A/n: I told myself that my days of writing fan fiction were over. Apparently I lied. I wrote this over the course of a few days, during that Harry Potter kick I always get after the movies get released. Feel free to help me by pointing out spelling and grammatical errors, or even plot holes. I was half asleep when I proofread, and those sorts of errors happen a lot when the story is long like this.

I'm actually quite fond of this story, and I hope it shows well enough. These sorts of ideas have a way with capturing my heart and mind, they make me want to put effort into writing. :)

Disclaimer: I own nothing.

Happy Reading!


Accidental Apparation

He might not have been in the room. He could feel the lumpy cushion of the Three Broomsticks booth beneath him as he slid into a seat, could hear his own hesitation as he cleared his throat in an attempt to get her attention, but for all the difference it made he might not have even been there. A red curtain of hair hung over her face as she sat with her chin in her hand and her eyes glued to a page of her Muggle Studies book, skimming the paragraphs without ever taking notice of the pale boy who had seated himself so determinedly across from her.

He set a small stack of books down on the table, as if to relay the message that he was not going anywhere. A somewhat battered and often-used copy of Advanced Potion-Making sat on top of the pile, the embossing on the side beginning to peel with age. It stuck out amidst the other, crisper schoolbooks like a shark amidst a sea of goldfish. When he placed the books on the scrubbed tabletop, his fingers lingered over the cover of this book, always considering the contents in the back of his mind, even now.

Still she had not acknowledged him. She seemed as resolute in her decision to ignore him as he was in his mission to be recognized. He gave her plenty of time to look up; during the awkward few minutes of significant, unpleasant silence, he busied himself by watching an old man in a shady traveling cloak pass from table to table, conversing with the other students, casting edgy glances towards the curvy bartender. After a short time, the waiting boy had had enough of this silence. He proceeded to make what was to be the twenty-second attempt at an apology.

"Lily," muttered Severus, his pallid face conveying more apprehension than he would have liked. He was just loud enough so that she could not pretend to ignore him in all the din of the pub. "Listen to me."

Lily tore her eyes from a picture of three Muggles trying to adjust a ceiling light fixture. "I've heard you every time, Severus, and every time you've told me the same rubbish story. I'm quite certain that your apologies will mean the same now as they did yesterday, and the day before that."

"I am sorry. No, listen to me!" he added hastily, as she had turned back to her book with a look of disdain. Severus pressed both of his hands against the table, set his weight against them, and leaned forward to whisper, "You're right, I've said and done some horrible things, and you shouldn't need to make excuses for me anymore. But no matter what, I never meant to call you—that name. You know I think better of you than that."

"Than what, exactly?" Lily demanded, closing her book hard enough to make her butterbeer teeter on the edge of the table. "Than the rest of the Muggleborns, you mean? Well that's just a load of rubbish—"

"No, I mean—I think Muggleborns are better than the stigma they have. And I think of you as my best friend, and I'm sorry that I said what I said." When she continued to look as stonefaced as a statue, Severus sighed, his shoulders hunching like a man defeated. "Just look at me, Lily. I'm…"

Lily eyed him from across the table. Perhaps she noticed that he was paler since they had last had a conversation (quite a feat, considering his natural fairness of skin), or that somewhere in the week between now and the incident involving James Potter and his cronies, Severus had lost over ten pounds because he could not bring himself to eat more than a few bites at every meal. "A mess" was likely what he had intended to say, although shame stopped his tongue from forming the words. Whatever the cause, when she at last opened her mouth to speak, her eyebrows had knitted together in a way that he knew to be a hard look of consideration. It was a good sign, Severus allowed himself to hope, but she never got to say a word. At the very moment where Severus prayed to hear at least a "Keep talking, then", the shady old man from across the bar approached their table.

The man surprised them both out of their conversation when he drew near. The first indication of his arrival was the unique smell that Lily recognized as something she had detected on her sister's breath and clothes after she'd spent a night out with her thick boyfriend. Severus must have recognized it, too, for he pulled a face and turned just as the man appeared at the head of their booth.

"'Lo, kids," he greeted them. His voice was deep but absent, as if he were not quite conscious. He rapped his fingers against the edge off the table, shooting a glace over his shoulder towards the bar. "Just opened a pawn shop down the street a bit o' ways, and I was wonderin' if you might like to do some business."

"We're not interested," said Severus.

The man, whose gaze had been fixed on Lily previously, turned and seemed surprised to see Severus sitting there with a scowl fixed on his face. He stared.

"You haven't got nothing you want to sell?" he asked. "No old jewelery or books? That one looks like an antique." He gestured to Advanced Potion-Making, upon which Severus placed a defensive hand at its acknowledgement. "Why not sell it and get a newer edition? I got one in the shop."

The already deep frown on Severus's mouth twitched even further. "Not interested."

"Aw, come on. Don't you wanna support small business—?"

"I think you'd better go, before Rosmerta catches you soliciting in her pub," Lily cut in, her frown now as deep as that of Severus.

The grungy man sighed and pulled the hood of his cloak up over his head. "Fine, fine, I see how it is! I'll be on my way, then—whoops! I'm sorry, ma'am, I'm jus' a klutz, ain't I?"

As he had turned to leave, the man's elbow had connected with Lily's full mug of Butterbeer, sending it and all its contents cascading across the tabletop like a fountain of golden water. Lily gasped in surprise, the man reached between the two of them and grabbed a fistful of napkins from the holder on the windowsill. He threw them down on the table and started to mop up the spilled drink.

"Please, Sir, I've got it!" Lily said, already withdrawing her wand and throwing out an arm to stop the man as he made to reach for more napkins. "Just—leave us, please."

"Right, sorry."

The man turned again, stuffing his hands into the pockets of his cloak, and headed for the door. The pungent odor followed him away from the booth. Unsettled by the man's quick appearance and departure, Lily siphoned away the rest of her drink with a casual flick of her wand, returned the wand to its resting place her bag, then turned back to Severus. She took a breath, and resumed eyeing Severus as if the man had never disrupted him.

"You were saying?"

"Right. Like I was saying," Severus blinked, moving his hand to rest atop his Potions book. "I think we need to—oi!"

The book was gone; Severus's hand landed on an unread, barely-opened copy of A History of Magic instead of his Potions book, the book in which he had poured so much of himself over the past five years. Momentarily forgetting his confrontation with Lily, he leaped to his feet, wrenched his wand out from his robe pocket, and started after the man who had just disappeared through the doorway. Lily, recognizing the murderous look in his eye, grabbed her shoulder bag from the booth seat and took off after him. If she did not catch up, the man wouldn't need to worry about making money much longer.

"Severus!"

Heads all around the room swiveled at the sound of her shout, watching with the sort of interest one might employ on a mildly entertaining stage show. Lily pretended not to see them, was glad that James Potter was nowhere nearby to stick his two-cents into their business; had he been here, she would have needed more than just herself to keep the fighting to a minimum. After the little incident between Severus and James, she had assumed an indifference to both of them, ignoring the empty seat next to Severus in potions and, with slight more difficulty, James's comedic ventures in Transfiguration. Still, though she was fuming at the both of them for their displays after O.W.L.'s last week, she would not let Severus be kicked out of school for attacking a thief in Hogsmeade. Any curse that he used was liable to be a dangerous one.

Tearing out of the bar, Lily spotted Severus still chasing the pawnbroker, who had broken into a run upon being discovered, down the busy street. She sprinted after him, wishing as she did that she wasn't so dreadfully slow. After what felt like ten minutes but was really just a few seconds, she caught up to Severus as he closed the gap between he and the thief. Lily was almost too late; Severus had his wand poised to strike, his other hand reaching for the man's shoulder so he could spin him around and blast him in the face.

"Severus, no!"

She reached out and felt her fingers close around her friend's thin wrist just as he grabbed hold of the man, and all of a sudden something strange happened. The most unpleasant sensation engulfed her, a pressure pushing in from all sides, as if she had been stuck in an enormous plastic bag and submerged underwater. She could feel Severus's skin under hers but had no sense of perception, direction, or distance. Just a horrible, sickening panic. Surely she was about to drown in this vast nothingness—

And then, quite out of nowhere, Lily could breathe. Gasping, she collapsed into the grass, still clinging to Severus while he remained standng. She became aware of her surroundings in snatches of information. They had apparated, she for the first time in her life. The man that had stolen Severus's book stood before them only long enough to throw something onto the ground at her feet, make a grumbled comment that she did not catch, and then disappear with a loud crack. The second he was gone, Severus dropped beside her on the ground.

"What—was that?" she huffed, casting a glance in his direction, only to regret it immediately. Severus had pushed up the sleeve of her cloak to reveal that her forearm, her hand, were covered in scarlet blood. There was a long gash just below her elbow, as if someone had taken a filet knife and swiped her like one would slice a scaly fish. She gave a little shriek and her vision spun. Alarmed, Severus caught her around the shoulders to keep her from toppling over. He shuffled behind her and rested her mostly limp figure against his own frame so that she would not wind up on the ground.

"Shh… you've been splinched, just try to relax a second…"

Prying her fingers off of his wrist, as she had yet to relinquish her white-knuckled grip, Severus plucked up his wand from where it lay on the ground and began to run it over the gash, muttering what sounded like nonsense to Lily under his breath. She fought for consciousness by looking around the clearing at which they had appeared only a minute before. They must have been dragged here by accidental sidelong apparation, though she could not say for certain where "here" was… it was certainly not Hogsmeade, but rather an immense, green field of grass and tall weeds. Off to the far right and left were clusters of forest trees, and ahead a long while was a gap between stretches of grass. Perhaps a road. Her arm had not stung until she'd looked down and noticed the injury, and even now that pain began to dissipate as Severus tended to it. Lily closed her eyes and slipped an inch down his chest.

"Where'd you learn this?" she mumbled.

Severus gathered her hair in the hand that was not holding a wand and brushed it to one shoulder, out of the way. In order to hold her arm and cast his spell upon it he needed to reach around either side of her, which would have made for an awkward situation had she not been on the verge of passing out. Even so, his heart was rattling in his ribcage like a zoo animal shaking the bars, desperate, frightened, even a little hungry.

"My mother taught me the basics and I tweaked them, though I've never had much practice… I don't spend much time around my father these days, you see."

She made a understanding noise that he did not take for pity. Lily Evans knew better than to pity his situation at home; he had told her many times that he did not feel sorry for himself on this account, and therefore nor should she. The pair lapsed into silence once more, save for his occasional murmur as he did his best to lace the flesh of her cut back together. After a while, he cleaned the drying blood away and propped Lily into a more upright position.

"Thanks, Sev."

"You're lucky it was such a shallow cut, I don't think that old thief meant to bring us along wherever he took us. Or maybe he did, just to shake us off. Either way…" Severus rose to his feet, dusting off his school robes and peering around as if he expected to see the school's high turrets looming in the distance. "I have no idea where we are."

Lily was sitting upright now, and examining the thin red line that was left of her injury.

"It's okay, we'll figure it out," she said, rolling the sleeve cuff over her arm. "Gosh, I'm so tired now!"

"Yeah, well you lost a bit of blood just then, didn't you? You should have something to drink. Here, let me help you—" She grabbed his hand and he helped her to her feet. "We've got to get back to the school. Madame Pomfrey will be able to make sure that doesn't scar."

"Good plan, Sev. Let me just recuperate for a second and then we can go."

Lily only swayed once as she rummaged through her bag for her wand. She transfigured a nearby rock into a goblet, filled it with water, and used it to wash down three Muggle painkillers that she also procured from her bag.

"I can't always get to the infirmary when I have a headache," she defended herself upon seeing Severus's lofted eyebrows. "Muggle medicine worked for the first eleven years of my life, so I don't see why it can't help now—"

"I never said anything!"

"Yeah, well you were thinking it. We all know how you feel about my lot and their medicinal practices anyway."

Lily seemed to have remembered, at this comment, that she was supposed to be angry with Severus, and thus didn't say another word as they set off for the road. Severus stopped only to pick up Advanced Potion-Making, which the thief had discarded upon realizing that the book was unremarkable and covered in graffiti.

xXx

It became clearer and clearer as they walked that they were not in Hogsmeade anymore. The road opened up after ten minutes' walk uphill to a beachfront town, where houses big and small dotted the shoreline. They, standing on the crest of the hill and looking down upon the town, were too far away to hear the waves yet, but the air held a light sea breeze that tangled with their hair, their sweeping robes.

Lily, whose family used to own a cottage on the sea when she was little, was pleased but not overwhelmed upon seeing the vast blanket of water stretching out across the horizon. It was like a comforting memory in an uncomfortable situation, and for a moment she paused to look upon the sight with a small smile, recalling happier times with her sister and her parents. Severus stopped beside her, but his reaction was quite different than hers. Many children see the ocean at so young an age that the first encounter is lost from memory, the first impact is spread out over the course of years until it turns into a normality. This was the case for Lily, but not for Severus. She heard him give a tiny intake of breath, his feet halting beside hers as if he'd walked into an invisible wall or a shield charm, and realized that some children have never seen the ocean at all.

This revelation startled away her supposed anger with him. He had a knack for doing that.

"Isn't it magnificent?"

He did not respond. After a moment he seemed to realize that he had been holding his breath and let it out in a long, slow sigh, blinking under the partly cloudy skies and reveling in what the earth had to behold.

"We must be on a coast," deduced Lily, whose surprise at the sight had faded. "Now if only we knew which one… come on, Sev."

With that, she tugged him into awareness and they began down the slope of the hill. The town was moderate in size. It had no skyscrapers, but some of the buildings were massive and brick-faced, looking down upon them as if it recognized that they were strangers here. Lily felt rather conspicuous in her black school clothes and voiced as much to Severus, who nodded in agreement. They would have to wear Muggle clothes until they found a way to get home, if indeed this was a Muggle town. They would need some place to stay over night, which also meant that they would need some Muggle money, and since they could not legally transfigure Muggle money, they needed a Wizard bank, and that meant—well, they were certainly in trouble.

"We'll figure something out," Severus said reassuringly, almost reading her mind. "Let's just figure out where we are."

The answer to this question came to them from the first place they stopped, which happened to be a butchery. The butcher, a thin, wiry man with a jolly aura that did not match his physique, asked upon seeing the two young adults in their peculiar attire whether or not they had come from yesterday's "Wicca" convention up at the casino. Lily said yes as Severus shook his head 'no', further confusing the man into asking them if they were on any sort of drugs.

"No, we're just lost!" snapped Severus, somewhat irately.

"It's true, Sir. Most of our bags were stolen from us at the, er, convention, and now we're not quite sure what to do," said Lily, who could not tear her eyes from what looked like half a skinned cow dangling from the ceiling. "Could you tell us where we are?"

"Sure, you're in Mooring, New Jersey."

"New Jersey?" Lily repeated, nonplussed.

The butcher set down his gigantic, bloody knife and stared over the top of the counter at the two travelers, looking like he'd never seen anything quite so strange in his life. The pretty redheaded girl and her tall, scowling friend, dressed in cloaks as if it were December and not late spring, wondering around the street like a couple of lost puppies.

"You sound foreign. But how could you not realize that you're in the United States?" said the man, at long last. "Are you sure you're not on anything?"

At this, Lily saw Severus's hand twitch towards the pocket where his wand was stored and grabbed his hand to stay him. She didn't want to have to obliviate a bunch of Muggles on account of panic. The butcher, too, saw this gesture and took it for something completely different. His cheerful, albeit bemused, grin vanished beneath his yellow-white mustache as he came to believe that he was in danger.

"Now listen, you two… I don't want to have to start any trouble. If you intend to rob my store, I swear you'll never see the end of it!" He said, picking up his butcher knife. There was a glint of mad protectiveness in his eye. Lily knew better than to make him feel any more defensive than he already was. Still gripping Severus's hand, she stepped back from the counter.

"Sir, don't mean to scare you! We're strangely-dressed and—and quite broke, but harmless," she insisted. "If you could only just point us in the right direction, we'll be on our way."

"Hmm…"

The man eyed them a little more, again setting the knife down on the counter top. Lily held her breath, took a hasty step back as the man reached for the underside of the counter, and then relaxed as he resurfaced with a sheet of paper. He handed it across the gap between them to Severus, who took it, still frowning.

"As a rule of thumb, I don't hand cash to anyone who comes walking in here—what would I be, a socialist ATM machine? But here's a couple of coupons for the casino, they hand 'em out every so often because they built it on our land. See if that does you any good." He smiled again, but it was forced. "Although you do look a little young to be gambling…"

"Oh no, we're old enough," said Severus, pocketing the sheet of coupons with the calm air of one discussing the weather with a comrade, not lying through his teeth about his age, all he while surrounded by butchered animal corpses. Lily squeezed his hand. Time to go.

"Thank you very much, Sir," Lily said, and dragged Severus out of the butchery before either man could get another word in. As soon as they were out of earshot of the place, Lily gave a frustrated growl and pulled her cloak over her head so that she stood in her school uniform. "Ugh! We did not prepare for that properly," she spat, more angry with herself than with Severus or the butcher.

"He wasn't exactly the most generous man, was he?" Severus said, following Lily's lead and removing his cloak. "Coupons, how useless. Although I might have done the same if I'd seen us, walking into his shop looking like a couple of… I don't know—"

"Freaks," Lily cut in, putting a hand to her head as she swayed, still a bit dizzy from her injury. "Like a couple of freaks. We should have taken our cloaks off first, at least that way we don't look quite so odd… ah, well. It's too bad about the casino, really. My mum and dad used to go once in a while, sometimes they actually made some money—what?"

Severus was looking at her with an expression of mild disbelief.

"We're wizards, Lily," he said hollowly. He looked around to make sure that they were the only ones in sight, then took out the sheet and coupons and his wand, and duplicated the sheet of paper ten times. "If we want to gamble, we're going to gamble. And if we're not clever enough to trick a bunch of Muggles into believing we're of age, then we might as well snap our wands and join them."

"Ah," Lily said. "That'll do it."

xXx

By the time they made it to the casino, the sun had begun to set. The place had not been difficult to find. On the contrary, it loomed over everything else in the town once they opened their eyes properly, a monster of a building that took up a large chunk of the seashore. Although it was made by Muggles, Severus had a nagging suspicion that some of the architects had to have been Wizards, for he could see no other way that the structure could have been designed to be so tall, so magnificent, so… sparkling. The sun's waning light cast the endless windows and metallic plating in a twinkling orange, so that the very building might have caught fire.

He and Lily ducked behind one of the many broad pillars that supported the front overhang, under which cars and limousines were pulling up to drop off animated gamblers or pass the keys to the valet. At this time of day, the casually-dressed people had begun to filter out of the massive, stained glass front doors, to make way for the flood of beautiful people in formal attire. Severus and Lily spied on these unsuspecting patrons, searching for the best method of entry. They saw dinner jackets on men, ironed trousers and pocket watches, bow ties and shined shoes. The women were all in dresses—dresses in all shapes and sizes and colors, for women of all shapes and sizes and colors. No matter the outfit, every single person passing through those doors was no less than thrilled to be there; in the cases where people had slipped out of limousines, the excitement was conveyed with hauteur. Most times, though, the people were just smiling.

"Okay. Okay…"

Lily grabbed Severus's shoulder and spun him around to face her, wand drawn and jaw set in determination.

"This is really difficult transfiguration, but I've been studying it quite hard for a few months and I think I've finally got it down," she said. Lily muttered an incantation under her breath, poked him once in the chest, and the black portion of his green-striped tie blossomed across the entire piece of clothing, spreading like spilled ink until the entire tie became as black as could be. She waved her wand twice more and his button-up shirt became designer, his slacks lost all traces of fading. Before he could open his mouth to compliment her magic, he was wearing a suit and tie that even the rich James Potter would have envied, had he had a taste for the finer aspects of Muggle life.

Then Lily turned the wand on herself, and her school uniform became an ivy green evening gown that clung in all the places that made Severus glad she could not see his face flush in the shadow of the pillar. She conjured out of air a necklace, earrings, and ring, all studded with fake diamonds that did not look false, then slipped these on and transfigured her shoes into something more outfit-appropriate. When she was finished, the only flaw that he could see (not that he was predisposed to overlook her flaws, of course) was the thin red line on the upper side of her forearm, the result of the splinching from their accidental apparation.

"All set?" asked Severus, clearing his throat when she beamed at him.

"Yes," Lily replied, turning her shoulder bag into a black purse and tucking her wand inside it. "I'm afraid that we still don't look quite old enough, but I daresay nobody would ever guess that we're sixteen. I do hope we make enough to stay somewhere; I really don't like the idea of sleeping in a back alley." She linked her arm in his the way that they had seen many of the Muggles do, and together they left the shelter of the pillar to join the rest of the ambling crowd.

The inside of the casino was just as remarkable as the outside, albeit filled with the scent of expensive cigars. Despite their efforts to look as if they belonged there, the pair could not help but look around as the casino unfolded at their feet. The place was decked in marble and gold, with flowing fountains and extravagant designs carved into the walls. Out of hidden speakers drifted a smooth, upbeat jazz. All the guests were filing through several checkpoints stationed horizontally across the doorway. When they reached one, a burly guard in a pinstriped tuxedo asked for their ID. The sign on the checkpoint table read 'No one under 21 years of age may enter the casino after 5 p.m., weekdays excluded'.

"What sort of ID would you require?" asked Lily.

"License will do just fine."

"Oh. Er—of course. Hang on, then…"

Severus frowned as she released his arm to dig into her purse. A few seconds later she pulled out two New York drivers licenses, one for each of them. Smiling, she passed them to the bouncer, who examined them a little longer than he had examined the others before handing them back. If he had had doubts as to their age, the ID's had proved him wrong. They seemed as legitimate as anyone else's.

"Enjoy your night."

Even Severus could not conceal a smirk as they passed through the checkpoint and onto the floor.

The coupons proved helpful, though not at first. Lily and Severus together won only ten dollars with all that the coupons had offered in free slots. They lost most of it in a round of roulette, and then gained it back threefold when Severus proved to be an adroit poker player. He handed her half of his winnings after a while at the table, which she lost in several rounds of setback before winding her way through the crowd to find a bar.

"Here," she murmured to in his ear as she placed a drink down in front of Severus.

He was seated at the same poker table where she had left him almost an hour before, except his pile of chips had grown to be rather large. He thanked her without tearing his eyes away from his cards, and she in turn took her place behind his chair to watch.

Most of the people at the poker table were men, some with their wives standing behind their chairs as Lily stood with Severus. Only one woman was playing, and she had several empty martini glasses by her place. The drink seemed to have affected her play, for her pile of chips was far less impressive than that of most others. Lily didn't know much about poker, as much as she hated to admit it. Her father was excellent at it, and he had tried on a number of occasions to teach it to his daughters; only Petunia had caught on. So she watched, unsure of what was happening but very much aware that Severus had an incredible poker face.

When the round ended and the dealer was shuffling the cards, the man in the seat next to Severus turned to face them.

"You play a lot of poker, boy?" he asked. He spoke without bothering to remove the cigar from his mouth, and as a result it bobbed up and down with the movements of his jaw. He had a halo of cherry-scented smoke around his face.

"Sometimes," admitted Severus with a shrug. "My friends and I play every once in a while."

Lily pictured Severus and his would-be Death Eater friends sitting around in the Slytherin common room (which she had never seen, but pictured to look like some sort of medieval torture chamber), playing poker and planning the horrible things they were going to do to the next Mudblood that gave them a 'dirty look'…

No, don't think like that. Not right now.

Lily shook her hear head to rid herself of these unwanted thoughts. Severus was different than the other kids he hung out with, was he not? Unlike them, he could talk to her—nay, refused to go without talking to her, a Muggleborn, against all of his supposed 'beliefs'. Maybe he was just confused about what he wanted to do with his life. Severus was a product of his house, but he was also kindhearted, and she would ignore his faults, the dark undertones of his character, the episode that had torn a significant hole in their friendship, until they got to a place where she could consider them in privacy: Hogwarts, preferably.

The man with the cherry cigar gestured to her as the dealer began passing cards.

"And who is this?" he asked, pointing his cigar at Lily as if she were not standing there to speak for herself. "Your wife?"

"Er—no," Severus began awkwardly. "She's my…"

"I'm his fiancée," said Lily, coming to her friend's rescue. She reached out a hand so that the man could see the sparkling, phony diamond ring on her finger. "The wedding is next month."

The man gave a low whistle, which sounded muffled with the cigar twitching between his teeth. "Well congratulations to you both! How many games of poker did that one cost you?"

Lily and the man both laughed. Severus gave the sort of tight-lipped smile that did not cover up all of the stress he was feeling at the moment.

"Oh, don't ask! I don't even want to know," Lily exclaimed in an airy voice. "The very thought keeps me up at night."

"Well, if I may be so bold as to comment," said the man, picking up his cards as they were dealt to him and wincing at what was apparently not a great hand. He tapped the cigar against a nearby ashtray and stuck it back in his mouth, then once more addressed Severus as if Lily were not there, "You have quite a beautiful lady, my friend. You ought to consider yourself lucky; she's quite a catch."

Severus took a swig of whatever it was that Lily had placed in front of him. It tasted like scotch. He picked up his cards, studied them with no expression, and responded, "Of that, I am very much aware."

Lily smiled and set her hands on his shoulders, gave them a light squeeze. Severus was not by typical means an 'attractive' man, but the fitted suit rendered him oddly handsome. She didn't suppose that he realized how much being away from judgmental peers changed his posture, his overall appearance.

Severus could feel his heart hammering in his chest again, rattling at his ribs like a caged animal. This he attributed to the fantastic cards he had just been dealt instead of Lily's hands on his shoulders, and with a straight face proceeded to win two hundred dollars.

xXx

Lily was thrilled with the outcome of their (mostly Severus's) gambling. So sure was she that they had it made it big, that when they traded in their chips for cash, she asked the casino attendant where they could book a suite to stay in. Only with the reply did she falter.

"A thousand dollars?" gasped Lily.

"Yes, ma'am," said the attendant.

"For one night?"

"Mhmm."

Fortunately, the attendant was kind enough to pull up a list of nearby hotels, and even went as far as to call and reserve for them the cheapest room in the cheapest hotel that they could find—and even so, the room still cost almost more than they could afford. The woman told Lily that they could take a shuttle down the street to where the hotel was situated on the beach, and pointed them in the right direction. Affronted still by the audacity of the casino to charge such prices, Lily left the desk with an amused Severus in tow.

On their way to the shuttle port, they poked their heads into one of the gigantic venues and saw that a live death metal concert was in motion. Severus, who was fascinated by the sight of a mosh pit, could only be pulled away from the sight when Lily caught that strange scent drifting through the air again—the one that had followed the pawnbroker, and her sister.

"Come on Sev, I think they might be smoking something in there," she finished, once she vocalized her recognition.

He straightened up, disappointed at not being able to watch any longer but confused by her assertions. "Why would they smoke something that smells so bloody awful?"

"Beats me—hey, look, I found the shuttle thing!"

They clambered onto a bus with a few other couples and rode down until they reached their hotel, where Lily grudgingly parted with one-hundred and fifty dollars of their earnings.

The room was even smaller than Severus had imagined it to be. For all their money spent, they opened the door to find a tiny little room with one bedroom, bathroom, and attached kitchen. The only redeeming factor was their spectacular view of the ocean through a pair of sliding glass doors that lead to a small balcony. There was only one bed, but Lily was not concerned, nor would she hear his offer to sleep on the floor.

"Here," she said, once they'd transfigured their formalwear into more comfortable clothes for sleeping. She pulled back the top blanket and the sheet, and slipped beneath the latter. "I'll sleep under the sheet and you sleep on top of it. That way we both have a blanket, but it won't seem like we're sharing."

Severus hesitated. Regardless of her claims, it did seem an awful lot like sharing. She sighed at his unconvinced expression, pulling the covers up to her waist.

"It's a big bed, Sev. Be a man and sleep in it, won't you?"

In the end, he consented and, feeling a bit surreal as he did so, climbed under the top cover and sidled down to the pillow beside Lily Evans, who seemed so unperturbed that he became certain that she either did this often or was exaggerating her level of calm. She bid him good night, and clicked the lights off with the promise that in the morning they would figure out how to get home.

But Severus could not sleep, even long after Lily's breathing became slow and light. He lay with his back to her, clutching the top blanket in his hands and attempting to clear his mind of any and all thoughts regarding the redhead, how she had looked in that dress, how she had thought up so easily the lie that they were engaged. Valiant though his efforts were, the sound of her quiet breathing just behind him served as a reminder of where they were, and where they had come from.

And to think, he had only been trying to stop a thief from stealing his most precious book. If word got out that he and Lily had wound up here and done everything they had, he would never live it down. He could think of at least one person that would love to pummel him for having been here. One bespectacled, mop-headed, arrogant prick.

Oh come off it, don't think of James Potter at a time like this!

Lily gave a soft, shuddery sigh in her sleep, her leg brushing his as she shifted. Blanket barrier or no, the momentary touch reminded him of Lily with her hands upon his shoulders, Lily surveying him in his fitted suit with a smile of approval…

Ah, don't dwell on that either. Probably not the best idea.

Severus frowned in the darkness. While he attempted to force all thoughts of Lily out of his mind by staring at the massive stretch of white wall before him, he wondered what procedures were being done to relocate them. In all his time at Hogwarts, he had not heard of any students who had vanished, at least not for more than a little while. It might have been only a few hours ago that they were reported missing, the Evans girl and the Snape boy. Sometimes students slipped off to the library and went unaccounted for for hours. Maybe the professors were searching the woods for them, or maybe some of the people who had seen them run from the pub had come forward to give testimony as to the nature of their disappearance. Hopefully nobody had contacted Lily's poor, Muggle parents about it. How they would worry so for the disappearance of their daughter, especially since she had told them about the Dark Lord on the rise growing ever more powerful… Severus closed his eyes and willed himself to sleep as well, and after some time he too began to doze…

They were jolted awake a little after two in the morning, when a most unseemly sound boomed from the floor above. Severus nearly toppled out of bed trying to grab his wand from the bedside table, but Lily sat up much more slowly, rubbing her eyes.

"Sev…?"

"Yeah, I've got it, hold on… lumos."

Blinking in the sudden light, the pair shared a look of incredulity as the sound—no, the sounds—continued overhead. At first he thought that the woman on the floor above might have been hurt and cried out in pain. There was a thump, the floor creaked, and then from above came a shuddering groan. Severus felt his eyes widen in disbelief and mingled horror as the cause for the noise became suddenly clear.

Lily clapped her hands over her mouth to hide a devilish grin, but could not stifle the embarrassed giggle that followed the gesture.

"I'll bet you anything they won big at the casino, too," said Lily through the hand clamped tightly over her mouth.

Severus did not even try stop the tiny smirk from turning in the corners of his mouth. "We didn't win big, Lily. We barely broke two hundred dollars!"

"Have you ever held that much money in your hand at one time before tonight?"

"Well, no," Severus admitted.

"There you have it, then," Lily said decisively, then added as another enraptured cry resonated from the upper floor, "They must be celebrating."

"You're hilarious," Severus deadpanned, by now already waving his wand at the ceiling to cast a silencing barrier between the rooms. When he finished, his wand arm remained aloft so that they were bathed in the silvery light. The smile had not yet faded from Lily's face, and when she tore her fascinated eyes from the ceiling to meet his, Severus felt the most unwelcome desire to lean across the minute gap and kiss her. She simpered at his gaze, which she took to be one of exasperation with her amusement rather than self-loathing. Severus put out the light, bathing them in a swathe of soft darkness, and settled back down in his spot. Lily followed suit a few moments later.

Try as he might, sleep was much harder to come by the second time around. For the last few months he had been attempting to learn the art of Occlumency, which was supposedly an admirable trait for Death Eaters. He found himself quite skilled at it, even from the beginning, but at this moment all of his practice was in shambles. No matter how many times he cleared his mind in hopes that it would help to bring him to sleep, his brain was penetrated by indecorous and absurd thoughts and questions. How many other people in this little seaside town, even in this shabby hotel, were fornicating right now while he lay here, tucked as far away from his friend as he could without falling off the bed. Maybe—and this was the most ridiculous thought of all—everyone in the entire building was either having sex right now or had done so during his sleep. Severus sighed in frustration and pulled his pillow over his head. He didn't even want sex, he didn't like the idea of sex. Regardless of what his hormones said, Severus could not even confront the idea in his mind, not when he was so uncomfortable with himself and everyone else that he refused to go to the public swimming pool for the first eleven years of his life, that he left the room whenever Travers was getting dressed in their dormitory so that the same could be expected of him. And yet, there were the illogical thoughts flitting through his mind, sometimes in the illusion that he could still hear those Muggles upstairs, other times in the form of his own real memories, only they became memories distorted and strange and—and immoral, as far as he was concerned, and he would not have it.

Severus clamped his eyes shut and forced himself to think of all those things which he either hated or found so complicated that they would distract him from those other thoughts. He thought of James Potter, of the Dark Lord's inevitable rise to power and what he, Severus, could learn from such a Master. He thought of his mother, fending for herself back home, and of his copy of Advanced Potion-Making and how he had only begun to scratch the surface of the revisions that poorly-made book required.

Off on the other side of the bed, he heard Lily sigh as he had sighed, and then heard the creak of the mattress as she climbed out of bed.

"Severus, are you asleep?" she whispered, so quietly as to not wake him up if he was.

Severus heard her but did not reply, because he was lying in bed in shorts and a t-shirt with a pillow clutched over his head, battling away the illogical thoughts in his head like a medieval knight. If he responded to her now, while in such a frazzled state, he would end up spilling his guts before he could stop himself.

He listened as Lily padded across the carpeted room and into the small tiled kitchen. He heard the sound of a cabinet opening, of clinking glasses, running water, then more footfalls. There was a dull thud as she placed one of the glasses on his bedside table. She was standing in front of him, on his side of the bed, watching him in his supposed sleep. Severus willed himself to breathe slow, breathe easy, don't you let her think you're awake because then you'll have to talk. But she didn't seem interested in talking, and after a few painstaking moments she headed back to her side of the bed to put her own glass down. The only sign that she had ever had a second thought was just before she left his side, when she breathed a tiny, almost inaudible sigh.

xXx

By the time Severus awoke, the Muggle clock on the bedside table read 11:27 and the sun was casting rays of warm light over the room's shabby carpeting. His throat was sore from the casino's thick cigarette and cigar smoke air, but otherwise he found himself unaffected by yesterday's mad dash for money and a place to sleep. He had kicked the blankets off of himself during the night, and the pillow that he had been holding to his head had slipped to the floor. He lay there for a while, facing the wall, in that strange middle ground between sleep and waking.

Eventually he rolled onto his back and propped himself into a sitting position by the arms, from where he could turn his head and survey the rest of the room. Indeed, there was a glass of water on his bedside table, proving that in spite of his wishes, he had not been dreaming. Severus turned the other way and there was Lily, sprawled out across all of the space that he had not been occupying, her hair a wild red tangle that spilled across her pillow, her face, her shoulders. It was then that Severus realized he hadn't kicked the blankets off, but had had them stolen; Lily was wound tightly inside the sheets, visible only from her arms up, besides half of the leg that was poking out from the bottom of her sheet wrap. One of her hands rested beside his, not an inch away. The earrings that he had been wearing had vanished with her outfit, but the necklace and, he realized with a small jolt, the ring, remained. Severus allowed himself the guilty pleasure of watching her for a minute or two before he stood up, stretching and yawning, and helped himself to the glass of water. He would shower, brush his teeth with one of the complimentary, pre-packaged toothbrushes in the bathroom, and when Lily woke up they would figure out how to get home. Apparating was going to be a no-go, as neither knew how and side-long apparation had nearly caused Lily to lose her arm, but he was confident that they would think of something. And if they couldn't… Severus cast a look over his shoulder at the sleeping woman in the bed… well, he wouldn't be too put off if they had to stay in this town a few more days. Even if they ran out of money, he could make just about any place livable, if not comfortable.

Severus had almost closed the bathroom door when a small "hey" from the other side of the room halted him. Poking his head out of the door, he saw that Lily had sat up in bed and was looking back at him, rubbing her eyes. She was a mess of wound-up bedclothes and straggly red hair.

"Hi," he said in return.

"Leave your clothes outside the door," she said groggily. "I'll transfigure them if you don't know how to."

Severus nodded and withdrew into the bathroom, where he stripped down and shoved his shirt and shorts (there was absolutely no need to subject Lily to dealing with his underwear), through the partly open door. He took a quick shower, during which the door opened a slight bit and then closed again as Lily dropped off his clothes (he thanked God for solid shower curtains at this point), then toweled-dried and went to the white-tiled countertop to see what she'd left him.

She hadn't been kidding when she'd said that transfiguring clothing from one thing to another was tricky magic; the Muggle clothes she'd set on the counter looked nothing like what he'd slept in, or the outfit he'd sported at the casino, or his school robes. Now the cotton t-shirt and shorts had been turned into a black, collared button-up shirt and tan shorts. Severus turned the clothes over in his hands. They were warm and clean. She must have used some sort of laundering spell. Smiling slightly to himself, he dressed and left the room so that Lily could have a turn.

There was no food in the refrigerator, he discovered upon searching for something to eat. The Muggles who had occupied the room previously had left half a loaf of bread, but it had turned a shade of green that Severus did not trust. If they had been at Hogwarts, he would be in Potions class right now, and then he would run off to have a quick lunch before Defense Against the Dark Arts. It was strange to think, now that O.W.L's were over, that he had two years of school left before graduating, at which point… His path seemed clear, as much as he often debated in vain with himself. Joining the Dark Lord's ranks was not so much a question as an undeniable truth that he had not yet come to face. Because, as Lily had pointed out more than a dozen times in the last few years, his choice would draw a line irrevocably between them.

Severus paced over to the sliding glass window, pulled it open, and stepped out onto the balcony. The morning sky was bright and clear, the warm air thick with salt and sun. He leaned against the glass, slid down to the ground, and put his chin in his hands as he stared out across the ocean. As remarkable a sight as it was, even the ocean's magnificent vastness could not stop a wave of confliction from rolling over him.

While he sat, Lily stuck her head out of the bathroom and called, "Sev, could you hand me my wand? I left it on the—Severus?"

She had caught sight of him sitting with his knees bent up towards his chest on the balcony. The bathroom door closed and then opened again a moment later, and Lily was in the doorway, donned in a fluffy white bathrobe that had been hanging on the back of the door, her wet hair hanging limp at her shoulders.

"Are you all right, Sev?" she asked, stepping outside.

Severus scrambled to his feet when he looked up and saw her. "I'm fine," he said in a low voice, which served more or less as a confirmation that he was not. "Just thinking."

Lily made a 'mhmm' noise to indicate her skepticism. "You seem to be doing a lot of that these days," she said.

They turned together and stepped to the edge of the balcony, to face the ocean. She crossed her arms against her chest, he gripped the peeling rail that served as a barrier between them and a two-story drop. For the longest time, they stood in silence. He could hear the waves breaking the otherwise perfect silence, crashing to the shore with the same level of intensity that he was practing to keep his mouth shut.

"I still can't believe you're going to join Him," Lily breathed, at last. She had read his emotions as only she could do. "I just don't understand it."

"I couldn't expect you to."

"But why, Severus?" She turned to look at him, but his gaze remained locked on the horizon.

"It's where I need to be," said Severus with a one-shouldered shrug. "I belong there, with…those people. It's just a part of who I am, isn't it?"

"I don't think it is," Lily said. "I don't think you're like them. You just act like them because you were put in Slytherin. It's part of the house mentality; people conform to whatever customs become expected of them. In your case… well, You-Know-Who was in Slytherin, wasn't he? So it would be natural for you to think you need to join those awful people when you really don't." She paused, as if expecting him to make a comeback. "I could be right, couldn't I?"

Severus just shrugged again. Of course, he had thought of all these arguments on his own, and hearing Lily reiterate them didn't change anything but how he currently felt. What had started off as an optimistic mood was turning at an alarming rate back into the surliness that so often plagued his head and heart. His fingers gripped the railing until they became stiff and cold.

"We can't keep this going, you know," Lily said, after another pause. "Our friendship. Things are going to change—they already have, actually."

"I know."

"You called me Mudblood, Severus. I knew it was only a matter of time, but still."

He felt himself go rigid at the word 'Mudblood', at the way she said it, as if it were the vilest word she had ever forced herself to say. Without looking, he could picture her expression sour as the word left her mouth.

Severus turned his upper half jerkily towards Lily, his hands still on the rail. "Don't remind me," he said, disgusted.

Lily just stood there, hugging herself in her bathrobe, conveying to him with a frown all the disappointment that she could not put into words. A light sea breeze tousled their hair, batted the hem of the bathrobe around her shins.

"I'm not ready to give up being your friend yet," he said. "We still have two more years. As long as I'm not a Death Eater, you can still talk to me, right?"

"It's not that simple," she said, stepping forward and setting a hand beside his on the railing. "You know that I would give anything to keep you in my life, you know that. We've been friends since we were kids. You're the one who told me about magic, you helped me form my dreams, Severus. But this dark wizard believes that Purebloods are the only ones worthy of doing magic."

"I don't have any feeling about Purebloods versus Muggleborns. That's not what it's about for me. It's…" he dropped off, unsure of how to finish the sentence. What could he say? 'Destiny'? 'It's what I need to do'? Like she would buy that? He didn't bother to humor that particular idea.

"You can't have me as your friend and join an anti-Mudblood movement. You can't have both. If you're really going to do what you say, then at some point I'm going to have to become the enemy."

"Don't say that, you know I would never—"

"It's true. There's no point in lying to yourself about it. You've already called me that name once, the line was crossed. If in three years we pass each other in the street, you're either going to have to strike me down or fall yourself. And we both know that it'll be my 'dirty' blood on the sidewalk—"

"Lily." He spun to face her now, one hand clenching in a fist at his side. They were so close that he could smell her perfume, but the scent did not comfort him as it usually did. His face had become twisted in the agony of hearing her words, his features harshened. "Stop it. Please stop it."

Lily shut up at once. There were tears sparkling in her eyes, her almond-shaped, marvelous green eyes.

"We have two more years," he said, and his voice was hoarser than he had anticipated. Severus slid his hand along the railing until it slipped over hers, touching the underside of her wrist with his fingers. "Can't we just… pretend that everything is fine until then?"

"Is there really no going back?" Lily whispered. "Can nothing be done?"

Now she moved forward even closer. Severus felt a sick, twisted feeling in the very pit of his stomach, a feeling which he recognized as the longing he had always felt, but more powerful, more solid. His eyes flickered to the sea before meeting hers, and even as they stood close he knew that they were slipping away faster than ever before. Lily Evans moved before him, pleading wordlessly, tears stinging her eyes but never falling. The hand on her wrist skimmed upwards over her forearm, coming to rest at the crook of her elbow, just beyond the cuff of her bathrobe. He cast his eyes over her face with the same hunger that he had felt since he was a child, only at this new angle he could see the individual beads of water still clinging to the red strands of her hair. Lily inched closer still. Severus's eyes closed. He could feel her quivering breath on his lips better than he could hear it, could almost taste her. The pulse in his chest, in his throat, yearned for more, more, please

But just before they formed an unspoken promise that they could never keep, Severus pulled back, instead tilted his head, and placed a kiss on her cheek. Her tears had fallen. He could taste their salty sting when he licked his lips.

"No," he murmured, bowing his head. "Nothing… I'm sorry. I can't change who I am."

They bowed their heads in mutual defeat. Severus stepped back, running his fingers back down her arm, his thumb tracing the thin red line that served as a symbol for their struggle, knowing that it would be the last time he could touch her like this. The first time, and the last.

"We need to go home," he said.

"I know," Lily replied. "I'll go get dressed, and then we can figure something out."

She squeezed his hand one final time and let it go. He felt the ring on her finger and his stomach churned. As she backed away towards the door she raised her eyes to meet his gaze, and it took all the willpower Severus could muster to force a small, sad smile. With a nod, she returned the gesture with equal effort and headed back to the bathroom, scooping up her wand from the kitchen table as she went. When the door had closed, Severus looked back to the ocean, blinking hard. It was over, and all that could have been was left behind. He stood on the balcony overlooking the ocean and thought that he couldn't have picked a better place to send his heart's most intimate desire to its end.

xXx

Severus Snape was sitting cross-legged on the bed with his battered copy of Advanced Potion-Making perched on one knee. He was flipping through the pages, as if somewhere within all his thin, sharp lines of writing was the answer to their problem. Off to the right, her back to the sliding glass windows, Lily Evans was drying her hair with her wand. She would gather up a section of hair in one hand, then run the tip of her wand along its entire length, leaving that section dry and shiny smooth.

"We could make a portkey," she offered in her most hopeful voice as she gathered another chunk of hair in her fingers.

Severus didn't look up from the book. He was making his best effort to avoid eye contact as much as possible, considering the solemn conversation that had taken place less than an hour ago. "Do you know how?"

"Well, no. I was sort of hoping you knew."

"Haven't got the faintest idea."

They had covered every angle that they could think of. They couldn't apparate, brew a potion, or cast any spell to take them from place to place. Without knowing of any wizarding communities nearby, they could not ask for help from the locals. Lily had voiced the idea that they perform blatant magic in front of a Muggle, causing the Ministry of Magic of this country to swoop down on them, but Severus had shot down the idea, claiming that it had too many variables. Just as Severus sighed and looked up to proclaim defeat, there was a knock on the door. Both Lily and Severus jumped.

"Wha—?"

Severus closed his book, slipped off the bed, crossed the room, and opened the door. Standing there was a pair of tall men in dark suits, their eyes concealed behind dark sunglasses.

"Are you Severus Snape and Lily Evans?" asked the first man, whose build was broader than that of his partner.

Dumbfounded, Severus nodded. Behind him, Lily had frozen in place, her arms aloft in mid-swipe with her wand.

"You have both been reported missing to the Ministry of Magic from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, as of late yesterday afternoon. Does that sound right to you?" When Severus nodded again, the man continued, "We, on behalf of the Ministry of Magic, have been sent to escort you back to your school."

Finally Severus found his voice. "How did you find us?"

"All underage wizards can be tracked by means of The Trace," said the second man.

"Well, what took you so damn long?" Lily exclaimed, dropping all pretense as her initial surprise gave way to annoyance. "We could have been killed in the time it took you to get here—I was nearly splinched to death!"

"Tracking individuals using The Trace is an immensely complicated science, and requires much prerequisite paperwork before it can be done, as it is a direct violation of the individual's right to privacy."

"We were missing! I'd think a little privacy violation would be in order, wouldn't you?"

"I do not expect you to understand." The man, from behind his glasses, surveyed the room. He took note of the unmade bed, the teenagers in Muggle clothing, Lily with her hair half drenched. "I see that you have been enjoying your 'vacation', but unfortunately, it's time to return you to the castle, where you will return to class and later tonight go for questioning as to the nature of the disappearance."

Severus cast a look of disbelief over his shoulder at Lily, who could only shrug in response.

That was easy.

xXx

The plan was that the Ministry officials would sidelong apparate to Hogsmeade and wait until after lunch to let the two students slip in with the crowd and go to their respective classes as if nothing had happened. That way, the publicity would be minimized, no grand entrances would have to be made, and it would blow over a whole lot faster. However, someone in town saw them as they appeared, and mentioned it to a teacher, who, in mentioning it to another teacher, was overheard by a couple of students, who made sure that they told as many people as they could. By dinner time, the entire school was buzzing about how Lily Evans from Gryffindor and that Severus Snape guy from Slytherin had turned up in Hogsmeade this afternoon, dressed in Muggle clothes and clutching the arms of dark-suited Ministry men.

Lily and Severus weren't talking much, though. Their entrances into the castle were staggered and their classes did not coincide for the rest of the day. They were interrogated separately by Dumbledore and a number of Ministry officials, then sent off to bed. Severus had not been put off by the separate questionings; Severus was not sure that he wanted to have a one-on-one conversation with Lily just yet. Then again, based on their decisions earlier that morning (and wow, it already seemed to have happened years ago, in another life), they would not need to. Their friendship, for all intrinsic purposes, was finished. Neither wanted it to be so, but Lily had been right in her statement:

"If you're really going to do what you say, then at some point I'm going to have to become the enemy."

He wasn't ready to face that truth, not yet, but it was best not to add fuel to whatever had happened—or almost happened—on the balcony by the sea, in some strange and wonderful place called New Jersey. They could be civil, even friendly with one another, but the days of lounging around together under the shade of the beech tree were over. There would be no more surprise one-armed hugs in the hallway from Lily, no more evenings spent huddling over a cauldron together as they tried to fix the grievous errors in Advanced Potion-Making (sometimes to hilarious and dangerous consequences), no more. Lily had told him once that their friendship was over, but he had been granted one more day of amity by accident, and perhaps that was exactly what they had needed in order to move on.

And though their friendship was over, they were by no means done.

Severus was forced to endure several rounds of the chant "Snape spent the night with a Mudblood" in the Slytherin common room until he became fed up with their juvenility and went up to his dorm for the night. Once there, he was further harassed by his roommates.

"On a scale of one to ten, how awful was it?" they asked. "Did she stink up the room with her Mudblood stench?"

Across the castle, Lily underwent similar jibes.

"You're so brave, Lily," said Janie Bones whimsically as Lily sorted out the contents of her shoulder bag. "If I had to spend a night in the same room as Severus Snape, I just would have offed myself to spare the pain. And after what he called you the other day! 'Mudblood'. Gosh, what a git."

Lily said nothing, for during her friend's tirade, she had spotted a wad of rolled-up dollar bills in her bag. She drew them forth, seemed to consider them, and then stuffed them back in with the rest of her books. The venture at the casino had seemed unreal until now; the bills only served to solidify her sense of loss. Lily glanced down at her hand, ignoring Mary's babble about how any student put in Slytherin house should be expelled upon sorting, and eyed the fake diamond ring on her finger. She slipped it off with a sigh, then reconsidered and slipped it back on. She tapped it with her wand, transfiguring it into a less obtrusive silver ring, and then again, so that a small, clear stone sat, embedded in the silver. Lily pressed the ring to her lips. When she looked at it again, the stone had taken on a deep emerald color.

The necklace she removed and tossed in the rubbish. It wasn't real anyway.

xXx

After a few days, the student body as a whole left Lily and Severus alone. Their questions had gone largely unanswered, and after a while the only one who still seemed to care about what had conspired during their hours away was James Potter. He gave up on haranguing Lily for details after she threatened to scalp him, and instead turned to muttering under his breath whenever Snape happened to catch his eye.

"The little git," he hissed to Remus and Peter Pettigrew during dinner, three days after their return, trying to bore a hole in the back of Severus's head with his narrowed eyes. "I'll bet he planned the whole thing so he could have a go at her while nobody was looking." James looked up from his shepherd's pie, eyes round with sudden horror behind his glasses. "You don't think he had a go at her, do you?"

"They're not friends any more," said Remus, not concerned. "I daresay you played a role in that one, mate. Embarrassing him so much that he called his best friend the worst name he could think of. Really clever of you."

James grumbled. "I didn't mean for it to happen, although I can't say I'm all that disappointed." He paused, watching as Severus argued with a fellow Slytherin. "You don't really think he had a go at her, do you?"

"Oh James, just drop it."

Severus was not helping to smooth James's ruffled feathers. He knew that Lily had not answered any of Potter's questions, the same way that he, Severus, had not answered any of his roommate's questions. While he was sure that Lily would not have wanted him to rile up James Potter's worries and fears, Severus could not help but take advantage of the first opportunity that presented itself to him, a little after a week later.

The jibe was perfect. He had been heading down to supper from the library when he spotted Potter and his sidekick Black as they appeared out of a passageway pretending to be a wall. The corridor was empty save for a few other students, and nobody looked twice as Severus upped his speed to catch them.

Potter's worried voice carried over as Severus dropped into earshot behind them, leaving only enough room so that they would not sense his presence.

"Do you think it's been long enough to ask her again?" said James to Sirius. "It's been a few weeks since what happened, maybe she's cooled down by now."

"Yeah, I reckon it's been long enough. Evans isn't the type to hold a grudge. I mean, it's probably the longest you've gone without asking her out since second year," Sirius said, and he gave a sharp, barking laugh. "Ask her on a date tomorrow, after Charms class."

His timing was just right. He stepped up close enough to lean in and say in James's ear, as pleasantly and casually as if they were the best of friends, "Careful, Potter. She hogs the blankets."

Both Sirius and James jumped a mile at the unexpected sound of his voice. James spun around, took one look Severus's smug sneer, and sprung at him in a rush of fury. They both fell to the ground, Potter on top and punching every bit of Severus that he could reach before Sirius pulled him off.

Severus wound up in the hospital wing with a broken nose and a cut lip. He didn't care. The look of shock and dismay on James Potter's face was well worth it.

Lily flounced into the hospital wing a short while after Severus arrived clutching his gushing nose and spewing a made-up story about how he had tripped down the stairs. She found him sitting on one of the beds, cleaning away the traces of blood on his chin and robes.

"You'll never guess who cornered me in the corridor just now," she snapped derisively, well aware that he knew where this was going. Severus set his wand down on the bed and scratched his just-mended nose, looking to Lily with no expression on his face.

"He claims that you told him I'm a sheet hog," she said.

Without missing a beat, Severus met her eyes, his eyebrows aloft, and said, "You are a sheet hog."

They stared at one another for a few full seconds, silent, until a pair of identical smirks rose to their faces.

"You're such an arse," Lily said, but she was grinning now.

"You know how arrogant James Potter can be," replied Severus, unfazed. "I like to keep him on his toes. A little uncertainty might deflate his head a bit."

With that, Lily burst into a fit of laughter. Severus joined in, and together they laughed until their sides ached, until Madame Pomfrey came out of her office and kicked them both out of the infirmary for creating such a ruckus. Outside the door, Lily, shaking her head and wiping a tear of mirth from the corner of her eye, shared one last amused smile with Severus before she turned away. He, too, left once she'd disappeared around the corner, a chuckle that would last the rest of the day settling in his chest. It would be the last time they shared such a moment between them. They did not speak for the remainder of the short time that they spent at Hogwarts before the summer holidays, nor did they correspond during the following months as they used to.

Come September first, any observer would never guess that the beautiful redhead and the sallow-skinned Slytherin boy had ever been friends. The only indication of their familiarity was the small smile she gave him as they shuffled past one another on the scarlet steam engine that took them to school. She bumped into him slightly, almost knocking the bag off his shoulder, then apologized and scurried off after her friend without a backward glance.

Upon later inspection, Severus would find a dollar bill amidst his books, as if it had been stuffed into a small gap in the top of his bag while he was not looking.

xXx

Severus Snape slipped off the radar for Lily in later years, almost as soon as school ended. She supposed that he had left right away to join the new power that was emerging from the darkness, but she did not voice her opinion to anyone, especially not to her husband. As long as they did not run into one another on the street, there would be no bitter feelings between them.

"Hey Lily, look at this," called James Potter to his wife one summer morning.

"What is it?" said the other. She was sitting on the back porch of their home, reading in a lawn chair while their son played with his toys in the yard.

James appeared in the doorway, crossed the deck, and crouched down beside her chair. He held his hand up between them, and sitting in the palm of his hand was a silver ring. Setting her book aside, Lily sat up slowly and plucked up the piece of jewelery.

"Where did you find this?" she asked, astounded. "I thought I'd lost it when we were still at school!"

"At the bottom of your old trunk. I've been cleaning out all our old school stuff to make storage space for Harry's toys. He's gonna need it after his birthday party next week."

"Huh."

Lily held the tiny hoop between her forefinger and thumb, holding it against the light and looking at it as one might study an ancient artifact. It had changed since she'd last seen it; its silver sheen had not dulled, but the emerald stone had become different. She slipped it on the ring finger that didn't house a wedding band, held her hand at arm's length. It still fit. The stone in the middle glinted black as it caught the sun's light.

Her suspicions were confirmed. He had indeed crossed over, as she had known all along that he would. It was just his nature, to gravitate towards the dark. Sometimes you've got to lose the best thing you've ever had in order to fulfill the stipulations of your character.

James looked back and forth between the ring and Lily's solemn expression.

"Is it special or something?" he asked, his eyebrows furrowed.

"No," she lied. It was the first time that she had ever lied to her husband since their marriage, and although it gave her a most unpleasant feeling to do so, the alternative was far worse. "It's just a ring."

"Where'd it come from?"

Lily tore her eyes from the ring, lowered her hand to her lap, and smiled at James to put him at ease. His worried expression eased.

"I won it," she said, still smiling. "At a game of poker."

xXx

The Dark Lord's followers greatly admired Severus for his dexterity as a wizard, his logical mind and level-headedness that never allowed him to be controlled by greed and hate as the rest of them often were. He did not care to join in on their recreational Muggle-killing or weekend drinking games, though on occasion he did join them for a round of poker (and when he did, he always left the table considerably richer than when he joined it). For the most part, during stretches of time where the Dark Lord did not have any particular orders for his minions and they were cooped up in their headquarters, Severus liked to read. He would find a seat amidst the commotion and study, sometimes about spells, sometimes about history, sometimes about the ocean. The Death Eaters didn't bother to talk to him when he took out a book. Any statements they made would be ignored.

Severus always used the same dollar bill as a bookmark, no matter what he was reading. It was lined and frail from years of marking pages and being transferred from one book to another. As he read, he would clutch it in his fist, not to part from it until he had finished reading and put it safely inside the pages. It almost seemed like he was clinging to a precious memory instead of a worthless scrap of paper. They always thought that was sort of odd.

xXx

Fin.