... She felt certain he could see the aura of sweetness and starlight that was seeping out through her skin...
She panicked. What was happening to her?
It can't be—
No, I couldn't possibly be falling in—
"Is this it?"
He was talking. She realised they had come to a halt beside a little wooden bench that faced the lake and was surrounded by green clover carpets, sprinkled liberally with the withered petals of various summer flowers. "This must be it," he said, looking round. "You were right, it is pretty here."
"Yes, here we are!" Lily said, forcing out a little laugh. No, she absolutely couldn't be… she must be delusional to even imagine that—
But even as she attacked herself with these reprimands, he carelessly glanced her way, and suddenly went quite still, as thought his gaze were arrested by her. She couldn't understand the anecdotes of people who said this sort of situation made one's heart "skip a beat": hers seemed to have stopped entirely.
For several seconds they stood there motionless by the bench, looking at each other with new eyes.
His hand hovered by his book bag, where he had stowed Dalrymple. "We… we should probably start reading…"
"Yes," she said softly.
But neither of them made a move.
"You know, it's really not that urgent that we read it right now," she said at last.
"Yeah, that paper's not due for another few days."
"Maybe… maybe we could…"
"Keep walking?" he supplied.
"Just a little farther."
"Maybe all the way round. Since winter's coming on so quickly we really ought to make the most of this mild weather."
She smiled. "I thought you said it wouldn't get cold for some time yet."
"I seem to have changed my mind."
He gestured to the path. "Shall we go on?"
"Yes," she said.
They moved off again, following the contours of the lake.
Lily had always believed the lake to be rather big, but now she realised how dreadfully tiny it was. It seemed perfectly minuscule that afternoon. They would soon finish their circuit and time would have to start again; they would go inside and never speak like this again—never speak again. She felt an unbearable sadness spreading through her, slithering through her bones, coldly quashing the marvellous warmth. If only she could know what he felt!
She wanted to keep talking, to hear his voice mingle with hers, and to hold onto this sweet delicious warmth a little while longer. But her words seemed to have deserted her: she found she had nothing to talk about.
Then their hands brushed again. He blushed deep red and murmured, "Sorry."
Lily, hardly knowing what she was doing, reached out and slipped her hand into his. She didn't know why she had expected it to be cold, but it wasn't; it was warm, and the vellum skin was very soft.
He stopped short, as if her touch had Petrified him. She snatched her hand away, burning with humiliation and shame, but most of all with despair. "Now I'm the one who's sorry."
"No, don't be," he blurted out. She stared at him, hardly daring to breathe. He took her hand back and gently threaded his fingers through her.
They smiled at each other shyly.
It took them an hour to circle the whole lake. They walked hand in hand and their strides matched perfectly. When they reached their starting point it was dinnertime, but they both decided they weren't hungry and wanted another turn round the lake instead.
They talked, just to hear their own voices blend like countermelodies, of the most absurd things: Lily's pet goldfish Redmond; Severus' bottle cap collection; Lily's abandoned violin lessons; Severus' abandoned painting lessons; the colour of Lily's eyes.
"People say I'm frightening on first sight," she complained. "I'm going to have to start meeting new people with my eyes closed."
"Your eyes frightened me a little when I first met you. They carry a sort of intensity that made me feel as though you could see straight through my skin and flesh, to the very core of my heart."
From anyone else such sentiments would have seemed ludicrous, but his voice transformed them. Every word he spoke was poetry.
"But I can't do anything like that," she protested, "you imagined it."
"Just as well," he said. "If you had been able to see into my heart perhaps you might have seen yourself there, and think how embarrassing that would have been."
"I'm trading them in," said Lily mutinously.
"I shouldn't, in your place. Once I got over the initial shock the sight of your eyes rather began to please me."
"Supernatural faculties notwithstanding?"
"I think you have eyes like the birth of spring," he said.
When they had completed their second circuit of the lake it was quite dark. They walked back to the castle under a sky powdered with stars, with the harp-song of the wind in the reeds swaying after them.
For several minutes they stood facing each other on the steps before the great oak front doors, desperate to avoid the inevitable parting. As if by some tacit agreement they had left off holding hands when they approached the castle. Lily's hand felt cold.
"I suppose we ought to go in," she said.
He fumbled in his school bag and brought out Dalrymple. "Here, you take it first. You probably read faster than me."
She took it and put it in her bag. It felt heavier than it really was. "Thanks."
He reached out, tentatively, and stroked her face with his fingertips. "You know, I always thought your name quite inappropriate. I- I saw you as more of a weed than a lily."
"That's all right. I always thought you were more of a snake than a Snape."
He smiled. "Whatever that is."
Neither of them extracted any oaths or unkeepable promises—they both felt they were beyond the realm of such absurdities. Instead she came forward and kissed him once, on the cheek; and he caught up her hands and squeezed them gently.
Then they parted and went inside, Lily to Gryffindor Tower, Severus to the dungeons.
That evening at bedtime Lily's dormmates could help noticing that something seemed different about her. She had been humming tunelessly ever since she came in hours after dinner, and now she was changing—into her dress robes. When Philippa Gordon pointed out her mistake Lily only laughed goofily and began to look for her nightgown, which she proceeded to put on inside out. But by then the other girls' curiosity was piqued.
"Are you feeling all right, Lily?" Philippa asked.
Lily turned to look at her through dreamy, half-closed eyes. "Do you feel like I can see your heart when I look at you?"
"I should hope not," Philippa said, exchanging astonished looks with her other dormmates. The girls were used to frequent mood swings from Lily, but she had never swung this far into the blissful end of the spectrum.
Stella Maynard grinned. "Lily, did anything extremely romantic happen to you today?"
Lily blushed deep red. Ruby Gillis laughed. "Is Lily Evans in love at last?"
"What else did he say to you?" Stella asked eagerly.
"My eyes are like the birth of spring," Lily murmured as she crawled into bed.
All the girls sighed dreamily.
"I had no idea James Potter could be so poetic," Ruby whispered to Stella, but Lily didn't hear her, having already fallen into a deep sleep, with a sweet smile still touching her lips.
But when she woke the next morning it was into a mood of anxiety and self-doubt. The whole thing had been so fantastic that she now wondered whether she could have dreamt it all. She had the Dalrymple book, to be sure, but it was hardly conclusive proof. She had to see Severus Snape.
This objective presented an invincible difficulty; namely, that if something had indeed happened between Lily and Severus, it would have to be kept tightly under wraps. A pureblood Slytherin and a Muggleborn Gryffindor—think of the scandal! Lily was firmly of the mind that blood made no difference in relationships—but that was only between the two lovers. Despite Dumbledore's best efforts, at Hogwarts, heritage was still everything. The school had been buzzing for weeks after Sirius, of the noble house of Black, had gone out with Ruby Gillis, a half-blood; Lily could only imagine what the gossipmongers would do with a relationship between her and Severus Snape, the most Slytherin of Slytherins—that is, if it hadn't been a dream.
He passed her several times in the corridors, and they did not speak to or look at each other. This took no small effort on Lily's part—whenever she saw him she could feel again his warm hand in hers, and the word "beautiful" in his voice wafted through her head, and she wanted to put her cheek against his and touch his vellum skin and ask him what he felt…
But they continued to pass each other without a word or a glance until that evening, when she bumped into him as he was leaving a classroom. She felt a momentary burn where there was contact, but there were other Slytherins coming out with him, so she drew back quickly and strode on.
"Hey—wait!" he said behind her, as the voices of his classmates faded round the corner.
She pivoted. "Sorry, I've not quite finished with the book," she said coolly.
He gave her a deprecating look. "The book! Is that all you can say?"
She realised they were finally alone. The corridor was deserted and he was gazing at her helplessly.
Without preamble she dropped all her books and ran to throw her arms round him. "Thank God," he murmured into her hair. "I nearly thought I had imagined it all."
"So did I!"
"Naturally, this will have to stay between us."
He pulled away and said teasingly, "You know, one of those secret-keeping charms would be very handy right about now."
She smiled. "I'm working on it."
"You…" He hesitated. "You don't regret anything, do you?"
"No, do you?"
He laughed a little. "Not yet. But I confess I still expect to wake up at any moment. I've dozed off in History of Magic again—I shall be woken soon when your Potter shoots a rubber band at me."
"My Potter! I don't want him, I want you. Forget him. We're alone now and that's all that matters."
He grinned. "You're right. In this time and place, no one exists but us." He sighed, running his hand through her hair. "How I wish it could be that way all the time."
"I think we'd get sick of each other pretty fast."
"We don't even know each other!" he protested, laughing.
She stroked his cheek tenderly.
And she stretched up and kissed him, right there in the corridor.
A/N: Ruby Gillis, Stella Maynard, and Philippa Gordon are all friends of Anne Shirley's in L.M. Montgomery's Anne of the Island. Perceval Dalrymple is a character in a story she writes.
A recipriversexcluson is a number "whose existence can only be defined as being anything other than itself", from Douglas Adams' Life, the Universe and Everything.
Lightning strike symptoms may include: cardiac arrest or heart damage, temporary paralysis, superficial burns, broken bones, shortness of breath, visual problems, dizziness, and mood swings.