Most of the characters and situations in this story belong to J.K. Rowling, Warner Brothers, and other entities, and I do not have permission to borrow them. All others belong to me, and if you want to play with them, you have to ask me first. No infringement is intended in any way, and this story is not for profit. Any errors are mine, all mine, no you can't have any.

Still new to this fandom; still assuming that it's all been done already. Any unoriginality is accidental.

Many, many thanks to Cincoflex and Trialia for editing, Britpicking, and general encouragement despite my impatience and neuroses. You ladies are the best, and I love you dearly! I did ignore you on occasion, I admit, but that's my fault.

Also, much appreciation to those who commented on Essence. I feel this one is a better story; here's hoping you find it so as well.


"Expecto Patronum!"

Nothing but silver mist.

Severus swore and lowered his wand. Across the room, Lily looked up from her book and flashed him a sympathetic smile.

Blowing out a breath, Severus relaxed his spine and tried again. The Patronus spell was considered extra credit for Defence Against the Dark Arts, due to its difficulty, but Severus had yet to attempt a spell he couldn't perform, and he wasn't about to let this one defeat him.

Unfortunately, so far it was winning. Even in these early morning practice sessions, with no one watching but Lily, he could conjure no more than unformed mist.

Closing his eyes, Severus summoned his happiest memory by far—the moment when Lily had looked up at him and told him she loved him, and the incredulous joy that had flooded him at her soft words. But the result was the same.

"Relax." Lily's hands on his shoulders squeezed gently, and Severus bit back a touch of irritation at the interruption. "Let it go for now, it's almost time for breakfast."

Severus almost shrugged her hands away. "I will master this."

Her kiss below his ear sent a thrill through him despite the familiarity of the caress. "I know you will. Just not now." When he pulled away to look at her, she was grinning at him. "It's only been a week, Sev. Even you can't be perfect at everything the first time!"

His nascent annoyance dissolved as he remembered, again, that Lily believed in him. He cocked a brow nonetheless. "Hark to the woman who turned out a perfect one on her first try."

Lily rolled her eyes, but it was the blush that caught his attention. "So I have lots of good memories. That doesn't mean you won't do it too. It's a difficult spell, you know that! Some people can't even get the lesser form."

"I know." He put his hands on her waist and tugged her closer, exulting silently when she came without hesitation. "I still want to know what memory you used."

Her face got pinker, but her response was a kiss that was sufficiently distracting to keep them both busy until the breakfast bell sounded. Severus didn't know why she wouldn't tell him what memory she'd used to generate her Patronus, but trying to find out was an amusing pastime and one that promised to generate many such pleasing replies.

Lily pushed away as the sound of the bell faded, sighing a little, but Severus caught her wrist. "Show me again."

Her lips crimped, but Lily shook free and raised her wand, eyes closing and expression becoming almost reverent. "Expecto Patronum."

The light that burst from her wand resolved into the shimmering shape of a doe, leaping down to the floor and then coursing around the room before dissolving. It was beautiful, the epitome of grace, and Severus sighed as he watched it fade.

Lily sighed too, but the sound was contented. "Are you packed?" she asked absently.

Severus turned to gather his books. "Almost." The reminder of the upcoming Easter holiday cheered him somewhat. "I'll be done long before train time."

"Good." Her smile held a hint of secrecy, but it disappeared as Lily kissed him again and then opened the classroom door. "If I don't see you on the train find me at King's Cross."

"Very well." Severus held the door for her and followed her out into the corridor, thoughts flying ahead to two whole weeks in Lily's company and no schoolwork to interfere.

It was the first time he'd looked forward to a school holiday.

Sev was…a problem.

Lily paused in her packing, nibbling on her bottom lip thoughtfully. While there was a certain bittersweetness in knowing this would be the last Easter holiday for all of Hogwarts' seventh-years, Lily was much more taken up by her plans for said break. Which, by default and her own careful planning, involved Sev.

It's going to be a ticklish business. Lily folded another shirt and laid it into her rucksack, then snagged a pair of wool gloves and added them too—spring was not so far advanced as to take all the chill from the air. But I think I can manage, as long as he doesn't panic.

Lily felt herself smile, the soft expression that was automatic now at the thought of her—sweetheart, she thought firmly, as boyfriend seemed ridiculous applied to someone with his reserve and dignity. Not that her chosen term would be much better to anyone looking on, but she knew what Sev was really like—the face he showed only to her.

"Are you finished?" Her roommate Marilla stuck her head in the door. "It's almost train time."

Lily shook her head. "Go ahead. I'll catch up in a few."

Marilla withdrew, and Lily could hear her chattering with some of the other Gryffindor girls as she closed the door. Lily smiled and gathered up a skirt and some socks.

The plan for the day was simple; take the train back to King's Cross, Apparate back home with Sev, and then head for Yorkshire. It was a lot of travelling for one day, but—It's going to be worth it.

Lily grinned, and closed her rucksack.

It was past noon before she had time to even sit down. The holiday had all the students excited, and she and Potter and the prefects had all they could do to keep the younger kids under control. But eventually the long trip wore down the enthusiasm, and Lily was able to grab a snack from the cart. She took her food into the last compartment, which held only Marilla, propped in a corner and snoring lightly.

Amused, Lily watched the passing scenery as she ate, wilds green with spring but dull with the rain washing down. She had a book from the Hogwarts library, one of the turgid magical-historical romances she was guiltily fond of, but at the moment something else held her interest. Sev…

He was probably ensconced in the lead carriage with the other seventh-year Slytherins, sitting silently in a corner and letting the talk flow around him. Lily didn't really expect to see him before they disembarked—any disruptions were unlikely among the oldest students, and the Slytherin prefect could handle them. And while her relationship with Sev wasn't forbidden, his House-mates tended to look askance when confronted with it.

Well, it's just a little while more.

She knew Sev had expected backlash from James and his friends, but aside from a few attempts on James' part to speak with Lily, the boys had let them strictly alone. Lily was satisfied, though Sev—ever suspicious—was certain they were up to something. Lily turned up her nose whenever James approached and ignored all speculative glances from afar, and while she didn't want to argue with Sev about it she was fairly certain the matter was finished.

It was stupid of me to get involved with James anyway, but it was just for a little while. We're done, and he knows it. I don't want to hear his excuses.

She had something better, besides. The three months she and Sev had been a couple rather than just friends seemed much longer; Lily put it down to them having known each other for so many years prior. If it were anyone else, I would think we were moving too fast…but we know each other's secrets already.

Or most of them.

Smile fading, she leaned back and considered her beloved. She might have opted out of most of the adolescent romancing that went on around them over the years, but living with Marilla and Madeleine and Jane meant that she was quite aware of it.

If there was one thing universal about teenage males, her mates assured her, it was that they were eager. Lily's own observations rather bore that out. And yet, whenever she and Sev got a little precious private time, he was distinctly reluctant to go further than some heated kissing at the most.

Which she found distinctly frustrating.

Even those not gifted in Arithmancy could put two and two together and get the answer of something's not right here.

There hasn't been time to talk about it, either.

Well, there would be. She'd seen to that.

Lily held the image of Sev in her mind for a while, the shy half-smile he wore only when alone with her. He needs more kisses. Many more. And hugs, and the little touches that often seemed to startle him. He needed confidence, and she would make sure he gained it.

She opened her book, shaking off her own mild drowsiness, and settled down to wait for the journey to end.

London was dry, if grey, but it was pouring when they Apparated into the Evans' back garden. Sev swore, and Lily shrieked and dived for the door, fumbling for her key and feeling the cold rain running under her collar almost at once. It took only seconds before they were crowding into the dim kitchen, but Sev was still swearing, and Lily grimaced in sympathy when she flipped on the light. She was wearing a heavy jumper, but Sev hadn't bothered with his coat when he'd removed his school robes on the train, and his shirt was soaked through, his hair hanging in strings across his face.

Lily took his bag and dumped them both by the door. "Drying charm?" she asked, casting one on their luggage.

"No. I dislike what it does to linen." Sev swiped his hair out of his face, grimacing, and crouched to retrieve a fresh shirt from his bag.

"Nobody's home," Lily said. "You can change wherever."

Sev nodded, clearly still annoyed, and left the kitchen. Lily rolled her eyes at his pickiness and cast the charm on herself. Yes, it made her hair crackle, but that wouldn't be a problem for long, and they could use a shield spell on the way back out. Or you could Apparate directly from the house, the small voice in her brain suggested.

Lily told it to get stuffed—her parents had forbidden Apparation within the house, and she wasn't going to break that rule even if they weren't home—and headed upstairs to grab a few items from her room.

She'd expected Sev to use the downstairs loo to change clothes, but a flash of movement caught her eye as she passed the one in the upstairs hall, and she halted in surprise. He must have forgotten that the door doesn't latch properly—

She should have just kept going, but what she saw froze her in place. Sev was just pulling off his shirt, facing away from the cracked-open door, and the narrow view of his bare back made her heart rate speed up. His shoulders weren't as broad as James', but their smooth muscle and the supple line of his spine riveted her attention.

Lily frowned. In the bright light of the room's overheads, she could see that the skin of his back wasn't as even as it first appeared. She whispered a magnification charm, deliberately ignoring her conscience's reminder that she was invading Sev's privacy—

The slice of view leapt towards her, magically focused, and what she saw made Lily swallow against a sick surge of fury. The skin of his back was marred with crisscrossed scars, most of them old and silvery now but a few still faintly pink. Oh. Oh, Sev—

The sight made clear quite a few things, some of which she'd suspected over the years. It also made her want to curse both his parents into abject jelly.

Squeezing her eyes shut, Lily got control of her temper, then cancelled the spell and escaped to her room before Sev came out and found her staring.

She sat down on her bed, deliberately uncurling her hands from their angry fists, and struggled to settle her thoughts. I knew his father used to rough him up—but not like that—oh, Sev.

She wanted to cry; she wanted to hug him and tell him how sorry she was, how he didn't deserve that kind of treatment. She wanted to beg his forgiveness for not doing something about it when they were younger, even though Lily knew perfectly well that her ten-year-old self was in no way responsible for doing anything at all.

In the end she did weep a little, stifling the sob with her palm and wiping hastily at her eyes, though she'd closed her door and knew that Sev would not enter without permission. Control yourself, she told herself sternly. If he finds out you're upset he'll ask why.

But the illicit glimpse had answered more than one question about his behaviour. So that's why he's reluctant—why he never lets me put my hands under his shirt. Sev was sensitive about his appearance and never believed her when she told him he was gorgeous.

Well. We'll just have to deal with that too.

Lily lifted her chin and stood up, then started at a knock on the door. "Lily?"

"Out in a minute," she called back, and hastily gathered what she'd come for. Halfway to the door she halted, then went back for one more item.

Just in case.

It was raining lightly in Yorkshire when they arrived, but the shielding spells worked nicely. Sev looked around suspiciously, and only long familiarity let Lily see the nervousness underneath. The little cottage had a winter-withered garden that made its back step a perfect Apparation point; no one could see them arrive from this angle. "Are you certain no one will bother us here?"

"Of course." Lily unlocked the door with a muttered spell; much simpler than sneaking the key out of her parents' house. "No one comes here this time of year; the family takes turns during the summer hols, but everyone thinks the moors are too gloomy else."

Sev tilted his head in agreement; the huge slope rearing up in the near distance did look forbidding. "As you say." He pushed the door open and stood aside to let her pass.

The small kitchen was cold and a little musty, but Lily was expecting that. She set Sev to putting away the food they'd brought and setting up wards, and busied herself starting up the furnace and the boiler, blessing magic as she did so. Clearing the thin dust and making the beds was a matter of a few wand flicks, not half an hour of hauling around sheets and the hoover.

It had been surprisingly easy to talk Sev into spending the Easter holiday with her in Yorkshire; she hadn't been the only one frustrated by too little time to be together. No one cared where Sev spent his time when he wasn't at school, and between Petunia's obsession with wedding planning and her parents' trip to Wales, no one had asked Lily straight out where she intended to be.

She grinned to herself and dumped her rucksack on the bed in the first bedroom. It wasn't that her family didn't know she and Sev were an item; it was that she intended to keep things private for the moment.

Even from him? asked the sardonic voice in the back of her head, and Lily shrugged at it. If I'd told him I was hauling him off to the wilds of Yorkshire to seduce him, I wouldn't have seen him until we got back to Hogwarts. "But I think I can get him used to the idea with a bit of time," she added out loud, closing the curtains at the room's small window with another twitch of her wand.

"What idea?" Sev asked behind her, and Lily barely held in her start.

"Wait and see," she told him cheekily, turning.

He stood in the doorway, arms folded and expression closed, and for a moment she felt a pang of doubt. "If you're still trying to recruit me to the Auror Office, you can give up now and save us both time and trouble," he said finally, voice dry, and Lily had to chuckle.

"No, I've dropped that idea." She walked over to kiss him in a leisurely fashion. It had only been a passing notion anyway; he really was much better suited to the potions and spell research he was planning.

Sev pulled her close with a little sigh of relaxation, and Lily broke the kiss and just held him, feeling his head come down on her shoulder. He was so touch-starved, and so uncertain still, though she knew it was more reflex than true doubt. It's not that he thinks you don't care, it's that he thinks it'll be taken away, she reminded herself. The trait was sometimes irritating, but Lily added the reminder that he really hadn't had a lot of time to get used to the idea.

But hopefully by the time we leave here he'll have no doubts at all.

The thought—and her plans—made her smile, and she gave him an extra squeeze and leaned back. "Hungry yet?"

A small smile reached Sev's eyes. "As you so often point out, I'm always hungry."

Lily laughed, and reached up to push the hair from his face. "When you even notice. Tell you what, you set up the lab in the utility room and I'll cook."

He nodded. "Very well. But it will be my turn tomorrow."

"If I can drag you out of the lab, sure."

They separated amicably, and Lily went to stir up soup and make sandwiches, listening with amusement to Sev's carrying grumbles about the lack of room in the utility room. It was more for show than anything else, she knew; none of the cottage's rooms were large, and that was really the only suitable space.

Lily stared into the soup as the stuff began to simmer, and indulged in a moment of doubt. Deciding to seduce Sev was all very well, but she had no practical experience in the matter, and she was going to have to work through his…reluctance wasn't quite the word, she thought. No, he wanted her just as much as she wanted him, their half-stolen times together had made that quite clear. And now that she knew what he hid beneath his shirt—

He's afraid. On some level, he's afraid that I'm going to reject him at the last minute. And so he was willing to put off the last minute indefinitely despite Lily's own willingness.

Willingness, ha. I've done everything but beg.

The truth was, she had her own insecurities. Sev was devoted to her, she knew that, but underneath she wanted that bonding, the last step that made him hers physically as well as emotionally. I came so close to losing him.

Lily stirred the soup, sniffing the fragrant steam. We have two weeks. Let's see what I can do—what we can do.

She still had to drag Sev out of the lab for tea, interrupting his rearrangement of the various items he'd brought along, but once he was out they had a pleasant meal, and washed the dishes in peace together.

They ended up in the living room in front of the fire, reading at opposite ends of the sofa, though eventually they migrated close enough to each other to first lean on one another and then, inevitably, kiss.

Lily loved Sev's kisses. He was never hasty or sloppy; unlike James, he always treated her with a respect bordering on reverence, even when things got intense. She appreciated the difference very much.

Now? she asked herself, and then decided that the answer was no. They were both tired, and school was mere hours behind them. Better to start things when they had both had the chance for some rest.

So she kept things low-key, and Sev didn't seem inclined to do otherwise; his hands were gentle as he stroked her hair and her back, and his kisses spoke more of contentment than arousal.

It was just as well. When they returned to their books at last, it wasn't long before Sev's eyes were closing, and Lily watched with amusement as he gradually fell asleep, head resting on the sofa's back and arms going limp.

She rescued the book before it could fall from his lap, contemplated waking him, and was hit with an unexpected yawn. Moving suddenly seemed too much of an effort, and the fire was barely coals. Lily pulled her legs up onto the sofa and rested her head on Sev's shoulder.

Just for a minute.

Much later, it seemed, she felt herself being lifted, as if she were six again and had fallen asleep in the car. But the arms holding her were not her father's.

Blearily she recognised the front bedroom, where she'd left her rucksack, though the only light came from the hallway. Sev murmured something, and she heard the swish of sheets; then she was being laid down on cool cotton.

Sev straightened, and Lily grabbed at his hand, catching it almost by accident. "Don't go," she muttered.

He hesitated so long that she almost fell back asleep. Finally the fingers in hers twitched. "Are you sure?"

"Get in here," she ordered, sliding back so there was room for him. "'M too sleepy to argue."

The soft sound might have been doubt, or amusement. But Sev obeyed, climbing cautiously into the bed next to her and pulling up the covers against the room's chill.

Lily didn't wait to see how he reacted. She just shoved her pillow closer, threw an arm over his waist, and closed her eyes.

She woke again, much later, to find herself spooning Sev, knees tucked behind his and her forehead pressed against his spine. Her arm was still wrapped around his ribs, and she could feel his hand on hers, pressing it against his chest. It was a surprisingly comfortable position, and she barely noted it before drifting off once more.