Title: Fear of Flying
Age-Range Category: Three
Character(s)/Pairing(s): Severus Snape
Beta Reader(s): ckofshadows
(Highlight to View) Warning(s): None.
Summary: Oh, he knows about mourning. He knows it in his bones.
"my feet will want to walk to where you are sleeping
I shall go on living."
Severus first sees the woman at the funeral. She is slight and small and quite beautiful, even dressed in head-to-toe black, complete with veil, all very proper mourning attire. She's standing off to the side, as is he, but she's not paying attention to the proceedings; instead, her too-pale face is turned towards him and her too-pale eyes are watching him with an intensity that makes his palms itch. He wipes his hands against his robes once, twice, a nervous twitch that irritates him because, really, why would he be nervous? He has successfully Disillusioned himself, so he knows, rationally, that this woman cannot actually see him, but for some reason that knowledge doesn't assuage his fear.
But she does see me, he thinks, panicked. She does! How is it possible? Finally, finally, she lowers her head and he allows himself to breathe again and he swallows hard and looks away. When he glances back, she is gone.
The funeral is a horrid affair, filled with much weeping and wailing and railing against the injustices of the Universe, but Severus feels nothing but a cold detachment. Too young, he hears again and again, along with refrains of Poor child, and Who will look after him now? Many expect Voldemort to swoop in at any moment, to strike them all down with a mighty blow, so the entire crowd thrums with a nervous energy that Severus can feel right down to the tips of his fingers. He hovers at the periphery of the mourners, listening and watching and loathing every single person he sees because not one of them loved her like he did. Like he does.
Lily, he thinks, over and over. Oh Lily. His chest hurts and his skin is numb to the touch, but he doesn't cry. He will bite his lip until it bleeds, but he will not cry.
To his credit, after his initial humiliating breakdown at Dumbledore's feet on that cold and blackest night, Severus doesn't cry again for a long time. He also doesn't eat, sleep, smile, fly or use magic, much, either, because really, what is the point?
He accepts Dumbledore's offer to teach, not only because he knows he possesses the expertise to do so, but also, what else to do with the rest of his miserable life? He ponders his limited and dreary options as he ingests all the Firewhisky he can get his hands on in the days following her death, but when the alcohol is finally gone, so is his desire to consume any more. When its effects wear off, the horrible knowledge of her absence is just as keen and bottomless as before, plus it just leaves him with a horrible headache.
So, besides death, what else is there?
It is strange to be back at Hogwarts, gliding along quiet hallways as an adult, a Professor, no longer a student. He catches glimpses of Lily everywhere, in the Great Hall, in the courtyard, by the lake, around every corner.
That's where we sat for four hours one day, planning our futures, he thinks as he passes a solitary bench under a grove of leafless trees. And a small alcove beneath a hidden staircase, Where we sequestered ourselves on a warm afternoon in June, not talking about much at all. And that's where James and Sirius and Remus—
No. Best not to think of that at all.
He spends three long days arranging the Potions classroom to his liking over the Christmas holidays, and welcomes his first class on a bleak and frigid Monday morning in January. Well, "welcomes" is a relative term. He glares at them as they file in, their tentative smiles wilting as they catch a glimpse of their new Professor, all sallow and greasy and hooked-nosed and utterly humourless. The students are, for the most part, highly annoying little brats. He learns very quickly how to best humiliate them and which insults produce the most tears, but once in awhile he spots real promise and those are the students who flummox him.
He next sees the woman in his dreams, which, since Lily's death, are frighteningly vivid and realistic. He fights his way up and away from sleep, away from the woman who watches him with those dark knowing eyes. He longs to see Lily's face, but he never does, and each morning he awakes wrapped in sweat-drenched bed linens, heart pounding.
When classes are done for the day he winds a muffler about his neck and walks for hours in the cold, feeling the snow crunch beneath his feet and the wind cut against his cheeks but feeling nothing else at all.
He spends hours in the Library, too, seeking out the most arcane of textbooks, determined to enhance his knowledge and torment the students as much as possible.
"I believe you're looking for this," someone says, before pushing a tattered book into his lax hands. Startled, Severus looks up, looks into the face of the woman from the funeral, the woman from his dreams, pale and dark and knowing. He blinks. But, it's not of course; it's only Irma Pince, the Librarian, and certainly not beautiful, with her sallow complexion and oversized nose. She's watching him with hawk eyes. Severus shakes his head. "Yes," he says. "It is."
"You're new," she says. "We haven't really met."
"I know who you are," he says brusquely.
"And I know who you are," she says. "I was just being polite."
He's puzzled. "Why?"
"It's nice to have friends." She pauses. "Isn't it?"
He's not quite sure how to reply, so he only shrugs, one-shouldered, but she seems pleased with that, because he hasn't openly rebuked her and they become friends, maybe.
After that initial contact, Irma seeks him out as often as possible, sitting next to him at meals and visibly perking up when he strides into the Library. She is harsh with the students — harsher than he is, he realizes with a wry acknowledgement — but she is soft with him, gentle almost, as if handling a delicate Potions ingredient.
Once in awhile she accompanies him on his walks, but he is careful to keep his distance; there's no need to start tongues wagging, he tells himself. She seems to like him, he realizes, and he's startled, and then he can only wonder, Why?
Well, he's young, he rationalizes, the youngest professor at Hogwarts and his competition is slim to none, and he should be flattered by her attentions, yes? Yes. But he feels nothing when she smiles at him, nothing when she rubs against his arm, nothing when she kisses him one cold night at the edge of the forest, out of sight of any prying eyes.
"Kiss me," she whispers into his ear. "Kiss me. Now."
He wants to. How long has it been? He turns his head, parts his lips.
Irma's mouth is warm and soft and Severus wants to lose himself there but he also wants tell her so many things, and he wants to ask her so many questions, questions she'd never understand, including:
What does mourning feel like? How does loss shape your daily life, your nightly sleep, your whole world?
He remembers Lily's hand in his, the smallness, the softness of it, and beneath the softness, the shape of her bones, delicate.
Irma's hand is larger, heavier, calloused and not Lily's hand, not at all.
"Who are you?" he says against her mouth.
"What?" she replies.
He closes his eyes and shakes his head. "Nothing."
"Are you flirting with me?" she asks.
Yes, he thinks. Yes, I definitely am, but he doesn't say so.
He wants to take her flying, but she's scared, and he is, too, because he hasn't flown since that night, he realizes, since the night she died, since the night he found her lifeless body. He has barely used Magic at all, except for the most routine, boring instances. His broom feels unfamiliar in his hands and he feels strangely nervous. Silly.
"Yes?" he says to Irma. She nods, breathless and nervous, too.
"Are you ready?" he asks. He feels her nod against his back, feels her arms tighten around his waist. He sucks in a breath and kicks off and there they are, flying.
"It's wonderful," he hears her yell over the wind and he nods, because it is.
He closes his eyes and imagines it's Lily behind him, holding on for dear life.
He doesn't love her, he doesn't feel anything at all for her, really, but she lets him fuck her from time to time, and though he thinks she might actually care for him, some days he can barely rouse the energy to speak to her.
"I really like you," she says in the dark.
He doesn't answer. When they're done he fumbles about in the shadows for his clothes.
"Why don't you stay? I've warded the room. No one will know."
Self-loathing overwhelms him. He can't stay and he never will.
"I just need to get as far away from you as possible."
She doesn't argue.
And then it all comes crashing down, because it always does. This time it's not Lily and James, though, but Irma and Argus Filch, snogging in a dark hallway in the dungeons. They break apart and for a moment Irma almost looks guilty. Argus just smirks and licks his lips and places a possessive hand on Irma's waist.
He shakes his head and he's not even angry. He doesn't feel anything at all, really.
Later, he stands on the edge of the Owlery wall, stares out at the night, endless and black and quiet and still and wonders what would happen if he just fell, just let himself fall.
He wants to fly, but he can't. He also wants to fall, but—
"You won't," a voice says, and it's the woman, at last, the all-in-black woman, standing beside him and staring into the night, just as he is. "I won't let you," she says and it sounds like a promise.
"You're needed here," she says tenderly. Tenderly! One cold, white hand touches his face. It might be a caress.
"Needed!" he barks. Then he laughs, but it sounds like a sob. "Who needs me?"
She doesn't answer but he feels her eyes on him, cold and black and full of an emotion he cannot name. It might be pity, but if it is, he doesn't want to know.
"No one needs me," he says at last. "It's too hard, it's too hard."
"Yes," she agrees. "It is much, much harder than dying. But you, Severus Snape, do not die for a long time."
"Who are you?" he asks, but he already knows, has known for a long time, has known that death has been waiting for him, has etched out a place for him, welcomes him, waits for him, but not yet, not quite yet. The woman moves away and Severus doesn't mind. It's easier, really, to have no one near him.
He wants to fly, but he's frightened. He wants to cry, too, but it's been so long he's almost forgotten how. The woman moves away, back into the shadows and Severus steps down from the wall, and sits, and waits.
"When does it end?" he asks, his head in his hands. "When does it end?" But no matter how many times he asks, there is no answer.