Title: That Time of Year
Beta Reader(s): ckofshadows
Rating: (Hard) R
(Highlight to View) Warning(s): Sexual activity.
Note: Eternal gratitude and .3 to ckofshadows, because she's the best damn person to bounce ideas off, ever, in any fandom, even ones she has no invested interest in.
Summary: It was that time of year, again, when anything could happen, and probably would.
The owl came at 3 a.m.
Severus, always an uneasy sleeper, jolted awake, pulse racing, heartbeat loud in his ears. He recognized the sound immediately, the gentle rap of a small beak on a frosted window. Philo, from home, from Spinner's End. Little Philo with the brown and white feathers, a secret he and his Mum kept from Father for so many years, kept secret so they could send messages back and forth between home and Hogwarts as needed. Severus hadn't seen the bird since September, when Mum had sent him a small bottle of Felix Felicis and a note wishing him well on his new teaching position, Make me proud. Severus felt a small pang of anxiety: Christmas was over, the winter school term had just begun. What could she be writing about, and at this time of night?
He opened the window and coaxed the shivering bird inside, took the message from the small, leather pouch. Philo shook himself and hooted and waited patiently.
Severus unrolled the bit of parchment, recognized the spidery handwriting immediately.
Your father is dead. Funeral on Tuesday.
Severus rolled the parchment up again, slowly, tapped it against his lips once, twice. Philo hooted again, a question this time.
"No. No reply," said Severus. Because, really, how to reply to that? He gave him a bit of chicken, left over from a late dinner, and watched as the bird fell asleep on the dresser in the weak light of the winter moon.
He thought about the note, thought about his mother writing it, maybe while she sat at the kitchen table, maybe while she drank her afternoon tea. She preferred it scalding hot, with milk, no sugar. He thought about going home for the funeral, about how his students might behave while he was gone. There was an assignment due this week, the basic ingredients in and the practical usages of a Shrinking Solution, and damned if he'd give them an extension just because of this. He wondered who Dumbledore would find to replace him. Whistlehatch? No. Incompetent. McInally? No. Drunkard. Dumbledore himself? No. No. Severus thought about his father, briefly, about where his body might be right at this moment.
He didn't wonder how he died.
He didn't go back to sleep.
He didn't cry.
"I'm so very sorry, Severus," Dumbledore said. Behind him, a multi-coloured fire leapt and crackled in the fireplace. Fawkes squawked softly. The room was overly warm and Severus suddenly felt light-headed. "Take as much time as you need, of course. I'll find someone suitable to cover your classes."
Severus nodded. He didn't ask who. He stared at the bowl of lemon drops in the small glass bowl on Dumbledore's desk. He didn't want to look at Dumbledore. His bag was packed and he was ready to go. Home. He was going home. The word sounded strange, even unspoken. He moved to leave.
Severus turned slightly, not facing Dumbledore completely, leaving his face half in shadows.
"I know you and your father weren't exactly—friendly, but still. Are you—quite all right, my boy?" Dumbledore's voice was quiet, tentative, as if he'd surprised himself even by asking. Severus wondered what he was waiting to hear, exactly.
Severus nodded again. "I am," he said. Then he added, because he felt it was needed, "Thank you."
He left the office on steady legs, bag in hand, cloak fluttering.
He wondered where his mother was, if she was expecting him, if she was looking forward to seeing him, despite the circumstances.
He wondered how his father died.
He didn't cry.
It was snowing when he reached Spinner's End. It wouldn't stick, but the air was thick with fine, white flurries, flakes settling on his hair and the shoulders of his dark coat like ashes. He wondered suddenly if his father's body had been cremated; some Muggles did that sort of thing, didn't they? For a moment he stood completely still, watching and waiting for something. Something. After a long moment and turned and walked the too-familiar path to the front door of his grey, worn house. He didn't knock. The door was unlocked; his arrival was expected after all.
The home was exactly as he remembered, though he tried very hard not to remember, most of the time. Eileen Snape looked up from the kitchen table as her only son entered the cramped room. Severus felt too big for the space, too big and too nervous. He thought he could touch the opposite walls of the room with both hands if he stretched his arms wide enough. Eileen smiled so briefly he almost missed it.
"You came home," she said, and there was that word again, that word that meant everything to so many people, but meant nothing to him at all. Well no, that was a lie, but not a lie he was willing to dissect at the moment. Instead he simply nodded. He could feel snow melting in his hair. It was an odd sensation.
"Your father's in there," she said finally, jerking her head to the left. Severus moved on lead legs to the small, dim sitting room, now filled to capacity with his father's coffin. The lid was closed, but would be open tomorrow, for the viewing, he supposed. It was very cold in the room, and he wondered why, wondered if it was on purpose, or if she'd forgotten to pay the heating bill. So many things he'd forgotten about living in the Muggle world. He thought about conjuring a fire, just a small one, wondered if she'd object, realized the only reason she had to object was lying dead in the coffin.
He reached out and touched the wood of the shiny, oblong box with the tip of one finger. Then he let it fall.
He still didn't cry.
Tuesday. The day of the funeral was cold and dark and windy and cold.
His father had friends — who knew? A dozen men, all worn and heavy-set with tired, dark eyes, smelling of drink, huddled round the grave for the mid-day service. Severus felt puzzled that anyone bothered to come at all. The last time he'd seen his father, more than a year ago, Tobias had knocked him to the floor with one swift, sudden stroke of his heavily muscled arm. Severus never did find out why, exactly. Not that he'd bothered to ask. He wondered if these men, these friends, had known Tobias had fathered a child at all, and a half-wizard one, at that. Wouldn't that be something, if Severus whipped out his wand and hexed them all into oblivion. He bit his lip to keep from smiling.
One of them — Davis? Darby? — clapped a hard, heavy, calloused hand on Severus' shoulder at some point. When he spoke, his voice was rough with unshed tears and his breath stank of whiskey.
"You—you're young. You have your whole life ahead of you. Make—make your father proud." It sounded like an order, or maybe a threat.
Severus stood still and silent, for there was absolutely nothing to say to that. Eileen pressed a small handkerchief to her trembling mouth, but her eyes were bone dry.
It was only when the coffin had been lowered into the ground that Severus blinked rapidly and realized the date. January ninth.
Happy Birthday, he thought to himself. He was 25 today. He did, indeed, have his whole life in front of him. Who would have thought?
Someone started throwing shovelfuls of dirt into the hole. The sound was weak and empty in the chilly air.
Severus tapped his fingers against his leg, starting reciting the ingredients to a Shrinking Potion in his head:
Chopped daisy roots.
He knew none of his students would get a perfect mark.
He knew he wasn't going to cry.
If he spent one more night in his childhood bedroom he'd go mad, he was sure of it.
"You're leaving then?" His mother rose from the table.
"Yes." He resisted the urge to lick his lips, an old, nervous habit, one his mother was too familiar with. "I need to prepare my lessons for next week."
"You could—do that here." It was as close as she would ever get to asking him to stay. Severus shifted his weight imperceptibly; left foot, right foot, left foot. He couldn't look at her. Wouldn't.
"All right, then." She wiped her palms on the front of her faded dress. She tried to smile. It looked like a grimace.
"I'll be in touch," he said, thinking of Philo and how they'd no longer have to hide him, or their correspondence, from father. It should have felt freeing. It didn't.
"Yes," she said.
After a slight hesitation, Severus brushed his lips against the dry skin of her cheek. She smelled of that plain, white soap she favoured and the stew she'd prepared for dinner. Severus hadn't eaten more than one bite.
He didn't look back.
He didn't cry.
He Apparated into the middle of Diagon Alley. It was late and cold and the street was nearly empty, stores about to close. No students, then, no one who might recognize him. Good. He wandered for a bit, peering into storefronts, wondering about the proprietors, where they lived, if they enjoyed their professions.
He knew he needed to head back to the school. He knew it was the responsible, adult thing to do. He knew all of that. Instead he ducked into Knockturn Alley at the last moment, his breath coming quick and loud in his ears. What could he possibly want here? He thought of the school with its dimly lit, high-ceilinged corridors, the ringing hollow of the footsteps, of eager, giggling students and Dumbledore and meals in the Great Hall and evenings in his solitary chambers and—
No. He couldn't go back just yet. No.
The establishment he happened upon was small and dank and he found a small table near the back, dark and unobtrusive, head bent low over his plate of flavourless pasta and Red Currant Rum. He picked at the food, but drank quickly without thinking. He wasn't thinking about anything anymore, about how many Rums he ordered or about his mother's sad, grey face, or certainly not about his father.
He managed to pay without much trouble, and he walked with a bit of concentrated effort from the pub, but it was late, much later than he should have been away from the castle, and he was alone and very quickly heading towards drunk, and the men were large and burly and already very drunk, and they knew a former victim of bullying on sight. Severus was shoved and smacked and spat upon. Where was his wand? Severus patted his pockets, but nothing, nothing. Where had he left it? He knew he was powerful against them without it, but his body felt thick and useless, his mind sluggish and slow. But, suddenly, there was a blast of light and a surge of heat and both men went flying, just as one was getting ready to slam Severus back into the rough, brick wall for the third time. Severus slid to the ground, eyes fluttering closed, wondering what had happened—
And then he started hallucinating. He knew he was hallucinating because Remus Lupin was kneeling in front of him, his pale face lined and concerned, his cold hands cupping Severus's face almost tenderly.
"Lupin," he muttered. "Of all people." Oh, the day was just completely fucking strange, wasn't it?
"C'mon," Remus said, positioning his hands under Severus' armpits and hauling him to his feet. "Let's get you home."
"Don't wanna go home." Words were coming out wrong. Words hurt his head. He shook his head. That hurt even more.
"I meant my home."
"Well, my temporary home, then, and you can't stay here, and you're certainly in no shape to go anywhere alone."
Severus knew this to be true, but he wasn't going to admit it, not now, not to Lupin of all people. So, he let himself be led down dark streets, past unlit windows, his feet scraping on cobblestones, sweat and blood and alcohol drying on his skin, and Remus Lupin's skinny, wiry, surprisingly strong arms wrapped around him, holding him steady the entire time.
What a strange, strange fucking day, indeed.
Remus's rented flat was small and dreary. Remus deposited Severus on the narrow, rickety bed, where Severus sprawled, boneless, slack-jawed. Everything smelled like snow. How could a flat smell like snow? He wanted to ask, but realized, even in his state, how odd that would sound. Instead, he said:
"What were you doing in Knockturn Alley?"
"I could ask you the same thing."
"Ah, but you didn't."
Remus sighed. "I've been seeing—a healer there. Someone who's trying to—help me. With the transition."
Remus nodded tightly, not looking at him. He was very busy hanging his ragged, woolen coat on the hook behind the door.
The room was spinning. Severus closed his eyes. Oh, not good, not good.
"Is it helping He? She?"
"He," Remus said, then laughed, a short, sharp barking sound. "I heard you're teaching at Hogwarts."
"Word does get around."
"Congratulations. Really." He moved to the single window, opened it a crack. Cold air swirled in. Blessed. "I always knew you'd be an excellent teacher."
"Oh, really?" Severus grinned. He felt like his face was cracking open. When was the last time he grinned? "And how would you know something like that, you ignorant git?"
"Same old Snape," Remus said quietly. "You used to tutor me, or don't you remember? You were the only one who could help me make any sense of Arithmancy. I would have failed if not for you."
Severus waved a hand languidly. His limbs felt strangely unattached from the rest of his body. "Surely Black could have—"
"Or bloody Potter—"
"No." Remus sat down heavily on the edge of the bed, making the weak mattress sag dangerously. It caught Severus off guard; his thigh was suddenly pressing against Remus's back. Severus tensed, but made no move to pull away.
"Well, Lily then," he said, in a lower voice. "She always liked you, and she was top of her class, in almost every subject."
"Except Potions," said Remus.
They both went very quiet after that, Severus squeezing his eyes shut, balling his hands into fists. Too much to drink, too too much. Everything too too much right now.
"Yeah. Yeah she did, and she was," Remus said. "I miss her terribly." He paused. "James, too. Especially times like this."
Severus couldn't help but laugh at this, even though he found the situation not even remotely humourous. "You miss Potter? You're just as much of a bloody idiot as you were at school, then, Lupin. James Fucking Potter was nothing but a—"
Remus put a hand on Severus's arm and it stopped him talking instantly. He couldn't say why. Something about the weight of it, the warmth of it. Remus sighed.
"Listen, Severus, I've had a—horrible couple of days. I saw you about to get beaten to a pulp by a couple of drunken blokes, I decided to help you out, and here we are. Don't—don't be an arse about it, all right?"
Severus swallowed thickly. His stomach was churning. "How were they horrible?"
Remus waited a long time, then instead of replying, he unbuttoned his thin, white shirt, let it hang loose around his skinny frame. He leaned closer to Severus, turning in the dim light. Severus pushed up on his elbows and peered at him.
"What happened?" Severus asked, his hand reaching out, unbidden, to trace the long, angry lines on Remus' chest. Remus shook his head.
"Not nothing." Severus couldn't stop touching. He could feel Remus' dark eyes on him, watching, waiting. Remus sighed. Severus felt the soft skin quiver under his fingers.
"Old scars." He said it quietly and flatly, his eyes never leaving Severus's face. Severus nodded once, his fingers tracing and tracing, gently. "Too many full moons to count."
"Do they repulse you?" He said this in a lighter tone, but Severus could hear the pain bubbling just beneath.
"No." Severus looked up then, at Remus's too-pale, too-old face. "You look—"
"I know." Remus shrugged. "I've been—not well, for awhile now."
Severus wanted to say something along the lines of I'm sorry, but instead he said: "You didn't have to save me, you know. I didn't need saving."
"I know. But, you looked like you could use a little help." He paused. "And besides, I figured I owed you."
Severus closed his eyes again. Tomorrow he would be back at Hogwarts. Tomorrow he would be back in his classroom, back with his potions, back where he belonged.
"I buried my father today," he whispered before he knew the words were even there in his mouth. Merlin, he was so very drunk. There was such a long silence he was sure Remus hadn't heard him. Then the edge of the bed sagged again with Remus's weight, as he turned and shifted even closer, his hand coming to rest on Serverus's chest.
Rattling, rattling, all my bones, he thought.
"I'm sorry," said Remus, because he was a kind person, always way, even back then, even when he was with the others, he was always kind.
Severus nodded, but said nothing. What was there to say to that? He lifted his hands, his heavy, heavy hands and pressed his fists into his eyes, hard. He was not crying, was not even close, but something huge and hard was forming in his chest, if only he could just press it down—
He only meant to push Remus away, but then his hands were tangled in Remus's shirt, and he was pulling on him, pulling him closer, and Remus wasn't fighting him, not in the least. And the warmth of his body, it felt so good to feel a warm human body under his hands again. Their mouths pressed together, messy and wet, and how long since Severus had kissed anyone? Well, since Lily, and oh Merlin, Lily was dead, too. And his father. Dead. He kissed Remus harder, used his tongue, felt Remus's tongue move against his, felt Remus moan into his mouth. It was so hot. He'd forgotten how hot another mouth was against his, lips and tongue and breath.
Don't stop, Severus thought. Not now. Don't stop now.
He kissed hard, harder, and Remus didn't stop. His hands moved lower now, over Severus's clenching stomach, lower still, cupped his cock, squeezed. Severus groaned, then bit his lip so Remus wouldn't hear that sound again. Remus moved quickly, shed them both of their clothes and for the first time in years Severus lay naked with another person. He was so very glad it was dark in the small room. So dark and when he closed his eyes he didn't have to see anything at all if he didn't want to. He moved against Remus's skinny body, feeling Remus move against him, too, slowly at first, then faster, more frantically, breaths racing until they were panting and there was nothing else in the world, the day hadn't happened, there was no death, ever, no funeral, nothing, nothing.
Severus opened his eyes, looked into Remus's messy, sweat-soaked hair.
Where was the moon, Severus wondered, panic pricking in his veins. The moon, the moon? Was it Lupin's time to change? What if it was tonight? What if, what if—
Severus came quietly, shuddering and bucking, his face pressed hard against Remus's sweaty, salty neck, seconds before Remus echoed him, his own body rippling like magic, his mouth opening in a wide, empty O of surprise. The day was full of surprises like this, it seemed.
Remus wrapped his arms around him then and sighed. "We're quite the pair, aren't we," he said.
Severus didn't know how to reply to that, so he said nothing.
Remus rested his head on Severus' chest. It felt odd to lie like this, like lovers almost. Severus wondered if Remus could feel his heart beating. Seemed like such a silly, sentimental thing to ask, though, so he didn't.
"How do you feel, now?" Remus asked. He actually seemed to want to know, but Severus didn't know ho to reply to that, because he didn't know how he felt. About anything. So, he said nothing.
When he awoke he was alone.
The room was still and quiet and chilled. Severus conjured a small fire and sat before it for a moment, warming his hands. His head throbbed dully and his mouth tasted like ash. He wished for a hangover potion, wondered if he had all the required ingredients in his storerooms at the school. He tried very hard to remember, cataloguing the ingredients in his mind:
He sat completely still for an entire hour, waiting, he told himself, for his headache to ease, but realizing, without ever admitting it, that he was waiting for Lupin to return.
Lupin never returned.
At noon, Severus packed up his few meagre, belongings in his black bag, extinguished the fire and left the lodgings.
He walked slowly but steadily, the air around him growing colder and colder. Snow was coming. It smelled like Lupin's room. Just as he thought that thought, flurries, tiny and white as bits of loose skin, fell from the sky, swirled about his face. Then, just as suddenly they stopped, and the world was just solid grey again.
It was that time of year again, when snow would come and go. It might stay, but most likely not. His students were waiting, not for him, of course, but they were there, nonetheless. He decided to walk all the way to Hogwarts. He took the long way there. He listened to the gravel crunch under his boots. He felt the cold air against his cheeks and ears. He thought about his mother, and a little about his father, his alcohol-sodden Muggle body already starting to rot in the ground. He thought about Lupin and his red, scarred body, his skinny, scrawny body shuddering against his own, so briefly.
Halfway home he saw a crow sitting in the bare branches of a Hawthorne tree by the side of the road. He couldn't tell what it was looking at, and it didn't move, not once, the entire time Severus stood staring at it. At last Severus picked up a stone and threw it, hard. The crow squawked and flew away.
Severus started walking again, and he started to cry. He cried the rest of the way home.