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Don't Forget to Live
Hermione stared down at her clasped hands, her fingers worrying themselves in her lap against the stark white sheets. Her face felt numb and her head ached, but these pains paled in comparison to the ache in her lower abdomen. She felt her anger and sadness surge once more as she felt her womb contract once more and she bit her lip with a hiss. The presence of strong arms wrapping themselves around her entered her consciousness and she nestled her head back against the warmth of her husband.
"I'm so sorry Severus…" she murmured, her voice hoarse from her earlier sobs. She had cried until she'd had no more tears, and now her eyes felt remarkably dry, the lids dusky purple and puffy, small burst vessels in the whites of her eyes from the exertion. She felt him take a shuddering breath behind her.
"Hermione…love….don't," his voice held a pleading note as he hitched his arms around her more tightly. "You know that this is not your fault. It's no one's fault." The timbre of his voice was soft and deep, and she felt the comforting vibrations through the thin hospital gown on her back. She worried her lip with her teeth and shifted slightly, leaning against him more fully, and brought her hand up behind her to cup his cheek where it rested against her hair.
"I want it to be someone's fault though," she whispered.
"I know," he responded just as softly.
"Something so unfair…I want someone to blame."
"I don't know if I can do this anymore…." her voice broke, and with it his heart.
Severus gazed down at his wife of nearly two decades. She looked so young, lying there, wild hair fanned out against the pillow, hands smooth and white, her face holding serenity in sleep that was no longer present in her waking hours. Looking down at her now he could almost pretend that the years had truly fallen away, that she wasn't approaching forty and him sixty. Still young for wizards, yes, but even magic cannot alter the countdown of fertility in a woman.
He saw her as she was those many years ago, when she'd taken his hand and placed it on her belly. Those first two months of joy and unrelenting excitement as they had begun to prepare for this long awaited step in their marriage. But then, the heartache just a month later. Twenty years they had tried. Their love was so strong, they were spiritually, magically entwined with each other that it was impossible for them to believe that a child was proving so elusive. They watched as years passed and friends had their first children…then their second…and in some cases more and more.
Hermione had always handled it with incredible grace, only her husband aware of how it hurt her after every pregnancy announcement, after ever hospital visit with smiling new parents, and small bundles of joy. She just smiled and wished them well. Those evenings she would lock herself away in her study and not come out the rest of the night. He saw the pain held in her eyes ever time her monthly flow would show itself.
Over the years, the joy they experienced after becoming pregnant had tempered itself into cautious optimism…and then recently, as they'd gotten older, a shred of hope clouded by fear. Severus raked his hands through his dark hair laced with silver threads brought on by age and he sighed in agony. He was not sure how much more of this his wife could take.
He felt the pressure of a firm hand on his shoulder and turned his head to see Harry standing by his side.
The boy had aged well, and they'd developed an unlikely friendship forged after years of mutual hate. Harry had learned to respect the Potions master, and in turn, Severus admired the boy-now a man-for his maturity and willingness to admit that he'd been wrong. They weren't best mates by any means, but they had one very important thing in common: Hermione.
"I came as soon as I heard," Harry spoke then, his voice gentle in the quiet hospital wing. Severus nodded.
"Your kindness is appreciated."
"I didn't even know she was pregnant again. She didn't tell me," Harry muttered as he took a seat by his best friends bedside, pulling it up beside Severus.
Severus nodded and smiled slightly at the younger man. "We didn't tell anyone. We thought it best that way. It's very…difficult," Severus faltered with his words, "to have everyone get so excited and happy for us, and then have to tell them all that it ended like this. Rather puts a damper on everyone else's happy go lucky existence," Severus intoned wryly, falling easily back into his old sarcasm. It showed most often when he was very upset.
"That's Hermione for you, always thinking of others before herself."
"Yes, my wife is generous and empathetic almost to a fault," Severus responded, his fingers working themselves in his lap, one forefinger worrying a thick, wool cuff.
"Will you keep trying?" There. The question. Severus felt his throat constrict as the thoughts he'd been trying to push aside came flooding forward. This was always the question. After each disappointment, after each heart breaking trip to the hospital wing, it always came back to this. Would they try again? Severus wanted a child. He had always wanted children of his own, but he wanted a life filled with love and happiness more. And if that meant that they needed to let go of this failing dream, then that is what he would do. But he knew it wasn't really up to him. He only had to look into his wife's anguished eyes when she saw an infant on the street, when another uninformed half-acquaintance asked when they were going to start a family, only see her jealous gaze laced with sadness when passing some big bellied woman in the newborn aisle in Gladrags, for him to comprehend that this truly had to be her decision. He would stand by her until the very end.
His liquid black eyes swept from his wife's sleeping form to Harry's kind and sympathetic gaze and felt the dam give way. He raised a hand to swipe at the copious tears that were running down his cheeks unbidden, but to no avail. As soon as one tear was wiped away, another soon followed in it's wake, and soon enough Severus just gave up trying to rid his face of his grief and gave in. He didn't sob, he didn't heave or sniff in distress. His face didn't screw up and redden. He just cried, silently. Harry let him. There are some things that words, no matter how well meant or thought out, can ease.
They returned to their quarters two days later, Hermione still weak and on shaky legs. They had gotten as far as the main corridor when Hermione's strength had simply given out. Several passing 7th year boys who greatly admired both of their teachers hastily put their books aside and offered to help get their Spell Mistress to her destination, but Severus politely and silently declined with a wave of his hand. In one swift motion she was in his arms and he walked the rest of the way, down two flights of staircases, four corridors, and three rooms to deposit her gently in their bed. He brought the covers up to her breasts and caressed her cold hands gently before he moved to light a fire in the grate. With a deft wave of his wand a cup of strong tea floated into the room, an old, worn book in it's wake. He would read to her for an hour until she drifted off to sleep.
The next morning dawned bright, the spring air drifting in through the windows of their bedchamber and causing the curtains to billow out and around. Severus awoke to find the bed next to him cold and empty, and with a few creaking stretches he was up and padding around in a dressing gown, looking for his wife. He found her in their small private garden that Severus had been given for his 30th teaching anniversary. It was a small and modest affair, but it held some valuable potions ingredients, and an impressive rose garden that was Hermione's passion. She sat on the small stone bench surrounded by the floaty pink and white blooms, her hair down her back, a few curls lifting lightly in the breeze, her face turned up to the sun, eyes closed. She was not crying, simply sitting, hands folded loosely in her lap.
Severus pulled his dressing gown more tightly about his person and moved to join her on the small bench built for two and he gently wrapped his arm around her, pulling her close. She turned her head then and smiled. It nearly took his breath away. Twenty years by her side and still she could cause his heart to skip a beat with this look that she bestowed upon him. Eyes bright and only a little sad, hair a wild mass of curls that looked like a halo of golden brown in the sunlight, wide loving smile and flushed cheeks…all for him. It mattered not that her curls were threaded with grey here and there, nor that her eyes had small lines at the corners. It didn't matter to him that there were gentle creases 'round her mouth where she smiled, nor that there was a permanent line in between her tawny brows from years of reading too late into the night. To him, she was as beautiful as she had ever been.
"I love you Severus," she spoke lowly, and placed a kiss on his cheek. He closed his eyes and ran the ridge of his nose against her forehead, one hand coming up to brush the wayward curls aside.
"I know. I love you too," he responded, his deep baritone caressing her ears.
She pulled back and looked at him, her eyes sad but resigned, her mouth set in a firm line. "Severus…."
He looked down at her, his expression mirroring her own. He knew what she would say this time. He knew that it was right. "Yes, love." It was not a question.
"I want to let it go," she whispered, eyes bright and glassy with unshed tears. Her hands gripped his forearms and he slid them around her waist and pulled her in tightly.
"Someone once said, 'It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.'" Hermione nodded, and looked up at the sky.
"I want to live," she said breathlessly.
"Then I want that too," he said.
They sat in the garden for a long time, the shadows of the sun shifting with the passing minutes. Finally, they both rose and retired to their quarters. And live they did, for many years to come.