Thank you so much for all the reviews! It makes me so happy to know that people are actually reading and enjoying this story. This update is long overdue. I'm sorry it took so long. I'm a terrible procrastinator, and because of that and my endless amount of homework, it is becoming increasingly difficult for me to sit down and write. Again, I'm sorry for the long delay, and I promise the next one will be out sooner!

sparklyscrunchies- Thanks for the review! The links don't show up for me but I searched them so I think I found the ones you were talking about. I haven't seen them before and they made me laugh, so thank you for showing me! It's eerily similar to how I pictured it in my head. About Helga's Hill, I admit I cheated a little. It was supposed to be another chapter but I combined that with the wedding so I didn't have to do another summer chapter because it felt like it was dragging on too much.

almanera- Thanks for the review! You'll definitely see more of Severus's dark side, especially after the Mudblood incident. His perspective will become more distorted with his bitterness. I like what you said about his possessiveness because I agree completely, so I'll try to keep that in mind.

Chapter Seventy-Five- Empty

1975

The first few days of school were far more demanding than his previous years, but Severus welcomed the distraction. If he hadn't been focused on the theory of the Vanishing Spell or mastering the art of Silencio, then he would have to think, and the very idea of maneuvering his way through the twisted tangle of anxiety and longing that plagued his mind was enough to make him feel sick to his stomach.

The Knights were only half the trouble. The destruction of Helga's Hill nagged his mind more than Severus would have cared to admit, and he couldn't help but wonder how much the elder Knights had known. Of course they had known Voldemort was far from finished, but had they known that that would be the day that the dark wizard would strike? Had Lucius known that dozens of Muggle-borns were screaming to their deaths as he had kissed Narcissa on his wedding day? Severus knew he was not a kind person. He was meticulous, logical, but not kind. The world had hardened him too much, but not enough for him to drop the matter entirely.

The idea of being so close to murder perturbed Severus. It wasn't just Babbling Curses and Tripping Jinxes anymore. It was life and death, with the consequences far more grim than a detention with Filch. There was no power greater than the power at Voldemort's fingertips, and while there was a tiny thrill at just the thought of what it would be like, to have all that power, it faltered when he acknowledged his discomfort.

Severus saw no reason why others shouldn't suffer. In the real world, people suffered. He himself had done more than his fair share of suffering. But the many curses that he had dreamed up were a far cry from murder, especially murder in the brutal fashion that had been immortalized on Helga's Hill. Voldemort and his circle were on another level altogether, and Severus was beginning to question whether or not he could ever be one of them.

Severus shook his head furiously at the thought, sending inky strands of hair flying in front of his eyes. He could be one of them and he would be. He had seen the other Knights. Nott, Avery, Mulciber... He knew where they were planning to end up. If they had what it took to graduate to Voldemort's inner circle, then so did he. Just because he had a Muggle for a father didn't mean he was less worthy. Either way, Severus told himself, it wasn't as if Voldemort and the Death Eaters were senseless killers. They were fighting for a cause in a war and war meant casualties. What had happened on Helga's Hill was unfortunate, but necessary, or else Voldemort wouldn't have wasted his time. He was cleverer than that. Much cleverer. Severus scowled at himself. If he was ever wanted to succeed in belonging with the elite, he wasn't about to do it by being so weak.

And then there was Lily. Lily complicated everything. It was quite a talent, really. One girl who barely came up to his shoulder was able to muddle his world more than Voldemort and the rest of the wizarding world put together. Just a glimpse of those green eyes was enough to send his world spiraling. Ever since their return to Hogwarts, his world was more jumbled than ever.

At the thought of Lily, Severus instinctively lifted his gaze to steal another peek of the pretty red-haired girl. It wasn't as if he had followed her. So what if he had already known that Lily and her friends often met up in the sunlit patch of the courtyard between classes? That didn't mean anything. He had always been fond of the tree that he was leaning on. It was a decent tree. Tall with leafy branches. He couldn't have cared less that it offered a generous view of Lily. After all, if she didn't want anything to do with him, then that was just fine with him. He didn't want anything to do with her either.

If only he could believe that.

Lily had never acted the way she was acting now. Severus had known that his moment of recklessness would result in damage, that Lily would no longer look at him the same way, but that didn't make it any less painful. It hurt, the way she was acting. It tore his heart whenever he saw her, whenever he thought of her. She never talked to him. She hardly ever looked at him. Unlike him, she didn't seem to be suffering in the slightest. While he was alone the majority of the time, she was always surrounded by others. Those Gryffindor girls and Lupin. Severus almost snarled at the mere thought of the werewolf. It wasn't enough that the monster had nearly killed him. He had to steal Lily too.

It was as if he didn't exist.

He had to talk to her, Severus decided, watching as Alice Clarke whispered something in her ear. Before Potions. He didn't think he would be able to stand watching Lily brew concoctions with another, least of all a Gryffindor. Slicing caterpillars while debating whether or not hemlock was a superior replacement for belladonna was something they had done since their earliest days by the river. Severus couldn't lose those idyllic moments. The moments when the only sound was the simmering cauldron and Lily would look over and smile, his smile, and Severus would know that everything was all right between them.

For once, Severus didn't care who saw or what they thought. He needed those moments and he refused to let them go. With that thought, he stomped across the courtyard toward the huddled group that he had been secretly eyeing, his legs moving rigidly in determination. He saw the surrounding Gryffindors shoot suspicious glances his way, but he didn't flinch.

Alice nudged Lily, who turned around just as he was approaching. As her green eyes widened, Severus was struck by the horrifying realization that this was another mistake. He wavered, having the sudden urge to bolt in the opposite direction, but it was too late. He was already there.

"Lily," Severus said gruffly, the sun beating down from the sky above uncomfortably hot on his neck. "I need to talk to you."

Just then, Lily Evans was impossible to read. She stood very still, a flurry of emotions crossing her face, so fleet that Severus couldn't even decipher one. For a terrible moment, he was certain that she would shake her head. But then, much to his relief, her chin quivered in what he supposed was a nod.

"I'll be right back," Lily glanced over her shoulder with one final look at the Gryffindors. At least the Macdonald girl was absent. Severus didn't think he would be able to stand her giggling. Marlene McKinnon's eyebrows were so high that they nearly collided into her hairline, and Severus made no effort to hide his own dislike, his lips twisting into the beginning of a scowl that faltered only when Lily moved toward him.

As they turned their backs to Lily's friends and made their way across the courtyard, Severus couldn't help but notice that even the way they walked was different. Ordinarily, they walked close enough that their fingers brushed occasionally, but now, there was a substantial distance between them, wide enough that Potter could have come barreling through on his Nimbus One Thousand, leaving both untouched. The gap troubled Severus, but he made no effort to close it. That would be Lily's choice.

"What is this about?" Lily demanded once they were at a safe distance from everyone. The closest ears belonged to a pair of Ravenclaws, who were far too absorbed in a fierce round of Exploding Snap to even glance their way.

Severus bristled, his voice ice to her fire. He hadn't planned out what he would say, but Lily's tone sparked his usual defenses. Grateful for his height advantage, he thrust his shoulders back in a Lucius Malfoy fashion, doing his best to appear composed and in control. "I think you already know."

Lily folded her arms across her chest, unshaken by his coolness. If her assertiveness had been directed to anyone but him, he would have been proud of her, but it was to him, and for that, Severus's eyes narrowed, his facade already threatening to fall.

"No, Severus. I don't know. Do you know why?" She didn't skip a beat. "Because you never tell me anything."

She spat out the last word, causing Severus to take a step back in surprise. Lily was angry. He suspected that she had been disgusted with him, but not angry. He could feel the familiar defensiveness surfacing all over again, wanting to lash back, and just then, all his collectedness was forgotten. If anyone had a right to be angry, it was him. Maybe he had kissed her but she was the one who was able to move on so easily and act as if their friendship had never existed. That was worse than anything he had ever done.

Feeling supremely satisfied with his reasoning, Severus pulled himself together. "How am I supposed to tell you anything when you're ignoring me?"

Lily's crossed arms fell to her sides, her jaw dropping with them as she eyed him incredulously. "You started ignoring me first!"

So she had seen him on the platform. Guilt lurched unpleasantly in his stomach and there was a voice in the back of his mind that was telling him that Lily was right, but he couldn't surrender. Not yet. After days of agonizing over Lily, Severus couldn't give in so easily. He decided a change in tactics were in order, hurling another accusation her way. "At least I didn't start hanging around the enemy."

Instead of defending herself or admitting that Severus was the one in the wrong, Lily did neither. She looked at him blankly. "What are you talking about?"

"Lupin," Severus pronounced his name as if it were the world's greatest crime as he lifted his chin almost as a gesture of triumph, just daring her to deny it. "I keep seeing you with him."

"Lupin is a prefect too!" Lily shot back. "I have to do patrols with him, and even if I didn't, he's not my enemy."

That stung. There had been a time when all of his enemies had been hers. But Severus moved ahead, not allowing himself to dwell in his weakness again. There were far more important questions to ask. Far more troubling ones. "And what about Potter? I saw you laughing at his stupid prank."

"Grow up, Sev," Lily said with an irritation that vexed him all the more. She turned away from him, plucking a leaf from an overhanging branch, and began shredding it absentmindedly. "I wasn't laughing at you."

"You were laughing at my House," said Severus with purposeful sharpness. He wouldn't let her distract herself. Not while they were having this talk, the very talk he had dreaded and longed for what felt like eternity.

It worked. What remained of the leaf plummeted to the ground as Lily abruptly swung around, her green eyes flashing in a way that jolted Severus. "I was laughing at Mulciber."

"I don't understand," Severus said shortly, more to himself than Lily as he began wildly pacing back and forth in angry frustration. "I don't understand what happened. I don't understand why you're befriending these people. You know what they did to me."

"Just because you hate them doesn't mean-"

"That's exactly what it means!" Severus shouted, causing Lily to jump back in surprise. He was vaguely aware that the two Ravenclaws had paused their game and were eyeing Lily and him curiously, but he didn't care. They didn't matter. He and Lily did. "I'm your best friend. Not Lupin. Not Potter. When Mulciber called you a Mudblood, I hexed him for you. When Potter wouldn't leave you alone, I hexed him too. I almost got myself killed trying to-"

His voice trailed off, and his face was very white.

"Trying to what?" Lily asked suspiciously once she had recovered.

"Never mind," Severus muttered. All of a sudden, he was overcome by a new flood over hatred. It clawed at his insides, begging to be unleashed. Hate for Dumbledore. Hate for Lupin. Hate for Potter...

"I didn't ask you to do any of those things," Lily interrupted his thoughts, her face hardening into someone he didn't recognize. Severus found that he couldn't look at her just then, and he turned his head away.

"You didn't have to."

That sentence revealed more than Severus had intended, his face the very image of bitterness and desperation intertwined. He hadn't fully comprehended it until that moment, but that was why he was so angry with her. It was always him. He was the one who was always trying. Not Lily. Lily was content with people like McKinnon and Lupin. Something in him longed for the safety of hatred, but he couldn't hate Lily. He could never hate Lily.

His words had left a pause, stifling and strained. Neither witch or wizard could bear to look at each other as two pairs of eyes, one black and one green, darted everywhere but directly at each other. Unconsciously, Severus began to fidget with a frayed thread that was dangling from the sleeve of his robes.

"You ran away, Sev," Lily's voice grew softer. At the unexpected gentleness, Severus let the sleeve drop and met her eyes. No longer was she was a stranger. She was Lily. "You left me for an entire summer without saying anything."

"I said I was leaving, didn't I?" Severus said weakly, but he knew it was a losing argument, as did Lily, who didn't even bother with a response. As they fell into another tense silence, Severus suddenly felt ashamed. No matter what had occurred between them, he shouldn't have left. He didn't even know how he would feel if Lily did the same to him.

"It's my fault," Severus said finally. "I made a mistake."

"Oh," Lily said with an unreadable expression.

She still wasn't speaking to him. Not really.

"I'm sorry, Lily," Severus said, and when she still said nothing, he could feel his voice begin to crack. Never before had he had such a fear that he would lose Lily. She was slipping away. "Lily, please. You're my best friend. What happened didn't change that. At least not for me."

He held his breath as he waited for her response, dreading to hear her contradict him. His world was shuddering violently, the ground underneath his feet threatening to cave in at any moment. If it did, Severus hoped that it would swallow him whole.

"It didn't for me," Lily said finally.

The world stood beautifully still. Severus could feeling himself start to relax. Maybe, just maybe, there was hope for them after all. He only had to make certain that Lily wasn't disgusted by him, that she didn't run away because she was worried about her supposed best friend pouncing on her the moment she let her guard down. Nothing would be worse than Lily believing that he was just another Potter. "I just want things to go back to the way they were."

Once again, Lily's face was inscrutable, and Severus could feel himself beginning to panic. He opened his mouth to speak, just as Lily did.

"I-"

"You-"

Severus could feel himself redden. "Sorry. Go ahead."

"I do too," Lily said simply.

And with her words brought a crushing disappointment and a wave of relief. She wanted to be friends. That was all. Severus knew he should be grateful that Lily was willing to have anything to do with him, and he was, but it did little to alleviate the fresh pain that was gushing from a wound that he feared would never heal.

"But you have to talk to me," Lily said with a firmness that startled him. "No more running away or lying or making excuses. Just the truth. Please?"

It sounded reasonable when she worded like that, but Severus knew it was the impossible. Already, there were so many things that he couldn't tell Lily. For his sake, for her sake, for the sake of their friendship.

"All right," Severus said weakly, knowing that he had no other choice. "The truth."

At that, Lily smiled at him, and that smile almost made him forget the ache in his chest. "Let's meet after dinner, okay? We can catch up. I've...missed you."

"I can't."

The two words caused something to splinter between them all over again, and quickly, Severus caught himself. Lily had said the truth, but the truth wasn't the simple, glorified thing that she made it out to be. It was full of nasty details that no one wanted to hear, least of all Lily.

"Slughorn wants to meet me about tutoring first years," Severus said so easily that he almost believed himself. "It wasn't my idea, of course, but you know how he is."

"Oh," Lily gave him a sympathetic smile. "Well, then tomorrow?"

She believed him. Of course she did. He had promised after all.

"Tomorrow," Severus agreed, somehow feeling worse than he had before.

Lily looked as if she were about to hug him, but to his disappointment, she refrained. "I should go back, but I'll see you in Potions. We're still partners, right?"

Always. The word was on Severus's lips, but he couldn't bring himself to say it. The other times they had exchanged that word, everything had felt right and perfect, but just then, it felt anything but. "Right," he said hollowly.

And rather awkwardly, they parted. As she glided away, Severus made no effort to disguise his stare, the slightest of frowns settling on his lips.

He should have felt satisfied over the discussion. Lily had forgiven him and they were friends again. Maybe it was his fault for lying. Maybe it was hers for being so forgiving. But something had happened between them and the words of reconciliation that they had so frequently said to each other, even more frequently as the years went by, were no longer as satisfying as they once had been.

They were empty.

1975

Even the classrooms felt different.

Lily couldn't tell whether it was because of Voldemort, or simply because there were now OWLs to consider, but something had changed that year. There was a new tension that made time pass almost unbearably slow. The easy laughter that had once helped the minutes fly by was absent, replaced by the monotonous sound of quills scratching against parchment. The highlight of her afternoon had, sadly, been Peter Pettigrew causing a minor catastrophe by shattering a bottle of acidic ink.

It would be a long year.

Lily rested her chin in her hands, staring off into a distance. She knew she should be scribbling down all the notes she could. Transfiguration tended to be her trickiest subject, and Potter being practically a genius at the subject didn't help matters, but she couldn't muster up the concentration required. Her mind was running through her endlessly long list of tasks she had to do and she was beginning to panic.

There was that essay for Potions, the properties of moonstones. That one would be easy enough. The essay for Astronomy, however, that was another story. How on earth would she manage to write an entire roll of parchment devoted to Jupiter's moons? Especially when her star chart had mysteriously vanished. And then there was the issue of patrols. And Severus. Lily had to fit him in somehow. Especially since they had just made up. She didn't want to risk another fight.

"Miss Evans, would you care to share with the rest of us what is so fascinating about the back of Mr. Potter's head?"

Immediately, Lily bolted upright, her face flushing. She could feel all eyes pinned on her, including a pair that could only belong to a smirking Potter's.

"Don't be embarrassed, Evans. I've always been rather fond of my hair myself."

"A bit of an understatement, mate," Black chortled.

Lupin raised an eyebrow. "Isn't that the pot calling the kettle black?"

"I dunno," Pettigrew said, frowning. "James is the one with-"

"When you're finished discussing Potter's hair," McGonagall cut in dryly. "You may divide into pairs and begin practicing."

Lily's cheeks were still warm, but the Marauder jabbering had eased the tension in the classroom and brought a sense of familiarity to replace it. For the first time since the year had begun, class felt normal. Conversation slowly started to trickle throughout the room, eventually gushing into the regular chatter, and Lily began to perk up. It was only when her eyes fell back on the tawny owl in front of her that she slumped back down again.

Alice saw her face and was sympathetic. "You can do it. You already know the theory. All you have to do is concentrate."

"Alice, you've been in the same Transfiguration class as me for the last four years," Lily said patiently. "We both know that this owl isn't going to end up as a pair of opera glasses."

"You're stalling," Alice reached over to pluck Lily's wand and pressed it into her friend's palms. "Just try it."

Reluctantly, Lily's fingers folded around the wand. She eyed it distrustfully. "Fine. But don't blame me if it turns into a Hungarian Horntail."

Before she swished her wand, she was careful to glance towards Potter. After all, she partly blamed him when it came to her trouble in Transfiguration. Perhaps she wasn't a natural at the subject, but in her defense, it was impossible to concentrate when he was there, waving his latest accomplishment proudly in the air that he, of course, had mastered on his first or second attempt. If that wasn't enough, he would suddenly pop over to inspect whatever misshapen catastrophe was on her desk. Maybe he never purposely insulted her work, at least he hadn't since he had gotten over calling her 'Firehead,' but just the knowledge that his hazel eyes were focused intently on her, most likely cooking up some horrible scheme, was enough to rattle Lily.

It was unnerving, it was bewildering, but it was Potter.

He hadn't even picked up his wand yet. He was far too busy in his Marauder huddle. She was close enough to hear snatches of their whispered conversation, but not enough to make any sense of it. From the repeated mention of "parchment," she could only guess that they were plotting to transfigure all the parchment in the castle into Chocolate Frogs. Hopefully she wouldn't be the prefect patrolling when they did so.

Satisfied that Potter's attention was elsewhere, Lily scrutinized the owl in front of her, trying desperately to concentrate, but her mind kept floating elsewhere. There were simply so many things on her mind that she couldn't bring herself to worry about one measly spell. Unenthusiastically, she sliced her wand through the air, wrist turning just as McGonagall had demonstrated. Immediately, what had been an owl was transformed into a pair of ballet slippers.

"Well," Alice said brightly. "At least it's not a Hungarian Horntail."

Lily silently chewed on her lip, still studying the slippers. What did ballet slippers have to do with opera glasses? She certainly hadn't been expecting opera glasses, but she had expected something that wasn't so...wrong.

"It's not that bad," Alice said consolingly and quickly converted the slippers back into a ruffled looking owl. "Your movements were fine. I think you just need to be more positive. Do you want to try again?"

"You can go ahead," Lily said quietly. What was wrong with her? She had to concentrate or she would never finish anything. She willed herself to do so, trying desperately to clear her mind of everything that didn't involve owls and glasses, at least for the next forty minutes.

To her relief, the rest of the hour went by surprisingly smoothly. Lily hadn't succeeded in a pair of opera glasses, but she had managed a magnifying glass, which both she and Alice agreed was a definite improvement, at least until Potter had brandished an exquisitely embellished pair of glasses that impressed even McGonagall. Glancing down at her magnifying glass, Lily had felt queasy all over again.

"I'm worried about her."

Lily followed Alice's gaze, pausing in the middle of stuffing her textbook into her book bag. Mary was hunched over as if she was trying desperately to become invisible, arms firmly crossed. She was, or at least she had been, an avid reader of Witch Weekly, with her blond hair always painstakingly arranged to mirror the glamorous witches that lined the pages. Now it hung limply around her tired face as if she hadn't bothered to brush it for days.

"She hasn't been the same since...well, you know..." Alice hesitated.

But Lily didn't waver. Her face clouded over, eyes darkening. "Mulciber."

She had seen him around the castle. He and a number of other Slytherins didn't seem affected by Voldemort's return, at least not in the same way as everyone else was. If anything, there seemed to be a new spring in his step, a new glee in his ever-present sneer. In some sickening way, it was as if he thrived on everyone else's despair.

A chill trickling down her spine at the thought of Mulciber, Lily called out to the petite blonde before she could scurry away. "Mary!"

Resembling a frightened deer more than anything else, Mary instantly jerked around, her face complexion pasty. It was only when she registered Lily's features that she relaxed, though it wasn't enough for the color to return to her cheeks. "Oh. Lily."

She wasn't the Mary she had been before. The Mary who could have been a little too frivolous at times, who smiled constantly and laughed freely, at least when she was finished being shy. But even shy Mary hadn't looked as terrified as this Mary.

Something about her wide-eyed expression made Lily soften her voice. "Do you want to go to the lake with us?" she asked, plastering a much too cheery smile on her face in an effort to make Mary smile back.

She didn't. Instead, the timid girl looked edgier than ever. Looking nervously around the room, Mary shook her head quickly, ducking her head down to avert her eyes from Lily's. "I can't."

"Oh. Well-"

Before Lily could finish, Mary cut her off. "I have to go. I'll see you later?"

She didn't wait for a response. Before Lily could even open her mouth, Mary skittered away. Lily turned to Alice, bewildered. Concern puckered her forehead.

"Has she been this weird with Marlene?"

"Marlene," Alice said dryly as they exited the classroom. "Is too busy with Sirius Black."

"Black?" Lily stopped in her tracks for a moment, instantly ashamed of herself for missing this new development. She had been so wrapped up in her issues with Severus that she had been neglecting her other friends. She had vaguely noticed their absence, course, but hadn't put much thought into it.

"It's not your fault," Alice said as if she had read Lily's mind. "You've had other things to worry about. Speaking of that, were you ever going to tell me what happened with you and Severus?"

Lily felt her stomach knot up at the name. She hadn't told anyone about the kiss, with the exception of the edited version to Petunia, but looking at Alice's warm brown eyes, she wondered if that had been a mistake. The knowledge that Severus thought their kiss was a mistake and regretted was just so...humiliating, but Lily knew that Alice wouldn't tell a soul. It would be nice, for once, to tell someone the whole truth about her friendship with Severus.

But she couldn't.

Admitting she had doubts about their relationship felt disloyal. Even confiding in a person other than Severus felt disloyal. It was as if she was replacing him. Lily knew it sounded unreasonable when she worded it like that, but she already knew how Severus would react if he found out she was confiding to Alice, especially about him. There would be anger and defensiveness, but there would also be hurt, and it was because of that hurt that Lily didn't utter a word.

"There's not much to tell," Lily said finally when it became clear that Alice wasn't willing to drop the matter. "We had a fight."

"Let me guess," Alice hoisted the strap of her book bag up just before it could slide off her shoulder. "He's upset that you're too Gryffindor and you're upset that he's too Slytherin?"

The matter-of-factness in her voice caused Lily to wince. She knew that it hadn't been Alice's intention, but her friend's abridged version had a degree of truth in it, and that was enough to ruffle her. "Have we become that predictable?"

"A little."

"It's different this time," Lily said slowly, weighing each word before she spoke. "It's not just about his friends and mine. I don't think it ever was. It's just that he's not...a talking sort of person, and he's even worse about it here, so naturally..."

Alice didn't say anything. She merely looked at Lily, making Lily feel nervous about her own words.

"So naturally, we argued," Lily finished halfheartedly.

She wished Alice would say something. Lily was already beginning to wonder if she had revealed too much. It wasn't out of loyalty to Severus anymore. For her own sake, Lily didn't want anyone to know how fragile their friendship had become. It had been cracked and mended so many times that exposing all the chips made it seem as if it was beyond repair.

"Can I ask you something?"

Lily disliked that question. Nothing good ever came from that question. It was not only a question itself, but the question that followed it that always led to uncomfortably sticky matters. Worst of all, she couldn't object. No one ever objected to that question, except for perhaps Severus, who would have no trouble at all voicing his scorn.

"Go ahead."

Alice's forehead creased as her eyebrows knit together. She was so obviously trying to find a tactful way to word her question that it was making Lily even more uneasy. "You don't have to answer if you don't want to," Alice hedged.

Absentmindedly, Lily reached for a lock of hair to twirl around her finger before she remembered that it had been cut. Quickly, her fingers flew to her shoulders for a few strands to distract herself as she waited for Alice to continue.

"Do you want to be friends with him because you want to or because it's a habit?"

"Of course I want to be friends with him!" Lily said hotly. The question had caused her to stop walking altogether, nearly causing a gaggle of Ravenclaws to crash into her. Barely digesting their dirty looks, Lily sprang into action, walking more hurriedly than she had before.

"Sorry!" Alice faltered, clearly taken back by Lily's powerful reaction. "I only meant... People do grow apart. I barely speak to my first best friend. It was Rebecca Smythe."

"Rebecca?" There was nothing wrong with Rebecca, except for the fact that Lily hadn't seen her and Alice exchange more than a few words in all of their time at Hogwarts. The knowledge bothered Lily more than she cared to admit. When Alice only nodded, Lily scoured her brain, hoping to find something to prove that she and Severus were nothing like Alice and Rebecca.

"Well, it's different," Lily said lamely. "Sev and I are different."

Alice looked far from convinced and Lily couldn't blame her. She could have dropped the argument right then and there, but something inside her refused to let that happen. She couldn't let Alice go on believing that she and Severus had grown apart. Lily didn't understand precisely why it was so important to her or why her eyes were beginning to water. She had to make Alice believe it. She had to believe it.

"He's the one who told me about magic, Alice," Lily started at last, wondering how she could possibly explain her friendship with Severus in the form of words. There was so much to say, so much she couldn't. "We told each other everything. During the summer, we would see each other every day and we could talk for hours. I...lost Petunia because of magic. Sort of. Sev made me realize that I wasn't just a freak."

Her voice had trailed off. Her words sounded shallow, even to her own ears. Lily took a deep breath and tried again. "He thinks he needs me. He pretends he doesn't, but I know he does, and maybe he does need me. The truth is I need him too."

If there was anyone at Hogwarts who would understand, it would be Alice. Alice had always been the insightful one, the empathetic one. But as Lily looked imploringly at Alice, she could tell that the other girl didn't understand in the slightest.

"I hope for your sake that it is different this time," Alice said finally.

"It will be," Lily said with more certainty than she felt. It was better than admitting the truth: that sometimes she felt that her friendship was Severus was like a ticking bomb. Because admitting that meant she would have to think about what would happen when time ran out, and that was the last thing she wanted to do.

The rest of the way to the lake, neither girl said a word.