I have tucked your mother away somewhere nice and cozy. She is safe and sound. I was able to perform the Fidelius Charm, and your Aunt Sarah, her secret-keeper, will be sending you her address soon so you can keep in contact. We will do everything we can to keep her safe and hidden. Now, we also must do all we can to keep you safe. Please do not go venturing off alone and only use your powers in dire circumstances. I believe it is possible to put a trace on your kind of magic, so please exercise caution. I will return to the school in a few days time and we will be able to talk more. Until then, stay safe.
Gwen clutched the letter in her hand, crumpling the edges as she closed her eyes in relief. The awful anxiety that had been gripping her for the past week dissipated. Her mother was safe. There was no need to worry. A huge weight lifted off her shoulders as she opened her eyes and picked up Sirius’ most recent letter. She had received it just that morning, surprised he hadn’t written back sooner. It contained words of comfort and love, though they seemed emptier than before. Gwen could still sense that feeling of unyielding loneliness that held him captive. He tried to hide it with humor, but she knew. Her heart ached painfully at the thought of him and she put a hand to her chest. The separation wasn’t getting any easier. In fact, she felt it was getting worse; especially with the way he had been talking recently. She put both letters down as she stood up from behind her desk and walked over to a window in her empty classroom. She had a free period, having just finished with the second years. They had all grumbled darkly as they left the room, as she had assigned them 3 rolls of parchment on the Goblin Rebellions of the 1600’s. Her free period should be used for grading the 4th year’s projects, but she couldn’t concentrate. She had so much trouble focusing on teaching with everything going on inside. The fear she had been feeling for her mother’s safety had quickly been replaced with grave concern for Sirius. She took in a deep breath and exhaled loudly. Her warm breath created a circle of fog on the cold glass. She let relief wash over her again. She’s safe, she’s safe, she repeated over and over to herself. She crossed her arms in front of her, looking at her reflection in the window. There were uncharacteristic dark circles under her eyes; the work of a few sleepless nights. Living in fear was absolutely exhausting. She reached up and rubbed her tired eyes with her hands, smearing her eye makeup in the process, but she was too tired to care.
“Tired, Miss Bradley?”
Gwen started and looked around. Severus stood in the threshold, his shoulder leaning against one side of the doorway, a smirk plastered on his face.
“I swear if you don’t stop sneaking up on me like that…” Gwen left the threat open-ended, walking back over to her desk and sitting down.
“I hope you know CPR ‘cause next time I’m bound to go into cardiac arrest.”
Severus pushed himself off the doorframe and slowly walked into the room, still smirking.
“I’m the potions master. I could brew something up to bring you round in a second,” he replied confidently.
He crossed the room and took her place in front of the window, and Gwen leaned back in her desk chair.
“So, to what do I owe this pleasure? I’m flattered you ventured all the way up here from your moldy dungeons to visit,” Gwen smiled.
A swift thought gripped her and her smile was gone in an instant.
“Nothing’s happened? Has it?” she asked, suddenly worried and sitting straight up in her chair.
Severus turned to look back at her, a sort of sad smile on his face.
“Is that what I’ve become? The Messenger of Death?”
He meant to be teasing, but there was something off about it.
“No…no that’s not what I meant…It’s just that—” Gwen began, but he interrupted.
“Yes, yes I know. I understand. And no, nothing’s happened,” he added as he saw the frown still on her face.
“Oh. Good,” Gwen breathed a sigh of relief and relaxed once more in her chair.
There was silence for a few seconds as Severus stared out the window. Gwen studied him for a moment, just now realizing how tall he was. He stood with his back straight as a board, his head up, staring the world right in the face.
“I merely came to see how you were,” he finally spoke, snapping Gwen out of her reverie.
He turned his head to look at her. His eyes were so dark they looked black from where she sat. Gwen shook her head and blinked a few times, trying to clear her head before answering.
“Oh, yes, I’m--I’m fine,” she said, smiling quickly. “Um, Dumbledore was able to reach my mother in time, so, she’s safe. For now.”
She wasn’t sure why her thoughts were so jumbled up. She told herself it was just the fatigue. Severus nodded and smiled ever so slightly, looking back out the window.
“I’m glad,” he said softly.
There was more silence, with only the occasional creak of Gwen’s chair to break it. Her eyes wandered over the room, coming to a rest once again on Sirius’ letter, lying open on her desk.
One line in particular jumped out at her. One line in particular she had gone over countless times. One line in particular was the cause of her distress.
I’m sorry I can’t be everything you need right now, but I hope you find someone who can.
She groaned inwardly as the feelings accompanied with those words bubbled the surface again.
What did that mean? Was it just an innocent statement? Or did he doubt her feelings for him?
She could virtually taste his bitterness. Was he telling her to find someone else? It almost sounded like a line someone would use during a break up. Her heart beat painfully in her chest as her thoughts attacked her once again. Almost against her will, her eyes travelled to another well known line in the letter.
Without you, my life is meaningless.
Meaningless. Without her, his life wouldn’t mean anything to him. In any other instance, this statement would be romantic and harmless. But not now. His despair was deepening, she could feel it. And if he meant what she thought he meant, there was a good chance he would harm himself. The thought of losing him made breathing difficult. She put her head in her hands and tried to ignore the lump in her throat. Tears pricked her eyes and she struggled to keep them in check.
“Is there something else bothering you?” Gwen jumped as Severus’ voice came from closer than she had anticipated.
She had almost forgotten he was there. She hastily wiped a rebellious tear from her cheek, dismayed to see black eyeliner rub off on her finger as well. Severus stood directly in front of her desk, looking at her almost curiously.
“Yes. I mean, no. I mean…” She took a breath. “I’m fine. Really,” she answered, sniffing, which really made her believable.
Severus frowned and pulled a white handkerchief out of his robes and handed it to her. For some reason, that gesture was enough to make her burst into tears right then. Her face crumpled and hot tears spilled onto her cheeks as she gasped for breath in between an onslaught of sobs. She was ashamed of herself for crying in front of someone, which made her want to cry even more. She was startled when she felt a hand on her shoulder, and looking through a blur of tears, saw Severus crouching beside her chair. Her brain was working well enough to register the irony that while she was crying over Sirius, Severus was there comforting her. Two enemies, connected through one girl. Gwen hid her face in the handkerchief, waiting for her wave of weakness to pass. She was vaguely aware of Severus’ hand on her back as she tried to get herself under control.
He sat patiently until her sobs finally quieted down to the occasional hiccup, and her hands stopped shaking so much. Eventually, he spoke.
“What’s the matter?” he whispered.
She glanced over at him, still hiding most of her face in the hanky. He was looking at her intently, his dark brows pulled together. She shook her head, unwilling to speak.
He looked down at the floor for a moment before speaking again.
“Is it Black?”
Gwen stiffened in surprise and looked at him with wide, bloodshot eyes.
He glanced up at her, but quickly returned his gaze to the floor.
“I thought so,” he nodded slowly.
Gwen tried to read his facial expression, perplexed as she thought she saw pain swirling behind his eyes. She sniffed, staring down at the black smears of mascara on the once white handkerchief.
“Is there anything I can do?” he asked looking back up at her.
Gwen let out a sharp laugh, the reality of the situation hitting her.
“Like you care about anything when it comes to Sirius?” she replied, unable to keep the bitterness out of her voice.
Severus hesitated a few moments, deliberating. Then, without speaking, he gently took the handkerchief from her hand. Gwen watched as it slid from her fingers, and turned her head to look at him. Slowly, he lifted his hand and tenderly wiped away a stray tear from her cheek, never taking his eyes from hers. His eyes were softer than she had ever seen them as he looked at her. She was slightly taken aback by his unguarded gaze. He lightly stroked her chin with his thumb, his brow furrowed as his eye took in every detail of her face. He slowly stood up. Gwen watched in amazement as he walked to the door, and with one last, meaningful look, was gone. Severus had said nothing as he left, but his voice resonated in the empty room. Gwen heard him loud and clear.
He did care about something when it came to Sirius.