The Faded Letter
The faded letter, the words of which he knows so well, stares up at him. The address, written so many years before, is still clear. It stands out against the stream of detached sentences.
A white fence, slates spaced evenly. A steel letterbox. Number 78.
A silver snake is entwined around a lion's head which rests in the centre of a brown wooden door.
His hand reaches out and tentatively grasps the ring which hangs from the lion's mouth and knocks it against the door. The noise echoes around the porch.
Just as he turns around, the door opens with a squeak.
A young woman stands there; the door ajar in her hand. Brown waves frame her face as she stares at the man, seeing the boy she once knew still hiding behind those emerald green eyes.
He walks passed her, through the open door, and her familiar scent of jasmine now mixed with the musk of unknown spices and smoke washes over him.
She walks silently down the narrow hallway, never saying anything, never looking at him.
She stops by the third door and her hand hovers above the handle. It drops with her head as she turns toward him. With two steps she stands before him, hand outstretched as she cups his cheek. Her thumb gently strokes along his jaw and, having finally seen him, she allows a tear to fall from her watering eyes before she turns from him and enters the room.
She stands by the window with a cigarette in hand, and he follows her into the room. It is a study comprised of two arm chairs facing each other with only a table to separate them.
He seats himself in the closest chair and waits for her to speak.
Five minutes pass. Nothing.
He does instead.
'I missed you.'
He doesn't turn his head, though he hears her response. 'I missed you too.'
Standing, he moves behind her and places his hands on her shoulders to turn her towards him. She refuses to hold his gaze.
'Look at me.'
'Then it has been real.'
That draws the attention of her eyes, sadness filling them, 'You don't know?'
Her eyes drop, 'He never told you?'
Grabbing her chin, he brings her gaze back to him, 'Told me what?'
Pulling from his grip, she moves to the chair and waits for him to join.
And so she explains.
She watches as he breaks at the news of death; death of a brother, death of a friend, death of Ron.
Knowing immediately what he means, she replies. 'A week.' After you left, she thinks but does not say.
His face fights back tears, 'One week,' he whispers to himself.
'It was quick.'
Looking up he sees it in her eyes; a small smile passes his lips for just a second, 'Well that's good.'
She lights another cigarette. 'No.'
The three years have passed since they last saw each other. He knew nothing of her capture; everyone thought him dead. And yet they are finally together again, and nothing. She isn't telling him anything.
A smile graces her mouth, 'Isn't there always?' And then it is gone.
Putting the cigarette out, she begins.
'The order was captured, everyone paired with a death eater, forced to be together…'
'Engaged; married; slave; servant… together. Certain couples were engaged the moment they were paired.'
'Control.' She fiddles with the lighter. He looks at the silver steel rectangle with the initials 'HG' engraved on one side; the same snake is intertwined with the lion engraved on the other.
He nods for her to continue.
'The higher up Order members were paired with higher up Death Eaters, Ron refused.' She says no more.
'Have you seen anyone since?'
'Yes. I saw Neville once, about two years ago. He seemed fine.'
He smiles. A fake smile. She isn't telling him the truth.
She isn't telling him Neville belongs to Bellatrix now. What is the point?
'Charlie; he was manoeuvred into marrying Narcissa.'
His mouth parted slightly, a silent gasp, 'manoeuvred?'
Silence falls on them again.
Averting his eyes, 'Nobody.'
Ignoring it, he continues, 'Anybody else?'
'McGonagall,' he sees the sadness deepen in her eyes, 'Both Crabbe and Goyle sr.'
'Shared.' That one word ends it.
She stands, and walks over to a glass cabinet, pulling out two crystal glasses and a bottle of whiskey.
She pours them, handing one out.
He takes it.
She sits again. 'Ginny…'
His eyes look up at the name.
'Is she good?'
Good. The only word he can find to use.
A genuine smile, 'Yeah, she's good.'
'That's good,' he needs more than that.
'She's married.' She watches him, and his face is unreadable. His eyes are a closed book.
Her heart breaks for him; he loved her; he loves her still.
She is about to be cruel, 'Cassandra, she's two.'
'A daughter.' His voice is strained, cracking with held back emotion.
'She's beautiful; she has her mother's hair.'
She can see it in his eyes; the book; it tells her of the life he has just lost, the child that is supposed to be his. The image of the woman that once was his. But now she's gone.
Looking into his eyes, she sees it all.
Snap. And the book is shut.
She sits there waiting, waiting for the question, the question she knows he will ask. But she will just wait for him. For him to be ready, ready for the truth.
He looks anywhere but her face. He doesn't want to know, but he has to know.
She bites down on her bottom lip, until the metallic taste touches her tongue. Licking her lip, soothing the sting, again she waits She waits for him to look at her.
It is a silent battle.
'Who?' He has to know, if just to know.
He watches as her eyes fill with remorse, he can tell it is for him. Not Ginny.
Her heart cries for him but she appears still, unwavering, emotionless. Void, as she watches his heart break, she watches as piece by piece it falls from his chest and lands in the dark void of his depths.
In the stillness of the room, he finds his voice. It is broken, 'She's happy.' He smiles as he says it. A small smile, if she hadn't been looking for it she would have missed it.
She pours him another drink.
He watches the light dance across the crystal, 'Who?'
Again, she knows, and for the first time since she shed that one tear, she lets her emotions show. But he doesn't understand them. There are stories behind those emotions and all he knows is what he sees. He sees that she has been nothing: a shell. And she is just starting to piece herself back together. She is not broken, she would never have let that happen, he knows. But she isn't all together either. She has become detached.
Who is the one putting her back together?
She puts the lighter on the table next her glass, and turns to him, 'The Dark Lord.'
His hand reaches to his mouth in slow motion. She sits there.
What can he say?
Then she speaks.
'He grew bored after three weeks,' she picks up the lighter again, flicking it open, then closed. Open, then closed. Open. Closed.
'Then Lucius.' She holds his gaze for mere seconds before looking to her feet.
Looking up again she watches as tears fall from his eyes, left to slide down his skin to hit his collar. 'But you said…'
Confused he waits. So much waiting, when had they become so patient?
'I was rescued,' she smiles, another genuine smile. 'He had been gone for months, came back and found out I was with him, he went straight to the Dark Lord and asked for me, an hour later I was with him.'
He sits there wringing his hands, 'And he just gave you over to him, no questions?'
She nods, tucking a stray curl behind her ear.
'He was a favourite, got his pick and picked no-one, then he picked me, I never questioned.' Open, then closed. Open. Closed. 'I never wanted to go back to that Manor.'
'Never.' She repeats.
'Are you happy?'
She looks at him for awhile before answering, 'I think so.'
'Severus.' She lights another cigarette.
He nods then, keeping his emotions guarded.
He is the one putting her back together: Severus Snape.
'Is he hurting you?' It slips out before he can stop it.
'Is he pushing you to…?' He cannot finish.
'No, he wouldn't touch me at all, till…'
He cuts her off, '…Till what?'
'I told him.' She will not go further.
'Told him what?'
She stands and walks toward the window again. He follows; his hands resting on her arms.
'I needed him.' She leans back into his embrace, 'He made me feel safe.'
She turns, her eyes glaring up at him. Barely a whisper. 'You understand nothing.'
She pushes him back, 'Why are you here?'
'I came for you.' There is hurt in his eyes.
'I don't need you; I've been just fine for the past three years.'
The cigarette hits the floor. She screams, 'You weren't there. You weren't there when he died. You weren't there when they hung his body by a rope and let it rot for all to see. You weren't there when he held me and whispered sweet nothings in my ear, when he touched me and it was like bugs were crawling under my skin and at night when I would scratch and scratch trying to get them out till I bled.'
She moves forward, her sleeve up. Scars run up her bare arms, rippling against her soft skin, she holds them out in front of him, deep and raw.
'You weren't there when…when,' her voice cracks and tears fall, 'When Lucius forced himself on me every night and you weren't the one to rescue me. You weren't the one who held me in your arms gently rocking me back and forth every time I woke up screaming, scratching at my arms, blood everywhere. You weren't there when I smashed every mirror I could find because I hated myself for letting all those things happen, for being weak, and powerless and vulnerable. You weren't there when I took a knife to my wrists and bleed in the bathtub.'
Arms still in front of him, he sees the two scars running in opposite directions to the rest. He moves to touch them but she pulls away.
'You weren't there when I smiled for the first time in two years, or when I laughed, or when I let a man touch me again, or when I slowly started to put myself together again. You weren't there, so don't you dare tell me you understand.'
She falls to the floor, curled in a ball, and rocks back and forth.
He isn't sure, but he thinks he hears her whisper, 'Severus I need you.'
And there he is.
Lunch forgotten as it falls to the floor.
He pulls her to him and continues the rocking motion.
'Shhh. Shhh.' It is all he hears.
Everything is forgotten. He takes in the scene before him. His one time best friend has found comfort, safety; love in the arms his old Potions Master. She doesn't scream at him, berate him, or push him away. She clings to him, hands bunched in his robes.
Dark eyes find emerald ones.
'I told you not to come.'
He backs away, 'I thought she needed me.'
'Why?' The dark eyes fall back to the crying woman and he smoothes down her hair, 'She doesn't.'
He watches for one last moment.
'No, she has you.' And then he turns back down the hallway.
The faded letter drops from his hand to rest by the door. The words, once memorised, fall to lie amongst the broken pieces of his heart. Now forgotten.
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