Emptiness.

It wasn't an emotion he had expected to feel.

Severus Snape stared blankly at the wall of his office, beetle black eyes fixed on the mosaic of newspaper clippings that graced his otherwise drab surroundings. Stone blocks surrounded him, cold, unyielding and comfortable as a crypt.

He had hated Sirius Black, and now there wasn't a Sirius Black to hate anymore. At first, there had been a bitter taste of triumph on his tongue but that too had faded away into nothing.

It was like rotting from the inside out.

Black's death had been his own fault. For the first time in his life, Snape had been determined not to feel even the slightest twinge of guilt. If the man hadn't been so stupid and reckless, he'd probably be sitting across the room from him right now, taunting Snape in that slow, insufferable drawl of his.

Snape wasn't sure what bothered him more: Black's absence, or the fact that Black's absence was having such a perturbing effect on him. Black had always been there, even during the years that he was locked away in Azkaban. The knowledge that Black was still alive (albeit suffering) had gnawed on Snape like the way his animagus form had gnawed on the chicken bones that the professor had felt compelled to toss him during mealtimes.

To his horror, Snape found himself smiling at the memory. Why Black had chosen to reside as a shaggy black flea-sack when he was around was completely beyond him. Snape knew that the hatred between them was mutual, but it still stung him to know that he was disliked. It was true that his students didn't share the same fondness for him that Dumbledore had, but somehow Black's odium had a more profound effect than even Potter's did.

Curious, that.

Blinking himself out of his dark reverie, Snape's attention returned to the wall of text that lay before him. He'd been collecting the clippings for years, displaying them proudly in his office like a huntsman might display his prized antlers.

None of them, Snape was pleased to reflect, were very nice. To the far left was an article describing the untimely demise of James and Lily Potter. It wasn't so much the words that excited Snape, as it was the picture of their still-smoldering home. And it would continue to burn as long as the paper that it was printed on remained in tact.

Beside that was his once-favourite piece, the capture of Sirius Black. Watching his childhood enemy walk away in shackles didn't give him the same giddy elation that it had a year ago. Now it only made him feel worse.

Is this what it was like to grieve?

Snape shook the thought out of his head, curtains of greasy black hair piling into his face as he pushed himself away from his desk. No, of course not. He wasn't the sort of man that grieved, and even if he did, he wouldn't waste his pity on Sirius Black!

There came a knock at the door. "Severus?"

The voice was soft and croaking, the speaker's pain evident in his tone.

Remus Lupin was the last person that Snape wanted to talk to. Nonetheless, he found himself waving a hand to dispel the locking charm he had placed on his door. "Come in."

Lupin poked his head inside the offices and offered Snape a weak smile. "Albus wants to know if you'd like to join us for some tea."

Snape studied the expression on Lupin's haggard face. If the dark circles under his eyes were any indication, the man hadn't slept in days. While his condition wasn't the least unusual, Snape felt a prick of emotion deep inside of his chest that ruptured the swollen barrier that surrounded his ego.

Guilt. There it was.

Snape's face contorted into a half-hearted grimace and he somehow managed a nod. "I would be honoured."

He did not move from his desk. Instead, he leaned forward and clutched his face in his hands, spidery fingers blocking his gaze.

Several awkward moments of silence passed between them before Snape uttered two words he hadn't heard in a long time.

"I'm sorry."

There came no reply.

Lupin had already gone. Like Sirius, he too had left Snape utterly lost and confused, black eyes void of any further show of emotion. Only this time, there was no veil; this time, he wasn't dead.

Some mistakes, Snape mused bitterly, can still be fixed.

As though he had aged a hundred years, Severus Snape rose from his desk with an agonizing slowness and crept from the room, robes trailing like a malevolent shadow in his wake.

Somewhere, Sirius Black was laughing.