Between the towering shelves, the slight figure seemed almost inconsequential, lost amid row upon row of dusty books. Her eyes were fixed on the page in front of her, one hand supporting her head, fingers twisted into her dark red ponytail.
Outside, a summer shower was pattering against the glass from a steely sky, the flickers of distant lightning dancing over the mountains.
One fingertip moved down the page, pausing at the lists of ingredients, then the instructions, as if memorising them, but her eyes betrayed her, staring blankly at a point somewhere beyond the page.
The library was quiet, even quieter than usual. With the majority of the exams out of the way, most of the students' brains were taking the chance to vegetate and relax, before beginning to suffer from the uncomfortable stress of worrying about results. Somewhere, in the depths of the huge room, the girl could hear the librarian flitting about, quiet taps of her boots the only sound aside from the rain and the low whistle of the wind through some chink or cranny.
She turned a page, her blank gaze becoming a more notable glare as she took in the title of the potion.
"Stupid idiot," she whispered to herself, slamming the book closed with unnecessary force. A cry from the librarian made her wince and she hastily reached for a Defence Against the Dark Arts book, opening it hurriedly and hiding in the heavy pages.
She was still pretending to absorb the information, in the 'if I stare blankly at the page long enough, I'm sure it will stay with me' school of reason, when she heard the groaning squeal of hinges, green eyes flicking up, peering over the edge of the cover.
Her brows pulled together darkly, the book slammed closed just as abruptly as the previous one. Rising, she shoved the books into her bag and took a turn between two of the narrow rows of shelves, aiming for a different route to the door.
Apparently, he knew her well enough to know that would be exactly what she would do.
Stopping dead, she folded her arms over her chest and glared at him, challenging him to get out of her way.
Standing at the end of the row, Severus fiddled awkwardly with the long strap of his satchel, staring at a point behind her feet. His hair and robes were damp, making him look even more bedraggled and hopeless than usual.
"So that's what you're calling me today, is it?" she remarked airily, stalking forwards with the intention of pushing passed him. "Well, if you don't mind, Snape, I have more important things to do than standing around, talking to someone who, judging by their behaviour yesterday, has such a low opinion of me."
"Evans! Wait!" A thin, waxen hand leapt up, caught her arm as she moved passed him. Black eyes met startled green and he jerked his hand back if burned. "I..." He pulled back, as if expecting to be hexed. "There is no excusing what I said."
Lily's smile was icy. "You could say that," she said coldly.
"Don't you blame James Potter for this!" Lily jabbed him in the middle of the chest with a slim finger. "As I recall, he wasn't the one calling me names when I was trying to help."
Snape's already sallow skin paled and he glowered down at his hands, which were twisting, over and over, around the shoulder strap of the satchel. "I didn't ask you to interfere, Evans," he mumbled.
"He was hurting you," Lily looked shocked. "Did you honestly expect me to stand aside and let him be such a nasty great brute? Do you think I would just let anyone get hurt if I could stop it?"
"I didn't ask for you to interfere," Snape repeated, as if some kind of incantation against her ire. "I can protect myself."
"Oh, shut up!" Lily's voice rose angrily. "I don't care. I don't like to see him picking on you, any more than I like you seeing him fighting with him. Why don't you just ignore him? It would be easier than giving him a reason to pick on you."
Snape's sullen silence indicated that this wasn't liable to happen any time in the near future, the way his eyes flicked up to her face suggesting that she really couldn't understand the simple necessity of having a schoolyard nemesis, someone who one could take one's frustrations out on at will.
"So this is more of that 'you're a girl and you wouldn't understand' reasoning?" Her eyes flashed in annoyance. "You're as bad as he is!" Snape opened his mouth to argue, but Lily's finger jabbed at his breastbone again. "Perhaps I don't understand the way the male brain works, or doesn't as the case may be, but I understand when you are being an arrogant idiot."
Severus' expression rumpled mutinously and he turned on his heel, stalking towards the door. Abruptly, hand on the brass door handle, he turned and – staring at her – hissed, "You like him."
Lily almost laughed aloud. "What?"
"You're defending him."
"As much as I'm defending you, you silly, thick-headed Slytherin," she retorted, hands on her hips. "Don't you understand that I'm just sick of seeing you fighting? Both of you? What's the point?"
He glared at her bitterly, grudgingly, but didn't turn away. His cheek was twitching, muscles taut.
Sighing, Lily dropped her hands from her hips and took a couple of steps towards him. The male ego was such a fragile thing and as much as it might have surprised Potter and his idiot friends, she did actually find Severus decent company. He was definitely more intelligent than they gave him credit for.
"Anyway," she said quietly. "What's done is done." She tilted her head, her dark red hair slipping over her shoulder. "I won't interfere again and you had better not call me what you did again."
There was a heartbeat of silence, tense and taut, as she deliberately left the final gap between them for him to bridge.
"Only if you give me cause," Severus' reply was carefully modulated, as if he were testing the response of a potentially dangerous potion. His eyes flicked up to hers, tentative.
"You mean beating you in potions again?" Such was the way of all their step-counter-step arguments. He hated to be proven wrong, hated to admit he had backed down, and she knew it. Five years of his company had shown her that much.
His thin lips twitched, marginally. "You only ever pass with my help, Evans," he said, tilting his head just slightly. "No matter what Slughorn says, you are far from the superior potion brewer."
"And yet, my grades seem to match, if not better yours," Lily retorted, the sharpness in her tone belied by the faint relief in her eyes. "Honestly, Severus, you must stop being such a sore loser."
"The day you stop copying from my notes, I might think about it," Snape's thin hand dropped from the door handle, leaving faint fingerprints on the shining surface.
"Excuse me?" Lily took another step towards him. "Your notes? Pardon me, but who noticed the advantage of alternating the process of stirring when we were working together?"
"You noticed that I had changed the pattern and copied me," Severus' eyes glittered at her and she saw the familiar, reluctant twitch at one side of his mouth. So the storm was weathered, yet again.
"We'll say it was a shared success," she said with a grin.
"Only because you wish to take credit for my talent," Severus said with quietly righteous indignation.
"That's good enough for me," Lily said cheerfully, then glanced back. Madam Pince was still swooping around, gathering up the scatter of books that she had left on the desk. "Come on, we had better make our escape before she notices us…"
"Desecrating the books again, Evans?"
Lily pulled a face at him as they ducked out of the library. "I'm allowed to make notes on my books if I want," she said. "And anyway, what would she say if she saw the state of that tatty potions book of yours? You would be strung up by your ears."
"You, Evans, are the only one to notice it," he retorted. He was walking beside her, but with a respectable arm's length between them. "And that is only because you insist on reading my notes."
Lily heaved a great, dramatic sigh. "Of course, that must be it," she said with mock-grief. "The fact I passed my exams and essays with flying colours without it means absolutely nothing."
"I'm pleased you can admit it," Severus' voice was quiet, but she could hear the invisible smirk in his intonation. She had never actually seen him smile, but the hint of it was there.
"You really are a git," she said, her voice dripping sweetness. "I look forward to seeing you eat your words when the results come out."
"Likewise, Evans," Snape's footfalls were almost silent beside her, scuffing softly, as her own shoes tapped and echoed back at her as they walked.
Ascending the staircase at the end of the long, gloomy corridor, Lily shook her sleeve down her arm and glanced at her watch. "You hungry?" she asked, then rolled her eyes. "Silly question. I suppose you need to get back to your supply of blood and your warmed coffin."
"Sod off, Evans." The scowl was belied by a snort of almost liberated mirth.
Lily grinned at him, one hand on her hip. "If you won't stop the stupid rumours, then what am I meant to do, except believe them, Snape?" she demanded. "So, do you want human food or shall we find you a nice Hufflepuff for supper?"
"Are you trying to make me sick? A Hufflepuff?"
"How about a nice juicy Ravenclaw, then? Brain food..."
Again, Snape choked down a snort. "You find this all far too amusing," he said, as if trying to look angry with her. Lily just grinned the wider.
She was the only one who would dare broach the rumours in such a way. His own housemates avoided them and everyone else continued the spread of whispered words of 'vampire'. And he seemed to indulge them, taking what little privacy such mutters allowed him.
"Oh, come on, Severus," she said, laughing. "What isn't funny about the fact that the first years run away from you? It gives you plenty of free space at the tables and in the common rooms, I'm sure."
Black eyes met hers, glimmering. "You claim that Potter is my worst tormentor," he said dryly. "He is fortunate that he doesn't have to tolerate you on a day to day basis. You, Evans, are a pain in the..."
"And since we're within hearing range of the staff room, I'll shut you up there," Lily retorted, reaching out and grabbing his arm. "Come on. You might not be hungry, but I'm famished."
"I suppose I should at least see you to the Great Hall," Severus grumbled, shaking his arm free of her hand. "From there, if you find yourself surrounded by the idiots you call classmates, you're on your own."
"Oh, how gentlemanly of you," Lily's girlish giggle and mock-curtsey drew another snort from him and she grinned. "So, Snape, since I didn't get a chance to talk to you yesterday, what with the incident that is hereafter forgotten, how did you get on with the Defence Against the Dark Arts exam?"
Severus shrugged mildly. "Could have been worse," he said dismissively.
"You see," Lily clapped a hand to her heart, giving him a fawning smile. "This is what I adore about you Snape. Your overwhelming optimism and enthusiasm."
"Evans, you're all but asking me to jinx your trap shut."
"There is an easier solution, Snape," she retorted, laughing off his casual threat. "I could ask you a question and you could give me a more detailed answer, so I don't have to do all the talking."
Snape sniffed. "I still prefer my idea."
"You would," Lily said, nudging him with her bag that hung against her hip. Snape glanced sidelong at her and the half-twitch of a smile tugged at his lips again. "How many exams have you left?"
"Me neither," Lily spun happily around, walking along backwards beside him for a few paces. "I'm so glad I gave up divination this year. I heard the marker for that exam is a right uppity berk."
"Aren't they all?" Snape half-closed one eye, wincing. "Evans, you might want to look…"
Nearly-Headless Nick looked down at his chest in surprise, as Lily's head emerged from it and she stumbled backwards through him, shaking herself as if to get rid of something nasty. "Oh dear… good afternoon, Miss Evans."
"Um… hello, Nick. Sorry about that. Someone," A glare was directed at Severus, who looked like he was in pain, his lips compressed and his eyes glinting. "Didn't tell me you were there."
"You were walking backwards, Evans," Snape managed to say through tightly-drawn lips, his cheeks twitching, as though he was struggling not to laugh.
With a snooty sniff, Lily turned and walked onwards. "See you later, Nick."
The ghost floated away as Snape took several quick strides to catch up with Lily. "I suppose that mock annoyance in the face of embarrassment is one of those traits that Gryffindor so prided," he mused, slanting a look at her.
Despite the fact she was trying to look angry, her lips were twitching. She coughed, covering a laugh, then glanced back over her shoulder to be sure that Nick had floated out of earshot before bursting out laughing.
"Did you see the look on his face?" she said, shaking her head.
"I was paying more attention to the look on yours," Snape said. "You looked utterly ridiculous."
Lily pulled a face at him. "Sticking my head through a ghost is hardly something I would consider one of those little pleasure in life."
"With you, Evans, I don't know." He sighed dramatically. "I've said it before and no doubt will again: you are a very odd girl."
"You really haven't looked in a mirror recently, have you, Snape?"
Snape lifted his chin arrogantly. "I am merely eccentric," he said. "You, Evans, are just queer."
Rolling her eyes, Lily shifted her heavy bag on her shoulder. "And yet, here we are," she said, then looked a dozen paces ahead. "And here we are too…" The doors of the Great Hall loomed before them, the noise of many students billowing out. "Are you sure you don't want to come along and cause grave offense to my House?"
"I would rather eat that Hufflepuff you mentioned earlier," Snape's nose wrinkled.
"I've heard they're good for you," Lily said, her expression earnest. "Good for the bowel movements."
Had anyone passed, they would have been convinced Lily has just cast a hex on the unfortunate Slytherin, who doubled over, making choking sounds.
Grinning, Lily patted him on the back. "Tata for now, then, Snape," she said amiably, walking towards the open doors. "Hope you don't have a heart failure at the shock of actually laughing."
She was sure he gasped an insult at her back, but wandered into the Great Hall, grinning to herself, oblivious to the eyes flicking to her as she wandered down the aisle towards her classmates at the Gryffindor table.
It wasn't until she sat down that she noticed all eyes were on her.
All right, it wasn't Potter. Potter was gawping, but it was Black that had spoken.
"What's with the hair?"
Lily blinked. "Eh?"
"The hair, Evans. Not that I don't like it, but it's a bit… much, really."
Pulling her hair free of the ponytail, she brought a strand in front of her eyes. Her once-red locks were now a peculiar shade of deep, emerald green. Her eyes shot wide and she whirled on her bench to stare across the hall.
At the Slytherin table, head buried in a book, Snape was trying to ignore her, she could tell. Black eyes peeked over the edge of the cover, then darted down again and she saw him shaking.
Pulling out her wand, she undid the familiar jinx, deep red bleeding back from the green roots then sighed, turning back to the table. "Just felt like a change," she said to the world in general. "Found a new spell in the library."
"You sure, Evans?" Potter demanded, his eyes darting across the hall. Of course, he would assume it was Snape. Yes, this time he was right, but that was hardly a relevant point. "Looks like something someone else would do."
"Of course I'm sure, you twit," Lily replied, shaking her hair out of her face. Immediately, Potter's attention returned to her and she rolled her eyes. "And even if it was someone else, I can take care of myself, thank you very much."
Potter looked offended, grabbing his fork and stabbing a potato ruthlessly.
Pulling her hair back up into a ponytail, Lily glanced at one of the silvery jugs, eyeing Snape's reflection in the jug. He was still hiding behind his tatty potions book on the far side of the hall, but – occasionally – he peeked up over it at her.
Lily shook her head, sighing.
Boys were such funny things sometimes.