Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter, Severus Snape, Lily Evans, or anything else even vaguely related. It's all for fun, no profit. Lyrics are Scouting for Girls. The title for this story, Fairer Than Death, is taken from a Willaim Goldman quote, "Life isn't fair - it's just fairer than death".

Note: The first of twenty stories that will each be based on a different Harry Potter character. Each will be five chapters long and will be based off Set 3 of the 100quills community's prompts on Livejournal. I am not participating in the contest, just using their prompts. Each story will take five moments from the character's life. This project is to get me more used to write Harry Potter for a bigger project I have in the works, and help me get a grip on a wider variety of characters than I usually do. I hope you enjoy, please let me know what you think.

Fairer Than Death

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Christmas

Prompt: 010. Precious

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she's a beautiful girl

and you're a silly young man

-

It is their fifth year, it is Christmas, and it is snowing.

Well, it is not quite Christmas. It is the lead up to event itself, the holiday, the last few days of the advent calendar, the days of jumpers and spiced wine. The castle is more than half empty, and the steps up from the Entrance Hall are treacherous with slush traipsed in by the ones left behind.

Severus Snape is one of the ones left behind this year. He is every year. Severus Snape does not have a Happy Family Home to go back to. The small, dingy house down in England is split through the middle by a gaping fissure, that no amount of holiday cheer is going to bridge. His mother will stew and snipe and his father will drink and shout, and Severus, quite honestly, is tired of hearing it. He has no wish to be woken by shouts on Christmas morning. He is no longer afraid of either of his parents, and he knows it is not particularly long until he never has to see either of them again, but, for now, the time apart is welcomed.

There is, of course, another reason Severus Snape chooses to spend as much time at Hogwarts as he can. The reason is vibrant, and beautiful, and tied up completely in the girl standing next to him.

"Cold, isn't it?" Lily Evans has her arms crossed tightly across her chest, and she is shivering slightly. Her cheeks are flushed, stung by the breeze, and she is grinning widely. Lily Evans loves Christmas.

"It's snowing, Lily," Severus says, rolling his eyes slightly.

"I know, I know. Give the season a chance, won't you?"

Severus arches his eyebrows under his hood. Lily laughs.

"Oh come on, being Slytherin doesn't mean you have to be a Grinch."

He coughs. "I have no intent to steal the 25th, I assure you. Are we going to stand in the Entrance Hall all day?"

"You're getting sourer as you age, Sev," she sniffs, pushing down her own hood and shaking her hair out. She hasn't tied it back today. She doesn't, normally, in the cold. It's because she hates earmuffs, and the mane of red does go some way towards keeping her warm.

"I'm fifteen, Lily. Hardly old enough to merit being ascribed the ailments of age."

"Sixteen next month," Lily says brightly.

"I can hardly wait," he replies, pretending not to smile.

She makes a dismissive noise and waves her hand absently. "We shall force you to have fun. I have managed it before, haven't I?"

"I believe it is a task for which you are singularly suited," Severus says, tilting his head away from her. He moves forwards, towards the stairs. Whatever Lily may say, it is ridiculous to simply stand in the middle of the Entrance Hall without moving.

She follows him, hurrying a little to catch up with his longer strides. He is three steps up on her when she reaches him, and slips. In a second he has caught her, an arm looped protectively around her back and another holding her forearm. He lifts her, cautiously, carefully, back onto the step. He feels not unlike he is holding a statue of diamonds, for what she is worth.

"Thank you," she says, a little breathless, and she laughs. "Oh, the rest are even worse!" She points to the small, melting piles of snow stacked periodically up the marble staircase. "This is lethal."

Here, hold on to me. They are friends. It should not be a difficult offer to make. There cannot possibly be anything meant by it - the stairs are slippery, and the two of them joined together will be steadier and help avoid accidents. But he cannot say it. His chest tightens, his heart swells into his throat, even as he thinks of asking her to give him her hand.

He doesn't ask, and Lily slips her arm around his, clinging onto him, anyway. "You let me fall, and I shall tell James Potter that you were beastly to me when he comes back next term."

Something inside Severus contracts when she says Potter's name. There are first year Hufflepuffs he has more respect for than him. "I didn't realise you wanted me dead," he mutters, trying to focus on climbing the stairs carefully, and not the feeling gloved fingers closed around his forearm, the feel of her hand inches away from his own.

"I don't want a concussion, either."

"My life is worth less to you than avoiding a minor head injury?" he asks, sceptically, as they reach the top of the staircase. He is reluctant to release her. Somehow, against all his better judgement, one of his hands has found his way on top of hers. To steady us, he tells himself, and he knows damn well how much of a lie it is.

Lily looks perfectly serious for a few seconds, and then laughs again. "Of course not, Severus. You know that." She squeezes his arm briefly, and sparks shoot through him, and then she has dropped her arms to her sides.

"Hm."

He has never learnt how to respond to compliments from her. From any other student, he is always nearly certain they are only ever meant as a jibe, so the usual response is a sneer or a snarl or a curse. From teachers, he has learnt to duck his head in acknowledgement, and make no further fuss of it. But Lily…Lily is different. Lily has always been different.

The floor is almost as bad as the stairs, but Lily does not take his arm again. She picks her way across, and towards the next cases, and leans heavily on the banister as she navigates her way upwards. Severus follows suit.

She doesn't have to stay here during the holidays. She has a wonderful family - a perfect one. He has met them. They did not particularly like him, of course - he has always been to skinny, too out of place and slightly awkward for people to really like him. But her mother always smiles when he comes round, and her father has always been happy to allow him to stay for dinner, and Petunia…well, Petunia didn't glare at him nearly as much these days…

Well, no, Petunia still glared at him. But Petunia was Petunia.

"Flitwick's class is empty," Lily says, rather unnecessarily. It was the holidays, and it was lunchtime. Most of the classrooms were empty. "Want to go in there?"

"If you like," Severus says. She pulls open the door for him to go in first, and he presses his hand against it, motioning for her to go ahead. She flashes him a smile, and she goes inside. As the door swings shut she alights onto a desk, perching with her heels a against the edge of a chair, looking over her shoulder at him. Her eyes are alive and mischievous, green remnants of a carefree childhood filled with playful Christmases. Her hood is down, her scarf is coming undone from her neck, and he can make out the pale curve of her neck.

She is beautiful. But she is the same way a painting is beautiful, or a model in a Muggle magazine, dressed in the newest fashion trends, glancing coyly back at the reader. She is beautiful in a way that is unpossessable, unexplainable; she is the kind of perfection you see on Christmas cards, the elegant, ageless girl on a book cover. It strikes him, all of a sudden, how very lanky and unkempt he must look next to her, how ragged and heavy his hair must seem in comparison to the loose red curls, as they shine and catch the light.

He feels ugly and self-conscious as he heaves himself up onto a desk opposite her. But she is smiling at him, hands curled around the edge of the desk, and this girl, she likes his company. She calls him her friend. She's sat on his bed, she's snuck out to see him in the middle of the night, she's hugged him, back when he was eleven and it was the summer and he was crying and afraid to go home.

"Lily," he says, voice thick, and he has no idea what he intends to say or how he intends to say it. All he is aware of is this sudden rush of emotion constricting his vocal cords, fogging up his brain. All he is aware of is how beautiful she is.

"Yeah?" She tilts her head a little, and her brow crinkles, just a little bit, just enough, he's learnt, that shows she's noticed something has shifted, changed. He coughs. He shakes himself. There isn't a chance, there isn't one single chance that anything he would say is going to do anything but ruin this forever.

He casts around, looking for something - anything - that sounds plausible. "Shouldn't we go down to lunch?" he lands on, after a few seconds of groping hopelessly.

Lily wrinkles her nose. "Yeah, probably. Just…I think Sirius Black is planning something today."

The words 'Sirius Black' and 'planning' start up some instinctive defence mechanism, and he tenses. "Yeah?"

She shrugs. "I don't know what. I heard him muttering with Remus this morning. And Remus was looking extremely uncomfortable, and he was fingering his Prefect's badge the way he always does when Sirius or the others are about to do something against the rules, and he knows he should try to stop them, but they will only call him a wet blanket and ignore him."

"Well, if it's got Lupin worried, it must be serious," Severus says sarcastically.

Lily frowns. "He's not as sensitive as you make out, Severus," she tells him. "He's nice. And he's smart. You would like him, I think."

"He hangs out with Potter and Black," he answers shortly. As far as he is concerned, there is nothing in the world that can redeem Remus Lupin. "Besides, he's a sneak."

"I don't see how you reach that conclusion." Lily's voice has changed, subtly, and Severus is seized by a sudden desire to agree with her, and say that he thinks Remus Lupin is a Jolly Decent Chap and that they should probably get together sometime.

But instead, the self-sabotaging part of his brain supplies him with, "He's always disappearing, and no one knows why. And his gang always gets really uptight whenever I ask. It's not normal."

"You and they hardly get on, Sev. You really think they're going to tell you what's up with him?"

"Potter's in love with you," Severus spits, unable to quite keep the venom from his tone. "Do you know where he goes?"

Lily is quiet. She shakes her head. And then, she moves, sliding off the table and landing gracefully on the floor.

"I think I will go to lunch after all," she says, her voice small.

"Lily…" Severus' shoulders slump, and he slides pff his desk, too. "Lily, I'm sorry. You know I don't mean it. You know - you know it's just how I get, when it comes to -"

Lily lowers her head, and nods. "I know. And believe me, I don't blame you with Potter, or Sirius - though he's not as bad. But Remus…" she trails off, looking saddened.

"Do you like him?" he blurts out, before he has a chance to censor himself. He curses internally.

"Um…yeah," Lily says, frowning a little. "He's a good friend. One of my best."

"Oh," says Severus, feeling like a punctured balloon. "I thought I -"

"You're my best friend, Severus. Of course you are." She looks up, and smiles at him. "It's just nice to have friends in my own house, sometimes.

"Yeah, but - I guess I meant -" He doesn't know how to phrase it. Or rather, he does - do you fancy him - but he doesn't know how to say that without sounding like he -

"Oh, I don't like like him, if that's what you meant," Lily answers. Then she laughs. "Gosh, can you imagine if I fancied Remus Lupin? Or if Remus fancied me?" Her laugh deepens, and she leans on a desk. For some reason, she finds it incredibly funny.

"I don't…"

"Potter," she explains. "Imagine James Potter. Then imagine me holding hands with Remus Lupin. Then imagine James Potter again."

The thought of Lily holding Lupin's hand doesn't strike Severus as particularly funny at all. But, obediently, he pictures Potter's reaction, and reluctantly, he smiles.

Lily is calming down. She rubs her eye. "Oh, I'm going to have to have a word with Remus about April Fool's next year. I wonder if he'd have the nerve for it?"

"Probably not," Severus says, a little unpleasantly. "He's -" He stops himself from saying what he was thinking, that Remus Lupin is a cowardly goody two shoes. Lily has already forgiven him once today. He doesn't know if his luck will hold out again.

Lily, thankfully, does not notice his unfinished sentence. "Come on, you're right. We probably should go to lunch. I'm actually pretty starving."

Severus nods, and lets her lead the way. On a narrow staircase, she slips again, and even as she steadies herself on the banister, he is there, an arm over her shoulders. She tilts her head upwards, smiling at him.

"Thank you. Again."

He does not release her this time, but guides her to the bottom of the staircase.

"Filch is useless at his job," she says, decisively. "Someone must have been absolutely drenched to drag the mess all the way here."

"Let's take the passage behind the goblin painting next to Merryweather's office," Severus suggests. "Barely anyone goes through there, it'll probably be fairly dry."

Lily agrees. "Anything to avoid head butting the floor. You know me, safety first."

As they push the painting back, Severus sees that he was correct. There is one pair of footprints marked in the dust on the stairs, descending, and what looks suspiciously like a set of dog's paw prints next to them. There is no slush, and there are no puddles.

"Bit of a jump at the end," Severus says, hopping down. Behind him, Lily crouches, and swings her legs down. Automatically, even though he knows it is as clichéd as it is risky and inappropriate, Severus sets his hands at her waist and helps her down. As a result, her hands have found his shoulders. She looks up at him to smile her thanks, but her eyes keep going. Her mouth forms a little 'o' shape as she looks up.

Severus follows her gaze, and for a second, his heart stops.

"Mistletoe," Lily says, matter-of-factly.

Brush it off, Severus thinks. Ignore it. Do not kiss her. Shrug and brush it off. Do not be an idiot. His heart has started beating again, double time, so loudly he's pretty certain Lily could dance to it if she wanted.

"Yeah," he says.

"Well, we don't want bad luck, now, do we?" she says, smiling mischievously, and he thinks he might have just forgotten how to breathe. "Bad romantic luck for me might mean getting hitched to James Potter in the next twelve months. Most unacceptable."

"Yeah," Severus says again. He doesn't think he can remember any other words.

"Well?" Lily quirks an eyebrow. Her hands are still on his shoulders.

"Er - yeah." Two words, way to go. Why does she have to be so beautiful?

Lily is close. Lily is closer. Lily smells lightly of jasmine and soap and Lily has her hands on his shoulders. He suddenly realises he still has his hands on her waist, and Lily is even closer.

Then she closes her eyes, and Severus Snape decides to stop thinking. In a secret passageway, behind a painting of goblins, on the way to lunch one December day, Severus Snape kisses Lily Evans for the first and last time.

It is a short kiss. Traditional, chaste, dictated by mistletoe. But her hands have moved further towards his neck, and his hands have moved further around her back, and when she pulls away she is looking up at him, not smiling and not frowning, eyes wide. Her lips are still parted, and her cheeks are flushed. Time has stopped, and her breathing is short, and he can feel her heart beating against him, rapid and uncertain. He is holding her, he thinks, and the idea doesn't quite register. He is standing here, holding Lily in his arms, and the air is charged, static, full of whispers that this is a moment that could change his life, that now is the time for boldness and bravery, that if he just leans one inch towards her -

That if, just for once, he takes a chance -

He slips his arms away from her waist, and Lily drops her hands from his shoulders. The mood is broken. The chance has slipped by.

She grins. "Right. Lunch?"

He nods. Even if he could find the words, he doesn't think he would allow himself to speak. He swallows, and follows her out of the passageway. The Great Hall is bright and noisy, despite being half empty, and the spell on his brain is undone. He breathes for what feels like the first time in ages, and wakes up to the business of lunch. And, despite himself, for the rest of the day, he cannot stop smiling.