His glass came down with a loud thud on the wooden bar. She looked from his drained one, to hers which had been barely touched, and back to his seemingly pained face. "Pace yourself, Severus."
"On the contrary, perhaps you should speed up." He countered.
"We aren't here to get pissed." She reminded him in annoyance.
He raised a hand, signaling for another before he spoke. "Maybe you're not."
Lily turned on her barstool so that she was facing him fully. "Out with it then. I seem to remember your intense hatred of drunks."
"Ah, yes." He said before taking another sip. "That was before I realized they were on to something." As he set the Stein back down she took it from out in front of him.
"Would your master be pleased with the way your acting, er drinking?" She stared at him triumphantly, as if he hadn't thought of it himself.
"That's where you wrong." His voice dropped to a whisper. "I don't have one."
The statement startled her, allowing him to steal back the alcohol. "Don't act so surprised, Lils."
She ignored the sudden use of her old nickname. "I don't understand." She said dumbly.
"About what exactly?"
"Well, any of this." She gestured to him in general. "After the boozer your father was-"
"Don't." He warned, a sudden sharpness to his voice. "Things happen, people change, get used to it Evans."
How quickly he'd gone from using her nickname to her surname. She turned in her seat again, taking tentative sips of the mulled wine in front of her as she stared out the open door and into the busy square. They were quiet for a moment, neither quite enjoying the other's presence.
"I'm sorry." He offered suddenly, again surprising her. "I shouldn't have snapped."
"No, I get it." She replied without looking at him. "You aren't the only one who's changed."
"I guess that explains why you don't seem worried about finding a way to explain this to James."
She heaved her shoulders up before letting them drop again, having no desire to get into it. "You could say so." She saw him lift his hand from the corner of her eye to place an order once more. She placed her hand on top of his momentarily. "Maybe you should slow down, at least for me."
Severus stared at her as the third drink was placed in front of him. When he spoke something was different about his voice than before, but she didn't understand why. "For my sake as well."
"Do you recognize anyone?" Lily asked, changing the subject.
"No, like you said before, the robes hide their features."
"Where's your girlfriend? Maybe you should send her up there." She teased.
He cocked his head to the side, not bothering to correct her. "That's not a bad idea, actually."
To her surprise, his wand was out in an instant and he offered a quick glance around the room. They were the only two there that weren't black out drunk other than the bartender. Seeming to decide there was no risk involved, he cast a wordless spell and Lily watched, mesmerized, as a silvery creature slid from the tip of his wand.
"Patronus?" She asked, despite knowing the answer.
"Salamander." He confirmed, turning back to the bar. He drew a much slower sip of whiskey than before and she smiled lightly.
His eyes flicked up to the doorway every few seconds, checking for the woman she'd met the night before. He seemed so intent on catching her that Lily was surprised when he spoke again. "What were you doing down here anyway?"
"…Shopping." Lily blushed, avoiding his gaze.
"I could have guessed that. Shopping for what exactly?"
"I was looking at Mulpepper's inventory."
"And here I would have thought you could have brewed any of it yourself."
"Not this time, I'm looking for something particular."
"Anything I could help you with?" He pushed. "I wouldn't charge half of what Mulpepper does."
"Really, Severus, it's fine."
She followed his gaze out the doorway and saw the lean figure of Zahrah conversing with one of the cloaked men. They spoke easily, seeming to joke with one another by the way she smiled. "She's one of them, isn't she?" Lily asked in a hushed tone.
"Not in a way you'd expect." As if on cue, Zahrah left the men, walking towards Lily and Severus with a swing in her hips. She crooked a hidden finger at Severus, urging for her to follow and he did, like a love sick puppy. Lily came with, ignoring her lack of invitation and followed the two of them up a set of stairs she hadn't noticed before. The trio walked down a long hallway before cramming themselves behind a stack of shipment crates, trying to hide themselves as much as possible. Severus flattened himself against the wall, trying to suck his stomach in and failing miserably. It was the first time Lily had noticed his insecurity. He had seemed so sure of his new self until that moment.
"It was Igor of course." Zahrah said with a roll of her eyes as soon as a muffliato had been placed "And Dolohov. I didn't recognize the third man."
"What did they want?" Severus hissed despite the spell.
"I think you can figure that out for yourself. Tried to get me to join them on their, eh, search."
"Does it look like I'm still standing out there?" She swatted at him playfully. "If the Dark Lord didn't order me to be there I won't be getting myself into their mess. Told 'em I was just passing through."
"Why does it matter if it was Igor?" Lily asked suddenly, referring to the woman's earlier statement.
"Durmstrang Headmaster. He always gets himself into this kind of trouble. He's a glutton for punishment, that one."
Durmstrang Lily mulled the word over, wondering if that's where Zahrah had come from.
"I'd better get a drink of my own and head out before they get suspicious." Zahrah said
"Yes, of course." With a mumble under his breath Severus undid the enchantment and Zahrah began walking away, Lily close behind. Severus reached out, grabbing her arm and letting Zahrah get farther ahead. "It wouldn't be wise to be seen together." He reminded her as she was pulled back into their hiding spot.
A crash filled the bar room below them suddenly, followed shortly after by a yell. Lily withdrew her wand, expecting Severus to do the same. Instead he grabbed her arm again, holding on to it tightly. "I wouldn't recommend that either. It's our signal to leave."
Before she could say another word Lily felt a familiar yank behind her belly button and found herself standing suddenly in a place she didn't recognize. She rounded on him. "You're just going to leave her?!"
"I know what it seems like, but it's better than the alternative. She can take care of herself. Besides, it's a rather frequent occurrence at Wyvern's."
She wrapped her arms around herself, uncomfortable in the intimate surroundings of what appeared to be his home. "Severus, I don't understand any of this. Two years ago you were…and now you're…It's almost like you're afraid."
"It's the opposite of that really." He plopped onto a nearby piece of furniture. "It isn't a matter of not wanting to get involved, I can't be seen."
Severus shrugged. "I sort of ran out on Voldemort. He wouldn't be pleased to know I was back."
She stayed rooted in her spot, trying to put the pieces together. "Then why were you so carelessly out in public?"
"Wyvern's not one to tattle, shall we say. He prefers to keep his client's secrets, keeps him out of more trouble than if he was to start telling everyone. Plus, I've gained a bit of a disguise, if I do say so myself."
She took a seat finally, holding her head in her hands. It had been an overwhelming few days since he had reappeared. "Severus…why now? Why like this?" He furrowed his brows, not understanding the questions. "We haven't seen each other in years and it's been even longer since we talked…yet it's like nothing has changed on your end."
"It does no good to dwell on the past." A grim expression flickered across his face suddenly before it was replaced once again by the stoic calm. "We're going to be seeing each other at the Order meetings, we might as well get used to it. Tea?"
She nodded slowly, suddenly craving the warm liquid. It seemed like stability in a world with him that had suddenly been turned upside down. He stepped away, turning into what she assumed was a kitchen and returning momentarily with two steaming cups. She took her time inhaling the hot vapor and taking small sips until she was prepared to ask her next question. "Why did you let everyone believe you'd joined him?"
He shrugged. "After a certain point you stop caring what everyone thinks."
Lily bit her lip, considering his words. It was something she'd struggled with all her life and Severus had so quickly reached the solution. It occurred to her then that he'd kept talking and she focused on his face once more. "I'm sorry?"
"I said, what about you and Potter? How long has that been over?"
She smiled weakly. "A few months now. He turned out to be someone completely different." Lily heard something sounding like a huff escape Severus' lips but he didn't say anything more. Before either of them could form another thought Zahrah came barreling through the front door, swiping away a trail of blood.
"Are you alright? What happened back there?" Severus stood, following her.
"It's nothing, Sev'rus, really. They got a little enthusiastic, that's all."
"Here, let me fix it." He gripped her by the wrist, aiming his wand and she stopped walking. "Was it Death Eaters again?"
"No, Stan this time. His monthly bender. You've really got to find a new place."
Severus shifted so they were standing farther out of ear shot from Lily. His voice dropped, a conversation meant only for Zahrah, but Lily strained her ears anyway. "I was there on orders, I-"
"What about yesterday? And the day before that?" Zahrah hissed. "Sev'rus, I get it. I know how hard it is, but you need to snap out of it and-"
"Zar, I-." He dropped her now healed arm, hands running through his hair instead. "Maybe this was a mistake."
She glared back at him, stretching up to meet his gaze. "What's a mistake?"
"This!" He gestured loudly, indicating their surroundings.
"So, what? You're going to run away like before?
Lily approached them finally, speaking uncomfortably. "I think I should go…"
"Yes." Severus sighed, his voice returning to normal. "I'll speak with Dumbledore, our work wasn't finished yet anyway."
Lily shook her head. "I'd like to speak to him myself. Nice seeing you again, Zahrah. Afternoon…Sev." She stepped away from them, turning on the spot to disapparate when she heard their voices raise again. All she could make out before disappearing completely was something about Hungary.
She didn't waste her time, didn't even bother to knock. Instead, Lily found herself bursting through the door to Dumbledore's office only minutes later. "You knew, didn't you?" She accused.
The Headmaster sat behind his desk with the same paperwork she'd seen before. "I'm sorry?"
She ignored the startled expression on his face, ploughing on. "About his drinking problem."
"I had my suspicions, yes." He avoided her gaze.
"Then why did you send us there?" Lily demanded.
"He would have gone without my help. It's best to take control of what ambitions he does have left, put him to some use."
Lily collapsed into one of the chairs placed in front of his desk. "I don't understand any of it." She mumbled. "Why is everything so complicated now that he's back?"
"I'm afraid it's a habit the two of you always had."
"No. It's different this time." She insisted.
Dumbledore thumbed through the parchment. "Has he told you nothing?"
"Only that he traveled – seemingly ate – his way across Europe."
"He lost someone, Lily." Dumbledore said, looking at her finally. "He's coping the only way he was taught."
"What about her then? The new girl."
Dumbledore sighed, fixing his glasses across his nose. "I'm afraid I can't offer much there. As far as I know they met during his…trip and connected."
"They still seem rather close." She muttered, mostly to herself. She was surprised how much that statement bothered her.
"I know James hurt you, that it was unexpected-"
"Unexpected?! We were talking about marriage! Then I found him in bed with-" She squeezed her eyes shut, trapping the tears that we're threatening to fall.
"You and Severus aren't all that different. It isn't me you need to talk to."
"It's not that easy!" She protested. "Do you know the last things we said to each other? How can we possibly go back to what we had before?"
"Lily, the fact that you're here, asking about all of it, proves that perhaps you already have. Perhaps you never lost it in the first place."
Lily stared at him in silence, wiping away the wetness of her eyes before finally nodding in agreement. She had never stopped caring about him, the circumstanced may have changed, but even then she knew Severus hadn't ever fully left her thoughts.
"Now, what about the business end of your expedition?"
Lily sat up straighter, relaying everything that had happened.