True to her word, Lily returned the next day. And the day after that and the day after that. Together we plundered the library. She loved the works of Agrippa, Jigger, Egg and Trimble. We spent the summer hours discussing magical theories, Transfiguration, Charms, and Alchemy, even Quidditch that I had only ever listened to on the wireless.

I remained hidden behind the looking glass. Lily had grown accustomed to this arrangement.

"Are you ever going to come out from there?" she asked. "It's beginning to seem rude."

"I'd rather be rude than frighten you."

"It can't be all that bad. I've seen all sorts of Dark Art curses in The Dark Forces: A Guide to Self-Protection."

"Trust me, it's bad. They could fill a new chapter about me."

She gave me a suspicious grin. "I can't believe you have a copy of Uric the Oddball's biography. In it's original Latin too."

"I can't believe you'd want to read that," I answered. "He thought he was a ghost and wore a jellyfish on his head."

"It's a window to what life was like for wizards in medieval times. No wonder the wizarding world passed the statute of secrecy with all the burnings and executions. And if he's so horrid then how come he's in your library?"

"Books are my friends."

She laughed. "Do they listen to you? Talk back?"

"Some do. Others just feel like they do."

"And what do they say?"

"They tell me about the inner workings of the Wizarding World, its past, present and future goals. About plants and animals, where they live and their uses. Did you know that there is a flower in Nepal that can re-grow cursed limbs? It grows at the highest altitudes and blooms only in the light of a red moon. Then the potion has to be brewed over three full days exactly right or else the drinker could turn into a yak."

"And you'd like to visit all those places yourself?"

I paused. "I… that is not possible I'm afraid. Not right now, anyway."

Lily tossed her head. "I'd love to go climb those mountains and find that flower. I can't wait to leave Hogwarts."

"I'd like to go to Hogwarts," I said. "Is it true that the staircases change places and that some doors only pretend to be doors? What is Dumbledore really like? Is he brilliant or is he mad? What is it like to learn spells in a classroom? Are Gryffindors as brave as they say?"

"Why don't you come this term? I'm sure the Headmaster will allow it if you write to him."

"I told you, the curse—"

"Again with 'the curse,'" Lily snorted. "It's not the curse that keeps you shut away. If you want to do something, do it. Why don't we hop on a couple of brooms and go to a pub for a beer?"

I smiled. "I've never been on a broom before. What if I get bucked off and I fall?"

"Then I'll cast a Levitation Charm to catch you. Every wizard should know how to fly a broom. I bet you've never had a beer either."

"I've had a beer before."

"Not unless you've had one in a pub you haven't."

"Do you know you are so bossy?"

"Do you know that you are a snarky brooder?"

"Do you know that you are my only friend? Whose not in printed form."

She smiled at me and lightly touched the glass. "I think the same about you. You feel like a friend. Like a best friend. I've never had that before."

"Never?"

"Not even from a boyfriend. We would date, but they never felt like a friend. You're different, Sev."

I liked the way she said my name.

"Come to school this year," she said. "You'd better be in Gryffindor."

"Does it make a difference, what house you're Sorted into?" I asked.

Lily hesitated. Her green eyes were hiding something. "No," she said. "It doesn't matter at all."

xXx

It was a particularly gorgeous day in July when Lily came for a visit. I decided to take her for a tour of the gardens and greenhouses. I kept under my Invisibility Cloak. Lily held onto my arm and I felt my stomach turn over. I showed her all the fantastic and non-magical plants, told her where they were from and what sort of properties they possessed. She listened with rapt attention. She was more interested in the Fanged Geraniums and Venomous Tentacula than in the honking daffodils and umbrella-sized flowers.

We returned to the house, Lily had her arms full of spiky, dark red leaves that resembled teeth. The house elf brought us our tea in the music room.

She gestured to the piano. "Do you play?"

I said that I did and she asked if I would play something for her.

"It will be difficult, with my hands under the cloak."

"Then take the silly thing off. I promise I won't run."

"I-I don't think you're ready for that."

"Honestly. Boys can be so odd sometimes. Alright, just your hands then."

I did so and she gasped. "They are so white," Lily said, "and your fingers are so long and lovely. I had no idea. I almost expected claws the way you speak, but your hands are beautiful."

I was grateful for the cloak to hide my blush as I began to play. Lily sat on the bench next to me. I could feel the tip of her shoe touching mine. Her chin came to rest on my shoulder.

"Sev," she whispered. "Let me see you."

"Lily, you don't know—"

"I do. I feel I already know you better than anyone. Like we've been best friends all our lives. The curse isn't who you are. You're brilliant and talented and so gentle, even when we are arguing theories. And you play the piano like an absolute angel."

"You will see!" I moaned. "And you will run. I don't want to lose you, Lily."

"Please, Sev. Is it for my protection or for your own? You can't hide yourself away forever."

Her hands searched for my hood and felt the transparent material there. I stopped her and then slowly, slowly I lifted the fabric away and raised my head.

Lily went chalk white. Her mouth opened but no sound came out. She was trembling so hard that it shook the bench.

"Lily," I said softly.

She yelped and fell backwards onto the floor. I tried to help her up but she scrambled away as if she feared I would bite.

I threw my hands over my face. "I AM a monster!" I ran out of the room, leaving the cloak and my hopes behind me.

My parents caught me before I could reach my chambers.

"Where are you going?" Mother shouted. "You're letting her get away!"

"She saw my face! She's running like all the rest."

"Sweetheart, you're the one running this time. Don't you dare let her get away. We're so close!"

"What's the point? She can't stand the sight of me."

It was Father who spoke up this time. "Ms. Evan is leaving. You should go after her."

"I can't. What could I possibly say to make her want to stay?"

"At least try," Father said. "Gryffindors admire acts of courage."

I ran back down the hall. Lily was heading toward the front door.

"Lily!" I shouted. "Wait! Please! Please don't leave!"

She was still trembling and kept her back to me.

"I know this face repulses you, but this isn't me. I am not the curse. I'm still the same man I was ten minutes ago."

"I know," she said, her voice small. "But—"

"You liked me before. You said we were like best friends, and once the curse is broken I'll be just like everybody else."

"What if the curse can never be broken?"

"Then you can leave me. I'll kill myself, I promise. We'll have the same chance at happiness as anyone else. Please, Lily. Marry me. Marry me because I do love you. Body and soul, I love you."

Lily looked up at me and managed to meet my eyes. "I'm sorry. I can't." And just like that she was gone.

I had been rejected my entire life, but this was the first one that I felt. Nothing had ever felt like this. I was alone again and my heart was broken.

"Don't worry, sweetheart," Mother said. "We'll try again, and again! I'll never give up, Severus!"

And I knew that she meant it. Surprisingly, it was Father who came to check on me in my room.

"Buck up, lad," he said. "You tried."

"She still left," I wept. "And I thought it was finally real. I loved her. Now I wish that I could die."

"You wanted to be normal. You wanted to know what love was like. Well, you have to accept the bad along with the good. Do you think you're the only one to know unrequited love? When I was your age I fancied a witch, but she turned me down. Said she feared our children would have my nose."

"What I wouldn't give to have your nose. Father, what I really want to do is go to school. Let me go to Hogwarts for this final term. Please, I need to do this."

Mother stormed in. "Absolutely not! You'll be seen! Look at what happened today. They'll summon Aurors and take you away to Azkaban!"

"I'll go in disguise!" I exclaimed. "I'll drink Polyjuice Potion every hour for the rest of my life! Please, Mother, let me go for one year and I'll… I'll marry the next girl you bring to me. I promise."

"Darling, you can't—"

"I will go! I'll run away if I must, but I will go. I need to be free. I am not my curse. I need to be free!"

The end of the summer arrived and an owl delivered my acceptance letter. I was going to Hogwarts.

xXx

It was the first time I'd ever seen Kings Cross Station. At first I couldn't believe anyplace could be so crowded or busy. There were students everywhere, carrying trunks, holding owls or cats, chattering away about their summer holidays. I half feared, half hoped but I did not see Lily among them.

I wore a long black robe and a hood pulled low to not draw attention. My face was hidden with an elaborate white and silver mask. Headmaster Dumbledore had indeed been sympathetic to my cause. I was going. I was really on my way to Hogwarts.

On the train I found an empty compartment and sat to watch the students passing by in the corridor. They were laughing and telling stories back and forth. I longed to join them. To be one of them.

After a while the door slid open and three boys about my age came in.

"Alright, yeah?" said a tall, good-looking young man with grey eyes. A short, heavy stock boy with large front teeth and a thin, sickly-looking boy followed him. They all wore Gryffindor-colored scarves. They sat down, the handsome boy continued to talk as if I was not there.

"Hello," said the pale boy directly to me. "Is that you under there, Longbottom?"

I shook my head. "No. I'm a new student."

"Really? You're a bit old for a first year, aren't you?"

"I'll be going into seventh year."

"Are you a transfer student? Drumstrang, perhaps?"

"I was schooled at home. Headmaster Dumbledore let me take some tests and said I knew enough to be getting on with."

The boy seemed impressed. "You must really smart, then."

I shrugged. "A bit."

"A bit he says," the handsome boy laughed. It sounded more like a bark. "So, is that mask for a new fashion statement or just a bad nose job?"

"Yeah," I said quickly. "Bad nose job."

"How bad? Give us a peek." The boy lunged to seize my mask. I dove back.

"Don't!" I cried.

"Leave him alone, Sirius," said the pale boy.

"What? It was just a joke. Ugly kid can't take a joke?"

I didn't think I liked this person.

"Sorry about him," the pale boy said to me. "He can be a bit of an idiot sometimes. Did you really have magical surgery?"

"A bit," I said honestly. "It's not as great as they say."

"Really? How much does it cost? Because I was thinking of having something done myself."

"What could you possibly want done? You look normal to me."

"These scars." The boy ran a hand along his cheeks. "I wouldn't mind losing them."

"I didn't notice."

"Lucky you. I see them everyday. Most people find them disturbing. They avoid me."

"Over those tiny things? They are nothing. You are being foolish."

"Hey!" Sirius sounded angry. "Don't you go calling our Moony 'foolish!'"

"I wasn't. I only meant to say that there are worse things in life."

The handsome boy didn't seem convinced. "Such as?"

I counted on my fingers. "Spattergroit. Dragon pox. Ictheosis."

"Ick-ee-whatsis?"

"Ictheosis," said the pale boy. "It's a skin disease causing a reptile-like appearance." He turned to me and his eyes went wide. "Oh! Oh, right. Um, I guess a few scars aren't so bad after all. Thanks. I'm Remus Lupin."

I shook the hand extended to me. "Severus. Severus Snape." I was thrilled. My first friend at Hogwarts.

"And this is Sirius Black and Peter Pettigrew. We're in Gryffindor. Do you know what house you'll be in?"

I was about to answer when the door opened again and a boy with glasses fell into the car pulling a laughing girl down to the floor with him.

"Give over, James," Sirius said. "The food trolley will be here soon. No need to devour each other."

The girl lifted her eyes to scowl at him.

I froze. It was Lily. She was in the arms of a handsome boy. They were laughing and kissing one another. I wished that I could Disapparate to the ends of the earth. I wished the bottom of the train open up and I'd fall through and be crushed to death. Anything but to have to watch this.

Lily finally managed to stand up, noticed me and gave a slight shriek as she tripped backwards over the boy. She jumped to her feet again. "S-Severus? Is that you?"

"Hello, Lily," I said calmly.

"Sorry. I didn't mean to scream, but… but I didn't expect to see…. What are you doing here?"

"I decided to take your advice and go to school."

"Friend of yours, Lils?" asked the boy with glasses. He looked me up and down as if I were an enemy. On his chest he wore a golden badge with an "H" on it. Lily wore a similar one. The mark of the Head boy and girl I realized.

"W-What?" Lily stammered. "Oh, no. No, not a.. well, sort of. I mean, you could say that we know, that we are aquaint…. A brief meeting over the summer. Not that I know him very well. Hardly at all, really."

"That's right," I said. It cut me to ribbons inside but I endured it. She would not hurt me again.

"W-why are you really here?"

"It's entirely for my own sake. I told you that I wanted to attend Hogwarts and so I am."

"Oh. Ah, any idea what house you'll be in?"

"The Headmaster allowed me a private Sorting during the summer, so I wouldn't have to stand with the first years at least. I'll be in Slytherin."

Sirius made a noise of disgust. "I thought you were all right. But you're just another snake in disguise!"

"No wonder he wears a mask, eh, Sirius? Eh, James?" squeaked the rat-faced boy. "Bet he's as ugly as those wankers too!"

James and Sirius laughed. Lily winced remarkably like my mother.

"What's wrong with being in Slytherin?" I asked. "Both my parents were."

"They're all a bunch of Dark wizards," spat James. "Cheaters and gits the lot of them. Not a single one that has decent bone in their body. I'd have left if I had been Sorted there."

"James!" Lily said. "They are not all as bad as you make them out to be. Some of the brightest students in school are Slytherins."

The boy scoffed and put an arm around her waist. "C'mon, lads. Let go. This compartment stinks anyway."

They all got up to leave. Sirius trod on my foot on the way out. Remus sent me a sympathetic glance but followed his friends all the same.

"I'm sorry about this, Sev-Severus!" She corrected herself.

"It's okay," I answered.

"I guess I'll see you around."

"Sure."

And just like that she was gone, again. It was not more than I had expected things to be. I just wished that I had known how Gryffindors felt toward Slytherins. I would have asked that old Hat to put me in any other house. Dear Merlin, the last thing I needed was another reason for others to reject me.

xXx

A/N: The names of wizard authors were listed on the HP Lexicon.

Cornelius Agrippa: Muggles imprisoned him because they thought his books were evil.

Arsenius Jigger: Magical Drafts and Potions

Mordicus Egg: The Philosophy of the Mundane: Why Muggles Prefer Not to Know

Quentin Trimble:
The Dark Forces: A Guide to Self-Protection

The flower in Nepal is my own invention. Whether or not it can r-grow limbs or turn people into yaks has yet to be proven.