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Disclaimer: Some of the dialogue in this one is taken straight from J.K. Rowling. All credit to her! (And for most of the characters of course.)
Blinking my eyes open, I was instantly aware of my incredibly strong, throbbing headache. I sat up quickly and realized that I was in the hospital wing. I wasn't particularly fond of hospitals. They smelled a sickly kind of clean and there was too much... white.
"Oh, my dear, it's good to see you awake," crooned Madam Pomfrey. "How are you feeling?"
"Spectacular," I muttered, getting out of bed immediately. Madam Pomfrey looked rather alarmed and rushed over.
"You mustn't be up just yet I'm afraid," she said with a smile, "You're still recovering. The tonic I've given you won't have taken full effect until tomorrow."
"I assume that I've only been here a few hours?"
"That would be correct."
"And it's after dark now?"
"Yes indeed. If you lie back down now, you can go to sleep if you wish."
"Yes, that's lovely, but I've got to be going now," I returned. There was no way I was staying there another minute. I felt fine—minus the slight nausea and raging headache—and I was perfectly capable of leaving. Easily, I sidestepped the nurse.
As I made a direct line for the hospital doors, I heard her stomp her feet behind me.
"Miss Griffith!" she exclaimed sternly, "I really must insist that you come back at once and get in your bed. Miss Griffith? Miss Griffith!"
Boom. The hefty wooden doors slammed shut behind me, muffling Madam Pomfrey's last indignant cries. I paused momentarily to consider where I wanted to go. I could go to the Slytherin common room and bunker down for the night. Or I could go to the Ravenclaw common room and see how things went between Adhara and Remus, and do any comforting necessary. Or I could go to the Gryffindor common room and comfort Lily for having been called Mudblood.
Lily won out in my priorities. Hers was the worst blow.
Making my way through the cold stone hallways, I appreciated the emptiness and the silence. I thought over what I could say to Lily when I got there- after all, I'd never been very good at that sort of thing. But I would do my best.
To my surprise, when I arrived at the Fat Lady's portrait there was already another person standing there. Severus looked equally surprised to see me and his face paled even more, if that was possible.
"Betony," he muttered.
"What are you doing here Severus?" I demanded.
"I just... I need to apologize to her," he said, his voice strained. "She won't... she won't come out and see me."
"Well I should think not," I scoffed, crossing my arms. "You hardly deserve it, after today. What were you thinking Sev?"
"I wasn't!" he responded immediately. He cringed at how loud his voice had become. Taking a breath to calm himself, he looked at me pleadingly. "You don't... you don't know how it feels to... to go through that. Day after day. I just snapped. I didn't mean it, you know I didn't!"
The anger in my heart was already melting. I couldn't help it. I'd never seen Severus this shaken up, not ever. He'd never gotten this bad, not even when James and Sirius bullied him. It was only now, at the thought of losing his friendship with Lily, that this sad, vulnerable, weak side of him came out.
Suddenly hearing footsteps behind us, Sev and I spun around. Mary, of Gryffindor, was strolling up to the common room door. Upon seeing us, she looked cruelly amused.
"Oh, go away, won't you? As if Lily's going to forgive you after what you did, you little creep." Turning towards me, she smirked. "You too, freak. I always thought you were both horrible influences on our poor little Lily. I don't know how she ever got mixed up with such scaly vermin."
My body was frozen stiff as a board in anger as she rudely shoved my shoulder as she passed me.
"Please, Mary," said Sev, "Just... just tell her to come out. To come out and see us."
"Not a chance!"
She was climbing through the painting now, having whispered the password too quietly for us to hear.
"I'll sleep out here!" promised Sev desperately. "I'll stay out here all night, I swear I will. Tell her that!"
The Fat Lady swung shut behind Mary without her giving any recognition that she'd even heard what he said. Sev groaned and leaned up against the wall anxiously. I was still frozen in place, my neck tense and my fists clenched, trying to restrain the impulse to punch the wall. I'd much rather have hit Mary herself, but I had forced myself to hold back. I was probably already going to be in trouble for what I'd done to James.
"I will do it, you know."
"I know you will," I replied softly. "I will too."
As I met Severus' dark eyes, I could have sworn I spotted a flicker of gratitude pass over his face, but the look was gone quickly. Suddenly, the Fat Lady began to swing outward. Sev and I both jumped a bit and turned to face Lily in surprise. She was already in her nightgown, and she looked horribly annoyed. Shutting the swinging door behind her, she crossed her arms and intentionally avoided looking either of us in the eye. Clearing his throat, Sev took a few hesitant steps towards her. His hands twitched as if he wanted to wring them nervously, but was too proud for that.
"I'm not interested."
"I'm sorry!" he repeated.
"Save your breath."
I wanted to talk to Lily, to comfort her or at least discuss what had happened earlier, but I felt that now was perhaps not the best time, so I simply stood in painful silence as Lily's green eyes glared daggers and Sev shrunk a bit under her gaze.
"I only came out here because Mary told me you were threatening to sleep here," she continued.
"I was. I would have done. I never meant to call you Mudblood, it just-"
"Slipped out?" she cut in sharply. "It's too late."
"Listen, Lily," I inserted quietly, "maybe you should just give him a chance. He's really trying to apologize here-"
"Oh look at that," she almost sneered, "You're defending him. How typical. Never mind the fact that he called me Mudblood!"
I was shocked beyond belief that Lily was attacking me now. I'd done nothing wrong! There was no reason at all for her to be angry with me. It hurt to have her lashing out irrationally at me. My soul felt like crying, but I refused to act so weak in front of the others.
"I'm not saying that what he did was acceptable!" I said firmly, "But I do know that he's honestly sorry about what he did, and I think you should give him a chance. He was really stressed out, what with Potter and-"
"Stressed... out?" she repeated. "That is no excuse. I was trying to help him! Last time I'll make that mistake, I assure you." This last part she directed venomously at Severus, who looked so heartbroken at this point that my own heart was crying out for him. He struggled to find the words to reply, but none seemed to come.
"Lily, please. Today was just a bad day for all of us. Let's just... work together to move past it."
"Oh? This wasn't just a 'bad day'. Severus has changed so much these past few years that I barely even know him anymore. What about those friends he always hangs out with now? They're all just aiming to be Death Eaters, you know it's true."
"L-listen..." he stammered, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean—"
"—to call me Mudblood? But you call everyone of my birth Mudblood, Severus. Why should I be any different?"
"You're still defending him!" she cried, her red hair whipping about as she turned to face me again. Huffing for a moment, she seemed to reach some internal conclusion and she shook her head, wearing an angry, bitter smile. "You're just the same as him, aren't you? Both of you. The whole lot of you Slytherins are just horrible. Do you call me Mudblood behind my back too, Betony?"
"Don't be ridiculous," I hissed.
"Ridiculous, am I?" she asked coldly. "It seems perfectly reasonable to me. In fact, you probably say all sorts of rude, hateful things about people like me in your cozy little common room."
"You're crazy." Lily laughed bitterly.
"Or maybe you're just defending him because you've been in love with him since, what, our first year?"
Lily's cruel words stopped me cold. I couldn't believe she'd said that. How could she... It wasn't even true! She knew perfectly well that I didn't have feelings for him anymore. I hadn't for quite some time. That didn't help the pain though.
My eyes lost their focus and I stared blankly towards the wall, trying to compose myself. My stomach was feeling sick again, my head was still pounding, and I felt even more like crying. I felt as though, if I did cry, the tears would freeze as they fell down my pale cheeks, falling to shatter like crystals on the stone floor.
I heard the portrait open and close, but my body still would not move, my hazy stare still centered on one area of the wall. I wasn't aware how much time passed but suddenly there were white spots in my eyes when I blinked, and just as suddenly, I collapsed, and everything was consumed in darkness for the second time that day.
My eyes shot open as breath tickled my ear. I looked up into Sev's dark eyes. His dark wavy hair hung down past his pale face. We were back in the Slytherin common room, me lying on the couch, him crouched beside me. The flickering light of the fire cast an eerie glow on the side of his face, making him look a sickly, pasty shade of white. Though I could see relatively little, I did perceive that he looked a little relieved at my awakening. I reckoned that he'd been trying to wake me for some time with no success.
"What?" I asked dully.
"Are you... alright? Should I take you to the hos-"
"Don't even finish that sentence."
A silence fell between us and I turned my head to the left, unwilling to look at him looking at me. I would have left but I still felt extremely weak, drained of all strength. I could feel the sweat on my face and clothes, and my legs were made of toothpicks, ready to snap at the least bit pressure.
"Is it true?" he asked quietly. I turned back to look at him, but he was staring into the fire now.
"Is what true?"
"What Lily said. That you... like me."
"No, not anymore. Don't worry about it."
"Not... anymore? Why didn't you tell me?"
"Oh, shut up. Like you're any better?" I snapped. "It's not as if you ever told Lily. I didn't want to burden you, or harm our friendship. Not that we even have one anymore."
Another silence fell over us, with only the fire crackling to fill our ears. Suddenly, I realized something.
"Did you... carry me here?"
"... Thank you." He gave a stiff nod.
"Are you going to go to bed?" I asked after a minute.
He still wasn't looking at me, but my cold anger faded away to be replaced with a warmer feeling: gratitude. It surprised me, but it somehow meant a lot that he was going to sit up with me because I was too weak to move. I would never have expected such consideration from him, not lately anyways.
"Would you like to... talk?" I asked hesitantly. At this he gave a start and gazed directly at me, his eyes wide.
"What do you mean?"
"Well, we haven't talked in a long time. As a matter of fact, we've never honestly talked. The way that friends should."
"I thought we weren't friends anymore."
"I'm willing to be," I said gently. Severus' frosty demeanor began to fade, and I could see a gentler side to him, one that was rare to see. There was a sadness in his eyes, and a more relaxed look in his face. Here, finally, was the man under the stone mask.
"What do you want to talk about?"
"Anything you want. Whatever comes to your mind first."
He seemed to consider this, gazing into the fire thoughtfully.
"I've always- always... loved her," he said, struggling to get the words out. He began to fiddle with his hands, fidgeting and picking at his clothes. "Ever since I met her. Her horrible... sister was mean to me, but she was nothing more than a pathetic, ignorant Muggle. She could never understand. But Lily, she... understood everything. She was so sweet, so nice and pretty. I tried... tried to be nice, because I knew it pleased her. Even when I wanted to say mean things—honest things—to people, I tried to hold back. I haven't always succeeded, and she always gets mad at me, but she always... always forgave me in the end. And I... Even though it frustrates me to have to watch my tongue like that, I can't imagine being without her.
"And this time... this time I don't think... because I wasn't honest this time I just... lashed out. I was so... so angry. At that- that pathetic, arrogant wretch of life, Potter. He likes her, and it makes me sick. She hasn't gone out with him yet but he's... attractive, athletic, well-liked. His interest in her, it's revolting. And I don't want her to make a fool of herself by being taken in by his- his charm, or whatever it is."
"Why haven't you ever told her how you feel?"
"She'd never like me," he scoffed bitterly. "Never."
"Well why did you have to go make the friends that you did? If you didn't hang out with them, she might still want to be your friend."
"They accept me for who I am," he explained tensely, "They don't try to make me a different, nicer person. They see the world the same way that I do. They understand. Lily is so- so naïve, so stupid sometimes. But they're not. They teach me things, and they see the world for the- the hellhole that it is. I l-... love Lily, but I can't... be around her all of the time. It's so hard. It's so painful and she... she doesn't care, she doesn't get it. I'm a better person when I'm with her, but I can't be that person all the time."
"Sure you do," he sneered. I resented that a little, but I was accustomed to Severus' moods, so I let it slide. I knew he said rude things when he was riled up, but he didn't mean it in his heart. He, like me, just needed someone to lash out at sometimes.
"Are you going to become a Death Eater?" I asked cautiously. Severus remained silent for a few minutes, and I was ready to pretend I'd never asked when he said,
"That is not my... plan."
"Then what is your plan, Sev?"
"I've always thought of... becoming a teacher." I laughed aloud (mostly out of surprise that he was cracking jokes), and Sev couldn't hold back his own smile. He'd managed to keep a straight face as he said it, but we both knew that he didn't mean it. I was very glad that he was able to joke around with me. I hadn't seen this dry humor of his in quite some time.
"You would be a terrible teacher. You hate kids," I pointed out teasingly. He shrugged nonchalantly, vaguely acknowledging the truth of the statement, but I could see that he was still smiling.
"Tell it to me straight. What's your plan?" I asked when we'd both gotten serious again.
Glancing at me, he smiled weakly.
"To survive, if I can."