A/N: I'm glad you all found the last piece as moving as it was intended to be. It wasn't easy to write, but, for my Asia, it was worth clutching my heart and crying over.
We've arrived at the final one-shot, Asia's Angsty Prompt #3! This is in the "miscarriage" category. Do not read if that's a topic that easily upsets or offends you. You've been warned.
I'll save my closing remarks for the end...
Disclaimer: Harry Potter is copyrighted to and belongs to JK Rowling. I'm just playing in her sandbox. No money, just fun.
Prompter: Asia (aka PiccolaScintilla)
Prompt: Severus and Hermione are married. After a few years of marriage, they still cannot conceive. Severus blames himself for everything and tries to leave Hermione, believing, in his mind, that she deserves better.
"Our mouths and bodies speak for us in a new language as the trees shake loose a rain of petals that stick to our slickness like skins we will wear forever. And just like that, I am changed."
― Libba Bray
Why are you thinking about this now? For goodness' sake! Hermione huffed privately to herself and shuffled about in her son's bedroom, which was decked out in the neutral colour palette of various shades of blue, with no hints of Slytherin green or Gryffindor red amongst its trimmings and trappings. She hadn't come in here to reminisce on a bad memory from the past but to simply retrieve her son's clothes. Next thing you know, Severus will be telling you to have your head examined, and he'd be bloody right about that!
And, really, why was she finding herself reflecting on a memory that, in the past, had only brought her heartache? It wasn't her present. It didn't match how her life was today: content, satisfying, utterly and completely happy.
That's why you're ruddy thinking about it, Hermione! she chastised herself, suddenly donning an acute, contemplative frown. Because you and Severus are happy with your lives and, what, you're afraid you may wake up tomorrow and everything will be different? Get ahold of yourself.
Perhaps that line of questioning wasn't so off the mark, though. Either way, Hermione knew she needed to refocus on the task at hand: picking out her son's outfit for a family outing to the Potters' in an hour. She quickly shook her head and opened her son's closet in search of a proper shirt and trousers.
Unfortunately, attempting to redirect her attention wasn't in the cards, for still, and aggravatingly for her, Hermione's distracted mind kept wandering into the past, back to that particularly bad memory that bore her so much pain and heartache. If Severus had been in the room and saw the misty look in her eyes, he'd have put a stop to it right away; but, alas, he was down the hall and preoccupied with their son, Slayden, at the moment, which left Hermione to unhealthily reminisce as she saw fit.
In hindsight, as she'd pondered many times over, Hermione knew she should have seen what was coming. At the time, the signs had been there staring her blatantly in the face, but she'd foolishly chosen to overlook them, purposely ignoring their existence because they frightened her, caught her off balance, catapulted her into a state of denial.
Was it convenience, she'd asked herself various times since, or was there something deeply flawed inside her that refused to acknowledge that there was an actual problem facing hers and Severus's relationship; that there was something terribly wrong that had little to do with the troubles they'd encountered in trying to conceive their first child?
Nowadays, Hermione did her best not to rehash that one problematic hiccup. None of the answers she'd ascertained on her own helped her to make better sense of what had happened anyhow. Perhaps Severus had a valid point about the past: it was better left where it was.
Yet Hermione couldn't shake what her natural sentiments had been at the time that her husband's demons first chose to rear their ugly heads: she'd been happy, just as she was now. Immensely so. Severus, too, had been seemingly happy with their lives. No, he was happy—exceptionally—and, ultimately, he just couldn't allow himself to continue to be content. He'd never felt worthy of Hermione from the off; her love, her acceptance, everything she'd given him was somehow undeserved in his fragmented frame of mind. It was something she'd fought him on repeatedly since they first got together. Today, he was much more accepting, but it had taken a lot of hard work on his part to get here.
Even at the time their troubles occurred, there shouldn't have been any reason to fret about the solidity of their relationship. As two people madly in love with one another, who'd been through hell and back before the thought of marriage popped into Severus's mind some three years prior, their trust of one another ran deep. The present day was a slightly different reality. The love was still there, of course; in fact, time and work on their marriage had strengthened their commitment to one another. However, unlike the present, in the past as their love had been strengthening, Severus's capacity not to reason himself out of accepting such devotion from Hermione was secretly deteriorating, and rather quickly.
I should've known. I should've acknowledged the signs. Why was I so desperate not to see?
Suddenly, Hermione blinked away a stray tear that had fallen from her eye. Damn it, Hermione, knock it off, she thought, knocking her emotions down a notch. She had no reason to cry over this now. What had tested their relationship happened two years ago, and since then she and Severus had been blessed with a beautiful baby boy—a nine-month-old son, Slayden (or "Slade", as they preferred to call him), who resembled his father in all manner of uncanny, wonderful ways—and, thus, Hermione had no reason for harping on such sorrowful memories at this point in time when their present was so much better, healthier, happier.
Actually, she promptly reminded herself as she began rummaging through one of her son's dresser drawers, she needed to return to the kitchen where her son and husband were partaking in breakfast. Delving into the past and pondering the 'what ifs' hadn't been in the forecast when Hermione woke up that morning, so she forced herself to inhale a deep breath.
Calm yourself, Hermione. You're happy. You're both so happy. There's no reason for this. Now, where in the bloody hell did Severus toss Slade's other sock?
Slade was probably covered in mushed peas and carrots by now, knowing how sloppy her husband could be with feeding duties. Severus would surely be shaking his head amusedly at their son's mess, at the pride and joy that was his firstborn. Slade would smile back as he always did, showing off that mesmerising grin of his that so resembled his father's, and Hermione didn't want to miss any of it.
Locating the other half to her son's abandoned sock, Hermione closed the drawer and overheard Severus's deep voice. Buzzing and swishing noises were being attempted in an effort to entertain their son into eating his mashed vegetables. Perhaps he was also using his wand to entertain the boy; Hermione wouldn't put it past Severus to resort to whatever methods he felt necessary to get the job done. Slade's musical laughter suddenly rang out in reply to whatever Severus's antics may be, filling the home with its boisterous, beautiful harmonics.
Hermione inadvertently smiled to herself and ambled towards the kitchen to join the two but stopped short of entering, choosing instead to linger in the hallway and observe another moment. Really, she just wanted to watch them interact. It was a tremendous joy to behold Severus in the uncharacteristic role of parent. In actuality, fatherhood suited him quite well, that softer side to him showing itself brightly in the comforts of their quiet home. It made Hermione grateful to be able to witness how wonderful he could be with Slade, and how far they'd come as a couple.
Hermione propped herself against the open doorway, watching the lively scene unfolding before her eyes. Severus was the picture of relaxation this morning, seated before Slade's high chair wearing a loose-fitting grey jumper with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. They demonstrated his well-defined arm muscles, which immediately captured Hermione's wandering eye. Black pyjama bottoms that covered most of his bare feet completed the casual look, and his long raven hair was untidy but soft as it fell about his shoulders. He'd grown it out several inches since the end of the war, sometimes placing it back into a ponytail (one of Hermione's personal favourite looks.) This morning, however, it hung loose and free.
Slade's equally dark hair was only beginning to grow beyond his ears, but those rich, black eyes and shapely eyelashes were distinctively Severus's. As anticipated, his mouth was covered in green mush and he grinned widely at the funny noises his father kept projecting for his benefit. Father and son were completely enthralled in their own world, too absorbed to notice the third party admiring them silently from afar.
Such a contrast from two years ago, Hermione considered, and, all of a sudden, she found herself reverting back into the past at full force, her conscious soon buried in the two-year-old memory she'd fought hard to suppress in her son's room only minutes ago.
'I should've known. I should've acknowledged the signs. Why was I so desperate not to see?'
In her mind, Hermione remembered those heart-wrenching moments so vividly as if they'd played out yesterday. She'd fallen to her knees in their upstairs loo, sobbing and trembling uncontrollably in her husband's arms, whilst he clung to her in turn, crying soundlessly into her thick tresses. The sheer anguish in his eyes matched the cries Hermione cast aloud.
"I lost it!" she cried hoarsely over and over again. "Oh, Severus, I lost it again! Our baby! Our baby's gone! Oh, Merlin, forgive me! Forgive me!"
"Hermione, please," Severus whispered into her ear, rubbing consoling circles along her lower spine; his voice sounded thick and unnaturally strained, "this isn't your fault, love. This isn't anybody's fault. It just...happened."
"But," Hermione snivelled, "but, I - I must have done something to cause this—"
"No, you didn't, Hermione. You did nothing wrong, understood? Please... Don't blame yourself for this. It's... It's horrible what's happened, but you're not responsible."
"You're not to blame for this," Severus insisted, clutching her tighter as she cried harder into his chest. "Do you understand me?"
Hermione feebly nodded, but her continued blubbering and shaking left him unconvinced. Severus shut his eyes, as if to seal away the silent tears that stubbornly fell anyhow.
"Forgive me... Forgive me..." Hermione kept whimpering, with unmistakable yearning for their unborn child, now washing farther and farther away from them with the repeated shedding of her tears.
Eventually, Hermione's choked sobs turned into careworn mewls as she remained bundled in Severus's fold. He rocked her back and forth and consoled her through the worst of the initial shock, quietly grieving along with her in his own private way. It was with later regret that Hermione lamented not having asked after how her husband was coping in these raw moments they shared. It wasn't that she didn't care—far from it—but she'd been wrapped up in her own palpable torment, whilst Severus's preferred method of grieving went painfully unspoken and well-disguised, for the most part.
Had I taken my head out of my arse for just one moment, Hermione chided herself, though Severus had since made it adamantly clear that she had no reason at all to blame herself for his actions.
'The fault was entirely mine, Hermione,' he'd told her several times over. 'I should have just talked it out with you.'
Recalling each painful memory, Hermione couldn't remember how long she and Severus remained huddled together on the bathroom floor, with mostly him comforting her as she wept openly for their lost child. Each time she'd miscarried—a total of three—the response had been the same: commiseration, lots of tears, and a unified strength that came from somewhere they knew not to "try one more time." Yet with each failed effort to conceive, Severus grew quieter and more withdrawn. Hermione hadn't been oblivious to his increasingly taciturn demeanour, only she was too petrified to acknowledge what was happening. Loss of a potential child was grievous enough to endure, but the notion of losing her husband as well was incomprehensible.
"Severus?" she'd try to approach him at disturbing moments when she'd find him lying in bed awake in the middle of the night, seated in a sofa chair and staring at nothing in the middle of the day, or peering silently out the window for hours at a time; the day he'd left her, he'd been staring out their bedroom window for far longer than was normal. "Please... Talk to me?"
"What is there to say?" he replied, sometimes bitterly, other times, such as that day, with great sadness. He'd added a miserable declaration that left her chilled to the quick. "I can't give you what you want; what you need; what you deserve."
Hermione seized him by the arm. "What are you talking about, Severus?"
"A child," he snarled with emphasis, his eyes surprisingly desolate and watery. "I can't give my wife a child. I... I can't give you what you desire most, Hermione: a family. I'm bloody useless."
"Oh, Severus," she sighed, frowned unhappily, and drew closer to him, "why would you ever say such a thing? You're not useless, and it's not your—"
"We both know the real culprit here, Hermione," he sneered at her between borne teeth; the mixture of anger and defeat written in that striking face she so loved shocked her. "It's not you. It's never been you. I can't stand to watch you suffer or listen to you blame yourself any longer..."
Hermione's heart began racing a mile a minute, though not with fear but with a stabbing pain for the inconsolable sight of the man staring down at her. "Severus... No, it's not—"
"It's me, Hermione. It's all my fault. It's all...my fault."
Hermione squeezed his arm too tightly. "It's not your fault, Severus! I won't listen to you talk this way."
"It is my fault, and I... I can't stand around waiting for you to come to your senses."
"Wha - What? What are you talking about?"
"I can't wait around to witness your eventual resentment of me, and it will happen. I'm sorry, I... I can't. I just can't."
Hermione blinked back tears. Her throat seemed to have lodged in the pit of her stomach. Severus's pained look was the confirmation of so many of the fears she'd tried to suppress, and yet, none of this seemed real. Was he actually going to do what he was suggesting to her?
"What are you saying to me?" she whispered rather than spoke with any ounce of bravery.
Severus's tongue seemed to be working extra hard to speak. His tragic eyes, too, in that moment spoke volumes, conveying words Hermione never would have wanted to hear.
"You don't resent me now, Hermione, but you will come to resent me one day. One day... You will. And who could blame you? Not I." A pale, unsteady hand drew up to tenderly caress her cheek. "I could never blame you for the pain I've caused; for what I couldn't provide for you."
Hermione felt as if her lungs were constricting and robbing her of air. "Severus, stop this," she pleaded through several angst-ridden breaths; the words were a struggle to get out. "Please, don't - don't think like this. It's wrong, you hear? Stop this. I love you!"
"I love you, too," he answered her after too-long a pause. His next words jolted her like the casting of an Unforgivable. "That's why I have to leave."
Instantly, Hermione jerked backward. "What?"
To her horror, Severus's morbid expression remained fixed, unchanged. "It's for the best, Hermione..."
"Like hell it is!" she exclaimed, finally finding her voice. "You did not just say that you're leaving me!"
"You'll thank me later, Hermione. In time, you'll come to realise—"
"—how much more deserving you are."
Severus slumped his shoulders. "Hermione, please... You must understand."
"Understand? NO!" she all but shrieked at him, tears now falling freely from her eyes. "I couldn't possibly understand why you would choose to give up on me—on us—over such a horrible misconception!"
Severus pursed his lips. "Misconception?"
Hermione's eyes narrowed up at him despite her free-flowing tears. "You're not to blame for our inability to conceive a child, Severus. Do you understand me? Haven't you told me that numerous times before?"
"Yes, of course, but—"
"You think just because we can't make a family like other couples can that I wouldn't still want you?" The confirmation was subtle but evident in Severus's mangled expression; he tried to avert his eyes, and the scowl on his weary facade intensified by the second. Hermione's breath caught in her throat. "Oh, you fool!" she spat, not with disgust but with desperation for him to hear her properly. "I don't want anyone else! Don't you understand that, Severus? I want you! Even if we can't make a child, even if life decides it's just to be you and me the rest of our lives, I still want you!"
Hermione thought her words should be convincing enough. If he truly loved her, and she knew he most certainly did, he should listen and really rationalise the situation. She hadn't ever considered that their inability to have a child might be the downfall of their marriage, or that Severus would blame himself so baselessly; but the proof was marked heavily, obstinately, on his face then and there in their bedroom the day he'd unexpectedly left and, looking back, it wasn't the first time Hermione had caught a glimpse of that gut-wrenching look. She'd simply tried to avoid it at all costs.
"Look, Severus, these problems... We - We can work through them. We can work it out. Don't do something rash you'll only regret. Please."
"This isn't an impulsive decision, Hermione." Suddenly, those dark eyes were overcome with despair. "Have you any idea how difficult this is for me? To accept, as a man, that I can't give my beautiful wife what she wants? That I'm bloody incapable of something that should be so natural? I can't stand by and cause you heartbreak after heartbreak, Hermione. I can't. It would be selfish of me."
"You're being irrational, Severus, you know that?" Hermione huffed, wiped her nose on her sleeve, and crossed her arms squarely over her chest. "Irrational and stupid!"
In a flash, the overbearing sorrow Severus wore was turned upside down on its head. The result was exasperation and ire that caught Hermione entirely unprepared.
"Yes, you may add those colourful flaws to my growing list of shortcomings, if you must."
"No." The word wasn't biting but still final. In a flash, he brushed past her, grabbed onto the doorknob and spoke over his shoulder, his hair cast forward to hide his broad nose and hardened eyes, "I'll have my things packed and out of your hair as soon as possible."
Hermione's mind was reeling; the room was spinning so fast that both her mind and heart couldn't keep up. Hermione stumbled and reached out for him, the panic laden in her voice.
"Severus, don't! Wait!"
But, Severus didn't hesitate. He didn't even pause to glance over his shoulder at her before he left. He swept out of the room, the pounding of his boots absolute as he exited. Seconds later, she heard him Disapparate, taking the whole of her heart with him, and all was suddenly quiet. Too quiet. The room felt confined—Too small! Too small!—as if it were closing in on her fast and furiously. The accompanying silence, too, was virtually unbearable. Soon, Hermione was huddled on the floor, shaking and sobbing at what she was sure had been the final blow: the loss of the love of her life.
Abruptly, Hermione was snatched from the horrid flashback by none other than the same velvety voice that had, at one time, left her without a parting word. That voice now, however, sounded quite concerned and, to her relief, very nearby. Her fuzzy surroundings—their spacious kitchen, her husband leaning forward in a wooden chair, Slade playing with his food in his high chair—gradually became clearer, and her eyes were soon boring into Severus's, at first with confusion and then with uneasiness.
Had she just blacked out? One of her curious hands touched her face and she was startled to feel wetness running down her cheek. Oh, bloody hell. Had she been crying, too? Oh, Hermione, why did you go there?
In an instant, Severus was standing in front of her, his large hands warmly encasing her shoulders as he stared intensely into her eyes. "You all right?" he asked her more than once, studying her closely.
Hermione managed a weak nod, but, in truth, she felt completely discombobulated. She must have zoned out for a few minutes, for she was still on her feet and leaning against the doorway.
Relief poured over her at the feel of Severus's warm touch, like the reemergence of a long-held security blanket. She snaked her arms around her husband's back and inhaled a deep intake of his masculine scent, a mixture of worn parchment, old, leather-bound books, and tobacco leaves. Another wave of peace washed over her, replacing the dread that had previously occupied its place. Severus was here, her conscience reminded her, soothing away the pain of the past the more she breathed in his comforting aroma. One of her fingers weaved into his fine hair, as if to make certain of the promise they'd made, and that she was truly in his arms. Yes, he really was here. He hadn't stayed away.
In the end, Severus had sheepishly returned to their home two days later, aggrieved and with words full of regret for his "inexcusable actions," and allowed Hermione to chastise him to her heart's content. She didn't hold back, and it took more than a handful of days for things to go back to normal between them. Of course, Severus still believed himself to be the damaged product of their inability to conceive a child, but, after working through their marital woes over the next several months, they'd decided to seek out a proper Wizarding infertility specialist to help them in starting a family. They made arrangements for other possibilities should infertility potions prove unsuccessful, but, ultimately, months later they'd conceived with miraculous success.
Yes... We're happy. We've been happy. Everything's going to be all right.
"Hermione?" Severus stressed with greater urgency, shaking her gently by the shoulders. She blinked up at him and met his worried frowned. "You're upset. What's the matter?"
"Huh? Oh. Oh, nothing." She swiped at her eyes before smiling a genuine beam of exuberance that puzzled him. "I was just...reminiscing."
Hermione's vague explanation was met by an inquisitive arched eyebrow. "Reminiscing? Dare I ask about what?"
"No. I... I shouldn't have gone there. It wasn't necessary."
Realisation quickly sunk in, and the result was a series of sharp lines forming around Severus's eyes and mouth. "I see..." he replied quietly. "And, have you recovered?"
Hermione leaned in on tiptoe to press a thoughtful kiss to his parted lips. "Yes. Fully, I swear."
Severus's hands pressed on her lower back to tug her close. She merged into his embrace again with ease, cradled by his security that came in the shape of two wiry, yet strong arms.
"I hope those tears just now were happy tears." A short pause later, and his tone was less certain. "You are happy, yes?"
To his astonishment, and if it were even possible, Hermione's smile become lighter as she reared back to look at him. "Yes, of course I'm happy! I don't think I've ever been happier than at this moment." Craning her neck to touch the tip of his nose to hers, she resettled her feet on the ground and gazed up at him brightly. "Are you happy, Severus?" she asked in return, draping her arms loosely about his waist.
Hermione witnessed the confirmation in those spellbound raven eyes—all the unspoken words she wouldn't have minded hearing, whether now or in the future. He dipped his neck to feather her nose and cheeks with a number of tenderly-rendered kisses.
"Indeed. Never happier, I swear." He leaned his forehead against hers and added, with delicate assertion, "And I will never abandon you or our son. Never. You have my word."
Hermione let out a quivering breath. "I know, Severus. I know."
Severus cupped her chin in his hand. "No more reminiscing about that, all right?"
"Oh, very well. I'll try." Severus hissed at Hermione disapprovingly, which earned him another one of her fetching smiles. "All right, all right! I won't, I promise. I just... We're so happy now that I guess sometimes I just..."
"Fear I'll revert back to old habits," he finished gravely.
"Perhaps..." she confessed, shooting him a guilty look over.
Severus took his wife's face in both of his hands and stared deeply into her eyes, this time with earnest. "I swear to you, Hermione," he promised her steadily, his voice strong-sounding and resilient, "that that will never, ever happen. Not now; not ever again."
"How... How do I know for sure?" she challenged him softly.
Severus's dark irises grew less intense, their depths all-knowing as they bore into hers. "Because being without you for two crummy days was more than enough time to convince me that I never wanted to be apart from you ever again, and that I had a lot to work on; that I had to be a better husband...for you. Hopefully, I've delivered since then."
At those heartfelt words, Hermione's smile widened. She reached out and cradled Severus's face between her palms as well, pausing to kiss him passionately on the mouth, and felt the depth of his love—his promise—transcend.
"Then I know for sure," Hermione whispered contentedly, echoing a sigh of relief that released an invisible weight off her shoulders.
Severus returned her smile with a small smirk, took ahold of one of her hands, and led her into the kitchen to check out their son's mess of a breakfast. Slade merely stared up at his parents in return, his curious eyes taking in the exchange of love that ran so deeply between them, with a toothless grin.
A/N #2: And there you have it!
I sincerely enjoyed writing these pieces for my friend, Asia, as I find it a challenge but also so rewarding to make a prompter happy, especially a good friend. :) I hope these angsty pieces met her expectations, and I hope those of you who've followed along enjoyed reading them, too.
Until next time!