Disclaimer: "Harry Potter" is the property of J.K. Rowling.

The Christmas Party

"Severus! Severus, come over here!" Professor Slughorn motioned jovially to his pupil, who reluctantly squeezed through the crowd of teachers and students in attendance at the Slug Club Christmas party. When he reached Slughorn's side, the Potions master flung his arm around Severus' shoulder and exclaimed, "Stop lurking in that corner, my boy! Mix! Mingle!"

"Yes, Professor," Severus mumbled.

"And have a butterbeer!" Slughorn released the boy to snatch a drink from a passing tray and Severus quickly moved out of reach. The butterbeer was still forced into his hands, and he thanked Slughorn before moving off.

These parties really were intolerable. Severus Snape remembered enjoying them at one point, but as he progressed through Hogwarts, they became a tiresome chore that he had to suffer through before he could enjoy the solitude of the Christmas holiday. He'd thought about declining the invitation this year, but Slughorn knew he was remaining at school over the holiday, and he balked at the last second at offending him.

He stationed himself just behind one of the refreshments tables were he could see and be seen by most of the room. It wasn't quite mingling, but it wasn't "lurking" in a corner, either.

This year's Christmas party was one of the most boisterous he'd attended. If he was not mistaken, Flitwick was already quite intoxicated (though based on his size, it wouldn't have taken much) and even McGonagall looked a little tipsy. Lucius Malfoy was over on the other side of the room with Narcissa Black on his arm and a small crowd around him watching him do fancy tricks with his wand. Severus allowed himself a small smirk at that. Malfoy was all right, both as a friend and wizard, but he excelled at neither. Narcissa was better, but not by much. She had the misfortune of being attracted by Lucius' money and his aforementioned tricks.

Then there was Andromeda Black, drawing stares and whispers for bringing as her date the captain of the Gryffindor Quidditch team. She was clearly enjoying it and making a great show of how much she valued his -- er -- company.

Perhaps the loudness at the party was due to events outside of Hogwarts. Lord Voldemort was growing in power every day, recruiting more followers, becoming bolder in his murders of Muggles and more serious in his threats to purify Wizardry. Only a week ago, Narcissa had bragged to Severus that her oldest sister, Bellatrix, had joined the growing crowd around Voldemort. Still, the highness of her voice betrayed her nervousness at the thought.

Indeed, it made everyone nervous, even the most vehement pro-Purebloods. Severus knew the feeling would stop no one from joining the "Death Eaters," especially in his house. Many of his fellow Slytherins were already talking of joining up, or at least biding their time to make sure that it would be Voldemort who came out on top.

A flash of red caught his eye on the opposite side of the room. Lily Evans. Yes, she would be here, though it seemed she was alone. Small favor -- her fellow Gryffindors were asses and if he'd seen any of them tonight he would have left promptly, Slughorn's feelings be damned.

His eyes followed Evans around the room. They had worked together often in Potions and they'd known each other for years. They'd been friends before the previous spring. Severus clenched his fists at the memory. It was bad enough that Potter and his friends had humiliated him, but even worse was the fact that Evans had come to his defense. And yes, worst of all was what he'd called her.

Evans stopped her progress to speak with McGonagall briefly. As she did so, her eyes roved the room until they found him. She excused herself and started towards him with a resolute look on her face.

Severus glanced about furtively for an escape, but Evans cornered him before he could get very far.

"Hello, Severus," she said simply.

"Er," he replied. "Lily. Hello."

She bit her lip for a moment while looking up at him before asking, "D'you want to go for a walk outside? It's getting a bit warm in here for me."

"I..." Severus hesitated and looked around the party. There wasn't really any reason to stay, he supposed. If he did it would only be to avoid speaking with her. The events of last spring crowded up in his memory. How much more humiliating would it be to be seen in her presence? "No," he responded icily, "I don't."

Evans got a hard look in her eyes. "We used to be friends."

"I'm not sure we did."

She sighed in frustration. "Would you please just come outside with me? This party's awful but I can't just walk out by myself."

It was a transparent ploy. She didn't need his help -- Lily Evans could get away with most social faux pas. But he let himself be fooled by it, because despite last spring, he missed Evans. She was smart, she was funny. And she had always put up with him, even enjoyed his company. A reckoning had come, he sensed. If they didn't repair their broken friendship now, it would remain broken.

"All right," he said reluctantly. "But then let's go, while Slughorn isn't looking at us."

"Good idea."

The two of them quickly ducked out of Slughorn's office and hurried down the corridor to the stairs. In a few minutes they were outside, strolling through the gardens The night was quiet -- most of the other students were packing, preparing for their holiday. Besides, it was a cold night.

For awhile, Severus and Evans walked beside each other in silence, but eventually she began, "I've missed..."

"Yes?" Severus prompted when she trailed off.

Lily shrugged. "Talking. I've missed talking with you." She paused for a second and then added, "Maybe you haven't and you'd like to just carry on not speaking with me, but I'd just like to know."

Her forthrightness caught him by surprise, even though he knew it shouldn't have. That was just the way she was. It was exactly what had led her to defend him last spring. Funny how he had always appreciated the trait before then.

He had to be honest with himself about Lily -- he had missed her. Too much. She was clever, she made him laugh. She didn't fall in with the Gryffindor cliques. She was kind -- maybe too kind; he'd mocked her for being soft before. And she was pretty. And he knew that he should stop being honest then, because Slytherins and Gryffindors didn't think these things about each other. Or, maybe more accurately, people like Severus Snape did not think things like that about people like Lily Evans.

He realized suddenly, from the drawn look on her face, that he'd been silent for too long. The intelligent thing to do would be to tell her they couldn't be friends. That they never should have been friends.

But then, Severus had a tendency to become strikingly less intelligent when it came to Lily.

"You must hate me for what I called you," he muttered.

She looked sad. "You know I've never hated you."

"Why? I would, if I were you. Everybody else does," he said darkly.

Blowing one lock of red hair out of her face in an exasperated way, Lily responded, "Stop wallowing. I've just come to you saying I want to be friends again. Why won't you just take that for what it is?"

Severus narrowed his eyes at her but restrained himself from giving a biting retort. Much as he might have hated to admit it, she was right. So, after several long, tense moments of silence, he said, "All right."

Lily opened her mouth only to promptly shut it again, looking at him in surprise. "All right?" she asked, as if she couldn't believe what she was hearing.

"All right." He watched her closely. "I'll stop wallowing. We can be friends again."

She looked bemused. "You mean that?"

"I wouldn't say it if I didn't mean it."

"Oh, but you say lots of things you don't mean," Lily said quietly.

Severus stared at her flatly, a bit annoyed by this response. "Do you want to be friends again or not?"

Lily had the good graces to be appear chagrined. "I do. Sorry."

Shrugging and glancing away from her, he replied, "It's fine."

By this point, they'd completed a circuit of the gardens, and they stopped in the blue shadow of the castle. Lily leaned against the castle wall and wrapped her arms around herself with a small shiver.

At that, Severus asked, "Are you cold?"

Giving him a smile, she replied, "Yeah, but I'd rather stay out here. Provided you're warm enough, of course."

He leaned against the wall next to her and said, "The dungeons are cold. I'm used to it. It's easier to talk out here, anyway. Quieter."

"That's for sure." Lily's green eyes settled on him, studying him. He shifted a little uncomfortably, and that brought a smile to her face. "So that hasn't changed."

"What?" he asked, a defensive note in his voice.

Still smiling, she answered, "You've always hated being looked at."

"I hate being stared at," he corrected her. "I think I'd be right in saying most people do."

She flashed a grin at him. "Well, if this is your definition of staring, I apologize in advance for how much of it I'll be doing."

He allowed a small smile to cross his face. "Cheeky, Evans."

Lily chuckled softly to herself. Then, without him quite realizing how it happened, she was hugging him tightly. For a second he was too shocked to do anything, but then he hesitantly brought his arms up and wrapped them around her. He tried to shove down the part of him that was suddenly giddy at this development. No point in enjoying it when it would never happen again and when all it meant was that she was happy to have someone to work with in Potions again. But still...still. It was hard, and he decided that maybe he could allow that part of himself to enjoy this moment. Especially since it would never happen again.

"At the risk of sounding soppy," she murmured, "this probably is the best Christmas present I'll get this year." Little puffs of air from her mouth touched his ear as she spoke and, darkly, he suppressed the jolt that went through him at both her words and her nearness.

"You do sound soppy, but I understand that you've had a couple butterbeers tonight."

She still hadn't let go of him as she laughed, "Oh, please. I have never gotten the least bit tipsy from butterbeer." At this, finally, she slid away from him. Quickly, Severus dropped his arms and glanced at the ground. When he flicked his eyes back up, however, he saw that she was still standing very close to him, and, in addition to that, there was an extremely odd look on her face. "You're not going to rethink this over Christmas, are you?"

"What -- speaking to you?" Severus met Lily's eyes because he wanted her to know he was sincere. "No."

She gave him a half-smile, though the odd look remained firmly present in her eyes. "Funny," she began, "how now that we've made up we're not going to see each other again for ages."

He laughed just a bit. "It's not long at all."

"I suppose it's not." Lily tilted her head and peered up at him. "Are you staying here again?"

In response, he just nodded. No doubt she pitied him, but he much preferred the holiday this way. It occurred to him, suddenly, that the puzzling look on her face was indecision, and the reason it looked so strange was because she never seemed to feel that emotion.

Just as he came to this realization, the expression disappeared. "All right, then," she said casually, "I'll see you in January." For a moment, it seemed as though she was going to walk away. But then, suddenly, she leaned back into the space she'd so recently vacated.

And kissed him.

There was a split second that Severus froze. He could just stand there, thinking that this was something he'd only imagined in his wildest dreams, or he could do something.

So he kissed her back.

They remained that way for a minute, separating in a way that somehow felt completely natural and unforced.

Lily grinned at him. "Have a good holiday, Severus," she said, then turned and walked back inside.

He remained outside until she disappeared, then allowed a grin to spread across his face. The Christmas party had turned out much better than he'd ever thought it could.