Only a few days passed before it was time for Mr. and Mrs. Evans to escort Severus and Lily down to the Leakey Cauldron. There they met Lupin and his father, a tweedy man who did not seem desperate to follow the three around all day. It seemed they were left to their own devices, so they took to the streets.
"Let's get to Flourish and Blotts before it gets crowded," said Lily, taking Severus by the wrist. Out of the corner of his eye, Severus could see Lupin smirking and raising his eyebrows. Getting the hint, he tried to twist his arm and grab her hand, but he ended up losing her in the process. It didn't matter; she had stopped dead in front of the bookshop.
A group of hooded wizards had gathered in front of the store. They were speaking in low tones, and every so often one would cackle or call out to someone on the street. Severus couldn't see their faces, but he could tell from their voices that they weren't much older than him.
"Come on," muttered Lily, unfreezing and gripping Severus's wrist harder than before. As she tried to push past the gang, one of the men yelled something lewd, making her turn bright red. Severus wanted to shout, to lunge forward, but he was rooted to the spot.
"Excuse me," Lily said coolly, her voice shaking slightly, "we're trying to get in the store." The gang cackled, and one of them turned around and lowered her hood, revealing heavily hooded eyes and thick black hair. She cast a disgusted look at Lily before turning to face Severus.
"Severus Snape," said Bellatrix Lestrange, a small smile playing on her lips, "you always did keep the most interesting company." The gang guffawed, but Severus kept his mouth shut. "But seriously," she leaned in so close Severus could feel her breath on his face, "you're a NEWT student now, right? You should know better than to spend your time with Mudbloods."
"Even ones as tasty-looking as this," the same man shouted. The others howled with laughter, but Bellatrix snarled.
"Be quiet!" she hissed. She turned back to Severus, "Look, Snape, I know this seems fun right now, but things are changing. Soon enough the weak will be separated from the strong, the talented from the," her eyes flicked over Lily and Lupin, "worthless. My brother-in-law may be an idiot, but he recognizes brilliance when he sees it. And neither I nor the Dark Lord wants your brilliance wasted on this scum."
"How dare you," said Lily. Bellatrix pulled back. "I know you think you're special, Bellatrix, but I've heard enough about you from your cousin. You've been out of Hogwarts—what—ten years now? According to Sirius you managed two NEWTs and haven't been able to hold a job for more than a month. And what now? Have you just given up and decided to spend all your time hanging around bookstores harassing teenagers? Sounds like a lucrative career opportunity, Bella."
The crowd had gone very, very silent. Severus expected Bellatrix to lunge forward at any moment. He was ready to leap forward, to draw his wand and fight back should the need arise. But Bellatrix didn't look angry. In fact, she was leering in a way that made his stomach twist and made him want to run.
"You're Evans, right?" Lily nodded, and Severus could see her swallow. Bellatrix's grin widened. "To think, I've just been calling you Mudblood Scum."
Once again, Severus found himself frozen. He could hear Lily's heavy breathing, and he longed to attack Bellatrix with every force of his being. He didn't get the chance; he felt a tug on his sleeve and heard Lupin murmur, "Let's just go."
Severus's mind didn't clear until they had gone far down the road and Flourish and Blotts was out of sight. "It's fine," he heard Lily saying shakily, "we'll just go there at the end of the day. I didn't want to carry a bag of books around everywhere anyway…" She trailed off and bit her lip.
"Who's the Dark Lord?" asked Lupin.
"Bellatrix said something about the Dark Lord. I think Sirius said Regulus has brought him up too."
Snape had heard the name whispered around the Slytherin common room, but he'd never put a face with the name. All he knew was that Avery and Mulciber had worshipped him like a god.
"Just some wizard who doesn't like Muggle-borns, I guess," said Severus with a shrug.
"Sounds like Malfoy," said Lily, forcing a laugh, "or almost anyone else in Slytherin."
"Lucius isn't so bad. It's his wife who's the real…problem." Lily laughed in earnest this time, and Severus felt like his heart had nearly doubled in size.
They stopped outside of Madam Malkin's. The shop was bustling with student, especially first years pushing in and out, nervously clutching black robes.
"What're we doing here? This place is always a zoo before school starts."
"Well, I haven't bought dress robes since third year; mine barely cover my knees. I figured a new set wouldn't hurt you two either."
"Why would we…" he trailed off as they forced their way into the store. Severus may have trodden on a young girl's foot in the process, but he really didn't care.
"They're on the list!" called Lily as she pushed her way over to the witches' section. Severus and Lupin somehow managed to get to the discount robes, at which point Severus pulled out the supply list and saw that dress robes were, in fact, required.
"Nice job getting the door for her," muttered Lupin as he flipped through the rack of robes.
"There was a stampede! What was I supposed to do?" He heard Lupin laugh but chose to ignore it. "Anyway, I think Lily can cope with opening doors on her own."
"And standing up to Bellatrix Lestrange? She can do that by herself too?"
"Clearly," he said through grit teeth. "Are you trying to help me?"
"I'm just offering advice. Women like chivalry."
"Lily can take care of herself. She isn't a child." Lupin didn't say anything. "I still don't understand why you're helping me."
"You didn't turn me in."
"Because you're Lily's friend. I'm not going to give you anything in return."
"You know, Snape, people can be nice without expecting anything back."
Snape stared at him. "What do you really want?"
Lupin sighed. "Fine, you got me. I do want something." He lowered his voice, "You knew Jaffus Damocles, didn't you?"
Severus froze, his hands on a set of blue robes. He knew where this was going. "Yes."
"And you knew about his project? The one he started two years ago, when he was a seventh year, the potion…" Severus nodded. "And you would know how to brew it?"
For nearly a minute, Severus was silent. Finally, he said, "Wolfsbane is an incredibly complicated potion. I was just a fourth year, I only ever saw the draft, and it still isn't Ministry approved. If I brewed it incorrectly, I would poison you. You would die, Lupin."
"Making threats, Snivellus?" Both Severus and Lupin jumped. Sirius Black was behind them, leaning against a pillar, somehow detached from the madness surrounding them. He smirked and flipped his hair, causing giggles to erupt from nearly every other girl in the room. "You're lucky, Snivellus, that James doesn't want us fighting anymore. You see, I'm rather fond of my friend Remus," he licked his lips, "and I don't respond well when people try to poison him."
Lupin rolled his eyes. "Nobody's poisoning anyone, Sirius. Stop acting weird."
"Fine," sighed Black. "You should come out shopping with us, Moony. Mrs. Evans said she'd buy us ice cream!" Lupin looked back at Severus, who shrugged, and went off with Black.
Severus bought the blue robes, hardly paying attention to anything but the price, and pushed his way to the front of the store. Lily was waiting just outside the doors.
"We ran into Black. I guess they'll finish their shopping together. Is he always that sexual?"
"Oh," she thought for a moment, "yes."
It was not long before Severus was back in the Great Hall, listening absently to Dumbledore's speech. He loved the Great Hall, and despite his improved relationship with his parents and the summer and the Evans' house, he wouldn't trade anything for his current space at the Slytherin table. Everything from the food in his stomach to the stars twinkling up above made him feel warm inside. He couldn't wait to sleep in his bed with the silk sheets and start classes in the morning…
"Psst!" someone hissed. He figured the person must have been addressing someone next to him. Most of Slytherin had stopped talking to him after last spring. He took a sip of pumpkin juice.
"Psst!" the person hissed again. Severus glanced around as though searching for a rogue tea kettle. "Don't look at me," the voice whispered. He realized it was coming from the girl on his left. She looked vaguely familiar; he was almost certain she was in his year, but he couldn't remember her name.
"I said don't look!" She smoothed the front of her robes and didn't say anything for a few seconds. "You know the Gryffindors, right?"
Dumbledore had just gestured for another professor to rise. "We have a new professor on staff this year!" he said, beaming. "May I present Aldous Warrington!" The room burst into applause, and several girls began to giggle behind cupped hands. The new professor, Severus could see, was quite tall and rather handsome.
"I do know the Gryffindors," Severus whispered over the applause. "Let me guess—you fancy Black?"
The girl glared at him. "No. But you're good friends with Lily, right?"
Severus nearly choked on his pumpkin juice. "You fancy Lily?"
"I also must announce," Dumbledore said, stilling the applause, "some rather impressive news. This past spring, both the average OWL and NEWT scores were higher than they have been for the past two hundred years." Even from his place at the table, Severus could see Dumbledore's eyes twinkling. "Thus, I think the only thing to do is hold a Halloween ball!"
The hall erupted with wild applause. Several people cheered, and the girl on Severus's right snapped, in full voice, "I do not fancy Evans! I fancy—damn it—I fancy Lupin!"
"And so," Dumbledore said benevolently, "I bid you good night! May dreams of dancing greet you before tomorrow!"
"We'll talk later," the girl hissed, and before Severus could ask her name, she was gone.