What Percy Saw – Part Two
The early October nights are warm this year, and Percy is glad about it. He has been waiting outside the Hogwarts Grounds ever since the banquet has begun – he isn't invited, of course - and sitting on the ground for all these hours would have been decidedly uncomfortable if it were raining or unusually cold.
From here, he can see the windows of the Great Hall, brightly illuminated by the thousands of candles inside, just as bright as everyone's mood is, now that Harry Potter has finally vanquished You-Know-Who once and for all. There have been losses, but at the moment, the sadness is overshadowed by all-consuming relief and joy. Just like over twenty years ago, witches and wizards are celebrating in the streets, leaving the Muggles befuddled and shaking their heads.
It is approaching midnight by now, and the first guests begin to leave. Percy hides deeper in the wood; he has no desire of being seen. The person he is waiting for is still inside.
It has come as a surprise to everyone, and most people didn't want to believe it when Harry Potter, only a few days after You-Know-Who's death, declared that Snape had been on their side all along and demanded his immediate release. But there has been a public hearing, and unmistakable evidence has been given: A letter from Dumbledore, magically delivered from the past, proven to be authentic in excessive magical analysis, explaining why it had been necessary that everyone, first and foremost You-know-Who himself, had to believe in Snapes guilt until the very end.
It's been three weeks since then, and now they're having a banquet to celebrate their victory, and Snape has been invited as a guest of honour. Percy hasn't heard of him once, and although he has not truly expected it, he can't help feeling disappointed. He doesn't know where the man lives, so he has decided to take the chance and meet him here.
Two hours later, the last few guests are approaching the gates, and some metres behind them, Percy makes out a lonely, dark-clad figure. He waits until the others have passed, their chattering slowly abating, then he steps out from between the trees.
Snape doesn't seem to notice him. He is leaning against the gates, with his eyes closed, and in the yellow light of the lanterns, Percy sees he has changed. There are some grey strands in his hair, and he looks tired, almost diminished in a way, although Percy doesn't want to use that word in connection with Snape.
"What will you do now?" he asks, and Snape opens his eyes and regards him calmly for several minutes. It is an odd feeling, standing here together in the warm air of Old Wives' summer, silent, waiting for something, whatever it may be. Odd, but not unpleasant.
"I don't know," the answer finally comes, and even Snape's voice seems tired, although, like in the past, it doesn't betray any emotion, he seems just as unshakable as ever. Percy believes he is one of the few people who ever realised that this is façade.
"Minerva has kindly offered me a quarter after I left my recent 'home'," just a tad of cynicism, and Percy likes it, "but of course, no one can forget what I did. Hogwarts' hospitality ends of tonight."
He doesn't seem overly troubled – of course, someone who has spent so long a time on the run is not bothered by not knowing where he will sleep. But what makes Percy angry is that Snape seems to have expected something like this. "Guest of honour" – he barely suppresses an angry snort. They have served justice, have acknowledged his merits in a meaningless formality. Now they'd like to ask him to please vanish and not taint their new, clean world any more.
"I have a new flat," Percy says calmly instead. "Got it together with the bookshop I worked in as an assistant when the owner died. It's just upstairs. You could have the second bedroom - it's too big for me anyway. Just until you find something else."
Snape seems to want to ask why, but then he simply nods and takes Percy's outstretched hand, his long, cool fingers closing around the younger man's. Percy can't help smiling when he Apparates them to London.
Life with Snape has quickly settled into a routine. Snape usually wakes up early and prepares breakfast, then Percy goes downstairs to the shop. He comes back around seven and cooks dinner - Snape is a pathetic cook: he has tried once and almost set the kitchen on fire. In the evening, they will sit in the living room, mostly reading, sometimes listening to some classical music. Luckily, they have similar tastes. They still don't talk much, but it's not entirely uncomfortable. Percy still puts Silencing Charms on the flat instead of Snape's room, and he still wonders about the fact that the other man doesn't know he sometimes screams in his sleep.
When Percy carefully locks the door of "Pomeroy's" behind him – he decided not to change the name after he inherited it from his kindly employer at his death a year ago – he already knows how he will find Snape when he comes home from getting the groceries. It has been the same for the last three months, and he isn't disappointed: Snape is sitting at the kitchen desk, staring darkly at an open Daily Prophet, several job offerings underlined in red.
"Any luck?" Percy asks while unpacking the groceries, but it's not more than a formality, and Snape doesn't even bother to answer. No one in the Wizarding world would willingly employ him. Still, he doesn't stop trying, and Percy doesn't stop pretending to believe he might find something. They both know that eventually, he will have to look for a Muggle job, but Percy realises how hard it must be for him to admit, and so he gives him the time he needs. It's not like the shop doesn't provide him with enough money for the two of them.
Tonight, however, Percy can't stand it any more, and during dinner, he begins to complain about work: that it's too much and he can't rely on his assistant, and he'll have to fire him, and how hard it is to find someone reliable. Snape looks at him oddly, but says nothing.
Three weeks later, the assistant is gone, and after breakfast, Snape comes downstairs with Percy to the shop. They don't talk about Snape getting his own flat with the money he now earns.
Working together inevitably means spending more time together and talking to each other. It's about the shop only, at first, but slowly, they find they share some interests, mainly as far as music and books and art are concerned. Percy likes museums, and one day, in June, he asks Snape to come with him. They spend a pleasant evening belittling modern artists, and when they come home, they agree on doing this more often.
There are topics they both avoid carefully: Percy's family and almost all of Snape's past, which limits their conversation to a certain not too personal level, and Percy can't help feeling a little disappointed. But he won't complain – what can he expect? What does he want in the first place? He is contented with his life, and he likes to consider Snape a kind of friend, something he hasn't had before. He doesn't truly want to know what Snape thinks about it.
Then the one-year-anniversary of Harry Potter's victory over You-Know-Who comes. It's annoying that Snape's wand, which has suffered a lot in the past, chooses this day to explode in his face. He feels uncomfortable without it – even more so after having been deprived of it during his stay at Azkaban – and so he pays Diagon Alley a visit. Percy, who every now and then stops by at Flourish and Blott's anyway, decides to accompany him.
Snape gets a new wand at Ollivander's – eleven inches, Holly, with Dragon heartstring – and everything goes well until they leave the bookshop. Then a middle-aged witch suddenly screams and points a finger at them.
"You," she yells, and it's obvious she means Snape, "how dare you come here, today of all days? You should be ashamed to show your face among upright witches and wizards! You should have stayed in Azkaban where you belong!"
The crowd is gaping at the expected spectacle, but Snape merely stares at her calmly, then turns away. Percy however, suddenly feels furious, and it's not only about this ignorant person insulting Snape, because he should be able to ignore it as well.
It's also about the contempt the whole Wizarding world treats Snape with; it's about the faces contorted with hatred and demanding the Kiss for him when he'd been captured some years ago; it's about the aurors at the Ministry, trying to surpass one another with the gruesomeness of the treatment they planned for Snape should they get him. It's about the professor staring at his boggart, incorporating all he hates and fears about himself, about him sitting between the remainders of a destroyed office and, last but not least, about the fact that the man Percy now realises he feels more for than for anyone else, has considered to kill himself fifteen years ago, and Percy is scared that one day, he might try again.
"And you," he snaps at her, "instead of insulting him, you should have stayed in your kitchen and twirl your thumbs, like you did all the time he spent fighting for you, the years he spent with the Dementors because he sacrificed everything for you! Don't talk about things you don't understand!"
He doesn't wait for her to reply, but rushes after Snape toward the Leakey Cauldron, and they don't speak a word all the way back home.
Neither of them eats much tonight, and after dinner, they sit in the living room, Percy in the armchair, Snape on the couch, both reading, or pretending to read, as far as Percy is concerned. He would like to talk to Snape, about today, and about other things, but he doesn't dare to, and he doesn't know how. They have never talked about things like these.
Finally, he lays aside the book with an exasperated sigh, and when he looks up, he finds the other man staring at him intently, as though he'd been doing that for quite some time already.
"You should have ignored her, "Snape finally says. "It's just what they want. A reaction. So they can get even more upset and feel justified in doing so."
Percy nods. "I know. But I couldn't."
"I could," Snape retorts pointedly, and Percy is not entirely sure whether the sharp tone conveys anger toward him for his reaction, or pain because of today's events. There is an embarrassed silence, then:
"Why did you come? To Azkaban."
His voice doesn't give away anything, but Percy has learnt to read him better now, and he sees how important his answer is for Snape. He forces himself to speak calmly, to not show how ridiculously nervous he feels.
"To see you."
"I would never have guessed." A pause. "Why? All of it."
Instead of answering, Percy gets up and walks over to the couch, then sits down and carefully puts his arm around Snape's bony form. He feels the other man tense for a second, but then, slowly, Snape leans against him, laying his head on Percy's shoulder.
They stay like this for a long time.
Slowly, autumn gives way to winter, and Percy means to notice that Snape sometimes gives him odd looks when he thinks Percy doesn't see it. He will just stare at him with his dark, unreadable eyes, and Percy wonders what it could mean. He tries not to think about it, because he doesn't want to nourish false hope. He also tries not to think about what kind of hope, exactly. In the morning, Snape now often finds a cold cup of tea in the kitchen.
Hesitantly, their conversations move into a more personal direction, and although it sometimes is awkward and uncomfortable, Percy likes the development. He thinks that Snape does, too, because otherwise, he wouldn't let it happen.
"Do you miss them?" Snape once asks when he enters the living room and sees Percy sit at the writing table, answering a letter from his mother. As she promised, she writes regularly, and this time, George has added some lines under her letter as well.
Percy looks up, but he finds that he can't answer. So he just nods and turns back to the letter again, his knuckles white as he clutches the pen tightly. Hearing it spoken by someone else is different, worse. He almost jumps when suddenly, he feels Snape's hand on his shoulder, but after some moments, he closes his eyes and allows the touch to soothe him. It is over too soon.
The weeks go by, and there are more incidents like this. Christmas comes, and Snape scoffs at the tree Percy gets them, but he doesn't refuse to help decorating it.
Christmas Morning is mostly pleasant: Percy has got Snape cards for the theatre, a modern satire play, and Snape found a rare and old book about archaeology for him – Percy has developed an interest in Egyptian myths and legends. There is a tense moment when Percy opens a parcel that came by post and finds a jumper in it, together with a letter from his mother, Bill and George. Ginny has also signed it, and Percy sits on the couch, the words becoming blurred before his eyes as he tries to pull himself together.
He feels how Snape takes the letter and instead puts the jumper in his hands.
"Why don't you just wear it?" he suggests calmly, and Percy nods, pulls the jumper over his shirt and forces a smile.
The rest of the day goes by quietly; Percy immerses himself in his new book while Snape seems to have planned on listening to as many of Dvorak's compositions during one afternoon as possible.
After dinner, Percy has resorted to arranging his stamp-collection, a hobby Mr. Pomeroy introduced him to. He likes it, because it's about accuracy and order and completeness, although many people don't understand that and would consider it plain boring. Snape is sitting in the armchair, reading. It's a silent atmosphere, something they often have in the evening, and Percy has come to like this time of day best.
"Albus always used to make me ridiculous Christmas presents," Snape says suddenly, completely out of the blue. Percy turns from the writing table and looks at him surprisedly: he has never talked about Dumbledore before.
"Sherbet lemons, every bloody year," Snape goes on, staring down at the book. "I don't like them, you would think he had noticed after so many years. A lilac bathrobe once, and slippers with yellow bunnies. Did he honestly believe I would wear them?"
The book falls to the floor, Snape's fists clenched.
"There should have been another way!" His voice is thick and rough and unlike anything Percy has heard from him during the last years. It reminds him of school, seventh year, first year. "I should have found a solution, shouldn't have made this damned vow, should have done something to save him! Not kill him, even though he told me to!"
Percy hesitates, but then gets up and approaches him, sitting down on the armrest. When Snape closes his eyes, he looks pained, tired, older than his years.
"I miss him," he whispers, and then Percy is holding him, Snape's face pressed to his neck, his shoulders shaking, but he doesn't cry and doesn't make a sound. Later, they go to bed without talking any more.
After some hours, Percy is still lying awake when he hears Snape screaming in his sleep once more. He waits and listens for some minutes, until everything is silent again. It's just when he sighs and pulls his blanket higher, willing himself to sleep, that his door opens and he hears slow steps, halting in front of the bed. He doesn't quite know what Snape needs, but he knows what he, himself, wants, and so, he silently lifts the blanket and waits.
When finally, he falls asleep, the front of his pyjama top is wet and sticking to his chest, his warm body tightly wrapped around Snape. There are no more dreams that night.
Their first kiss is in February, on a Wednesday morning, down in the shop. A customer has just left, and the shop is empty, so Percy goes to the storeroom to see how Snape gets along with cataloguing the new additions to the esotericism and witchcraft section – something that never ceases to amuse them. Percy finds Snape standing in front of a shelf, holding an open book in his hands. Specks of dust are dancing in the sunbeams that fall through the unusually large windows at the back of the house and make the grey strands in Snape's hair shimmer. He smiles, unconsciously as Percy assumes, as he seems totally immersed in what he is reading.
Snape looks good, Percy thinks, not "beautiful" or "breathtaking", or whatever kind of nonsense those trashy romance novels want to tell you, but good in a way that makes Percy feel at ease with himself and their life. At this moment, it doesn't seem so hard to simply go over, take the book out of his hands and kiss him, so Percy does. It's a light, slow kiss, and eventually, they pull back and just look at each other, Percy's hand wrung up into Severus's hair, the older man's arms around his waist. Severus smiles and kisses him again, and only when the bell calls Percy to the front do they let go of each other.
They come quite easily to terms with this change of their relationship, and more so, because they take it slowly and don't rush anything.
A week after this, Percy tries to go and comfort Severus after a nightmare, but is thrown out of the bed, literally. He feels a rush of anger at first, but when Severus tells him to leave, he recognises his tone. It's like back in Azkaban, and now, looking down at the curled up form under the blanket, Severus's face turned away from him, Percy understands. He leaves and doesn't try again. He puts a Silencing Charm on Severus's room, not the flat, and a week later, he is not awoken by screams, but by Severus climbing into his bed. He holds him for a while, then they kiss and make love for half of the remaining night.
It's Saturday afternoon, and they are at home, waiting for someone from the water supply company to come and have a look at the water meter. They had planned on going to the park, but obviously, five o'clock still falls under 'around noon', and so they're sitting in the living room with the windows open, slightly irritated, but not really angry, Chopin softly playing in the background. They still have separate bedrooms, but half of the nights, Severus sleeps now in Percy's bed. They still don't rush, and to Percy it seems they are both happy.
At half past five, the doorbell rings, and Severus gets up and goes to open the door.
"It's about bloody time you finally…" Percy hears him sneer, but then there is a sudden silence, and after some moments:
"Severus. May I come in?"
The door closes again, and Severus appears in the doorway of the living room, a familiar figure from the past behind him.
"Why don't you sit down?" Severus offers politely, voice and expression deadpan.
"Thank you," Remus Lupin says, his smile just like Percy remembers. He sits down in the armchair and greets him, and Percy greets back, all of a sudden feeling numb and distant. He observes the guest – not quite so shabby clothes any more, hair greyer, new wrinkles around the eyes – then gets up.
"I'll get you a cup of tea," he says, and quickly brushes past Severus, out of the room and into the kitchen where the tea is just ready.
He is deliberately noisy when he gets out the cups and saucers, because he doesn't want to hear them talk. For some unfathomable reason, his hands are shaking, and he spills some of the tea over one of them when he tries to pour it. He swears silently and holds the hand under cold water, then performs a Healing Charm on it. When he comes back to the living room, Severus is sitting on the couch, opposite Lupin.
"Just two cups?" he asks when Percy puts them down, and Percy nods curtly and leaves again. Back in the kitchen, he sits down at the table and stares at his own tea of which he knows it will get cold.
"…you are well," he hears Lupin's voice from the living room.
"I am fine." Severus.
"That's good to see. What do you do for a living nowadays? Still something involving potions?"
"No. That belongs to the past. I work in the bookshop downstairs, together with Percy. He is the owner, and I am his assistant, to be precise."
A short, befuddled silence, then Lupin chuckles. "Wouldn't have imagined to see the day that you willingly become somebody's assistant," he says amusedly.
"The circumstances, Lupin," Severus replies shortly, but not angrily. If he doesn't want to, no one can tell what he thinks or feels; even Percy has still difficulties.
"I see." Lupin sounds slightly uneasy now. "Look, Severus, I… I don't approve of the way most people behave toward you, I want you to know that."
"Thank you." Severus could as well have thanked someone for passing the salt.
They are silent, and Percy hears the soft rattling of tea cups. Out on the street, a dog barks, then a child begins to cry. His own tea stays untouched.
"Severus," Lupin again, this time obviously struggling for words. "I don't know what to say. I've always… you've always made me feel as if I could talk to a wall as well."
"Why don't you just tell my why, precisely, you are here."
"You say that as if it were so easy!"
"Well, is it not?"
"No. It's not!" Lupin now sounds clearly upset, but more desperate than angry, and that, in turn, makes Percy feel desperate, although he should have no reason.
"I… I want you to know that I'm sorry – for everything. For how they treat you and… for how I treated you. That I didn't come earlier. And how things went between us. I always believed… I… I mean I hoped that there might be…" he trails off, seemingly realising he is talking incoherently.
"I guess you're right. Maybe it is so easy. I… I just hoped we could be friends. Would that be so impossible?"
Percy stares down at his clenched hands, his knuckles white, fingernails digging into his palms.
"Friends," Severus repeats, and he sounds like Lupin had indeed talked to a wall. But then he goes on, and Percy doesn't think he imagines that his voice is just a tad softer and warmer than before. "A curious idea. That might be hard, but no, not entirely impossible."
"Thank you." It seems as if a stone had just fallen off Lupin's chest – and landed on Percy's.
They finish their tea in silence, and finally, he hears Severus bring Lupin to the door.
"Tonks is pregnant," the werewolf says softly.
"Congratulations are in order, then, I assume."
"I'll keep in touch, all right?"
"That would be welcome."
The door closes, and Severus goes back to the living room. Percy gets up, pours his tea into the sink and begins to prepare dinner.
They don't talk, and Percy doesn't eat much. Afterwards, they sit in the living room, Severus reading, Percy sorting his stamps, but he can't concentrate and accidentally rips two of them. In the end, he slams the album shut in a most untypical manner. Severus looks up from his book and questioningly arches an eyebrow at the younger man, who has got up and is now approaching him.
Percy grabs Severus by the arm and pulls him to his feet, then drags the unresisting man toward his bedroom.
"Undress!" is all he says as he starts to quickly unbutton his shirt, and by the time he has finished, Severus is naked as well, and Percy pushes him down on the bed.
This time, their lovemaking isn't gentle, as it usually is, no kisses and stroking and soft words. This time, it's all nails and teeth and sweat and flesh, Severus pinned under Percy's body, writhing beneath him, moaning, pleading, and it is only the last remainder of his dignity that prevents Percy from growling "Mine, mine, mine!" as he slams into him again and again.
When Percy is finally coherent enough to speak again, Severus has already fallen asleep. Percy performs a Cleaning Charm, then covers Severus with the blanket and puts on his pyjama. He goes to the kitchen and makes tea, and for the next hour, he sits at the kitchen table, staring at the cup. He has long given up asking himself why he makes the tea at all.
In the end, he decides to go back to bed, and when he crawls under the covers, the sleeping man instinctively snuggles close, then murmurs a name.
All fear and frustration suddenly gone, Percy wraps his arms around Severus and smiles.
"Yes, it's me."