Severus senses Peter before he sees him, before the other man makes any sound to betray his presence. He wills him to leave again, to leave him be; he couldn’t take it to talk to him, or anyone else. He wants to be alone with himself and what he has done today.
It was enough having to report Dumbledore’s death to the Dark Lord, and having to bear Narcissa thanking him under tears, all the while clutching his hand tightly. Every word felt like chalk screeching on a blackboard, and he’d barely suppressed the urge to shove her away when she’d touched him.
Peter has moved from the doorway into the room, approaching the bed.
Instead, the other man steps closer; Severus can hear him breathe next to him.
The sound is grating on his nerves; he is gritting his teeth, fists clenched tightly in his lap.
A hand settles on his shoulder – the light touch is repulsive, and he hastily gets up and takes some steps back.
“What do you want?”
Peter shrugs apologetically. “I thought I could maybe...help you.”
“Yes. I know how it is. I’ve been through the same.” He’s shuffling on his feet uneasily. “I thought you might want to talk about it. I know I’d have wanted to, back then.”
Severus stares, incredulous. His mind refuses to wrap around what Peter is trying to say.
“I mean, I betrayed my friends too. I...I know you were friends with Dumbledore. And the feeling...no matter knowing it was the only possible thing to do, it’s still...”
Peter’s voice fades away, blinded out by a strange white noise that suddenly starts humming in Severus’s ears. He is vaguely aware that he is moving, and then he’s grabbed Peter by the collar with both hands.
“Shut up! Don’t you dare compare us!”
“I didn’t mean –”
But Severus doesn’t care what he meant. What he cares about is that he committed a murder today, that the only person he could somehow rely on is gone by his hand. He hates himself for doing it, and Dumbledore for making him, and the world at large for everything it is.
He murdered, he damaged his soul even further – and he can feel it, a raw, terrible emptiness deep inside – all for the feeble hope that in the end, they will stand a chance. And now Peter compares it to his own act of cowardice and betrayal.
“Don’t. Ever. Say. His. Name. Again! Never!”
He didn’t intend to, but with each word his fist connects with Peter’s face, until the smaller man crumbles and falls. There is blood on his face and Severus’s own hand, the crimson standing out in a stark contrast to his pale skin. Severus stares at his hand, then at Peter on the floor, and suddenly, there is Dumbledore instead.
“Please, Severus...” It’s spoken in Dumbledore’s voice, but also Peter’s, a horribly dissonant stereo sound, and he clasps his hands over his ears because he can’t stand it. Peter’s form blurs before his eyes, and for a second, everything goes black. When he comes to, he’s on his knees, stomach heaving with nausea.
There are arms around him after a little while, and he tenses, wanting to tell them to leave him be, but he can’t make a sound; even breathing seems almost too hard a task.
Then, suddenly, he is crying, deep, gut-wrenching sobs, and now he doesn’t mind being held tight any more. He doesn’t mind Peter telling him that he’ll be all right, and that it will get better, and that he knows, he knows, he knows.
Peter looks down at Severus’s sleeping form on the bed and carefully pulls the blanket higher. He managed to make him lie down after Severus had stopped crying, and the other man had fallen asleep within seconds.
Sleep is the best thing that could happen to Severus right now, and if all that it took are some bruises and blood on Peter’s part, it is a fair price to pay. He wishes he’d been able to sleep after betraying his friends. Or that he were able to sleep properly nowadays.
Absently, his natural hand starts stroking over the sleeping man’s head. His hair is sweaty and greasy and unpleasant to touch. Peter doesn’t like Severus – the man is arrogant and makes no secret of his disdain for Peter. Most of the time, he treats him like an irritating insect he can’t get rid of.
“I’m so sorry.”
For Severus, yes, but mostly for himself. He was summoned to the Dark Lord’s side to listen to Severus’s report of Dumbledore’s death, and all he was able to think was that it must be a dream, that it couldn’t have happened. Not like this. He doesn’t care much about Dumbledore; it isn’t the fact that he was murdered that disturbs him so. What does is who did it.
He knows more about Severus than the other man realises, more than the Dark Lord ever knew. He would be killed were he to be discovered, but his master has never bothered searching his mind. He probably thinks Peter is too terrified to keep any secrets, too weak, too pathetic.
He’s even right, except for this one.
Severus is a spy.
It wasn’t so hard to find out. He’d been snooping around in everyone’s affairs during his time as a rat at Hogwarts, and more than once, he listened to Dumbledore’s and Severus’s private conversations. It was then that the topic of Severus spying on the Dark Lord should he ever rise to power again had been discussed.
Knowing what he did, he’s sure he was the only one to spot the tiny signs when Severus returned to their ranks in the end. He never knew why he didn’t tell the Dark Lord. He’s trained himself not to think about it – just in case that his master might read his mind after all, and also because it hurts too much. Severus did what he never dared; he did what was right, or at least Peter thought so until today.
Hope, he realises as he watches Severus sleep, feeling his left eye swelling shut and his pulse throbbing in his split lip. Severus made him feel hope. Peter had sealed his fate, driven by cowardice and fear. But as long as there were people like Severus, people who were different from himself, not everything might be lost. And maybe – just maybe – there was still some chance left for him, some chance to make things right, to make up for what he did at least a little. Somehow. Someday.
Now it seems that he was wrong: Severus is just like him. Did he fool Dumbledore all along, or did he only cave in recently, overcome by the same despair that made Peter do it, the realisation that in the end, he would never stand a chance?
It doesn’t matter; Peter doesn’t really care. The result is the same, and he was a fool for ever hoping in the first place. There is no light at the end of the tunnel, no chance to escape. For no one.
Severus wakes up in the middle of the night. Immediately, Dumbledore’s death starts replaying in his mind, and however much he tries to fall asleep again, he doesn’t succeed. In the end, after an hour, he gets up to make himself a cup of tea.
In the living room, he finds Peter, sitting on the couch and staring at an open book in his lap. When Severus enters, the other man starts and looks up. He’s still bearing the marks of Severus’s outburst, and Severus wonders why he didn’t heal himself with a few quick spells. When Severus moves towards him to do it – now that he’s more himself again he feels vaguely guilty for what happened – Peter winces, pressing himself tighter into the corner of the couch like a cornered rabbit.
Severus stares at him silently, a pathetic-looking bundle of human, and although Peter disgusts him, he is tempted for a long, slow second to somehow reach out. To tell him that he’s sorry, that he appreciates what Peter did. Or even hold him and be held again, and maybe find and give some strange sort of comfort. It’s something Peter was willing to provide, something Severus needs and will find nowhere else.
Instead, he turns and leaves, and the only comfort he receives comes to him in a vial of Dreamless Sleep.