Severus walked through the tall wheatgrass that grew alongside the small lake that lay not far from his house. As the clouds shifted, a ray of light lit the girl who sat cross-legged underneath the willow tree. She was in the process of braiding her long red hair and Severus watched for a minute before stepping forward.
Without turning, the girl said, “Hey, Sev.”
Severus smiled. “Hi, Lily,” he replied, moving closer. “How do you always know I’m there?”
Lily grinned. “I’ve known you forever,” she said in way of explanation. She gave him a sideways look. “I guessed.”
They laughed and Lily tucked her knees to her chest.
“It’s hard to believe that we’re going back already, isn’t it?” she asked, gazing out over the lake, or more accurately, large pond.
“Yeah, it is,” Severus agreed, twisting his hands in the plush grass. “They say everything changes fourth year.”
Lily scoffed. “Who says that? What’s going to change?”
“Classes, friends, people,” Severus told her.
“Sev, I’ve never known you to put stock in what other people say,” Lily said dismissively. “Besides, we’ll always be best friends, right? Remember, we swore.”
Severus looked at her and smiled. “I remember. I still have your gold hair ribbon.”
“And I still have your black rock with that little hole in the center.” She teased him lightly, “That was your prized possession? Really?”
Severus gave her a look. “Yours was a ragged piece of cloth.”
“Hey, it was pretty!” she said indignantly, pushing him forcefully. They both fell back onto the bank in a fit of laughter.
Severus and Lily lay there a while, staring up at the sunlight filtering through the trees and casting dancing shadows on the tree trunks. The wind was gentle, just enough to make the leaves rustle. After a long period of silence, Lily sat up abruptly.
“Come on, Sev. Let’s go for a walk.”
“Okay,” he agreed readily, hopping up to follow her down a winding path through the woods. “Where are we going?”
“I just found this shortcut to my house,” Lily said. “It comes out in that little patch of trees by my backyard. Neat, huh?”
“Yeah,” Severus replied, trying to keep up with her light and graceful steps. Watching Lily move lithely through the trees, Severus realized that he didn’t care one whit where they were going, as long as it was the two of them going there together. This was the way it should be, he felt. This was where he belonged.
The trees began to thin and suddenly, Lily came to a halt. She held up a hand and Severus stopped behind her, almost tripping over a root.
“I thought I heard someone,” Lily whispered.
“Who’s there?” a familiar, slightly whiny voice called.
Lily immediately eased and hurried forward into the clearing that was her backyard. “Tuney!” she called in greeting as she came forward. Severus followed at a distance.
Petunia backed away instinctively. “What are you doing in there?” she asked suspiciously.
“Going for a walk,” Lily replied casually.
“With him?” Petunia asked, narrowing her eyes at Severus, seeming starkly disapproving.
Lily sighed. “Tuney, I’ve told you a thousand times: Sev is really nice. Don’t be mean.”
“It doesn’t count as being mean if he’s a freak,” Petunia said petulantly.
Severus, for his part, didn’t care one way or another. He was used to people, namely Black and Potter, being mean to him and so it was nothing new. As for Petunia in particular, he had never really cared for her. He merely put up with her antics now and again for Lily. Lily still tried even though Severus would have given up on her long ago as a hopeless cause.
“Petunia,” Lily scolded, reaching for her arm.
Petunia backed away. “Don’t touch me. You’re a freak too, you know.” With that, Petunia turned and ran back to the house, leaving Lily with her arm still outstretched.
Lily turned back to face the forest, eyes glistening. “Come on,” she said weakly, stumbling into the forest.
Severus followed close behind, worried about her but not knowing what to say to comfort her. As he had learned with his mother, he was no use at comforting crying women.
Lily’s foot caught on a root and she stumbled, wavering first forward, then ending up falling backwards. Quick with his hands, Severus caught her before she hit the ground. He spied a nearby stump and led her to it. By now, Lily had broken into tears, wiping them away furiously with her hand, though the effort was futile. Severus sat her down on the stump and took a seat next to her. She leaned into his shoulder and cried. Feeling uncomfortable because he didn’t know how to comfort her, Severus put an arm across her shoulder and rubbed her arm gently.
Severus was far too close. He could smell her hair and feel the hot tears soaking into the shoulder of his shirt. He closed his eyes and allowed her to cry. For the moment, simply being there for her was enough.
Snape stood in between the trees watching the scene unfold. He saw Lily crying and himself there, comforting her. Pain acute, he turned away, willing the scene to dissolve.