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At first, he'd been annoyed that yet again, somebody was being brought in to hold the position of Defense Against Dark Arts. This time, it was some American Witch named Willow Rosenberg, someone who wasn't even from one of the American schools of Witchcraft and wizardry. He'd been furious, certain that the students would be faced yet again with some bumbling incompetent like Lockehart had been.

But then he'd met her, and she'd entirely left him baffled, a condition that he despised. She looked so young, barely older than the seventh year students, and surprisingly pretty, with dark hair that he could only describe as red-black, and eyes that looked like pools of ink covered with a greenish lens. Those eyes were uncanny, and almost inhuman, which actually went perfectly with the feeling of power that she had. Power enough that she worked her magic without a wand, and often with no more than a focusing of her will.

As awe inspiring as her power would be if she let it be known, her sorrow was more noticeable. It was so thick that he could taste in the air near her, like bitter ashes or powdered tears. She didn't laugh and joke with the other teachers, or with the students, instead she stayed in the background, watching them with a small, sad smile that reminded him of the Mona Lisa painting, one of the few Muggle made masterpieces that he appreciated. Her quiet reserve reminded him of the painting as well, a soft, somehow dignified separation from everyone, subtle enough that nobody even felt insulted, if they even had noticed.

She never spoke of the cause of her sorrow, although it was easy to determine that it was something large and traumatic from her past. But all anyone could learn from her was that she'd grown up in a small town in California, a little place called Sunnydale.

The name had nagged at him, filling him with the idea that he'd heard it before, and there was an importance. It wasn't until he paused outside the door, hearing her lecture about vampires that it fell into place for him. Sunnydale was the town where the Hellmouth existed. The beacon of evil, warping magical creatures into their worst versions, and attracting dark beings of all sorts, including or perhaps especially demons.

"I see a great and terrible darkness around you... a terrible place of fear and suffering. Ohhh... yellow eyes... evil... you are in grave peril!" The voice of Sybil Trelawney pulled him from his thoughts, and he saw that the daft Divinations instructor was speaking to Willow Rosenberg, undoubtedly warning of her upcoming doom.

Willow gave a small smile to the Divinations instructor. "You may rest assured that I will be fine. I'm only planning to return home and visit my friends over the winter break."

Trelawney reached out with one thin hand, gripping Willow's wrist in an expression of concern. "But the eyes... hungry yellow eyes! And blond hair... You go to a place of death!"

Shaking her head slightly, Willow gently removed Trelawney's hand. "You probably just saw the Hellmouth... or maybe Spike. I know how to deal with Spike."

Trelawney left, her necklaces rattling as she scurried off, muttering about dire omens and dark portents.

"What if she did see the Hellmouth?" He found himself hoping that she would talk to him, open up just a little. He was also wondering when in his mind, she had ceased to be Miss Rosenberg or Professor Rosenberg and become Willow.

Willow gave a small, sad smile again. "I can deal with the Hellmouth again if I need to. Although I don't know why they keep building over it... A simple binding spell, and some stinky herbs, and it's all closed up again. I just hope she doesn't frighten the students, going on like that."

"Again? You make it sound like you've closed the Hellmouth." He knew he was smiling a bit, but... Hellmouths were notoriously tricky to work any magic near. "Does the Hellmouth have something to do with the sorrow you wear like a cloak?"

"I only helped the first time." Her tone implied that closing the Hellmouth was no more than an event, much like scheduling a shopping trip. "But my sorrow is more for the events that happened over and near the Hellmouth than it's actual openings. Twice, I fell in love to have that love shatter in painful ways. I walked the line between vengeance and madness, and fell over the edge. What causes your sadness, Severus Snape?"

Part of him was overjoyed that she would speak to him, that she would break her reserve. Another part trembled, fearful that if she knew of his fall into darkness, she would revile him. "My sorrows are not the fodder for discussion in the halls... Perhaps you would care to join me in my office?"

It was almost a surprise that she was still there, trailing after him almost as quietly as one of the ghosts as he walked into his Potions classroom. He gave a small smile, certain that it looked as awkward as the expression felt, and offered her a chair. He wasn't quite certain where to begin. "So..."

She gave a small chuckle, the noise like a stream burbling over small rocks. "You aren't very good at sharing, are you? Maybe I should start. First, I had a hopeless crush on someone who fell for every girl and woman in the area that wasn't me. Then there was the werewolf boyfriend who cheated on me with the skanky she wolf and left town. Then, I was a bit hurting, so I ended up with a girlfriend... she was shot and died in my arms. I killed the man who did it, made him scream and beg for mercy... and it didn't bring her back. Nothing would bring her back to me."

"I had a hopeless crush on someone that I could never tell, and when she chose another, I became bitter and joined the Dark Lord... Eventually, I realized what a dreadful mistake that had been, and became a spy for the Ministry, but..." He let the words come out, remembering those painful, agonizing days so vividly.

One hand reached out, resting lightly on his own, sending a spark of something through his body. "We've both made a few glaringly big mistakes then. Tell me, who is Severus Snape when he's not wrapped up in guilt and brooding and sorrow?"

Her words made him smile again, a small lifting on one corner, but such a lifting of his spirits... "I'm not certain anymore. I've been like this for so long... Who is Willow Rosenberg when she'd not cloaked in sorrow?"

Something in his words made her smile fall away. "I don't know anymore. I'm not even sure I ever had a chance to find her... always I was what people needed me to be. I've never found just Willow."

Reaching out with one hand, he cupped her cheek. "You don't have to sorrow forever. I can help you try to find that Willow."

She stepped closer, one hand brushing over his forehead, pushing his hair back from his face. "I think I'd like that... but we have to look for not so guilty Severus as well."

She stood on her toes just a bit, her lips brushing over his in a fleeting gesture that tasted of honey and ginger. "I have the feeling that Willow and Severus might have a lot in common."

end Cloaked in Sorrow.
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The authors own nothing. Joss, UPN, WB, etc. own Buffy, the show, the characters, the places, and the backstory. The authors own any original plots.