A/N: Sorry, sorry, sorry this took so long! Longer more elaborate note at the end of the chapter.
Disclaimer: JK Rowling's.
A clatter of bottles followed by the deafening crash of glass shattering against the alley floor, and that's when Lily saw him. Though the curtains of black hair covered his face, there was no mistake it was him as he collapsed on the dirty floor, knocking down more empty bottles as he went…
The bottles clinked against each other with even the slightest bump on the road. Lily glanced nervously over her shoulder at the brown bag in the backseat as it swayed dangerously every time he stepped on the gas.
James, who had been silent ever since they left the shop, chuckled softly. "Relax, Evans," he told her, glancing at the bag through his rearview mirror. When her shoulders failed to drop, he shot her a sideways glance, asking with faint amusement, "You all right?"
Lily willed her shoulders to loosen up, becoming aware that her heart was racing almost painfully against her chest.
"Evans?" James repeated, concern beginning to creep into his voice.
"I'm all right," she said at last and she was surprised to learn that that wasn't entirely a lie. There was something oddly comforting about being safely in his car with him. "Where do you live, anyway?" she asked when she could feel his eyes studying her.
"Not too far from campus," he replied, eyes back on the road. She could see the outside lights in the glare of his glasses and it distracted her for a second. When she blinked out of it, she repressed the urge to ask why he bothered with a car if he lived so close to school, knowing it would sound rude.
"Are you sure your flat mate won't mind me being over? What if he's got plans?"
Lily could see the corner of his mouth pull as he stared ahead. Part of her wished he would look at her so she could appreciate his half smirk but at the same time she was glad he didn't. Her stomach was already in knots as it was. "You're bringing alcohol, Evans. You're essentially making his plans for him," he said, raising his eyes to the rearview mirror to check on the bag. "He'll love you. I'm sure of it."
Lily shifted in her seat. Instead of appeasing her, that made her far more nervous.
The elegant facade of his flat complex combined with the gleaming elevators inside did nothing to calm the swooping in her stomach a few minutes later. She suddenly wished she hadn't insisted on carrying the bag full of bottles. She was terrified of dropping it and staining the brilliant floor. James was saying something about the intimidating doorman but Lily wasn't listening. All she could think of was how much Dorcas would love to live in such a building, how indifferent Benjy would be about it, and how much Marlene would pretend to hate it.
Lily broke out of her reverie as he stopped in front of a mahogany door with a polished, silver "12" shining brightly against it.
"Here we are," he informed her. As an afterthought, he added with a small wince, "I really hope he doesn't have a date over."
James turned the key and quickly glanced around before stepping aside to let Lily in. The sitting room was dark save for the flicker of lights from the television. Lily paid no attention to it at first, her eyes taking in the high ceiling and the vast windows that took up the majority of one of the walls, allowing for much of the street light to filter through. The first room alone was at least double the size of the sitting room in her flat. But what struck her about the spacious room was how unused and new most of the furniture seemed. She could see part of a dinning table in an adjacent room and some of the chairs still had plastic wrapping.
And, sprawled on the couch, the only piece of furniture aside from the chairs that seemed to be used, eyes fixed on the television set, was a handsome boy with dark hair and deep-set eyes. His already sharp features contrasted vividly with the brightness of the images flickering across his face.
"Back already, Prongs?" he asked, not bothering to look up. "I don't have to leave the flat for the night, then?"
Lily could see the muscles on James's throat flex in the semi-darkness. "Lily and I thought we'd have dinner here," he said rather loudly and pointedly.
At that, his flat mate sat up straight to look at him, his eyes falling on Lily instead. Surprise briefly flitted through his features, his eyebrows relaxing almost as fast as he had raised them. No trace of embarrassment or apology, however, colored his expression. Instead, understanding dawned on his face.
With a sly grin, he asked, "You need me to leave now, then?" He did not wait for answer, already standing up and reaching for the remote.
Lily, catching on to what he must have thought and feeling her face flush, quickly began to say, "Oh, no! We're not—"
But James cut in by saying with a shake of his head, "Sit down, Padfoot. We'd never get you out of the flat. Dunno who you're kidding by offering."
The boy merely shrugged, the taunting grin still present on his face. "Thought I'd be polite. Don't want our lovely guest here to think I have no manners." He winked at Lily who wrinkled her nose.
"Yeah, she's positively charmed by you at this point."
"Bet she is. And even if she's not, she'll like me. It would explain why she ended up liking you."
"He's got a point, Potter," Lily teased, pressing her lips soon after to stop herself from snorting with laughter at James's expression. "You were worse of a git when we first met."
"I offered you coffee," James pointed out.
"After nearly killing me," Lily returned.
James's flat mate let out a loud, bark-like laugh. "Sounds like Prongs— nearly killing a girl before asking her out."
"Do most of them wish he had succeeded instead of enduring his flirting?"
"I like her," he told James. An almost child-like glint of excitement lit in his eyes as he turned to Lily and asked, "Did he do that thing with his hair?"
Lily glanced at James, which was a mistake because the glare he threw his best mate almost sent her into a fit of laughter. "Yeah, he did and it was infuriating."
"He does that when he's about to make a total prat of himself."
"Didn't even care about his car?"
"Not as much as he should have."
"That's a first."
"Well, since you two are practically best mates," James cut in, visibly less amused than the other two, "it'd be helpful if you knew each other's names. Padfoot, this is Lily Evans— Evans, this is my best mate, Sirius Black."
Sirius Black abandoned his lazy position on the couch and stretched out his hand to her, the promise of amusement already lighting up his handsome face. Lily balanced the weight of the bag on one hand and hastily shook his. "Pleasure," Sirius told her. He tore his grey eyes from Lily to look at James, and very seriously he added to him, "I thought Lily was the blonde one, Prongs."
"That was never funny, you sod." But Sirius let out another bark of laughter anyway.
"Padfoot?" she repeated. "Prongs?"
James's annoyance vanished as he exchanged a knowing grin with his friend.
"Old nicknames, love," Sirius explained casually. "With splendid and wonderfully embarrassing stories behind them."
"But," James added before Lily could ask. "You'd have to get us exceptionally drunk to get us to tell you all about those."
"Funny," Sirius mused. "It all started with alcohol in the first place, if I remember correctly."
"I doubt any of us remember correctly."
Lily laughed. "Is it lucky we brought these, then?" she asked, raising the bag in her arms, the movement making the bottles clank against each other.
Sirius raised his eyebrows, his interest ensnared by the bag. He leaned in to examine it and after less than a minute of perusing its contents, he let out a low whistle and directed an approving glance at James. "Good choice, Prongs," he told him.
"He hardly picked any of them. I did all of the work," Lily amended.
"Exactly what I mean," he told her with a wink before proceeding to slap James's shoulder. "Shame you didn't bring me any food from that posh place you went to, though. It's as if you don't know me at all."
James, who had leaned up against the sleek counter dividing their kitchen and living room, tore his eyes from Lily, abandoning the particularly pleased smile he was wearing to look at his friend. "I do know you, you sod. You hate the snobby rubbish they serve there."
"You do too," Sirius returned as he examined the contents of a particularly dark bottle with interest.
Lily, however, shot James a questioning look. With guarded amusement, she asked, "If you hate it then why were you going to take me there?"
Sirius moved his eyes away from the bottle to grin at her. He opened his mouth to comment but one glare from his mate and he opened his mouth to laugh instead.
A hint of color that Lily found endearing tinged James's face as he said to her, "Are you hungry? We can order takeout from that place a few blocks away."
Sirius, already working the screw of the first bottle open, shook his head. "They won't deliver here anymore after the incident, remember?"
"They're still cross about that, then? It was Pete's fault and he doesn't even live here. Not to mention it was ages ago."
"We can make food here," Lily offered.
"Good luck with finding something," James said.
"Yeah, I don't reckon we even know where we keep those cauldron-cooking-things." He added the last bit rather thoughtfully, as if trying to remember but giving up only second later with a shrug.
"You mean pots?" Lily asked, laughing.
"Yeah, same difference. If we own any good ones after that time Prongs tried to cook and somehow melted most of it off."
"That was Wormtail, too." James amended. "Or maybe that was Moony," he added thoughtfully.
"I don't believe that," Lily cut in.
"Me neither," Sirius agreed. "Sounds more like Pete. He's done more damage to this place than both of us combined, which is saying something."
"No, I meant that there must be something edible around here," she explained, glancing toward the kitchen, but even from where she stood, she could see a lot of the furnishing in that room looked as unused as the rest of the flat.
"Be my guest," Sirius said, this time not tearing his eyes away from the bottle he was still examining. "Hey Prongs, is this the one we tried at Gideon's party?"
"Which one was that one?"
"The shorter, less funny of the two."
"No, I know Gid. Which party?"
"The party with that brunette who hated me."
"It's amazing how your memory is triggered by the women you meet," James replied.
"That's not all I remember about her," he started with a grin.
"All right, kitchen's this way, Evans," James cut in loudly, prompting Sirius to chuckle loudly.
"Good luck," Sirius called after them as James took the paper bag from her arms and placed it on the counter, not before selecting a bottle at random. Placing his free hand on the small of Lily's back, he lead her into the kitchen. A chill that visibly shook her ran through her body. Luckily, James seemed to notice nothing.
"I hope you didn't want any of that bottle he took." He smirked crookedly at her, blissfully unaware of the way her stomach swooped. "But this one will do, yeah?" He turned the bottle to show her the label.
"Yeah, that one's fine," she said almost distractedly, her attention enraptured by the warmth of his hand burning through the fabric of her dress. "He's not going to manage to finish that other one on his own either way, is he?"
James laughed. "Of course he will," he said with confidence. "When will you just take my word for it, Evans? Like with the severe lack of food in this flat?" As if to prove that point, he stopped in front of a pair of mahogany cabinets. Setting the bottle down on the counter, he opened them rather dramatically for her to see the empty shelves inside. "Ta-da!"
Lily bit down her lip to stop herself from giggling in a way that promised endless teasing from the boy grinning triumphantly before her. Instead, she fixed her gaze on the vast cabinet space that smelled strongly of new wood. All the shelves were empty, except for a few bottles of oil and vinegar, a small box of salt, and a bag of sugar. Unwilling to justify his smugness so easily, she turned towards the large, silver refrigerator instead. "What about the—"
"Fridge?" James finished for her, sweeping across the kitchen to open one of the shiny doors before Lily could. "Nothing but—" he stopped to glance inside, grimacing as he continued, "—a few cans of that beer Padfoot loves that tastes like piss; congealed wonton soup from that takeout place, but it's so old, it might kill you; a few sticks of butter; a mysterious, greasy brown bag; eggs that weren't there last night; and a bunch of browning carrots Moony brought ages ago in a miserable attempt to get us to eat better."
Lily peered over her shoulder to see it for herself. "What do you two eat?"
"At home? Mostly takeout from some place or another, maybe pasta if our mate Moony is over and takes pity on us." He shut the refrigerator door. "Oh, and loads of cereal," he added, gesturing at the lonesome cereal box that rattled with the impact. "Assuming we have milk," he said as an afterthought, pulling the door open again and almost sending the cereal box tumbling over the edge. "Oi, Padfoot!" he called over his shoulder.
The other boy hummed in acknowledgement from the living room, too busy, Lily imagined, with the bottle he had claimed as his.
"We haven't got any milk."
"For about two weeks, mate," returned the other, unconcerned.
Lily, meanwhile, shook her head, half in disbelief and half in amusement. "I don't know how you two are athletes," she commented.
"Luck," she corrected, eyes falling on the freezer door.
"Obviously, you've never seen us play."
But Lily was paying him no attention. "Ah!" she exclaimed when she pulled the heavy door open, the cold waft that hit her sending another chill through her body. "I think I found dinner," she informed him so smugly that part of her wondered if that particular trait of his was rubbing off on her.
James, brows raised with intrigue, leaned over her shoulder to look inside. He was so close that the stubble of his chin grazed lightly over the exposed skin of her shoulder. A chill that had nothing to do with the cold cloud swirling from the freezer shocked her. "Is that a frozen bag of chips?" he asked, oblivious. "Hmm," he added after a moment. "We all thought that was an icepack."
Shaking her head, she wasted no time. In five minutes, after successfully locating plates and a decent pan, she had most of the contents of the bag sizzling in oil. "Do me favor, yeah?" she asked James who hummed in acknowledgement. "Find me a second pan and fetch those eggs from the refrigerator."
With a small salute that made her press her lips together, he set off to open every single cabinet in the room until he found a small, battered pan. "That'll do," she told him, carefully serving the cooked chips onto a paper towel. "Now, can I trust you to cook the eggs?"
He was shaking his head before she finished the sentence. "No, no, no," he repeated, shaking his head solemnly. "You're asking the bloke who thought Padfoot was right when he called pots 'cauldrons.'" And with that he hoisted himself onto the counter, watching her as she worked instead.
As she dumped the remaining contents of the bag into the oil, she suddenly became very conscious that she could do something ridiculous and equally embarrassing like burning herself or burning the food. She tried her best not to look at him as she cracked a few eggs onto the second pan.
Neither of them said anything, the sound of James struggling to open the bottle the only noise breaking through the almost silence. When he finally managed it, he took a swig, the muscles of his neck flexing as the liquid hit his throat. Lily tried her best not to stare, but when he met her eye, he winked at her.
"Fancy some of this?" James said with hints of amusement. "You look like you need it."
She shot him a glare which only elicited laughter from. The sound alone effectively melted some of her tension away, her shoulders relaxing as a smile of her own tugged at her lips.
James sobered up after a while, watching her carefully in silence. The remnants of laughter slipped slowly from his face with each gulp from the bottle. By the time she glanced at him again, his expression was unreadable.
"Sorry you ended up doing this," he told her, with a small gesture toward the pan.
"It's no problem at all," she said, flicking her free hand dismissively.
James, however, sounded unconvinced. "I had those reservations for ages."
"It's really all right, James," she assured him, moving the last of the chips onto the plate to cool. "I'm positive I wouldn't have known what to order at a place like that anyway."
He bit the inside of his cheek. "Right, but you dressed up and all for…dull chips."
"Dull?" Lily repeated with mock indignation, rolling her shoulders back and bringing herself to her full height. "That's because you haven't tried my cooking, Potter."
He offered her a weak smile and Lily sighed heavily. An extended silence followed in which only the hissing of the eggs in the oil could be heard along with Sirius's laughter at the television from the next room. Their eyes met once or twice until the silence became unbearable for Lily. Unable to brush aside what she had been longing to ask since the beginning of the night, she said, "Is everything all right?"
"Yeah, fine," he said. She could tell he wasn't being entirely honest.
As tactfully as she could and after a nerve-wrecking moment of hesitance, she added, "With… with your dad, I mean."
James let out a long breath, similar to hers only seconds before. His resigned expression told her he had been expecting the question. "Things are hardly ever all right with him," he told her.
Lily looked back at the food, buying herself more time to think of what to say. "Do you think he really cancelled your reservation on purpose?"
"I don't know," he replied, bringing the bottle to his lips again. "This one's good, Evans, you should try it."
Lily set down the spatula, repressing a defeated sigh, and took the bottle from him. After having a sip, she sent him a remorseful look. "I'm sorry," she said, expelling a breath. "It's not my place to ask so much."
"It's all right, Evans," he told her, his small smile encouraging. "You can ask."
Lily bit her lip briefly before taking him up on that. She dumped the finished eggs onto the plate next to the chips, turned off the stove, and moved to lean on the counter next to him. She felt him tense slightly as her arm and his leg touched, but he made no effort to move away. Releasing a heavy breath, she asked, "Were you in an awful lot of trouble the other day? You just sort of… took off after you got that call from your dad and…" she trailed off, feeling far too inquisitive despite his reassurances.
It was his turn to exhale sharply, allowing the silence drag on. "I'm not the one in trouble," he replied finally, staring straight ahead as he took another swig from the bottle.
Lily opened her mouth, if not to prompt him then to change the subject to something less uncomfortable. Before the words left her, however, he simply said, "He is."
"Your dad?" she blurted. "What sort of trouble?"
His eyes roamed her face in a moment of hesitation, but when he spoke, he did so in almost a rushed breath of relief, as though the words had threatened to pierce through him. "I'm not sure. When I'm over at the house to talk about it, all we do is shout." He took another gulp from the bottle, saying nothing for so long that Lily thought had changed his mind. "It really upsets Mum. He was frantic the other day when I got there." He looked at her then, his expression as impassive as before. "Kept trying to reach two of his colleagues and only became angrier when he couldn't get a hold of them. And the oddest part of it all was that he went ballistic when I tried to leave the house." Another long pause. "I've never seen him like that."
"Maybe he's worried you'll be dragged into whatever trouble he's in," she offered, almost cringing at how inadequate her words were.
"That'd be difficult since I'm almost certain all of this has to do with the company losing money." He chuckled humorlessly. "Maybe he's worried I'm pissing all of his money away."
"James, I'm sure that's not it," she said kindly, reaching over to place a hand on his knee. His muscles flexed momentarily, but he became very still after that, watching her hand carefully as if he had never seen anything like it before. When he lifted his eyes to hers, she let her hand drop to her side.
Cheeks burning, she cleared her throat and said, "You know what the good news is, though?" He shook his head and she couldn't help but grin at him. "We're having a whole bag of chips for dinner."
His face brightened. "You know me so well already, Evans."
"That or you're becoming awfully predictable," she pointed out, popping a chip into her mouth.
He arched his eyebrows. "That sounded like a challenge to be spontaneous, you know."
He was visibly in a better mood and that only stretched her smile wider, so wide, in fact, that she bit her bottom lip to contain it. "There's only so much spontaneity you can muster while eating dinner so I'm not too worried."
His brows climbed even higher up his forehead, visibly enjoying every bit of the challenge. "I was wrong. You don't know me so well after all."
She rolled her eyes. "What could you possibly do here in your kitchen?" she demanded.
"Loads of things."
James paused to consider that as he chewed. "I could spray you with the faucet sprayer."
"Predictable," she declared as she continued to eat. "You already did something like that the other day at the coffee shop."
He allowed that. "I could throw the rest of these chips on the ground," he offered, glancing down at his plate.
Lily snorted. "Don't be so silly."
"Yeah," he agreed, stuffing a handful of chips into his mouth. "Burst into song?"
"Now that," she started with rekindled interest, "I'd love to see."
He laughed, reaching once more for the bottle. "Maybe at the end of the night when I'm really sloshed," he told her, drowning a good amount of the bottle's contents. He offered it to her again and she took it, taking a considerably smaller swig. "In the meantime, maybe I could, I dunno..."
"Maybe you could what?" she encouraged.
He did not reply, opting to watch her carefully instead. Soon, a wicked glint lit his eyes, matching the nature of his lopsided smirk. His eyes dropped to her lips and she felt her insides convulse with a chill that ran down her spine.
"You've very nice eyes."
"That—" she started, but she paused to even out her voice. "That's not so much spontaneous as it is—"
"You're..." she trailed off, unable to finish the sentence as she always had. She was certain he didn't care. His smirk vanished entirely. There were no teasing comments and the mischief that decorated his face when he was about to taunt her was absent. It was just his eyes, as honest as she had ever seen them, taking in every inch of her face.
It was the warmth of his breath caressing her face that prompted her to realize how close she was leaning into him. Wondering if he could hear how her heart threatened to rip through her chest, she moved away. The movement sent her dress sleeve sliding down her shoulder and, mortified, she moved to pull it into place. His fingers, however, were already there, brushing against hers as they hesitated for her approval. Lily didn't stop him, watching as his fingers skimmed the surface of her skin, their trace pleasantly burning her.
"Thank you," she whispered.
He wasn't listening, his eyes on the still-exposed scar.
"Sorry," he murmured when he met her eye.
"Don't be," she told him, but out of instinct, she pressed a hand to cover it.
"I think you're perfect," he informed her, gently taking her hand and moving it away.
"You're probably wondering about this." she started breathlessly.
His hazel eyes roamed down the curve of her neck again, so gentle and admiring that every nerve ending in her body buzzed with electricity. When they found the marred trail of skin starting at her chest and disappearing under her dress, he said in a voice so low and quiet that made her pulse pick up. "You don't have to tell me anything about it."
Their eyes met, not only sending shivers through her body, but bursting a ball of warmth in her chest that encouraged her to trust him. "It was someone who I once thought my friend," she started, only half hearing herself for her attention was still focused on the way he was looking at her.
Yet the echo of eight words managed to break through.
"I said don't touch me, you filthy Mudblood!"
James watched her silently, no visible traces of impatience as she basked in the long silence.
"I don't think I've ever told anyone the full story before."
"You don't have to, Evans," he assured her. "We can go and watch telly with Padfoot."
She shook her head, determined to cling to her courage while she had it. James opened his mouth to offer something else, but she cut him off. "It happened when I was sixteen," she began, gauging his reaction carefully. "And I can assure you it's not nearly as bad as what you're thinking. It was just... humiliating." Something akin to relief flitted through his expression, but he allowed her to continue without interruption. "Maybe it's silly to be this affected by it..." She trailed off, unable to sort out her thoughts.
Shaking her head, she tried again. "Okay, you know when kids in school make up horrible terms to taunt other people?"
"Yeah..." he slowly replied.
"Well, there was this horrid term people at my school used to taunt those who weren't as... affluent as they were," she started, already sensing the difficulty she was going to have in explaining. "It was awful. The word they used was 'Mudblood,' which means—"
She abruptly stopped when she saw him clench his jaw.
"I know exactly what it means."
Lily blinked. "You do?"
"Turns out your school wasn't the only one with wankers like that." He said this through gritted teeth.
She recovered. "I've never met anyone from another school who's heard of it," she mused almost to herself. "Well, since you know what it is, it'll be a lot easier to explain."
It was the hottest day of that summer and the excited bustle of students celebrating the end of exams broke through Lily's concentration as she waited by the gate. Despite her usual confidence, she had spent the last ten minutes reviewing the questions in her head and mentally assuring herself she had picked all the correct answers. It was important to her, after all, to score excellent marks on all exams. The thought of failing and losing her scholarship made her physically ill.
If Severus was there, he would roll his eyes, promising her that she did just fine, as always. Except, he was late again and Lily was growing impatient in the miserable heat.
The redhead glanced at her wristwatch and huffed, blowing the hair that was beginning to cling to her sweaty forehead away from her face. Perhaps if the heat hadn't threatened to asphyxiate her and if that had been the first time he stood her up, Lily would have waited for him for far longer. Feeling her insides buzz with annoyance, she pushed herself off the wall, the fabric of her shirt sticking to her back, and started for the avenue alone.
She only made it a few yards, however, before she heard a familiar voice.
"Hey, Lils, hang on!"
She would have recognized that curly hair and broad grin anywhere, even at a distance. "Hey, Ben," she greeted when he finally succeeded in meandering through the herd of excited students.
Benjy bowed exaggeratedly in greeting, as he always did when he saw her. His grin broadened when that earned him a string of laughter from the redhead. "Did all right on your exams?" he asked.
Lily sucked in a sharp breath, ready to spew all her worries, but Benjy interrupted with a chuckle and a knowing shake of his head. "Let me guess," he started, "you're convinced you've failed every single one."
She opened her mouth to protest, but he went on, "You always think that, Lils. And not only do you do fine, but you always end up winning that award thing every year."
"I'm still worried about the Advanced Physics one," she started, biting her lower lip.
Benjy let out a defeated sigh. "You won't know until a few months anyway, so there's no use worrying about it now, is there?"
"I suppose…" she allowed, catching her lower lip in between her teeth.
Her companion took that as a satisfactory answer. "That's the spirit," he told her cheerfully, oblivious to the dirty looks they were receiving for blocking the flow of students, eager to get as far away from the facility for the rest of the summer. "Now, in the meantime, you should join me and Carmichael for some celebratory drinks at my place."
At that, Lily rolled her eyes. "Stealing one drink each from your parents' liquor cabinet doesn't count as celebratory, Ben. And besides, your friend is notorious for acting obnoxiously drunk after the one drink."
"That's why I want you to be there. Someone's got to stop me from murdering him when he gets too annoying."
Lily laughed, feeling her previous worry about exams and Severus melt away, her muscles relaxing significantly. "Sorry, Ben, I wish I could but I have to carry on home. I've no idea where Sev is and I'd feel loads better if I found him."
Benjy's grin slipped from his face at that, his expression darkening as it often did whenever she mentioned the name. But aside from all sanguinity vanishing from his face, he remained silent. Lily, however, had the feeling he wanted to say something.
"What?" she prompted, somewhat defiantly.
He only raised his eyebrows and shook his head. "Nothing."
"No," she returned, flaring up at once. "You want to say something about him, don't you? Go on, say it."
Benjy glanced around, the muscles of his throat clenching as he struggled to find the proper words. "Well," he tried at last. "I know he's your mate, but…" he trailed off, and it increased her impatience as well as her irritation.
"But what?" she challenged, crossing her arms over her chest. The glaring sun was beginning to bring out the cluster of freckles speckled all over their surface.
Benjy averted his eyes to the street of traffic, staring at the cars as they passed, whether to buy himself more time to think of something tactful or in hopes that one of them was his ride, Lily didn't know nor cared. His eyes met hers at last and she could already see the apology in them before he spoke. "He's not exactly—" He stopped, growing more uneasy as Lily's eyes bore into him. "Well, he doesn't exactly keep the most trustworthy company, does he?"
Lily felt her heart sink. She had been under the delusion that if others hadn't noticed, then it wouldn't be true.
"Mulciber, Avery, and their little gang—you know what they do, don't you?" he went on, his speech picking up speed with every word.
Lily said nothing to that, making Benjy bolder. "Where do you think Stebbins got all those pills the time he almost overdosed?"
"That's just—"Lily started with no real conviction.
"A rumor?" He finished darkly. "And they're doing shit that's worse than dealing. Like the other day? They cornered Bertram Aubrey and pressed that filthy switchblade Mulciber carries around to his neck." Lily's eyes flew to his, almost desperate to find any sign that he was lying. His face, however, betrayed none and his eyebrows climbed up his forehead, challenging her to justify the incident. "That's why he missed the first round of exams. They scared him out of his wits." Lily did not know what to say so she bode for silence. "You know why they did it," he continued, watching her avert her eyes to the ground.
"Because they think of him what they think of me? A Mudblood?"
"They think," he started firmly as though she hadn't uttered the word, "he's beneath them because he's here on scholarship."
"I'm here on scholarship—"
"Yes, but they'd never attack you because of Snape," Benjy snapped impatiently.
Lily's tenacity took over, flaring from her chest to her tightly clenched fists. "Why would that stop them if you're so convinced Sev is as awful as them?"
Benjy chuckled humorlessly and Lily stared, utterly bewildered. "You don't see it, do you, Lily?"
Her brows knit together, but before she could pursue the subject, Benjy shook his head, shoulders relaxing visibly. "Just," he started, his voice losing its previous viciousness. "Be careful, all right?" He eyed her anxiously but for some reason, his worry annoyed her. "The other day…with Mary," he started, catching her completely by surprise. "Mulciber had her—" His voice broke before he could go on, the color rising to his face. His jaw worked momentarily before he continued, quietly than before, "I don't know what would have happened if I hadn't gotten there."
Though the noise of the street was as vivid as ever all around, the silence between them weighed on her shoulders like boulders. She couldn't bring herself to meet his eye in fear of betraying her resolve, her determination to believe in the one she had called a friend since she was nine. "I'm going to go find him," she announced at last, her voice breaking at the end. To compensate, she lifted chin high and closed her fists tightly at her sides.
"Have a good summer, Ben."
All of his protests were lost in the deafening rush of anger buzzing loudly at her ears as she stormed off down the street. He did not follow her, probably knowing her well enough to offer any attempts at reconciliation. It was childish, she realized as shame began to swirl uncomfortably in her stomach. All Benjy wanted was for her to be safe, and part of her was touched by that. But in admitting there was danger in the first place, she was admitting that Severus was as guilty as Benjy claimed.
Lily continued to march down the street determined to find him and have him explain. She was sure there was a reasonable explanation behind it all.
Yet... there was a part of her that reminded her of how distant Severus had been in the past months. Once holding a perfect attendance record, he had missed class on several occasions, becoming defensive when Lily asked him about it. And all those times he had stood her up to go with Mulciber and his little gang... A paralyzing panic swirled in her stomach the more she thought about it, making her heart thunder painfully.
By the time she realized where she was going, the street bustled with a different set of noises. Traffic, for one, was louder and far more aggressive on that side of the city. Angry horns blared at the unmoving cars and at the occasional gang of teenagers from another nearby school as they crossed the street, laughing and uncaring. In a few more blocks, she reached the intersection where Severus and she usually parted ways when they walked home together.
Lily hesitated, wondering if there was any use in looking for him. She was not guaranteed to find him, and trying to do so only meant wandering the streets in the blistering heat.
She expelled a deep sigh, knowing that if she didn't try finding him, she would never enjoy her free afternoon at all. Defeated, she dragged her feet down the street he usually took on his way home, mentally compiling a list of all the places he could be.
She decided to try the bakery where he always stopped to buy biscuits for his mother on his way home. She hadn't made it halfway down the road, however, before a series of shouts and laughter, followed by the remains of what looked like a dispersing crowd directed her attention to a dark alleyway nearby. If she hadn't turned to look, she would have missed him entirely.
There was a loud clang as he stumbled and sent old bottles toppling to the ground. He reached out to steady himself against the nearby brick wall, but when he missed, he plummeted to the ground, knocking down more bottles as he went.
"Sev!" she cried, the gritty gravel of the wet floor stabbing her painfully when she knelt beside him. "Sev! Are you all right?" It was a stupid question to ask. Of course, he wasn't all right. His usually sallow face was bright with color; his bared teeth were pressed so tightly that the muscles on his neck threatened to burst through his skin; and the long curtains of black hair that usually fell over his face clung to the sweat on his forehead. "What happened?"
He made no gesture of having recognized her. He muttered unintelligibly under his breath instead, his black eyes scanning the floor frantically. Feeling the panic rise to her throat like a mighty wave, Lily followed his line of vision, taking in the sight of his possessions strewn throughout the alley. His schoolbag, once frayed and patched up, lay in shreds among the rubbish littering the floor; his papers and books, the pages soaked and warped on the floor; and glistening ominously in the ray of sunlight that shone through the gaps in between buildings was a handful of small plastic bags Lily had only seen some of the kids at school smuggle amongst each other in the back of the cafeteria.
Or, at least, that's what they looked like at first glance. She averted her eyes, the sight burning her eyes worse than the sunlight ever could. "Severus, please tell me what happened." Her voice sounded shrill in her ever mounting terror, almost unrecognizable to her ears.
He ignored her, trying but failing to hoist himself to his feet. "Leave me alone," he grunted.
He ignored her again, venturing a second attempt at getting to his feet. Relatively more successful the second time, he pressed all of his weight against the brick wall. Lily rose to her feet, immediately stepping forward to help him. No sooner had her hands touched his shoulder, however, than he shook her off with force she thought him incapable of in his current state.
"Severus," she started, flinching at the hurt that seeped through her tone. Taking a deep breath to recollect herself, she allowed the frustration and annoyance she was beginning to feel take over. "Tell me what happened," she demanded.
"Just go away," he muttered so venomously that she flinched. He steadied himself on his feet and limped toward his ruined belongings.
Lily, with all the dignity she had left, followed and when she was close enough to see the contents of the small bags, her heart sank horribly to the ground. "Are these yours?" she asked already knowing the answer. Severus said nothing. "They are, aren't they?"
His prolonged silence reaffirmed it. "I can't believe you!" she cried, raking her fingers through the front of her hair. Suddenly, in the whirl of thoughts swirling in her head, several realizations hit her at once. "All that money you've been spending…" She squeezed her eyes shut for a moment to steady herself. "All those things your mum said you bought her. This is where it came from?"
"Don't," he started viciously, "go on about things you don't understand."
She continued as though he hadn't spoken at all. "How could you? Do you realize how much trouble you'd be in if you were caught?" A horrible realization dawned on her, hitting her with the impact of a fist to the gut. "Everything everyone's been saying about you… It's all true, isn't it? All those awful things Mulciber and his lot have been up to… You've been part of it."
He did not bother to offer a response. Feeling the anger sizzle on the surface of her skin, she opened her mouth to continue, but as he staggered for balance, something fell out of his pocket with a loud clang. It was a dirty switchblade, plopping open with the impact, blade gleaming from the floor.
Cursing under his breath, Severeus started to pick it up, but in his attempt, he lost his balance and fell to the ground. Lily launched herself forward to help him, but he shrugged her off.
"Don't touch me," he spat, his shaky hand reaching to clutch the blade.
"Sev," she started, slowly reaching for his shoulder. "Tell me who did this. Just let me—"
"I said don't touch me, you filthy Mudblood!"
There was a flash of silver as he violently swung around to shove her off. The sound of something ripping. The clank of his switchblade hitting the floor a second time, tainting the puddle with something much darker than its water.
She tottered back, throwing her hands behind her to stop her fall, but a sharp pain throbbed at her left shoulder, causing her to collapse painfully on her elbows instead.
Lily could do nothing but blink at him, stunned, unable to decide if it was the silence that hurt most or the word that preceded it.
Snape, on the other hand, seemed to snap out of a daze, eyes wide with horror. "Lily," he started what little color remained on his face draining from it. "I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to…" He wasn't even looking at her straight in the eye. Instead, his panicked gaze rested on her chest.
Lily followed his line of sight, catching sight of the large scarlet stain blooming rapidly through her shoulder. Though the pain failed to register immediately, the bitter, iron smell of it sickened her. She tried to stand to her feet, but another wave of nausea struck her, making her land even more painfully on her elbows.
"Lily, let me—"
"Don't touch me!" she cried, dragging herself as far away from him as she could.
Gritting her teeth so tightly together she felt as though they would break, she attempted to stand up once more. She managed it this time, using her remaining strength to collect her bag from where she had flung it when she ran to him earlier.
Snape, whether too shocked or too weak, did not move to stop her.
Her hands were shaking by the time she finished, watching the floor instead of James. He, too, said nothing when and only magnified her anxiousness. "Benjy found me soon after and took me to a hospital. He had to work really hard to keep it from my parents." James continued to remain silent. "I told you it wasn't a big deal," she said to break the unbearable silence.
"No, it is," he said with a solemn shake of his head. He added nothing else beyond that. Lily didn't blame him. If the roles were reversed, she would have struggled with comforting words, too. She suppressed a shudder.
"Evans," he started at last, but it was as if he hadn't made up his mind about what to say. He opened his mouth, but the words never rolled off his lips. At that very moment, Sirius wandered into the kitchen.
"So you did find food," he said, offering her an impressed nod. He looked as suave as ever, even in admitting defeat, with his hands in his trouser pockets as he casually sauntered over to them. He stopped in front of Lily to observe the contents of her plate and she could smell the subtle scent of whiskey in his breath.
"I told you I could manage it," she replied rather smugly.
"Those eggs were meant for a prank," Sirius observed.
"Good thing I came along and put them to better use."
Instead of listening, Sirius grabbed a handful of chips from her plate and stuffed them into his mouth.
"That means I like you," he explained when he had finished chewing most of it.
"Careful Padfoot," James advised. "Evans hits you when she likes you."
Lily slapped his forearm in response which only made chuckle. "See?"
Sirius helped himself to more of Lily's chips. He took the half-finished bottle from James's hand and drowned back a considerable gulp. "So what are you two up to now?"
Lily glanced at the digital clock on the stove and pushed herself off the counter. "Actually, I don't want to intrude any longer. I should probably head home," she declared.
James hopped off from the counter. "Are you sure? You can stay as long as you want."
"Yeah," Sirius agreed, finishing the last chips on Lily's plate. "You can join Prongs and me in playing a round of good ol' poker." He downed more of the bottle before amending. "Though now that I remember, it'll probably just be you and me playing if you stay, Evans."
Lily furrowed her brows. "Why?"
"Prongs's been banned from playing poker for being a sore loser."
Lily laughed as James shot his best mate an appreciative look. "Something James Potter is bad at?" Lily said tauntingly. "I have to stay and watch."
"You're dead to me, Sirius Black," James muttered.
Unfazed in the slightest, Sirius made his way to the living room to set up. With a determined air in his stride, James began to follow, but Lily stepped forth and grabbed his wrist. "James, wait," she said, careful to keep her voice quiet enough.
He raised his eyebrows expectantly.
"Thank you," she told him. "For... listening. Tonight was brilliant."
A genuine smile pulled at his lips, making his face much more handsome. He did not immediately reply, instead moving his fingers to brush back a loose curl away from her face. She tried her best not to let her eyes flutter closed. "Let's go let's go make fools of ourselves at poker, yeah?"
Let me begin with a set of apologies, as always. Sorry this update took ridiculously long to be finished. As some of you know via the blog, I got a promotion at work and sadly, that entails longer shifts and less time for writing and other creative endeavors.
As you may have noticed, I decided to keep the word 'Mudblood' from the canon story lines. I thought very carefully about a derogatory term that would apply here and keeping the original made perfect sense.
Also, my apologies for the numerous cultural inconsistencies you find here as Anonymous pointed out (in my defense, though, I never said where this story is taking place. No kidding, that's not really my defense ;] ). My only excuse, poor as it may be, is that this was originally intended to be a oneshot. When I developed it, my primary concern was plot and characterization. Believe me, it made my brain itch so badly when I realized my mistakes. Sorry, I promise to do better in my next AU.
And finally, I want to thank each and every single one of you who waited for this.
And to those of you who have since joined me, welcome and thank you too!
Until we meet again, lovely readers!
In the meantime, don't forget to check the blog: saywhenfic dot tumblr dot com