Hmm, good theories, but nobody guessed Hermione's bombshell. Get ready to clutch those pearls...


"What really happened between you and Lily Potter?"

How in the hell was Severus supposed to respond to that?

For once in his life, he couldn't think of a snappy reply. So he opted for silence and hoped that Hermione would elaborate on what she meant. It had a side benefit of buying himself some time to figure out how to extricate himself from the conversation, because he was certain that no good could come of it.

Severus would stay silent as long as he had to. He was a very patient man. He would be silent for days if he had to. Anything to avoid the row he was sure was coming.

His patience finally paid off when Hermione exhaled, took his hand, and beckoned him to sit on the edge of the bed with her. They sat with their hips turned toward each other, facing each other, one foot on the floor.

"I know," she hesitated, "I know that I probably have no right to ask about this. Your past is your own and it should make no difference to me. However, and please don't get too mad at me, I saw this…" she withdrew the sketch book from her robes, "…and I had to know. I'm sorry, Severus, I didn't mean to pry, but he is my best friend's mother, and it all implies a very different relationship than what you led Harry to believe."

He knew he should be angry that she'd looked in it. How could he have been so careless as to leave it anywhere but buried and locked and warded away in his locked and warded cellar that not even she could enter without his permission? He had left it out in his bedroom, in their bedroom… that was practically an invitation for her to look.

Maybe, subconsciously, it had been. For the first time in years, he felt at peace with himself, at least with regard to his love life. The shadow of Lily Evans (Potter) had been so consuming that it blocked out anyone and everything else. Now that she was gone, and his obligation to her son was fulfilled, it had… shifted, and allowed him to see other opportunities. Like the woman in his bed with the troubled expression on her face.

He should be upset with her. He should call her out for snooping, demand that she tell him what other things she had hidden from him, and unleash the rage that he was so famous for. Yet here he was, not wishing to do any of those things. He was, always had been, and always would be fiercely protective of his own privacy. That would never change. But… well, he decided he didn't like keeping secrets from her. The "thrill" of doing so, if he could even call it that, was gone.

He wanted to tell her. He was at a loss to explain why, but he wanted to.

Clearing his throat, he began. "I know that Harry is under the impression that Lily and I ended our friendship in after our OWLs in fifth year and that, from that point onward, we had no further contact. I also understand that he knows that his parents became an item in our seventh year. None of that is a lie. But… some things were left out. Things I believed he was better off not knowing."

Hermione nodded, not wanting to push him or pressure him. She was positively dying to ask him questions, but knew him well enough to know that he would tell her what he wanted her to know, nothing more and nothing less. She only hoped that he was feeling generous enough to include everything she wanted to know.

He continued. "For months after the OWLs incident, Lily and I did not speak. Harry may have mentioned that I camped outside the entrance to Gryffindor Tower until she would agree to speak with me, and she only rejected me. This was true. I thought it was the end of us, and in many ways, it was. But as disgusting as what I said was, she was a good enough and forgiving enough person to seek me out at the end of the summer holidays, at the park halfway between our houses where we first met, to tell me that as angry as she was with me, she missed me too much to end things completely.

"I was… there are still no words to describe what I felt at that moment. I had my second chance. I was not going to do anything to ruin it. Fight my entire House, abandon the Dark Lord, whatever it took, I was not going to ruin this. Not now, and not ever.

"It was slow going at first. Once we were back at Hogwarts, she didn't go out of her way to seek me out as she had in prior years. She would smile and wave at me, perhaps we'd talk a bit or walk to a class together, but there was nothing really familiar about our reactions. She was still getting over what I had said to her and I, well, I didn't want to screw this up so I merely followed her lead.

"Slowly but surely we began to reconcile. Perhaps we would have stayed in that close-but-far holding pattern with one another if not for one man: Horace Slughorn.

"Back then Horace would partner up the students himself, rather than let them choose, and it was not uncommon for him to pair a Gryffindor and a Slytherin. He claimed much later that it was meant to encourage inter-house unity, but anyone with half a brain knew that in the Gryffindor-Slytherin class, the hardest one to teach, regardless of the subject, students were more likely to avoid hexing each other if they were partnered. If your grade for the day depended on you acting civilly with your partner, you would do it. If the class wasn't divided in half the way it always was when you were a student, with Gryffindors on the left and Slytherins on the right, they were far less likely to gang up on one another."

"Why didn't you continue the tradition?" Hermione interrupted. She was never one to give Horace Slughorn credit for anything, but that seemed to be a good idea.

"I was not in a position to," he replied quickly, sparing her a small glare that told her not to interrupt again. "You forget sometimes that my role as a spy required me to favour my own house, and pairing Slytherins with Gryffindors would have been seen as a punishment by many of the Dark Lord's followers. They certainly thought it was in my day."

She nodded in understanding (even though she knew he picked on Gryffindor on purpose and loved every second of it) and gestured for him to continue.

"We were paired together. I believe you might remember Horace mentioning Lily's talent for potion-making?" She nodded. "That doesn't do her justice. She was… amazing. A natural. Half the additions to the Half Blood Prince's textbook came from her insights during the year. It was all about intuition with her, nothing methodical. I too had a 'sense' about potions that few others did, and together we were unstoppable. We shot to the top of the class and never looked back.

"Partnering her was wonderful. At first we only spoke about the class whilst in the class. Then we began working on our homework together. Eventually, we began spending more time with one another outside of class, not working, just enjoying being friends again. I cannot tell you how much I had missed it.

"Toward the end of the fall term, she and I went for a walk around the lake. It was already covered in snow, the whole of the castle grounds was bathed in white. Lily was talking about God knows what, I was content just to listen to her if it meant I could spend time alone with her. As we walked, a single snowflake, just one, fell from the sky and landed precisely on the tip of her nose."

His expression changed from his usual mask to… wistful? Nostalgic? Whatever it was Hermione had never seen it before.

"She moved to brush it off but I stopped her hand by grasping it lightly around the wrist. I don't know what on earth possessed me to do it, but I leaned forward and kissed it off her nose. It was a reckless act from me—things had been going well, slowly, but tentatively, and I was absolutely convinced that I'd just ruined everything. To do something so… Gryffindorish was outside the bounds of sanity for me."

"Some might call it courage," Hermione offered. "Though I might call it love."

"It was definitely love," Severus agreed, "at least on my end it was love.

"For the longest time we stood there, inches apart, eye-to-eye, her wrist still in my hand. The only thing that gave away the fact that we were still breathing was the little puffs of breath that came from our mouths and crystallised in mid-air.

"She moved her mouth as if she was going to say something, and I was so afraid that it would be a rejection and that I had but a few seconds left to enjoy her company, so once again my reckless, 'courageous', side reared its head and I pulled her close to me and kissed her on the mouth. I closed my eyes and moved against her, so afraid that this would be my only chance. I just had to know what it felt like to kiss her. Once."

Between any other couple, such a discussion about a past love might be awkward. Instead, Hermione was enraptured by the story. The Cult of Lily Evans Potter was so focused on her love for her husband and son, and the stories about Severus were so focused on his work as a double agent, few considered that there might be more to the story. It was riveting.

"As the seconds wore on I gradually became aware that even though I wasn't gripping her close to me, she was still there. And that she was kissing me back. Suddenly her hands were on my shoulders, and mine at her waist, and we just… continued to kiss. Chastely, calmly, but we continued to kiss for a very long time.

"When it finally ended, we just looked at each other and smiled. I finally managed to form words again and said something terribly cliché, like, 'You have no idea how long I've been wanting to do that.' She surprised me by saying, 'Me too.' I must have had a prize look on my face, because she laughed, kissed my nose, and said, 'Really. I wouldn't have sought you out again if there hadn't been something more there. As much as you hurt me… I still couldn't stop thinking about you.'

"I told her, 'Never again.' And she believed me. We embraced and where there had only been a single snowflake before, there were now hundreds. And we just swayed in the flurry of snow for as long as we could, until we could no longer keep each other warm enough and surrendered ourselves to the castle again."

"You became a couple after that," Hermione said, stating the obvious.

Severus nodded. "We did."

"How did the Marauders take it?"

"Not well," Severus said, wanting to both cringe and chuckle at the same time. "The first time James Potter saw us holding hands I swore that he had just taken a whole flask of Pepper-Up potion, the way steam was coming from his ears. It took the combined efforts of Lupin and Black to keep him from coming after me."

"Sirius defended you?" She gave him a sceptical look.

"I think it was more about not angering Lily. I distinctly remember hearing something about her 'coming to her senses eventually' and not to ruin his future chances with her by starting a fight with me. Good advice, really. And surprising, coming from Black."

Hermione found herself agreeing with him. The Sirius she had known never considered the long-term consequences of his own actions. She supposed that it was always easier to do so with others than with yourself. She swallowed; she still missed him, and now she lived in his old house.

"Our relationship was not popular with either of our Houses, or friends for that matter. But I didn't care. I knew that she was sacrificing much for my sake and that she opened herself up to a lot of scorn for it, so I tried to make it worth her while. Every day I brought her some sort of flower or herb, something from nature. Lily always loved nature and the properties of plants. She saw magic in everything that grew. I suppose it's why she was so adept at potions."

Hermione wondered if this was why he now hated having anything associated with the natural world in his home; too many painful memories.

"I carried her books, I attended every bloody meeting of Horace Slughorn's stupid club with her, I intercepted housemates of mine who would target her due to her blood status… everything I could think of.

"We found secluded and forgotten areas of the castle to spend time together. Something for which students have been paying ever since. I knew all the best places for 'interludes' because we took advantage of all of them ourselves at one point or another.

"I couldn't offer her money or popularity or prestige or anything of the sort, but I could offer her love. And I tried to show it every day."

Hermione knew the answer from their discussion on Patronuses but could not help but ask the question. "Did she love you back?"

He hesitated. "No. Not in the same way I loved her. Never as deeply. I do not believe she ever loved me, not in that way. I believe she loved me as a friend, and perhaps confused that with romantic love—we were but sixteen—but I do not think that she did. In fact, I know that she did not."

"How?"

He shrugged. "I just do."

Hermione wondered if she dared to push her luck and ask him about what happened between them. Had the relationship just fallen apart after they discovered they were not suited for one another, like Harry and Cho or Dean and Ginny? Had there been an intervening cause? A giant row? If so, when? Everyone had been a bit hazy on when Harry's parents were married; he wasn't even entirely certain. It had been done quickly and quietly. There had apparently even been speculation that the entire affair had been a shotgun wedding, considering how young they were and how soon after they announced their pregnancy; they had only been nineteen years old.

Could Severus be… Harry's father?

She threw away that ridiculous notion instantly. For as long as she could remember, every wizard who encountered Harry commented on just how much he looked like James (save for Lily's eyes, of course). Hermione had seen a picture—James and Harry could have been twins. There was not a trace of Severus in Harry—aside from the black hair, which was actually quite common in the Wizarding population. Besides, since Harry and Severus both descended in part from old pureblood lines, it was likely they had a common ancestor somewhere.

She considered that this was the most Severus had ever said to her in a single sitting. It wasn't like him to monologue. She wondered if he'd ever told anyone the true story about him and Lily. Dumbledore? Maybe, but probably not everything, like he just did now. She wondered if he'd ever wanted to tell the whole story of him and Lily, not the abbreviated versions he gave to Harry and Dumbledore. She couldn't help but feel a bit honored that he was comfortable speaking with her about it.

It spoke to a high degree of trust between them. She was thrilled that their relationship had reached this point.

As the thoughts raced through Hermione's mind, Severus began speaking again.

"I suppose you're wondering what happened between us, then?"

She nodded. "You don't have to tell me if you don't want to…"

"I… I don't think I can tell you," he said evenly. He met her eyes. "But I can show you."

She looked at him blankly for a moment, then realized what he was offering and nodded.

"I have to warn you, Hermione," Severus said, taking her hand, "you may not like what you see. Please… do not think too terribly of me."

Hermione squeezed his hand and gave him a soft kiss on the lips. "I could never think terribly of you, Severus."

He hesitated, then took his other hand and brought it to Hermione's cheek, aligning their faces so that their eyes met. He took a deep breath and then spoke.

"Legilimens."


"Hold still," scolded Severus. Lily just giggled and covered her breasts again.

Hermione took in the scene before her. They were in a room Hermione did not recognise. It looked like it was in the castle somewhere, so she surmised that it was in the Room of Requirement. Neither Severus nor Lily must have known about the room's properties; most likely they had thought they had stumbled upon a perfect room for a secret rendezvous.

A seventeen-year-old Severus sat cross-legged on a large bed, a white sheet hastily thrown around his waist. He bent over his sketch book. Across from him, stretched out on her back, arms overhead, was Lily Evans. Not Potter, not yet, Hermione thought. She crept behind Severus and saw that he was finishing the last sketch she'd seen in his book.

"Sev, I just feel so… naughty posing like this," Lily protested. "Aren't you finished yet?"

"I could finish it quickly, or I could finish it properly," Severus chided. "Which would you rather?"

"Honestly?"

"I promise it's worth it."

"I'm getting cold."

"So I see." He gave a wicked smirk and raised his eyebrows up and down, which Lily rewarded by throwing a pillow at him. He dodged it and chuckled. "Gryffindors," he playfully muttered under his breath.

The drawing truly was nearly complete. Hermione had a feeling that Severus was deliberately hiding that from her so as to keep her posing just a few minutes longer. It was a rather erotic pose for two teenagers.

She watched as the young Severus's hands swept deftly over the parchment, shading and softening lines. It reminded Hermione of the scene from Titanic where Leonardo Di Caprio drew Kate Winslet in the nude. Severus was just as talented and passionate, and it was real.

She wondered if she should take him up on his offer to draw her like this?

Severus finished his drawing and wrote his initials and the date on the bottom right-hand corner. SS, 3/12/77.

"There," he said with mock agitation, "Are you happy now, Miss Evans?"

"Very," Lily said, wrapping the sheet around her and sidling up next to him. "Let me see?" He placed the book in her lap and wrapped his arm around her shoulder, pressing a kiss to her temple.

"Wow," Lily said. "You make me look… sexy."

"You are sexy, my love," he said. Lily smiled at him shyly but said nothing. She did not return the endearment. Lily closed the book and pulled Severus in for a languid, post-coital kiss.

Hermione averted her eyes. Even though the Severus in this memory looked and acted far different from the one she had fallen in love with, and even though this happened decades earlier and the woman in question was no longer alive, it was still difficult to watch the man she loved kiss and caress another woman.

It just was.

She felt a shift and could tell that Severus had deliberately fast-forwarded through this part of the memory. When she looked again at the bed, Severus and Lily were holding each other, their hair messy and bodies covered in sweat.

"Severus?"

"Hmm?"

"Can we stay here forever?"

"Let's."

"I wish we could."

"Why couldn't we?"

She gave him a playful shove. "We'll be missed."

"You might be."

She gave him a squeeze. "Do you think we can get away with spending the night here?"

"I don't know, but it's worth the attempt." He planted a kiss on the top of her head. "Lily?"

"Hmm?" Her eyes were shut now.

"This… this has been the most incredible day of my life."

"I'm glad, Sev."

"I'd… I'd never done this before."

"It didn't show," she said reassuringly.

"Did I…" he trailed off, swallowing a bit. "Did I hurt you?"

"You couldn't tell?" She raised her head to look at him. He shook his head. "Not a bit."

Severus looked visibly relieved as he released tension that Hermione hadn't even realised was there. "Good," he said. "I know that…that is, I have heard that many women, their first time…"

He trailed off. Hermione could tell what he was really asking. So, apparently, could Lily.

"Sev…" she started. She looked conflicted, clearly debating with herself whether or not to tell him something. Eventually, the Gryffindor courage seemed to win over and she continued to speak. "Sev… I absolutely loved this, and I can't wait to do this again with you, but…"

"But?" He tensed up again, his face hardening into the mask that would one day be his trademark. He hadn't mastered it yet, however, and easily betrayed the nervousness in his eyes. Hermione could tell that he feared Lily was about to leave him.

"But…" Lily continued. "Promise me you won't get upset?"

"Why would I get upset?"

"Just… promise me, Sev."

"I promise."

"I'm not proud of it, but," she sighed, "this wasn't my first time."

Severus's eyes widened in surprise. Hermione could see a variety of emotions cross his face: surprise, anger, embarrassment, curiosity, disappointment, and fear. His hold on Lily tightened and his breath quickened ever so faintly.

For a long time neither one of them spoke. Severus broke the silence with one word.

"Oh."

"You promised you wouldn't get upset," Lily warned.

"I'm not upset," Severus said in an obvious attempt to keep his voice even. "I just… I wasn't expecting this. I did not realise you were… involved with anyone else."

"I'm not. Only you."

"But…"

"It wasn't even a relationship. It was stupid. I was stupid. If I could go back in time I would do it all differently."

A time-turner appeared on the side table but neither of them seemed to notice.

"I… I see."

Clearly, Severus did not consider Lily that kind of girl. He was as possessive then as he was now. It obviously troubled him that someone else had had her previously, before him, beaten him to the punch. For a Slytherin, second place was unacceptable. What was the phrase she had once overheard a group of Slytherins repeating? "If you're not first, you're last."

Severus had not been first, so he saw himself as last, and it clearly troubled him. Her Severus was never used to being last, and it was clear that this had been the case in his adolescence as well.

Lily spoke again. "It was at the end of last year, the House party to celebrate the end of OWLs and NEWTs. I was upset about… what happened, and I…" Her voice trailed off.

"Who?" Severus asked in a dark voice.

"It doesn't matter."

"Who was it?"

"Sev, I don't want you to get upset."

"Just… please tell me, Lily. I know that you were a free agent, but… please tell me. We don't keep secrets between us."

"I know we say that, but…"

"But?"

"But… I'm afraid you won't be able to keep your promise if I tell you."

"Lily," he turned her in his arms and met her face-to-face. His look was pleading, as was hers. He was pleading with her to tell him, and she was pleading with him to stop asking. "Please."

She hesitated and turned away from him. She whispered so softly that at first Hermione couldn't hear it. Neither could Severus, who crept closer to her and whispered in her ear, "Who?"

This time, Lily spoke loudly enough for both Severus and Hermione to hear.

"James Potter."

Severus froze, the anger and humiliation and frustration clearly burning in his eyes.

"James Potter?" he repeated. His voice was…cold.

James Potter had once again bested Severus, and in the only area that truly mattered to him. Hermione braced herself. This would not be pretty.

"Sev, please, I already feel bad enough about it as it is—"

"Did he hurt you?" He gripped Lily's shoulders and turned her roughly to look at him. His look was… scary. "Did he force himself on you?"

Lily shook her head. "No."

"You wanted to?"

She shut her eyes to avoid seeing his anger. "Yes."

"You let Potter have you, no strings attached, just like that?"

Lily looked offended. "First off, Potter did not 'have' me, it was entirely mutual. Second, he wanted a relationship but I wanted some time to think. And after I did, I decided that I didn't want a relationship with him. I wanted one with you."

The impact of her words seemed to escape Severus. It was clear that he was only focusing on the first part of what she said, not the last.

He got up out of the bed and pulled on his pants. Teenaged Severus was just as well-endowed as adult Severus.

"Sev…" Lily pleaded, reaching for his arm. "Sev! You are making a big deal out of this over nothing. You promised you wouldn't get upset, and now here you are upset."

"Forgive me for not realising that you were the kind of girl who…" He stopped himself.

"The kind of girl who, what, Severus?"

Lily's green eyes flashed angrily. Hermione recognised it; she had seen Harry look the same way too many times to count over the years. She could tell that the use of Severus's full name was a rare occurrence, for it stopped him in his tracks and caused him to turn around to face her.

"Nothing," he muttered.

"No, enlighten me, what kind of girl do you think I am?"

"You know how I feel about you, Lily."

"Do I?"

"Of course you do! How can you not? I told you I love you, I told you that I've loved you since the first time I saw you, and you know that has not changed."

"You're looking at me differently."

He looked confused. "No I'm not."

"Yes you are, you're looking at me like you don't recognise me." Lily's lower lip quivered. Severus made a move to embrace her but she raised her hand to him. "No! Don't touch me!"

"Lily, please…"

"Do you think I'm a whore, Severus?"

"What? Of course not!"

"You're acting like it. You're acting like I 'm a whore. That's what you stopped yourself from saying, isn't it?"

"Don't put words in my mouth, Lily."

"There's no need, I've heard the sort of words that come out of your mouth."

"What's that supposed to mean?" His voice darkened.

"I think you know what it means."

"You have it wrong, Lily." He was visibly angry now in a way he probably never was around Lily.

"I wonder if I do."

"The bloody Marauders, you have no idea what kind of people they are!"

"Funny, they say the same thing about you."

"And you believe them?"

"Why shouldn't I? Why should I believe you?"

"I'm your oldest friend, Lily, not to mention your boyfriend. Why wouldn't you believe me?"

Severus looked truly stung.

"Why can't you get over your hatred of them? They're good people."

Something snapped in Severus. Being bested by James Potter, watching his girlfriend defend James to him after everything Hermione knew had happened between them, the isolation he felt both inside and outside his House, the looks people gave and the names people called him… it all flashed before him, and something snapped.

"God damn it, Lily, I will not sit here while you defend them! I thought you were better than that, I thought you understood me, I thought you were one of the good ones. Not you too, Lily, not you too."

"Sev—"

"NO!"

Severus was furious now, out of control the way Hermione had seen him only one other time, during her third year in the Shrieking Shack.

"What do I have to do to prove myself to you, Lily Evans? What more do you want from me?"

"I—"

"They were harassing me, humiliating me, torturing me, and all you did was smile. I slipped and called you something unforgivable. God help me, I slipped. I will never, ever forgive myself for doing it and will never do it again. I apologised, I begged for your forgiveness, and you instead turned me, your oldest and best friend, away and ran right into the arms of that prat Potter, and not two seconds later you spread your legs for the bloke who gets off making my life a living hell!"

"Now wait just a min—"

"You have no idea how long I had dreamed about this moment!" Severus shouted, tears in his eyes. "You have no idea how long I have wanted you. Only you. I saved myself for you! Even after you left, I wanted to save myself in case you ever came back. Believe me, I have had opportunities, and I turned them down. For you. For you, Lily, it's all for you." His breathing became more erratic, his voice more frantic, and his words more jumbled. He paced as he spat them out, hands in his hair. "And now… Potter… not two seconds… sullied you… dirty."

"Sullied? Dirty?" Lily said in a dangerous voice. She leapt from the bed and began pulling on her clothes, tears in her eyes. "I was afraid, I was so afraid, everyone warned me, I wanted desperately to believe that it wasn't true… how could you, Severus?"

"Lily…"

"You called me dirty once before, Severus. Or rather, my blood. Mudblood. That's what you called me. Dirty blood. Dirty person. And now that you've had me you feel like you can call me dirty again?"

"No—"

"Was this some sort of Slytherin house dare—fuck a Mudblood? Will you be high-fiving your mates in the common room after this? Was this some sort of fucking Death Eater initiation?"

"NO!"

Severus said the word with the anger and authority Hermione had seen far too many times as his student.

"You know that's not what I am, Lily."

"Do I? You just let slip that you think I'm dirty."

"Not you, Potter, that prat pureblood Potter, is dirty and he sullied your good name by using you."

"How is that any different than you using me?"

"I did not and will not ever use you. I love you."

"The hell you do." Fully dressed now, Lily stormed toward the door.

"Lily, wait!" Severus ran over to her and grabbed her by the arm. "You know that's not who I am, that I don't think… that I would never…"

"But that's just the thing, Sev. You have before and you just did again. I told you: I'm sick of defending you to everyone. And now you've gone and made me feel worse than ever. I am NOT proud of what I did with James. It was stupid judgment on my part. I wanted to be with you and I was with you. Who cares if he was my first—I wanted you to be my last. But now I know better."

Severus looked lost for words.

"Goodbye, Severus," Lily said coldly, ripping her arm from his.

"Lily, no, please, no, not again."

"Feeling's mutual, Severus. Not you, not again. Fool me once, shame on you, but fool me twice and shame on me. I'm done. Let go of me. This is goodbye."

With that, she stormed out, leaving a stricken Severus in her wake.


Hermione felt herself being pulled through a tunnel of light and found herself perched on the bed facing the adult Severus, looking grave with tears welling in his eyes.

"Oh, Severus," Hermione breathed, wrapping her arms around him and pulling him into a tight embrace.

"That wasn't what I meant when I told her…"

"I know, love, I know."

"Now you see why I never showed this to Harry or anyone else. That day after our OWL was the day our friendship ended. It just took us longer to finally accept it." He sighed. "Six months after our final argument, she was in Potter's arms again and never left."

She nodded. "I'm so sorry, Severus. I know that you had such high hopes for her."

He shrugged. "She had become determined to see the worst in me, and it brought it out of me. I was obsessed with her. I loved her so much. Anyone else, I could have handled it, but… Potter…"

Hermione squeezed him. "I'm so sorry, Severus."

"Don't be," he said. "I'm not one for looking on the bright side of things…"

"You don't say."

"But," he continued, pinching her arse in retaliation. "But… I realise now that had I ended up with her, I would have missed out on something much better. Lily was the focus of my love for many years, but I have real love with you, real reciprocal love. It's… exponentially better than anything I did have or would have had with her."

"You're certainly in touch with your feelings."

"It's not a matter of feelings, it's a matter of analysing the situation in the proper light."

"Right, of course." She sighed and pulled him tight against her, trying to reassure him that she thought no less of him.

"You and Lily were young. Young people always misinterpret things like that. God knows Ron and I did at that age, hell, even younger than that. Pretty much our whole lives."

Severus chuckled. "I did bear witness to a few rows between you over the years."

"Did you?"

"Only enough to see you stomp off in a huff or hear him whine about something or other."

"Hmmm. Sounds about right."

"Weasley… he was your first, wasn't he?"

"My first proper boyfriend? Yes."

"But not your first in… everything?"

She hesitated. She didn't want to go into detail about it, and didn't want him upset. But he had been honest and open with her and shown her a memory that he had not shown anyone else. She owed him honesty in return.

"No, he wasn't."

This surprised Severus. The whole Gryffindor Golden Trio will-they-or-won't-they saga had been watched with great enthusiasm by many on the staff, though he himself had never been interested. How was he to know that years later he would be involved with Hermione Granger?

He racked his brain and tried to remember the blokes he'd seen her with at Hogwarts. She had been the Bulgarian Blockhead's date to the Yule Ball; he remembered Karkaroff making some crude comments about it at the time.

"Krum?"

She shook her head. "No, he was merely my date to the Yule Ball. Or rather, I was his. I hope you didn't believe any of the rubbish in Witch Weekly."

"Do you think I ever read Witch Weekly?"

She snorted. "No, I suppose not. Though wouldn't that be a delicious secret?"

He thought some more. Who else had he seen her with? The big Gryffindor wannabe quidditch player who had assaulted her face under the mistletoe at Slughorn's party. He had had a good laugh watching her try to wrestle away from him at the party; she was in no danger of being actually assaulted so he had not intervened. He could have sworn he heard her use a Confundus charm to make her escape. He didn't think they had actually dated, but frankly he had more than her love life on his mind that year.

"McLaggen?"

"I'm insulted."

As far as Severus knew, that had been the extent of Hermione's romantic entanglements. It had to be someone from Hogwarts, because she and Weasley did not become involved until the end of the war.

"Who, then?"

"Does it matter?"

"My curiosity has been piqued."

"I'm not sure it's such a good idea to tell you."

"Why not?"

She shifted. "I… I honestly think you will be upset I do. I really don't want you to get upset. Not about this."

"Why would I get upset?" He asked the question with less trepidation and warning than he had with Lily, but the conversation was turning dangerously familiar. "Did someone hurt you? Did someone-a snatcher, a Death Eater..." his voice became dangerously low, "force himself on you?"

"No! God no. Nothing like that."

Severus was relieved to hear that. "Hermione, I can assure you, I am no longer a lost and insecure and jealous seventeen-year-old boy. I can handle it."

Really, he could. He would not be upset no matter who she named. Curious that she didn't seem to want to tell him. But he was an adult, master of self-control, and he could handle it now. She could name anyone. Unless, of course, it was—

"Harry."


I promise all will be explained next time! For now, I will merely say that I am not "shipping" the characters.

Sorry, J.K. Rowling, but if Lily was as good and forgiving a person as everyone always said she was, she would have given Severus a second chance.

"Severus and Lily" is also the name of the song played in the background of most of the Prince's Tale scenes in Deathly Hallows, part 2. Beautiful piece of music worth listening to all on its own.

Coming Up: Deja vu, another trip down memory lane, and the closest thing we have to a lemon in this story.