He’d always been the lurking type. It was easier to blend into the shadows, hide in the darkness, tucked away in the world of invisibility. He was happier that way. People left him alone. He could be content, watching from a distance, his presence unknown.
Severus lurked often. At first it was in the bushes as he watched the little redhead girl with her older sister. Then it was in the shadowy corridors, his eyes hungrily watching the way that Lily Evan’s anxious expression spread into a welcoming smile as he stepped into their designated meeting spot. And now, now that Lily hated his guts for reasons that he’d brought entirely onto himself, he lurked wherever she happened to be. Behind a conveniently placed tapestry, in the Great Hall, behind a tree by the lake.
Okay, so, maybe in some societies it would be considered stalking.
He’d honestly stopped caring long ago. It’s not like anyone ever knew he was there. It wasn’t exactly stalking until someone figured out he was doing it, right? Right.
Today’s lurking spot was behind a bookshelf in the library. A hateful scowl on his sallow face. Eyes fastened on a beautiful redhead…and a tall, broad-shouldered, athletic boy with rumpled black hair and an easy grin.
She was smiling at him.
“You took notes for me?” she asked incredulously, her voice an awed whisper. Her green eyes were glittering with an affectionate look that made Severus queasy.
James Potter shrugged, looking bashful. He ran a hand nervously through his already tousled hair. Severus had once tried messing up his hair too see what it would look like. It looked like he’d spent the majority of his morning with his finger shoved in an electric socket. Potter…he looked like he’d just walked off a Quidditch Magazine Photoshoot.
Curse his dashing good looks. Or whatever.
“Well, I know how much you hate missing class,” he responded. Severus scowled again. Like that was big news. Everyone knew how much Lily Evans hated missing class. “And you were sick and there was nothing else I could do, so… yeah.”
Lily let out an incredulous laugh. Severus noted with some chagrin that she definitely did look like she’d recently recovered from an illness. And Potter knew about it. And Severus didn’t.
“Well, if you hadn’t dragged me down to Madame Pomfrey I’m sure I wouldn’t have had to endure the agony of missing class,” she teased.
Teased?! His teeth clenched. Lily Evans was not supposed to tease James Potter. The world just didn’t work that way. And it was James Potter who’d taken care of her? Severus resisted the urge to hex something. James Potter just…he couldn’t.
“And risk infecting the populace of Hogwarts?” Potter shot back, sounding scandalized. “Never.”
“Ah. You always do have the best of intentions towards the populace of Hogwarts.”
They shared a quick laugh. Lily was looking healthier by the second. Severus wondered if he’d ever managed to bring a glow onto Lily’s face with lighthearted banter before.
Probably not. Lighthearted banter wasn’t exactly his thing.
“Er…the notes…they’re, erm, color coded according to class and subject. And I’ve written down the homework assignments on this parchment for you, and also some book titles that might be helpful for some of the essays. They helped me out, so I just figured that you could use them. And, uh, you don’t have to get those back to me, I’ve made myself copies,” Potter rattled off. Severus’ mouth dropped open. Was Potter…no. He couldn’t be blushing? But there it was, plain as day, a light pink flush over Potter’s cheeks that seemed perfectly fitting with his nervous chatter.
Lily grinned widely. “Thanks, James. These are perfect.”
“Oh, er, it was no big deal, really –”
And to Severus’ absolute horror, Lily pushed herself up on her toes and cut Potter off with a kiss on his cheek. Potter’s mouth flapped open. He looked quite stupid, in Severus’ opinion. Apparently Lily didn’t think so, as she merely gave him a shy smile, blushed lightly, and then scurried out of the library.
A dopey smile spread over Potter’s stupid face, and Severus seethed.
The next day at breakfast was another moment of disgust, shock and hurt for Severus. As soon as Lily entered the Great Hall with those tittering bints that she called friends (and yeah, maybe McKinnon was brilliant at Defense and perhaps Prewett did have a flair for Charms), Potter immediately perked up and waved enthusiastically at her.
On a normal day, Lily would have rolled her eyes at him and sat down as far away as possible, and Severus would have returned to his breakfast, a relieved smile on his otherwise expressionless face.
But today, her eyes immediately lit up and she dragged her friends over to Potter’s. And to his continued horror, all three of them sat down. Lily sat down next to him. And when he said good morning, she repeated the sentiment back to him. And then she smiled.
Why was she always smiling?!
“You didn’t stay up all night working, did you Evans?” Potter joked in his stupid deep voice. There was an underlying note of concern in his tone that made Severus’ skin crawl.
“No, I did not,” she replied haughtily, sticking her tongue out but softening the blow with a quick grin. “I only stayed up half the night.”
Potter groaned dramatically, “Evans! You’ve got three days’ extension for your work! How could you even think of doing it all last night?”
“I’m Lily Evans,” she replied, as if that was an adequate response. For most things, it was.
“Hey,” Potter told her in a low voice once everyone had finished chuckling at this exchange and were properly engrossed in their food. Severus strained his ears and cast another quick charm so that he could hear. “Don’t stay up half the night to do homework, yeah? You just got better from being ill. You need your sleep.”
“Okay, mum,” Lily shot back sarcastically, rolling her eyes.
“I’m serious Lily, please take care of yourself,” Potter returned earnestly. “I was worried.”
“It’s true,” Black inserted from across them, “Prongsie wouldn’t shut up about it. Do us all a favor and don’t get sick again, Evans. The boy’s insufferable without you around.”
“Yes, thank you Sirius,” Potter returned loudly, looking faintly mortified. Lily merely laughed. Severus wondered when he’d ever made her laugh that happily. He couldn’t remember.
This made him hate Potter all the more.
“And then – stop laughing, Lily, this experience was traumatic! – and then she hung me from the Quidditch goalpost for the rest of the night,” Potter recounted between hearty chuckles. Lily was in absolute hysterics next to him, leaning against his arm as another fit of giggles overtook her in the dark corridor.
Severus didn’t think it was that funny, thank you very much.
“Yeah, well, I was a bit of a prat at thirteen,” Potter said, shrugging.
“A bit?” Lily inquired, smiling teasingly.
“Okay, a lot,” he allowed, rolling his eyes, “Hey, did I ever tell you about the time when Sirius dragged the three of us to Hogsmeade to spy on Marlene’s first date?”
“What?” Lily gasped.
“He was so jealous, he had us all dress up like girls –”
And Lily dissolved into laughter once again.
For Merlin’s sake. It was not that funny.
Severus was sulking idly behind a bookshelf in the library, working on a Charms essay with one eye on his textbook and one on Lily, who was writing feverishly on the table three rows over from him. Lily and Potter were still on nauseatingly friendly terms, but Severus was happy to notice that as of late, not much had changed between the two. They maintained an amiable relationship and kept things strictly professional.
He approved of this.
Severus’ head snapped up from his essay roughly at the same rate that Lily’s snapped up from hers. Cursing under his breath, he scrambled towards a gap in the bookshelf and peered out at Lily and Potter, who was standing in front of the table. He’d abandoned his robes somewhere along the way, and his sleeves were rolled up, tie loosened, and hands tucked nonchalantly into his pockets. He looked the picture of ease, save for the constant fidgeting and the nervous expression adorning his features.
Lily gave him a quick smile. “Hey, yourself.” And to Severus’ joy, she bent her head back to her essay. Potter was undeterred however; he sat down across from her and leaned forward, clasping his hands out in front of him.
“Lily,” he said quietly, and Severus was shocked at the amount of tenderness infused in the name. Lily froze awkwardly, her quill poised over her parchment. Severus saw her swallow forcefully. So she’d noticed it, too.
“James,” she returned cordially, her voice forced. “Is there something I can help you with?”
His jaw locked. “Stop it, Lily,” he said, “I know you’re mad about what happened, but I’m not apologizing.”
Lily looked up from her essay.
“I’m not sorry,” he continued fiercely. He crossed his arms across his chest stubbornly, as if daring her to make him feel sorry.
…what had Potter done? If so, he should definitely do it again. Then Lily could go back to hating him and Severus could go back to stalking her in peace. Potter’s continued presence in her life was starting to give him an ulcer.
“I wasn’t asking you to be sorry,” Lily hissed back, placing her quill on the table and screwing her ink bottle shut.
“Then why are you so mad at me?” he asked.
“Because – because,” Lily turned bright red, “you looked horrified and then ran away afterwards,” she said in a small voice.
Potter looked as if he’d been recently doused in cold water. “I thought you’d be furious at me for kissing you,” he said in a voice hollow with surprise. “I really wanted us to be friends – and it’s completely your fault for messing me up!”
“My fault?” Lily cried.
“You just had to waltz around the Head’s Common Room in my favorite jumper and those…tiny…muggle things with your hair all loose and tumbling all over the place and those cute socks that don’t match and those legs, and your bloody green eyes and your whole, ‘oh James, I really need help with my Transfiguration’ and you…and you smelled like vanilla and cinnamon!” he finished desperately, running a hand through his hair. “A bloke only has so much self-restraint, Lily.”
“I’m starting to wish you had less self-restraint,” she muttered.
Potter, fortunately, did not catch that. Severus did, however, and came to the horrifying conclusion that Lily had been attempting to seduce Potter. And it worked. To a certain degree.
Oh, Merlin…the mental images…Severus wanted to Obliviate himself. How could…how could Lily do this?! Betrayal and hurt washed over him in waves. Lily fancied the prat. Severus wanted to crawl in a small hole and stay there forever.
“Look, I don’t want you to be mad at me. I like being friends with you, Lily,” Potter said earnestly, “and I’m not taking back the kiss, so you can just…just forget about it if you want to, but stop sulking because it’s making me miserable.”
Lily looked furious. “Potter, you git,” she said in a low voice, “I don’t want to be your bloody friend. You have a day to ask me to Hogsmeade – a day, Potter – and if you fail to do so, Merlin help me I will hex you to next week!”
And with that, Lily swung her bag over her shoulder and stomped off towards the door. Potter sat there for about three seconds, looking dazed and rather brainless. Then a huge grin unfurled over his face.
“Lily!” he yelled, jumping up and running after her, “Lily! Will you to go Hogsmeade with me this Saturday? Oi! Lily!”
“Mr. Potter, this is a library!”
Severus slumped against the bookshelf, his heart heavy with disappointment. Anyone but Potter would have been less painful than this.
He was just waiting for something to go wrong. Potter had a knack for pissing Lily off, and it was only a matter of time before he did it again and she stormed off in a huff.
But it hadn’t gone wrong. In fact, things had only gone right for the past four months. They’d gone on dates. They’d walked to classes with their hands intertwined. They’d stayed up late studying in the library. They’d bickered about the stupidest things for hours and then snogged passionately against the wall when things got particularly heated (ew). They’d laughed their way through patrols and held hands under the desks in classes and Lily had a special smile that she shot at him, reserved only for when he did something particularly wonderful.
Which was – oh, yes – all the bloody time.
It made Severus sick.
The next time he stumbled across them was entirely on accident. He’d been walking along the shadows of the corridors, his hands in his pockets and a dark, brooding cloud looming over his expression. Then he’d heard it. A soft giggle and a low groan. He cocked his head towards the empty classroom on his right, then rolled his eyes. By the sounds of it, the couple was quite engrossed in snogging the living daylights out of each other.
Disgusting, frivolous activities, in Severus’ opinion.
“James,” the girl gasped, and Severus froze on his next step. That…oh, no. He swallowed forcefully. That sounded like…like…
“Lily, I have to get to practice,” Potter said in a raspy voice.
“Ten more minutes,” Lily whispered.
“I’m captain, Lily, I can’t be ten minutes late.” He sounded deeply regretful about that fact.
Lily sighed. “Stupid Quidditch,” she muttered.
Thank Merlin for Quidditch.
“But if I’d known that this Quidditch uniform was such a turn on for you, Miss Evans,” Potter replied in a husky voice that made Severus gag, “I’d have worn it around the Common Room as much as possible.”
“You do that and I’m never returning your favorite jumper,” Lily warned.
Potter groaned. “Please don’t.”
More snogging. Severus decided he was done being a masochist and took another step forward. He quickly pressed himself against the wall when Potter stumbled out of the classroom, his hair messier than ever, uniform unbuttoned and rumpled. He pulled Lily out with his hands around her waist, and she slung hers around his back, looking up at him from under her eyelashes.
Severus wished desperately to be anywhere else at this moment in time. Lily looked beautiful, her hair in tumultuous waves around her shoulders, her school clothes messy and buttoned wrong, green eyes large and murky, lips swollen red. It was a shame that Potter had been the one to make her look like this.
Potter smiled contentedly and leaned his forehead against hers, his eyes closed. Hers were open, staring up at him with an expression of tender awe.
“You’re perfect,” he mumbled, raising one hand to stroke it over Lily’s cheek and rest against her neck.
Lily raised herself on her toes and pressed a lingering kiss against his mouth. Severus stared up at the ceiling and counted the cracks. He was at thirty-nine when they finally broke away from each other.
Potter smoothed her hair away from her face and kissed her forehead. Lily’s eyes fluttered shut, a small smile at her mouth.
“I love you,” he murmured.
The smile grew larger. “I love you, too,” Lily responded softly, and Severus’ heart broke.
Potter’s grin was a mixture of awe and victory and pure elation as he stepped away from her, ruffled his hair uncertainly, and then loped off towards the other end of the hallway with a whispered, “bye.”
He stopped at the corner and smiled over his shoulder at her. She smiled back, her arms wrapped around herself. And as he turned the corner and disappeared, Lily bit her lip, spun around in a circle, and let out a long sigh.
“He loves me,” she whispered to herself. Then, louder. “He loves me!”
Of course he loves you, Severus thought bitterly, it’s impossible not to love you.
Lily’s laugh was the sound of joy as she ran, skipped and jumped down the hallway. Severus slumped against the wall, defeated.
He spent all of his effort on running away from Lily after that. But it was near impossible – they were everywhere. In the corridors, holding hands as they walked to class. Heads bent close together in Potions as they created concoctions that had Slughorn singing their praises. Laughing loudly at something stupid Black said or did in the Great Hall. Whispering in the library as they studied. Lily leaning back against Potter’s chest, their legs twisted together as they lounged under a tree and Potter played with her hair.
Even Bellatrix had noticed.
“I see that Potter’s finally snagged himself a filthy mudblood,” she remarked one day at lunch, “that pathetic blood traitor.”
Narcissa gazed thoughtfully at Lily and Potter. Lily was leaning tiredly against Potter’s arm and sneaking bits of food off his plate as he chattered animatedly with his best mates, completely unaware that his food was being stolen out from under his nose. Every time he laughed Lily smiled tenderly and snuggled closer to him. For a second Severus thought he saw Narcissa’s expression soften, but when she turned her head back to her sister, her face was set in the harsh lines of disdain.
“That’s revolting,” she intoned in a bored voice, “pass me the peas, will you Bella?”
It was probably just a trick of the light, Severus thought, because there was no way Narcissa Black thought that Lily Evans and James Potter were romantic.
When Severus arrived at breakfast a couple of weeks later, Lily and Potter were already seated at their table. He did a double take when he realized that they were alone. He checked his watch. It was much too early for any Gryffindor to be up and functioning – what in the name of Merlin were they doing here?
Lucius Malfoy nodded to Severus when he sat down across from him, and Severus nodded back before directing his attention to his breakfast and the Gryffindor table. Lily and Potter seemed…different this morning. They were still sitting close together and Lily kept taking his food, but every now and then they’d sneak glances at each other. Lily had a slight blush on her face, but she looked oddly pleased with herself. Potter himself looked as though his wildest dreams had come true.
Severus squinted slightly. Was that…what was that strange mark on Lily’s neck?
“There you are!” Alice Prewett’s voice cut through his scrutiny. Lily jumped, looking guilty, as she noticed her two best friends and Potter’s three lackeys joining them at their table.
“Er – morning, everyone,” she said. Sirius Black was smirking.
“Good morning, Lily-flower!” he chirped obnoxiously, winking. Lily flushed and Potter kicked Black under the table.
“You didn’t come up last night,” McKinnon said accusingly, piling muffins onto her plate, “Alice and I were worried.”
“Oh, there was no need to worry,” Lupin said mildly, a terrifyingly Potter-esque smirk on his face, “James was taking very good care of our dear Lily, here.”
“Remus,” Lily hissed. Potter aimed another kick at Lupin under the table.
Prewett stopped with her spoon halfway to her mouth, looking at Lily and Potter, both of whom were glowing red. “Oh my…” she said faintly.
What in the name of Merlin were these people talking about?
“Yes, Alice,” Black said jovially, “you’ll never guess who I found in James’ bed this morning.”
Severus froze. Malfoy gave him a strange look.
“Sirius, shut up,” Potter said. Lily loaded up her spoon with waffles and shot them onto the side of Black’s face. Potter looked impressed, but Black merely smirked wider.
“No!” Prewett and McKinnon gasped, looking gleeful.
“Yes,” Black countered. “And upon further inspection, I realized that the two of them had lost their clothes sometime during the night.”
“Sirius! Shut up!”
A spoonful of scrambled eggs landed in his hair, but he continued, undeterred.
“It seems as though our dearest Head Boy and Girl were engaged in some very inappropriate activities last night,” he concluded happily. “And Lily’s got the hickeys to prove it.”
Lily squealed and slapped her hands over her neck.
Severus thought he was going to be sick.
“We can only hope that Prongsie and Evans used protection, otherwise we’ll have to worry about little Potter babies running rampant – ouch, woman! You hexed me!”
Lily twirled her wand around her finger, smirking. “Stay out of my sex life, Black,” she said. Potter was absolutely beaming next to her.
“I am so in love with you,” he told her, awed.
Severus moved with a mechanical precision as he climbed off the bench and walked rigidly out of the Great Hall before he could hear the rest of their conversation. He’d heard enough.
Three days later, Lily walked to breakfast and sat down next to Potter, but Severus wasn’t interested in that. What held his attention were the words hovering proudly over her head. He didn’t care if his staring was obvious. He felt sick. He was going to throw up. There was no way – no way – that it could be true.
But he stared in careful scrutiny at her ring finger as soon as Potter had kissed it, hazel eyes glistening up at her – and it was always there no matter how many times he turned his head just in case a trick of the light had made him see things: a pristine diamond ring, glittering with the message that she was officially Potter’s.
The name Lily Potter, floating above her head like a label, seemed to mock him as he ducked out of the Great Hall and collapsed into the first secluded spot he could find, shaking hands pressing against his face.
She was gone.
Their hands swung between them as they walked down the hallway, chattering about nothing in particular, letting the conversation take them where it may. Every now and then Potter swung their hands up in a particularly high arc and twirled Lily around. She’d crash back against his chest, giggling, and he’d smile like she was the most amazing thing in his entire world.
Severus’ heart ached as he watched them. He hated to admit it, but Potter seemed to know how to treat Lily right. But it was all wrong – this was Potter. Potter hadn’t brought her into this world of magic and brilliance. That had been Severus. He’d been Lily’s first friend. He’d loved her first. By all rights, it should have been him walking carelessly through the halls with his hand clasped in hers.
But the fact remained – it wasn’t him. It was Potter.
It always had been Potter, hadn’t it? She’d loved him even while she’d hated him.
And that always hurt the most. Potter got a second chance. Severus lost his.
Potter had just twirled Lily around again when Severus stepped out from the shadows. Lily fell back against his chest, her laugh echoing around the corridor, but Potter wasn’t smiling tenderly. His expression was cold wary as he held Lily protectively against his chest and eyed Severus.
“James, what – oh,” Lily said quietly, catching sight of him, too. It hurt to see the happiness slip out of her eyes as soon as she saw him standing there. She didn’t move away from Potter. Their intertwined hands rested against her stomach, his body framing hers – the contrast between red and black, tiny and tall, slender and built, fair and tanned…it was striking. Severus almost wanted to howl up at the gods for making them look so bloody right together; as if they needed another reason to mock him.
For a second they all looked at each other.
“Can I have a word?” Severus finally asked. His voice was low from disuse. Potter looked down at Lily, and she nodded and smiled slightly. He bent down and whispered something in her ear that made her smile grow wider, and Severus looked away, hands clenching.
“Fine,” Lily said quietly, rolling her eyes. Potter grinned mischievously at her and took her bag from her shoulder. He winked, kissed her on the forehead, and then walked away. Lily stared after him, her eyes tender. Severus glanced behind his shoulder to make sure he was leaving – but Potter had already disappeared.
“Lily,” Severus began. Her eyes snapped over to his.
“Severus,” she returned cordially, coldly. He hadn’t talked to her after that night when she’d told him to leave her alone. He’d done what she’d asked – but he had to know. He had to be sure.
“I just – I want,” he took a deep breath. “Do you love him?” he finally asked levelly.
Lily blinked, surprised. “James?”
He flinched, but tried not to let it show. “Yes.” Monotonous.
“I – yes,” she breathed. “Yes, I love him.”
Severus nodded once.
“He makes me happy,” Lily said quietly. She was watching him carefully, but he slid his blank mask over any emotion that might show in his expression.
He inclined his head. “As long as you’re happy,” he said softly, taking a step back.
“Severus,” Lily said. He stopped.
She smiled at him, and for a second he could feel the heat of the summer sun, the light breeze of a beautiful day, the smell of vanilla and roses. “For being my best friend.”
He turned around and walked away, ignoring the single tear that made its way down his face.
If he’d stayed and lurked, he would have seen James Potter shimmering into existence as he pulled the cloak off of his frame, his expression bemused (because Potter had figured out that he loved Lily all along). He would have seen Lily turn into his chest, her shoulders shaking with sobs.
The next time he saw them together was at Graduation. Lily was laughing with her friends as Sirius Black swung his arm around her shoulder and tucked her into his side. She reached up and pecked him affectionately on the cheek. Potter was standing next to her, joking with Alice Prewett and Frank Longbottom. He and Lily were connected by their clasped hands.
Prewett and Longbottom said their good-byes and walked off towards someone else in the crowd. Potter made to turn back to his fiancée and best friend, but his eyes locked with Severus’.
They looked at each other for a bit, calmly. Potter quirked his mouth into a half-smile and nodded once. Severus nodded back, sans smile. Then they both turned back to their futures.
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