Disclaimer: All settings and characters of Harry Potter belong to J.K. Rowling and her publishers; no money is being made.
Darkness. Floating. Void. Senseless. Bodiless. No words, no concepts. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing in the dark.
Touches first, soft and sweet, caressing, soothing. Later a voice, gentle, incomprehensible murmurs like warm rain. Words at last, concerned, comforting. "You'll be all right." – "I'll be back soon." – "You deserve better."
The contrasts of warm and cold, soft and hard, tired and awake. Confusion, fear, loneliness. A wet sensation on skin, more touches to wipe the wetness away. "Don't cry. You're not alone."
Anticipation, waiting, longing. Longing for touches in the dark.
The room is garish in its white blankness, Percy's steps echoing loudly in the silence, not cushioned by carpet or any unnecessary furniture. He sits down and opens his briefcase, taking out parchment, quill and ink. One quick signature later, he can leave again. He wouldn't even have to sit.
But he doesn't feel like leaving after just a minute; he never does. On Fridays, he's invited at the Burrow for family dinner, and the thought of the bustle and happiness that await him depresses him each time that he is here. It's not that he dislikes dinner with his family – on the contrary, he loves and enjoys it greatly – but the contrast is sharp and painful each time.
He doesn't want to think about why he cares so much, only that it gets worse with time, and he resents the Ministry for charging him with this duty. It's not like it is making much sense, coming here every second week to make sure that he is still there. Law is law, though, and nobody is exempt from it, not even a man who has been in a coma for almost two years.
Percy sighs, still staring down at the parchment. "Severus Snape" it reads at the top, followed by a long row of dates and signatures – each of them Percy's, as Snape cannot give his own like the other few Death Eaters who were spared Azkaban in the wake of their master's downfall. They, too, have to report to the Ministry twice a month, or else they'll be arrested and taken to prison immediately.
Law is law, Death Eater is Death Eater, and it doesn't matter to the Ministry that Snape cannot run, nor does it that Harry Potter claims that he was always working against Voldemort.
Not everyone believes it, of course, but Percy does; he and all of his family, most Order members, and at least some part of the public. They have Harry's word on it, after all, and you don't dismiss the word of your hero so easily.
Percy has been here for almost ten minutes, but only now does he look up to face Snape. He doesn't like to see him like this – frail and silent, his black hair the only contrast to the snow-white bedding. It's hard to accept that this should be Snape, much harder than accepting that his former teacher had murdered Dumbledore and betrayed them all. At least then he was alive and powerful, like Percy had known and liked him at school.
Shaking his head, Percy puts the parchment back into the briefcase, and like always, the sound of the buckles clicking shut almost makes him flinch. How long has it been since there were voices in this room other than those of St. Mungo's staff? Christmas maybe, and maybe longer, and he doubts that anyone will come until next Christmas, if at all. He can't know for sure, of course, but it's been a year since he met anyone on his appointed visits. Even Harry, who visited a lot in the beginning, has other things to do nowadays.
He gets up and takes a step, then turns around again. Without knowing why, without thinking, he reaches out to touch Snape's cheek. The skin is dry and warm, and Percy lets his fingers linger for a little.
"Until next time," he says, although Snape can't hear him. He talks softly here, because his voice seems too loud in the silence, and it's a pleasant change from the air of determination and competence he has to emanate at work. Moments later, he feels silly, and he leaves quickly.
Two weeks from then, Snape looks flushed and feverish; a nurse informs Percy that he's contracted pneumonia. Would anyone else know about it, Percy wonders, and if yes, would they visit? He'd planned on keeping his stay short this time, but in the end finds himself holding a clammy hand, listening to Snape's crackling breaths for half an hour.
Watching him, he has to think back to school – he can't remember that Snape was ever sick during his time. Many of his classmates, of course, always hoped for it before their Potions lessons, but were disappointed each and every time.
Percy has never quite gotten their antipathy towards Snape. He wasn't the most pleasant person, but in Percy's opinion, a teacher didn't have to be nice, he had to be competent. And that Snape had been, and so Percy had found no reason to complain. On the contrary, he'd always liked Potions – the precision that was necessary to succeed, the cut and dried approach Snape was taking: follow the recipe to the letter, and no problems will arise.
A few times during his sixth and seventh school year, he even had assisted the professor in some of his more complicated potions experiments for which he had needed a second pair of hands. The other students would probably have declared him even more insane than they already thought he was if he'd told them that he had found it rather pleasant to work under Snape.
There had hardly been any talking, except for Snape's instructions, but Percy had liked the quiet feeling of efficiency their work had evoked in him, and he'd gotten the impression that Snape might think alike. At least his teacher had declared that Percy had been "most helpful" after the first time, and that – unlike most other students – he would make a decent brewer if he set his mind to it. In Percy's opinion, that was as much of a compliment as one could possibly expect from Snape.
He'd felt more than a little flattered then, and it had been the point when he had realised that a ridiculous thing had happened: he had a schoolboy crush on his teacher.
Even now Percy feels himself flush slightly because of the silliness of it all. He's long over it, of course, but for a while, he had suffered from disturbing dreams involving Snape, and sometimes had even found himself losing focus and daydreaming in the middle of class, which was completely unacceptable.
"You need to get better," he tells Snape before he leaves.
That evening, at the Burrow, while everyone is talking and eating, he can't help but think of Snape, and when he lies in bed, he finds it difficult to fall asleep.
It takes a month until Snape is better, and Percy feels relieved when he hears that the man has recovered. He doesn't quite know why this seems so important to him, especially since Snape still might never wake up again, but he can't deny that he is glad, and that's what he says to Snape when he visits. It doesn't feel quite so awkward any more to talk to him by now.
Weeks go by, more of his signatures fill the parchment with Snape's name on it, and on a few occasions a nurse will tell him that it's good that his visits have become longer. There's nobody else, they say, and it's a shame. Percy tries to protest that he's not here on his own behalf, but realises that it doesn't sound very credible, even to him.
"If checking up on you were appointed to someone else, I'd still come."
Christmas is approaching, the country disappears under a blanket of snow, and Percy sets out to do Christmas shopping. The presents for his parents and siblings aren't hard to choose, and he does all right with those for his few good friends. There is one present, though, that's giving him difficulties.
On Christmas Day, he stops by at St. Mungo's before he visits with his family to celebrate. There's a huge Christmas tree at the reception, and everything is decorated nicely, but Percy still finds the idea of Christmas in a hospital depressing. The feeling doesn't get better when he enters Snape's room – here, nothing has changed; it's just as blank and white as ever, and Snape looks small under the covers, wrapped into himself, unreached by the world and its Christmas cheer.
Percy sits down and reaches out carefully; he'd felt that touching Snape was inappropriate at first, but the staff has encouraged him not to stop – if anything, it can only help, they say.
Snape's hair glides through his fingers limply, and he wonders what the man would say if he were conscious. The Snape everyone knew would have snapped at him, but that seems like a different life by now. Without any obvious cause, Percy suddenly wishes that Snape would snap at him, that he were awake and could glare at him, berate him for his forwardness. It's not as though he didn't wish for him to wake up the rest of the time – but never with this fervour, this sudden sting inside his chest.
"How did this happen?" he asks Snape, but he already knows the answer.
It's been a strange realisation, slow and difficult, evolving over weeks and months, and now he doesn't know what to do with it.
After almost an hour, he gets up from his chair, but before he leaves, he opens his bag full of presents. He didn't know what to get, and so he'd tried to be practical in the end, deciding on a quilt in muted shades of blue. He isn't sure what to do with it for some moments, but finally puts it on the nightstand, together with an unobtrusive Christmas card.
"Would be pointless to wish you a happy Christmas, wouldn't it?"
He touches Snape's cheek to say goodbye, and then he is leaning forward, brushing a kiss on the other man's temple. He knows immediately that he won't repeat it – it's a line not to cross, and it was a mistake – but for a few seconds, he allows himself to not regret it.
"I'll be back soon," he says, determined to visit more often during his free time between Christmas and New Year's Day.
When he returns two days later, Snape is covered with the quilt instead of a hospital blanket, and it makes Percy smile. It doesn't last long, though – he suddenly feels foolish for having gotten it, a useless attempt at bringing some life into this room. It's not like the colour of Snape's blanket would change a thing. It doesn't make him wake up, and it doesn't make people remember him.
Percy bites his lip, noticing with irritation the tears that are stinging behind closed eyelids.
"You deserve so much better than this."
More time goes by, it is summer again, and Percy means to see a change in Snape. At first, he thinks he's imagining things, but when he asks, the healers confirm it.
In a way he can't describe, Snape seems stronger, more alive, as if he were on the brink of awaking. He'll make sounds every now and then when Percy touches him – a sigh, a moan, a whimper. There is a day when Percy arrives and finds Snape's cheeks wet with tears. He takes out a clean handkerchief and wipes them away, and he wonders what might have caused them.
"Don't cry," he says softly. "You're not alone."
Then, one day in October, a message reaches his office – Snape is awake. Percy feels thrilled and strangely sad at once.
It's four days later that he has to visit next, and when he enters, Snape turns his head to see who has come. He looks weak and tired, but quite lucid, and all Percy can think for a moment is how strange it is to see him like this. Then he pulls himself together and approaches the bed, sitting down in the chair with his briefcase on his lap.
"Mr. Snape," he says, and it's his business voice, all softness gone from it, "can you understand me?"
Snape nods lightly.
"Yes." It's a hoarse whisper, very different from what Percy remembers.
"And do you know who I am?"
"Weasley," Snape answers, then specifies, "Percival."
Percy feels pleased, but he doesn't let it show.
"I'm here on behalf of the Ministry," he says instead, opening his briefcase to get out the parchment. "It is the law that each former Death Eater has to report to us every second week in order not to be deported to Azkaban. Despite Harry Potter's claim that you were indeed fighting Voldemort, that law also applies to you, and I've been coming here regularly to confirm your presence. I've signed your report chart during that time, but as soon as you are able to, you will be required to do so yourself. I shall bring it here as long as you'll be staying; once you leave, you'll have to come to my office to sign."
Snape is silent for some time, a frown building on his forehead.
"That's absurd," he finally murmurs. "What did they think I'd do – jump out of bed and Apparate away all of a sudden?"
Percy agrees, it is absurd; he's always been thinking the same. Even now it seems exhausting for Snape to simply talk with him.
"You are right. It doesn't seem to make much sense."
Percy feels uncomfortable in Snape's presence – he never has before – and all he wants to do is leave the room. He doesn't know how to behave now that the other man is awake; they're not friends, despite everything that happened. Snape doesn't even know about it, after all.
"Can you give your signature?" he asks, but Snape shakes his head, slowly moving a hand. It's still clenched like it was while he was unconscious.
"They're going to work on it tomorrow."
Percy nods and signs the parchment himself, then puts it away and gets up.
"I'll see you in two weeks. Good day, Mr. Snape."
There is a heavy feeling of loss when he leaves the room, and he can't shake it off for the rest of the day.
Severus feels slightly disoriented when he opens his eyes, blinking as he tries to clear his thoughts. He is lying on his couch, he realises after a few moments, the book he'd been reading still in his hands. He must have been more tired than he thought and fallen asleep.
With a yawn, he sits up and puts the book away, then reaches out to take the cup from the table. The tea is cold, though, and when he looks at the watch on the wall, it tells him that he has slept for over an hour.
Severus lies back with a tired sigh, deciding not to get up and go to bed. Closing his eyes, he remembers the dream he had – it is easy, because he has dreamt it so often by now, and it's always the same.
There is darkness around him, thick and impenetrable. He can't move, can't make a sound, and for some time, the world seems to consist only of this darkness, this void. It's a terrifying feeling to exist alone in that place, but he is helpless; there is nothing he can do.
Then something changes, someone is there. He's being touched, carefully, gently, and he can feel the cold void around him retreat, replaced by warmth and an alien but satisfying feeling of comfort.
There are whispers as well, too soft to be understood except for one thing: "You're not alone."
Severus curls up tighter, pulling the blue quilt closer around himself. He doesn't understand the dream, and he wishes it would finally leave him be. During the last three years since he awoke in St. Mungo's, he has been entirely alone.
Oh, there had been visitors once the news of his recovery had spread. Some Order members, some former colleagues from Hogwarts – McGonagall, Flitwick, Hagrid, and Sprout – and to his chagrin also Potter, who'd looked at him and talked to him with an awkward kind of sympathy that had made Severus want to throttle him. But those had been singular incidents; they all had stayed away again soon.
Most people believe now that he was not on Voldemort's side, but on Potter's; there has been a trial and he's been cleared of the charge of murdering Dumbledore. Still, they don't trust him and shun him in the streets – he doesn't even think that it is ill will, just an instinctive reaction, and the only thing he can do is resign himself to it.
He shivers under the light blanket; it's October, and there is something wrong with the heating at Spinner's End. He doesn't want to get up again, but he won't sleep properly here, and he needs to get up early tomorrow and make his biweekly report with Weasley at the Ministry. Finally, he gives up and leaves the couch in favour of his bed. With the warmer covers spread over himself and the quilt, he dozes off into a fitful slumber.
The next day passes uneventfully. He stops by at the Ministry, signs his report chart and makes a few minutes of small talk with Weasley. It's about work, nothing else – Severus has been given a job in which he can work from home, researching ancient potion recipes in Middle English, Old English, and Latin. It's ironical that the Ministry will employ him, but not trust him enough to take him off the list of those who have to report their presence, and if it weren't for the fact that there is no other work to be had for him, he wouldn't have accepted.
When he comes home, he sets to work, and in the evening, he cooks, eats, reads a book, and goes to sleep. It's a dull routine, but there is nothing else to do. It's been like this since he was released from St. Mungo's two and a half years ago, and he doubts that there will be any changes soon, if at all.
When he had still been teaching at Hogwarts, he used to wish for something like this: being left alone, away from noisy children and colleagues, free to spend his time as he sees fit. But now he finds that it's not what he imagined; he misses the presence of other people – the occasional banter with McGonagall before Albus died, Hagrid's irritating attempts at being friendly. With hindsight, even the students don't seem so bad any more.
Once a month, he delivers his findings at the Ministry, but it takes less than five minutes to hand them in, and so his only social contact, if you want to call it that, is chatting with Weasley for a few minutes about impersonal things. It's strange: he hardly spends any time with him, but he finds that he has come to like Weasley. He'd been a capable student in his days at Hogwarts – polite, respectful, hard-working and intelligent – and now he has an aura of competence that suits him quite well.
For some indefinable reason, Severus feels relaxed in his presence, something he isn't used to at all. But it's not enough to quench the suffocating loneliness that has crept up on him. They hardly know each other, after all.
It isn't that he is not used to loneliness, quite the contrary is the case. But things are different from how they used to be, he is different now. He would have thought that such a close brush with death and the treatment he is now receiving would leave him more cynical and indifferent than before, but instead they left him feeling raw, as though he had shed a protective skin that he now misses more often than not.
Severus has started to wonder why he woke up from the poison-induced coma at all. If this is what he can expect of his life, he could as well have stayed unconscious. The difference doesn't seem so big, except that he now feels more miserable than before. He knows that these thoughts are unhealthy, but he's used to feeling close to insane, and he doesn't know what to do about it.
And then there are the anxiety attacks.
It's not enough that he dreams of floating in a void, no. Without forewarning, he will suddenly feel as though the world around him were crumbling away, leaving nothing but empty darkness to surround him – like the void of his dreams. It's absurd, but he has never felt so scared before, not even at the feet of Voldemort, with his master's want pointed at him. It's debilitating, and he is glad that he doesn't have to leave home to work.
Two weeks creep by, Friday arrives, and once again it is time to assure the Ministry that he doesn't have any intention to run off and start a group of Neo-Death Eaters all on his own.
He hasn't slept well, and he has a headache that makes him feel restless and apprehensive. Even with the extensive help of magic, his body hasn't overcome Nagini's poison without any after-effects: three or four times a year, he will have a seizure, and it's only thanks to potions that it doesn't happen much more often. But today, he has a foreboding feeling, and he hurries to the Ministry after breakfast to get it over with as quickly as possible.
Percy is disappointed when Snape makes to leave immediately after signing. He appreciates the few minutes of talking they usually have, although he never dares directing the subject into a more personal direction. But his disappointment turns into shock when all of a sudden, Snape falls and starts jerking.
Percy's mind is reeling as he rushes to Snape's side – like all other Ministry employees, he's learnt about seizures during first aid classes in preparation for the war, but theory and practice are something different entirely. He quickly takes off his jacket to put it under the older man's head, relieved that he didn't hit the edge of his desk or a shelf as he fell.
It takes barely a minute until it is over, and a short while later, Snape blinks and groans, indicating that he's coming to. He mumbles something and tries so sit, but his arm gives way and he slumps to the floor again.
"Don't move," Percy says, placing his hand on Snape's shoulder. "Everything's all right, but you need to wait a little."
Snape tries to resist, but is apparently exhausted, for he closes his eyes again and sighs, going limp under Percy's touch.
"It's all right," Percy repeats, never noticing that his voice has changed from neutral and business-like to the softer tones he used at St. Mungo's. "Just rest a bit until you feel better."
They stay like this for a minute or two, and without his doing, Percy's hand has started stroking Snape's shoulder to reassure him. Finally, Snape brings up a hand to rub his eyes, and when he opens them, he seems more lucid again.
"Weasley?" he asks, still looking somewhat confused. "I...was that..."
"You had a seizure," Percy explains, helping the other man to sit. "Are you all right?"
Snape nods and rubs his eyes again. "Headache," he murmurs.
Percy looks at him appraisingly, then makes a decision.
"I'll take the morning off and bring you home. Can you stand?"
They try, Percy's arm still wrapped around Snape's shoulder, and the other man doesn't object when Percy leaves it there as they exit his office – just in case.
Snape's home is not connected to the Floo network, and Apparating in the offices and corridors is forbidden, but there is an Apparition hall on the ground floor. They make it there without problems, then Percy Apparates them both into Snape's living room.
He makes Snape sit on the couch, and because it's cold, he takes the next blanket he sees and wraps it around him. Only when he pulls away does he realise which blanket it is, and there is an odd warmth in his stomach.
"Do you need anything else?"
Snape shakes his head, snuggling into the quilt as he lies down.
"No, I…I'd like to sleep. I'm tired."
"All right." Percy takes a book from the shelf next to the couch and sits down in an armchair. "I'll stay until you wake up; you shouldn't be alone."
Snape seems inclined to protest at first, but then only murmurs a "Thank you," before he falls asleep quickly.
Severus wakes up to the fading remnants of his usual dream, the gentle whisper that he is not alone still in his ears.
He feels confused, however, when footsteps and the sound of rattling china mix into it, and when he opens his eyes and sits, there is Percy Weasley, just putting a tray with the teapot and two cups on the table.
"What are you doing here?"
Weasley looks up and smiles, though there is also a look of apprehension.
"You had a seizure in my office this morning. I brought you home and stayed while you slept."
Severus barely listens to the words; he merely stares at Weasley, struggling to process what his mind is telling him.
"…you all right? Mr. Snape? Can you hear me?"
Shaking his head to clear his thoughts, Severus realises that Weasley is sitting next to him now, a hand on his shoulder, concern written all over his face.
"Mr. Snape?" he asks again in a soft voice that Severus recognises perfectly. He's never consciously heard Weasley use it, but it has been in his dreams nearly every night for years.
"I'm…I'm fine," he finally manages.
"Are you sure?" Weasley doesn't look convinced. "Maybe you should let yourself be checked at St. Mungo's."
Severus shakes his head. "No, it's all right. I'm just still a little tired. It's always like that after a seizure; I'll rest and be well tomorrow."
Weasley seems still doubtful, but nods and, with a last gentle squeeze, takes away his hand from Severus's arm. Severus has the bizarre urge to tell him not to do it, but he swallows it and accepts the cup of tea he is offered.
"I'm sorry I went through your kitchen to look for everything, but I figured these were exceptional circumstances."
They drink their tea in silence, and when they're finished, Severus can convince Weasley to leave. When the younger man is gone, he curls up under his quilt once again. So much is making sense now – and at the same time, it isn't.
He knows from the healers and nurses that Weasley was the only one to regularly see him during his stay at St. Mungo's. Is it too far-fetched to think that his dream is not a dream after all? That instead, it is a memory? But if so, what reason did Weasley have? And why does he now act as though nothing had ever happened?
Of course, he could simply ask him, but the mere idea makes him grimace. It would be pathetic if he were mistaken, and he still has retained at least some of his pride.
There is another way, though, and Weasley will never have to know. The Legilimency that is commonly known is a crude thing, blunt and like a blow on the head. Not many know that there is another way to do it, one that doesn't involve a wand and does not let the victim notice that his mind is being searched. Severus has mastered it years ago, and he is sure that he is still capable of it.
Content to have found at least some solution, he pulls the blanket up higher, only to frown and run his fingers over the soft fabric. It had been a Christmas present, a nurse had told him; though she didn't know by whom, as there had been Mr. Weasley, Mr. Potter, and Professor McGonagall to visit him.
What if it was from Weasley?
He feels flushed with the thought all of a sudden, a heavy warmth settling in the pit of his stomach. It's the most enjoyable sensation he's had in a long time, and it irritates him to no end. So what if the quilt was a present by Weasley? What if the man had acted on some attack of Christmas spirits and gotten it for him? It was a kind thing to do for a sick person, no more and no less.
He's grown attached to the thing – although he dislikes blue – simply because it had touched him that someone had thought of giving it to him at all. It is silly to imagine that he likes it even more now because it might be more likely that it came from Weasley rather than anyone else. Yet that feeling won't go away, and when he finally falls asleep, he once more dreams of touches in the dark.
Two weeks later, Severus is queasy with anticipation. He hardly slept, and he couldn't touch breakfast. It's ridiculous, but he can't help it. At Weasley's office, he can hardly concentrate as they talk, instead brooding over whether or not to follow through with his plan.
He dreads it, because what if it's all bogus, what if it is only a dream? He will feel like a desperate idiot, making up pipe dreams because he can't take reality. Even worse – what if he is right? He has no idea what to think in that case. In the end, he goes home without a result, feeling gloomy and annoyed with himself.
It's the same the next time, and it's not doing him any good. He feels restless and irritable, and he doesn't sleep well. This has to come to and end, and soon.
Four weeks after he had planned on doing it, Severus finally takes heart. Weasley is answering a question he asked him – it's a long, drawn-out explanation on some bureaucratic procedure in which Severus isn't interested in the slightest, but it keeps him occupied as Severus carefully probes his mind.
He searches for images of himself – there is he coming to Weasley's office, he drinking tea at Spinner's End, he teaching Potions at Hogwarts. Finally, there is an image of him in his comatose state. It's more than disconcerting to see himself like this, and he almost pulls away, but manages to stop just in time. Scene upon scene unfolds before him, all involving him and Weasley surrounded by the white walls of St. Mungo's.
He seems sick – his breathing rattles, and his face is flushed and glistening with sweat. Weasley reaches out and takes his hand.
Weasley pulls up his blanket as he arrives, then sits and starts stroking Severus's hair.
The briefcase clicks shut as Weasley gets up to leave, touching Severus's cheek with a gentle smile. "See you in two weeks."
The quilt and the card on the nightstand, having been placed there by Weasley. "Would be pointless to wish you a happy Christmas, wouldn't it?" He leans down to kiss Severus's temple.
Weasley stares down at him, who is covered with the quilt, then closes his eyes as if in pain. "You deserve so much better than this."
Severus moans weakly, face twitching as Weasley cups his cheek. "You'll wake up soon, you'll see. You'll be all right."
Slowly, Severus draws back his mental presence. It seems that Weasley hasn't noticed anything, because he is still talking, a look of concentration on his face.
"…know that it is probably exaggerated, but those rules do exist for a reason, so there's no point in complaining. It just takes half a day every time; you simply need to include that in your planning."
Severus nods absent-mindedly. "I see. That was very informative."
Weasley seems pleased to have been of help, and Severus leaves soon after, glad to be away from the other man and be able to think things through alone.
A week later, he is sitting on the couch with a cup of tea, feeling none the wiser. So Weasley had felt…attached to him for some reason. But which reason? Had it been pity? He would be inclined to think that, if it weren't for that kiss. It's what confuses him most – it simply doesn't make sense.
What makes even less sense is his own response to all this. It almost seems as though he were developing some kind of romantic feelings toward Weasley. But that would just be pathetic: falling for the first – and only – person to show him some kindness. Moreover, it's been nearly three years since then, and Weasley has never shown any indication of being interested in him as a person.
And besides, there is Lily.
Severus sighs and finishes his tea, then stares down into the empty cup. There is another confusing thing going on. He'd told Albus that he would always love her, and he knows that he still means it. Yet the pain over her death, which had been so poignant even sixteen years later, now seems to have dulled inexplicably. It is still there, but not as prevalent, not as important. He has done all that he could to avenge her; he's been willing to give his life for that goal, and now that it's over, there is nothing else he could possibly give her.
He'll always feel guilty for her death, but if it there is any sense behind him still being alive, then it can't be only so he will be miserable forever. He could never have imagined it before, and it's what he finds most disturbing – that he doesn't want to chasten himself over it any more. Maybe, just maybe, there is another chance waiting for him, and he is entirely unwilling to let it get ruined by the past.
If those last few years have taught him anything, then it's that he hasn't been truly living since he was a child, and he is sick of it.
With a harsh, sudden movement, Severus puts the cup back on the table. He's sick of grieving, sick of waiting, sick of being alone! But he'll never find out if he just sits around, brooding. Nothing will change if he doesn't take action.
Percy sighs, putting away the papers for the department meeting which he's revised for the third time in as many days. It's Friday again, Snape can arrive to sign his report chart at any moment now, and while he is as usual looking forward to seeing the older man, it also makes him feel melancholy every time.
Almost three years have gone by, and his feelings haven't changed one bit. He's in love with Snape; he can admit that to himself by now. What he cannot do is admit it to Snape. He wouldn't even know where to begin.
He's never been good at talking about feelings, and he's never truly known how to flirt or otherwise show interest. With both Penelope and later Oliver, it had been them who'd sought him out, and even then he'd had difficulties realising what they wanted in the beginning. But at least they had been friends, and they'd had normal lives, very much unlike Snape.
The man is a mystery to Percy, appearing proud and reclusive – even more so now than he used to be before. If Percy were in his place, he is sure he would feel lonely.
His thoughts are interrupted by a knock at the door, and then Snape enters the room, black robes swirling around him as he makes his way to the desk. Percy tries to shove away the thought of how he's always liked that sight – for a short time at Hogwarts, he'd come early for each meal, just to see Snape enter the Great Hall in a billow of robes.
Snape signs the chart quickly, and then they talk, their conversation circling as usual around work. It's Snape's work this time, and he tells of the recipe of an old healing potion that he has found. It seems to be extraordinarily difficult, with many restrictions on the gathering and preparation of the ingredients, and Percy has to think of how they worked together in his last two years at school. He wouldn't mind helping Snape trying to brew this potion.
They talk longer than usual – it's never been more than ten minutes at the most – and after some time, Percy can't shake off the feeling that Snape is looking for a reason to stay, picking up another subject when they have exhausted the last. He doesn't mind – there isn't much work to do this morning – but he wonders what might have caused this.
Severus is ridiculously nervous. He's been here for over half an hour now, and as pleasant and intelligent as their conversation is, it is grating on his nerves. He needs to pull himself together, needs to ask what he wants to know, not try to put it off again and again.
But he doesn't manage to do it, and in the end, Weasley politely accompanies him to the door. Cursing himself, Severus notices how his pulse quickens as he stands next to him. He needs to know!
"It was you, wasn't it?"
Weasley frowns, looking confused by his abrupt statement.
"I was what?"
"When I was at St. Mungo's. There was something…someone…"
He falls silent, understanding spreading over Weasley's face. The younger man's freckled cheeks flush faintly, and suddenly, all that Severus wants is for Weasley to touch him again.
They're standing close, and without thinking, he takes Weasley's hand and guides it to his cheek.
"It was you," he repeats, closing his eyes. It feels just like he remembers.
Percy is staring at Snape in shock, unable to believe what is happening. He'd never have expected anything like it.
"Yes," he finally whispers. "Yes, it was me."
Snape's skin feels warm, just like he remembers, and he can't withstand the temptation, running his fingers gently over the clean-shaven cheek.
It's what Severus wanted – the confirmation, the touch – but now that he has it, it hurts instead of bringing him pleasure. It is obvious that Weasley wants it as well, and he cannot understand why it took so long for this to happen, why the other man never said anything.
He has to think of the time that has passed since he left St. Mungo's, almost three years in solitude and depression, and suddenly, the feeling he has despised most during all this time is creeping up on him, the black void surrounding him from all sides.
He shudders, terrified, and then the world collapses into a tiny space between Weasley's arms and chest, and he is inside it.
Percy is holding Snape tightly, waiting for him to stop shaking. He still doesn't fully understand what is happening, but that is not so important right now. Slowly, he starts stroking over Snape's hair, and as the minutes go by, Snape is getting calmer, until at last he is still in Percy's embrace.
"Better?" Percy asks softly, and Snape nods, pulling back with a somewhat embarrassed look.
"Why didn't you ever say something?" he demands, sounding irritated and shaken at once.
"I…I'm not sure. I thought that it was pity at first, but…that's not true. It's more." Percy looks away uncomfortably. "And when you woke up, I didn't know what to do. We didn't know each other. I…I've never been good at this." After a moment, he adds softly: "I didn't think you'd want me."
His answer is met with silence, and just when he wonders if he has ruined everything, there is a soft brushing of lips against his own. It's awkward and inexperienced, but it's perfect. Once more, Percy wraps his arms firmly around Snape.
"Are you sure it's a good idea?" Severus asks for the fifth time. It's Friday evening, and he and Percy are standing in front of the Burrow, Severus being about to attend the Weasley family dinner for the first time.
According to Percy, his parents have been urging him to make Severus come for weeks, but they both did not want to rush things too much. They have been together for five months now, slowly exploring each other, meeting for lunch or for dinner, going to the theatre a few times.
Percy grins. "It's too late to back out now," he says, and just when Severus is about to protest, the door opens and Molly Weasley is standing in front of them.
She hugs her son, then turns to Severus, and he is taken aback by the sincerity of her smile.
"Severus. I may call you Severus now, right? I'm glad you could come."
He, too, is pulled into a hug before he can prevent it, and from then on, he never stands a chance.
The food is delicious, the mood cheerful. He is being treated like everyone else, just like Hermione, Fleur, and Angelina. Thankfully, Potter is not attending today. After dinner, they have wine in the living room, which feels crowded but cosy, and before they realise it, it is half past ten at night.
They say their goodbyes and find themselves outside, a perfect starry sky spreading out above them. Severus feels slightly intoxicated, not so much from the wine, but rather the atmosphere of the evening.
"See, it wasn't that bad," Percy teases with a smile before he kisses him.
It was anything but "bad", and Severus doesn't think he will mind being invited more often – something that Molly and Arthur have both threatened him with.
Their kisses turn more passionate, their embrace tighter, Severus clinging to Percy with all his strength. It might look strange to others, but he knows the younger man will understand – he has told Percy about it one evening, about the feeling of being lost in an endless void, with nothing to hold the world around him together, nothing to hold him together.
Being with Percy helps, and being with his family tonight helped as well, but sometimes it's not enough. He can never say when it will happen, and he surely would not have expected it tonight. Yet here it is, and Severus presses his face against Percy's shoulder, his breath coming in gasps due to anxiety as much as to the kissing.
"Severus?" Percy asks, concern audible in his voice. "Are you all right?"
Severus shakes his head, his hands almost clawing at Percy's coat.
Percy grits his teeth as Severus's fingers sink into his flesh, but he says nothing and holds him closer, Apparating them both to Spinner's End. Having arrived, he makes Severus take off his coat and leads him to the couch, wanting to wrap him into the quilt and hold him until it is over.
Severus shakes his head, however, and stops before they have reached the couch.
"Sleep with me," he murmurs, and Percy stares at him in surprise.
They haven't had sex yet – some people might be surprised to know it, but Percy doesn't believe in jumping your partner's bones immediately after the first kiss, and Severus has never had sex at all.
"Are you sure?"
Not that he would object, but he doesn't want Severus to do something he might regret later.
But Severus nods and kisses him hungrily, his teeth nipping at Percy's lips first before concentrating on his neck.
"All right," Percy agrees, then returns the favour, and for a while, there is no need for talking.
Finally, they stop kissing, and Percy pulls back carefully. Severus lets him, but he still looks needy, and Percy reaches out to run his index finger over Severus's cheek.
"Won't be long, but we need something for lubrication. I know you've got petroleum jelly in the bathroom."
He smiles and undoes the first button of Severus's robes.
"Why don't you start taking those off in the meantime?"
The petroleum jelly is gone from the shelf where he had last seen it, and it takes him a little to find it in the back of the cupboard. When he returns downstairs, he finds that Severus, in contrast to him, has been quick: the room is lit by a dozen candles, Severus's robes, shirt and socks lying on the armchair already. Right now he is taking off his briefs, his back turned halfway to the door.
Percy didn't mean for him to undress entirely – that was something he had planned on doing himself – but as he watches Severus from the doorway, he can't say that he cares much any more. Severus is beautiful, at least to him; pale flesh clinging to long, bony limbs, his cock standing half-erect in a nest of black hair.
When Percy enters, Severus turns, not looking as confident any more as he did before, his body language giving away his unease with being naked. Percy puts the jar he's been carrying on the table and steps closer to his lover, and after a moment of hesitation, Severus allows him to touch and embrace him.
Percy lets his fingers wander slowly over Severus's back, tracing some faded scars before his hands move down to caress his buttocks. He squeezes gently, and Severus sighs, relaxing into him where he was still tense before.
Kissing first Severus's neck and shoulders, Percy works his way down step by step, reaching pink nipples which he sucks and nibbles softly, coaxing Severus into barely audible moans. He proceeds, caressing Severus's sides with both hands as he trails a line of kisses down his stomach, following the thin line of hair down to his groin.
He didn't have a fixed plan for what to do next, but when he looks up at Severus, who has his eyes closed, cheeks flushed in a lovely contrast to his pale complexion, he knows exactly what he wants to do.
Severus gasps as Percy takes him into his mouth with one swift motion, his hips bucking involuntarily. Percy would smile if he could, but so simply starts to suck slowly and gently. This time, Severus is moaning louder, his fingers working themselves into Percy's hair. Percy feels fingernails scrape his scalp, but he doesn't care. All he can care about is making sure that Severus doesn't stop moaning – he feels as though he could come from the sound alone.
It doesn't take long until Severus's hips jerk wildly, warm semen filling Percy's mouth, who swallows it quickly. He might have been with only one man before, but Oliver has taught him thoroughly, and he is grateful for that now.
Carefully, Percy loosens Severus's grip on his hair and gets up, making the other man's head rest against his shoulder.
"Good?" he asks softly, and Severus nods, smiling.
They stay like this for a minute or two, until Percy brushes a strand of hair out of Severus's face.
"There's more," he whispers into his ear, "but only if you want to."
Severus shivers as Percy's hot breath ghosts over his ear, and he presses himself closer against his lover. It feels strange to be naked while Percy is still fully clothed; strange, but not uncomfortable. All thoughts of embarrassment have been taken away by what Percy has done to him.
Again, Percy starts caressing him, feather-like touches on his sides, back and buttocks, and to his surprise, he finds his cock stirring once more.
Severus raises his head to kiss Percy, a long sensual kiss, his tongue gliding over Percy's teeth, searching, exploring.
"Show me," he murmurs into the younger man's mouth. "Show me more."
And so Percy does.
He shows Severus how to touch instead of being touched, shows him how to make him moan just like he did with Severus. They lie down on the couch, the quilt falling to the floor in their quest for more space. Percy's slick fingers feel good inside Severus, and the short pain in the beginning is soon drowned out by pleasure, their bodies rocking rhythmically as they never stop touching and kissing. When Severus comes, and Percy moments later, all thoughts of the void are forgotten; they cling to each other because it feels good and right, nothing more.
They decide not to go upstairs, but Accio Severus's warm bedding instead, snuggling up under it on the couch together. Percy falls asleep quickly, his hold loosening, but Severus lies awake with his eyes open until the last candle goes out.
Dreams have given way to reality. Darkness has given way to light.