Title: In The Midst of Life
Beta Reader(s): kellychambliss and lash_larue
(Highlight to View) Warning(s): character death (not Severus).
Note: Deep gratitude to my Ninja Betas, K and L, who made this story so much better after they took it in hand; I love them both to bits. The quotes in bold were taken from the 1928 version of The Book of Common Prayer, mostly from the burial service, taken out of context and arranged for my own purposes. My apologies to anyone who might be offended by that.
Summary: The past is never really past.
. . . that ye may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance.
The swing moved as if pushed by unseen hands, and if he concentrated on times past hard enough, looking with eyes that stared so hard his vision blurred, he could see them. The hands were long and sickly pale no matter how much time he'd spent out of doors. The girl being pushed in the swing was easier to see. She was the technicolor Oz to his bleak grey Kansas, with her laughing green eyes, the freckles splashed like gold dust across her nose, her plaited hair a vivid streak of flame against the coat he wore. His father's coat.
The wind swept up the fallen oak leaves piled against the bench where he sat, and their sharp rustle went unheard. It had been cold that day, too. That was the first and only time he'd been grateful to be wearing his da's three-sizes-too-big cast off clothes. That coat had been big enough to wrap around her, too, when she'd shivered and complained of the cold. If he closed his eyes and breathed deeply, he could still smell the fruity shampoo she used, mingled with stale cigarette smoke and spilled lager from the Beehive Inn. They'd stood together like that for a few minutes, until they heard her name being called, her sister yodeling it out loudly so that she wouldn't have to come to the park. Lily had turned in his arms and smiled up at him.
"I guess I'd better go before Tuney has an aneurysm," she'd joked. "Thanks for the warm-up."
"Here," he'd said, and stripped the thing off without thinking, wrapping it around her. Then, realizing what he'd done, he had blushed like a fool. He'd shrugged and muttered something like "Don't want you to catch your death when we're a week away from Pepper-Up."
She'd only smiled and shook her head, turned to go and then suddenly turned back around and pecked him on the cheek. "You're a good friend, Sev."
He'd said nothing, could have said nothing as she as she'd slipped out of the gate on that blustery April day, wrapped in the faded wool of his father's old pea coat. At 14 he was still coming to grips with his changing feelings for her and seething with his anger over the hand that life had dealt him. He hadn't seen anything yet, had he? When he'd got back home, his mother had stared at him coldly.
"Whatever it is you've done with your coat, it won't be replaced."
Truthfully, he hadn't missed it; he'd been warm all the way home and the ice in his mother's eyes, for once, didn't have the power to freeze him as well.
When it had come back to him, the coat had been freshly laundered - courtesy of Mrs. Evans, he was sure. For some unfathomable reason, he'd been disappointed that it smelled of Persil. He told himself at the time that it was because he'd hoped it would smell of Lily when it came back, though he knew now that wasn't entirely true. Lily gave it back to him as they'd boarded the return train to school and he'd hastily shoved it into his trunk, ashamed to be seen with the battered, hand-me-down Muggle coat. The coat that would have had Potter and Black sneering at his poverty and Avery and the other Slytherins sneering at his blood-traitor mum - the coat that he now held in his hands. Da's coat.
Once again it smelled of sweat, stale cigarette smoke and staler lager, as though Da had taken to wearing it again after Severus had brought it home that summer. He now remembered, though it had never struck him before, that after it had been given over into his possession he couldn't remember his father wearing a replacement, nor indeed, any coat at all.
O let thine ears consider well the voice of my complaint.
That had been the last good summer, or so it now looked from ten years' perspective - good being relative in relation to the lonely wastelands that summers had been after he had ruined the one untainted thing in his life. At the time, it hadn't seemed so. The last of the mills employed a third of the workers they once had, and Da hadn't had work for months. He'd seemed so feckless back then, frittering away the hours drinking with his mates, never, as far as Severus could tell, even attempting to find another job. Late at night he would let himself into the house and collapse into beery dreams on the sofa. And there he would lie until mid-afternoon, when it would start all over. Oh, how he'd despised the man, and he let his contempt bleed through every word he spoke. In this mother and son were joined, for once, the sleet in her voice thawing only slightly in the idea that she had an ally, a comrade in her gelid anger at the man she felt had ruined her life, even if it was only the son who had been his accomplice.
That she had considered his conception and the marriage which followed it the biggest mistakes she'd ever made had been no news to Severus. He knew long before she'd ever voiced it in anger. At best, she'd been indifferent. At worst she had actively hated him and strove to make his life as big a misery as her own in penance for his existence. Often, she succeeded. What he hadn't known, hadn't realized from his childish vantage point, was that his father had not felt the same. Not about his mother. And not, he now understood, about him.
He had never been so stupid as to ask what unhappy circumstances had even lead his parents to have come across one another in passing, let alone to have become acquainted to the extent that they could have had sex, though as a teen he had pondered the question many times. Not even euphemistically could he have called what they had done in creating him 'making love'. That implied at least a fleeting attachment of some sort, and it had seemed to him then, when he could bear to bring himself to think on it, there were never two people more incapable of love than his parents. Had they dated? Had they been strangers who had a drunken one night stand? How had his mother, a pureblood witch from a Muggle-despising old Slytherin family, come to be bedded by a Muggle working-class laborer? These questions had burned through him when he was a student, and his bitter antipathy toward the man who had tried just hard enough to be a proper father that his failures only made Severus despise him more, had led to the wholesale rejection of any answer involving affection or esteem.
He could remember only a very few times when they were not either shouting at one another, freezing each other out, or using him as a pawn in efforts to retaliate for some misdeed the other had perpetrated. And when they could not get at each other directly, he was the substitute, their anger diverted toward the root of of their problems. If only he had never been born, their lives would have been perfect. And how many times since that dementor-conjuring first time he'd heard it spoken, had he wished the same himself? In some ways he'd never stopped. But with a child's hopeless faith, with every sign, no matter how small, that they didn't completely abhor him, he had loved them anyway and prayed to whatever power might be listening that one day they might someday love him in return. By the time he'd got to 14, however, he had given up, and tried to hate his parents with same fervor as they had hated him. He had made up his mind that once he was on his own, he'd never see them again, never speak their names. On his way to realizing all of his goals, from marrying the only girl he'd ever loved to becoming a powerful force in the Wizarding world, he would simply forget that they had ever existed. He clutched the coat in his hands until his knuckles bleached white, as his lips twisted into a savage, sarcastic smile. All of that had gone well, hadn't it?
Not until after he had left Hogwarts for the last time and come to Spinner's End in the week between the end of term and the beginning of his apprenticeship, had he seen sign of any emotion between his parents other than scorn. And it had been Da who'd expressed it. In retrospect, Severus supposed that he should have been surprised that what had happened hadn't happened sooner. But it nevertheless came as a complete shock.
His mother had barely raised her head when he walked through the door after the trip back from King's Cross. Neither of his parents had ever made the effort to collect him after his first year. The Evanses had taken him with them until the end of 5th year. After that, he'd used what little pocket money he had left from the school year to take the Knight bus back and forth. At the end, finally, he could Apparate.
"Supper's on the hob."
She'd spoken the words tersely and without looking at him, then got up from the kitchen table and disappeared up the stairs. His father had already left for his evening's drunken carousing. He'd helped himself to a bowl of the thin soup then gone upstairs himself, warding the tiny room that had been the only space he could have called his own with Imperturbable and Silencing charms. Then he'd flopped down on his wretched mattress to wait out the sullen night and wonder how he was going to cope with the week at Spinner's End without going mad.
I spake aloud many things earnestly and forcibly, in the bitterness of my remembrance.
It was late when he rose the following morning, and his only thought as he had stumbled into the loo was escaping before his father awoke and the morning's screaming match began. He opened the door to the sound of an unearthly wail coming from downstairs. Without thinking he had rushed down, a nameless fear seizing him by the throat, only to find his old man seated at the kitchen table clutching a piece of paper in his fist and moaning 'why?' over and over.
One whiff and Severus had known it had been the hard stuff the previous night and the man was still half drunk. Concern turned to contempt as his father's blood-shot eyes met his, and Da's face crumpled as he stretched out the hand which held the paper.
"She's gone. Why? Why?"
Severus had snatched the paper being held out to him and read: "Sentence served. See you in hell." The meaning had been all too clear. He'd crushed the note in the sudden swell of a venomous echo from the summer after he'd begun at Hogwarts that had risen before he could stop it.
"Oh, he's a chip off your old block, all right - worthless, miserable little shit. The day he's done with his schooling will be the happiest day of my life, make no mistake. I'll leave the both of you to meet the bad ends you so rightly deserve - to Hell with you and your bastard!"
She'd been planning it for years. He'd dropped the paper as though it had been on fire and turned to go, wondering if he could afford a Muggle youth hostel if he showed up in Florence a week early, refusing to give in to the wounded child inside who'd cried for its mother from the beginning without success. He vowed he would mentally slice his ties with this place and these piss-poor excuses for human beings as neatly as if he'd used his own slicing hex, when his father's wiry arm had shot out and grabbed his.
Severus had answered with a disgusted glance to the hand on his sleeve and a futile attempt to shake it off. He'd be damned if he'd answer to that horrible Muggle nickname his father had given him. It had been a measure of the man's panic that he clung tightly and tried again with his son's proper name.
"Severus! You - , you could find her, couldn't you? You'd know where to look, how to trace where she's gone, make her see reason and come home, couldn't you?"
Severus had turned then, incredulous at the desperation in the man's voice, and looked him up and down. The ridiculous old sot was actually crying, tears streaming down his dirty, unshaven face. A surge of disgust had gone through him then, mixed with a powerful self-loathing every bit the equal of what he felt for his father. This was the source of his own weakness, the reason he'd been merely tolerated in Slytherin House and never truly accepted, whatever his merits as a wizard. He had pulled his arm away with a jerk and looked over the man in front of him with a sneer.
"No, I cannot," he had said, the cold tone of his voice an ironic mirror of his mother's. "And even if I could, why on earth would I want to? I'd say her message was rather clear, wouldn't you? And I would think you'd be overjoyed. You made each other's lives and the lives of everyone around you a total misery for over eighteen years. Why she waited until now to end this farce is beyond my comprehension, but perhaps the neighbors will appreciate the new-found peace and quiet."
His father had stumbled away from him, a horrified look on his face. "But, I love her - she and you are all I have - you're not making sense, I don't -, she can't -."
The sheer profanity of that word issuing from the man's lips had stripped Severus of all reason, and without thinking he had lunged forward, grabbing his father by his gin-soaked collar, his wand burying itself in the man's chin.
"Oh, but she did, didn't she? And if I ever hear that word coming from your filthy mouth again, I'll hex you to a cinder." Then Severus had tossed him back in his chair with such force he nearly fell to the floor. "How DARE you," he'd roared, "how dare you - you don't know what the meaning of that word is! The only person you've ever loved is whoever is buying the next round. If you ever had a single thought for anyone other than yourself, you never bothered to show it, and you certainly make quite clear how you felt - 'disgusting slattern', 'twisted old harpy', 'ugly little shit', 'lazy little bastard' and 'worthless freak' aren't terms of endearment in any dictionary I possess."
He hadn't realized at the time that he had no longer been talking about his mother. The shift was obvious in hindsight, but at the time he'd been like a cauldron full of Exploding Elixir without even realizing it and he couldn't have made himself stop until he'd gotten it all out to save his life.
"I tried to do my best by you and your mam; 'tweren't my fault, the mill's shutting down," Da had answered.
"Did your best?!" Severus had shrieked, "Provide for us, did you? Made sure that we had food and clothing and goddamn coal in the house in between liquefying your pay packets long before the work stopped? And did you even bother looking for work after the mill shut? It wasn't the only one in town, but finding a job sure as hell would have interfered with propping up the bar at the Beehive or the Queens Arms. Oh, and don't forget birthdays and Christmas - you definitely made every one of them memorable. On the other hand, let's do, because what was remarkable was their misery. You never spent one bloody minute with me you weren't forced to, never offered one word of praise or even simply refrained from saying the most vicious thing that sprang to mind, ever. If that was you trying to do your best, then who knows what would have become of us if you'd done your worst!"
"The Union stewards were blackballed, you rotten little bastard - I couldn't get another job, though God knows I tried," his father had shouted back, leaping from his chair. "Yer mam knew that, and she could have done something to help things, but she was too busy being above herself, above me, to do anything but wallow in self pity!" He collapsed back into the chair and buried his head in his hands. "I could have walked away before you born, but God help me, I wanted her - wanted you."
"And what a charming way you had of showing it. Save your breath, Da, your excuses mean nothing. I don't believe for a moment that either of you ever loved the other or me, and neither of you could have wished harder than I have that I'd never been born."
Da had raised his head and opened his mouth at that, but Severus had not wanted to hear anything more. Ignoring the stricken look on his father's face, he'd turned on his heel, gone upstairs to his room, put everything he'd taken out back into his trunk, shrunk it and Apparated to Diagon Alley. There he'd gone to Gringott's and changed into Lira half of the meager funds he'd earned tutoring other Slytherins and from surreptitious dorm room potion-making. By nightfall he'd been ensconced in the IYH on the Via Faenza.
It had been a clean slice, he'd told himself, surgical in precision. Spinner's End, Eileen Prince Snape, and Tobias Snape were now relics of a past he'd need not consider ever again. He would bury them and leave them for dead. His task from then on was to prepare for the brilliant future he'd make for himself, to show Abraxas Malfoy that his investment in Severus had been been well-placed and to earn the respect of wizarding Britain so that he might earn another chance to woo and win Lily. Granted, all but the burying and leaving for dead had gone pear-shaped in a big hurry, beginning with the death of his patron, but at least he had succeeded with that. Or so he'd thought, until just a few days ago. It had been six years since he'd last thought of Tobias Snape, and, until this morning, six years since Severus had last seen him.
And his tongue will be talking of judgement . . . .
It started, as unpleasant things often did, with Dumbledore. Severus had been in the labs at the end of last term, brewing potions to restock the infirmary after a wave of spring colds had swept through the school, when he'd heard the headmaster's voice calling him from the fireplace. He cast Stasis charms over the four cauldrons he had going and answered.
"How may I help you, Headmaster?"
"Oh, it's nothing too pressing, but I'd appreciate it if, when you've finished with your brewing for the day, you'd pop 'round to my office for a moment or two. The password is 'ice mice'."
"As you wish."
With that, Dumbledore's head disappeared from his fireplace, and he was left to finish his task, his previously unnoticed sense of contentment now replaced by fretting over which of the potential unpleasant or humiliating chores he'd be doing Dumbledore seemed to favor giving him over the beginning of the summer hols. He may have been at Hogwarts as the Potions professor for four years and the head of Slytherin House for the last two, but it was quite clear to him that he was there, would always be there on sufferance, and no longer had much of a say in how he spent his time. Best to get it over and done with, he'd thought when the last stir was complete, and left the Pepper-Up and Mucus-Begone to bottle themselves.
By the time he'd walked up to the seventh floor and muttered the ridiculous password, his stomach had already worked itself into knots.
"Severus, my boy, come in! I'll be finished with this in a tick and be right with you." The headmaster was siphoning up the contents of what looked like a dozen shattered Remembralls, the scarlet smoke disappearing into the man's wand without a trace. "Not as young as I used to be, true," he muttered, then looked up at Severus with a gleam in his eye that didn't look anything like his usual calculated twinkle, "but sometimes my brother does go a bit overboard in reminding me."
Severus nodded and then perched stiffly at the end of the chair facing the desk, ignoring its attempts to enfold him into its squashy chintz; it wouldn't do to get too comfortable here. A cup of tea and a plate of biscuits floated in his direction, which he also ignored.
"You wished to see me, Headmaster?"
"Yes, indeed I did. I have something for you. It came to me via an old friend who has Muggle contacts in Derbyshire." Dumbledore patted his many pockets and then produced an envelope, somewhat worse for the wear, from one of the ones in his sleeves. "He said that the letter writer didn't know how to contact you himself, but thought that I might know, though it took him awhile to find someone with magical contacts who might be able to pass it along."
Severus had stiffened at the name of the county where he'd been born and raised, and when Dumbledore passed over the envelope, he immediately recognized the thin, angular handwriting so like his own. It took every last scrap of will he possessed to not Incendio the envelope on the spot. Instead, he rose to go.
"Thank you, Headmaster. Is that all?"
"It might interest you to know that the friend from whom I got this is a liaison to Muggle hospitals, often dealing with ill Muggles attempting to contact magical family members."
"Is that so?" He kept his voice neutral, in hopes that Dumbledore would just drop it, but as usual where the headmaster was concerned, his hopes were in vain. Dumbledore put on his best 'gently concerned' mien and took a step toward Severus.
"Perhaps your father has something important he'd like you to know, Severus. It wouldn't be a so great a sacrifice to afford him a small amount of compassion and read what he has to say, would it?"
Severus's vision went dark for a moment as the words he heard that night on the tor rang in his ears all over again. How dare Dumbledore interfere in this! It had nothing to do with the redemption he had come to him seeking, and the disgust the other man had felt toward him had apparently not lessened one whit in the past four years, though he believed it hidden behind his façade of cloying, grandfatherly concern.
Severus's lips folded back into a sneer.
"I'll thank you not to interfere in this, Headmaster. It has nothing to do with you or this school. My father and I are estranged from one another for good reason and we have said everything to each other which needs to be said. Now, if I might get back to replenishing the infirmary stores?"
The headmaster sighed the disappointed sigh that Severus had known he'd find himself on the receiving end of, and shook his head sadly.
"Yes, Severus, you may go."
As soon as he'd reached the dungeons, he'd thrown the letter on the fire unopened, still stinging over Dumbledore's self-righteous attempt to guilt him into communicating with someone whom he had no wish to even think about. Perhaps his overly-optimistic, Gryffindor outlook on life made it impossible to believe that there could be more than simple misunderstandings between family members and thus Severus was being unreasonable. Or maybe the man just liked to stick a shiv between his ribs whenever he got the opportunity. But whatever the cause, he'd sworn he would not let Dumbledore get to him over this. Tobias Snape was no concern of his any longer, and he'd treat the headmaster's efforts to meddle with all the consideration which they deserved - that was to say, none.
He'd put the encounter firmly behind him and spent the summer in relatively pleasurable pursuits, for a change. He had been told to catalogue a section of the Forbidden Forest for a certain few genera of magical plants with Pomona Sprout, and they had asked for and been given permission to include the Centaurs' domain in the upper quadrant. So, in addition to the knowledge of the location and condition of many valuable magical, medicinal plants, there were many ancillary potions ingredients he could gather and add to his stores.
The company had been pleasant, too. He had always liked the brisk, no-nonsense yet placid head of Hufflepuff, and they had worked together mostly in companionable silence, occasionally seeking each other out to get opinions on things or to point out a particularly interesting find. They had begun to work together afterward with an eye to publishing their investigations into some previously unknown examples of Eupatorium which might make a more effective and faster Skele-Gro, so it had not been too much of surprise when she had sought him out on Sunday morning. What had been the surprise was what she had been holding in her hands when he let her in.
We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.
"May I come in, Severus?"
Sprout held a medium sized parcel wrapped in brown paper in her hands, which he'd eyed curiously before stepping aside to allow her into his rooms.
"It arrived for you this morning by special owl courier. Since you don't usually make an appearance at the head table before tea on Sunday, Dumbledore asked me to bring it down to you. He seemed to think you might want it right away."
He'd taken it from her with a frown. He hadn't been expecting anything. The return address read 'Skinem, Donnibrook and Toadvine, Attorneys at Magical Law', and the package was both heavy and soft. He had sat down on his small sofa and held it in his hands, dread blooming in the pit of his stomach for no discernible reason.
"Was this something you were expecting, Severus?"
He shook his head.
"Well, then, perhaps we should check it for hexes and Dark magic before you open it."
He'd handed it over and then sat there numbly as she worked over the package with her usual brisk efficiency.
"It's clean," Sprout had said as she handed it back to him, her brows knit with concern. "Severus, you've lost what little color we managed to put into you this summer. Should I go and fetch Poppy?"
"No, that won't be necessary, Professor," he'd answered.
"I've told you: it's Pomona, dear." She reached over and patted his shoulder with a smile. "We are colleagues, and after this summer, I hope, friends."
"Yes." He cleared his throat; he had begun to feel foolish. "Yes, of course. Thank you, Pomona."
"Would you like me to stay while you open that?"
He had looked up into her kind face, and suddenly it became imperative that she not be there when he opened it, though for the life of him, at the time he wouldn't have been able to say why. So he had brought himself back under control with some little effort and then gently ushered her out, telling her that he'd see her at supper. After she'd gone, he slumped against the door, closing his eyes and telling himself he was being ridiculous. He was no seer, and though he had no idea what the package might contain, he had no indication, other than the fact that it was from an unknown law firm, that there might be anything to worry about.
So he'd gone right back to the sofa and opened the blasted thing, and been stunned when the heavy dark wool of his father's pea coat tumbled out into his lap. He'd simply sat there and clutched it, much like he was doing now, for a full five minutes, then noticed a heavy parchment envelope with the red wax seal of the law firm in the front pocket. He'd opened it and read:
We regret to inform you that your father, Tobias Milton Snape, passed away this morning, October 13th, 1984 at 10:30 after a long battle with cirrhosis of the liver.
As Mr. Snape did not wish to burden you with the final arrangements, he has pre-arranged everything, with services to be held graveside on Wednesday afternoon, October 17th, at the St. George's Churchyard at 2:00 PM. Should you need more information, you may contact the Vicar there, the Reverend Mr. Wimploe, at the St. George's Rectory.
Mr. Snape's personal solicitor, Alfred Peecham, has arranged with this office to forward Mr. Snape's bequest to you through us (we have been instructed to tell you to look in the inside left breast pocket of the coat), and to pass on his address and telephone number should you wish to contact him more directly. You will find these appended to this letter.
Please accept our condolences upon the decease of your father, and if we can be of any further service to you in this time of need, please do not hesitiate to owl us or to contact us by Floo to arrange an appointment.
Melissa Toadvine, Esq.
Curious how empty he'd felt, still felt, for someone who had been behaving for years as if his father had already been dead. The solicitor's letter had fallen from his hands as he sat, paralysed in the aftermath of the news. He'd been acutely aware of the coat's heavy warmth on his lap, and the scent of it made it seem as if Da were standing right beside him. Without being conscious that he'd done so, his hand went to the inner left pocket of the coat and drew out another envelope, very like the one he'd consigned to his fire a few months before. This one was heavy, though, and the something sliding around inside it had proved to be a key.
Another gust of biting wind rustled the leaves at his feet. He shifted his leg on the park bench and felt the key there, heavy and cold against his thigh in pocket of the Muggle trousers he was wearing. There had been a letter in the envelope too, and it resided now in the breast pocket of his suit jacket. He'd opened it with trembling fingers, unable to fathom why he should care what the first of the many failed father figures in his life should have to say to him at the last.
The writing was wobbly and hard to make out without blinking several times. He'd stopped smoking himself years ago, hence it must have been the remnants of the cigarette smoke clinging to the jacket which had made his eyes burn so.
I guess I am not surprised that my first attempt to contact you failed. I do not blame you for not forgiving me. I know you can't and I don't deserve it, so I won't ask it of you. But my time grows short and while I still can, I must try again to reach you. I dug my own grave, you see, and even though I never touched another drop after the day you and your mum left me, the damage had already been done.
The last words you said to me changed my life. Your mum and I may have never deserved half of the words we threw like acid at one another as we blamed each other for our own failings, but you deserved none of it. I am sorry. I knew I didn't do right by you, but until then I hadn't realized just how short of the mark I'd fallen. And even though I know you don't want to hear it and I understand how being wrapped up in my own misery I was heedless of how much I caused yours, but in spite of what we might have said, neither your mum nor I ever really wished that you had never existed. I do love you, son and I am proud of the man you've become. Mr. Peecham, that's my solicitor, spoke to your headmaster awhile ago and he told him that you're a professor now at your old school - the youngest one in generations and head of your old house to boot. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, as keen as you were after the books. But I am grateful that you went on to make something of yourself in spite of what we did to you.
I had hoped to see you one last time and tell you all of this in person, if you would hear it, but it was not meant to be. I know full well that the legacy I leave you is a mean one in all senses of that word. There is not much left, only the house and its contents and just enough money to bury me and settle what's left of my expenses. But what there is, I want you to have. I never did find your mum, though I looked until I couldn't do so any more, so everything goes to you to do with what you will. It's meager compensation, I know, but it's all I have to give. For what it's worth, when I married your mum, I did so fully intending to be the husband and father you both deserved, instead of the one you got and I hope that one day you will be able to forgive the mess I made of things for your own sake.
Tobias M. Snape
For I am a stranger with thee, and a sojourner, as all my fathers were.
Severus had stood, nervously fidgeting with his necktie, outside the rectory at St. George at 1:30 PM, the time the vicar had told him to come if he'd like a little time alone with his father before they closed the casket. He felt like a fish out of water in his transfigured suit - it had been many years since he'd worn anything but robes - but at least he had retained enough Muggle culture to know the proper dress for a funeral. The discomfort was fitting, he supposed. He really hadn't intended to come.
The rest of the staff at Hogwarts had been quite solicitous after Dumbledore had leaked the news of Severus's father's death. Of course he'd known what the package was all about, having gone ahead and taken it upon himself to interfere in spite of Severus's express wishes to the contrary. He'd been too numb to care at first. However, Dumbledore must have known that Severus would get over that eventually, as he'd sent McGonagall down to check in with his Potions Master after Severus had failed to appear at tea, rather than coming himself.
He'd sat holding his father's letter, the first and last Severus had ever gotten from him, fury and sorrow battling inside to a paralysing stalemate, unaware of how much time had passed. It had been the sound of the Deputy Headmistress's voice announcing that she was coming through his Floo which had roused him from his stupor. He'd looked up and there she stood, eying him as if she hadn't been certain what to expect.
"Are you quite all right, Professor Snape?"
"Of course. Why wouldn't I be?" Stupid question, that. He'd walked right into that one.
"No reason beyond the fact that you received word of your father's death this morning and you missed your evening meal an hour ago."
He'd closed his eyes and blew out a frustrated huff, damning Dumbledore to the farthest reaches of hell.
"I suppose the whole school knows?"
"The Headmaster didn't make a general announcement of it, no. Only to the staff."
He'd supposed that was something. Some detached part of him had wondered why he wasn't able to make more of an effort to react to the news other than to shrug.
"I understand that the services are on Wednesday. Poppy Pomfrey has indicated that she is free to take your morning classes and Pomona has said that she'll take care of your afternoon double with the 3rd year Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws."
Ah, there had been the stirring of something more normal. His mouth had tightened and his eyes had flown open to lance a glare at the Head of Gryffindor for her presumption.
"That will not be necessary."
"Don't be absurd, Severus. Even if the funeral is in the evening, no one expects you to teach classes on the day you bury your father."
"I will not be burying my father," he'd sneered. "The vicar at St. George's will have that dubious privilege. I will be remaining at Hogwarts and teaching my classes. It will be just another Wednesday as far as I am concerned."
McGonagall looked at him with a 'sure it will be' sort of expression.
"Dumbledore warned me that you might be taking it this way."
"And what way is that, pray tell? And while you're at it, tell me why it is that Dumbledore thinks I'm a failure as a human being if I don't simply forgive and forget every vile thing the malicious old sot did to me now that he has died? Why does he think I should be blubbering over 'my poor Da', when the man's only goal for as far back as I can remember was to drink himself into oblivion every bloody night? So what if he finally had some sort of epiphany about the wreckage he left behind? It doesn't undo one thing he did. Not one goddamn thing." He'd dropped his head into his hands, unable to look at the pity in McGonagall's face any longer, his shoulders shaking with the effort of maintaining control. "Just tell him to leave me the hell alone."
He'd felt the cushion next to his sink under her weight as she'd sat down next to him. At least she'd known better than to try and touch him. She'd merely sat quietly for a minute or so before she spoke again.
"Albus isn't judging or condemning you, Severus; he is trying to help you, though he can be quite tone deaf in the way he goes about it at times." She'd chuckled at his snort. "He did something similar to me when my own father died."
At that he'd raised his head and looked at her in surprise. She'd smiled at him and continued on.
"My father was a Muggle Presbyterian Minister, and my mother, a witch. Quite the odd combination, but my mother was brought up a believer so he didn't see a conflict. But even if he did not believe that Christianity was threatened by the existence of magic, it was quite a blow to him when I rejected his religion and remained an unbeliever. And though we hadn't the horrible sort of past between us that you and your father did, when I finally confessed that I had no intention of following his faith, there were some very harsh words said. In addition, he disowned me and as such, forbade my mother from any contact with me, forcing her to choose between husband and eldest daughter. She chose him. So, for many years I was, effectively, an orphan, and a very bitter one at that. And after my father died, and the Headmaster said that my sister had convinced him that I needed to go to the funeral to 'come to terms with the grief we'd caused each other', I told him off for being a meddlesome bastard and said that he'd best mind his own bloody business or I'd turn every one of his favorite robes puce. Permanently. It felt so good that I decided that I would go to the funeral after all, just to let my mother and sister have a piece of my mind, too."
"It must have worked for you, as I haven't seen any color changes in his very lurid wardrobe," Severus said wryly, relieved that there was at least one person who seemed to understand his position.
"Oh, it did indeed. He knew I'd do it, too. And as it turned out, telling off my mother and sister served to clear the air somewhat between us. It took a long time, and a lot of false starts, but we all get on fairly well now. Obviously, that can't happen with your father, but then again, it might make you feel better just checking to make certain that the auld bastard is actually dead."
And that was the sole reason he had found himself a few hours ago fiddling with the silk noose around his neck as he rang the bell on the parish office door.
The Reverend Mr. Gordon Wimploe turned out to be quite near to his own age, recently installed as the vicar at St. George. He led Severus to a small chapel behind the rectory, chattering as they went.
"I'm afraid I didn't know your father very well, I am sorry to say. I know that he did some odd jobs around the church every once in awhile before he fell ill. He seemed a nice old gent, though one who'd had a rough life. I know, too, from our conversations that the two of you were estranged as a result of his drinking, something for which he was quite remorseful. It would please him to know that you are here, I think".
Severus had said nothing during this monologue, interjecting a few non-committal grunts where it seemed appropriate. He really had not been in the mood for conversation at the time. They'd walked through the door of the small room with the vicar leading the way.
"He's in here," said Mr. Wimploe, indicating the light-coloured oak coffin situated just underneath the lone window, a modern, abstract stained glass. "You have about 20 minutes before the pallbearers will come to seal the casket and carry it down to the churchyard. Just let me know if you need anything."
"Thank you. I doubt I will be needing that much time."
The young vicar had simply smiled and closed the door, leaving Severus alone in the room with his father's body. He'd taken a deep breath and walked over to where the bier stood and had been completely unprepared for what he'd seen.
The man in the box was unmistakably Tobias Snape, but in the six years since Severus had last seen him, he seemed to have aged twenty. Da had never been handsome, but the ravages of his disease had taken his skin from sallow to chalky yellow and his hair had gone from full, dark waves to thin, dull and completely steel grey. He was wearing the only suit Severus had known him to possess, and the last time he'd seen Da wearing it, he'd been as thin as Severus was now. They must have cut it up the back to allow for the monstrous distention of his abdomen - he looked as if he was about to give birth. It was shocking, horrifying, nauseating. He had wanted to keen and wail like some old woman instead of feeling the relief he'd thought he'd feel, that he had a right to feel. What the hell was wrong with him? All he was able to do was stare at the ruined shell of what had been his father and fight the urge to smash things and bawl like a lost and frightened child, to wail out that eternally futile, unanswerable question: why?
It had suddenly struck him rather forcefully that he'd never really known the man lying before him. Who had Tobias Snape been and how, in the name of all that was holy, had he ended up like this? What could have happened to him to cause him to commit the slow suicide of the bottle? What pain had he carried that he'd tried to wipe it out by drowning it in alcohol?
These and other such wretched thoughts were interrupted by a hand on his shoulder and the sound of Mr. Wimploe calling his name.
"I am sorry, Mr. Snape, but the pallbearers are here. I think it would probably be for the best if you came away now."
. . . we commend the soul of our brother departed, and we commit his body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust . . . .
He'd stood by his father's grave barely comprehending the service, compulsively clutching the shrunken pea coat in his pocket that he'd brought with him for reasons unknown, feeling the cold earth slip through his fingers as he cast it over the coffin below. He barely remembered thanking the clergyman when it was over and speaking with the only mourner other than himself and the men who'd borne his father to the churchyard.
Da's solicitor must have been someone he'd met later in his life, for he spoke to Severus sincerely about how much he'd enjoyed knowing Da, had said that he would miss his company. A flare of irrational jealousy took him by surprise through his numbness. He'd never had the benefit of his father's company, he'd thought bitterly, had never seen any side but the worst. It was ridiculous to feel envious of the little man in front of him, as if the solicitor had somehow been given possession of something that had rightfully belonged to Severus, but just for a moment, he had.
Mr. Peecham had handed Severus a stack of documents, another set of keys to the old house and asked him to come by his offices early next week to sign some papers. These, he'd shrunk and put in his pocket after he'd left St. George, wandering aimlessly, inevitably to this old playground where so many memories resided, memories that went swirling through his head like the oak leaves he was now watching dance in the bitter October wind.
The sky was darkening rapidly and he was so chilled through that he'd begun to shiver. With hands still gritty from the earth of Da's grave, he smoothed the rough wool of his father's coat and put it on. Time to go home.