Severus wai ted until Zia fell asleep then descended the stairs slowly. He felt drained – his energy totally zapped. He walked quietly into the kitchen and sat at the table. He placed his head in his hands and felt tears start to well up in his eyes. What he wouldn't give for Zia to be holding him right now.
But, it wasn't all about him, was it? Maybe that's where he had failed her. He had taken advantage of her healer tendencies and forgotten that she needed more than just to know she was loved and financially secure. She needed to feel secure and accepted. Two things that he had woefully denied her for far too long.
He felt a hand on his shoulder for a moment. When he didn't respond the hand left his shoulder and he heard someone bustling around the kitchen. Within minutes he heard the unmistakable sound of a mug being placed on the table.
"Drink some tea," Arthur said, warmly. "It'll calm your nerves."
Severus looked up at him, not caring if Arthur saw the tears in his eyes. He performed a wandless spell on the door and closed them inside.
"She's sick, Arthur," he said sadly.
"Happens to the best of us," Arthur replied calmly. "Even healers."
"Not my Zia. I don't remember her ever being sick."
Arthur smiled. "Even she's not that strong," he said taking a seat beside Severus. "She hides it well."
Severus blinked and tears dropped from his eyes. "She didn't want me to bring her home. She said she's too weak. She thinks my love is conditional. She thinks I don't love her anymore." Unable to control the pain, he put a hand over his eyes and wept.
"That's a heavy burden for her to bear," Arthur said, "to think that love is conditional."
"I know it. She's the first person who loved me unconditionally. And I returned it by making her feel afraid to be weak. Do you know what she said?" Without waiting for Arthur's response he continued on. "She apologized to me for not dying. And, for being too selfish to just let me go. Where could she think I'd want to go? Wherever she is, I am happy."
Arthur sniffed with emotion. He missed Molly and wished she was here. She was always so much better at these kinds of talks than he. "She needs to feel that. To know that."
"I don't show happiness well."
"True. But, even if you could not attack her on a daily basis…"
"I don't remember doing that."
"I know. But you do it all the same. And, now, for whatever reason she feels that she is too weak to handle the attacks." He thought carefully about his next comment. "Severus, when was the last time you told Zia you love her?"
"Just before I came down here."
"And before that?"
Severus shook his head. He couldn't remember.
"No matter. When was the last time you told her that you cherish her?"
Severus shook his head. He couldn't remember.
"Okay. What about the last time you called her beautiful?"
Severus' face lit up. "About two months ago we went to a gala in the City. Oh, she looked beautiful – all done up like nobility."
"And you told her then?"
"Do you ever tell her just because she's there and you're so struck by love?"
"No," Severus stated plainly. "But I do take those moments to kiss her."
Arthur smiled. "At least that's something."
Severus thought for a moment. "You know Arthur, for all these years I've treated her like a lady, but never like a woman."
"Perhaps it's time to start."
HP ** HP
The next time Zia opened her eyes it was after the sound of a very desperate sounding sneeze. She pried her eyes open and immediately wished she was asleep again. But, no. Someone was sick, which meant she was on duty.
"Sorry," Remus said, before she could say anything.
She winced at the roughness in his voice. "No, don't be. You're sick. I'm just sorry I didn't notice you earlier. I'm really losing my touch, huh?"
He shook his head. "Not what I was sorry for."
She sighed. Of course… he had Hermione now. He didn't need her to notice he was sick. "Then what do you want, Remus?"
"I want to say my apologies."
"Don't bother," she replied without malice. "Now I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt that I have lost the man I love. I know that I am too old and weak and ugly for him to love. And, I understand that. I do wish you could have waited to ask him about the glimmers though. Just a few more months."
"Why?" Remus said, his breath hitching in an on coming sneeze.
"Because …" she paused. She felt like she should tell somebody the truth. But, with any luck, she would be able to push Severus past his breaking point and he could start healing before the end. Then everyone would return home and she could slip away in peace. "He'll be past the worst of it by then. It was just more stress he doesn't need."
"And what about your stress?" he asked after a particularly wet sneeze.
Her look softened as she observed him: his too pale skin in contrast with his red rimmed eyes and pinked nose; the way his hands shook; the harshness in his voice… "Remus, what can I do to lessen your suffering? Perhaps a some potionless healing to help you get some sleep?"
"Answer my question first," he demanded stuffily.
"My life is stress. It's my job. I can handle it."
It was obvious that he did not like the answer, but was too tired to argue. "Fine," he relinquished. "A healing trance would be nice."
A bolt of pain ceased her and she cried out. "First, do something for me."
He smiled. "Anything."
"Apparate to my house. There's a bag full of vials of purple potions. I need them."
Remus gave her a skeptical look.
"Remus, I'm desperate," she begged. "I know you don't love me as you loved Jada, but she is still somewhere inside me. Please… I know I didn't live the pure life that Jada deserved, and that I robbed you of something beautiful. But, think… if we had married, I would have robbed you of Sirius – and Hermione."
Remus gasped as a realization he wasn't ready to face dawned on him. "You think I'm angry at you?"
"Why else would you have meddled?" she asked, nearly in tears. "I know, I'm not your Jada anymore. But, I thought I was still your friend."
"I wanted to make sure you were properly cared for."
"Remus, that's not your job. And, it's not your responsibility. And, it's not in my cards to have that sort of care. I provide it. Not receive it." She could tell that he wanted to argue the point, but she didn't let him. "Please go… please." Tears poured down her cheeks.
He nodded and after a particularly rough sneeze apparated away.
Sobs of pain overwhelmed Zia as she blacked out.
She awoke to a gentle hand raising her head and pouring liquid down her throat. She sputtered a bit, but swallowed it down. The familiar tingling returned and she opened her eyes.
Remus' eyes were filled with worry. But, there was no doubt about the furrow of his brow. He was pissed off.
"What the hell, Z? Potions no one know about? Painful symptoms and glimmers that not even Severus knows about? Potions that not even Severus knows about?" He paused to sneeze into his elbow and continued. "Something is going on with you and you can't hide it forever."
"Ginny knows about the potions," she admitted.
He paused. "And Arthur knows about whatever the illness is?"
Years of lying to others had not deadened her to Remus, and she found that even after all these years she could not lie to him. She shook her head slowly.
"No," she admitted. "I don't want him to know. I don't want anyone to know."
"Well we're going to find out eventually. Don't you think it's better coming from you?"
"No. It's not your job."
"Severus then?" He nearly spat the word 'Severus' out.
"No… not his either."
"Then who's is it?" he yelled, and then coughed from the effort. "Whose job is it to care about you?"
"Whose job has it ever been? No one's," she whispered. "Now come on. You got me my potion, let me help you get to sleep. You're tired."
Suddenly, Remus felt extremely exhausted. He nodded at lead her to his bedroom, where she thoroughly enjoyed putting him to sleep.
HP *** HP
Zia sat in the living room reading. She felt naked and ugly without the glimmers, so she raised them again. Severus had gone to take another nap without speaking to her. She knew that she had hurt him, but there were more important things to deal with, like the impending moon, Remus' illness, and the fact that she was certain that Arthur was coming down with whatever Remus had. She was also concerned about Hermione's well-being. It was no secret that she was not happy at the Ministry. Remus had told her about his friend, the book-seller, and she couldn't imagine a better fit for Hermione.
She sighed as she heard an owl hooting at the window. She let it in and noticed a letter which looked to be from the Ministry. Immediately, she felt on edge – how did they find out Hermione was living there? Would she get in trouble for it? She felt nauseous and extremely protective.
Quickly, she yanked the message off the owls leg, and sent it on its way. But, it wasn't for Hermione after all. It was a message from St. Mungos reminding her about her appointment the following day. She sighed. She had made her decision: six months max. Now she had to tell her healer and set up her friends so that she would not be missed.
"ZIA!" Severus bellowed.
She jolted awake, and realized that she fell asleep while reading. Remus was also in the living room, with a blanket over his lap. "Rem?" she asked, full of sleepy confusion. He pried his eyes open and she realized that he didn't have any idea what was going on either.
She stood to meet her fate. Whatever he wanted to dish out, she deserved – whether he was stuck in a flashback or really angry with her. One way or the other, she vowed to handle it like the woman he loved. At least he would have memories of a strong healer, not a weak invalid.
He fumed as he came at her, reminding her of the monster he used to be when he dueled. Her eyes flicked to his hands – no wand. This put her at an advantage. She could weaken him by using the wandless magic she knew as a healer. She prepared herself for battle.
"What do you want, Severus?" she nearly yelled.
Remus, who had fallen back to sleep, jerked awake.
"Get in here, you bitch!" Severus yelled, coming into the living room and forcibly pulling her into the dining room. "What is wrong with you? Didn't you see Remus sleeping? Why don't you give a damn about him anymore? What's your problem?"
"I was asleep," she answered, more innocently than she planned to.
A sharp back hand across her face sparked the inner fire she once felt. Pressing both of her hands to his throat, she pushed him back a few steps. "You will not slap me you bastard!" she yelled back.
He got out of her hold easily and shoved her against the wall. "You know what I hate about you?" he sneered.
"Severus, let her go!" Hermione called. Remus was at her side, wand drawn. The fire in Hermione's eyes was commendable, but Zia was not interested in being saved.
"What do you hate about me?" she asked.
"I hate… no I loathe that you love me. I hate it with ever fiber of my being that someone as gifted as you wasted your life with someone as bitter and hateful as me. If I could go back and change one thing, it would be that I allowed you to fall in love with me. I hate that you let me waste your life like this."
With every ounce of hurt that she felt, she decked him in the stomach.
When he hunched over in pain, she looked at him and hissed, "Don't worry, you won't have to hate me for much longer." She ran upstairs in tears.
"Hate you?" he asked, his voice harsh from his stomach pain and confused.
"Don't tell me you don't remember that either," Hermione asked accusingly.
"What? Telling her I… oh my… hate… her… I remember. I don't remember why, though. I mean, I don't hate her. I love her… I always have."
Dizzy with fever, Remus lead Severus out of the room and settled back into the armchair. "What else do you remember?"
Shaking his head as if waking from a dream, Severus answered slowly. "I hit her… oh my… I hit her… once, twice… many times. I remember thinking Ginny was Lily and I remember telling Zia I didn't love her and that…" His voice trailed off with realization. "I need to talk to Zia," he said, and left the room.
"And I need to talk to you," Hermione said, placing a cool hand on Remus' feverish forehead.
"Hm?" he asked, sleepily.
"Rem, do you want to go home?"
Remus shook his head.
She knelt down next to him and placed her hands on his lap. "Sweetheart, I know you're sick. Very sick. If you would rather I take care of you at home, please let me know."
Even through the fog of illness and fatigue, he could derive an underlying premise. "Do you want to go back to the cottage?" he asked.
She shrugged. "Not really. But, I do want a safe place for you to rest before the moon."
He smiled softly. "I am safe. And I feel most comfortable in a village setting. I've missed it." He sneezed wetly and sniffed miserably.
"Then I will have to care for you here the way I would have at home," she said, rising to her feet.
"I expected nothing less."
"I expected more of Zia," Hermione stated honestly. "From your stories and what I saw of her in Hogwarts, and then heard about after – I just assumed that she would be all over the idea of helping you and maybe even teaching me some more."
Two extremely harsh sneezes exploded out of Remus, bending him forward. He waited for the dazed feeling to fade away before responding. "She doesn't want to overstep her boundaries or make you feel uncomfortable. I get the distinct impression that she feels that because I have you, her place in my life is obsolete. And…" he hesitated for a moment, "she's sick."
"That's ridiculous, that our sudden arrangement could ever change the bond and friendship and knowledge that you two share."
"I agree. But, I think it's the illness."
"I don't know. But, I know she's taking potions that Severus doesn't know about. And, I know she's in a great deal of pain."
"Well we all know about the pain," Hermione said, helping Remus to his feet.
He nodded. We just don't know to what end.
HP *** HP
Severus opened the door quietly. "Z?" he asked, tentatively. He had no idea what he was going to say, or how he was going to make amends for this. As he had gone up the stairs more memories returned to him of abuses that she had taken. He could distinctly remember her wearing down, and mentally berated himself for not noticing as it was happening.
"Yes, my love, what is it?" Her voice was kind and gentle – as if nothing had transpired in the past few months. But, the situations had occurred, and it was up to him to make it up to her before it was too late.
"I'm sorry," he stated. The words sounded hollow and weak.
"Nothing to be sorry for. You've been going through a rough time. I'm just happy you're remembering… maybe this… hatred…" Her voice broke, and she bit back a sob. After a moment she continued. "Maybe this hatred of me is the basis of your anger. Hopefully, this … this… truth is what we've been waiting for." She pressed her hands over her face and struggled to contain her sobs.
"No… no… it's not." He went to put his hand on the back of her shoulder, but she whirled around on him.
"Don't touch me!" she yelled. She backed away. "Just don't touch me," she repeated, unable to contain the sobs. She slid down to the floor and let the sobs overwhelm her.
Severus looked at the woman he loved sobbing on the floor in front of him. He had done this. He had broken her.
He sat down in front of her and prepared to wait her out. Eventually, she would be ready to talk. And, when she was ready, he would be there.
He thought back to the horrible things he had done in his life. He had sided with the worst wizard known in several centuries, he had killed his mentor and friend – Dumbledore, he had spied on people, taken out whole families, and countless other atrocities. But, nothing broke his heart as much as seeing his wife – the woman that he vowed to love and protect, sitting in front of him sobbing because he had just admitted that he hated her.
"I don't hate you, Zia," he said, just loud enough to be heard over her sobs.
"You do. You admitted in an altered state… so you do." She sniffed wetly. "And, it's okay. Because I'll be dead soon – and then you won't have me holding you back. I'm just sorry I wasted so many years of your life. I'm sorry that I'm your regret."
He felt his heart and stomach constrict again. "No, Zia. I don't regret loving you."
"No…" she breathed, the tears continuing to fall.
"What I regret is not being good to you. I regret making you cry and suffer for my happiness. I regret being a selfish bastard and not caring for you they way you do for me. And, most of all, I regret not telling you every day how much I love and cherish you."
"You must be dying," she said. "Or perhaps you're catching Remus' flu. You always did get maudlin when you caught a fever."
He squinted at her. "You don't believe me," he realized.
"I know … well knew…" She sighed and tried again. "I always thought you loved me. You showed me by taking care of me financially and making me feel special. I'm a healer – it's not your job to care for me the way I care for you."
"Healer has nothing to do with it. I wish I had shown you more love, because I love you. And because you deserve it. Besides…" he paused and his eyes grew stormy as he looked at her. "Did you say that you'll be dead soon? What did you take?" He jumped to his feet. "Damn it Zia, I have to brew and antidote."
She smiled. "Sit down. We can talk if you'd like. But, there's nothing to be done for it. I'm dying."
"I can take you to a healer," he snapped.
"I've been," she answered calmly. She got up and picked up one of the vials of potion and handed it to them. I've been taking that for about a month."
He looked at her. Hurt radiated from his eyes. "You were taking potions and I didn't brew them?"
She smiled. "You were in no condition to take care of me, let alone brew potions for me."
He lowered his eyes as he digested that. "What is it?"
"Some internal bleeding healer, I think."
He shook his head. "Not the potion. What's ailing you?" The concern could not be missed.
She smiled sweetly. "I know you don't think that being a healer has anything to do with anything. However, as you know, healers age quicker."
"Your glimmers are back up," he interrupted.
She sighed and nodded. "I feel naked without them."
He nodded. "Continue."
"My organs are failing. Slowly and painfully. The potion slows the process."
"And here I have been hateful, spiteful, and abusive."
"Well," she said twisting her wedding ring. "If you loathe me, and hate me, then I suppose that would make sense."
"I don't hate you," he said as tears returned to his eyes. "I hate that I feel like you wasted your life with me."
"I never felt like I did. But, I did know that I was starting to outlive my usefulness – I believe those were your exact words – and those were said over five years ago. I just thought that you would have traded me in for a newer healer years ago."
"No… I don't remember saying that. And, I don't want anyone else. I want you – I love you."
"You don't have to. If you don't want to have me – or hold me – anymore, just say the word and I'll go home. You'll never see me again, and the next time you hear about me I'll be dead."
"Don't make me bind you here," he stated, with a touch of humor.
"I don't want to leave," she admitted. "I just don't want you to hate me."
He moved closer to her and wrapped his arms around her. "I don't hate you. You are the most beautiful light of my life. You have brought me joy and happiness, and I swear I will be there until your last breath."
She smiled. "I'd like that."
Arthur, Remus, Hermione, Ginny, Ron, Severus and Zia sat around the dinner table. Ginny had cooked dinner, but Severus said that there was something that needed to be discussed in a village meeting.
The group looked at him in anticipation. "Everyone, thank you for humoring me. As some of you know, I made a major breakthrough tonight, and Zia and I have hashed out what we think is the basis of the breakdowns, flash backs, and the rage that you've all seen me direct at her. So, if you want to, you can all go home, and we'll work with the rest. However, there is one more thing that I think Zia should tell you."
"I know you're all probably anxious to go home, and I can't blame you. This is not being said as an attempt to guilt you to make you stay. However, Severus feels that it's important for me to tell you all what's been going on with me. Um, Remus, Ginny, you both know that I have been unwell. The fact of the matter is that I'm dying. My organs are failing, and I'm not expected to live beyond the next six months."
Gasps could be heard all around the table.
"I don't want you to all stay because you feel obligated to. Do know that if you decide to leave, Severus will take good care of me."
"I'm not going anywhere Z," Remus said, without thinking.
Zia looked at Hermione for confirmation.
Taking the hink, Hermione responded, "And, I wouldn't want him to."
"We'll be staying," Arthur said.
"Then it's official that we'll become a semi-permanent village?" Severus asked.
"I'm willing to venture to say a permanent one," Arthur answered.
Hermione and Remus nodded.
"Lovely," Zia said. "Thank you." She turned to face Severus. "Which brings me to my next question. Severus, I have an appointment at St. Mungos tomorrow. Would you like to come with me?"
Without hesitation he responded, "Of course."
A/N: Okay folks, that will be the end of this Part. A new story called "The Village" will be started soon. Don't worry, there will be more Hermione / Remus, and Hermione /Zia and Zia/Arthur and lots of other non-slashy interactions. I look forward to seeing you there!