Severus Snape could not remember the last time he had been in such a foul mood. He walked briskly away from the sounds of talking and eating that filled the Great Hall, equal measures of anger and hurt pounding through him, making his temples throb. He didn’t even know where he was planning to go, but anywhere was better than wherever James Potter was at that moment.
He couldn’t believe this had happened. He had ruined things with Lily, and he knew that. He’d accepted that fact a long time ago, although his brain still didn’t seem to be able to stop registering whenever she entered the room. But never did he think that she would stoop so low as to begin dating James Potter. She’d always hated James – what had changed?
Apparently, she had.
The castle was veritably empty right now, and Severus was glad of this – less people meant fewer questions later on in the day. He almost wished that it wasn’t a Saturday, so he could have had his lessons to distract him, but he faced the stretch of a day with no prospects for it. He would have relished anything to get his mind off of the firm and solid reality – Lily and James, together, a couple.
He had laughed in Rosier’s face when he’d come into the common room last night bearing that particular piece of news. The idea of it was ridiculous, utterly so. How many times in past years had Snape joined in with Lily on discussing how arrogant and foolish the Gryffindor boys were? The only person she hadn’t minded was Beth, it seemed. Severus didn’t know her all that well, but figured that anyone who was willing to hang around with James and Sirius wasn’t to be held too highly in esteem. And now Lily had crossed all the words she’d ever spoken, willingly throwing herself into their seemingly eternal company.
But as he stormed heatedly through the empty corridors, not knowing exactly where he was headed to, Beth’s face swam into his vision, momentarily distracting him. She had looked almost as hurt as he felt when Sirius had laughed at him at breakfast, and when Lily had dismissed him so icily. The look that had crossed her face had stopped him for a moment.
Maybe she wasn’t all bad, he reasoned. He had, after all, gotten up the courage to approach her to try and find out exactly what was so odd about their little group. What was even more interesting was that she had actually been willing to hold a conversation with him, and hadn’t turned away in disgust, as so many of her friends would have done. That had surprised him more than anything - he'd just naturally assumed from afar that she would treat him as something lower than dirt. That was the attitude her friends seemed to have adopted.
His steps had led him straight to the doors of the library, and after hesitating for a few moments, he strode inside, quite forgetting any further thoughts about Beth and the demeanor that seemed to set her apart from her friends. Thinking about Beth, he was sure, would only send his thoughts racing back to Lily and the unfairness of having her, for once, completely snatched from his reach.
It was cool and dim inside the library, which seemed to somewhat ease the tension straining at his temples. He nodded curtly to Madam Pince, the thin, sour librarian behind the wide desk in the center of the room, and moved silently to the rows of shelves he had haunted for the past few weeks.
No matter how hard he looked for something to finally cause those pieces of the puzzle to connect, he still hadn’t been able to do anything but give himself a long-winded headache. Beth had revealed absolutely nothing about what the five of them might be up to, and he had no idea where to begin looking. At a loss for anything better to do, he’d started filling up his spare time in the library, randomly pulling books from the shelves and flicking through them, half-hoping something in them would finally jump out at him and reveal to him the answer to the mystery. But he had no idea what he was looking for, and there were veritably thousands of books to look through. He stood a better chance by outright asking Beth again, and that said something.
Severus pulled one of the thicker tomes from its shelf as he passed, already feeling himself a bit calmer as he began to bask in his newfound knowledge, and retreated to a further corner of the room. The austere chairs and solid tables welcomed him, and he settled into them quite comfortably. The book was heavy and firm on his lap. He sighed loudly, ruffling the pages. Madam Pince poked her head around the end of the nearest stack and glared at him. Once she’d returned to whatever she'd been doing previously, he slumped back in his chair; the idling thoughts of his mind had allowed the grief to come creeping back in.
He hated being left alone to his own devices like this, wrapped up as he was in his thoughts. The mind was an evil thing, really, capable of smothering if you didn’t watch it closely. But how on earth was it fair that James Potter could just swoop in and steal Lily’s heart when he, Severus, had been trying for nearly seven years?
Loud voices at the entrance to the library suddenly caught his attention, and he looked up quickly. Evan Rosier, Neil Avery, and Ernest Wilkes had all come in from breakfast to Madam Pince’s intense disapproval. Upon seeing Severus sitting by himself in the corner, Rosier began making his way over, and the other two followed like dogs.
“Thought this might be where you ran to,” said Rosier rather smugly, standing so close that Severus was forced to look up to see into his face. His eyes roved over the scene, and stopped on the book. “What are you reading?”
“I… just something I grabbed off the shelf,” Severus said, stuffing it out of sight beneath the table. Wilkes looked like he’d discovered some juicy secret, however, and craned his neck around, trying to look under the table.
“Come on,” he said, wheedling in a way that made Severus want to jinx him. “I’ll bet it’s something you’ve stolen from the restricted section. Let’s have a look, then, don’t be shy.”
Severus looked upon the boy with undisguised disgust. Out of everyone in his group of friends, Wilkes was by far the person whom he least liked – he had a crop of thick, curly amber hair he never brushed, and a protruding upper jaw that caused him to spit when he talked. “I told you,” he said, gritting his teeth and talking through them, “I just grabbed it off the shelf.”
Wilkes, for some reason, was making it clear that he wasn’t buying that story, but before he could pester Severus further, Rosier cut him off, sinking into the chair across the table. “So what was with the sudden flight, anyway?” he asked, raising his eyebrows questioningly. “That’s not really like you, you know.”
Severus didn’t respond; thinking about Lily dating James made him want to shout and punch something at the same time. He pretended to be rifling through his bag and acted like he didn’t hear the question. Sometimes he felt extremely alienated from those he called his friends – there were some things, like this, that he could only keep to himself – and he sensed that they felt this rift now. He looked up in time to see Avery and Wilkes exchanging annoyed expressions, and felt like hexing the pair of them.
“You’ve been acting weird lately, you know,” he continued, all traces of humorous, friendly jabs now gone from his voice. “Going off by yourself, skulking around, and now this… It’s just strange.”
“So?” Severus snapped. “I don’t really care what you think about it, you know. What I’m doing’s got nothing to do with you, so drop it.”
Rosier looked surprised at the sudden and heated outburst, but regained his composure quickly. “Fine,” he said coolly. He rose from the chair just as quickly as he had sat down in it, and moved swiftly from the room, Wilkes and Avery following close behind him.
Great. So now, on top of the maddening news about Lily and James, his friends weren’t speaking to him. He had to admit, he was great at royally messing up relationships with everyone he came across, friendly or otherwise. Without realizing it, he balled his hands into tight fists, the skin stretching painfully against his knuckles.
Attempting to distract his mind from the rather disastrous conversation that had just occurred, he withdrew the book from his lap and flipped it open to a random page. He couldn’t see any of the words, however; the words were blurring before him from the anger he was still trying to surmount. Letting out a frustrated sigh, he restlessly slammed it closed.
Madam Pince came skulking around the corner of the stacks again, clutching a pile of books for shelving, and gave him a piercing stare with her beady eyes. “Do you need something, Mr. Snape?” she said icily, sounding as though she would hate nothing more than to offer him assistance.
He thought about making a rather sarcastic retort – it was what his currently caustic mood called for – but he thought better of it. “No, thank you,” he said forcibly.
She narrowed her eyes at him, as though trying to judge whether or not he was making fun of her. “Then I’d suggest you leave before you disturb anyone else’s studies,” she said. He glanced around at the empty library and looked back at the librarian in slight disbelief, but chose not to argue. Rising and leaving the lycanthropy book on the table, he made for the exit.
Upon his arrival back in the corridors, however, he was once again without somewhere to go or something to occupy his thoughts for the rest of what seemed an interminably long weekend. He’d already completed all his homework last night after Rosier had told him about James and Lily; his go-to coping method had run out. It was fortunate that the castle was so big, and so he began to walk.
The bad thing about walking, however, was the ample time for thinking it left him. Severus hated feeling so helpless and alone, and although he was loath to admit it, and certainly would never have done so out loud, the only thing he wanted at the moment was a friend like Lily had once been to him. Someone whom he could talk to, who wouldn’t judge him for his thoughts or talk down to him as though he was an inferior. The longing had never been as strong as it suddenly was now.
He was rounding a corner near the third floor – it was impossible to say how he’d ended up there – when he nearly ran smack into someone heading in the direction he was coming from. It was only through sheer reflexes from both parties that they avoided a full-on collision.
“Sorry!” The other person – a girl, from her voice – jumped back a few steps. She had apparently been as wrapped up in her thoughts as Severus himself had been. He was about to make some sort of condescending comment when, upon closer inspection, he realized that he’d nearly bowled over none other than Beth Bridger.
It took everything in him not to turn and walk the other direction. Oddly, Beth’s face had gone a vivid shade of pink, and her eyes quickly dropped to the ground. Yet she didn’t walk away, as Severus half-hoped she would; the other half of him thought he might engage her in conversation just for the sake of talking to someone.
Beth suddenly looked up quickly, as though she’d come to a sudden decision to say something she’d been thinking about. “Are you all right?” she blurted out. Severus frowned; that was not what he’d expected her to say. It didn’t really seem to fit.
“I’m fine,” he said, a bit more severely than he meant to. “I didn’t even run into y-“
“No,” she interrupted, and her face took on even more color; it was obvious that she quite regretted having said anything. Severus was bemused by the curious range of emotions she seemed to be experiencing. “I mean… after what happened this morning…?”
His stomach gave an odd jolt, and he felt clammy. So she had noticed. Well, of course she’d noticed, he hadn’t exactly made his exit a secret – but still, he didn’t want to be reminded of how thoroughly rash and unthinking he’d been at that moment.
“I’m sorry,” she repeated hastily, looking horrified at what she’d just done. “I shouldn’t have asked – I mean – sorry.” An awkward and almost tangible silence pervaded the corridor once she’d stopped speaking. Neither of them really knew what to say next – whether to acknowledge the comment, or pretend like it hadn’t been uttered at all. He stood looking down at her, just looking, while she idly kicked a spare dust bunny on the carpet runner.
“It’s… fine,” he finally said, not sure what sentiment had caused those words to pop out of his mouth, but realizing that he didn’t mind too much; she’d given him an excuse to talk to someone without biting off their head, and it was a welcome change. She looked up at him, smiling hesitantly, and he found himself returning the smile.
“Well, I was just heading back to the common room, so…” She trailed off, motioning vaguely to the corner behind him. He flicked his eyes away quickly and focused on the pattern of the panes in the window behind her, for something to do. “I’ll see you around, then,” she added, and continued on her way.
Severus stayed rooted to the spot for several moments, trying to remember the last time he’d had an interaction with someone that had ended so… normally. He hated thinking like that – it made him sound like an antisocial freak – but he had to admit, he hadn’t talked so freely with someone since his friendship with Lily had ended over a year earlier.
But she was one of the Gryffindors, he reminded himself firmly. There had to be some kind of reason she was talking to him, some ulterior motive that he was missing. No one who was a willing friend of Sirius Black could possibly have had reason to talk to him.
He crossed to the window and looked down, watching the rest of the students out enjoying what might have been the last nice day until next spring. Bodies were sprawled everywhere – across the lawn, under trees and beside the lake. He half-wished he were out there with them…
Something on the far side of the Black Lake caught his eye – a flash of red hair, exactly the shade of Lily’s. His heart leaped into his throat and all thoughts of Beth were pushed aside as the hurt and anger renewed in him. He narrowed his eyes, straining to see whatever that was.
Sure enough, it was Lily – accompanied by James, of course. His other friends were nowhere to be seen. It was just the two of them, sitting alone, laughing at something that must have been uproariously funny, and Severus had never been more jealous in his entire life. He was ashamed of the hot tears that stung his eyes, and furiously brushed them away, almost savagely, lest anyone should see them.
No matter how hard he looked, no one would ever replace the gaping hole that Lily had left inside him. It was as simple as that, and no manner of thinking otherwise would ever put that to rights. He turned away and began walking briskly in an entirely new direction, disgusted with himself.
No one from that group meant anything good for him. The sooner he stopped making conversation with Beth, the better.
A/N: Every now and again, you'll get a chapter like this one told from the point of view of someone other than Beth. Not only was it just plain necessary in order for me to get events to move as I want them to, but I think it's important to get a little omniscient sometimes. It's still very much Beth's story, however! I just can't resist a bit of Severus, though, so that's why he cropped up. He'll pop up again, too, never fear -- by the end of this, there's going to be something for everyone, I gather, so hang in there! And while I'm at it, I owe so many thanks for the current reviews. I can't believe we're already in the fifties. That just astounds me, and I cannot thank you all enough for it. That being said, that little review box down there still requires feeding, and you wouldn't let him starve? A word or two will suit me fine!