Sorry for the long wait everyone. My only explination is that this chapter was just stubborn. I must have started and erased it at least 30 times. But at long last here it is. I hope that the wait was worthwhile and you all enjoy it. I pray that the next chapter is not quite so difficult to get down.


Chapter 44 Adjustments

Severus watched Violet lead her still-sobbing daughter from the lounge. He was surprised at the amount of pity he felt for Petunia; while they never had been, and he suspected never would be, friends, he still found Dursley's actions to be utterly contemptible. The room was deafeningly silent until the until the sound of a shutting door resonated through the house.

"I never thought that he'd actually end up leaving her," Lily said sadly. "I shouldn't have pushed her into telling him."

Lily didn't have to say she felt guilty; Severus could hear it in every word that she said. Ultimately he knew that what had happened tonight between Petunia and Dursley had been a certainty from the moment that the elder Evans' girl had first lied to her now ex-fiancé about her sister. It was this idea Severus wanted to get across to his clearly stricken girlfriend. "He had to know at some point if they were going to have any sort of future together."

"I know," Lily affirmed with a sigh. "I just wish things had gone better for Tuney's sake."

"I suppose we could say that everything happens for a reason and let it go at that," Cris stated as he collapsed on the sofa, pulling his wife down with him.

Honoria smiled at Cris and curled up next to his side. "Maybe she'll find someone better now. What do you think about introducing her to Jasper?"

Before Cris could reply, May turned to face the couple on the sofa. "I think it's best if we give her some time to heal first. We may not have been overly keen on Vernon, but Petunia was."

Honoria nodded in agreement. "Yes, you're right."

Once again silence fell over the room. Severus was certain that he wasn't alone in mentally replaying the events of the evening.

"It's been one hell of a night," Cris finally sighed.

"Yes, it has," Alex agreed. He was sitting on one of the wing chairs, staring pensively at the flower arrangement in the fireplace.

"I –" May started and then stopped abruptly.

"Go on," encouraged Lily.

"I suppose it's selfish but I really don't want to go back to the mausoleum tonight."

"Me neither," Cris admitted.

"So stay here. Mum won't care," Lily supplied.

May considered this for a moment and then asked, "Where would we all sleep?"

There was a pause as each person contemplated how six people could possibly share two bedrooms. Severus quickly came up with a solution. "Honoria and Cris can have my room."

"Are you sure, Sev?" asked Cris.

"Yes." After all he could hardly let a pregnant woman sleep on a couch in the lounge. "Lily and May can sleep in her room, which leaves Alex and me in here."

"That sounds fine to me," Alex stated.

"I hate to state the obvious but there's only one sofa in here," May pointed out.

Alex looked around the room, as if taking in the furniture arrangement for the first time. "I suppose we can flip for it."

Lily laughed. "Or you can remember that you are in a house with a witch and a wizard. I'll just pop upstairs and get my wand, unless you think you can do it without yours, Sev."

"No, I'd need a wand as well."

Lily nodded and disappeared, returning a few minutes later with both of their wands. "Here, I figured you could do one and I'd do the other."

Severus took the offered wand from her hand. "Singles?"

Lily nodded and had just raised her wand when a thought occurred to Severus. Instantly he grabbed her wand arm. "The Ministry."

"We're of age now," Lily supplied. Severus looked doubtful for a moment. Lily continued on, "I haven't gotten any letters for any magic I've done this summer."

"If it's a problem we can go," Cris assured.

"No, Lily's right, we haven't gotten any letters. You will have to get up off the sofa though."

Cris nodded and helped his wife to her feet.

"Ready?" asked Severus, and Lily nodded and flicked her wand at the sofa while he directed his towards one of the chairs.

Eyes widened as the chair stretched and widened...

"I'll be," Alex breathed.

"Oh my..." Honoria gasped at the sight of the now perfectly made beds in the middle of the room. "It's really true."

"Did you think I was making it up?" Crispin asked laughingly.

"No, but there's a difference between knowing and seeing."

"I suppose that's true," Cris acceded.

For a moment all the non-magical members of the group stood and stared at the transfigured beds. Finally, Cris wished them all a good night and headed upstairs.

"Alex, do you need to borrow anything to sleep in?" Severus asked, thinking he better go and get his nightshirt before Cris and Honoria got too comfortable.

"No, I'm fine in my boxers and vest."

Severus nodded and left Alex and May to say goodnight figuring they would be done in about the same amount of time it took for him and Lily to do the same. Sure enough, when he returned downstairs May was gone and Alex was comfortably ensconced in one of the beds.

"Goodnight, Severus," Alex muttered as he turned over.

"Night Alex." Severus yawned before quickly falling into a troubled sleep.

Severus woke the next morning to a beam of sunlight streaming onto his face; he gave a groan and rolled over. He was just starting to drift back to sleep when the blanket lifted and a body slid into the bed.

Without opening his eyes Severus sighed and said, "Lil, if your mother catches us we'll be in huge trouble."

"Then you'd better wake up and get out of bed."

"What time is it?" he muttered.

"Six."

Severus groaned again. "Lils."

"I was thinking –" Lily whispered against the back of his neck.

"Were you?" Severus asked as he reached back to pull Lily's hand around to rest on his chest.

"Yes."

There was a long silence before Severus asked, "Are you going to tell me what it was that you were thinking?"

"That I would come to Spinner's End with you today."

"No, absolutely not," Severus whispered intensely and gripped her hand tightly as if that would keep her put in Bloom Street.

"Why not?"

Across the room, Alex let out a long breath and rolled over. Severus shifted on his bed until he and Lily were face to face. "Because I'm not sure if my father is still there or not."

"Why would he still be there if your parents are getting divorced?"

"I don't know that he has anywhere else to go."

"If there's even the slightest chance your father is there then I'm definitely coming."

"Lily!" Severus protested.

"Severus there is no chance in hell I am letting you be alone with your father."

Lily looked steely eyed and Severus knew that he had already lost this discussion. "Fine, but only on one condition."

"And that is?"

"If I tell you to leave, you go, no questions asked." He knew he had his own stubborn look now and it must have been impressive because Lily merely nodded. "Good, then you should go back upstairs."

"When are you leaving?"

"I don't know, but not this early, that's for sure."

Lily hesitated for a moment, nodded, kissed him and slid out of bed. Severus fell back asleep, wrapped in the comfort of Lily's lingering scent. He didn't get up until Cris shook him awake for breakfast.

Breakfast had started out as a much more subdued affair than it normally was. Even Violet appeared to be a little off and it seemed to Severus that there wasn't nearly as much food on the table as usual. Not that it mattered, since it seemed that yet again most of them were just picking at the contents of their plates at best.

"I was thinking that I might start moving things over soon, so my parents don't get suspicious, since they are apparently going to be in town for awhile, if that's alright with you, Violet."

"Whenever you want to start is fine with me, May."

"Do you think you're going to bring your furniture?" Crispin asked his sister.

"I don't know, it could be hard to move it out without them noticing and I'm not sure that there would be room for it here."

"We can put everything that won't fit in the house out in the workshop," Violet supplied.

"Or we can take some things down to my place," volunteered Alex.

"And Sev and I can help you shrink things; so we could get a lot out in a bag or two."

"Really?"

"Yes," Severus affirmed. "And if you don't need it while we're at school you can even store it that way."

May smiled broadly. "Sounds perfect, when can we start?"

"Well, I was going to go see my mother right after breakfast but I imagine Lily and I could come by your house this afternoon."

May's grin widened. "Great, that will make things so much simpler."

"What are you going to tell your parents, that way Cris and I know when they ask us?" enquired Honoria.

"I haven't decided yet. Any ideas?"

After that, the conversation focused around what to tell the Halls about May's defection so that there would be minimal fallout for Crispin. Because of this, breakfast lasted a lot longer than Severus had anticipated and so it was nearly noon by the time he and Lily set out on the road to Spinner's End.

"Remember what I told you?" he asked as the two of them rounded the corner.

"Yes," Lily grudgingly acquiesced.

Severus opened the door cautiously, bracing himself for whatever might be on the other side. He hesitated in the doorway for a moment before entering the house and closing the door behind Lily. The first thing his gaze fell on were the stacks of books that now dominated the sitting room. He didn't need a long look to know that these were the magical books his mother had kept hidden for so long. Instantly, he felt himself relax.

"He's not here," Severus told Lily, knowing beyond the shadow of a doubt that his mother wouldn't have the books laying around in such a careless manner if his father were even the tiniest bit likely to come by the house.

"I don't think anyone's here." Lily sounded downcast.

Taking in the absolute silence of the house Severus was inclined to agree but still he called out: "Mum?"

Severus waited for a long moment for an answer but none came. "Well, maybe she's gone to the shops or something."

"Sev, it doesn't look to me like anyone has been here in a while."

"She was just at yours the other day."

"Still." Lily's eyes swept the room.

For the first time Severus noticed how dusty everything was and how musty the house smelled. "Let me go upstairs and look."

Lily was still nodding when Severus bounded up the stairs. Only a cursory glance of his parent's room revealed that all of his mother's clothes were gone. Lily was right, Eileen Snape had left. "Brilliant," Severus muttered as he shut the wardrobe door.

As he walked downstairs Severus tried to ignore the frustration of the fact that his mother had left without bothering to tell him where she was going and when – or even if – she would be back.

"She's gone isn't she?" Lily asked as he reached the bottom of the stairs.

"I'm sorry, Angel. I really thought she would be here. I guess this changes your plan."

"So what now?"

"I..."

Lily quickly cut him off. "Maybe we can stay here."

"What?"

"We could tell Mum that we're going back to school and then come here to stay."

As tempted as Severus was by the idea of returning to those idyllic days from early summer in Bloom Street, he doubted very strongly that his mother would be understanding of the situation if she returned home to find him and Lily living in the Snape House.

"Lily –" Severus sighed and sat down on the sofa, motioning for Lily to join him. "You know I want to help you but the thing is – Well, my mother was raised very strictly and I think that if she came back and found us here..."

"She'd be upset."

"Something like that, and she'd tell Violet, which means they would both be upset."

"So what do I do then, Sev? I can't go back to school and wait days to get an owl telling me if Mum's alright or not."

Severus wracked his brain for any sort of answer. "Could you maybe ask Alice's or Sabrina's parents?"

"I don't know them at all," Lily said hesitantly. "There must be someone else."

Severus started to mentally run down the list of everyone he knew outside of school who was magical and apparently reached the name of a likely candidate at the exact same moment as Lily because she blurted out "Frank!" only seconds before him.

"Do you think Frank would do it?" Lily asked excitedly.

"I don't see why not."

Lily beamed at him and pulled him up off the sofa. "Come on, we have to get back home and send him an owl."

Not surprisingly, Lily practically raced back to Bloom Street. Once there, she scribbled off a note and had Archimedes, who had thankfully returned that very morning with their books, winging away in record time. "Now all we have to do is wait."

Since Lily looked prepared to sit at her desk and wait until the owl reappeared, Severus reminded her gently that they had promised to go to the Halls' to help May with the move.

The project turned out to be the perfect thing to get their minds off their troubles. Severus didn't know if it was because Alex was with them or if Mrs. Hall had an inkling as to what was about to happen but she came upstairs and stayed for hours. Severus suspected it was because Victoria was hoping to bring May and Alex closer together so that she would be able to boast about having a titled son-in-law. He doubted that there was ever a mother as oblivious as this one and strongly suspected that if the couple wasn't already so strong in their relationship her efforts would actually have had the opposite effect. None of the broad hints that were sent her way stopped Victoria from going through each room and describing a planned redecoration of the whole nursery so that Honoria and Cris could have their own wing. Apparently she also felt that May that was now old enough to move downstairs with her parents for the short periods she was home on holiday. In the end, the group had managed to pack or remove very little. Even worse, when Lily and Severus left to return to Bloom Street for the night, neither of the Hall siblings nor their respective partners were able to escape and all four were forced to stay the night at the Hall house.

When May and Alex reappeared at the Evans' the next morning, Margaret stated emphatically that it had been the most tedious night of her life. Dinner had seemingly gone on forever with both Victoria and Edmund trying to get out of Alex what his intensions were towards May. Alex had managed to deflect all the questions so Mrs. Hall had pulled May into her dressing room and questioned her into the early hours of the morning. Now May was energetically stating that she couldn't wait to be shot of her parents forever. On the bright side, Honoria had managed to talk Victoria into accompanying her to London to look at new furnishings for her and Cris' new quarters. Of course no sooner had Mrs. Hall and her daughter-in-law pulled away, than Mr. Hall had left to pay a visit to his latest mistress. While May was working out a strategy to move everything she wanted to keep out of the house before her mother's return, Archimedes swooped in through the open kitchen window.

"It's from Frank," Lily said in response to the questioning looks she was getting from the table's occupants. She quickly unrolled the parchment and scanned it. When she was done she looked up at Severus. "He's going to come up this afternoon if that's alright with us."

"Fine with me."

"Mum, it is alright with you if Frank comes by for a little while, isn't it?"

"Lily, your friends are always welcome here."

"Will you and Alex be here, May? I would love for you all to meet him."

"Of course, if you'd like us too," May replied.

Lily nodded thoughtfully, and went back to eating. After several minutes of silence she put down her fork, "I've been meaning to ask, Mum, how are we getting to King's Cross this year?"

"Cris and I decided that he would take you down tomorrow, since he's leaving to go back to school," Violet answered just as the young man entered the room.

He paused to give Violet a kiss on the cheek before pulling a chair out and settling down at the table. "Mother and Honoria are gone," Cris informed his sister before looking at Severus and Lily. "I am assuming that the two of you can be ready to go tomorrow."

"I'm almost finished packing now so it won't be a problem for me," Lily assured.

Severus didn't bother to comment on the state of his packing. He had another issue on his mind.. "We'll be a day early."

"I'm sure you two can find something to do for a day in Cambridge."

"And how are we going to get from Cambridge to London?" Severus inquired.

"There's a train that goes directly to King's Cross. I thought that you could take that," said Cris around a mouthful of eggs.

"With an owl in tow?" Severus asked bemusedly trying to imagine what the ticket agent would have to say about that.

"Surely some kids from your school must take the train to King's Cross?" Cris pointed out.

"Perhaps," Severus conceded "But taking an owl on muggle transportation is not encouraged."

"Well, we can't have the two of you getting into trouble so I'll drive you, but you'll have to be up early so that I can get to London and back in time for my first lecture."

"That shouldn't be a problem. Though I guess if we are leaving tomorrow I should go tackle my packing now, especially if Frank is coming over this afternoon," Severus said, excusing himself from the table.

"I take it that all this means that Alex and I are on our own with the move?" May inquired.

"No," Cris immediately assured his sister. "I wasn't planning on leaving until late in the afternoon anyway, so that gives us plenty of time to help you. Assuming these arrangements work for everybody?"

"Sounds fine to me." Severus assured.

"Me too," chimed in Lily, "And since your parents are gone, we'll be able to shrink everything and get out fairly quickly."

"You guys are great," May beamed.

"We do try," Lily declared with a laugh.

Before leaving the kitchen Severus asked May if there was anything in particular she wanted him to remove from his bedroom, which would become hers after tonight. May promised him that it was fine to leave things as they were. Severus bounded up the steps to start his packing and he did not re-emerge until the doorbell echoed through the house.

Entering the lounge, Severus found Lily busily making introductions. Once she was done and everyone was seated Frank turned to Lily. "I was very sorry to get the letter about your mother, Lily and I'll be happy to help anyway that I can. Though I'm not entirely clear about what it is you want me to do."

"The thing is, my mum is having surgery to have the cancerous ovary removed next week and she won't hear of us staying home until after she leaves the hospital and I can't abide the idea of waiting for an owl to get to me so that I know how things went. So I was hoping that we could work out an arrangement where May would let you know what happened and then you could apparate or floo the school or something."

"I can do that. Although –" Frank paused and looked at May. "How would you get the news to me?"

"Do you have access to a telephone?"

"Unfortunately not."

"Maybe – I hate to ask you this –" Lily started, "but maybe you could spend the day up here."

Frank shook his head sadly. "Lily, I'm sorry but I can't take a full day off from auror training."

Lily sighed and looked pleadingly at Severus. "Let's just stay."

"Mum's never going to agree to that, Lily," Crispin interjected.

"That's why I was thinking that we could stay at Sev's; his parents are gone so no one would know. Then we'd be here if anything went wrong."

"We can't deceive mum like that," Cris protested.

"There's no other way, Cris! This was the only solution I could think of and obviously it's not going to work so tell me what other options are there?"

"How long is the surgery suppose to last?" Severus asked.

"A few hours I think," May responded.

"And I am going to guess that you will be skipping lectures that day, Cris?" questioned Lily.

Crispin hesitated for a moment and then nodded.

"Then May, why don't you phone Cris from the hospital and he and Frank can arrange to meet somewhere later in the day," suggested Severus.

"We could do that. Where do you live?" Frank asked.

"Cambridge. Will it be difficult for you to get there?"

"No, I'll just apparate."

"So if mum goes in for surgery at 9 she should be out at around 11..." Cris muttered to himself.

"We get a break for lunch somewhere between noon and two. If you can stay in one location during that time I can come around once we're released and get the news."

"I'll be at my flat all day." Cris pulled out a piece of paper and started to write. "Are you at all familiar with Cambridge?"

Frank smiled. "Yes, I actually live in Cambridge with my parents."

Cris paused in his writing to look once more at Frank. "I did think you looked vaguely familiar. Do you ever go to the Folk Festival?"

"I went with a cousin two summers ago."

"Yes! He was a huge bloke looked like he could pull a lorry with his bare hands!"

"That's Finn," Frank acknowledged with a laugh before turning his attention back to Lily. "Once Cris lets me know how the surgery has gone, I'll apparate up to Hogwarts. If you could let Dumbledore know that I'll be coming I would appreciate it. With all the attacks that have been happening this summer they're going to be tightening security at the school."

"I'll talk to the headmaster as soon as we arrive," Lily promised Frank.

"Perfect." Frank smiled and shifted slightly on the sofa, and placed the paper with Cris' address in his back pocket. "Well, I hate to rush things, but Alice is coming to tea and I need to be there when she arrives so..."

Lily rose from her spot on the sofa. "Oh, well – you shouldn't keep her waiting then." Lily escorted their guest to the door while thanking him once again for his help and requesting that he say hello to Alice for them. There was a brief pause while Frank gave his word to pass the message onto Alice before Lily shut the door and returned to the group.

"At least that's taken care of." Cris breathed out a sigh of relief. "Now, on to the next thing. Let's get May moved out before one of my parents decides to come back unexpectedly."

There was a general murmur of agreement around the room.

Severus was surprised by how fast the move went once the five of them got back to Queens Road. They had everything shrunk and stuffed into boxes and bags in less than four hours. And by everything he meant EVERYTHING. May's room was completely empty and the other rooms were looking sparse as well, mainly because May had been so desperate to save anything that held any sort of sentimental value for her. She was convinced that her mother would bin anything that remained once May's defection was discovered. Severus hadn't the slightest idea what May meant to do with all the furnishings but the frantic look in her eyes made him bite his tongue.

It was with a heavy heart that Severus carried his trunk down the stairs the next day. The end of summer had come far too quickly and now, with Violet being ill, he found that he really wasn't looking forward to going back to school. Especially not when he was faced with the fact that there was bound to be more pressure on him to conform to the expectations of how a future Death Eater was meant to behave now that his "I want to be Head Boy" excuse was gone. No matter what Lucius had said last November, Severus had the sneaking suspicion that a decision would be required of him long before the end of his seventh year.

His lack of enthusiasm was clearly shared by Lily. When he entered the lounge, he found her slumped on the sofa, looking as downcast as he felt. She didn't bother to look up when he sat down next to her. Instead she grasped his hand and whispered, "Are you sure you won't change your mind?"

It was a question that she had asked half a dozen times in the last twenty-four hours. Each time his answer had been the same, but now he found himself reconsidering. Would it really matter if they didn't go back to school now, if they stayed in Spinner's End or even paid for a room elsewhere? Severus vacillated back and forth and was on the verge of agreeing to stay when Violet entered the room. She sighed as she took in the sight in front of her.

"Come now, there's no need to look so glum. Everything is going to be fine."

"We've never been to King's Cross without you," Lily choked out.

"I know." Violet sat down on the other side of her daughter. "I wish that I could go see you both off for your last year but I don't think that I'm up to the trip this time. But –" there was a pause while Violet reached out to take hold of the two hands that were not already clasped. "I promise I will be there to pick you up when you come home.

"I don't want either of you to fret about this. Enjoy your last year of school, it'll be over before you know it – Severus, I know I don't have to ask you to look after Lily."

"Of course not, Violet."

"And Lily, you are under strict orders to make sure that Severus eats and sleeps this year. You always come back looking completely worn out, Severus," she admonished.

A smile flickered across Lily's face. "I'll do my best."

"That's all I can ask."

"Is everyone ready to go?" Cris asked, bustling into the room.

There was a moment of reluctance before Severus nodded and stood. Lily stayed seated, still holding onto her mother's hand while Severus and Crispin packed the car. Once everything was stowed, they walked back inside for what Severus was sure would be an emotional farewell.

The entire family was gathered in the cream and cranberry room, right down to Petunia. There was a myriad of hugs and whispered promises to write and half-hearted declarations that everything would be okay. Severus noted that they each had the same tight, constricted sound to their voices. Out of the corner of his eye he saw May surreptitiously wipe away a tear. And Petunia was evidently close to losing control because she very briefly embraced him. He had yet to recover from shock when Cris chided them out the door and into the car.

As they drove away, Lily twisted around to stare out the back window. When the three figures outside faded from view, Lily's shoulders began to shake. Instantly Severus undid his seatbelt and slid across the bench seat to her side, wrapping his arms around her. "Shh, Angel – shh."

His heart broke as Lily's sobs wracked her body and echoed around the car. All he knew to do was hold her closer and stroke her hair. When Crispin pulled into a car park, dropped his head to the steering wheel and began to cry, Severus was at a complete loss as to what to do.

"Sod it!" he exclaimed. "Let's just stay at Spinner's End."

This statement seemed to pull Cris back from his dejection. He wiped the tears from his face and straitened up. "No, we told mum we were going to school so that's what we're doing." Without another word Crispin restarted the car and pulled back onto the road.

Severus reached out and gripped Cris' shoulder before going back to trying to sooth Lily. But no matter what Severus did, Lily continued to sob into his shoulder. He was feeling more and more hopeless until they passed a road that Severus recognized from earlier in the summer.

"Cris, turn here!"

"Sev, this isn't the way to Cambridge."

"I know that. Cris, please, just humour me," Severus pleaded.

Without another word Crispin spun the car around and followed Severus' directions to the little lane where Violet had stopped on the way to Cris' wedding. "What are we doing here, Severus?"

"It's for Lily," muttered Severus. "Come on Angel, let's go for a walk."

Lily looked confused as he drew her out of the car and down the lane. That look faded as the pair approached the garden and the white house sitting in the middle of it. "Why are we here?" Lily asked breathlessly.

"I thought it might cheer you up to visit 'the most magnificent house you've ever seen.'"

Lily beamed up at him. "Sev..."

Severus could feel Lily relax as she drank in the landscape.

"Is there a reason we're standing outside of someone's house like a bunch of stalkers?" asked Crispin, coming up the way, hands stuffed in his pockets.

Severus waved his hand at the garden. "This is Lily's dream house."

"I didn't say that," she protested.

Severus chuckled. "You didn't need to, love. It's written all over your face."

Crispin leaned back against the post and took the couple in. "I can see the two of you here."

"Me too," Lily whispered.

For the first time Severus truly looked at the house. If this was the kind of home Lily wanted then he would find one exactly like it and buy it for her someday.

"Well, I hate to break up the daydream party but if we're going to get to mine before dark we have to leave now."

Severus could tell that Lily was infinitely more relaxed by the time they arrived in Cambridge. While the tense look was still in her eyes, Cris' humorous attempts to make dinner at least had her laughing. After doing the washing up and peeling the pasta from the wall where Cris had flung it to check whether or not it was done, Severus headed for the guestroom.

If there was one perk to staying at Cris' for the next two nights it was the fact that there was only one guest room and Crispin had no issue with Severus and Lily sharing it. Severus opened the door to find Lily sitting in the middle of the bed, distractedly brushing her damp hair. Clearly she was back to worrying.

"Here, I'll do that." He took the brush from her hand and began pulling it gently through her locks.

"My mum used to do this."

"I can stop if you want."

"No, I like it."

There was a long paused before Severus asked, "So, what would you like to do tomorrow?"

"Don't care."

Severus sighed and put the brush down before wrapping his arms around her. "It'll be fine, Lily. Violet's a fighter and Dr. Archer sounded optimistic."

"I know, I do. It's just hard to leave when everything's such a mess. Mum's sick. Petunia's been dumped. May's parents are going to flip when they realize what she's done. And to top it off, you're still not officially out of the potential Death Eater camp."

"On the other hand, Cris is going to be a dad. Alex is great. My mum's finally chucked my father. Vernon is gone. And we got to spend the whole summer together. So, all in all, I think it was a pretty good holiday."

Lily turned and beamed up at him. "You're right, it was. I'm sure mum will be fine. I don't know why I'm worrying so much."

"Because you're an amazingly loving woman," Severus yawned widely "And I'm an amazingly tired man."

"Let's get some sleep then. We can figure out what to do tomorrow in the morning."

Severus nodded and attempted to stifle another yawn while digging a nightshirt out of his trunk.

"You know, you can change in here," Lily said as he was about to leave the room.

"Are – are you sure?"

Lily nodded, blushing slightly. Severus hesitated for a second but then pulled his shirt off over his head.

"Did your father do this?" Lily's hand lightly brushed a scar on his left side.

Severus chuckled lightly. "Believe it or not, I actually did that to myself."

"How?"

Quickly, Severus slid the nightshirt on and pulled off his trousers before climbing into bed. Then he began to tell her of his disastrous attempt to catch a kitten that he thought had gotten stuck in a drain. But long before the story was over they had both drifted off, wrapped contentedly in each other's arms.

The next day passed in a whirlwind of sightseeing. Cris was determined to show them every place of personal significance to him and kept them going at such a pace that Severus and Lily were both asleep the instant their heads hit their pillows that night. Which Severus suspected was Cris' intention.

It was still early when Cris shook them awake and explained that they had to leave soon if he was going to be back in time for his lecture. They each tried to be as cheery as possible on the ride to the train station but Severus could tell that it was mostly forced. A fact that was even more apparent when they hugged Cris goodbye.

"Cris, if anything happens..." Lily began.

"I'll find a way to come get you both, I promise. For now though don't worry, just enjoy your last year."

Lily nodded and gave him a watery smile. Severus grasped Cris by the hand. "Thanks Cris."

"No worries mate, don't you study too hard."

"Let us know how Honoria's coming along with the baby," Lily urged.

"Will do. Well – I should go. Write when you get there so we know you arrived safe and sound."

It was what Violet had said to them every time they caught the train and Severus felt his throat clench. Next to him, Lily choked back a sob. Cris gave them both a quick hug and swiftly walked away but not before Severus saw the tears glimmering in the other man's eyes.

"Do you want to get some breakfast?" Severus croaked out several minutes later.

"I'm not particularly hungry," responded Lily.

Severus wasn't either. But he also knew that they could get nothing but sweets from the trolley on the train and for once the idea of nothing but sweets didn't appeal to him. So he persuaded Lily into getting something vaguely nutritious from one of the stands scattered around the station. Despite the leisurely pace at which they ate their meal and Severus' stop at a newsstand, they were still several hours early and when they entered Platform 9 and ¾, the train wasn't even there.

Sighing, Severus sat down on a bench and opened the paper he had bought.

"Do you have to do that right now?" Lily snapped, sounding amazingly like her older sister.

Severus had wondered when Lily would get to the angry stage and here was his answer. Patiently, he folded up the newspaper and dropped it down next to him. "I'm sorry. You know that I'm not good at sitting around doing nothing."

"I know and I didn't mean to bite your head off. Can you just talk to me?"

"Of course, what would you like to talk about?"

"Who do you think will be Head Boy?"

"Remus."

"Really, don't you think he would have said something by now if he got it?"

"Not necessarily."

"He didn't say anything about it in his last letter."

"His last letter was entirely about Nan."

"I'm glad that Dumbledore talked Mrs. Lupin into not sending her to America."

"Well, it certainly made Remus happy."

"Yes, hopefully..." Lily broke off as the train pulled into the platform. "Do you think we should load our trunks now or wait?"

"Might as well get it over with. Does it matter if I go into the prefect compartment to help you?"

"No," Lily answered, grabbing one of the handles of her trunk.

"I'll get it. You take Archimedes."

Severus paused for a moment to take in the plush upholstery of the prefects' compartment before climbing back down on the track to load his own trunk.

"So what compartment do you want to be in this year?" Severus asked hefting his trunk up and starting down the length of the train. When Lily didn't answer he turned to look at her. "Lil?"

Slowly she walked down the platform. "I don't know if I'm going to be able to meet you."

Severus felt the trunk sliding from his shoulder and managed to place it on the ground before it fell, narrowly missing his foot. "Not at all?"

"I – there's so much for the Head Boy and Girl to do, make up the patrol schedules, train the new prefects..."

"We've never not ridden together for at least part of the way..." Severus deliberately chose to forget the dreadful ride home at the end of their fifth year.

"I know, I don't like it any more than you do but I'm not sure there's a way around it."

All Severus could do was stand there and stare at her. For a fleeting second he wished that he had told her to turn down the offer to be Head Girl. He knew it was petty and it was just a train ride, but still he couldn't help but feel let down. He had thought that this would be their first chance to really be open about their relationship among their peers; instead he would be making the trip without her.

"I'll see what I can do, dearest," Lily declared. "And even if I can't work something out I promise to meet you after the feast to say goodnight." Somehow this did nothing to sooth Severus. Something Lily evidentially picked up on because she continued on in her most winning voice. "Sev, you know I love you and I would rather be with you than making up schedules or giving lectures."

"I know, I'm just – I hadn't thought about this part when you were made Head Girl. I should have, but I didn't."

"It's only this one thing. Otherwise it'll be like every other year."

Somehow that didn't sound quite right to Severus but he didn't want to point that out since they were both already so emotionally raw. "Guess I can sit anywhere then."

"I'd prefer place where Avery and Mulciber can't find you."

"So you want me to ride to Hogwarts in the girl's loo?"

"Sev!" Lily pushed him playfully.

In the end, he settled for a compartment in the middle of the fourth carriage, hoping that since it wasn't as isolated as he generally chose to be, his classmates wouldn't bother to look for him there. For once luck was with him because he was joined not by Avery and Mulciber but Ametus, Julia and Clive. The four of them passed the time comfortably enough, exchanging recaps of their summer holidays and playing rounds of exploding snap. The only fly in the ointment was that Lily never appeared. Nor did he see her as he got into a carriage for the ride from the station to the school.

He was scanning the Gryffindor table, oblivious to the headmaster's speech, when Marius Avery dropped down on the bench next to him and whispered: "So Snape, I hear you're dating Evans."

"Who told you that?" Severus asked, though he suspected he already knew the answer.

"Anastasia. Is it true?"

"Yes, it's true."

"Do you really think –" Avery paused to applaud as the first student was sorted into Slytherin, "that's such a wise idea?"

"Why wouldn't it be?"

"She's a mudblood!" Avery blurted out as an ovation rang out from the Ravenclaws.

"And she's my girlfriend so I would appreciate it if you spoke about her with some respect."

A cheer rose from the Gryffindor table as they got their first new member. Mulciber took this opportunity to move down the table to sit on the other side of Severus. "What are the two of you whispering about?"

"Snape's decided it would be a good idea to date Evans."

"Really?" Mulciber sounded vaguely impressed by the news.

"Yes, Lily and I are dating."

"At least tell me you haven't shagged her," demanded Avery.

Severus applauded as another student went to Slytherin, waiting until the noise died down to answer. "Marius, as ever, I do not kiss and tell."

"We'll see what Lucius has to say about this."

"He already knows," Severus drawled unconcernedly.

"And he has no issues with it?"

"None what so ever."

Avery opened his mouth to respond but was cut off by Vincent. "Marius, let it go. If Lucius says it's fine, then it's fine. Besides, we have a bigger problem at the moment."

"And that would be?"

"Figuring out how in the hell Potter got to be Head Boy and ..."

"What!" Severus exclaimed loudly just as there was a lull in the hall, earning him a glare from Professor McGonagall. Hastily he lowered his voice and hissed "You must be joking!"

"No, look," Vincent pointed at a spot towards the front of the Gryffindor table.

Sure enough, there was James Potter, the Head Boy badge pinned proudly to the front of his robes, a stupid grin plastered on his face.

"He wasn't even a prefect!" Avery protested.

"But he was quidditch captain, puts him on the same level," Mulciber reminded them.

Severus was certain the blood was boiling in his veins. James Potter was Head Boy. James Potter who had tried to have him killed not once but twice. Potter, who had spent years trying to steal Lily away from him, the same boy who would now be spending countless hours alone in Lily's company.

"Bloody bastard!" Severus shot a disparaging look at the headmaster. If he had ever needed proof of Dumbledore's blatant favouritism, he now had it. "If you'll excuse me, I think I just lost my appetite."

"The Sorting's not done," chided Vincent.

"I couldn't care less," Severus snapped rising from the table. Without a backward glance he stalked from the Great Hall, ignoring the whispers that accompanied his departure.