A Thousand Words

By Bernice

Beta read by everyone on my live journal friends list.


Snape stood, looking over the grounds down to the lake, trying and failing to take some pleasure in the perfect day. Soft blue, pale yellow light flowed around him, warm and delicately drifting, and it seemed only to set his anger and misery into sharper relief.

The students ran and talked, couples, threesomes, groups of chattering, happy children. McGonagall walked past toward the east, her arm linked companionably through Sprout's, comfortable friends. He felt only his own loneliness. His refusal to accept such friendship from others, particularly those that seemed to so desperately want it, set him awkwardly apart. He let his anger at his desire for companionship wash through him, too, furious with his all too human need for the voices and irritations of other people. Dumbledore had humiliated him once, quietly and privately, by letting Snape know he fooled no one with his expressions of desire for the life of a hermit. That no one believed he felt they were all fools.

He glared at some first-years as they bounced past, full of the joy of life and freedom from classrooms, bounding like gangly colts over the grass, loving the sunshine and each other. He turned, hearing a noise too close - someone dared invade his vast personal space - only to find himself temporarily blinded by a too bright flash of light.

"Thanks, Professor!" That idiotic Creevey child, fulfilling his obsession to record every moment of school life. Didn't the foolish creature know that every photograph took a part of someone's soul?

"Stop that immediately! Five points from Gryffindor!"

Creevey spoke, and the words seemed muffled and silent, but he was gone almost in a blink of an eye and Snape gave it no more thought.

He did think about going in, hiding from the bright lights that surrounded him and walked away from his spot overlooking the lake. And yet... it seemed such an effort, and so he remained and felt the sunlight penetrating his robes, softly warming his skin.

It seemed that the children continued to play and gambol around him, gawky with their suddenly too long limbs. Two girls skipped past, their plaits flapping, hitting their backs like heavy whips and he wondered why they were not bruised or hurt by the heavy weight of their hair. He could never remember having skipped like that when he'd been their age. Too busy hiding from those that would hurt him. Too busy reading in silent, solitary corners.

A group of five boys played conkers on a patch of dust, laughing and placing small spells on their conks, accusing each other of cheating with good-natured banter.

He turned to where the Creevey boy had been, but it was dark, oddly dark on that side of the field. He wondered if it was night falling too quickly, a spell he should fear, but there was no sense of trouble, and the children continued to play either side of him. He could just see McGonagall and Sprout walking on the edge of his vision, heading into the twilight darkness in the east.

Had the threat passed? Had it been merely a cloud passing over the sun? He wasn't sure, but it was light again on that side of his field. But... not a field. People walked past, and the east side of his view had been replaced by what looked like someone's study. Baffled he stared, glared, grimaced at someone who stopped to stare back at him and wave. He snarled and made to leave, walking away a few steps, and yet he found himself wandering back to the same spot, two little girls skipping past, their plaits heavily whipping their backs with a dull thud on each joyful step.

He watched them go past, again disgusted at his own longings. He wanted someone to link his arm with, someone to walk with, someone to talk with. Someone to run with through fields on a beautiful sunny day, long hair flying, or tied back, whipping his back with heavy thuds that he couldn't even feel, too full of the joy of living and loving to notice such small discomforts.

He watched McGonagall and Sprout go past, arms linked, and followed their progress to the east side of his field, which was now full of words. Huge words, each letter as tall as his hand. Ink on old parchment. A potion, his own handwriting, he was sure. He recognised the oddly drawn sevens. Some of his tests on the Wolfsbane potion, he thought, peering closely. It was hard to concentrate as the boys playing conkers had started accusing each other of cheating and their voices were shrill and loud. He turned to tell them to be quiet, but was distracted by two young girls skipping past, their hair in heavy plaits that whipped their backs and caught the sun. He watched them cross his vision and felt again the solid thud in his chest of his unending jealousy.

What would it feel like to have someone to talk with, to run with, someone to trust and share secrets with?

What were Sprout and McGonagall talking about, their heads pressed close together as they walked down towards the east, arm in arm. As he turned he saw McGonagall again, but this time her face loomed large, her face older, wizened, and quite sad. He saw her enormous finger tip come closer and ducked away, stepping away from her touch. He hissed and glared at her, but could find no words to tell her to be gone. But then he heard the boys playing conkers start accusing each other of cheating and by the time he turned back she had gone, and the figures in the east had faded somewhat, just drifting, distant bodies and faces, moving silently, beyond his ken.

He ignored the distant figures, hoping they'd go away, and watched two young girls skipping past, their heavy plaits thudding against their backs, their faces lit with joy and felt the ache of loneliness in his chest, twisted with jealousy at their carefree joy in this beautiful day of soft sunshine and blue skies. He followed their progress with his eyes, until he spotted McGonagall and Sprout walking arm in arm towards the east and followed them with his eyes, too, wondering if they'd let him join them. Could he? Could all three of them walk, arm in arm, sharing secrets, being friends? Could he walk with Sprout on one arm and McGonagall on the other, talking, whispering, keeping company? Or would they take his years of familial abuse to heart and stare at him in stony silence.

He watched them until they came to the eastern side of the field and turned to see that his own face now looked down at him.

He wondered what trick was this? His own face, twenty feet tall, but older. Hair streaked with white, new wrinkles around the eyes, expression soft and slightly sad. And as he stared at his own face he realised with horror that he was trapped. Trapped forever on a sliver of photographic paper, and that he would never know joy, never know freedom, and never skip like the two little girls that ran behind him, their heavy plaits whipping their backs.

As he stared up in horror, his face was joined by another. A more handsome face, but with hair also stained with white. Patches of white, caused by injury rather than age and they looked down at him, both sad.

The other man put an arm around his own enormous shoulders and murmured something that Snape could not make out. His other self shook his head sadly, and Snape lip read well enough to know he said: "It was a bad time."

The other man, someone Snape was sure he knew, knew very well at some point, when he wasn't trapped between life and death, responded: "He looks so sad."

And Snape's reflection mouthed: "I think it best that I set him free."

Snape watched the scene change, and tried to ignore the young boys accusing each other of cheating at conkers as the other face is replaced by flames which engulf the view. He turned instead to watch two young girls skip past, their heavy plaits whipping their backs, and thought how lovely the day was, and how much he enjoyed the children's distant company, although he'd never admit it. The sun, so soft and yellow, shone down on them all, its warmth enough to penetrate even the heavy cloth of his robes.


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