Lily Evans was doing three things at once. With her left hand, Lily slowly stirred the Wit-Sharpening Potion that was calmly bubbling in her cauldron. She also bent over her potions textbook, making detailed notes in the margins and crossing out the rather useless instructions. Yet, Lily's gaze was on neither her cauldron nor her textbook. Lily's eyes were fixed on the scene unfolding on the opposite side of the classroom.
Lily had certainly felt a strong sense of foreboding when Severus had arrived late to class. A Slytherin girl to whom Lily rarely spoke had taken his usual seat beside her. In fact, the only available seat was in the centre of the classroom, surrounded on all sides by Gryffindors, including James Potter and Sirius Black. Lily found herself cringing every time Potter or Black opened their mouths to whisper something at Severus. She did not know exactly what was being said but the look of anger and humiliation on Severus's face was enough to give her a general idea. His textbook was open on his desk, but, for once, he was not writing in it. Lily was not even sure if he was working on his Wit-Sharpening potion; she had not seen him stir his cauldron in ages. Laughter sounded across the room and Lily stirred her potion more vigorously, taking out her frustration on her cauldron.
"Fourth years, that will be all for today. Now, let's see how you've done," Professor Slughorn's voice rang through the dungeon classroom as he began to work his way between the students' desks, examining the contents of each cauldron.
"Oho! Miss Evans! Exceptional work as usual. Now, this is what I would call a Wit-Sharpening Potion, not that you would have any particular need for it, Miss Evans."
Lily merely nodded. She was already stuffing her books into her bag and sweeping her leftover ingredients into the wastebasket beside her desk. Lily glanced around the dungeon for Severus and saw that he was already hurrying towards the door without a backwards glance. Lily rushed after him, knocking against several students in her attempt to reach the corridor before Severus disappeared.
"All right, Evans? Not worried about Snivellus, are you?"
Ordinarily, a comment like this would have warranted James Potter a few well-deserved insults; however, Lily's concern was outweighing her anger. She brushed past Potter, refusing to even look at him. The dungeon corridor was rapidly becoming more crowded. Lily saw Severus vanish around a corner.
"Sev! Severus! Wait!"
Lily stopped to stare at the hallway ahead of her. She thought she knew where he was going. If she was right, and Lily was almost positive that she was, it would be best not to follow him. Instead, she turned in the opposite direction and began to quickly walk towards the Gryffindor dormitory.
Severus Snape was beginning to wish that he had thought to fetch his cloak before retreating out into the Hogwarts grounds. He sat with his back against the castle wall, his legs drawn up against his chest and his arms resting on his knees. He grasped at his robes, attempting to hold on to as much of his body heat as possible. Severus's fingers were growing numb and yet he had absolutely no intention of going back into the warmth of the castle. From his position, Severus had a rather impressive view of the Black Lake, Forbidden Forest, and completely empty Hogwarts grounds. He was blissfully alone.
He jumped violently.
"Here," Lily said as she tossed a folded blanket at his feet. "It's cold."
She dropped down beside him, resting her back against the wall and bringing her legs towards her to mimic Severus's position. He glanced at the blanket at his feet and it was then that he realized that Lily had put on a pair of gloves and was wrapping a woolen scarf around her neck. She had also worn her cloak. Lily was clearly prepared to sit outside in the cold. He reached forward and tentatively pulled the blanket over his knees, tucking the edge under his chin.
"Good idea," Lily said quietly.
They sat in silence for several minutes. Severus was in no mood to talk. Despite this, he could not help but focus on the fact that Lily had somehow managed to find him. She had come to sit with him outside, in the middle of November. She could be in the Great Hall, eating dinner with her fellow Gryffindors, but she was here.
"How did you know where I was?"
She looked at him with a slightly bemused expression on her face.
"You're always here when- when," she trailed off, clearly searching for the right words. "When Potter and Black are being particularly awful. Last March, the ground was still frozen and we sat out here for ages. This time I came prepared."
She was right, now that he thought of it. He always came to this secluded part of the grounds when he absolutely had to escape.
"Particularly awful," Lily repeated. "When they are being only typically awful, you needn't go so far. In that case, it's usually the owlery."
He gaped at her. The owlery was one of his favourite daily hiding places.
"If it's related to class, say you did poorly on a test, then you'll be hiding at the back of the library, and if you're angry at me-"
"I'm never angry at you!"
"If you're angry at me," Lily continued. "Then you retreat into the Slytherin common room because obviously I can't follow you."
"But I don't- I- I never," Severus spluttered.
"Last year I had to ask Rodulphus Lestrange to tell you that Professor Slughorn wanted a word."
Severus could hardly remember Rodulphus sending him to see Slughorn or being ambushed by Lily as soon as he was out of sight of the common room. He had no idea what had made him angry with her. It no longer mattered.
They sat in silence for several minutes. A cold breeze tugged at their hair and blew through their clothing. Lily took hold of a corner of the blanket, tugging it over her legs. Severus knew that he should tell her to go back inside but he could not bring himself to do it. He opened and closed his mouth several times, wishing he could find something to say.
"I can't believe I didn't finish my Wit-Sharpening Potion. I didn't even make any notes." Severus clenched his fists, holding tight to the edge of the blanket.
"That's quite alright," Lily said as she rummaged through her school bag. "I made enough notes for both of us."
Severus took the book from her hands but did not open it. He clutched it protectively to his chest, sighing as James Potter's taunts ran through his head. Severus was usually able to either ignore the torment or was in a better position to fight back. But today he had felt utterly defenseless, surrounded by the group of jeering Gryffindors. Potter had been quick to point out Lily's absence and Severus knew that this was what made today's round of insults so very defeating. Any mention of Lily made the bullying far more personal.
"With any luck," Lily said, "Wit-Sharpening Potion will come up on our O.W.L.s next year and Potter will find himself wishing he'd paid a little more attention in class."
Severus could not help but smile at this. The idea of James Potter failing his O.W.L.s was quite appealing. He opened Lily's textbook to the page detailing Wit-Sharpening Potions and quickly scanned the directions. Lily's handwriting littered the page. She had written several suggestions in the margins, offered alternative ingredients, and crossed out nearly all of the original instructions. Severus stared at her handwriting. It was clear that she had rushed to make as many notes as possible, yet her cursive was in no way messy or difficult to read. Her handwriting was so different from his; her words were evenly spaced and rather far apart, neither compressed nor cramped. He took a moment to study the dots on her i's and the gentle curl and slant of her g's.
"Those instructions are more like loose guidelines, really," Lily said as Severus pulled out his own textbook and quill. "I mean, just look here. Can you believe that they expect you to grind the scarab beetles before adding the armadillo bile? Ridiculous."
Severus nodded. He had a strong suspicion that Lily was trying to cheer him up by engaging him in a debate over the validity of official potions directions. She had used this tactic in the past and he had to admit that it worked quite well.
"And I'm going to assume that you didn't grind all the beetles, like the book instructs." Severus replied. "You probably only did about half."
"Right." Lily said as she tapped the margin with her index finger, pointing to where she had written this very suggestion.
Severus began the task of reading through Lily's notes and copying the information into his own book.
"You decided to grind the ginger root?" Severus asked after several minutes. "That's brilliant."
"That's what you would have done," she said simply.
"These directions are terrible. By far the worst I've ever seen. The author ought to be administered a strong dose of Wit-Sharpening Potion himself!" Severus had finished writing yet was still studying Lily's notes. "It could have been written better, as well. How anyone is supposed to learn anything from this textbook, I'll never know."
Lily laughed. "Sev, you should teach potions. Show them how it's really done."
"I'm serious," she said. "Severus Snape: Potions Master. It has a nice ring to it."
Severus had never thought of this before but he could not help but like the idea. He pictured himself in front of a classroom of intimidated students instructing them on how best to succeed in the art of potion making. He turned his head so that Lily would not see the smile slowly spreading across his face.
"But you're just as good as I am."
"Maybe. But I can't picture myself teaching. You on the other hand…" Lily paused, thinking. "I can definitely see it. You'd set impossibly high standards for tests and assignments and give out loads of detentions. First years would be terrified of you."
"Just first years?" Severus asked. An image was now forming quite clearly in his mind. He would be respected, feared even. He would command his student's undivided attention and have absolutely no tolerance for anyone who did not take him and his lessons seriously. Severus would have power.
"I'd give Potter detention simply for existing," Severus said with relish. "And take loads of points from Gryffindor."
Lily giggled. "That's the spirit. And I bet you'd manage to think up particularly horrible detentions."
"Absolutely. How does pickling rats' brains sound?" Severus asked.
"Or perhaps sorting out rotten flobberworms from good ones."
"Without protective gloves, of course." Lily said.
"There's always cleaning out the bedpans in the hospital wing. Without magic," Lily suggested.
"Oh, I like that one."
They were both laughing now, oblivious to the icy wind and darkening sky. Severus felt lighter than he had in weeks. As they gradually grew silent, Severus glanced over at Lily to find her smiling at him. He felt something brush his elbow and looked down to see that it was Lily's hand; her palm slid over his robes before she gave his arm a gentle squeeze. Severus thought he could feel the warmth from her fingertips spreading through the muscles in his arm, up to his shoulder, and across his chest, finally cumulating in a pool of heat deep inside his stomach. He looked down, keeping his eyes fixed on the blanket's carefully woven pattern, trying and failing to keep his breathing even.
Severus and Lily were, in fact, sitting quite close together, huddled under the same blanket in a secluded part of the entirely empty Hogwarts grounds. He wondered why it had taken him almost an hour to realize this. Her knee was resting against his leg. It made him feel quite sick in a very good way.
"Feeling better?" Lily asked gently.
"Yes," he managed with great difficulty.
Lily got to her feet, taking the blanket with her. Tentatively, Severus raised his head. He noticed that Lily was grinning widely and when he caught her eye she turned away abruptly. She had started laughing.
"What is it?" Severus asked.
Lily spun around, one hand covering her mouth in a rather poor attempt at suppressing her giggles.
"Oh, nothing. Professor."