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Severus floated in darkness. He could hear his blood pumping in his ears -- that in itself was peculiar since all his life fluid had been pooling on the floor of the Shrieking Shack last he recalled, and he could feel his lungs expand and contract with his breathing. As he inhaled he picked up odours of bitter herbs and sour rotting. A gentle breeze brushed his cheek and cooled the burning at his mangled throat. The rest of him felt warm; a light pressure of cloth lay on his chest and the cushioning below him was soft. Something nearby was making a bubbling noise and, combined with the odours, he knew he was near a potions lab. Not still in the shack then. But where?
He slowly opened his eyes and looked around. Above him damp stones formed a ceiling and two walls. Turning his head, he could see the rest of the room contained numerous potions ingredients, burners, ladles, and cauldrons, and racks filled with vials of final products. A single stool resided under a far table, while the room’s only other occupant flitted back and forth collecting flobberworms and dragon eggshell powder and other essentials. Severus couldn’t see the man’s face, but from behind it looked suspiciously like Potter. Couldn’t be. The boy had had to die. If it was him, then the Dark Lord must still be alive as well and the war would still be raging. Severus sighed, weary beyond all telling.
The potions’ fumes began clinging to the inside of his mouth. He produced a meager amount of moisture. It burned going down, forcing him to gasp. The young man jumped at the noise, hurrying over to check on Severus’ prone figure, the green eyes anxious behind black-rimmed frames.
“Potter--” he croaked, the act lashing more pain through his throat.
“Don’t try to talk, Professor. Your neck is still mending, and your throat will be raw for some days yet, at least according to Poppy.”
Good. That meant Potter wasn’t trying to put him back together. He thought he’d rather be dead.
“I’ve got to finish this poultice for you, but here’s some water to sip on.”
Revise that: he was dead. Potter was dead, too, by all rights, and they were stuck in Hell together. Lovely.
Potter conjured a glass and straw and charmed it to float near Severus’ head so he could drink it. He then went back to work without a another word. Severus took a tentative taste, which was refreshing to his parched mouth but still hurt going down.
By the time he had managed to drink half the water, Potter came back over with a steaming bowl of muddy paste. Severus eyed it warily and sniffed in its direction. His eyebrows rose in recognition of a sweet, herbal aroma of rosewood, sage, and harpy-hop bells; he also detected a base of dittany. His black eyes found Potter’s and asked a single question.
“Oh, Poppy showed me how to make it. It will burn, of course, but I’m sure you already knew that.” Potter grabbed a handful and began applying it over Severus’ wounds, taking care to get it into all the crevices. It did burn, but not nearly as bad as the Cruciatus Curse, so he endured it stoically.
When Potter had finished, Severus braved a question. “Have you seen … mem’ries?” His throat was very sore, but it hurt less now than a minute ago.
“Shh,” Potter admonished him. “Yes, I did view them.”
“Then … know you must …” Severus croaked out.
“Already done.” Severus’ eyes widened in shock. “I let Voldemort curse me, and it destroyed his last soul piece, here, in my scar.” Potter rubbed along the offending mark. “Mum’s protection still held, so I didn’t actually die, then I came back and finished him off with an Expelliarmus.” He spoke as if it was no big deal.
Severus’ eyes narrowed. “How? … too simple … He had the Elder Wand.”
Potter chuckled at that. “Yes, he thought he had control of it, but you were never its master and thus neither was he.” His green eyes fell on the Nagini’s bite marks. “I’m sorry you had to go through all that for nothing.” His face was a little sad, almost contrite, until it changed as he remembered something. He plucked up Severus’ arm and began massaging it from the shoulder down to the long fingers.
“Potter, what are--”
“Shh, don’t talk so much. I have to massage your limbs to keep the blood flowing properly. Poppy said so. You’ve been out for three days. The Ministry has rounded up the other Death Eaters, but they don’t know about you being here. I’ll try to keep it that way.”
Potter fell silent while he continued to work the arms then the legs. Severus sipped on the water and relaxed into the caress. He stiffened a little when Potter’s hands came close to his groin, but eased when the teenager just went to work on his thighs. He drifted close to sleep, so was startled when Potter spoke next. He had moved back up the bed and had his hands resting on Severus’ chest.
“I am sorry for all the trouble I’ve been for you, all those times you saved me, all those times I hated you, or thought I did, anyway. Even if the rest of the Wizarding World despises you, I just … thank you,” he said very quietly. He lent over the older man and stared intently into the black eyes, Severus staring back in awkward silence. Potter’s eyes searched Severus’ face, then came to rest on the thin lips. He lent the rest of the way over and kissed him.
It was firm but gentle, not harsh and not rushed, instead filled with forgiveness and acceptance. When he pulled away, a bit dazed, he stated again, “Thank you,” then got up and arranged the blankets and refilled the water glass.
“Get some sleep. I’ll be back to check on you in a few hours.” With that he dimmed the lights and walked off.
Severus was left with his thoughts and a lightness in his chest that felt like a new beginning.