Snape sat against the tree, the small book in his hands. Most would be surprised to find that it was not a book of potions, arithmancy, or the dark arts on which his coal black eyes darted. He'd always appreciated the works of Robert Frost. Mostly, verse irritated him, filled with flowery images, saccharine spills of love, and dreamy simplistic ideals. Frost however, in his opinion, knew how to craft with words a world that reflected the truer state of his own. This was not to say that Frost didn't occasionally acquiesce the undesirable fluff in which other authors took delight, but it was far and few between, and thus, tolerable. After all, happiness did ghost into his life now and then he thought, even if it was only to reinforce the fact that it would always remain for him a temporary season. He flipped through the book, stopping at his favorites, Mending Wall, Storm Fear, A Question, and Nothing Gold Can Stay. His own notes and observations were scrawled in the margins. The man knew ruin. There were many he read time and again, allowing his mind to drift into the austere landscapes in black ink on pale pages.
He slipped his finger between the pages to mark his place and leaned his head against the tree, closing his tired eyes. It was January 9th. A day he found came all to quickly with the turn of the earth as the years marched on dancing their terrible dance. He felt his mind begin to sway to the heavy influence of sleep's call, having been up too late the previous night perusing his texts for various enchantments and potions upon which he could improve. Before he could heed slumber's spell, he pulled himself up and trudged back to the castle. Breakfast would end soon and he had to prepare for class.
Back in the great hall, Severus sat, examining his potions notes, ignoring the bowl of porridge in front of him.
"So I hear Happy Birthdays are in order, eh Snape?"
A scowl crossed his lips as he recognized the annoying voice. "Why the civility Potter? No insult, no hex, no 'Snivellus' or whatever else your bludger smacked brain can produce?" he said, his gaze of concentration upon his parchments unbroken.
"Oh come on Severus, I'd never put a bloke down on his birthday. I'm sure you've got quite a day planned; parties with your friends, opening the towers of gifts you've surely received, maybe mum and dad have sent you a package, nothing too good for their boy. Or…perhaps you'll be enjoying the company of some lovely, nubile bird later this evening…" he trailed off, flashing a rye smile while eyeing the Slytherin.
"Nicely done Potter, I never pegged your intelligence high enough to use more the more subtle aspects of degradation" he said without looking up from his writings.
Ignoring the insult, James cocked his head and said "Oh yes, all this talk of parties and gifts reminds me, I have a little something for you Snape."
This caused Severus to glance up at Potter, raising an eyebrow as he did so. His eyes slid to James's hand as he reached into the pocket of his robe and pulled out a small envelope. He tossed it flippantly at Severus as he rose from his perch at the mostly empty Slytherin table. As the sound of Potter's footsteps faded, Severus opened it and began to read.
Lily Evans looked at the small box in her hands as she reclined on her bed. It was wrapped in black, velvet-like paper and tied with a green bow and silver charms. It looked positively elegant. She furrowed her brow and thought about him. She imagined his pale hands opening the gift, pulling off the bow in one fluid motion, the paper being gently removed as his slender finger slid along the seam where it joined…as if he was undressing it. She could see his lips curling into a rare smile, first one corner, then the other as he lifted the lid and saw his present. She knew it would be the only one he'd receive. Her mouth turned down into a slight frown as she thought about how he was treated. True, he could seem cold and unfeeling, angry and haughty, but she knew when he let his defenses slip, his heart was as soft and gentle as her own. He knew both hurt and happiness, but one ruled the other like an iron-fisted king. "Not today" she thought, "today will be a happy day for you Severus Snape." She slid herself to the edge of the bed and hopped to the floor. She knew where to find him. She tossed on her cloak, the Gryffindor crest flashing as it settled about her. She put the box inside her pocket and headed out to find her brooding friend.
Severus stared at the letter. The delicate looping letters of a woman's hand written in green ink were flowing across the page. He swallowed hard. There was a persistent lump in his throat that wouldn't seem to melt away.
My dearest heart,
I've longed to say these words to you…but I haven't been able to build the courage. Silly I know, that's the mark of the Gryffindor, yet, such boldness escapes me when I'm in your presence. Barely a moment passes that I do not think of you; you know that don't you? Surely you've caught my stolen glances that speak of much more than friendship. Who would have ever thought that you're the path my heart would wander towards? I never thought I'd feel these things for you, but I do. I do. I hope to hear your heart feels the same as mine.
With all my love,
Snape wanted to feel anger, he wanted to feel hatred, something he could harness, something he could use to lash out at whatever unfortunate target found itself within his sights, but he couldn't muster them. A horrible aching sadness was the only thing he could feel. "Potter…Potter?" he mumbled, his eyebrows creasing, his chin quivering against his every command. Life was a cruelty to him. He was the half-blood product of a father who didn't love him and a mother so beaten down she was nothing but a shell. He wasn't the bronzed hero-friend that all envied and adored, no, those rolls fell to Potter and Black. He was alone, unloved, and unwanted. There were those that accepted his company for his intelligence, his sharp useful sarcasm, or his quick ways with a wand, but they didn't care for him beyond their own gain. His one true friend was Lily, the girl he loved from the first time he laid eyes on her. The first person to ever make his heart skip a beat from anything but fear had just broken it into so many irreparable shards.
"He's late," thought Lily, "he's never late! Not on his birthday." She crossed her arms and shifted her weight to lean against the towering tree. Its leaves were gone and a fine layer of snow covered the spiraling branches. She squinted her eyes and looked out towards the castle. She could see a tall dark haired shape heading in her direction. She took a deep breath and fussed with her hair and her robes. As the figure grew closer, her anticipation grew and her heart quickened, until she noticed that the hair was far too short, the body slightly too broad at the shoulders, and the glasses, Severus didn't wear glasses. "Potter…why…what are you doing here?" she called at him as he approached.
"I've come to see you Miss Evans," he said politely while bending at the waist in a slight bow.
"Come off it Potter" she said, hardly fooled by his genteel efforts. She crossed her arms, narrowed her eyes and said, "if you have something to say, can you please get on with it, I'm waiting for someone important," she made sure to emphasize the last word of her statement.
"Ah, playing the coy minx are we? Come now pet. I know how you long for me. You don't have to parade around with this charade anymore."
"Have you gone utterly daft Potter? Charade? No, believe me, I truly trust you are as thick as the morning porridge and have half the taste."
"Haha! Oh Lily, you can't fool me with your witty barbs. I know you, ah, how did you put 'haven't been able to build the courage' to tell me how you feel."
Lily froze, her mouth hanging open, her eyes staring at him with a wide and stupefied gaze. "You…you have my letter?" she said, stuttering with shock.
"Yes darling, I have it and of course I feel the same way. I'm glad you've finally come to your senses and see what a brilliant match we truly are."
"That letter's not for you!" she said, yelling at him, suddenly regaining control of her faculties. "How did you get it? Did you sneak through my bag you ruddy thief? How DARE you!?" She was grabbing the collar of his cloak, her hands twisting the fabric, her teeth bared, the vitriol spilling from her with every word.
"You dropped it at my feet in class silly bird." James sputtered, trying to maintain some semblance of charm. "NO, I didn't drop it at your feet, I just dropped it!" she spat back at him. She glared at him, her face inches from his when he suddenly wrapped his arms around her tipped her backwards and planted a forceful kiss on her unwilling mouth.
Severus froze in his tracks. It was one thing to have words on paper, it was quite another to be confronted with a tangible image. He saw Lily sweep up to James, her hands fastening tightly to his cloak, her hair fluttering in the icy breeze, her eyes half closed. He saw him take her in his arms and dip her backwards, those red waves cascading like water down her back as she tipped, then, his mouth covering hers, his arms wrapped around her body, embracing her, capturing her. Compared to this, the letter might as well have been a note from the Queen of England inviting him to Tea.
Lily pushed against James and they parted, her lips still wet from the assault of his kiss. "Bastard" she muttered. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a flutter of black, like the wing of a raven taking flight. "Severus…" she said, as her heart lurched.
He stiffened while James stood there looking all together too proud. "Lily…I, I don't know why I even came. What I expected after…here, your boyfriend left this for me this morning, as a gift;" he said while thrusting the envelope at her. "So thank you. Thank you for my birthday present. Please trust that I'll never be able to forget it."
She stared at the letter, clasped between two of his fingers, he, not returning her gaze. "Severus…"
"Please Lily, please just take it." She obliged him, her mind reeling, her face blank, and her letter back in her hands, delivered from the only person who should have ever seen it in the first place. Severus turned and began to walk, his black cloak blowing in the wind, his hair waving, hiding his pallid face, wet with unwillingly shed tears and falling snow.