Several things had changed for Lucy by April of her fifth year. First, she was no longer the worst student in Potions, having gladly handed her title over to Peter Pettigrew, who was barely passing with the help of Remus and James. Second, she no longer really noticed that her former best friend, who had provided her with treasures like her first piece of hand-me-down Muggle clothing, hadn’t spoken to her or even looked her in the eye in weeks. Third, she had finally gotten used to having a boyfriend who was essentially the polar opposite of Sirius Black.
For the first few weeks, his hand had visibly tightened around hers every time they’d entered the Great Hall or a class where Sirius and his friends were present. She could sense his nerves tensing up as he readied himself for attack, and pangs of pity assaulted her heart as she realized how long he had been conditioned to react this way to human interaction. However, if her old friends still held grudges against her for her defection, they at least respected her enough to leave the two of them alone. Sirius and James were occasionally unable to resist shouting insults at Severus over their shoulders as they passed in the corridor, but there had been no physical altercations since Christmas, a change that Lucy suspected was due at least in part to Lily.
After another blissfully smear-free day, Lucy and Severus were now sitting across from one another on his bed, taking turns reading to one another out of Brave New World. Lucy had discovered soon after meeting Severus that he had acquired a secret and vast collection of Muggle literature, a pastime that served him well in his unusually solitary life. When they had begun spending more time together, she had asked him to let her read some of his favorites, and now reading the novels out loud together had become a regular occurrence for them.
“Well, that’s the end of chapter six.” Severus closed the book after carefully folding down one corner of the page to mark their place. “It’s getting a bit late.”
“Yeah.” Lucy nodded. “It’s too bad. This one is very good.”
“I like it.” He agreed. “It’s very sad, though.”
She scooted a bit closer to him. “That’s all right. I’m still enjoying reading it with you.”
He looked up at her, midnight black eyes softening slightly as they met her blue ones. “I’m glad. I’ve never met anyone else in Slytherin who seemed like they could appreciate these things.”
She smiled, taking the book and examining the cover art. “Speaking of which, I think I’ve got some news you might appreciate.” She said softly.
“This.” She pulled an envelope out of her pocket. “It’s the result from my Potions O.W.L.”
In truth, it was a miracle she had even been allowed to sit for the exam. With Severus’s help, though, she had managed to turn Slughorn’s looks of disappointment into proud, beaming smiles. Still, the test had been brutal. If she hadn’t devoted most of her study time to reviewing Severus’s instructions instead of memorizing the textbook’s standard recipes, she would have likely scraped by with only an Acceptable, if she’d even passed at all.
He gently took it from her, sticking his thumb under the broken seal and pulling out the letter within. “Exceeds Expectations.” He grinned, looking back at her. “Lucy.”
“I know. I can do N.E.W.T. with you next year now.” She smiled. “It’s all because of you, Sev.”
“No, this is you.” He handed the envelope back to her. “You sold yourself short when I met you. You’re not nearly as stupid or shallow as you imagine.”
She laughed softly.
“I’m being serious.” He said quietly. “You should be very proud. I know I am.”
“Thanks.” She blushed slightly. “Personally, though, I’m glad you wound up being more than just my Potions tutor.”
He nodded. “Yeah, I’m pretty happy about that myself.”
She stood up, smiling gently at him. “Well, I’ll let you get to bed.” She placed her hand softly on his face and kissed him, moving to the door.
“Oh, wait.” He stood up as well, turning to her. “I almost forgot. I’ve got some news too.”
“What news?” She asked.
“You know Mr. Jiggers down at the Apothecary, right?”
“Sure.” All of the Hogwarts students bought their potions ingredients there each summer. The shop was co-owned by Mr. Slug and Mr. Jiggers, but their personalities couldn’t be further apart. Mr. Slug had an endless sense of humor and constantly hung around the front of the shop, eager to greet the customers. Mr. Jiggers, on the other hand, preferred to spend his time back in the storeroom, and he was typically quite gruff with the students when he did have to sell to them. Both were accomplished Potions Masters, and Severus was on good terms with each of them.
“Well, the other day I stopped in to get some poppy seeds for that Shrinking Solution we’re doing in class next week, and he was having trouble with something, and I took a stab at it, and I was right.” He said excitedly.
“That’s great.” Lucy smiled. It was sort of adorable, how worked up he got about Potions.
“Anyway, he said something about how I had good insight, and he offered to take me on as an apprentice starting next year.”
“Really?” She had only ever heard of a few students earning the prized apprenticeship, a feat so rare that a photo of the selected boy or girl with his or her new mentor always made the society page of the Daily Prophet. The training was comprehensive and challenging, and students were well prepared to sit for the Master’s level examination at the end of the year. With two years under Jiggers, Severus would likely have his pick of Potions Master positions upon graduation.
“Yes, even though most people don’t even get to try to apprentice until after seventh year.”
“That’s really great.” She leaned against the door, beaming at him.
“That’s not even the best part.” He looked at her, his smile reaching up to his eyes.
She looked at him expectantly.
“It’s paid.” He openly grinned now. “Can you believe it? That’s unheard of!”
She laughed, wondering how long he had wanted to tell her. Without warning, it slipped out.
“I love you.”
It was soft and mostly unintentional. It was just that he looked the happiest she had ever seen him, like he could physically see his dreams coming true, and he was staring at her like he might throw her over his shoulder and dance around the room. In fact, he still looked that way.
“I love you, too.” He replied quietly, reaching for her hand.
All of a sudden, the door opened, knocking her out of the way. Their hands were forced apart.
“Ah, Severus.” Lucius Malfoy stood in the doorway, looking disdainfully at his sister. “I was told I might find you here.”
“Well, it is my room.” Severus said, glancing at Lucy, who had backed up against the wall. Though he appeared collected, he was inwardly torn between keeping up his very businesslike friendship with Lucius and making sure his girlfriend felt comfortable. He looked back at Lucius, stepping back to allow him into the room. “Please, have a seat.” He added at last.
“I’d like to discuss a matter with you, if you don’t mind.” Lucius continued. He suddenly paused, looking at Lucy as if he could barely believe she was still there. “Some privacy, baby sister?”
Lucy looked at Severus. Well, it is your room.
He thought for a moment before speaking, but he already knew what he should say. “Certainly.” He looked back at her, opening the door. “Good night, Lucy.”
She gave Lucius one last look of suspicion and then quietly took her leave, ascending the girls’ staircase to her bed even though she knew she was now much too worried to sleep. As she dressed for bed, she realized she had accidentally taken the book with her.
She wondered if he would still be the boy who read Muggle novels with her in the morning.