Chapter I - Spring
"Do you know what's the one thing I've never liked about Hogwarts? Houses. Ask me why."
"Well, think about it. We're divided into four different groups based on our personality traits as soon as we get here. The Professors encourage us to compete against each other by forcing House pride down our throats since first year. School traditions like Quidditch games, and the House cup practically demand us to treat each other as enemies. Don't you think this school would be a better place if there were no Houses, and we'd all just have to learn to tolerate each other, as annoying as we all are?"
"Maybe. But it's a tradition. It's what the Founders wanted."
"So what? Traditions are meant to be overthrown by better ideas. Just look at us - aren't we breaking the holy unwritten law of inter-house fraternizing? Slytherins and Gryffindors aren't supposed to be best friends. If we hadn't met before we got here, I bet we'd barely even know each other. And that would be a terrible shame, because I greatly enjoy humiliating you at chess."
Severus Snape shrugged. He imagined a world where he would have to share a dormitory with James Potter and Sirius Black, and shuddered at the mere thought. Still, he looked at Lily and smiled. That was one of the things he loved about her - her tireless attempts to make the world a better place, one piece at a time.
Lily Evans had always been beautiful. Severus still remembered what she had looked like when he had first laid his eyes on her. Petite, freckled, green-eyed, and enchanting, she had been the prettiest girl he had ever seen. After turning fifteen, however, she had truly began to blossom, having suddenly crossed the invisible barrier between childhood and adolescence. It wasn't her looks alone Severus had secretly fallen in love with. It was everything about her - her sense of humour, her smile, her sharp wit, her spirit, and the fact that she was the only person in the world who truly understood him. Lately, it had been exceedingly difficult for Severus to be near her without having to battle the constant urge to kiss her. From time to time, he attempted to do something to finally make her his, but he always got cold feet at the last minute. He swore to himself that one day he would find the courage to tell her how he really felt, but until then, he enjoyed the privilege of being her best friend - that alone made James Potter envy him with passion.
"Speaking of humiliating a certain someone, last one at the greenhouse does an erotic dance in front of the entire class!" Lily shrieked mischievously and sprinted away gracefully like a gazelle. Severus ran after her, chasing the girl down the hill until he reached her. Grinning, she tugged him by the back of his cloak when he managed to take the lead, only causing him to trip over and take her down with him, as he clenched her shoulder for support. Before they knew it, they were tumbling down the grassy hill tangled in each other's limps and clothes. Somewhere between rolling down the steep and landing near the Forbidden Forest, their race had seamlessly merged into a playful wrestling match. Exhausted by all the running and laughing, Severus no longer had the strength - nor the will - to resist when Lily mounted him and pressed his hands to his sides, letting out a triumphant "Aha!" as a sign of victory.
"Victory! Sweet, sweet victory! So chess isn't the only game I'm bound to beat you at," Lily grinned, bringing her face close to his, "You're lucky you don't have me as an enemy."
Severus could barely hear what she was saying. With grass stuck on her red hair, her emerald eyes piercing him, and the warmth of her body pressed against his lap, she just might have been the most beautiful sight he had ever seen. And she was so close, just inches away from his face, that all the air around him was filled with her sweet scent. If there ever was a perfect moment for him to go on and kiss her, this would be it. However, before he managed to turn his thoughts into actions, Lily unmounted him and threw herself on the grass next to him, still laughing and breathing heavily.
"You ran fast," she remarked.
"I really, really wanted to see that dance," he said honestly. She gave a sound that was something between a disapproving grunt and a giggle, and smacked his shoulder playfully. Then she sat up, resting her hands and chin on her knees, smiling at her own thoughts with the golden afternoon sun shining at her face.
Severus sat up next to her, trying to guess what she was thinking. He still hadn't given up on his plan to kiss her. This was the right moment; he could feel it as burning, exciting sensation that got stronger with every beat of his heart. He bit his lip nervously, wondering if he should catch her by a surprise while she was still lost in her own thoughts, or whether it would be better to wait for her to look at him and see if those magnificent green eyes of hers would return the feelings that burned inside his.
Suddenly, a small group of Ravenclaw boys passed them by, ruining Severus's plans by catching Lily's attention. One of the boys - whom Severus recognized as a member of the Ravenclaw Quidditch team - smiled knowingly at Lily, completely ignoring Severus. Severus instantly shot a glare at Lily, who beamed at the boy.
"He asked me out," Lily uttered, nodding at the boy, and gave a mysterious smirk.
Severus blinked twice and gave a little twitch, as though he had just been pricked with a small needle. Why had she said that? Because she liked the Ravenclaw boy, or because she had declined the invitation, thinking he had been a fool to even ask her? Severus desperately wanted to believe in the latter idea, but could not help but feel as though the blood in his veins had suddenly turned cold. Why had Lily shared this particular piece of information with him in the first place? A depressing thought occurred to him: if Lily was perfectly comfortable with telling him about the boys she liked, didn't it suggest that she did not consider Severus to be among them? Did she even know about his feelings for her? Couldn't she feel it?
"Oh no!" said Lily, slapping her forehead, "You know what I just realized? We forgot to finish our race!"
With that, she gave a musical laughter, climbed up on her feet, and ran to the greenhouse.
"Looking forward to that dance!" she shouted, glancing over her shoulder, and gave him a charming smile.
But Severus could not bring himself to laugh at her jokes anymore. Without knowing it, she'd broken something very fragile inside of him. He had always known that there might come a day when he would have to stand aside and watch as Lily fell for someone else, unable to compete against boys who were so much better than he could ever be. Lately he had been telling himself that he had nothing to be afraid of - that Lily was immune to the charm of other boys because deep down inside she cared about him as much as he cared about her - but even then a part of him had known that he was lying to himself. He could not keep on pretending that he was the only person in the world who saw how beautiful she was, or that she wasn't aware of her popularity and charm. One day she would ask herself what on earth was she doing with Severus when she could have any boy she wanted, and Severus would not know what to do,
During the next few days, Severus wallowed in self-pity and frustration, doing his best to avoid Lily. He refused to talk to her between classes, pretended not to notice when he saw her waving at him in the Great Hall, and hid from her in the Slytherin common room.
"Is everything alright, Sev?" she eventually asked him during Potions, "You look so angry all the time. Was it something I said?"
"No," he lied, stirring his brew mechanically.
"I can't apologize if you won't tell me what ticked you off," she continued diplomatically, trying to force him to look at her. Severus gave a vague shrug, carefully pretending to find chopping slugs for his potion more interesting than listening to her.
"Fine," snapped Lily coolly, "If this is the way it's going to be, don't expect me to grovel at your feet begging for forgiveness I'm not sure I even need!"
The bell rang, and she stormed off angrily.
It was just one little word. He had simply slipped it in the heat of the elaborate, cruel prank he had become a victim of, and now Severus had viciously insulted the one person he never meant to hurt. This was not what he had wanted. He didn't even think of Lily as an ordinary Muggle-born - she was much better than that, much better than anyone he knew. But all the jealousy he had felt since she had expressed mild interest in another boy - despite the fact that the single date she had had with the Ravenclaw boy had never resorted into anything serious - and the horror that had filled him when he had found out that the famous James Potter fancied her - even though she had assured him that she detested Potter as much as he did - and the anger he had felt when Potter and his gang had humiliated him in front of the entire school had boiled up inside of him, until he somehow ended up hurting Lily, who had only tried to defend him. He had never regretted anything so much in his life.
Severus had tried to apologize. He had followed her after the incident as soon as he had realized what a horrible mistake he had made, but she had refused to listen to him. He had spent the rest of the day standing behind the portrait hole of the Gryffindor Tower, demanding to see her. She had come to him, eventually, only to inform him that their friendship had ended, deaf to his pleas for forgiveness. He had lost her, perhaps for good.
Severus and Lily had had their rows before. Sometimes the other would spend days not talking to the other, but in the end they always settled their differences. This was different; Severus had hoped that in a matter of days Lily would forgive him like usual, but her anger did not seem to cool down. She avoided him restlessly, never appearing in places their paths might meet without a friend so that he would not dare to approach her. She even changed seats in the classes they shared to maintain her distance to him.
Severus would have rather presented his underwear to the entire student body of Hogwarts twice a day, and spent the rest of his life listening to his parents arguing than fallen out with Lily. He deeply regretted that he had alienated himself from her earlier out of jealousy for someone she didn't even care about. Now he wouldn't have given a damn if she dated the entire Ravenclaw Quidditch team, as long as she would have still been friends with him. The only thing worse than the thought of seeing her falling for somebody else was the reality of not having her as a part of his life at all.
And then, on a miserable spring afternoon, he caught James Potter trying to make a move on her, and her not instantly rejecting him with disgust. Potter was certainly taking his chance to approach Lily now that she no longer hung around with Severus, and lately it had seemed to Severus as though Lily was beginning to warm up to his pathetic attempts to win her over. One day Severus even spotted her giggling at some stupid prank Potter and his band of dimwitted friends had performed, despite the fact that she had used to loathe them. Never before had Severus had to fight a greater urge to cast the Cruciatus curse on Potter and see his arrogant, spectacled face twist with horrible pain.
Perhaps it was his hate for Potter combined with his love for Lily that eventually gave him the courage to pursue her forgiveness for one last time. It was the night before the last day of school - the last chance for Severus to rekindle his friendship with Lily before summer. He stalked her like a shadow all day long, waiting for a chance to confront her somewhere they could be alone together, but her closest Gryffindor friend - a petite, black-haired witch called Matilda Abbott - would not leave her side for a moment. It wasn't until late at night when the two friends finally parted, as Lily headed to the bathrooms while Matilda continued to the Gryffindor Tower.
Severus watched as Abbott's back drifted behind the corner, took a deep breath, and quickly followed Lily to the bathroom. She was standing alone in front of the mirror, dabbing her face with a small towel, when she suddenly saw his approaching image reflected in the mirror.
"What are you doing here?" she asked, startled, turning around on her heels, "You're not allowed - "
"We need to talk," Severus insisted.
Lily narrowed her eyes.
"There's nothing to talk about," she said sharply, "I thought I already made my point clear. I don't want to see you, I don't want to talk to you, and I definitely don't want to listen to you!"
"That's not fair, Lily!" he cried out, "You can't just pluck me out of your life because of one little mistake!"
"One little mistake? One little mistake?" Lily repeated, upset, and gave a joyless laughter, "You called me a -"
"It was an accident!" he cut her out, "You know I didn't mean it!"
"Maybe you didn't mean to call me a Mudblood," Lily said seriously, "But you would insult any other Muggle-born without remorse. You don't even think there's anything wrong with it! And how about your friends? I suppose your beloved Mulciber and Rosier have never referred to me as a Mudblood? That's the problem. That's not one little mistake, but a series of huge ones - no, it's a whole ideology based on everything that's wrong with this world, and you support it. How are we supposed to be friends when you're obviously spending your spare time ridiculing and hurting people like me?"
"And how about your friends?" said Severus darkly. He chose not to adress her accusations, "Having fun with your new little friend Potter? You look like you're having fun."
For a split second, Lily looked confused. Then her cheeks turned pink with either fury or embarrassment, and she strode off angrily.
"I'm not staying here for another pointless argument!" hissed she.
"No, wait!" begged Severus, "I'm sorry! Would you please just listen to what I have to say?"
Lily stopped, her back faced to him. She took a deep breath, and then gazed at him poisonously.
"Fine, then," she said icily, "Spit it out. Then we can both leave and do something useful with our time."
Severus forced himself to calm down and opened his mouth to speak, but suddenly he thought he heard a noise coming from the door, and instinctively pulled Lily by the arm into an empty cubicle, shutting the door behind her.
"Is this really necessary?" she asked, annoyed. They were standing face to face in the cramped, small cubicle - which, on a close inspection, was certainly not designed for two - on either sides of the toilet bowl, so close to each other that neither of could make the smallest movement without violently poking the other one in a sensitive place.
"Look, I'm really sorry. More sorry than you could ever imagine. What else can I say?" he said, gathering himself, "I never, ever wanted to hurt you. If there was one moment I could erase from my past, that would be it. And it had nothing to do with Potter, and what he did to me. I would rather have Potter spin me around in the air every day of the year than to upset you."
Lily bit her lip.
"That's what you said the last time we talked. Remember what I told you back then? You've made your choice, and I've made mine."
"No, you've made the choice of pretending that I don't exist. I didn't choose that. I can't pretend that you don't exist."
"That's not your decision to make."
"It's not yours either. We've been friends for years! Don't you think I deserve better than to be discarded like a piece of garbage? Don't you miss me even half as much as I miss you?"
Lily looked impressed. Perhaps she was as surprised to hear him admitting that he missed her as he was to discover he had actually had the courage to do so.
"Of course I miss you," she said, frustrated, "I miss our conversations. I miss our jokes. I miss you during Potions. I miss your company. But I don't miss your friends, I don't miss your ideals, I don't miss your Death Eater aspirations, and I don't miss making up an excuse after another to convince myself that you have not become what I think you've become. I'm sorry, but I can't be your friend when I no longer know who you are. Now step aside."
She tried to leave, but Severus threw his arm between her and the door. Then, without giving it another thought, he pressed her body against the wall, and his lips tightly against hers.
If there had ever been a worse moment to kiss her, Severus could not remember it. Packed inside a small cubicle, after an intense argument, on the verge of bitter goodbyes, the conditions couldn't have been any less romantic, yet he somehow finally gave in for his heart's desire, and did the one thing he'd been longing to do ever since he had first seen her, running across the street he lived in as a young child.
Lily did not resist him, but he could tell that the kiss had caught her by a surprise. He kissed her long and hard, as long as he could hold his breath, and by the end of it he was certain that he felt her gently responding to the kiss. When he finally stopped and looked at her, she appeared to be more confused and bewildered than angry or embarrased. This gave him hope; if she truly felt nothing for him, surely she would have slapped him, or blushed awkwardly. Guided by his senses, he brought his hand close to her face, brushed her smooth cheek with the back of his hand, and wordlessly told her everything she needed to know about his feelings for her with one intense look. He had done everything he could. Now it was Lily's time to act, whether she wanted him or not.
Lily stared at him like a goldfish - eyes round, opening and closing her mouth on a regular basis, but not a single word would pass through her lips.
"Sev, I..." she began, "I don't know what to do..."
Suddenly, a sound came from the door, and the voice of Matilda Abbott called Lily's name.
"Lily? Lily? Did you fall asleep there?"
Lily, still looking into Severus's eyes, appeared to be torn between the two people waiting for her reply. He took her by the hand, and mouthed "Don't go" .
"No, I'm fine. I'll be right over!" said Lily loudly. Then she tore herself away from his grasp and walked out, avoiding his eyes. He wanted to run after her, grab her, tear her back to the toilet and force her to give him the answer he wanted to hear, but found himself freezing, unable to obey his heart. The two girls left, and he was, yet again, all alone.