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That Awful Boy

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'I heard - that awful boy - telling her about them - years ago,' she said jerkily.
'If you mean my mum and dad, why don't you use their names?' said Harry loudly, but Aunt Petunia ignored him.
-- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Ch. 2)


23 July 1977

Dear Severus,

I miss you. I know you'll probably say "no", but what have I got to lose? I was wondering if you'd like to come over for a few days in August and stay with my family at our new place in Surrey. It's been a slow summer, and I'd love to see a face from school. Especially a face capable of intelligently discussing the finer points of dragonbone v. mandrake root in restorative potions. What do you say? Can we try this again? Drop me an owl.

As Always,
Lily


L,

Not doing anything the weekend of the 14th. You want me to bring anything?

- S


Even as he stood on the front step ringing the doorbell, Severus Snape was not certain why he had come. It had been over a year since the fiasco that had ended his long friendship and short romance with Lily Evans, and they had barely spoken to one another since. Why was she so keen to try again now?

He had almost ignored her invitation, but truth to tell, he had missed her, too. More than missed her. This might be his only chance to pick up the pieces and try to put them back together, and if it was, he was ready to swallow his pride and jump at it. What it boiled down to was hope -- hope of happiness and, perhaps, a normal life -- and hope was something he had known precious little of in his lifetime.

He swallowed nervously, his Adam's apple bobbing in his long, skinny throat, as he heard footsteps in the hallway on the other side of the door. Would it be her? Had she been watching for him?

When the door opened, it was not Lily, but a tall, blond man, just on the younger side of middle-aged, and with eyes as green as his daughter's. The smile was hers too, when he stuck out his hand in greeting.

"Severus! Hello! It's been a long time."

Severus hesitantly shook the proffered hand. "It's -- er -- good to see you, Sir."

"Oh, please! You know we don't stand on formality in our house," Lily's father replied, opening the door wide to let him in. "Any friend of Lily's can call me 'Harry'."

Any friend of Lily's. She had called him "friend" to her father. He felt something small leap inside him at the thought.

Unsure how to make small talk with this Muggle he barely knew, he looked around the entryway. "Er -- nice place you've got."

It was, at that. Compared to the working class decor and clutter of his own home -- his mother was no great housekeeper, and his own Muggle father had very definite views on whose job it wasn't to keep things tidy -- the Evans' house radiated middle class comfort.

"Lily!" Harry Evans was calling up the stairs. "Severus is here!"

He heard a door slam open somewhere, and quick, light footsteps on the floor above. And then she was coming down the stairs, smiling, touching his arm in greeting.

"It's good to see you, Sev."

The small thing leapt inside him again. "Yeah," he said somewhat awkwardly. "You too."

At that moment, a pretty woman with short, red hair stuck her head out of the kitchen. Her eyes were not green, but pale blue, and her face was Lily's. She, too, smiled when she saw him.

"I can't shake your hand," she said matter-of-factly. "I've been cutting raw chicken. Harry thought it would be nice to have a cookout in the back garden this evening, but he hates dealing with raw meat." She rolled her eyes.

"I am forever in your debt, Rosie," Harry said, blowing his wife a kiss. "Lily, why don't you show Severus where the guest room is? Dinner won't be for a couple of hours yet."

"C'mon," said Lily, turning toward the stairs again.

"Keep the door open, Lily!" Rose Evans called after her daughter.

"I know, Mum!"

"What was that about?" Severus asked curiously as they reached the top of the stairs.

Lily blushed. "She thinks we'll -- Well, not thinks exactly. She just doesn't want us to -- to do anything. You know."

"Oh." A flood of memories washed over him, and he struggled to keep the emotional turmoil they caused from showing on his face.

Lily poked her head into one of the rooms. "Petty?" she said.

A blonde girl -- or rather, a young woman -- stood over an ironing board, painstakingly pressing the seam of what looked like a half-finished summer dress.

"What?" she said, not looking up.

"Severus is here," Lily said hopefully. "I thought maybe you'd like to say hello. Sev, you remember my sister, Petunia?"

"Sure," he mumbled. He and Petunia had never got along. She had always seemed to take personal offence to magic in general, and to him specifically.

She glanced up with pale eyes like her mother's and surveyed him critically. "Severus," she said curtly, and turned back to her work.

Lily gave Severus an apologetic look and shrugged, moving away from the room.

When they were out of earshot, she whispered confidentially, "She's just nervous about her date. She's seeing some bloke, but she won't bring him home to meet us. I think she must really like him, though; I heard her say she's hoping to finish that dress she's making in time for their date tomorrow night."

"Why don't you, you know, finish it for her?" he asked. "I mean, you're seventeen now. You can do magic outside school."

Lily glanced back toward her sister's room almost regretfully. "Petty -- you know she doesn't like magic much. I think it scares her a little." She shrugged again. "She's always been good at things like maths and science. Things that can't be quantified and explained bother her. 'The world doesn't work like that,' she keeps telling me. 'It's not natural'."

Severus smirked. "Muggles."

"Hey!" she said, punching him lightly on the arm. "Don't you start that. Dad's positively obsessed with magic. I told you how he was when he first found out that it was real. And Mum's been twisting my arm to get me to help out with the housework and stuff all summer. Anyway, this is your room."

He glanced into the small, neat room. It was very homey, and the quilt looked handmade.

"Nice," he admitted somewhat grudgingly, dropping his bag beside the bed.

"My room's right across the hallway. Do you want to see it?"

"Okay." His voice betrayed none of his curiosity at the thought of seeing where she slept.

It was bigger than the guest room, and more cluttered than any part of the house he had seen so far. He saw her surreptitiously nudge what might have been a pair of frilly, blue knickers under the bed with her foot, before bending over to pick up the spell books strewn across the floor.

"I meant to tidy up a bit before you got here," she admitted. "But I guess I never got around to it." She straightened up and turned to see him still standing in the doorway. "You don't have to stand out there." She gestured toward the unmade bed.

He could not seem to think of anything to say. All he could do was try not to think about the fact that he was in Lily Evans' bedroom, that he was sitting on her bed, and what it all might mean in terms of their renewed friendship. He reached down to pick up a large, familiar-looking book from the floor. Lily's copy of Advanced Potion-Making was newer than his, and better cared-for.

He cleared his throat. "I brought some stuff," he said, not looking at her as he flipped through the pages. "If you want to try making something."

"Sure." She sat down beside him. "What did you have in mind?"

Her nearness seemed to be affecting his breathing. He hoped like hell that she really did want to know about the kinds of things that were on his mind. But not yet.

"I dunno," he said. "I'm up for anything. As long as it's not some soppy love potion."

"Do you know how to make any?" There was no eagerness in her voice; only curiosity.

"Never have," he mumbled. "But I probably could if I wanted to."

She took the book from his lap, her fingers brushing his thigh as she did so. He gritted his teeth, tilting his head so that his hair swung forward to hide his face.

"Let's try --" she said, flipping randomly through the heavy tome. "Oh, damn! Veritaserum would be fun, but it takes about a month, doesn't it? We need something we can do in a couple of days."

"We could try the Draught of Living Death," he suggested.

Lily flipped back a few pages and looked the recipe over critically. "You really have all this stuff with you?"

"Yeah."

"I don't know, Sev. It looks like it could be lethal if we get it wrong. Let's try something more fun. Oh, here we go!" She turned the book toward him with apparent delight. "An elixir to induce Euphoria."

"Didn't we do that one with old Sluggie last year?" he asked, frowning at the page.

"Yeah, but mine didn't come out as well as yours did, and I've been wanting a chance to try it again for ages."

He looked up into green eyes glowing with excitement. "Okay," he said. "I'll go get the stuff."


They had barely managed to set up Lily's smallest cauldron in the guest room and inventory the necessary ingredients, when they were called down to dinner.

"I bet you could do this in about two seconds flat with magic," Harry joked as he loaded up their plates from the grill.

"Maybe so, Dad," Lily replied, smiling as she took the plate her father passed her. "But it wouldn't be nearly as good."

As they seated themselves around the picnic table in the back garden, Harry turned to Severus, and said conversationally over the chicken, "So tell us, Severus, what are your intentions toward my daughter?"

Severus stared at him, openmouthed, but a blushing Lily only said, "Dad!"

"What? You invite a boy over to stay for the weekend, and I'm not allowed to ask that?"

Lily gave her father an exasperated look. "We're just friends, Dad. I told you."

"See why I don't bring Vernon home?" Petunia muttered.

Rose gave Severus a sympathetic smile. "You'll have to excuse my husband," she said. "He's a dreadful joker. Just don't show him you're afraid; it only makes him ten times worse."

"My daughter invites one of her wizard friends over, and I'm not even allowed to ask questions!" Harry threw up his hands theatrically. "I ask you, is that fair?"

"I didn't say you couldn't ask questions, Dad," Lily admonished. "Just not about -- that."

"All right then." Harry gave him a wide grin. "Tell me, Severus. What do you do in the Wizarding world when a young witch brings a wizard to stay with her family?"

Lily hit him on the side of the head with a roll.


Severus was explaining the benefits of adding a sprig of fresh peppermint to the Euphoria elixir when Rose came up the stairs to tell them it was time for Lily to go to her own room.

"Mum! The potion's almost done. Can't I --?"

"Will it keep until tomorrow?" She gave her daughter a stern look that Severus recognised as the one Lily often used on James Potter and his friends.

"I'll finish it up," he mumbled to Lily. "Once it's done, it should keep well enough."

Lily looked rebellious for a moment, then said, "All right. Good night, Sev. Good night, Mum."

Severus tried very hard not to stare at her retreating bottom as she disappeared across the hallway.


He was lying in bed, staring at the ceiling in darkness, and trying to sort out his head, when a soft tap came at the door. At first he was not even sure he had heard it, or if he only hoped he had, but then the knob turned slowly, and Lily's pale form slipped into the room. She quietly shut the door behind her, flicking on the lights, and came to sit down at the foot of the bed.

"I couldn't sleep," she whispered, grinning. "I had to know how the potion came out."

She was wearing light summer pyjamas, and he was very aware of the fact that he only wore a nightshirt as he leant over the side of the bed to retrieve the cauldron of sunshine-yellow potion.

He handed it over to her, and she peered at it, sniffing delicately. "It looks right. And you can definitely smell the mint."

"You want to try it?" he asked.

She nodded. As he filled two small beakers with the shining substance, she went around the room, tapping the corners with her wand.

"Silencing charm," she explained. "It said in the book that one of the possible side-effects is fits of giggling."

Sitting down on the bed again, she took the beaker he offered her. He watched as she tilted back her head to taste the first sip of the potion. She licked her lips, looking thoughtful for a moment, then took a second, longer swallow.

Her eyes were closed as she lowered the beaker the second time. Then, slowly, a wide smile unfurled itself across her face. Severus only just plucked the beaker away from her in time before she threw herself backward across his bony shins, laughing out loud.

"Oh, Sev! It's wonderful," she breathed. "You have to try it. It just feels, so -- mmmm ...."

His eyes were riveted on her as she arched her back, stretching, catlike, across the foot of the bed. The short top of her pyjamas rode up to expose the smooth, fair skin of her belly. He raised his own beaker to his lips and drained it.

Warmth flooded through him like the first sunny day of spring. Everything became absolutely clear. The world was a wondrous place, and there was nowhere he would rather be than here with her. He laughed with joy, amazed that he had ever wasted time feeling bitterness or anger or hatred toward anyone. It did not matter any longer what other people did or said; they were not important enough to worry about. All that mattered was this glorious new sense of joy and wonder, and the beautiful possibilities alive in the air around him.

He looked over to see Lily, eyes now open, grinning back at him, still lying stretched out on his bed. Then he pounced on her. They were both fizzing with laughter as their lips met, first awkwardly and then more surely. It had been so long since he had last touched her. He could taste the golden potion on her tongue, feel the wonderful silken warmth of her hair spilling over his hands, smell the fresh, creamy scent of her skin. She was intoxicating. He could not remember ever wanting anything more.

He raised a hand, cupping a breast through the sheer fabric of her pyjamas. When she did not protest or push him away, he bent his head to taste her throat, and slid his hand lower to find the hem of her top. Her flesh under his touch was as smooth and warm and supple as ever, and when the warmth and fullness of her bare breast filled his hand, he knew what heaven must be like.

"Mmmm -- Sev!" she squeaked, giggling.

He took her top by the hem, pulling it over her head with a single motion, and buried his face between her breasts. They were a little bigger, he fancied, than they had been the last time. His fingers laced with hers and she gasped with delight as he tasted a rosy pink nipple.

Severus realised dimly that he should have been a little surprised, but it seemed only natural when she moved his hand, fingers joined with hers, between her legs.

"Touch me here, Sev," she whispered. "I've missed you so much. Ah!"

His long fingers caressed her through the thin cotton of her pyjama bottoms. He could feel heat and damp even through the fabric.

"Take them off," he said, tugging her nipple gently between his teeth.

Her hands hurried to obey, and in seconds she lay in naked splendor on the bed before him. Her skin was milky white all over, and the hair between her legs was a brighter red than the hair on her head. The scent of her made his mouth water, but as he reached for her again, she playfully pushed his hand away.

"Fair's fair!" she laughed, tugging at the fabric of his nightshirt.

He pulled it over his head, wanting only to feel her bare skin against his after fifteen months without her.

Lily giggled. "No pants? Naughty Sev!" She surveyed him eagerly. "Mmmm -- you look fun."

He moaned, closing his eyes as her fingers wrapped around his cock. Nothing in the world had ever felt as good as her touching him like that.

"Will you touch me, too, Sev?" she whispered.

Her other hand guided his back to the warm, damp place between her legs. She was as slippery as gillyweed down there, and she parted her thighs further to allow him freer access.

Her hand stilled around his shaft, but he did not care much. He was too busy trying to remember which touches elicited gasps and which brought on delighted moans. Severus moved between her legs to see better. She was pink and slick and completely open to him. He traced around her entrance with a finger, and, emboldened by a twitch of her hips, slipped it easily inside.

She gasped, her body clinging tight and warm and wet around his finger. "More, Sev!" she moaned.

Rejoicing in the feel of her, he slid another finger in. She reached down to grasp his wrist, and began moving his fingers in and out of her, moaning luxuriantly.

He bent closer, watching in delight as his fingers, slick with her juices, moved in and out of her body. His nose was filled with the scent of her, and without even thinking, he bowed his head for a taste.

With a sharp little cry, she thrust her hips up against his mouth. "Oh, Sev! Do that again! I need more!"

Severus drew his hand back, and then pushed a third long finger deep inside her, pressing his tongue to her pink flesh to lap up her flowing juices. Suddenly she was shaking and bucking and he could feel muscles deep inside her squeezing tightly and rhythmically around his fingers.

She pushed his hand away, and lay gasping on the bed. "Wow," she breathed at last. "It's been a long time since -- Wow."

All he could do was grin.

She sat up, a mischievous glint in her eye. "Your turn."

She slid her body up along his, and straddled his waist, kissing him long and thoroughly. He could feel the tip of his painfully-swollen cock pressed against the flesh of her arse, and hoped to God she intended to do something about it soon.

Raising herself up on her knees, she wrapped her hand around his shaft again. He groaned, pressing into her palm, eyes falling closed. He felt her shift her position slightly, and then there was beautiful, wet heat against his swollen tip.

"Lily!" he gasped, eyes popping wide to see himself poised at that lovely, tight entrance. He longed to feel her hot, slippery flesh pulsing around the length of his cock again after so long. "Please!" he begged through gritted teeth. "I need --"

"Hush," she murmured. "I just want to feel you against me for a minute."

Despite her admonition, he pressed his hips up, moaning, but she held him firm, teasing around her slick, pink places, and just once allowing the head of his cock to press halfway into her as she moaned with pleasure.

"Please!" he groaned, rigid thigh muscles twitching. "Please, Lily! Just for a minute --"

And then she was sliding down him, hot and slick and beautiful. So many times he had dreamed of this moment, never daring to hope that she could be his again.

He wanted it to last forever, but all too soon he was twitching and jerking and spurting inside her as she rode him to her second climax.

After, she snuggled up beside him, her cheek pillowed against his sweat-damp shoulder. "That was fun," she sighed.

He said nothing. He could feel the effects of the potion draining away with his orgasm.

When she reached for his hand, placing it on her damp curls and asking, "Touch me again?" he pulled away.

"Do you love me, Lily?" he asked bluntly.

"What?" she sat up, looking at him.

"Because I still love you," he continued. "And I want to know that we just did what we did because you love me, not because of some stupid potion."

Her brow furrowed. "Sev, I don't think --"

"Don't think," he encouraged her. "Just say it. Say you love me, Lily. Say you're still mine."

She sighed. "Sev, you know I love you. I just -- I can't make a promise like that to someone I can't trust. You're great when we're alone -- more than great -- but what about when your friends are around? I need someone who's not going to sell me out just to impress someone."

"What?" The bitterness of his tone lashed out at her. "Someone like James Potter?"

She pulled away from him at that, tugging a blanket off the bed to cover herself. "How can you say that?" she demanded. "After all the things he's done to you? After all the times I've told him to go to hell?"

"So just not me, then."

"Sev, don't --"

He snorted. "Don't what? You'll fuck me, but you don't want to be seen in public with me? Are you that embarrassed about what we just did? Slytherin's pants! You don't have to pretend to be some kind of virgin. It's only pure-blood girls who have to --"

Her slap stung his face, making his eyes water.

"You think that just because I'm Muggleborn I'm some kind of slut?" she bristled. "What is this? I fuck you and then you get pissed at me because I won't be your 'mudblood' whore? Why don't you just go fuck yourself, Snivellus?!"

Bitterness consumed him and he looked away, blood burning in his cheeks. He had been stupid to think even for a moment that he could have someone like her -- that she could want him like he wanted her. He ground his teeth in frustration.

But when it seemed as if the silence between them had stretched on into forever, she reached across it to touch his arm lightly.

"Sev -- it's not you --"

"Sure."

"It's not," she repeated firmly. "What we just did -- I've never done anything like that with anyone else. But I'm not ready to commit, all right? When I -- when I promise myself to someone, I want to know it's real."

"Then it's never going to be me, is it?" he replied harshly. "Slughorn's favourite -- Dumbledore's golden girl -- The girl of James Potter's dreams -- she's never going to want this." He gestured roughly down his skinny, angular body.

The look in her eyes was pleading. "I don't know, Sev." She smiled at him a little sadly. "I don't believe you're nearly as bad as you let on. There's good in you, I know it. You shouldn't be afraid of it. Show a little of that to the world, and who knows what might happen?"

He rubbed his eyes. The aftereffect of the potion was making him unutterably weary.

"Go to bed, Evans," he said abruptly. "Let's just forget about this."

But as she quickly and silently pulled her pyjamas back on and left him in the darkness, he knew that this was one night he could never, ever forget.


So it's true love she wants to feel, is it? he thought, staring moodily at her over their breakfast fry-up the next morning. She was assiduously not looking at him. No problem. I can brew that in about a second.

He knew it was not true. Real love was a mystery and a power beyond the scope and range of magic. If it was real love he wanted Lily to feel for him, then he would have to break into the Department of Mysteries in the Ministry of Magic, where they studied such things, and steal a bucket of it.

But if he could not manage the real thing, then perhaps a shadowy substitute would do. When he remembered how she had felt under his hands the previous night, and when he thought about the possibility of never touching her again, he could not bear not to try. And perhaps, after a while --

Amortentia was the most powerful so-called love potion that he knew of, and he had the recipe in his copy of Advanced Potion-Making, but the problem would be brewing it and getting her to drink it without her knowing what it was. Slughorn had showed them the finished potion the previous year, and hiding its distinctive sheen and spiraling smoke would be a challenge even for him. He thought he could manage it, though, with a little clever manipulation of the ingredients.

Lily went to her room after breakfast, with the excuse that she needed to look over her summer homework from McGonagall, Flitwick and Slughorn, but Severus was sure she had finished all of it over a month ago. She was just like that. Still, it gave him the opportunity to work on the potion in peace, holed up in the guest room.

It was well past noon by the time a tentative knock came at the door.

"What?"

"Can I come in?" asked Lily's muffled voice through the wooden barrier.

"Yeah." He nudged the Potions book out of sight under the bed.

"What are you working on?"

"Potion."

"I can see that. What kind?"

"Just an experiment."

He had managed to disguise the mother-of-pearl sheen with a delicate pink colour, and had added a very small amount of chopped gillyweed to keep the potion from smoking at all. She would have no way of guessing what it was.

She leaned close and sniffed, nostrils flaring. "It smells familiar," she said slowly.

He stiffened. He had forgotten to disguise the smell, and he himself had not noticed it since, to him, it smelled the same as the whole room -- like the thing he desired most -- like her. Would she remember the smell from that last brief encounter with Amortentia, several months ago?

"What do you think it smells like?" he asked cautiously.

"Leather -- no, wait. Like some kind of big animal. Maybe a horse or a centaur or something. And a little like --" she sniffed again. "You know how it smells out on the Quidditch pitch on sunny days? Like grass and warm earth? Kind of like that."

He groaned internally. If this potion smelled of Quidditch to her then there was no chance she was meant for him. He was hopelessly awkward on a broomstick.

"What's it supposed to do?" she asked curiously.

"I don't know yet," he said shortly. "It's not finished."

She got the message and left him to his work.

He was going to need something to strengthen it. It might work without, but like many other potions, it could be far more effective if something of the potion's subject was added to it. Ideally, to create an illusion of love between himself and Lily, he would need something of each of them to add to it. Getting something of himself was no problem, but getting something of Lily might be harder.

He had checked the bedclothes, and could unfortunately find no stray hair left by her the previous night. Searching her room was risky and problematic, and he was not sure if he could bear to go in there now and spend time making small talk with her as a pretense.

In any case, he had some time to think. The potion needed to simmer for a few hours before it would be ready for those final ingredients. In the meantime, he pulled out a book he had borrowed from the Restricted Section of the Hogwarts library -- Moste Potente Potions -- and hoped that inspiration would strike.


Nothing had come to him by nightfall. After another awkward meal with her family -- minus Petunia this time, as she was out with her bloke -- Severus retreated back upstairs and decided to take a shower. He was not sure if the potion would work as well as he had hoped without the all-important ingredient, but he thought that being clean might at least not hurt his chances with Lily.

As he stepped, dripping, out of the bath and reached for a towel, his eye fell upon the laundry hamper. Thoughtfully, he lifted the lid. Inside was a jumble of women's clothing, tossed in haphazardly by the sundry Evans women. There might be something in there that would do.

He tucked the towel around his hips and tiptoed back to the guest room to retrieve the cauldron, his wand, a knife, and the correct stirring paddle. Setting the cauldron up on the bathroom floor, he quickly lit a non-scorch fire charm under it, and set to work. One by one, he pulled each garment from the laundry hamper, examined it critically to see if he could ever remember Lily wearing it, checked it for loose red hairs, sniffed for her distinctive scent, and cast it aside if it would not do for his purposes.

At last, he had a small pile of clothing he was sure were hers. He picked up a pair of frilly blue knickers -- the same ones she had kicked under the bed the day before, he was almost certain -- and dropped them into the cauldron. Now to add his own contribution. He removed the towel and knelt over the bubbling potion.

And it was at that moment that Petunia, having just arrived home from her date, pushed open the bathroom door, saw Severus kneeling naked in the middle of the room, cock in hand, with a cauldron in front of him, the intimate garments of the Evans women strewn about him, and her little sister's best knickers floating on top of the pink potion.

She let out a choked shriek as Severus scrambled to his feet, wand pointed at her.

"Do you mind?" he hissed.

"What are you doing?" she squeaked, horrified.

"None of your bloody business! Get out!" He slashed his wand at her, and a cut opened suddenly on her arm.

With a gasp, she turned and fled.

He hastily stuffed the laundry back into the hamper and stabbed the blue knickers below the surface of the potion with the stirring paddle. Gathering up the cauldron, he banished the fire with a flick of his wand and hurried back to the guest room to finish the potion in private.


Severus could tell the following morning that Petunia had not mentioned the incident to her sister. Lily was once again making friendly, conciliatory overtures to him, which suited his plans well enough.

He had spent half the previous day racking his brains for a way to get her to drink enough of the potion without suspecting anything. Amortentia was usually best administered as the filling of fancy chocolates, since its sweet flavour and creamy texture in that context was in no way suspicious, and the smell of fine chocolate generally disguised the telltale scent of the potion.

There was no help for it; he was going to have to lie. If she was thick enough to trust him, then she would get exactly what she deserved, he told himself.

"What is it?" she asked curiously when he came into her room and presented a small flask of the pink liquid to her sometime after breakfast. She sniffed at it. "This is what you were working on yesterday, wasn't it?"

"Yeah," he replied. "It's just something I made up. I was reading about -- about Dementors for that Defence Against the Dark Arts essay, and I thought it would be cool if there was some kind of potion that could ward them off."

She looked dubious. "How does it work?"

"It acts as a sort of mental stimulant," he said, crossing his fingers behind his back. "Makes it easier to remember happy thoughts and memories so you can cast the Patronus charm more easily. It has some ingredients in common with the Euphoria elixir -- but not as strong," he added hastily when she gave him a suspicious look.

"And you think that will be enough to ward off a bunch of mad, soul-sucking fiends, do you?" she asked skeptically, but raised the flask to her lips all the same.

"I wouldn't drink that if I were you," an acid voice said from the doorway.

Severus and Lily both turned in surprise to find Petunia staring down at them, disgust written all over her face.

"Why not, Petty?" Lily asked, suddenly wary.

"I saw what he put in it."

"Oh? And what was that?"

Severus broke out in a cold sweat. If Petunia told her, Lily would never speak to him again, and next time James Potter hexed him, she would probably help.

But Petunia only pursed her lips. "I'd rather not say. What did he tell you it is?"

Lily's brow furrowed. She peered into the pearly pink liquid, and then raised her eyes to meet Petunia's, the natural instinct of a younger sister to trust an elder shining from her green eyes. Severus knew he had lost.

"He said it would help ward off Dementors. They're these happiness-sucking things that guard Azkaban prison."

"Well I doubt that's what it does," Petunia sneered. "I'm your sister, Lily. Trust me this once. You don't want to drink that, and if you know what's good for you, you'll get as far away from this one --" she gestured at Severus "-- as possible. I've always thought you'd be better off without any of this magic nonsense, and if what I saw him doing is how magic works, then I was right. It's disgusting and I want nothing to do with it. And if you persist in mixing yourself up with it, then you're disgusting too, and I don't ever want to have anything to do with you or your kind again."

She spun on her heel and flounced down the stairs. A moment later, Severus heard the front door slam. He looked at Lily warily.

"Who are you going to believe?" he said. "Her or me? She doesn't know a damn thing about magic or potion ingredients. So what if some of them are unappetising on their own?"

But Lily was staring at the potion again. "What is in it, Sev?"

"Fine!" he said, getting to his feet and looking down his nose at her coldly. "Don't trust me. See if I care."

"Sev --"

"No." He turned away. "I know when I'm not wanted. I'm bloody used to it. I thought you were different, Evans. I get it now, though. I'm going."

He did not even look back to see if she had gotten up, but ran to the guest room, packed with a wave of his wand, and Apparated home.

Lily, standing in the doorway of the suddenly-empty guest room, sniffed and wiped her eyes. "Goodbye, Sev," she whispered. "I'm sorry."

Then she went into the bathroom and quietly tipped the potion down the drain. It was probably harmless, she told herself. But if it wasn't, then she didn't want to know.