By Telanu (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Categories: Angst, Romance, Drama
Summary: A prequel to "War Begets Quiet", from Severus' POV; this precedes that story by about a year and a half.
What could I say to you except I loved you,
And I'd give my life for yours?
- Bif Naked, "Lucky"
Harry was sleeping.
That was good, Severus reflected, sinking slowly into his overstuffed chair. Harry needed to sleep. He'd been so damned tired lately – even a stroll across the grounds to Hagrid's old hut had tired him yesterday, so that he'd slept through the night hardly moving. It hadn't seemed right, somehow, that Severus had woken the next morning with nary a knee in his stomach or careless arm thrown across his chest. One got used to such things after a while. It felt strange when they were gone.
So perhaps this nap would help. And a potion too, yes, a potion…something that might make that persistent pain line between Harry's eyebrows go away. Severus could not bear to see it there, not all the time, omnipresent. Thinking of finding a potion that would somehow erase it, he rose again from his chair, ignoring the protest in his knees, and marched over to his cabinet by the window that faced west.
His movements, as always, were quick and soundless as he spelled open the glass doors and began to deftly sort through the bottles, barely allowing them to clink against each other. The way Harry would go through them sometimes created nothing short of a racket. Then again, lately Harry's hands had begun to shake a little, so perhaps it wasn't entirely…
Noise. Why did everybody have to be so loud? Harry, with his shaking hands, rattling Severus' precious jars. The other professors' booming voices in the staffroom, at meals. The students, of course, the students – running steps up and down the stone corridors, shrieking and laughing and crying and making all the other noises wretched little children made. Severus was very glad he had resigned his post years ago, back before the sound had bothered him quite as much as it did now. But even here, living up in the highest tower of Hogwarts, he couldn't escape it entirely. Even the ghosts made noise, soft whispers as they floated through ceilings and walls, cold murmurs accompanying them that said death, death and clenched at Severus' heart like a vise.
Of course, he had forbidden the ghosts from coming up here. Harry didn't need to be around that sort of thing, not when he was feeling so ill. It would give him all kinds of silly ideas about coldness, and death, and leaving…
Where was the potion he sought? Severus couldn't put a name to it, but he knew there had to be something in here, somewhere, and if he just saw it he would know it was the correct one at once. Sometimes intuition really was your best bet. Years with Harry had taught him that. Over the years they'd taught each other many things, as was only natural.
And yet, it still seemed to Severus that there were things even Harry couldn't understand. His husband's tired green eyes had been searching him, lately, and in spite of his fatigue Harry spent a lot of time talking, making sound to fill up the silences. Those eyes were always asking Severus, Why so quiet?, and Severus invariably felt a small pang of disappointment that Harry – so observant in so many other ways – should have failed to catch this one simple thing. Severus didn't want any noise. That was all.
Although, it was funny; even when Harry was sleeping and their rooms were at their most silent, it still seemed like Severus could hear sounds echoing off the walls, the sound of someone screaming or crying. It was enough to drive him mad, if he let it. Was there no peace anywhere in this damned castle? No wonder Harry wasn't making any improvement from this mysterious ailment that had gripped him…when was it? Almost six months ago. Who could possibly recover in such an unrestful environment? Severus didn't give a damn what the board of governors said, or the mediwizards, for that matter. When the summer holidays came in a month or two, he was taking Harry to their little house in Tuscany, set far away from other wizarding areas. Although the place was small, Severus had arranged a splendid laboratory underground, and once they got there he'd concoct something that would make his husband right as rain. The place was beautiful enough aboveground that Harry never complained – he usually spent tedious minutes rhapsodising about sunsets and the like – and Severus quite enjoyed being able to seal himself off in the cool stone chambers below, surrounded by his craft, while Harry puttered around in the garden.
They would be very happy there.
His fingers brushed against rounded cool glass, and his eyes snapped back into focus, remembering his search. He darted a glance over to the enormous bed, where Harry still lay peacefully. Severus relaxed. Then he looked back into the cabinet to investigate his find. His eyes gleamed.
A bottle with dark blue liquid sat inside, labeled "Solamen" in his own spidery script. Solamen. Relief-from-pain. The bottle was shoved in the back corner, dusty, but he could remember this one: it had a long shelf life. He'd brewed it years ago, when the Weasley tribe was visiting for the Christmas holidays and one of their brood had suffered a snakebite. (A snakebite. In winter. Only a Weasley.) It had doubtless been a godchild of some kind, and Harry had been very soothing while Severus, of course, did all the work. It had been marvellously effective; the child had stopped sobbing and they'd got her off to the hospital wing, no trouble.
Just the thing. It didn't hurt to take it regularly, and maybe then Harry's eyes would become green and bright again, not glazed over with some vague pain – incurable, the idiot mediwizards had started to say, what the hell did they know – and he would, of course, be grateful to Severus. Very grateful. It had been far too long since any displays of that kind had taken place, since Harry's mouth had been screwed in a grimace of agony that was enjoyable, since Severus had fisted his hands in cool falls of long, still-unruly dark hair that was quickly turning silver. It would do them both the world of good.
Severus softly blew the dust off the bottle, uncorked it and sniffed. Still good, of course. When Severus Snape brewed a potion, it was perfectly done. It wasn't a big bottle, though. If – when – it worked, he would doubtlessly need to brew more. He'd give some to Harry as soon as he woke up.
In the meantime, Severus held the Solamen up to the light coming in from the window. It had taken him a long time to get accustomed to that light, after years in the dungeons. The bottle winked and flashed at him, and the dark blue of the potion was interspersed with occasional flecks of a paler, brighter colour, like stars at twilight.
Unbidden, memory stirred, and Severus couldn't help smiling. It was a pleasant memory, one of his favourites, if he were pressed to admit it – which he wasn't, since he'd never told anyone about it. Not even Harry. It began with stars, years and years ago, when his own hair had still been dark as the sky at night and he hadn't fully appreciated the beauty of silence. Like all the rest of them, he'd made an appalling amount of noise in those days, rattling around and storming and shouting and making himself generally disliked.
But this memory was of quiet, and of peace. It was from Harry's seventh year, in early spring, when the air had started to warm. Old Albus Dumbledore – Severus still thought of him often – had arranged some kind of event outdoors, by the lake, still well within the safety of the school grounds. The giant squid had been cozened, and boats dragged out, and food cooked over magical fires as the stars emerged into the sky. The air had been filled with sounds of squealing, delighted students as the small boats paddled around in the lake, near to shore. As a professor, Severus had of course been forced to attend and play the chaperone. He'd regarded it as a tremendous waste of his time, which could have been more valuably employed in the war – the Unofficial War, they'd called it, the one the Ministry had still refused to recognize at the time, even though Aurors were dropping like flies and people were disappearing as they had during Voldemort's first reign. And Dumbledore's big idea? Give the children a picnic. Take their minds off it, as if a distraction could make it all go away.
Severus had brooded on all these things as he stalked moodily around the picnic area, doing his best to stomp out high spirits. Harry Potter had been there, of course, another irritant designed to ruin the evening. Doubtless he was finding some trouble to get into. Severus had cast his eyes around for the brat, and found him near the shore, helping some first years into a boat which Ron Weasley was paddling, a huge grin on his freckled face. When the children were all in the boat, and Severus had made up his mind to keep an eye on them lest Weasley's incompetence tipped them all into the lake, Potter had shoved the boat off from shore, and waved as it floated away. Then he'd straightened up, folded his hands together, and a small smile had crept over his lips as he looked after the boat gliding off, plainly watching over it as Severus had intended to do. That smile had boggled the then-Potions Master. It wasn't the smirk of a mischief-maker, but rather the soft, wise, self-possessed smile Severus had seen all too often on Dumbledore's face.
Time had slowed then, or seemed to, and Severus sat down in the grass a safe distance away, watching Harry Potter. In that moment he saw the shape of the man Potter would become: somehow not a frightened, angry little boy, but a creature of strength, of power, of safety. Voldemort, Severus had thought blankly, didn't stand a chance.
The picnic was incredibly noisy, but just then a veil of stillness seemed to have fallen around Severus as Potter looked out over the lake. Stillness, and peace. And for ten minutes, as Potter watched the boat and he watched Potter, Severus had experienced a cool, perfect happiness.
It was a funny thing about moments like that. People got greedy about them. They wanted to hold onto them forever, and everything that happened after seemed dull and sad. People would tell themselves that it would happen again, someday, just to make the rest of their lives interesting enough to keep going. It was a terrible thought, the idea that the very best moment of your life was over.
It had not been that way with Severus. He had never expected to have a perfect moment in the whole of his existence, and when it came he hadn't thought twice about what it was or what it meant. He'd just watched Potter and drunk in the glow around the boy, the glow that Dumbledore must have seen all along, that promised security and redemption.
At that time, Severus had had no thought of claiming the boy for his own. That would not come for three more years, when the memory of that night had faded somewhat, the balm of it replaced with the pain of longing. But Harry had, knowingly or not, gifted him with a few moments of serene joy, of knowing that everything would be all right. The world around him had become perfectly still and nothing had ever been better.
Severus had never once thought of himself as being in love with his husband; he only loved him. It had started then, in an unobtrusive way.
He stared at the blue bottle in his hand. The last seventy years of his life, married years, had not been uneventful or easy ones, but they'd had their rewards. Every great once in a while he would experience an echo of that first moment, watching Harry work, or sitting across from him at dinner, or standing by him on a veranda in the evening. And there would be more, of course, many more. It had taken them long enough, but Severus rather thought they were finally learning how to be married, and it was time to enjoy it. He was one hundred and nine years old, hardly in his dotage. He'd give Harry this potion, the pain would leave them alone; they'd go to Tuscany for a few months; the world would be still again. Still, peaceful. Quiet. Just what Harry needed.
Harry also needed to wake up, Severus realised, glancing at the clock on the wall. He'd been brooding for over half an hour, and if Harry slept for much longer he wouldn't be able to rest tonight. Best to keep to the routine, the mediwizards said, though they always added a "for now" that grated on Severus' nerves. As if there would be a need for Harry to rest more in the future…as if anything could hurt Harry Potter, who'd shown the measure of his strength from his seventeenth year! Harry might be too loud, and lacking in common sense and rationality, and still incurably Gryffindorish, but he was not weak. Never weak. This would pass soon.
As if on cue, stirring noises came from the bed. Severus turned towards it, still holding the Solamen in his hand. "Wake up," he said softly, and was surprised at how croaky his voice sounded. How long had it been since he'd spoken last? He cast his mind back. Days?
Well, it still hadn't done the trick. The noises had been a false alarm: Harry was still asleep. Severus crossed the room with swift, silent steps and gently shook Harry's shoulder. Thin, too thin…Italian food. Harry's weakness for pasta would soon work wonders. Harry made a soft "ooh" noise, and his eyes opened slowly, as if it had taken a great effort to raise the lids.
They were bright now, but with pain. They pleaded with Severus for a terrible moment, before the dull haze fell over them again and Harry dredged up a weak smile. "Ah…have I slept too long?"
Severus couldn't answer. Those eyes had, for just an instant, said too much. They had exposed Harry's body as one long nerve, strung tight with pain, quivering. And then Harry had successfully shielded them. But not soon enough.
Severus felt something important inside him starting to slowly collapse. A thousand perfect moments rushed by him and escaped his grasp. He could only extend the bottle towards Harry, and this time both their hands were trembling as Harry reached up to take it. " 'Solamen,' " Harry read from the label. "I remember this…from that Christmas…" Now the eyes raised again to Severus' face and they shone with gratitude. "How clever of you to remember it. I hadn't even thought. Thank you, Severus."
Severus, unable to speak, merely waved his hand in an irritated gesture to indicate that Harry should drink the bloody thing already. Lips twitching slightly, Harry sipped at it, then handed the bottle back with a sigh of relief.
"Oh," he breathed, and his body slumped back against the mattress. "I hadn't even realised how much it hurt…until it stopped. Oh. Thank you," he said again, and covered Severus' hand with his own. Harry's left hand was unadorned. In the past few months he'd lost enough weight that the wedding band had become too loose to wear. Severus had thought to put it on a chain, but there was always the chance that Harry might manage to strangle himself with it while he slept, so instead he'd put it in a box on the dresser until its owner could wear it again.
Severus lifted the hand to his lips, but instead of kissing it he found himself pressing it to his forehead as he bent over, unable to face those eyes. Pasta. Sunsets. Potions. He would give Harry all of these things, this very summer, and then…and then…
"Severus," he heard Harry whisper, and bit his lip ferociously at the sorrow in his husband's voice. "Severus, I…It's all right. It's all right." A shaking hand caressed his hair.
Still not looking up, Severus brought Harry's other hand, the one he clasped, down to his lips and kissed a bony knuckle softly. He did not reply to the statement that was patently a lie. No need to talk. The world was plenty loud enough already.
And he had nothing else to say.
I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind.
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.
Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains,--but the best is lost.
The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love—
They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.
Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.
-Edna St. Vincent Millay, "Dirge Without Music"
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