There is something particularly maddening about referring to a person in the past tense. Whether it be a friend, an enemy, or a complete stranger, the very use the words "was" and "used to" are enough to make him stop and think. Can people really be referred to as past objects? The smiling faces of four boys in a photograph, an enemy's bad haircut, a bad day made better by a shared joke - they drive him to complete insanity just thinking on them. How long ago is used to be?
He can't really remember.
It's funny how the promises one makes as a boy seem suddenly so unimportant in adulthood, when there is no Potions exam to remember, and no history notes to memorise. He blanks out entire weeks and months of history, but a split-second decision and a tactless comment remain ingrained in the mind fifteen years later. True, he is older now and ought to be past all of this. Deaths are supposed to be mourned over and then quickly forgot. There is nothing special about them. The average human being has far too much going on in his life to be bothered with a silly memory, or a dusty old box of photographs.
There was Peter Pettigrew, whose head was too large for his body and too small for his nose. Any traces of that boy were mostly gone. He hadn't meant much in the grand scheme of things.
Remus Lupin always looked as though he was about to keel over of some foreign disease. He was passed over too, remembered in only brief flashes and clicks from somebody's camera.
Sirius Black was always too handsome, and he knew it.
James Potter. For a moment, he can't help but linger over the smiling face and windswept hair. All of the boys grin as though they are up to something, as though they haven't any clue what is going to happen. One year later. People can change a lot in one year.
What he is doing here, the man with the long hair and the deep stare? His thin lips part slightly as he remembers the lyrics to a song, the punchline to a funny joke, the last words of a dying age full of dead and dying people. He takes no time with his own image. The angry boy in his new robes is quickly discarded and cast beneath a feathered pillow. This boy has no place in the box. This boy never really fit in with the rest. Not in the long-run and certainly not then.
His mind is full of what-ifs and shouldn't-haves and couldn't-evers. He hasn't too many photographs to go over, so each is granted two or three prolonged gazes. There are times when he wonders how different his life would be if things hadn't gone the way they had. If history really is subjunctive, might they all be here? He once believed that everything had a time and place, and the rest fell in between the cracks. Space is filled by people for only so long before they are replaced.
It's more difficult to think that way about the people he knew. He can't assign them a setting and location and stick them into a time line to be forgot. They never let him forget, though he hardly considers it a punishment. More, they simply don't want to become the Joe Bloggs and John Does of history. Even if the memories aren't always pleasant, and the photos sometimes of unsmiling faces, he is their closest link to the time they missed out on.
There are photographs of practical jokes, of laughter and such moments of complete, eclectic happiness so as to bring a tear to his eye and a flare to his nostrils. There are images of serious boys in school clothes, moving people on little bits of paper showing boys playing tag, boys dancing and running and hugging and singing (despite grave shortcomings where talent is concerned). There are boys who look so utterly alive that he cannot help but to loathe them, and there are boys so nostalgic and and two dimensional that he sets aside old differences so as not to tarnish a vulnerable memory.
He, who knew them better than almost every single one of his peers; he, who fought and cried and sometimes even laughed and sang with them, knows better than anyone how much they would have loathed the epitaphs and tributes and fond recollections. Those aren't real people. Not really. In memories, there is no wrong. Remembered fondly, they become as their photographs - unmoving and flat. The boys he knew had more life in them than they knew what to do with. The boys he knew surpassed him in height and beauty. Yet, for all their liveliness, the one thing that they really had failed to surpass him on was life itself.
There was the day they had mocked him as he mourned the death of his parents. That day he had marked as a black day. Crying, snotty-nosed and scrawny and full of more emotions than he had ever experienced in all his life, he had hated them then. He had loathed them and cursed them through lunch and well past dinner by the time they dealt him their great surprise.
The boy who had teased loudest, who led the torment as though it was no more than a childish game, turned on himself. I'm sorry for what I said. I'm sorry about your parents. It was stupid of me for taking the mick, and I really am sorry. The others, too, but they were too afraid of how you might react to come and say it themselves.
It was only after years of festering and pondering and darkening the incident in his mind that he took it for what it actually was. By the time he had accepted James Potter's faltering apology, it was too late.
And yet, it had to count for something.
Long after his life had been forgot in favour of his glorious death, long after the man was replaced by a photograph and the space he had filled became empty, his apology remained. Forgiven. But Severus Snape was no longer the boy that he had been. Nor was he entirely a man, not in mind or even body anymore. There were times when he forgot himself, when he could stare into his photographs for ages and not recognise a single face. Some days he felt remorseful, and wept over his tatty box and dog-eared collection. And there were the others when he let the rare, happy experiences through.
Once he had sung, side-by-side with Black, an entire Beatles song, with tunes hummed by Evans during one of Slughorn's detentions. And they hadn't truly hated one another then. They couldn't hate during a song about happiness. They couldn't hate singing the words of a pacifist and his friends. And wasn't it funny that two of those friends, from that peacemaker band, were dead too? Wasn't it funny how people could become a past tense in a second, and how is turned to was and used to be? He considers it so, Professor Snape who I used to hate.
I can't hate him right now, because he's sad and pathetic and not right in the head. You can't hate a man who sleeps in the same room as the Longbottoms and joins in their conversations on bubble gum wrappers and the best flavour of Fizzing Whizby. You can't hate a man who hums the same tune all day and night, to the song about being happy. You can't do it. You can't give him medication to make it go away all at once. He's got to work it out himself, and even if you hated him, you've got to help.
I'm the only one who still thinks he's getting there, anymore. I'm the only one who listens to him when he hums, or brakes into a rare verse. I can't go until he's better, because I owe him at least that for saving my life. I can't go until he stops singing his infernal song - until the sun comes.