Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created by J. K. Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
A/N: (This story is currently undergoing editing, but the only changes will be in the style and continuity, and not in the essential plot. Still, I would recommend a reread, if the reader has time, of the earlier chapters; I've adjusted the time line to fit events better.) The poem from which the current title was taken is by Leo Marks.
A note on British English: This story was once posted with fairly Britishized spellings ("realised", "apologised"), but now that I'm editing it, it feels artificial to me—in my country, American English is spoken—and makes me uneasy.
A note on the use of "Snape" as opposed to "Severus": This is one of the style changes; the narrator now calls our protagonist "Snape." I hesitated at first, thinking that this may make the story sound less personal, but then so many writers—particularly crime fiction and mystery writers whose detective characters often appear in more than one story—have done the same without sacrificing a sense of intimacy. (I even think using last names to refer to lead characters lends a voice of affection to the narrator.)
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If you are afraid of loneliness, don't marry.
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The House in Naples, of course, he would leave to her (Severus Snape thought, picking up a pen and beginning to write). Even as the Snape family sank into debt and had to sell most of their estates and jewelry, Severus Snape's mother had clung to this particular property and refused to part with it; by the time she died, it was the only legacy that so many centuries of the Snapes had left. And when Snape himself was gone… it would be as though the Snape line had never existed, nothing of them left but brief mentions in the footnotes of history. He tried not to think about that.
He could, of course, sell the House and reserve the money for the funding of Her future education… but he thought that she might have good memories of the Naples house. She had seemed to like it there. It had been necessary for Snape to take care of some Order business in Italy immediately after their wedding, and Dumbledore had suggested that he take his new wife with him, to at least give the public an illusion of a honeymoon.
He remembered. She had liked it there. She'd been less hostile to him… and yet somehow "hostile" seemed not a proper word to use. In his mind, Snape picked adjectives as if out of a hat: Angry. Aloof. Distant. Detached. Cool… Yes, she had been less cold to him while they were in the Naples house. The place had been called many things through many years, but Severus had grown to think of it as "Refuge" and it was as though, silently, Hermione agreed with him. She had liked the place on sight; he remembered her stepping away from his arms once they had portkeyed, and her dazed eyes as she took in the large windows, the welcoming furniture, the tapestries. She had lifted those eyes to him and for the first time since the Ministry had sealed their fate she looked at him with no anger, with only soft warmth.
She had been just as… nice (the only word Snape could think of) for the rest of their stay. He had memories of afternoons in the library, coming home (Yes, that sounded about right) and finding her deeply ensconced in the sofa before the fire. He remembered mornings of watching her from the upstairs window; she was often in the flower garden, happily digging away. By the time the clock chimed the breakfast hour she would come inside, bearing a bunch of flowers to place in her room and on the dining table. They talked a lot. She was often smiling.
He knew that she hated him, hated him with a hatred unrivalled by even that which she felt for Voldemort. He might have thought, before, that she wasn't capable of hatred, but he recognized it when he saw it, and it was there, in the pursed-lip, narrow-eyed way she looked at him when she thought he wouldn't notice. Her hatred was like the stagnant and long-lasting resentment of a child, sometimes irrational, often seeking—in Hermione's case, effectively—to hurt indiscriminately. He had never more regretted the things he had said to her when she was younger, his student.
Still, in Refuge he had believed, only for a short time, that she might grow to love him, perhaps as a companion. He began to court her in very small ways, leaving books on her bedside table, new garden gloves, seeds for her favorite flowers. With each gift she rewarded him with a gentleness in their conversations and with an unusual, unexpected, entirely welcome compliance to his small requests.
And it was the place where he first knew, truly knew, that he loved her.
It was in the library, of course. They were often there when Snape wasn't away. He had shown her an hidden alcove, where some of the older books were kept; it was very dark in there, to ensure that the more delicate tomes wouldn't be affected by the sunlight. He had had to climb a stepladder to move the curtains on a high, stained-glass window, bathing the alcove in many-colored light. He recalled the sound of her gasp as the alcove was fully revealed.
"This is amazing, Professor."
He'd stepped down and moved behind her, taking a random book from a table (he suddenly did not know what to do with his hands) as she came forward. Her hands had immediately reached out for the closest book, then drew back without touching it; she had quelled her urgency and stood for many long moments, staring dazed and with slightly opened lips at the exposed spines, at the old scrolls.
It was just a bunch of books. She was just a greedy child. He probably shouldn't have felt what he'd felt.
But as they stood there, silent and unmoving, he watched light's play on her hair, the rise and fall of her chest as she breathed, the flutter of her eyelashes every time she blinked. He felt the eternal pull of those books as well, the feeling that these words on scraps of paper would last forever, and he thought for an instant about precisely that—forever. And he saw himself in it. And he knew that time could flow and fly around them through a hundred years, turning all the books into dust, threading white into her hair and lines onto her skin, reshaping Snape's nose into a beak, his hands into gnarled twigs. But the two of them would not change, not really. In eternity—in whatever time and in whatever place—he would still be standing behind her, his heart in his throat, longing to step forward and cross the space between them.
She had turned around at the sound of a book dropping.
What was that?" she had said, looking around, her first thought the welfare of the books in the alcove and her tone almost of irritation; she frowned as she saw the offending item on the floor, by Snape's feet. She was ready to sound a rebuke. Then she saw Snape's face. "Are you… quite all right, sir?"
Snape blinked. He had come back to the world. "Yes, of course."
Reeling from his realization, he took a step backward. "I am fine. Now, you, you go ahead. You may take any books you want." I would give you anything you would take from me, he wanted to say, but of course he did not. He turned on his heel and exited, leaving a satisfied Hermione to kneel among her books.
They had returned to England about three weeks after that. Gone were her smiles, their long conversations by the fire. The face of Harry Potter intruded into the sea of his memories.
Months after leaving the House in Naples, Snape looked down at his hand, poised above the parchment, dripping green ink onto words he had previously written. He cursed softly and muttered a cleansing charm. There was no time to indulge in silly memories. There were still so many things to arrange.I, Severus Snape, of sound mind and body…
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