Unicorns or Snape's Best Memory
He was standing bent over a boiling cauldron, as she had expected. His black, greasy hair was plastered to his pallid face from the steam of the potion. His slender hands almost danced over the cauldron as he added a pearly-white powder and stirred. No, Severus Snape was certainly not a beauty, but it was strangely fascinating to watch him brew. And as he virtually lived in the Potions classroom, there were plenty of opportunities to do just that. Not that it was her habit to stare at other people brewing, she was pretty good at Potions herself, but once in a while she enjoyed coming to the dungeons and watching him work. And strangely enough, he didn't seem to mind too much. At the beginning, he had totally ignored her presence, but after a while he had taken to giving her explanations and tips about how to get the most juice out of a Sopophorous Bean, or why to add a clockwise stir after every seventh one counterclockwise. Actually, in hindsight, she might have learned more from Severus than from their Potions teacher, Professor Slughorn. Too bad he had to concentrate more on preventing the stray Firecracker from dropping into his potion during lessons than on brewing it; otherwise he would surely be Slughorn’s star student, not her.
With the sleeve of his black robes, Severus wiped his dripping nose.
Snivellus, they called him ...
"Gads, has nobody ever taught you how to use a handkerchief?" she asked in a slightly admonishing tone.
Severus jumped. He hadn't heard her come in. His face flushed a deep crimson.
"Evans, never ever do that again," he hissed. "You could have spoiled the potion!"
"Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you, really," stuttered Lily, taken aback by his sudden hostility. However, it was true, she should have known better. "May I still have a look at what you are doing?"
Severus turned crimson again. He looked away, hiding his flushed face behind a curtain of greasy hair. "It's nothing special, really ..." he mumbled, so quietly she could barely hear him.
Well, that was weird. Normally, Severus was quite self-confident about his potions, almost arrogant. It wasn't like him at all to tell anybody he was working at 'nothing special'.
"It was mother-of-pearl that you added last, wasn't it, mixed with something else ..."
Slowly, he nodded. Lily walked over to the workbench and had a look at the ingredients that were strewn all over the place. How Severus could find his way through the chaos was an absolute enigma to her. A small, half-empty jar with a silvery-white powder caught her attention. Lily's eyes grew wide. This couldn't possibly be -
"Severus, is this what I think it is? Ground unicorn horn?" she asked incredulously. "You aren't brewing a Love Potion, are you?"
"This is none of your business, Evans," snarled the dark-haired teen, crossing his arms defiantly over his narrow chest. The edges of his face now were an ugly brick colour.
"Yes, it is!" said Lily sharply, putting her hands on her hips. "After all, I am Head Girl. Love Potions are outlawed at Hogwarts, as you well know! And your record isn't exactly clean, is it? I could get you expelled for this if I wanted to!"
At her last words, Severus turned chalk-white, all blood leaving his face.
"You wouldn't ..." he almost whispered.
"No, I wouldn't, stupid," she said almost gently. Her outrage seemed to have evaporated as soon as it had come. "But Severus, you must promise me one thing. Never use a Love Potion on anybody. Ever."
Severus swallowed, then nodded. "I promise."
"By the way, whom did you plan to feed the Potion to?" Lily asked with a wink. "Don't worry, I won't tell."
"It's just for practice," Severus said, not looking her in the eye. "Just curious if I could do it ..."
"I don't think I quite believe you," said Lily delicately, her emerald eyes sparkling with curiosity and mischief. "Isn't there a bunch of black hair next to that cauldron?" she inquired. "Or should I say 'Black's hair'?" Snape had turned crimson again at her words. "Who then is the unfortunate girl you wanted to make fall in love with Sirius? Moaning Myrtle? Or Madam Pince?"
"I was thinking of the Giant Squid ..."
"But you promised ..."
"I promised," Severus conceded. "And I keep my promises."
"Then why don't you continue with the potion? Didn't you want to find out whether you could do it? I'd really like to see if it comes out as in the books," Lily said with a dazzling smile. "And I promise to keep my mouth shut and not disturb you again."
Severus looked at the cauldron with the softly simmering potion. It still had the required colour, viscosity and temperature, no damage done ...
Slowly he added three strands of black hair, stirred three times anti-clockwise, waited for exactly thirteen seconds and then blew lightly on the surface. The potion turned a mesmerising shade of rose with a distinct mother-of-pearl sheen. Pastel fumes began to rise from the cauldron in characteristic spirals ...
"Severus, this is amazing!" Lily breathed, staring at the spirals of fume with admiration. "It's Amortentia, isn't it? The strongest Love Potion in the world, and the most dangerous one ... But it is so beautiful!"
She closed her eyes and, slowly and deeply, breathed in the fumes. The bewitching fragrance of wild flowers and herbs tickled her nose, of a walk through the woods after a gentle summer rain, of chocolate and cinnamon and roasted almonds and ... She blushed. Did she really smell the woody handle of a broomstick, and a black-haired boy dressed in red and gold, steaming with fresh sweat as he was holding a Golden Snitch in his gloved hand?
Smiling to herself, she opened her eyes. Severus was gazing at her in a most peculiar way. He couldn't read her thoughts, could he? Or was it something entirely different? Something like – longing? His hair was black, too ...
“Severus, it wasn’t Sirius’s hair you used in the potion, was it?” she whispered wide-eyed, though already knowing the answer.
An uncomfortable silence ensued.
"I guess we better empty that cauldron before Slughorn catches us at brewing an illegal potion," Severus finally said, trying to sound casual, but not meeting her eye. With a flick of his wand, the potion disappeared.
"You want me to help you clean up?" asked Lily while her mind was reeling. Surely, he wouldn’t have used the potion, would he?
"No," he said as usual, "but thanks for asking." He looked up and for the briefest of moments, their gazes met, before he turned around and started to collect his things. Surprised by the anguished expression in his black eyes, Lily just kept standing there in silence. Suddenly Severus gripped the edge of the workbench and doubled over, a violent coughing attack shaking his scrawny body, choking him. His vision blurred, he couldn't breathe anymore ...
"Shh, try to relax," came a soft voice from behind him. A comforting arm sneaked around his slim waist, holding him close, while gentle fingers rubbed soothing circles on his back. "Exhale, slowly ... now breathe .. not so quick ... You should really go and see Madam Pomfrey. Doesn't your family turn on the heating during the winter? ... now breathe again ... and again ... You seem to always come back after the holidays with a sniffle or worse ... in ... out ... in ... out ... better now?"
Severus straightened up awkwardly. He wasn't used to having a girl so close.
"You're OK?" Lily asked in concern, her arm still around his waist. Not trusting his voice, Severus nodded.
"Here, take my handkerchief, before you wipe your face on my robes." Lily removed her arm and reached into her pocket. She produced something soft and pink and handed it to Severus. He wiped his streaming eyes and, turning away in embarrassment, blew his nose, his breathing almost back to normal again.
"Must be the factory fumes and that stinking river," he muttered into the pink fabric.
Well, that explained a lot. Once, Lily had been to Manchester with her parents and her sister. Accidentally, they had ended up in one of those dreary neighbourhoods where the textile workers lived. The stink from the factory chimneys was hardly bearable. If Severus lived in a neighbourhood like that ...
"But why don't you move if it's that terrible? You see what it's doing to you!"
"As if anybody cared ..." he muttered darkly. "We couldn't afford to anyway."
"I care," Lily said softly, her emerald eyes locking with Severus's black ones. And with one swift movement, she kissed him on the cheek. "Take care of yourself, Severus, promise," she whispered. Then she walked to the door. In the doorframe she turned around.
"Love is a sacred thing, you know," she said with a wry smile. "Like unicorns. If you capture a unicorn and force it to stay, it will wither and die. They have to come of their own accord."
"What if they don't come?"
"Then you'll have to live on without them. Even if it's hard."
The door closed silently behind her.
For a long time, Severus stared at the closed door, clutching Lily's handkerchief in his hands.
With a bitter sigh, he finally stuffed the pink fabric into the pocket of his robe.
He would have to live on without her, then. But it was damn hard.