“Cut them twice,” Severus advised. “Make them little cubes.”
Lily frowned but did as he told her with the Grevonar Root, forming a small pile of little cubes. She used the flat of her knife to gather them up and dump them in her cauldron. Moving quickly, Lily turned off the flame and stirred it three times, counterclockwise. Instantly, the potion became clear as was desired.
Lily shot Severus a grin. “You’re a genius, Sev,” she complimented him in earnest.
Severus smiled back at her in a contained way but glowed on the inside. After using a few other shortcuts, he had finished a few minutes ago and was focused on helping Lily along.
“Seriously, how do you know when to change things?” Lily asked him, using a spell to bottle the potion.
Severus shrugged. “Lucky guesses,” he replied, knowing that assertion wasn’t entirely accurate.
“It’s more than that,” Lily challenged.
Severus shrugged but didn’t reply.
“My goodness!” Slughorn said, bustling over to study Lily’s potion. “This is perfect! I believe that you’ve set a new record, my dear! Ten points to Gryffindor.”
“But-” Lily began, shooting Severus a wide-eyed look. He cut her off with a sharp motion and she closed her mouth in a frown. Severus knew that if she would have said something, too much unwanted attention would be drawn to himself. This was not his time to shine, not here. There were more important things now.
“If you’re done, maybe you can go around and help the others,” Professor Slughorn told her.
“Alright,” Lily replied, still seeming uneasy. She slid gracefully off of her stool and padded over to a nearby table, adjusting a Gryffindor girl’s cuts.
Severus kept stirring his potion, wondering what he should do now. Deciding that he had plenty of time left in the class to try the technique he had been reading about over the past few weeks, Severus walked to the cupboard to retrieve several ingredients. Borrowing Lily’s cauldron, he began mixing a pain relief potion, going solely from memory. He brought the mixture to a boil and reached for the Billywig stings only to realize that he had forgotten them. Severus hurried to the cupboard to fetch them before the critical stage of the potion had passed and stopped suddenly when he overheard the conversation from the table of Gryffindor boys whom Lily was helping.
“How’d you finish so fast anyway? Did that slimeball Snape do it for you?” Sirius asked snidely.
Lily’s back was to Severus but he could imagine the look on her face. “No. He just helped me.”
James leaned forward. “Come on, how come you’ll go out with him and not me anyways? He hasn’t seen sunlight in years and I’m pretty sure that he doesn’t know what Quidditch is.”
“James,” Lupin warned quietly.
“I’m not going out with him,” Lily responded. “We’re just friends.”
Severus bristled, hurt by the fact that she chose to refute that fact rather than the insults.
“So does that mean your free to go out with me then?” James queried brightly.
“In your dreams,” Lily snapped. She turned on her heel to walk away and Severus hurried to the cabinet, just now remembering his potion.
Before he could return to his station, Severus heard a shriek.
“Merlin!” Slughorn’s voice replied.
Severus spun and saw Lily’s cauldron, filled with pain relief potion, sputtering and bubbling over. Professor Slughorn waved it all away swiftly and the class calmed.
“Whose potion was that?” he demanded. “Surely not yours, Ms. Evans.”
“No, sir,” Lily replied, staring at her cauldron with wide eyes.
“Then whose?” Slughorn asked, eying the room.
Masking his chagrin, Severus spoke up. “Mine, sir.”
“Yours?” he asked in surprise. “What in Merlin’s name were you brewing? Don’t try to fool me in saying that was Gehilight’s Elixir,” Slughorn warned.
“No, sir. I finished that and started brewing a pain relief potion,” Severus admitted.
“Whatever for?” Slughorn asked.
A few knowing snickers came from Potter’s table and Severus had to force himself not to blush. “Practice.”
“Hm,” Slughorn grunted. “Be more careful in the future then. Ten points from Slytherin.”
A few groans sounded from the students. Severus returned to his desk silently. He bottled his elixir and set to methodically cleaning his equipment when a figure came up to lean on the edge of the table, accompanied by three others.
“So Snivellus,” the familiar and widely annoying voice of James Potter said. “Can’t even brew a simple pain relief potion? I can do that in my sleep.”
“I could curse you in my sleep,” Severus muttered under his breath.
“What was that?” James asked, leaning closer with interest.
Severus sneered. “Nothing.”
Meanwhile, Sirius Black examined his fingernails. “Are you sure it hasn’t been Lily helping you with Potions?” He looked around the table with disdain. “You look like you need it.”
“Yeah!” Pettigrew piped up, just to be involved in the conversation.
Severus’s jaw tightened but he said nothing. “Are you finished?”
Potter ignored him. “Why do you keep trying with Lily anyway?” he asked lightly, curiously. “I mean, it’s not like someone like you has a chance. No offense,” he added.
How could that not have been intended to be offensive? Severus asked himself, annoyed with Potter. “It seems I have a better chance than an arrogant fool like you. Tell me, how do you keep your balance on that broom?”
“Being that you’re lacking brains, I would think that you’d be thrown off balance,” Severus said. Though the insult was rather lame, Severus said it menacingly and accompanied it with a sneer, providing a nice effect.
Fury shone through Potter’s face. “Listen here-” he began, stepping closer to Severus and jabbing a finger at him. Severus remained still and faced him stonily, realizing that they were exactly the same height.
“James! Severus!” Lily called, coming up from behind and cutting Potter off. “Stop fighting.”
“But-” Potter began.
“Stop tormenting him,” Lily insisted.
James shut his mouth with a snap. “Come on,” he said, gesturing to his friends with an abrupt hand movement. They stalked off, Sirius throwing a dirty look at Severus over his shoulder. Severus reigned in his anger and returned to his cleaning up, feeling touched that Lily stood up for him. She tapped him on the arm.
Severus considered her for a moment before replying, “Yes.”
It had not occurred to him earlier that she had jumped to the conclusion that he was the one being picked on rather than the one doing the insulting. What kind of Slytherin did that make him out to be? The thought bothered him more than he would care to admit. Severus finished cleaning, careful to not look in Lily’s direction, unsure of what his emotions might do at the moment. Perhaps he was no longer in complete control.
Though it was not quite the scene Snape had in mind when steeling himself to relive his first Death Eater meeting, it would have to do. In the face of fresh hatred of Potter and his cohorts, Snape’s mind was clear as he allowed the Pensieve to pull him into the memory that it had been veering towards; the memory that Snape had hoped to avoid forever.