I Don't Know What To Say
It is near dawn when Severus returns, the morning after the battle in the Ministry of Magic. As he staggers into the hall, he is too disorientated to register that Mrs Blackís spiteful portrait is uncharacteristically silent. He usually goes back to Hogwarts Ė home Ė after nights like these, nights of shame and hurt, but he knows that Potter and Fudge are both there, kicking up a fuss and getting in the way, and he can face neither of them at the moment. He comes to Grimmauld Place instead. He is not as welcome here, but welcome enough. Besides, he wants to hear the other side of the story, the side not twisted by his other puppet-master.
He heads downstairs into the kitchen, where he knows everyone will have gathered. Sure enough, Moody, Lupin, Tonks and Kingsley are sitting around the long table. They look up half-interestedly as he enters, but do not speak. Severus canít tell whether they have been sitting in silence, or stopped talking as they heard him come in. He doesnít really care. Moody kicks out a chair for him, which he recognises for what it is: a grudging gesture of acceptance. He takes it gratefully, aware that his legs cannot be trusted to support him for much longer.
There is a bottle of Firewhiskey and several shot glasses on the table. Kingsley pours a new one, and pushes it towards him. Severus is tempted, but thinks it would probably be a bad idea. He doesnít take it.
"Drink it, lad," growls Moody. Severus bristles at the implication. Lad, indeed. Heís a thirty-six year old double-triple-quadruple-to the power of-whatever agent, for Godís sake. Partly out of spite to himself (the rest is for Moodyís condescension), he irritably takes the glass and knocks back its contents. The cold liquid burns all the way down his throat. A large amount of adrenaline surges suddenly through his veins; his head spins and the room lurches worryingly around him. He coughs, and hastily stands and crosses the room to the sink. Gripping the porcelain basin hard, he is violently sick, which seems odd, as he knows he hasnít eaten for almost twenty-four hours.
When he stops retching, he mutters, 'Scourgify' out of politeness to the others watching him with a mixture of pity and disgust, and rejoins the table, feeling more wretched than ever. Suddenly something dawns on him. He has been so wrapped up in his own head that he has only just realised. What is the reason for the unnerving silence? Someone is missing. He almost doesnít want to ask. Almost.
No one will meet his eyes. Oh, surely not Ö
"He didnít come back." Severusís voice is rasping, and grates painfully in his throat. He is too exhausted to be smug about it.
Kingsley shakes his head. "He isnít coming back."
Lupin breaks into dry, shaking sobs. Severus has never seen him lose control like this before, and even though there is no love lost between the two of them, and although he positively hates Ė hated Ė Black, Lupinís grief is too horrible to watch. The sound penetrates his very bones, a cold feeling of unease, or perhaps guilt, building in his stomach, and he leans his elbows on the table and buries his face in his hands.
Tonks goes over to Lupin, and, sitting on his lap, wraps her arms around him. He reaches out to embrace her back, and she begins to cry quietly. Her tears fall into his hair as she leans her forehead gently against his.
Kingsley and Moody finish off the Firewhiskey in a cheerless silence. Severus canít seem to move, so just sits, feeling numb. His hands are shaking Ė Cruciatus after-effects, he tells himself. Thatís all it is.
A while later, Dumbledore arrives. Minerva is still conspicuously absent. Severus wishes she were here with them; he could use a friend right about now. He looks up as Dumbledore, taking the seat next to him, puts a hand on his shoulder. He sees an echo of pain in the older wizardís eyes as Dumbledore solemnly regards Lupin and Tonks, whose eyes are red and faces tearstained, and gives nods of solidarity and respect to Moody and Kingsley. Severus, in his current state, cannot decipher the look Dumbledore gives him. Is it anger? Disappointment? Pity? Guilt? He does not know, neither does he think he wants to. The twinkle is gone from his protectorís blue eyes, and Severus suddenly feels uneasy. His ears are ringing in the oppressive lack of sound.
"Severus." Dumbledoreís voice is hoarse, weary, but anxious. "What happened to you tonight?"
Severus has no desire to tell, but he cannot refuse a direct request from someone who places so much trust in him; to whom he owes more than he is able to admit. Reluctantly, he tells them what happened after Voldemort summoned him Ė the second summons, for he ignored the first on Dumbledoreís orders. He told Voldemort it would have been foolish to reveal his position as spy in the Orderís ranks. Voldemort did not appreciate Severusís wisdom, and he was punished for daring to offer it. He has been punished tonight until he can no longer scream, can no longer think, and wished fervently for insanity, death even, anything to halt the agony. Very few of the other Death Eaters were around to see this, though, as it took place after the confrontation with Potter, which just added to the anger that Voldemort took out on the unfortunate Severus.
Severus does not look anyone in the face as he tells his story. Nor does he when they tell him how Sirius died.
The silence falls again. Tonks and Lupin are calmer now, back under some semblance of control, still clinging to each other. Severus, too, has pulled himself together, and he moves to leave without a word of goodbye. At the door, he stops briefly and looks back. The sight of the five of them, pale-faced, covered in sweat and blood and tears, but with resolute, steadfast expressions, causes him a pang of remorse, although he does not entirely understand why it should. And he knows, though he wishes he does not, that this death will not be the last. Rather it will be the first of many. And he wonders, with a morbid kind of fascination, which of them will be the next.
Snape's thoughts on his role as a "double-triple-quadruple-to the power of-whatever agent" are, of course, a tribute to Ms Rowlings'. Comments, reviews and/or criticism would make my muse and I very happy!