Title: A Grief that Can't Be Spoken
Age-Range Category: Three
Character(s)/Pairing(s): Severus Snape
Beta Reader(s): Mr P.
(Highlight to View) Warning(s): Angst, canon character death.
Note: Thanks to my brilliant husband for the idea for this piece, and for his assistance in working it out. The title is taken from the song "Empty Chairs At Empty Tables" from Les Mis.
Summary: How do you say goodbye? For Severus Snape, the answer is "Alone."
It is early November, the world is cold and grey, and he has too much time to think. He is not in Azkaban, though sometimes he feels as dead inside as someone who has suffered the Dementor's Kiss, but he is also not quite free since he has not yet been cleared by the Wizengamot. Dumbledore has assured him that this will happen, but Severus has no idea where he will go or what he will do when (if?) that day eventually comes. He cannot look that far ahead. His thoughts will not take him past tonight.
For most of the day — overseen by a weak and occluded sun, which feels colder than no sun at all — he forces himself to be productive, or at least active: he visits Diagon Alley, he has lunch in a pub where no one knows him, he draws up lists of potion ingredients needed for restocking his workshop. But now night has fallen, and he sits in his chair in Spinner's End with a glass of Firewhisky at his elbow, and he thinks about what will happen tonight in Godric's Hollow.
He knows that it is tonight. Everyone knows — everyone in the Wizarding world, that is. Her parents are long dead and her sister refuses to acknowledge her, so the Muggle world has not even noticed the passing of one red-haired green-eyed girl. But here in the Wizarding world everyone knows. The celebrations are over, and everyone has had time to learn the full price of their victory, and who paid it. Severus does not know the details, other than the time and place. Though he has heard rumors of a statue, which he is sure would have made her laugh.
He is not going, of course. Too many people still think of him as a Death Eater and cannot understand why Dumbledore vouched for him, leaving him free until his trial, while those few who know of his role as spy would look sideways at him and murmur behind their hands. He does not want either their suspicion or their curiosity. Most of all, he does not want to sit among them and mourn her, not when it was his words that, all unknowing, started the chain of events that led to her death. And yet he aches for the chance to say goodbye, knowing that it is a necessary part of grief, the first step in letting go. He has not even been able to weep for her, and somehow that feels like the worst betrayal of all.
So he sits in the dark and drinks and loses himself in how it might have been.
He sees an early morning in spring, the sun fully risen but the freshness of dawn still lingering. Morning was her favorite time of day, she had told him once, because every day was a clean slate. You had a chance to try something new, or make right something you had done wrong the day before. To do something great and heroic, or simply give a smile and a kind word to a stranger. The possibilities, she had said, were endless. He had loved that about her, her belief that anything was possible. Would loving him have been possible? If he had not been so foolish as to be seduced by the Dark Lord's promises of wealth and power, or if she had lived to learn the risks he had taken for her? Too late now to know. He closes his eyes, pictures red hair like a sunrise.
Morning, yes. That would have been the time.
He pours a refill from the bottle on the table beside him, carelessly slopping the amber liquid into the glass.
He sees a green hillside by a river, under a willow tree. Cokeworth is an ugly town, it always has been, but on those summer afternoons when the two of them had lain on the low banks of the river between her house and his, under the old willow that grew out over the water where the river curved to the west, they could not see the soot-blackened brick houses and the dilapidated factories or hear the snarl and bay of the traffic. All they saw were leaves, flickering curtains of golden-green glowing in the sunlight, and glints of light reflecting off the water. She had been happy there, with him, in a way that she could not be happy with her sister or her parents — happy because they were alike, because magic flowed in their veins. This small patch of grass and sun and river and tree had been theirs and theirs alone, and she would sleep easy here, he thinks. In the summer the drooping branches of the willow would dance in the wind and brush against her headstone in a gentle caress; in the winter there would be snow, and peace, and silence.
There under their tree by the river, yes. That would have been the place.
There would have been birds overhead as he used his wand to dig her grave, he thinks, taking a healthy swig of his Firewhisky there in the November darkness. Larks, wrens, blackbirds, even the bright song of a yellowhammer, all of them filling the wide blue skies with music as he laid her to rest. He would have touched her hair (he could still remember its scent of strawberries) and kissed her forehead (their first and last and only kiss) and then he would have gently drawn the earth and the grass over her, like a mother tucking a beloved child in safely for the night. He would have made sure that the wildflowers of summer bloomed for her, out of season or no. He had never been particularly apt at spells involving living things, but Effloresco was not a difficult charm.
With birdsong and flowers, yes. That would have been the way.
And then, he thinks, he would have fallen on his knees on the green grass of her grave and begged her to forgive him, as his heart broke once again.
The glass of Firewhisky falls to the floor as Severus weeps at last, and takes the first step into a life without her.