Disclaimer: Harry Potter is copyright J.K. Rowling.
There was a sadness in him that Severus could not understand. No matter how long he watched him, no matter what words were spoken between them, there was something about Fred Weasley that he simply could not comprehend. It had all started, of course, when the boy had arrived in the afterlife. He had been minding his own business when the screaming started.
Oh, the screaming.
As a Death Eater, he had heard all sorts of pleas, cries for mercy as he stood above his victims, wand poised and ready to begin a bout of relentless torture. But these screams were different. They left a ringing in his ears, even as the strangled yells fell quiet. There was a dark, quiet corner of his heart that Severus had kept closed until just moments before his death, staring into eyes that were so much like hers. The screams, however, bore deeper into that hole, and there were moments in which he thought his heart might break again.
Albus was the first to move, his frail hands curling over the boy's shoulders with the sort of comfort one would be hard pressed to find anywhere else. The rest of them simply stared, unable to think; not one of them had seen a Weasley in such a state, nevermind one of the twins. In a way they had always seemed indestructible, even to those who ought to have known better.
He had curled into a small ball, shoulders shaking and heaving with every sob by the time the others could do anything. Remus, Sirius, and Tonks stepped forward, joining Albus in a small circle of comfort. And still the boy cried.
Severus turned away.
Later, he heard James, Sirius, and Remus speaking in low tones, their expressions grave. Lily – oh, Lily – buried her face in James' shoulder. She was crying for a boy whom she had never met. The small piece of his heart began to swell. It only took one look at the boy to seal it shut again.
The fire they built was small, but it served its purpose. They sat in clumps about the fire, the souls of heroes, in relative silence. Fred sat by himself, staring into the flames with eyes that seemed beyond dead, as if it were his body sitting there and not his soul. Severus watched him shake, his whole body raking with shivers. But it was not cold. It never was.
He began to wonder why Fred was so broken. Severus had expected him to take it in stride, as if it were meant to happen; death was, after all, but the next grand adventure. If anything, the Weasleys had always made the most of every situation. But he did not ask. No one did. It was a private matter, the burden of one's soul.
"It hurts," he croaked, a hoarse whisper that was nearly lost in the quiet crackle of the fire. He curled a hand into a tight fist and placed it over his heart. "It hurts so much." Severus watched the fire twist in Fred's faded eyes. It seemed as if Fred was tired of hurting; that he had grown bored with the pain, had made habit of his eternal suffering.
Severus felt the corner of his heart break again at the very thought.
Time did not pass in the afterlife. There were days, there were nights, but the only real difference was the number of souls. Arthur and Molly appeared, but even they could not shake Fred from the coma he had sunk himself into. All he could do was stare. Severus could see the pain in his eyes, dancing just like the flames.
When he arrived, he was different. Older. His hair had begun to grey. But it was him. He sat beside Fred, staring at the empty space before him as if he could see what Fred had saw all along.
"I missed you, Fred." It was a whisper that held more meaning and feeling than Severus felt he could ever hope to understand. It should had been a private matter. No one turned away.
There was a flicker in Fred's eyes, and suddenly it was if he were born again. He smiled.
Oh, the smile.
Severus felt his heart be whole again.