Disclaimer: I don't own any characters or anything else related to Harry Potter; it all belongs to J.K. Rowling and her publishers. No money is being made.
A Change for the Better
I step out of the door leading to the terrace and the garden behind the house. Immediately, I feel the heat of a mid-June afternoon flowing over me in a powerful wave, and for a moment I close my eyes against the bright light. When I have adjusted to the changed lighting conditions, I slowly make my way toward you.
Your eyes are closed, and there is a peaceful expression on your face, an expression no one who knew you before Voldemort's death would have expected to ever grace your austere features. You have changed since then, and I know it would give you an odd kind of satisfaction to witness their bewilderment. You always enjoyed shocking the people around you speechless.
Some things, of course, will never change. Your cushioned canvas chair is standing in the shadow of a large lime-tree, and as much as I would enjoy the sight of sunbeams caressing your snow-white skin, I know you dislike it. You are wearing black, even in summer, and would I suggest you wearing another colour, you would probably assume I had finally lost whatever little was left of my lycanthropic mind. I am not unhappy about it, since I have always loved your looks. Everything about you matches up perfectly.
Your long, raven-black hair is sprawled on the cushions, shimmering in the specks of sunlight which every now and then manage to creep through the leaves. Now that you are no longer exposed to the fumes of potions every day it has lost its greasy quality, and I love running my fingers through the silken strands.
You must have heard my approach, for you are not surprised when I speak your name. Your eyes flutter open, and, like every time, I feel like I could look into them forever, vainly trying to fathom those deep, black pools. Finally I am able to detach my gaze from them, and I ask if you, too, would like something to drink. You have been out here for an hour now, during which I have tried to get some sleep. The previous night was the night of the full moon, and although some years ago you managed to improve the Wolfsbane so that the transformation is almost painless, it is still exhausting.
Your answer is yes, and before I go to get us something, I lean down and kiss your pale cheek.
"I love you," I say, and you smile softly in response.
On my way back to the house I wonder, like so often, what your students would have thought, had they ever seen you smile like this. I honestly doubt they could actually imagine such an occurrence, and had someone told them about seeing you smile, they would have laughed at them or sent them to the infirmary for a check-up. I know for sure Harry would have done so.
Harry. Even now,five years after his death, the thought of him stings like a fresh wound. Before he died he told me not to grieve, saying he was happy to finally be reunited with his parents, his godfather and his friends. Death Eaters had killed Hermione and Ron, along with several other students, in an attack on Hogsmeade in their sixth year. Having lost Sirius only some months ago, the loss of his best friends left Harry broken, and no one was able to help. All we could do was watch as he withdrew from everyone, as he grew pale and thin, never smiling, never talking when not spoken to, if at all.
Slaying Voldemort at the beginning of his seventh year at Hogwarts drained his magical core almost beyond cure. The healers said that he could have recovered, had his will to live been strong enough, but after only seventeen years he was tired of the world, tired of life. He was longing for peace. When death finally took him, the first smile for almost a year was lingering on his lips.
During my musings I have prepared a tray with iced tea and some fruit, and now I make my way from the kitchen through the long corridors to the living room and back to the garden. I like our house, although it is far too large for two men and I have always preferred small and homey places. This description definitely does not go with the mansion you inherited from your father, but I like it nonetheless. What makes it home, what makes me want to be here rather than anywhere else, is you.
Had anyone told me before the ending of the war that soon I would come to live here, of all places, I would never have believed them. You had revealed my condition to the school so I had to give up teaching. You barely tolerated my presence during the Order meetings, and I cannot count the times you made it clear that to you – and to anyone sane – I was a subhuman being, offending you by my mere existence. How was I supposed to live with you, who hated me so much?
How could I ever hope for you to return my feelings?
But you did, although I never knew. Sometimes I find myself wondering what would have happened if I had known. What if I had dared to voice my feelings earlier?
I feel the corners of my lips twitch in an attempt to curl into a sad smile, but I do not allow them to do so. There is no need to dwell on the past, to dwell on past fears, doubts and pain. To dwell on all the 'what if's'.
I have arrived by your side, and once again I marvel at how beautiful you are, admire the grace of your slender body, the expression of serenity on your face. Again I speak your name, but this time you do not open your eyes. I kneel down beside you and put down the tray to the grassy ground. I tell you that I have brought iced tea, and carefully I slide my arm behind your head and support it, while with the other hand I take your glass and put it to your lips. You drink slowly, taking tiny sips, and since we are a practised team we spill almost nothing. Having lowered your head gently back on the cushions, I then wipe off with a soft cloth what little of the liquid has made its way from the corner of your mouth down your chin.
I often wonder how it is to be completely paralysed, to be unable to use your legs and arms, or even to fully turn your head. How does it feel to know that you will never be able to do so again?
"What about something to eat? A banana maybe?" I offer.
A "yes". Slowly I feed you small bites of the soft fruit while talking to you about a newly published book on experimental potions I have begun reading yesterday. I know how much you are interested in what is happening in professional circles. I will probably read it to you soon.
You hold our eyes open while I am speaking, but your gaze is not settled on me, nor on anything else. Neither the intense green of the leaves and the grass, nor the stunning blue of the cloudless sky, nor the carpet of colourful flowers can capture your attention. I know you would see them if you could, but your sight was stolen along with the use of your limbs.
Still, you will often allow me to drown myself in the depths of your black orbs. You have done so ever since I mentioned how beautiful I think them to be. Yes, I think, feeding you the last bite of banana, you have changed a lot. In the past you would never have cared for what I like, what I need. I loved you all the same. Now you show me every day how much you care, and for this I love you even more.
Having emptied my own glass, I now lie down beside your chair in the grass. I close my eyes and stop talking, knowing how much you like to listen to the singing of the birds, the rustling of the soft breeze in the leaves above our heads, the chirping of the crickets and all the other sounds that tell you about summer and the things you cannot see.
You have never voiced these thoughts, but it is not because you are ashamed of them, as one who does not really know you could think, nor because you do not confide in me your feelings. It simply is because you cannot speak. All I know about you I have learnt – and still do so – by asking you countless questions, which you answer patiently, blinking your eyes once for "no" and twice for "yes".
Listening to a robin that is singing in the tree above our heads, I wonder once again what it must be like to entirely depend on another person's help – you, of all people. To not even be able to voice your wishes and needs, hoping for me to guess them right or ask the right question at the right time. Do you feel helpless? Angry? Humiliated? I suppose I would, although of course I cannot truly imagine. After all, I am perfectly healthy.
You told me that yes, you know all those emotions. Sometimes you hate the entire world and mostly yourself, and, knowing this to be irrational, you hate yourself even more for being unable to resort to logic. But, you say, it is becoming better with every day. It has been over a year since you last felt the wish to die, and I doubt that you can imagine how happy that makes me. You are accepting your fate with a strength I am sure I could never muster, and this is one of the many things I love about you.
That I love you – many people do not understand it. Some are not willing to let go of the past, condemning me for loving a Death Eater. Others cannot comprehend why I 'waste my life on caring for someone who cannot give me anything in return'. They do not have the faintest idea how much you are giving me every day. Just by being here. Just by letting me love you. By even loving me back.
It took me some months to find the courage to tell you how I feel about you, and it took several more months until I could ask you if you felt the same. I only dared to do so because you smiled every time I said "I love you". I had never seen you smile before. It made me hope.
Some might argue that of course your answer was yes – being completely at someone's mercy, it would not be wise to reject them, or at least it would be an advantage to let them believe what they want to. I open my eyes and sit up, watching you. Even now you look dignified, like you have always done, and I know you will always be true to yourself. You are far too proud to lie about this. Would you hate me, you would tell me so without hesitating. And for this, too, I love you.
"Severus," I say, and you open your eyes for me. "May I kiss you?"
You blink "yes", and I softly brush my lips over yours.
Yes, it often hurts to see you like this. Yes, there will always be 'what if's' lingering in the back of my mind. Yes, there are those rare nights when I desperately wish that once, only once, you could hold me while I am crying because I feel I am not strong enough for this.
Still, I am happy. And, presumptuous as it is, I hope for nothing more than for you to feel the same. When I ask you, your answer is yes.
I believe you.
I want to, need to.
In the beginning, he hated them for making him survive.
He hated Potter for saving him after hours of torture at the Dark Lord's and his Death Eaters' hands after his betrayal had been revealed. The overbearing brat had never been able to keep his nose out of others' affairs.
He hated the Healers who had brought him back from the verge of death, who had refused to let him go, who had condemned him to live. Although he would not call this vegetating "life".
He hated Lupin for pitying him - there could not be another reason that the werewolf was willing to care for him. Lupin, of all people. He would have given anything for it to be someone else. Not that there was anything left for him to give.
Most of all, though, he hated himself. He hated his incapacity, his weakness. He despised himself for needing to be fed, for needing to be given baths, for needing diapers like an infant. He despised himself for clinging to life when it would have been better to die.
When he found out that he was able to open his eyes, he held them closed, not wanting to risk anyone to find out he was perfectly conscious. If Lupin realised that he was able to communicate by blinking, he would ask him questions. He would want him to interact. It would be even more humiliating, if that was possible.
Every single day was hell. Being exposed to Lupin's pity was more than he thought he could bear, and there was no way to escape. Lupin was everywhere. Lupin's voice, talking softly to him. Lupin's scent, washing over him whenever he was near to him. Lupin's hands, touching him so gently.
He had always longed for this voice, this scent, this touch, ever since they had attended school. But because he had known that the werewolf only pitied him – for what else could the guilty looks mean he had always shot him when his friends had taunted Severus again – he had never tried to do anything about it. He did not need pity.
After the first war had been over, he had not even dared to dream about it anymore. He was a Death Eater, a murderer. He knew how much Lupin feared to one day kill someone, knew that the werewolf would never be able to forgive himself, even though he was not to blame for what he was. So how could Lupin not loathe him, Severus, who had chosen that path of his own free will?
Talking himself into believing that he hated the man whose love he so desperately longed for had been the only way out. Lupin was despicable, a half-breed, not even human. Unworthy of his love. Unworthy of any regard, in fact – but he had not been able to stop hating him. He needed to feel something toward him. He needed him.
Now this was more true than ever. He needed Lupin to survive; his every move, every breath, was depending on him. On his pity. How he hated the werewolf! How he hated his presence, his voice, his touch!
Out of pure boredom, Severus finally began to pay attention to what the man was saying, his trained mind not used to long inactiveness. Lupin talked about the outcome of the war: at the day he had come to save him, Potter had slain the Dark Lord and died some days after – a self-sacrifice worthy of a theatrical Gryffindor like him. He spoke of the Order members who – surprisingly to Severus – were concerned about his well-being. The Weasleys, Shacklebolt, Tonks. Severus felt oddly thankful that Lupin never allowed them to visit.
"I figured you wouldn't want them to stare at you and pity you. You don't deserve pity," Lupin told him once. Before Severus could wonder about the second sentence, the werewolf went on. "You're far too strong to be pitied. You always have been." Severus felt him taking his hand and squeezing it lightly before leaving the room. The touch left a strange feeling, something he had never known before.
This incident made him think. "You don't deserve pity." What was it that Lupin was feeling for him, then? Why did he burden himself with caring for a man who had never shown him anything but hate?
Four days later, he had made a decision. When Lupin called his name in the morning, he opened his eyes. After this, everything changed. He blinked in response when Lupin asked him if he could understand, and he was stunned by the joy in the other man's voice when he realised they were able to communicate.
It was only some days later that Lupin asked if he could eat. They tried, and after only a few weeks of daily exercise he was able to eat enough to maintain his weight, so that Lupin called a mediwizard to remove his gastric feeding tube.
"Severus?" Remus's voice brings him back to the present. "Would you like to lie with me for awhile?"
Severus blinks "yes", and now he feels the other man carefully gathering him in his arms and laying him down on the grass, his head resting in Remus's lap. He will not be able to stay here for long - his back cannot take extended periods on the uneven ground - but for about half an hour, it will work.
He likes the feeling of grass under his fingers, and Remus, who knows this, takes his hand and slowly runs it over the soft blades. Severus sighs contentedly, and Remus chuckles softly. "Feels good, doesn't it?"
Even better, though, it feels how after some time Remus fingers begin combing through his hair. He loves the feeling of Remus's arms around him, loves how he will caress his cheek, how he will hold his hand, how he will kiss him, so tenderly, lovingly. Savouring the feeling of Remus's stroking hand, Severus thinks of how he has grown to focus on the positive things rather than on the negative. How he has realised there still are positives things in his life.
He still does not know how exactly it happened, but from the point when he had revealed his conscious state to Lupin onward, he had somehow retrieved some of his will to live. Maybe it was because in now paying attention to the other man's behaviour, he slowly realised that whatever Lupin felt toward him, it was indeed not pity.
Lupin would always ask him about his wishes. What he wanted to eat, to drink. If he wanted to stay in bed or be moved to the living room. If he wanted to go to the garden.
He told Severus that he had bought new clothing for him that was more practical than his old high-buttoned robes.
"Of course it's all black," he said, and Severus did not feel mocked by the teasing tone.
He noticed that his hair was still shoulder-length, and he wondered about it, since he knew short hair to be far more practical.
"You know, I didn't think you would enjoy the thought of having your hair cut," Lupin said once while giving him a full bath instead of a sponge bath, his hands gently massaging Severus's scalp. "Moreover, I can't imagine you with short hair. It looks good as it is, and it feels good as well."
The last sentence left him stunned, and before he knew what was happening, he found himself enjoying the sensation of warm water all around him and relaxing under Lupin's touch, who had now begun washing him with a soft cloth. The immense tautness he had always felt at being completely exposed to the other man's touch had somehow dwindled considerably. When Lupin bathed him the next time, having his hair washed was what Severus liked most.
He was pleasantly surprised when he found out that Lupin was capable of playing the piano rather well. He had always loved classical music, and now he spent hours listening to the werewolf playing Beethoven, Schubert, Bach. Being asked if he liked it, he answered truthfully with "yes".
"I haven't had an audience in years," Lupin said, and there was an edge in his voice that Severus recognised as pain. Had Lupin, too, felt lonely before? "I'm glad I now have you to listen to it," the other man went on, and Severus could hear the smile in his voice. For some reason, he felt glad as well. Lupin had not said "someone", but "you".
In the evening, the werewolf would often ask if he should read something to him. Since the library was huge, there was no lack of books: everything was available, from books about wizarding politics to classical Muggle literature. Listening to Lupin read Dickens, Austen and Wilde, Severus noticed that he liked his soft voice; it was soothing, and more than once he fell asleep in the living room, until Lupin decided to move the lectures to Severus's bedroom.
Lupin treated him with respect, and it felt strangely good to Severus, who had lost his self-respect since he had awoken helpless like a newborn. Lupin treated him like his wishes were important, like he was still worth something, like it was good that he lived. Sometimes, Severus found himself agreeing with Lupin. And that, as he thought, was odd. Had anyone asked him before, he would have said such a life was not worth living. And he had still thought so after this fate had befallen him. What could he expect of life? There was nothing left for him. But now… he wasn't so sure of that anymore.
As the weeks went by, he began to notice subtle changes. Had not Lupin held him longer than necessary when settling him down for the night? Had it been accidentally that he had touched Severus's cheek in what felt like a tender caress when he had dressed him in the morning? What was this strange undertone in his voice when speaking his name – so softly, so… longingly?
Severus was confused. He had grown used to being touched by Lupin "professionally", but all those small occurrences he now noticed more and more frequently – they were… different.
Or was he finally losing his mind? Maybe he was just imagining all those things. Maybe he was so desperate that he wanted to believe them to happen, because he just could not live with the knowledge he would never have the chance to get what he had always wanted more than anything else. How he despised himself for being so pathetic as to even nourish the tiniest bit of hope!
Finally, he was put out of his misery. One evening, having finished reading to him, Lupin brushed a loose strand of hair behind his ear - slowly, as though he wanted the touch to last, his fingers stroking Severus's skin so very gently, as though it meant more than could be seen on the surface.
"Severus," he said, and his voice was thick with emotion. "I need to tell you something. I didn't want to… didn't want to burden you with this, but… I think you have the right to know. And," his voice was almost imperceptible by now, "I just can't do this any longer."
Hearing this words, Severus's heart gave a painful twist. Lupin would leave; someone else would take his place, or maybe he would be moved to St. Mungo's. And was it not odd that while some months ago he had hated nothing more than it being Lupin who was caring for him, now he was desperate at the prospect that he would do so no longer?
Again Lupin touched his cheek, but almost immediately he pulled back his hand as if he had burned his fingers.
"I have wanted to tell you for so long, for years, but somehow I never found the courage to do so," the werewolf went on. "Severus…" again he spoke his name like he wanted to caress him with his voice. So painfully gently.
"I love you."
Severus's head was spinning. He did not know if Lupin said something else before leaving, did not even notice him leave. It could not be true, could it? Lupin loving him? Loving a former Death Eater, an unfriendly, snarky, ill-tempered man who had never done anything but cause him trouble? And now Severus was even less than that. How could anyone ever love something like him?
And yet… why should Lupin lie to him? It would be totally out of character. One of the many things Severus loved about him was that he was always honest. He would never toy with anyone's feelings. And there had been all those tender touches, all those soft-spoken words…
So what if it was true? Was there the smallest amount of anger surging up in him? Lupin had said he had wanted to tell him for years. Why had he not done so? Why had he waited until now, until it was too late? Only moments later, Severus was overcome with shame. Why had he never told Lupin how he felt? How dare he to condemn the man for making a mistake he had made himself?
And maybe… maybe it had not been a mistake. At first, the thought was strange, but the more he pondered it, the more logical it became. Would he ever have accepted it under normal circumstances? Would he ever have been able to overcome his pride and admit his own feelings to the other man? Would he ever have done so if he still had had the faintest opportunity to hide? Would he not rather have rejected Lupin, sneering at his confession, too afraid of being hurt, only thinking of what he had to lose instead of realising what he was offered? Yes, he thought sadly, that would have been much more likely.
But now… everything was different. Everything he had had to lose, he had lost. His self-determination, his dignity, his pride. Lupin had given them back to him. Severus had always been so sure the werewolf would turn from him in disgust should he ever catch the smallest glimpse of what he really was. Now Lupin had seen him at his absolute, complete worst – and he had disproved all the doubts and fears Severus had used to hide behind. He had shown that he would never hurt him. Maybe, Severus thought – and he did not care that to everyone else this idea would sound utterly insane – maybe all this had happened for a reason. Maybe this life was worth living. Maybe he could be… happy?
He did not sleep that night. Instead, he lost himself in thought. When Lupin – no, Remus came back to his room in the morning, Severus had made up his mind.
"I'm sorry I left that abruptly," Lu- Remus said. "And I'm sorry if I offended you with what I said. I didn't mean to. I just couldn't stand it any longer – being with you every day, seeing you, touching you… it was just… too much. I had to tell you." He sighed. "Are you angry?"
Severus blinked "no".
There were some minutes of silence, finally ended by a shaky whisper. "I love you. And I can't promise I won't say it again."
This was the first time that Severus lips curled into a tiny smile. "I love you, too," it meant, and he wished for nothing more than for Remus to understand. I love you, too. I love you, too.
If only Remus knew. If only he could tell him. But all he could do was wait. Every time Remus told him that he loved him, he would smile. I love you, too. Don't you see? Just ask me. I love you, too.
He waited for months, hoping, despairing, silently willing Remus to ask the question, to speak the words he could not voice.
Finally, when he had almost given up hope, it happened.
"Severus… I need to ask you something." Remus's voice was hoarse, an anxious whisper, full of fear of rejection, full of hope. "You know that I love you." Severus smiled, encouraging him to go on. And finally, Remus did. "You always smile at me when I tell you, just like now, and I can't help but hope that maybe…" he trailed off. "Do… do you love me?"
Slowly, Severus blinked. Once. Twice.
He waited anxiously for any reaction, but the only answer was silence. It lasted for an eternity, or so it seemed, and when he already was convinced the other man had left, his ear finally caught a small sound. Remus was crying.
Severus once again cursed himself for his incapacity. He wanted to hold the other man and never let go. He wanted to kiss him, wanted to tell him not to cry but to smile like he himself did. Only then he noticed that his own cheeks were wet from tears as well. When finally he was pulled into a gentle embrace, Severus hoped for the touch to provide Remus with as much comfort as it gave to him. He had never felt happier than during these precious moments.
"May I kiss you?" Remus asked when their tears had subsided, and of course Severus answered with "yes". When their lips met in the first chaste kiss, he had no words to describe how thankful he was that at least he was able to return this gesture of affection.
There is so much he wants to give Remus, but all he can do is smile and kiss him back. Remus never gets tired of telling him how much he gives him - just by being alive. It is often hard to believe, and there are those days when nothing Remus says or does can help to dispel his doubts and the overwhelming despair, the feeling that he is nothing more than a burden, an abomination. Something even death refused to take.
But these thoughts do not haunt him as often as they used to only a year ago. Sometimes, of course, they will come back. When it happens he cannot do anything to distract himself, and since no one can read another person's thoughts, Remus will not always be there to distract him by reading to him, playing the piano or simply holding him. Severus' damaged vocal cords allow him to utter some low guttural sounds to attract Remus' attention, but he hardly ever does so. He thinks that it is undignified, and he wants to preserve what little of his dignity is left. Although, as he must admit, he is not ashamed in front of Remus anymore, most of the time.
"You're so beautiful," he now hears his lover whisper over the soft rustling of the leaves, his fingers tenderly tracing Severus's high cheekbones before he takes one of his hands and presses light kisses on every finger. Severus knows what patients like himself look like, and to his mind there is nothing beautiful about it. Sometimes he wonders which of them is really blind. But then, if their places were swapped, would he not feel the same as Remus does now?
Before his inner eye he evokes the image of Remus as he knows him: his graceful movements; his soft, grey-spotted brown hair; his bright amber eyes; his warm smile. Right now the play of shadow and sunlight on his golden skin must be stunningly beautiful. Yes, he thinks, he could never see Remus as ugly. He would always be beautiful to him, even with unseeing eyes and a useless body, with atrophied muscles and his arms and hands contracted under his chin. Even daily physical therapy – something Remus does with Severus every morning - cannot completely prevent it.
Maybe they are both blind. Love is blind, they say. And that Remus loves him, Severus now believes without any doubt. Remus would never lie to him.
"I love you," Remus will tell him every night before they fall asleep. And although it is dark and Remus will not see it, Severus will smile in response, just because he feels like doing so.
In the beginning, he often had nightmares about his torture. Death Eaters, firing hexes at him. The Dark Lord, blinding him by just a wave of his wand. Their sneering voices, their laughter at his helplessness. His own screams. Pain.
Since he sleeps with Remus, they have grown much less frequent, and he dares to hope that maybe in some years they will be gone. And even if they will never fully cease, he does not truly care. He knows that whenever he will awake in the middle of the night, his chest heaving with laboured breaths, tears running down his cheeks and inarticulate sounds of fear escaping his lips, Remus will be there to hold him, soothe him, guide him back to sleep. He has left behind most of the shame he first felt about it. Instead, he is thankful for being allowed to feel safe, for receiving soft words of comfort and being rocked to sleep like a child. He has never known anything like this before.
There is so much he has never known before. Some things are painful, even more are not, are better than he would ever have dared to hope for. Sometimes, like now, when he feels Remus holding him, he wonders if he would ever have accepted them into his life, had not fate chosen this path for him.
"May I kiss you?" Remus asks once again. Even today he will always ask for permission, and although Severus will never say no, he appreciates it. It is a sign of respect, and that is something he needs desperately.
"Yes". Always yes. Feeling the soft lips on his own, Severus knows it is idle to dwell on 'what if's'.
Once Remus has told him what Potter has said some days before his death, learning about his Potions teacher's condition. "I'm sorry I couldn't save him in time."
In hearing this, Severus has smirked sarcastically – something that does not happen very often nowadays. Potter, however, still manages to make him do so. Some things will never change.
It was not because of the preposterous thought of The-Boy-Who-Lived-To-Annoy-Him saving his life. He has long since accepted that fact, even allowing himself to feel the smallest bit of gratefulness toward Potter every now and then - it is not like anyone will ever find out.
No, he thinks, enjoying the feeling of Remus's tender caresses, it was because even this time the insufferable brat, like so often, has been wrong. He was saved exactly in time.
"I love you," Remus says once more, and once more, Severus smiles.
He has never felt at peace in all his life. Now he does, and that is definitely a change for the better.