A Web of Denial and Deceit
James was watching the spirals of vapour rising up from the simmering cauldrons around the classroom, forming curling arches of mist above Lily Evans' head. Merlin, she was beautiful. How he wished he could get her to go on a date with him. But why – why did she always say no when he asked her out? All the other girls in the year were clamouring to be asked out by him, but Evans – the one girl whom he adored – flatly turned him down. And still she was friends with Severus Snape, the snarky Slytherin whom James and his friends absolutely despised. He had been at the receiving end of Snape's dark curses a good many times and the git was rumoured to be involved with the Death Eaters. But Evans still chose that creep over him! What was going wrong?
James morosely returned to the potion that they were supposed to be brewing in pairs and peered at it doubtfully. His Potions partner and best friend Sirius took a rather blasé approach to potion-making, but after being scalded, coated in angry boils, and being responsible for several evacuations from the dungeon over their four years at Hogwarts due to exploding potions disasters, James had learnt to be a tad more cautious. It still hadn't improved his Potions grade, though. He read the next line of the instructions from his tattered textbook.
"You know what, James?" Sirius said thoughtfully, leaning on the desk beside him and dropping a handful of fairy wings into their cauldron without a glance. "I think Snivellus might be in love with Evans."
Something seared painfully in James' chest as if Sirius had just pierced him with a knife. Snape had his eyes on Lily? He recoiled from the very thought and spluttered nonsensically, hoping that the crackling of the fires and the bubbling of the many potions in the dungeon had fiddled with his hearing.
"Don't be ridiculous," he said, trying to shrug off Sirius' hypothesis as if he couldn't care less.
"But it's true!" Sirius protested, taking his grey eyes off Lily and Severus and fixing James with a knowing stare that made him fidget anxiously. "Come on, have you seen the way he looks at her?"
James gulped, suddenly feeling rather hot under the collar. Damn these stupid fires! He hurriedly tugged at his shirt collar and accidentally knocked a flask of thestral saliva flying towards their cauldron. There was a sudden commotion as Sirius swore loudly and scrambled out of the way while their friend Remus at the next bench along dove forward to intercept the bile before it fell disastrously into the potion. It slopped messily over his hands, a few drops falling onto the angrily spitting potion, but a complete catastrophe was avoided.
"Blimey, James!" Sirius clutched his heart, whistling under his breath.
"What was that about Lily?" Remus asked curiously, setting the half-empty flask down on the desk and wiping his dirty fingers on an already mangled page of Sirius' Potions textbook. Peter, Remus' potions partner, rushed over to listen in too.
"You can see that old Snivellus fancies her, can't you Moony!" Sirius said insistently. James watched with a sinking feeling as Remus' eyes travelled to Severus, who was speaking as he meticulously chopped up his daisy roots, while beside him Lily laughed at something he said, unaware of the way his lips curled up into a satisfied smirk. Remus hesitated too long before answering.
"I can see what you mean – " he started, only to be drowned out by Peter's exclamation.
"Eurgh! That's disgusting!" he said, retching, his eyes wide at the news and focussed on the oblivious couple. The other three boys, James included, followed his gaze and saw Severus looking up at Lily, whose face was still alight with laughter, with a distinct look of hunger in his dark eyes.
James shuddered. He knew it was true. He didn't need Sirius crowing on about it next to him to realise that Snape was drawn to Lily in that particular way. Who wouldn't be? Lily was amazing – beautiful and kind, intelligent and thoughtful, caring and determined to stick up for what was right… He'd seen the signs for months – though Snape obviously did his best to hide it, he clearly had more on his mind than innocent friendship with Lily Evans.
But he had been living in denial. It was easier to pretend that Snivellus, that slimy ugly tetchy Death Eater-in-the-making who was widely known to be versed in the Dark Arts, was not friendlier with Lily than he was. It wasn't fair! He had always loved Lily and he'd never hurt her like that scumbag! He didn't have creeps and racists as friends! He didn't delve into the Dark Arts! He was pretty much as bright as Snape, and he was definitely much better looking than that git! Why did Lily have to hate him so much? He'd do anything to make her happy! Why did she have to be so cosy with that slimeball instead?
James was so wrapped up in his whirl of dejection and dismay that he didn't realise for some time that Sirius was talking to him.
"Prongs? Hey, Prongs! I said, what in the name of Merlin's baggy underpants are we going to do about it? Evans is your girl."
At the mention of action, James perked up somewhat. "Anything. Something. I don't care. Whatever will keep Snivellus' slimy hands from groping all over her." As long as he could get revenge…
James was detracted from his vindictive thoughts by a winningly devious expression dawning on Sirius' face. "Padfoot rather fancies sinking his teeth into that Slytherin…" he said with a meaningful glance, referring to his Animagus self. "And I expect Prongs wouldn't mind kicking his ass either…"
Peter chuckled away, looking excited by the prospect.
"Agreed," James said darkly. "Let's trick him into going into the Forbidden Forest tonight! He's always prowling around, following us and trying to get us into trouble; if he hears that we're going there he's bound to fall into the trap…"
Sirius smirked and James grinned.
Ten minutes later, James spotted their chance. He hauled Sirius away from the desk, from where he had been winking at a blushing Mary McDonald over at the bench next to Lily, and they sauntered over to the long sink where Snape was washing out several of his vials. James made sure to raise his voice just enough to be able to catch Snape's attention, without alerting Lily a few yards away.
"So what do you say, eh Padfoot? Eight o'clock on the path into the Forbidden Forest?"
James turned on a tap a few feet away from Severus and began washing his hands. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Snape stiffen. His greasy head turned a minute degree towards them.
"Sure thing!" Sirius sang out cheerily, trailing his hands lazily through the jet of water and shaking his hair out of his eyes with a distinct eagerness. "I can't wait for another adventure. I still can't believe we didn't get caught the last time!"
This time Snape's glittering eyes settled upon them. James pretended not to notice.
"Yeah, I was sure we'd get expelled for that dangerous little escapade," James spun the lies wildly, lapping up Snape's attention with glee. "Well, we needn't have worried so much. Now we know what we can get away with."
Sirius chuckled, finally finishing washing his hands. "Oh, an awful lot," he said with a grin and flicked water at him. James growled and splashed a whole lot back at him, laughing away.
"Please quit acting like a six-year-old, Potter, or I might have to hex you," Severus snapped irritably, finally interrupting their conversation when it was clear that he would learn nothing more of worth. James turned around, putting on his innocent face, and saw Severus scowling as he wiped water out of his eyes.
"Oh Snape, didn't see you there, I'm so sorry," Sirius simpered obsequiously. Severus stopped fussing over the water they'd sprayed him with and his expression darkened.
"Oh – we'd better go, Sirius," James hissed, intentionally flicking his eyes in what he hoped looked like an anxious way at Snape and then away again. He dragged Sirius away, conscious of Snape's eyes burning into his back, and with their backs turned they sank into fits of silent laughter.
"That was priceless!" Sirius croaked, trying to hide his grin under his long mane of dark hair. "He well and truly bought it…"
James nodded, desperately trying to put on a straight face. It was exceedingly difficult when he knew that Snape had taken the bait and was about to be royally whipped. He blinked the tears out of his eyes and whispered, his voice full of mirth, "This is going to be brilliant…"
"But Wednesday is the night we always work together in the Library!"
Severus lowered his gaze, trying to ignore the hurt in Lily's voice and erase the look of disappointment in her eyes from his mind.
"I'm sorry, Lily, but I have too much Arithmancy due in for tomorrow," Severus lied quietly. He felt uneasy about doing so but it could not be helped. If she knew he was planning on following Potter and Black into the Forest so that he would have hard proof of what he had known all along – that those arrogant Gryffindors were up to no good and deserved more than detentions – she would flare up and try to stop him. This was the only way. He had to keep her out of this.
"But you could do that in the Library!" Lily continued. "I won't disturb you, I promise. I'll be quiet."
Severus chanced a glance at Lily. He immediately regretted it. The pleading look made her green eyes even more irresistible than usual. His heart begged him to give in, to declare that he had always loved her and that he wanted to spend every minute of every day by her side – but he couldn't. Not now.
Lily was the most beautiful and talented witch alive, the only true friend that had brought him a glimpse of happiness in an otherwise miserable and painful life. He couldn't risk losing her, and if he dared mention now that he saw her as something more, he would scare her away for sure! What with Lily knowing the horrific background he had come from, his ill-fitting second-hand clothes, and his unpopularity at school, along with his lousy looks, she would run a mile if she knew he hoped for more! He had to bide his time, all the while striving to better himself, to prove his worth – he'd show her how clever he was, he'd show her how he could move up in circles, he'd prove that he could make himself worthy of her. Only once he was in a position deserving admiration and respect, with something he could offer her, could he even consider revealing the feelings he struggled so hard to conceal from her every day.
"I – I can't," he said stiffly, trying to act as if he didn't care. "I need to work on it with Avery – joint project." Merlin, the lies were coming thick and fast.
"Oh." Lily's voice fell in resignation. "I understand."
Severus cringed. He hated doing this. What with all their other various commitments, this was the only night each week they could both make. They used to spend every evening during the week working together in the Library, but over the years those days had gradually slipped away – one evening was ruled out because Lily had Charms Club, then on another evening he met up with a few select Slytherins in one of the disused dungeons to quietly discuss their stance in the War, while Lily worked in the Gryffindor Common Room on a couple of nights with those silly Gryffindor girls that were her friends, and they both took part in a duelling club on yet another night. Now the only evening they shared together – just the two of them – was the evening he was currently sacrificing so that he could catch out Potter and Black.
But he was hoping to find something good, something that would irrevocably tarnish their princely reputations, so that Dumbledore could no longer let them get away with murder. He would even deign himself to let the Headmaster use Legilimency on him if necessary, just to prove it! They'd be in trouble for sure, and if he was in luck perhaps they would get suspended – or even expelled! With Potter out of the way and unable to ruin his time with Lily, the two of them would have more time together.
That is what he convinced himself to believe, anyway.
"Look, I'll see you tomorrow in Defence Against the Dark Arts," Severus said, wiping the emotion from his voice.
Lily nodded, looking crestfallen. "Good luck with your Arithmancy homework," she said, clearly trying to put on a bright face for him but ending up grimacing.
Severus despised himself for deceiving her. But it was done now. He held up his cool mask of indifference and walked away, ignoring his body's cries to make up to Lily for what he had just done.
"I really do love this Cloak of yours," Sirius said as he and James crept across the school grounds through the lengthening shadows towards the Forbidden Forest. "I wish I'd inherited a cool heirloom like this. It might have made my family a tad more bearable."
James smiled. Where would they be without his father's Cloak of Invisibility? It had certainly aided them on their adventures many a time before. Right now it was invaluable in enabling them to slip out of the castle and enter the Forest without being seen by any teachers – or nosy students for that matter.
"What time is it?" James asked as they darted into the gloom lurking around the boles of the trees. He whipped the cloak off them now that they were safely out of sight and stuffed it in the pocket of his robes.
"Ten-to-eight," said Sirius, squinting at his watch.
"Excellent. Let's get ready."
James transformed into his Animagus form, suddenly finding himself standing on four nimble legs with ears in tune to every tiny rustle in the forest. He picked up one hoof and held his head high, proudly feeling the weight of antlers on his head. He smirked inwardly. Snivellus would never recognise him when he was Prongs! His disguise as a stag was absolutely perfect.
Beside him Sirius was now replaced by a large black shaggy dog who was currently shaking himself wildly – James knew that Sirius couldn't bear the itchiness of fleas when he was transformed into Padfoot. Sirius sat down and began scratching himself furiously around the neck. When he showed no signs of relenting James nudged him with his antlers to get him to pay attention to the task at hand. Sirius stopped and pricked up his ears, looking around interestedly. His tail began wag and his big grey eyes turned to fix on James' hopefully.
Yes, he could hear it too – the loud, heavy sound of human footsteps! And over the sweet scent of leaves and the rich earthiness of the ground, he could smell the faint aroma of potions fumes, fresh parchment and – was that greasy hair or candle wax? James was not certain, but what he was certain of was who that smell belonged to.
Snape had arrived.
Lily let out a long sigh and stared unseeingly at the cheerful red-and-gold drapes that decorated the Gryffindor Common Room. She couldn't concentrate for the knowledge that Severus had ditched her tonight. He knew it was the only time they got to spend together anymore! How could he do this to her?
"What's the matter, Lily?"
Beside her Mary was looking at her questioningly, her quill poised above her Potions homework and slowly dripping ink into a puddle. Lily's eyes fell down to her own incomplete homework and sighed again.
"Severus said he couldn't study in the Library with me this evening," she confessed.
"Perhaps he just fancied a week off," Mary suggested bracingly. Lily felt her face crumple into a frown.
"But he used to study with me all the time! That's the only night we have together now! We don't even talk much – I wouldn't annoy him…"
"Perhaps that's the reason why… you don't have as much to talk about anymore," Mary suggested.
Her words struck Lily and hurt a little. "I – I don't think so…" she said, but she heard the hesitation in her own voice. "Besides, he said he needed to work on his Arithmancy project tonight in the Slytherin Common Room, with one of his friends…"
"Well there you are!" Mary said warmly, dipping her quill in her ink well and preparing to start writing again. "He's just working on his project. There's nothing more to it, Lily. Don't keep worrying over it."
Lily watched her friend writing a few more words, chewing her lip in worry. She knew Severus was working on his project – he couldn't help that. She knew she shouldn't be angry with him. But she could not stop the feelings of hurt and indignation from rising in her like floodwater, threatening to make her break into tears.
Mary looked up at her and stopped writing again.
"There isn't anything more to it, is there?" she asked curiously.
Lily swallowed but it did nothing to dislodge the hard lump that was currently wedged in her throat, making it difficult to breathe.
"It's just – it upsets me that Severus acts like he doesn't care! We're supposed to be friends! This is the only time we have together now and I know he can't help having a stupid project but he could at least show some remorse!" she said, feeling stupider by the second.
Mary twiddled her quill and tilted her head to one side, fixing Lily with a discomfiting stare. "Are you sure you're just friends?"
Lily's heart gave an almighty thump. "Of course, Mary!" she said breathlessly. A little voice in her head tried to speak up but she firmly stamped her foot down on it before it could let out any forbidden secrets. "Don't be ridiculous!"
"It doesn't seem to me like you see it that way," Mary continued as she tried to scratch out the blobs of ink over her work. "You and I are friends, and if we can't study together I think that it is a shame, but I'll move on and see you some other time. Yet it seems to me that your time together with Snape means more to you than you have been letting on, Lily Evans! Does he mean more to you?"
Lily felt herself blush a terribly obvious shade of red. "Severus is just a friend – my best friend – " she stuttered, " – and nothing more. He would never see me as something more, anyway…"
"But you might want him to be something more," Mary said, raising her eyebrows pointedly.
"Oh stop it, Mary!" Lily swatted her with her blank parchment roll. "It's not going to happen!"
"Okay, okay," Mary said, holding her hands up in surrender. "I'm just saying what I see…" She busied herself with her homework once more, and this time she did not look up again.
Lily watched her, pondering over her words. She knew that Severus did mean a lot to her… how could he not, given how long they had known each other, how he had first shown her the magical world, how they had passed so many lessons and adventures and days by the river back home together… Was her attachment to Severus more than mere friendship? Mary was right – she would never have felt so wounded or so upset if she couldn't have spent the evening with one of her other friends. Severus was so very different. The coldness in his tone of voice and his indifferent manner filled her with an ache that could not be accounted for by a waning friendship.
Her eyes wandered over to the window, where the sun was setting in beautiful shades of pink and gold. She had been living in denial for some time. It was easier to deceive herself into thinking that Severus was just a very good friend than let herself hope for more and be hurt when he never showed any signs of romantic interest in her.
But it was true, everything Mary had said. Lily could not deny it any longer. She was in love with Severus.
Severus slunk between the black tree trunks, treading carefully on the forest floor. He had slipped out of the Slytherin Common Room unnoticed and made his way down to the Forest without incident; he could only hope that nobody – especially Lily – happened to look out of a window at that time. It was now almost eight o'clock – he was sure. Those bigoted gits Potter and Black would be here any moment now! So far he had seen neither hide nor hair of them but they were bound to be around here somewhere!
Holding his breath, he left the shadow of the nearest tree and stole further into the forest. After a minute or two of straining his eyes so much they felt as if they were about to pop out, and convincing himself that more twigs were cracking and more leaves were rustling than usual, Severus was convinced that someone was there. But he could not for the life of him see where they were!
Highly frustrated, he wondered what to do and suddenly struck gold. Severus whipped out his wand and muttered quietly.
"Homenum revelio!" There was a soft whoosh and Severus' suspicions were confirmed.
"Yes!" he cried in delight. Potter and Black were nearby! They couldn't hide from him now…
Smirking with smug satisfaction, Severus scanned the surrounding undergrowth. Something stirred around knee-height not far off and there was the sound of a low growl.
Severus snorted. "You can't fool me, Potter! I know you're in here!"
He pointed his wand at the enlarging figure, snickering at Potter's attempt to trick him into thinking he was an animal. But as the figure came nearer Severus' derision lost its footing and he felt a twinge of unease. That wasn't Potter, crouched low to the ground to look like an animal. That was a beast, a dog with black ears and bared teeth, a big dog, a massive –
The big black monster collided with him and for a terrifyingly disorientating moment, Severus could see nothing but long black fur crawling with fleas. And then an excruciatingly sharp set of teeth clamped itself onto his leg, and he saw white-hot stars of pain.
Merlin's pants! Snivellus had gone and used Homenum revelio on him and Sirius! He knew they were there! And if the two of them suddenly sprang out as animals the sly Slytherin would piece together than they were Animagi – illegal Animagi! He'd blab to Dumbledore and they'd get sent to the Ministry and locked up in Azkaban if Snivellus got his way! Damn!
James slowly emerged from the undergrowth, watching as Padfoot bowled Snape over and used his weight to pin the Slytherin to the ground. There was a yell of pain as Padfoot's canine teeth began to gnaw on Snape's leg, quickly followed by a string of expletives that made James' sensitive ears ring. Arms flurried about in the air as Snape struggled to shove Padfoot's hulk off him, but Padfoot merely thwacked him in the face with his tail and settled himself more comfortably on Snape's body, crushing his arms so that he could chew on Snape's skinny leg with as much enthusiasm as if it was a tasty bone.
James' thoughts raced and he wondered how to help Sirius without risking Snape putting two-and-two together. But so far, blinded by pain, Snape had not yet caught sight of him…
Realising what he should now do to hide their identity as Animagi, James edged behind a tree and transformed back into a tall skinny teenager. He fumbled with the Invisibility Cloak and draped it over himself before creeping out and approaching the writhing tangle of limbs, teeth, dog hair and a swishing tail.
He was just trying to work out where to safely send a spell without hitting Padfoot when there was a blast of light and a piercing howl as of an injured animal. Wounded, Padfoot rolled off Snape, who was gripping his wand with white-knuckled hands and staggering to his feet. One leg was bloodied, courtesy of Padfoot, but the fury glinting in Snape's eyes was not to be dismissed lightly.
"Snooping around again where you've got no business are we, Snivellus?" James taunted, being careful to keep moving so that Snape could not work out his location.
"Potter!" Snape spat as if he had just taken a mouthful of acrid urine. His eyes darted about in a frenzy between him and Padfoot, who was curled up in a ball, licking a scorched paw with a soft whine.
"Furnunculus!" James cried, sending a burst of light at Snape. The boy stumbled backwards into a tree, clutching his face where ugly boils were erupting.
"There! Maybe now Evans will see you for what you really are! Merlin knows why she still hangs out with you! But she'll never date you, Snivellus, mark my words!"
There was a snarl and a streak of purple light shot out of Snape's wand, splitting the air as he slashed it through the air. Just as James felt a terrible pain sear through his shoulder there was a fierce bark and he saw Padfoot attack Snape in defence. His eyes watered and he was overcome with pain, but James strove to push it out of mind. As his vision cleared he made to jinx Snape once more, but the incomprehensible shouts and growls were interrupted by another voice.
Oh no. It was Lily Evans.
Lily frowned as her eyes fell down from the exquisite rosy sky to the dark figure of a person travelling across the grounds towards the Forbidden Forest. If she was not mistaken, that lithe form with its long, gliding gait looked just like Severus!
Filled with a rush of adrenaline, Lily grabbed a pair of omnioculars that Potter had been banging on about for weeks from the windowsill and shoved them to her eyes. She gasped. It was Severus!
"Lily? What is it?" Mary asked anxiously.
"He – he lied to me…" Lily whispered, reeling with shock. Severus was not working on his Arithmancy homework, and he was certainly not in the Slytherin Common Room. Here he was – going off on a jaunt in the Forbidden Forest! He was breaking a very serious rule – and with it her heart.
Two hands grabbed the omnioculars from her and Mary plastered them to her face. "What's he doing? Why isn't he doing Arithmancy?"
Lily closed her eyes to stave off the wave of nausea – it made her physically sick to know that Severus had lied to her – lied to her, his best friend! He couldn't even tell her the truth as to why he didn't want to study with her anymore! There was no chance that he'd ever look at her in a different light and trust her with something more precious – his heart. Maybe the nasty things the other Slytherins whispered about her were working their way under his skin… Perhaps she was becoming in his eyes nothing more than a Mudblood, the lowest of the low, no better than a Muggle – or an animal…
She gave a strangled sob and leapt to her feet. She tore across the Common Room towards the Portrait Hole.
"Lily! Lily! Where are you going?"
But she ignored Mary's cries.
She had to find Severus. She had to find out why he was tricking her. The not-knowing hurt too much to bear.
They had mere seconds. Snape had spun around to look for Evans and James took his chance. He dove towards Padfoot and draped the Invisibility Cloak over him too, but a long-haired tail was still poking out from underneath.
"Transform back now, you prat!" he hissed urgently, glancing nervously over his shoulder.
There was a soft pop and James found himself squashed by a Sirius wearing a furious expression.
"He sent confringo at my hand! He burnt me!" he complained.
"Shh! Now come on!" James forcibly turned Sirius around and nudged him in the opposite direction. He could already see Evans, looking around in confusion and asking Severus what was going on. They might be invisible, but he just had to hope that she wouldn't hear him and Sirius as they slipped off from the scene. If she knew what part he and Sirius played, she would be angry – more than angry. She would hate him. And she would never date him in a million years!
"What's going on?" Lily asked, perplexed. "I heard voices. Who were you talking to?"
"Potter's here!" Severus spat. "And Black too, I expect!" He whirled around, but then he suddenly froze. Lily scanned the surrounding area, peering through the gathering darkness.
"No one's here, Sev," she said slowly, looking apprehensively between him and the trees. There wasn't a trace of anyone else in the forest. What was going on?
"But – but he was here! I heard his smarmy voice!" Severus began snooping around, fervently pushing aside branches as if driven to the point of madness.
Lily bit her lip. Was Severus making this story up? She knew he hated James and Sirius to the point of no rationale – perhaps he was trying to get them into trouble.
"They're not here, Sev."
"Yes they are!" he bellowed furiously. "I know they are! I overheard them saying they were sneaking down here tonight!"
"Why were you here tonight? I thought you were studying with Avery."
Severus seemed to pick up the hurt in her tone of voice. He ceased rifling through the bushes and turned, fixing her with a long stare.
"Someone's got to put a stop to those jumped-up gits Lily!" he said finally. "They swan around arrogantly, assuming they can go anywhere, do anything, expecting everyone to bow down at their feet and worship them! They've got Dumbledore wrapped up in the palm of their hand! It's time everyone saw them for what they really are – puffed-up infuriating jerks! I heard them – I know they're here, Lily! This was a trick! It was all an ambush on me!"
Lily folded her arms feeling cross. "They are not here! Will you stop trying to shove the blame onto them when you're the one in trouble, out of bounds! Look around you and see the proof for yourself!"
"What about this?!" Severus breathed dangerously, pointing to his mangled leg.
Lily took a sharp intake of breath, staring in horror at the blood seeping out of several puncture-wounds in his flesh. She had not noticed it before, but now she examined it, she saw that it looked awful.
"They set a wild dog on me!" Severus muttered irascibly, limping back towards her. "And if you don't believe that, look – some jinx to make me covered in boils that Potter fired at me!"
Closer to hand Lily could indeed see the swellings over his face and hands. She sighed sadly and muttered the counter-curse. It certainly looked as if he had been attacked – but equally he could have just picked up something from a plant in the Forest.
"I'm sorry you're wounded, Sev. But why did you come here? If you follow them around you're just as bad as they are! Why can't you leave them alone?"
"That – Potter – he's – I don't like the way he looks at you!"
Lily blinked in surprise.
"So you want to get them into trouble? Can't you see what you've done, Sev? Now we're the ones in trouble! Not only have you got us out of bounds – and out after curfew – you've lied to me and got nowhere with your scheming – even if they were here as you say. Why did you lie to me?"
She gazed at Severus imploringly, wishing that he would trust her – that he would tell her why. His eyes flitted her hers and then dropped down to the forest floor.
"Look – I'm sorry, Lily. And I'm sorry if we both get detention for being here. I just – I didn't want you to think badly of me."
Lily was stunned. A tentative ray of hope began to shine out. Could this be a sign that Severus returned her growing affections, that he might see her the way she had begun to see him?
"I'll always be your friend, Sev… Nothing will change that," she whispered.
Out of the darkness of his eyes, the faint flicker of a strange fire stirred and stole her breath away. His lips parted and she half wondered if Severus was about to say something. But as that wonderful thought took root, he swallowed and remained quiet.
Lily sighed. "I – I just think that you should leave James and Sirius alone. I know that all this trying to catch them out will get you nowhere."
The light in Severus' eyes was extinguished and a glower settled heavily on his face. The moment was lost.
"You don't know anything, Lily," he said frostily, pushing past her and striding back towards the fringe of the Forest, where the half-light was less thick. It was obvious that he was trying not to limp, but Lily could hear his breath hitch as his weight fell on it. She was sure it hurt him a lot.
She ran to catch up with him. "Then tell me!" she urged him. "What don't I know?"
Lily longed for him to open up to her, to let her under his deadpan façade and into the secrets he was so clearly hiding, but Severus just pursed his lips and ignored her, marching on across the grounds towards the castle. A pang of hurt crashed through her. Why wouldn't he trust her?
"Please, Sev – your leg – won't you let me help you? Or at least go to the Hospital Wing?"
"Leave me alone, I'm fine," Severus snapped shortly.
Tears sprang into Lily's eyes. She knew now. Her feelings for him were unrequited; she was sure.
They walked in silence on the rest of the way back to the castle, Lily trying hard not to cry and putting on a brave face. She was amazed that one of the teachers – or worse, Filch the caretaker – was not waiting there for them. She was about to say so in attempt to lighten the mood, but as she turned to look at Severus she found him already retreating down the steps to the dungeons, without even so much as a goodbye.
Lily felt her controlled expression falter, and her bottom lip began to quiver as she felt her heart break.
There was nothing for it. Severus clearly did not have feelings for her. From now on she would have to live a lie, pretending to be just as nonchalant and distant as him. If she had any chance at clinging onto their already wavering friendship, which was being unseated more and more as the War went on, she would have to deceive him, and, in turn, perhaps she might just deceive herself into believing that she no longer loved him.
There was no other way to stop herself from being hurt again.