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A Rose in the Depth of Winter

I'm not a sentimental woman. I've never been. I think I just don't have it in me. What do you expect, with dentists as parents? Also, he wouldn't appreciate that at all. But that doesn't mean I don't remember.

I inhale deeply, that almost forgotten scent of clammy, cold Highland air, when spring is still a far way off. How does Minerva stand living in that castle with her arthritis getting worse every year?

I rub my forehead, trying not to feel maudlin, but there's something about the school, this place and this day that makes it really hard. Even after all these years. Especially after all these years.

Part of it is the Highlands, of course. I never noticed their romantic appeal as a teenager. We were much too busy saving the wizarding world. But I do notice now.

This special kind of sadness, of words forever unsaid, like that icy mist over there, drifting across the loch and into the glens. Of tears unshed, like dewdrops on roses. Why am I thinking of roses right now? My roses are all gone. They died one winter a number of years ago, when the weather grew too cold. They never survived the following spring. The gentle rain and soft sunshine was too much for them, or came too late, and I've never had Neville's patience with plants. Somehow I never got around to planting new roses.

Also, I really had other things to do. Once you have children, gardens stop being so terribly important. Except a rectangular patch of lawn for Quidditch practice, of course. But I do remember that he liked roses. It was the very reason why he blasted them out of existence so viciously every Valentine's Day. One of the very few weaknesses I ever discovered about him while I was at school and before it was too late.

There are no roses here. I guess at the coast it would work, but not here, not in the Highlands – not without magic, at least. Another year is over, and I stand in silence and stare at the grave. Hoarfrost clings to the austere stela. Fog is hanging over the loch and creeping into the glens. January is a bad time to be here. June is good, when the gorse is in full bloom. Or late August, when the heather glows in brilliant shades of purple and violet.

But still I return here in January, freezing off my toes. I guess it's just as well, because should anyone see me, I could say I was shivering because of the cold. Every damn year.

I know I'm not the only one, too. There's a posy of ivy and a white lily, hiding to the left of the headstone, tucked around the corner of the small monument in an almost embarrassed fashion. I know who brings him lilies. Although Harry would eat a Hippogriff alive before he'd ever admit to it. The wreath with the bow of green silk, a little stern, a bit pompous, will be from Draco. The crown cap on the stone would be Luna's. Someone is keeping the path to the stone clear. I bet it's Winky. Dobby would, and Winky would know that Dobby would, and it's precisely the kind of thing that an house-elf would do. The potted hellebore is most certainly Neville's doing. I bet he keeps some kind of interesting flower or herb blooming here every month of the year.

I'm staring at the stone. I'm standing here and staring at the stone, just the way I've been standing here and staring at the stone for more than twenty years, every winter except the one when I was pregnant and couldn't come. I know that Ron knows where I'm going. He has never offered to accompany me, though. I don't know why. Does he understand that there are some things you need to do on your own, or is he afraid of what he might see in my eyes when I'm standing here? I have no idea. Basically, much as I love him, Ron's not sensitive enough for the first, and really too brave for the second alternative.

There are no words engraved in the stone, that stark slab of granite. I bet he'd hate that there is a stone at all. But here it is, and here I am.

He'd sneer at me, if he knew. "Why now?" he would say. "You and your precious friend Potter never cared about my birthday while you were at school, while I was still alive."

I'm still staring at that bloody stone. I wish I knew which idiot made up the saying that time heals all wounds. I might be seriously tempted to borrow the only time-turner remaining just to ...

"Why are you still coming here, you daft Gryffindor, after twenty years? What do you think you're accomplishing, collecting chilblains like potions ingredients here today? Aren't you happy with that red-haired moron?"

"Of course I – maybe not 'of course', but I am – I really am content. Maybe not happy, but content. That's more than most people ever get," I mutter. Not aloud, but in my mind. I always make up what he would say. It feels more polite. Maybe I still miss his insults. No. That's ridiculous. Not after twenty years. "And what am I accomplishing? Nothing. And I'm not mourning sweet might-have-beens because you were never sweet, and we hadn't even reached that stage yet. But damn."

I never swore as a child. Only when I had children of my own, I learnt how good a well-placed four-letter-word feels now and again.

And what am I doing here? Still standing, still staring. At the damn stone. That will not do.

I bend down and carefully lay a black, perfumed rose down in front of the dark stone.

"Happy birthday, Severus," I whisper. Then I straighten up, turn back the way I have come and walk back down to the school.

By the time I reach the castle, my tears will have dried or frozen, and I'll be more than ready for the tea Minerva has offered me before I decided spontaneously that a lonely walk would be the perfect pastime for a really miserable January afternoon.


Finite Incantatem


A/N: Sadly I am old enough to know that time does not heal all wounds. All time does is that you get used to living with your grief.