Suddenly a Stranger

Lily tried to concentrate on her Potions notes. Come on! Think! she told herself. This should be easy for you! But thinking too much was her problem in the first place; thoughts of the incident that had taken place that afternoon kept pushing aside thoughts of Potions. She was about to give it up as a bad job when someone placed a hand on her shoulder. She smiled as she saw who it was: Mary, who had always been her closest female friend.

"Snape's outside the portrait hole," Mary said. "He's threatening to stay out there until you come out and talk to him. All night, if he has to. And he's scaring the first years."

"Severus," Lily corrected automatically. Then her brain registered the rest of what Mary had said. She pressed the heels of her hands against her eyes, groaning a bit.

"Oh, does this mean you're finally going to give him that telling-off he's been needing for years?" Mary asked archly.

"Oh, for heaven's sake, Mary! Please do not joke. I am not in the mood."

Mary frowned. "Lily, did he really upset you that much?"

Lily shook her head, then nodded. A cheerless laugh pushed its way out of her throat. "It's not so much him calling me what he did. I mean, I can't deny it smarted coming from him, but I'm a big girl, I can handle a name. It's just...ugh."

Mary squeezed her shoulder sympathetically, though her face showed uneasiness. They didn't really talk that much about emotions in the Gryffindor girls' dorm. There was an odd sort of pride in each of them that usually prevented the intimate heart to hearts some girls had. But right then, Lily needed to talk to someone, to get all the clamoring thoughts out of her head. She'd found, when talking to her mother, that voicing her thoughts often helped her make sense of them.

"Look, Mary, I know you're uncomfortable. If you don't want to hear this..." Lily watched Mary carefully.

"No! Lily, you know you can trust me to be there for you. That includes when you want to talk about...things," said Mary, waving a hand vaguely as if trying to demonstrate what kind of things she was talking about. Seeing Mary's honest desire to help under the nervousness, Lily sighed and sifted through her thoughts for a starting point.

"I know you and the others never understood why I stayed friends with Severus. But he...he was the first one to show me this world, you know? And he needed me as much as I needed him. I won't go into the details, but let's just say he'd never really had friends before me and leave it at that. And he was nice to me, he always was nice to me. What we have--had, it was great for a good long while there. But he's been drifting this year, falling in with a bad crowd, a scary crowd. Well--you remember what that awful thug friend of his did to you. But what I had with Severus was always amazing--it was almost like we were secretly brother and sister. Except now he cares more for those horrible would-be Death Eaters than he does for me!

"I think it's been coming for a long time, and I've just been too blind to see it--or maybe I've been blinding myself to it. I've been thinking, and I think I've been in denial about a lot of things. A lot of people. Those friends of his weren't the ones who started him calling people 'Mudblood.' I've always made excuses for it, saying that was just what he was raised to say. But now--well, I think that, deep down, he's always believed it. All this...this purebloods are better than Muggle-borns nonsense. Even if he pushed some of it aside for me, it still showed through. I don't know if I should blame him or his mother for it. Both, I suppose. He has a brilliant mind--I just wish he would use it for something other than Potions and those bloody spells! God, sometimes it drove me mad.

"Those spells...I suppose those should have tipped me off too. That Levicorpus is mostly harmless, although it's more like something James Potter would invent than I liked at the time. But Mary, I saw a spell in his Potions book last week. Sectumsempra, it was. I've never heard it before, and I'll bet anything he invented it himself. But from the sound of know I know a little Latin, and it sounds like quite a nasty spell. It might even be that spell he used on Potter. I never in a million years would've guessed it when we were younger, but Mary, I really think he's leaning towards the Dark and it scares the hell out of me. All these little clues stacking up one by one, and me too scared of losing something I've had for so long to admit it. And when he called me 'Mudblood' today, that's what made me start thinking. If, even for a moment, he was able to think me as worthless as the dirt beneath his feet...well, that's the last straw, really. The last little puzzle piece. Some combination of his family, his nature and his friends has turned him from a dear friend whose flaws I can overlook to a person I just can't see myself being able to keep in my life. God, Mary, and it hurts so bad just thinking of 'breaking up' with him."

Lily stopped, covering her face with her hands to hide the fact that she was strongly tempted to cry. Breathing carefully and fighting as the corners of her mouth turned downwards, she forced herself to regain her composure.

Mary had a different uncomfortable look on her face than before. Lily recognized it as the look she wore when she desperately wanted to ask a question but was telling herself she couldn't.

"What do you want to know, then?" asked Lily, smiling wanly.

"Well, if you think Sn-Severus was, does that mean that..." Mary paused as if weighing her words.

Lily let out a phlegmy chuckle. "What James Potter did today was still really bad in my book.'s kind of funny you ask that..." She closed her eyes and covered her face again, this time from embarassment. "He's one of the other people I realized I was in denial about. I've hated him for so long, I haven't bothered taking a close look at him lately. It's a lazy way of thinking, I know, and I think my pride had a little to do with it as well. But I've been trying to figure out what I really think of him as he is now, you know, forgetting our past.

"Everything I said about him today is true. He does have an ego roughly the size of London. And he does hex people...but not for the same reason he used to. I was trying to remember times I've caught him hexing people, and I realized they've all been nasty pieces of work lately--mostly Severus's friends. They were all exactly the sort of person I'd suspect of starting any duel--if they weren't battling Potter. And, secretly, I guess I've been amused by his and his friends' pranks all along. I've just been on my high horse, refusing to show it. They are quite clever, those boys. And while they do go too far, well, they're good at heart, really. Remus is a nice fellow, and you know he and the other three are like brothers. Don't get me wrong; Potter's still infuriating. I just don't think I've any call to hate him as I have been. About half the reason I hated him in the first place--or at least the reason I was predisposed to hate him--was because he'd insulted Severus and because of that idiotic rivalry of theirs. Severus is forever going on about how horrible Potter is. But if I accept that Severus is wrong about a great many things--well, why not Potter?

"Anyway, I just had to talk some. Thank you for listening. It helped a lot."

Mary nodded and hugged Lily. "Don't worry. Like I said, I'm here whenever you need me."

Lily nodded, then grimaced. "I guess I have to go talk to Severus. 'Break up' with him, as it were."

* * *

The next day, the fifth years gathered outside the Great Hall, waiting to be called to do the practical portion of their Potions OWL. Lily wasn't terribly worried, but she wished she had been able to get more studying done the night before, to give her that extra edge. When her name was called, she closed her eyes and took a few deep breaths. When she opened them again, she saw James Potter standing in front of her, looking like a dog that knew it had done something wrong. Surprised as she was at his demeanor, she was not at all surprised at the bravado he affected when he spoke up. "Good luck, Evans."

Lily looked steadily at him for a moment, hiding the nervousness churning in the pit of her stomach. It was insane to be nervous, or so she told herself. When she was sure she could speak in a casual tone of voice, she replied, "You might as well call me Lily."