A Single Candle

Father Gregory watched as a woman held a little boy's hand tightly as they walked into the church, briefly crossing herself as she entered. She guided the boy, who was no older than three, down the aisle to the candles, where only a few of them were flickering. It was a Thursday evening and the chapel was rather empty.

Her slightly bushy brown hair was pulled back into a low pony-tail, and the fact that her little boy also had slightly frizzy hair was only one of the few signs that he could see that said they were related.

His hair was black and his complexion was light, but his loose curls seemed to make him into a dark angelic figure in the church. The woman lifted him up, placing him on her left hip, holding him tightly to her side with one arm.

The priest continued to watch from the darkened corner as she reached for a lighting stick and then gently wrapped her hand around the young boy's as she helped him to light a candle in the far corner, away from all of the rest. The little boy's eyes opened up slightly as he watched the candle light. He curled a hand around his mother's right thumb where her hand had come up to support him. The woman's eyes started to shine, and the priest realized that he was seeing tears.

For a moment, he felt as though he was witnessing a private moment, but for some unknown reason he was unable to turn his eyes away.

They stood there for a few long moments, and then turned and began to walk back towards the entrance. On an impulse, he moved down the side to intercept them. He had a sudden feeling that he should talk to them. He moved towards them, wringing his hands slightly.

"Excuse me…miss?"

Her eyes came up and she quickly ran the back of her hand across her cheeks, wiping away the evidence of her tears.

"Y-Yes, sir?"

He hesitated, not sure of what to say or where to start. "I am Father Gregory, the pastor for this church. I was…I was wondering who you were here for. If you don't mind me asking?"

The young woman gave him an odd look, adjusting her son on her hip. Her eyes softened slightly and her tears abated.

"Well, actually…" She hesitated, and looked to her son, who now had his head resting on her shoulder, his thumb in his mouth and his eyes closed. His small chest moved up and down; he was absolutely sound asleep.

At the sight, she seemed to relax.

"Well…his father passed away when he was a year old. I come here each year to light a candle for him." The young woman's eyes darkened slightly as she shifted the young boy in her arms once more, and then glanced around the chapel, as though searching for comfort in the dark recesses of the church.

Father Gregory observed her with interest. She seemed vaguely familiar, and now he knew why. He looked at her son, a soft smile appearing on his face as he watched the boy unconsciously snuggle even closer to his mother, burrowing into her shoulder.

She smiled as well, and then seemed to brighten. "I'm so sorry, I never even introduced myself. I'm Hermione. And this little fellow here," she said, motioning with her head, "is Patrick."

He smiled and clasped his hands in front of him. He'd honestly never seen such a sweet mother and child before. But there was something else about her…something very different. She caught his eye again, and that was when he figured it out. She seemed much older than she really was. On sight she looked to be around twenty-three, twenty-four, but her eyes and the way that she carried herself seemed to imply that she had the weight of the world on her shoulders.

She suddenly turned her eyes away, as if self-conscious of his searching look.

"I…I'm sorry, but I need to go. We were planning on meeting with some friends, and I really don't want to be late." Her voice was hushed, well aware of the fact that Patrick was still asleep against her shoulder.

He reached out towards her as she turned to leave. "Wait, a moment, please…I just want to know one thing."

The young woman named Hermione paused, but Father Gregory could sense her hesitation. He placed a hand on her arm, trying to show that he was not trying to pry, but was only worried. But at the same time, there was something about her son, Patrick, that seemed so very familiar, and he needed to know.

"Who…who was the boy's father?"

He noticed a fleeting smile cross her lips before it fell, and she became stoic once more. "His name was Severus, Severus-"

Father Gregory cut her off. "Snape. Severus Snape. Yes…I knew him."

Yes, he'd known the man well. He used to come in once a week, sitting in the second to the last pew. After sitting with his head bowed for about ten minutes, he would go to the confessional.

He had never uttered a single word about it, but the things that the man had told him…it chilled him to the bone. Murders that he'd been forced to witness, the fact that he was risking his life every day in order to help catch a killer. He had listened to and seen the tears that the man had cried.

He remembered the first night that the young man had ever showed up. He had only been eighteen, but the way he acted seemed to say that he was emotionally very much older. He remembered the haunted look in his dark eyes as the young Severus had told him about the group that he had joined, and how he wasn't entirely sure that if it was the best choice. He didn't see him for three years. And then when he'd showed up again, he'd been devastated.

Father Gregory had heard every secret of the young man's life…but not this.

"He was the boy's father?"

She nodded, distractedly looking towards the entrance, shifting Patrick's weight once more against her hip. He suddenly realized what had really drawn him to her. She had the same look in her eyes that Severus always had.

"I-I wasn't aware that he'd, well, that he'd…passed on."

Her eyes hardened slightly and he watched in fascination as her jaw tightened. "Yes. It was rather…sudden."

The Father didn't want to be rude, but all of this information at once was rather disorienting. He hadn't even been aware that Severus had found someone else. He knew about Lily and that she'd died in a tragic accident that Severus blamed himself for, but he had no idea that he had been in a new relationship, let alone had a son.

"I'm sorry for asking so many questions, but…" He paused, trying to put it as tactfully as he possibly could. "I was, of a sort, his confessor. I knew him, but I had no idea that he had anyone new in his life, let alone a son."

She gave him a look, as though trying to feel him out.

She finally responded after a long, pregnant pause. "Almost no one knew. We got married four years ago, and a little less than a year later, we had Patrick. He was our angel..." Her voice drifted slightly as she looked down at the little boy in her arms.

"We knew there was a risk of him being hurt, but when he was…" She faltered. "When he was killed, it was rather a shock."

She motioned towards the candle that she'd lighted. "This is our way of remembering him. I knew about the church only because he'd told me that if he'd had it his way, we would have gotten married here, but circumstances being what they were…well, you know the rest."

Her eyes turned into an almost faraway look, and he could see longing in them, but he kept her privacy and merely nodded in response to her comment.

Hermione gave him a pleading look. "I'm sorry, but I really must be going."

He nodded and let her leave. His eyes stayed centered on the door long after she had left, as though she might walk back through at any moment. Finally, he turned away walking down the center aisle, heading towards the candles.

Almost all of them were close to sputtering out…all except for the one in the very upper right hand corner. The candle that she had lit.

He stared at it, wondering how something so small could bring so much light. He thought on that for a while, realizing the inherent metaphor that lay within it. It was so very much like the young woman that he'd just met. Even after a terrible ordeal, she had light within her.

He continued to stand there until the other candles burned down and turned to smoke.

Father Gregory finally turned to leave…and then gave a glance back just before he closed the doors.

A single candle burned…and continued to burn as the doors closed with a heavy finality behind him.

A.N. - This was heart-wrenching to write, but I think it came out exactly the way that it was supposed to. Hope you guys enjoyed it!