Snape took a long walk around London, probably seven or eight miles or so. He thought about nothing. He just walked. Walked past houses and gardens, shops and restaurants, across the Thames and then back again. When he began the sun was low in the sky, and he walked into the night. Not particularly quickly, as he had nowhere in mind to go. He just felt the need to keep moving somehow. The motion of his limbs, the feeling that he was physically going somewhere, even though he had no destination…these were the important things. He must not stop. Must not think. Finally, he found himself threading through a park, a park with a bandstand and lights and couples on the grass, listening to an evening concert. For it was a Saturday night in June and the weather was fine and why shouldn’t they?
Snape stopped. Listened for a few moments. He listened to the music, and watched the young and old, smiling, entwining themselves on blankets in the summer grass.
He found he could not bear it, any of it.
Enough of this…he thought. And then, as several couples actually began to stare at the strange dark man, wearing a barrister’s clothing, Snape Apparated to Hogsmeade, right in front of them. Before he disappeared entirely he heard several of them scream in shock.
The Ministry might hear of it. Snape found he did not care. He made his way back to Hogwarts and to his narrow bed, where a potent sleeping draught awaited, and he went to sleep.
He did not show up to the Head Table at all that weekend. He intended, in fact, to make himself completely scarce until the Leaving Feast that Tuesday, and maybe not even show for that. Then, it would be summer. He would go back to Spinner’s End. He would attend his potions symposium. He would finish cataloguing his books. He would keep working on learning Ancient Chinese. And if the Death Eaters tried to marry him off a second time, he would refuse. He could not imagine enduring such a drama ever again.
Yet he sensed the Death Eaters would not try. It was almost a year now since Voldemort’s death, and the Death Eaters did not really need him anymore. They had infiltrated everywhere, oozing money and frosty charm, and were now nearly as respectable as any harmless Hufflepuff.
Snape had his window. And it had closed. He had waited too long, and it had closed.
There would be no mansion, and no Jane. He would return to Hogwarts in the fall the same man he had always been.
It was Monday evening before he saw Lupin again. Snape was going through his desk, clearing it out before he left in the morning (for he had decided to skip the Leaving Feast after all), when there was a knock at his door.
Lupin came in a bit gingerly, not looking at him, and Snape merely gave a grunt and continued cleaning out his desk.
“Well, at least I won’t have to waste parchment owling you a farewell,” he groused.
“Severus…” Lupin’s voice was soft, almost as if he were apologizing for something. Had he heard about the contract? Snape would not put it past him.
Snape began rooting in his second drawer, now, and did not meet Lupin’s eyes. “Yes, I have returned the contract and no, it does not change anything between myself and Professor Flintrammel,” he said, unequivocally. “Now if you’ve brought tea and biscuits, you may share them. If you’ve come without, shove off. I will see you in the fall.”
For a moment, Lupin only looked shocked. Then, “Severus please…” he said, looking pained.
So Snape slowly leaned back in his chair, looking up at the ceiling, as if there was something quite interesting up there he needed to further explore. There wasn’t.
“Ah, so you wish to discuss the situation with Jane,” he said. “Please spare me more of your platitudes. The situation is hopeless as you well know, and there simply is nothing more to be said.”
And with this Snape gave Lupin a dismissive wave.
But Lupin’s next words brought Snape up short.
“Jane’s in the infirmary, Severus,” Lupin said quietly. “She’s unconscious.”
Then Lupin looked away, obviously distressed.
Without even realizing it, Snape was suddenly on his feet. “What?”
“She was out and about on the grounds, just enjoying the weather, probably. Not paying too much attention. You know how she can be. And, well...she got a bit too close to the Whomping Willow, and...”
At this, a spasm of anguish contorted Lupin’s face, and he still would not meet Snape’s eyes. “I don't know what to say, Severus...she’s been hurt…she’s been badly hurt."
Suddenly, a trapped bird was fluttering in Snape’s chest. He had never felt anything like it before. It was…something like panic. Snape had never felt panic before. Fear, yes. But panic? It was not in his emotional repertoire. But what else to call it? The bird beat its frantic wings against his ribs, and Snape heard himself gasp.
“Define ‘badly’,” he said. His voice sounded far away, as if it were coming from across the room.
Lupin was shaking his head, looking at the floor. Snape had the distinct impression he was trying to keep from crying, and a cold finger touched the inside of his chest, then, stilling the desperate bird. This new feeling was immeasurably worse. It was as if his heart had been replaced with a block of cold lead. Suddenly, he could barely breathe.
“It took her by the legs, Severus...and.." Lupin began to explain, but he could not get the rest of the words out. He did not need to provide further detail, however. Snape knew what the tree was capable of.
"We don’t know the extent of the damage…her head took the brunt of it...” Lupin was saying. “We don't know when she’ll wake up…or if she’ll wake up…Poppy has stabilized her, and gone to consult with Dumbledore about what to do, especially if…”
And at this Snape thought he heard Lupin choke back a sob.
“What could be done has been done,” Lupin continued, when he had collected himself. “I just thought you should know…”
Snape did not think. Could not formulate an answer, or even an acknowledgement. The only reply of the Potions Master was the furtive sound of his boots against the stone floor, and the whoosh of his black robes as he sped past Remus Lupin and towards infirmary above.