It was James Potter again. Lily rolled her eyes. "What?"
"Come on down to the lake! It's frozen over and everybody's ice skating!"
"It's too cold out," Lily said. She was curled up in an armchair near the fireplace in Gryffindor tower, enjoying a cup of tea with some biscuits, and doing her Charms homework.
"Ah, come on ... everybody's going! Don't you want to skate? I bet you're really good at it."
Lily shook her head, her red hair bouncing. "Flattery will get you nowhere, Potter. I can't skate to save my life."
"Then let me teach you. C'mon."
"You? You don't know how to skate! How could you?" exclaimed Lily. "It's a Muggle thing! When have you ever ice skated in your life?"
"I'm sure it's not that hard," said James airily. "If I can play Quidditch the way I do, skating on a flat surface can't be so difficult."
Lily knew better, but she could no longer resist the chance to see James make an idiot of himself. She got up and daintily folded her blanket. "Fine. I'll see you down at the lake in fifteen minutes."
"I'll wait. We can walk down there together."
Lily knew there was no chance she was going to get rid of him and his friends. She didn't care to be seen with them, but there wasn't much choice. She sighed. At least the boys couldn't follow her up to her room, so she went to put on her cloak and took as long about it as possible.
It was a clear, freezing starry night, and the moon shone brightly. A flock of students were skating round and round the iced-over lake, and kettles of hot chocolate had been brought from the kitchens.
Hagrid had set up some bowls of magical fire, and each was surrounded by a cluster of people warming themselves. The air was filled with laughter and chatter, and a handful of Hufflepuffs were drinking butterbeer and singing carols. A sixth-year Ravenclaw was passing out shots of firewhisky, glancing furtively at the gamekeeper's back. It was a festive scene, all right. Though it was very cold out, Lily was glad she'd come to the party after all.
"Come on! Let's skate!" James plopped down on a rock and tapped his boots with his wand, creating thin glowing blades along the soles. Then he stood up and stepped out onto the ice ... and promptly fell over. Sirius and Peter laughed. Remus was already busy enchanting his own skates.
"Well, go on, you try it," said James, a little huffily. Sirius fashioned his skates and wobbled out onto the ice himself, while Peter was taking a bit longer to master the charm involved. Remus Lupin finished, got up, and skated away, sailing across the ice with perfect grace.
"Whew! I didn't know he could skate," whistled James, watching his friend. "Wonder where he learned that?" He bent down to fix Peter's skates for him, and Peter was soon scooting awkwardly away, falling down every four seconds.
Reckless Sirius, as usual, was going much too fast and soon collided with two Ravenclaw girls. They all went down in a heap, shrieking.
"Oy! Beginners need ter take it slow! And stay on the outside o' the circle!" bellowed Hagrid. Sirius got up with some difficulty and tried to help one of the girls to her feet, but he slipped and fell again.
"Well, Lily? Let's go," said James, turning to her. Lily hadn't taken long to make her own skates, but she had been rather hoping James would go away and let her try it out by herself.
"Buzz off," she said. "I'll be fine on my own."
"Oh, come on," said James. "I'll hold your hand."
"No way!" snapped Lily. "You're just as bad at this as me, and I don't want to hold your hand."
James got that hurt-puppy look on his face, but Lily knew it was a trick and refused to be taken in. She carefully stood up, scooted out onto the ice by herself, and began to skate, taking very tiny steps and holding her arms out stiffly. It definitely wasn't as easy as it looked.
Remus Lupin skated over to them, and executed a neat circle around them backwards. "Need a hand?"
"Just where did you learn to skate like that, Moony?" said James, half exasperated and half impressed.
"There's a pond near my house," Lupin said cheerfully. "I used to skate there every winter when I was small. Practice makes perfect!" He held out his arm to Lily. "Hold on to me for balance if you need to. Lean forward slightly, bend your knees. You'll get the hang of it soon enough."
She took his arm gratefully. James looked furious. Lupin smiled at him, and James skated off, trying valiantly to keep his feet.
It was as Remus said: Lily did get the hang of it after a short while. She still didn't trust herself to go backward or on one foot, but she could skate around in a ring along with everybody else at a moderate pace, without crashing into anyone or falling over. It was wonderful fun.
"Uh-oh," said Lupin suddenly, looking at the shore. "It's the Slytherins." He let go of Lily's arm and skated off to join James and the others.
Lily made her way to the edge of the lake and saw that several Slytherins had indeed come down to join the party, despite their affected disdain for Muggle activities. Or maybe they were just there to make fun of people. But they were in the minority, as everybody else was skating and having a good time. Bellatrix Black led her little group to the edge of the lake. She wore her usual superior air, and her long dark hair was uncovered despite the cold.
Lily spotted Severus Snape at the tail of the Slytherin group. She waved at him in greeting, even though he was hanging about with people she didn't much care for. "Hi, Sev!"
Snape half lifted his hand in a small wave.
"C'mon, skate with me?" Lily appealed, holding out her hand. This was a mistake, as it almost made her lose her balance again. She flailed her arms and managed to keep from going down, still looking up at her friend.
He glanced at his companions and shook his head very slightly.
Bellatrix laughed at Lily. The sound made Lily's skin crawl. "Silly little Mudblood girl, can't even stay upright on the ice!"
"Let's see you do better," snapped Lily. She'd never got on well with Bellatrix, what with Bellatrix being such a snob about blood-purity; the seventh-year Slytherin girl considered Muggle-borns like Lily the lowest sort of life form, and Bellatrix wasn't shy about letting everyone know it.
"We've got better things to do than flap around looking like idiots," sneered Bellatrix.
"Oh? Then why're you out here?" Lily retorted. "It's cold out, why not crawl back into your slimy Slytherin hole and stay there?"
"Hey!" said Snape, obviously offended. Lily blushed, realizing she'd just inadvertently insulted him too, but she couldn't apologize to him in front of Bellatrix.
Bellatrix pulled out her wand, looking angry. Just then, James Potter and his friends skated over. Seeing Bellatrix, all of them drew their wands. Snape and the other Slytherins took out theirs, too.
"Leave Lily alone," said James, bossy as ever.
"Certainly," said Bellatrix, with a smirk. She turned to Lily. "Go on, then, Mudblood, play your little games ..."
"Watch your language! Glisseo!" said Sirius, pointing his wand at the ground under the Slytherins. It turned to a smooth slope, and all of them tumbled down onto the ice. "Now who's falling all over the place? Not so easy as it looks, is it?" He laughed harshly at them, almost like a dog barking.
With a scream of rage, Bellatrix waved her wand at Sirius, and a bolt of bright fire flew past him, but missed. Remus and James countered with their own hexes, the Slytherins fought back, and the battle was on. Hagrid had gone off to the castle to get something and there were no teachers around to put a stop to the fight.
But it didn't last long. The energy from the curses started to melt the ice. Suddenly there was a loud, sharp crack.
"Get back! The ice is breaking!" shouted Remus, but no one was listening and everyone was scrambling to keep their balance on the slippery ice anyway. They didn't flee. A second later, with another report, the ice gave way. Lily, Bellatrix, Peter, Sirius and Severus were all dumped into the cold black water.
Students around them screamed, and everyone rushed to get off the ice. Bellatrix was near the edge of the hole, and a couple of her friends quickly hauled her out. Sirius grabbed the hands of Remus and James, and they pulled him from the water with little difficulty. But Peter was clinging frantically to Lily, screaming that he couldn't swim, and with him hanging on, she was struggling not to go under.
"Peter, let go of her! You're both going to drown! Just grab my hand!" shouted Remus, lying flat on the edge of the ice and holding out his arm as far as he could. The ice gave another sharp crackle, threatening to break some more. Sirius hurriedly tried to mend it with a Freezing Charm. James swore loudly and dived into the chilly water, pulling Peter off Lily forcibly and dragging him toward Remus, who hauled him out. Then he helped Lily climb up, and at last Sirius hauled James out too. They assisted each other off the ice and onto the snowy shore.
Lily's teeth were chattering. She had never been so cold in her life and all she wanted to do was fall asleep right there. "W – where's S-s- ... Severus?"
They all looked at the hole in the ice. "Uh-oh," said Peter. "Didn't anybody get him out?"
Bellatrix was busy drying her clothes with her wand, as her friends swarmed around and offered her their cloaks and scarves. She wasn't paying any attention to the lake.
"He must've climbed out, I don't see him," said James, looking about. "But he's not around here anywhere ... could he have gone back to the castle by himself?"
"You idiots!" shouted Lily. "He's still in the water somewhere!" She tried to head for the ice hole, as if to dive in, but Remus held her back.
"Don't even think about it; go over and sit by the fire, you're about to freeze to death," he warned her.
Lily began to cry, furious at all of them. "Do something!"
"GET OUTTA THE WAY!" bellowed Hagrid, who had come racing back. By now the ice was cleared and all the students were on the shore, which was a good thing, because Hagrid jumped onto the ice and it broke under his weight. A human figure, barely visible in the darkness with its black school robes, floated to the surface. It must have been trapped under a chunk of the ice. Hagrid seized the student and dragged him out onto the bank.
It was Severus Snape, all right. Somebody spread a cloak out on the ground, and Hagrid laid the boy down. Everyone gathered around them.
"Merlin's staff," whispered a Gryffindor student. Severus's face was deathly pale. He did not seem to be breathing.
"Rennervate," said Hagrid, pointing his closed pink umbrella at Severus. "C'mon, wake up ..."
"Let me try," said a Hufflepuff. "Rennervate!" Still the boy didn't stir. He wasn't even shivering. That was a bad sign, Lily knew.
"Oh, bother it," she said. Thanks to a spell from Remus, her clothes were now warm and dry again, though she was still shaking, mostly from shock. "Don't any of you know -- move!" She pushed her way through the crowd.
Lily hadn't learned any of the higher-level Restorative Charms, but she had taken a course in first aid and she knew what Muggles did for a person who had stopped breathing. She knelt beside the motionless boy, tilted his head back, pinched his nose shut, and blew air into his mouth. Then she pressed on his chest hard and rapidly, several times.
It worked. Almost immediately, he began to sputter and cough. Lily sat back, exhausted, and allowed James to help her to her feet and retreat a few steps, as Severus started to breathe again, and moved a little. Though he still looked like a very bad case of shock, at least he wasn't quite dead.
Hagrid bent over him and picked him up easily, wrapping him in his giant moleskin coat. "Hospital wing fer you," he said. "It's all right, Madam Pomfrey'll fix yer, yeh'll be right as rain in no time at all, soon as we get yeh warmed up ... The rest of yeh go back inside, and go ter your rooms," he added, over his shoulder. "If I catch any of you lot out here again, there'll be trouble with the Headmaster, you mind. Go on, now!"
The prefects started to pack up the fire bowls, and the rest of the students started to drift back toward the castle.
"Way to spoil a party," mumbled a Hufflepuff, as the students trudged away from the lake.
For once, for a short while, Severus was the center of attention among the Slytherins. His friends all came to visit him in the hospital wing, to see how he was doing and discuss what had happened.
"Really," said Bellatrix, "how horrible it must have been! Having that Mudblood girl prodding and slobbering all over you, poor little Severus." Even when she was trying to be nice, she sounded unpleasantly condescending. Fortunately for her, Madam Pomfrey was out of earshot, or Bellatrix would have gotten a talking-to about her language, even though she was a prefect. Not that it would have had the slightest effect.on her vocabulary.
"If it were me, why, I'd almost rather have died," Bellatrix went on.
"Even being rescued by a Mudblood's better than drowning, though," said Elishi Blaise. "They should have let one of us try to help, instead of her. Those Gryffindors always have to be heroes, even when it puts someone's safety at risk. Stupid."
Severus said nothing. His throat hurt, and his head ached, and he did not feel like talking. He just nodded occasionally, and blinked his eyes, and let them converse, standing by his bed. They seemed to hardly even notice he was listening.
Eventually, thank heavens, Madam Pomfrey came and shooed the Slytherins away, insisting (as she always did, no matter what was wrong with someone) that her patient needed rest and quiet. Finally she turned out the lights and left him to sleep. It was silent in the room at last, and Snape could hear himself think.
In the darkness, safely hidden from everyone, he allowed himself the tiniest hint of a smile.
He hadn't intended to get into a fight (which, indeed, he had not started), and he certainly hadn't enjoyed that freezing plunge, or the terrifying blackness of the moments he'd been trapped under the ice. Luckily, he couldn't remember much of it, but from accounts the others had given, he'd been under for a good two or three minutes before Hagrid pulled him out. He was lucky to be alive.
Though he had no desire at all to go through such an ordeal again, and he would not brush so close with Death for all the gold in Gringotts, he thought that it had not been quite as bad as his friends believed.
For a kiss from Lily, even a rough and awkward one, it had almost been worth it.