Disclaimer: I still don't own the characters. I do, however, own a number of debts from student loans, so lawsuits over something so trivial border on the absurd. So, without further ado:
Losses and Gains
I never saw him anymore, except at funerals.
First it was all of the funerals for members of the Order. Then, after the War ended, the funerals slowed down, I didn't see him as much. Occasionally, I would see him at Ministry funded events to celebrate the anniversary of the end of the War. One every year for the first five years, then it slowed down to one every five years. He would show up briefly, smile tightly at Harry and Ron, nod at me, acknowledging my work. I would nod back, acknowledging the work he did, that he continued. Eventually, I stopped attending the events, or maybe he did. I had work with the Ministry, he continued teaching. Our paths didn't cross.
Fifteen years passed too quickly. Every year a new death, a funeral to attend. When Headmaster Dumbledore died, we saw each other at the funeral. No words were spoken, but that same nod of acknowledgement. Minerva McGonagall passed on, and we brushed past each other, I on my way to the witch's toilet to charm away the effects of my tears, he making his way to the door. We nodded again, meeting each others eyes.
Then it was my husband's funeral. I think I cried more for Lavender Brown when she died than I did at my own husband's service. It's not that I didn't love him, but that I was out of tears. Too many dead in too short a time. I was surprised when, in the receiving line, he took my hand in his, held it for a long moment. It was warm, dry. His black eyes were equally tearless as my own when he said, "I'm very sorry for your loss." First words to me in fifteen years.
I swayed on my feet, and my father-in-law steadied me with a soothing hand. I muttered my thank you gracelessly and fled.
Five years later, five more funerals. Seamus Finnegan, gone the way of the Dodo. When I saw him after that service, I caught up with him, put a hand to his arm, felt the thick, expensive wool of his black robes under my fingers. Perhaps he had become more affluent in the aftermath of the War than many others.
He looked down at me over his hooked nose, one dark eyebrow raised over a cold, soulless eye. "Madam?" His velvet voice held more gravel than I remembered, but his appearance was otherwise unchanged.
"Professor Snape," I acknowledged. "I'm surprised to see you at this service."
His thin lips twisted cruelly, and I wondered for a moment why I had sought him out. "I come to all the funerals these days, Madam. My nose isn't welcome at the weddings."
I laughed then, or rather, it would be more appropriate to say I tittered, a shrill noise that I was embarrassed came out of my mouth. I clapped a hand over my lips and could feel myself turning a shade of red I thought my skin had forgotten some time ago. I wondered how many people stared at us. He, for his part, merely kept one eyebrow raised, but now there was a trace of true amusement around his lips.
I struggled to regain my composure, conscious that I still clung to his arm. "Are you planning on staying for the wake?" I finally asked.
"I have no reason to. I think the bereaved will be more comfortable if I made a hasty retreat." He made no movement to leave, however, and neither did I.
"I wouldn't be," I said. Merlin, did those words truly come out of my mouth?
He gave me a long, measuring stare, and I felt I was eleven years old again. He then took my hand in his, hooked my arm into the crook of his elbow and we walked arm in arm to a low sofa in a corner that was otherwise unoccupied. We sat. He produced a steel flask from the recesses of his robes.
"I prefer a good Madeira, in all honesty, but for Gryffindor funerals, I thought something stronger was in order."
I took the proffered flask, sipped at it without questioning the contents. A warm, peaty flavor entered my mouth. I swirled it over the top of my tongue, enjoying the slow burning sensation the firewhisky made creeping up my sinuses. I swallowed then, and handed the flask back to him. He sat back, eying me like a hawk does its prey. I stared hard at him in turn until he finally took a swig of his flask, leaning back in his seat.
"I'd have thought that you would know better than to take something without smelling of it first," he remarked without rancor.
I shrugged. "The War is done and over. I got tired of looking over my shoulder every minute of every day, finally stopped."
He nodded slowly. "I suppose the habits were ingrained into me long before they were ingrained into anyone else."
We sat in companionable silence, watching the bustle of the wake around us. The Finnegans were a loud, demonstrative bunch. It was just as well that we kept to ourselves. Neither of us was feeling terribly friendly. Finally, when the singing was too loud, or the dancing was too fast, I turned to my old Professor, aching to ask him a question that I didn't think would be answered. Asking questions was ever my hamartia.
"Why did you never marry?"
He took a long sip of his whiskey, stared at me over the top of the flask as if trying to decide if I was serious. I tried to fix him with as stern a gaze as possible.
"No woman would have me," he said at length, meeting my eyes.
"Why not?" I said. Questions. Someday I would learn not to ask so many questions.
He just stared at me, and I thought for a moment that perhaps I had grown a second head. Finally, he said, "Have you looked at me, Madam?" His voice was harsh, grating. His face contorted with anger, making him more unlovely.
"I'm looking at you now."
"And can you really ask why no woman would have me? It should be obvious, even to the most insipid little dolt."
He stood from his seat, angry, potentially violent. I stood with him, caught him by the arm. He whipped around to face me, and somewhere I realized that the music had stopped playing, the drunken singing had ceased.
"Is that what you think?" I asked quietly.
He turned and left, fleeing in much the same way that I had when he had taken my hand at my husband's funeral. I found myself standing in the middle of a room full of drunken Irishmen, all staring at me.
"Nothing to see here," I muttered, and someone handed me a tumbler of whiskey. I downed it in one shot. "Nothing to see here."
The event still plays in my head. At the next funeral, I find myself hoping to see him, and when I do, I look for ways to sidle up next to him, trying to be unobtrusive. I'm not sure why I want to be near him, why he fascinates me, but he does. I'm too old for this, I tell myself, and yet, here I am.
When he realizes I'm standing next to him, he frowns down at me. "What do you want, Madam?" he growls.
"I only want to have a chance to see you before the next funeral," I say. I don't mention that I'm afraid that the next funeral we both attend may be one of our own.
"Why?" he demands shortly. We're attracting a crowd, they all want to see what the fuss is about.
"I thought I asked too many questions," I mutter. "Does it matter?"
He meets my eyes, and I'm chilled for a moment. Then the muscles in his face relax for a brief moment, and I catch a glimpse of a man I think I might like to know better, one that I suspected was always there, never saw proof of until now.
"I suppose not," he says quietly, and reaches for my hand. I remember his hands from my husband's funeral, warm and dry. When I sway on my feet, he is there to steady me. I hear him inhale deeply, and I squeeze his hand that has captured mine.
He told me then that he was sorry for my loss. I am happy for what I have gained.
A/N: I had a lot of fun writing this. I was in a fairly pensive and melancholy mood, and it worked beautifully. To give credit where it is due, however, I have to say that this was originally going to be a response to the WIKTT "Funerals and Smut" Challenge, however you will notice that most of the rules of the challenge were thrown out the window, and there is precious little smut. As I'm not a bug fan of smut in the first place, this isn't truly surprising, but it was a good place to start the story, and I probably wouldn't have written it were it not for Droxy's challenge.