"Merlin's beard!" cried Percy as he saw Clianthe approach. "What is all that?"

"I told you," she replied with a smile, "that I would cook for you the next time you came."

"But that's..." Clianthe set down the tray she was carrying. "... a fish. A very big fish. On one of the Hogwarts kitchen platters."

Percy peered at Clianthe suspiciously as she sat beside him.

"You didn't steal any of it did you?" he asked reprimandingly. Clianthe just smiled.

"Relax Percy, of course I didn't. Stop being such a Head Boy. You've already finished school, remember?"

Percy scowled at her a bit, but obviously in good humor.

"Well alright then. How did you get it?"

"I caught the fish and-"

"You... what?" Clianthe sighed.

"May I finish?"

"Right, sorry..."

"I caught the fish and then cooked it in the kitchens, where I also got the platter. One of the elfs that works there is a friend of mine, so no, I didn't steal any of it. Satisfied?"

"Right, yes, sorry," he said awkwardly. "I was just a bit surprised, that's all."

"That's alright," said Clianthe, "I suppose that's a normal reaction."

Percy picked up a fork from the tray and began to eat. After swallowing the first bite, he nodded forcefully.

"This is very good. Well done Clianthe."

"Yes, I do have some things I'm good at," she replied teasingly.

"Not that I'm surprised!" he exclaimed immediately. "I just... I mean... Yes, well..."

Clianthe chuckled at his awkwardness. Percy could be a bit stiff at times, but he was still a nice guy. His trouble with words was amusing though.

"Relax," she reiterated. Percy seemed to blush a bit, but he smiled softly and nodded at her.

"So tell me how you've been doing lately," he requested as he continued to eat.

"Not too well," she replied honestly. This caught Percy's attention.

"Why?"

"Do you remember me at all from my first year?"

"Weren't you a bit of a brat back then?" Clianthe laughed brightly for the first time in some while.

"Yes, I suppose that's one way to put it..." she murmured.

"What about it?"

"Well I had a rough few days a while back and it ended up dragging up some old feelings. Since then I've basically just been working on not acting on those feelings. Containing them."

"Well good," said Percy firmly. "Don't be getting into trouble."

"Yes, thank you mother," she teased. At this, Percy looked down a bit, and he seemed to feel uncomfortable or sad for some reason. This rather surprised Clianthe.

"Perce?"

"I just... I'm sorry. I don't mean to come off as your mother or anything."

"It's fine Percy, I was just teasing... Are you alright? It seems like there's more to it than that."

Percy's eyes shifted uncomfortably and his fingers played with the fork in his hand.

"I worry that..." he began to say, "well that... I'm not being entirely... fair to you."

"In what way?" she asked confusedly.

"I feel like I'm using you," he finally blurted out.

Now Clianthe felt concerned. She'd known that Percy worked for the Ministry, but it had never really meant much to her. She was rather forgiving in terms of that sort of thing. But now she was worrying... was he using her for some Ministry scheme or something? Was that all this was? But it's not as if she'd ever told him anything that could be of use to the Ministry. It's not as if she had top secret intel on Dumbledore or anything like that. So what...?

"How so?" she asked, keeping the emotions out of her voice.

"I wanted a mother."

Clianthe's eyebrows shot up at this.

"You... what? I'm sorry, I'm not following..." Percy looked off into the forest, looking sad and regretful.

"After my falling out with my family, I felt so alone," he explained quietly. "My mum is one of those over-bearing, love you to death, cook breakfast for you every day mothers. I didn't realize what my life would be like without her, and without the rest of my family too. It's hard but I just... I can't bring myself to apologize to them. So I wanted a mother figure back in my life. That's why I kept coming to see you Clianthe. Because you seem so mature for your age, and you're so kind and giving. And this... cooking this up for me... It really does make me feel like you are a substitute for my mum. And that's not really fair to you. I've been feeling guilty about it for a while now."

Clianthe was relieved. Percy was really rather silly sometimes... Clianthe was just glad that he wasn't using her for some sort of Ministry scam. Missing one's mother, that was perfectly understandable. Clianthe felt bad that Percy had been worrying about this.

"Do you enjoy my company?" she asked slowly. Percy looked up at her quickly in shock.

"Of course! I didn't mean-"

"Then what's wrong?" she said softly, smiling gently at him. "I enjoy your company too. You're a nice friend to have. And if, as a friend, I can provide some level of comfort in your life, then I'm glad. It's not a bad thing Percy." Percy looked surprised at this, but extremely relieved.

"You mean that Clianthe?"

"Of course I do."

After that, Clianthe and Percy had a wonderful afternoon together. Percy was more relaxed and open than he ever had been with her, and Clianthe felt free of the stress from school. Percy never brought out that mean tendencies in her, so she was able to simply enjoy their time together. As their time together drew to a close, Clianthe and Percy shared a tight hug, before he transformed into his bird form and flew away.

A smile on her face, Clianthe strolled out of the forest, feeling very satisfied with the day thus far. Until she saw someone down by the lake.

What is Snape doing over there? she wondered vaguely. As she made her way towards him, she could tell from his face that something was wrong. She did not hurry her pace, because she didn't want to be obvious, but she reached him soon enough anyways.

"Professor," she said simply when she reached him. Snape did not look at her.

"Do you like him? Be honest with me Clianthe." Now Clianthe understood. Grabbing Snape's arm forcefully, she pulled him so that he turned towards her. Gazing fiercely into his dark eyes, she said,

"As a friend. Snape... you need to trust me. I understand that it's hard for you. I understand that, please know that I do. But a relationship is built on trust. I need you to trust me when I say that I love you, only you."

"Even if that's true, he looked rather friendly for just a friend," said Snape harshly.

"He doesn't like me," said Clianthe firmly. "I promise. Just today we were talking and he revealed to me that he thinks of me like a mother. A mother. Not a girlfriend or anything like that. We had a good day so we were both happy. But we're just friends. I'm allowed to have friends aren't I?"

"Of course," scoffed Snape, though he still looked less than pleased. "I just didn't feel like that's the relationship that you have with the boy."

"Well it is," she said gently. "Please Snape... you have to trust me. I'm an honest person, you know that. You're just letting your paranoia get through. I swear to you, I will never lie to you. I love you so much. I've loved you for years. You think I would sacrifice that on some guy I've only recently become friends with?"

Snape stared out over the water, unable to meet Clianthe's eyes.

"I can't... I don't want to be alone again." Clianthe reached out to take his hand, gently massaging his palm.

"You won't ever be alone again. I'm never going to leave you." Snape intertwined his fingers with hers and squeezed her hand tightly.

"I'm sorry Clianthe," he whispered, now turning his head back so that he could stare into the depths of those beautiful, piercing, loving eyes. "I'm too weak."

"Don't be sorry. You're the strongest man I know. You're allowed to be weak around me."

Snape wanted nothing more than to lean over and kiss her, but he knew that he could do no such thing in the open. In fact, even holding her hand was a bad idea. How had he let that happen?

Squeezing her hand one last time, Snape released his grip and quickly turned away, striding away across the grass. Clianthe merely smiled understandingly. She rested for a moment by the lake, so that there was some distance between them, before she followed him back up to the castle.