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Chapter 29 : Chapter Twenty-Nine - Avrille
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After we made love, I lay nestled in Severus’s arms, thinking I was so happy I wouldn’t care if the dungeons and castle collapsed around us. Alright, that was a stupid thought because if that happened, we’d be dead and unable to re-enact the evening’s more wonderful moments. Before coming down to Severus’s room, I’d really thought he was angry with me for being so forward the night before. I certainly had not expected to end up in his bed naked with him an hour later, but such unforeseen events were always welcome in my book. I was so happy that the whole experience had been wonderful; I’d been a little worried because I’d heard from friends it hurt like hell your first time. I guess the quick spell I’d invented spur of the moment had helped in that respect, since a discreet checking of the sheets beneath me had shown no evidence of bleeding.
Though it was still early in the night, I would’ve been completely content to just listen to the sound of Severus’s slow breathing and drift off to sleep. However, he seemed to have other ideas in his mind.
I was allowed a fifteen-minute cuddle before Severus lifted my chin, kissed me, then said with a devilish smile, “Get dressed.”
Now, after seeing that look in his eyes, that was the last thing I would’ve expected him to say (the most likely being something more along the lines of, “I’m ready to go again, how about you?”), but before I could even stutter a protest, Severus sat up and began tossing our clothes back onto the bed.
Still lying comfortably in the warm place he’d left behind on the sheets and very reluctant to leave, I asked, “Do I have to?” I rolled over onto my stomach, into what I hoped was a seductive enough pose to lure him back to bed.
Severus already had his pants on and was using his wand to reattach the buttons I’d pulled off of his shirt. He looked back at me over his shoulder and said, in an infuriatingly dismissive tone, “Yes, you do. Hurry up, I want to go out.”
With a melodramatic groan, I pulled the sheet up over my head and tried to put on my underthings without emerging from the cozy, soft cocoon. I managed to get fully dressed under there and only popped my head back out into the cold air of the room as I did up the buttons on my blouse by feel. Severus was staring at my progress curiously as he sat at my feet and tied his shoes.
“Is this how you always get dressed?” he asked dryly.
“I really don’t want to get up …” I whined and pulled the blankets around me even tighter.
Severus laughed then cruelly pulled my coverings off, making me squeal and bunch up into a ball. I was normally used to the temperature of his rooms, but now, after becoming accustomed to the warmth of his body next to me, the place seemed freezing.
Severus leaned over me and whispered, “I promise it will be worth it,” and offered his hands to help me rise. With one last grumble, I took hold of his hands and allowed him to pull me up into a standing position. I followed him back out to the sitting room.
“You’ll probably want a coat,” he said, as he fetched his own black suede frockcoat from a hook near the door. I was still feeling sleepy-eyed, so I tried to Conjure my spring jacket without even taking out my wand. The fact that I actually managed to made me wake up a little. Severus graced me with an impressed nod as we bundled up.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
Severus walked over to the mantel and held out the urn of Floo powder to me. “To the Shack, for the moment,” he said. I took a pinch of powder. “Go on ahead. I’ll be right behind you.”
Shrugging my shoulders, I followed his instructions and, after tossing in the powder, stepped into the pleasantly warm, green flames. Stepping out of the Floo was not quite as enjoyable, though as I got my bearings, it seemed the Shrieking Shack was actually marginally warmer than Severus’s rooms had been. I waited with my arms wrapped tightly around myself, and a few moments later, Severus appeared beside me.
“Ready?” he asked.
“I don’t know how I can be since I have no idea what we’re doing,” I said, a little testily.
However, my tone of voice seemed to simply amuse Severus, and he replied cheerfully, “Excellent. Take hold of my arm. We’re going to Apparate.”
Again I did as I was told, figuring whatever he had planned must be pretty spectacular since he knew I’d kill him if he made me get out of bed for no good reason. I felt Severus’s arm under my chilly fingers turn clockwise away from me, and I gently followed the curve. Now that I could Apparate by myself, the Side-Along-Apparation did not seem nearly as uncomfortable as the first time I’d experienced it with him. There was just the instantaneous moment where I felt like my entire body was imploding, but then it was over.
Taking a gulp of fresh air, I looked around at where we’d arrived. We were in the middle of a forest path, though calling it that was generous since it seemed to merely be an area where the underbrush was slightly thinner. All around us stood broad trees with shining, dripping leaves, which scented the air with a slightly acrid, bitter smell that was different from the air around Hogwarts, but certainly not unpleasant. The night hummed with the gentle chirping of hidden insects awake and active in the unusually warm temperature. A breeze was winding its way through the trees, and I could almost taste the sharp tang of sea salt as it blew across my parted lips.
Severus looked up and down the “path” a few times before taking my hand and leading me in a certain direction, saying, “This way, I think.”
A cream-coloured moon, a day from its last quarter, sagged just above the top of the trees and cast its lazy beams through the few breaks in the thickly growing leaves. Severus led me through tall grasses and clinging brambles on an alternating trail of pale moonshine and utter darkness. I pulled my coat tighter against me with my free hand so I wouldn’t get tangled in the numerous thorny vines and creepers, which seemed to reach out and snatch at me.
“Is it permissible yet for me to know where we are?” I asked.
“Italy,” Severus stated simply, without even turning back to look at me.
“It—Italy?” I uttered weakly. I had never Apparated so far and was glad Severus hadn’t told me of our destination before now. If I’d known we would be traveling half a continent away, I would’ve been so nervous I might have jinxed the spell.
“To be more precise, we’re on a small, uninhabited island in the Mediterranean Sea, off the coast of Italy,” Severus said, finally glancing back at me over his shoulder. We stepped through a patch of moonlight, which seemed to illuminate Severus’s face as paler than usual. He still had a faint smile on his lips. He slowed his pace slightly so I could catch up and match his strides. We walked onward side-by-side through the rich foliage, though it seemed the trees were now thinning somewhat. I heard Severus make a quiet noise beside me and looked over to see him holding a few fingers against his forehead, his eyes squinted in pain.
Seeing my concerned expression, he said lightly, “Only a slight headache. I did not get any sleep last night, so it’s probably just catching up with me.”
I felt badly about him not getting any sleep, still believing slightly that it was somehow my fault. I’d gotten a great night’s rest, but only because I’d been so upset after being kicked out of Severus’s rooms that I’d downed a potion to knock myself unconscious, so I wouldn’t have to feel how much internal agony I was in for a while.
After a few more minutes of silently forcing our way through who knew how many years of uninterrupted plant growth, we turned a bend and entered a clearing bathed in silver starlight. In the center of the clearing, nestled in a standalone copse of olive trees, was an ancient-looking, circular stone pavilion. It wasn’t large, probably no more than thirty paces around, and was made of up eight ivy-saturated columns, supporting a domed roof. The moonlight was shining on a figure in the center of the marble base. As we walked closer, I could see it was a statue of a young woman, draped in an expertly carved stola and holding a large urn on her shoulder. Her marble hair flowed down over her chest as her beautiful face looked up at the empty space above the urn. The sculptor had fixed a serene smile on her lips, and it seemed as though she was gazing lovingly up into the sky at something only she could see.
The closer I stepped toward the statue, the more I felt a gentle humming deep in my bones. The air around us seemed to vibrate with the anciently slow pulse of the earth itself.
“There’s a great power here. What is this place?” I asked breathlessly.
“I don’t really know, honestly,” Severus replied. “Probably a temple built by some Muggles thousands of years ago, who were able to sense the difference here yet not understand what it meant.” He let go of my hand and moved to stand in front of the statue with his arms crossed.
“This is a naturally occurring magical epicentre; Hogwarts was constructed over one, as well. I discovered this place when I was at school in Rome. Whenever we were bored, my friends and I would Apparate to a completely random place to see where we would each turn up. A reckless and frankly immature thing to do, I know,” Severus added quickly at my raised eyebrow. They were lucky they didn’t get the Italian Ministry breathing down their necks for potentially exposing the local magical community, but I guess even geniuses needed to blow off steam like all other teenagers—in the stupidest way possible—sometimes.
“I became quite skilled at Apparating in water,” Severus continued, “since I ended up in the sea half of the time. One day I stumbled upon this place. I could tell no one had been here in centuries, and the complete solitude and the strength of the raw magic calmed me. Whenever I felt homesick for Hogwarts or overwhelmed with schoolwork, I would come here and just sit. I would stare at the statue and dream that someday I might have a woman with whom I could share all of my most intimate secrets and desires.”
Severus ducked his head and reached into his pocket for something, which he fetched out and held hidden in his cupped palm. He turned and held out his free hand to me once more. I stepped forward and slid my cold hand into his large, warm one. He looked me deeply in the eyes and took a slow, purposeful breath. Then he dropped to one knee before me. My eyes starting filling with tears before he’d even opened his mouth.
Still holding my hand tightly in his, Severus looked up at me, the starlight shining brightly in his dark eyes. He said quietly, “Avrille, despite all of my dreaming, I never imagined I would ever meet anyone like you. For years I have been stumbling through mindless routine and seemingly endless darkness, wondering what was the purpose of my life. I realized as soon as I met you that my purpose on this earth is to serve you and endeavour to become a better man who deserves you. Though I know I am not perfect, I hope with all of my heart you will accept me for who I am and allow me the unsurpassable honour of becoming your husband.”
I could barely make it out through my tears, but I saw Severus open his other hand and hold it out to me. Balanced on his palm was a small black box, which magically flipped open to reveal a diamond ring, gleaming like Severus’s eyes in the moonlight. No, that wasn’t exactly right; the ring itself was gleaming. It somehow possessed an inner fire, that reflected off of the sharp angles of the stone and lit up Severus’s palm with a gentle glow.
Though I wanted to scream, “What do you think?! YES, OF COURSE!!” out into the silent night, I found my throat was blocked with half-choked-back tears. So instead I nodded my head so vigorously it was amazing I didn’t pull a muscle in my neck. I dropped to my knees beside Severus while gasping for breath through enormous sobs.
Come on, Avrille, you idiot! This is the best moment of your life! Do you want to blubber through the whole thing? I chided myself in good-natured frustration, but I couldn’t help it. After feeling responsible for what I’d feared was a catastrophic setback the night before, everything about this evening was just such an indescribable relief. Severus wrapped his arms around me as I cried tears of sheer joyful bliss all over the shoulder of his suede coat. After a moment I was able to pull myself together enough for Severus to slide the ring onto my finger and we kissed, the tears running down the corners of my mouth flavouring it saltily.
I allowed myself a few more sobs while Severus held me tightly on his knee. Once I could get out words, I said, “The ring is so beautiful.”
“I’m glad you like it,” Severus said and brushed back clumps of my hair that were sticking to my damp cheeks. “It’s an Eternal-Diamond, the stone encasing a spark of Gubraithian fire, which will never grow dim.” He kissed me once more gently. “I thought it an appropriate symbol of my love for you.”
I shook my head in disbelief and stared at the gem adorning my finger. “God, this must’ve cost you an absolute fortune.”
“Yes,” he admitted simply, “but since I live at Hogwarts, I am free from paying room and board, so my salary has tended to sit in Gringotts and compound upon itself. It was about time I had something to spend the money on finally, besides books.”
I moved my finger this way and that, watching the pale moonlight glitter on the outside of the diamond while the magical fire burned within. The thought of soon being Severus’s wife passed through my mind once more, and I dissolved into a state of laughing out tears. I tried my hardest to get a grip on myself, knowing I couldn’t go to pieces every time the thought popped up or else I’d be crying for the rest of my life; the thought of the rest of my life, being with Severus, made me just cry even harder.
It was a full five minutes until I’d emptied the emotional reserves and could stand up with Severus once more. After we rose I wrapped my arms around his neck and kissed him fiercely, thinking how wonderful it would be now to return to his room and climb back in bed together. However, just as we parted our lips, Severus grimaced, more seriously this time, and rubbed at his forehead with his fingers like he had before.
“Are you alright?” I asked.
Severus shook his head slightly to dispel the ache then said, “Yes, it’s just bothering me a bit more now. Perhaps we should return to the castle, and I can take something for it.”
I nodded, not wanting Severus to remain in pain, so he Apparated us both back into the Shrieking Shack, then we took the Floo to his rooms. His headache seemed to be truly impairing him, so I fetched him a pain-relieving draught and a glass of water while he sat hunched over on the couch, holding his forehead between his hands.
“Thank you,” he said, accepting the two glasses I held out. Downing the contents in two gulps, he levitated the glasses back over to the sideboard and stood up from the couch.
“I probably should get to bed—to sleep, that is—though I am highly regretful I am not feeling up to more,” he said, taking me by my shoulders and kissing me lightly. Then he said, to answer my yet unasked question, “And I imagine we can risk you sleeping down here for one night, don’t you think?”
I heartily agreed and followed Severus back into the bedroom. The bed was all made and perfect once more, making me feel strange wondering if the house-elf in charge of his rooms knew what we’d been up to. I Conjured my bedtime things down and changed into a nightgown. Then I brushed my teeth next to Severus in the bathroom, something that seemed almost more personal and wonderful in its simplicity than the passionate love we’d made earlier.
We climbed into bed together, and I rested my head on Severus’s bare chest as he read. He commented his headache was already a bit better and assured me it was fine for me to go to sleep. Glad for that, I rolled over and pulled the blankets up over my chin, the occasional soft rustling as Severus turned a page in his book and the feel of his free hand lightly rubbing my back lulling me into instant slumber. I woke up briefly when Severus turned out the light, but then quickly drifted back off with the comforting weight of his arm draped over me and the gentle brush of his breath on the back of my neck.
I don’t remember my dreams from that night, but I know they had been awful. Dark and pressing shadows stole through my mind, something I hadn’t expected after experiencing such a perfect evening. When I finally awoke, I felt sluggish and uncomfortable, as though the nightmares had followed me into reality. I didn’t know what time it was since Severus’s room was pitch black. I squeezed my eyes shut once more and decided to try and get at least an hour of better sleep. I rolled over and groped beside me for Severus, thinking that hugging his warm body would relax my thoughts. However, no matter how far I reached, all I could feel was icy cold sheet.
I opened my eyes once more, and my slightly more awake senses began to pick up on a definite feeling of wrongness in the air. I couldn’t figure out exactly what it was, but there was a dark, unpleasant feeling around me, like the magical equivalent of the stench of burning hair. It made the back of my neck prickle, so I immediately cast a Purifying Charm to cleanse the space. Once things felt normal again, I thought alight the candles to see where Severus was.
He was not in the bed, and at first I thought perhaps he’d just gotten up to use the bathroom, but then I remembered how cold the sheets had been. He must’ve been gone for quite a while. I crawled across the vast expanse of the bed and reached out to take Severus’s watch from the bedside table, where I’d seen him lay it last night. It read six in the morning, so I had at least gotten a full night’s sleep even if I didn’t feel like it. I placed the watch back down and regretfully got up out of bed, thinking Severus must be in the other room. I opened the door to the parlour, but it was completely dark as well. A quick lighting of those candles revealed the room to be empty.
I jumped back into bed and sat wrapped up in the soft down blankets. Looking around, I made a visual inventory of the room. My clothes from last night were still draped over a chair near the windows, Severus having dropped his in the laundry chute after changing for bed. Everything seemed orderly and where it should be.
Almost everything, that is; Severus’s wand was still lying on the table next to the watch, something I found to be incredibly strange since he himself was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps something had come up with his remaining students and, not wanting to wake me, he’d gone out into the school. But still, the thought of my ever-cautious Severus leaving his wand behind was absurd. I had no clue what to make of it.
I snuffed out the candles then lay back down, still incredibly tired. I shut my eyes and tried to relax. Hopefully Severus would be back soon, and it would be best for me to rest a little more so I was coherent then. Sleep soon overcame me and fortunately brought no more upsetting dreams.
When I woke up for the second time, the room was still dark, something that would normally make sense since no sunlight could penetrate both the lake and the heavy, drawn curtains of the bedroom windows. However, this bothered me because I knew instinctively that I was still alone in the bed, and if Severus had returned, he obviously would have a light on somewhere. I sat up, annoyed, and brought forth the light once more. The room looked exactly the same; Severus’s wand was still resting in the same spot.
By now I was growing hungry, and since the watch told me it was just past eight, I decided to return to my rooms to get dressed so I could have some breakfast. Most likely Severus would be there, and I could discreetly ask him what had happened.
I knew there was no way I could wear my engagement ring around the school without being dogged with inconvenient questions; it would be impossible for someone not to notice a glowing rock that size. I went into the sitting room and found the coat Severus had worn the night before. In one of the pockets, I located the ring box and regretfully replaced my ring safely inside. The box I left on Severus’s desk, then I took the Floo back to my own rooms to change.
Severus was not at breakfast, and I obviously couldn’t ask anyone if they knew where he was. In other respects, breakfast was a perfectly normal affair. I ate my eggs and toast ravenously, being totally famished after the walk and fresh air from the night before. Yesterday at dinner Lavinia had been pestering me to go to lunch with her, so she could spend some serious time with me discussing whether or not the fact that Henry had mentioned he liked kids meant he wanted to remarry soon. My mind was still a little fuzzy from my bad night’s sleep, but I agreed to lunch later since Lavinia seemed so desperate for emotional guidance.
After breakfast I thought it might be nice to bring Caligula down to Severus’s rooms since I felt I’d been neglecting him lately. He nearly clawed my face off in the Floo and leapt gratefully from my bleeding arms once we landed on Severus’s hearthstones. Severus did not appear to have come back yet, and I spent a few hours watching Caligula sniff out every single inch of the rooms. And I’m not exaggerating there; he even inspected the tops of the bookcases.
When lunchtime rolled around, I forced Caligula back into the fireplace with me, not wanting to leave him unsupervised to wreak clawed havoc on Severus’s priceless books. After dumping him on my bed and healing up more six-inch scratches, I walked down to the castle entrance hall to meet Lavinia. The day was beautiful, warm and sunny, and I enjoyed the walk into the village. We lunched at our usual table in the Three Broomsticks. I found myself a little distracted from Lavinia’s conversation since I kept glancing around to see if by some strange chance, Severus had come to Hogsmeade as well. Unfortunately, no trace of him surfaced, and when I returned to the castle at dusk after an afternoon of window shopping with Lavinia, I found his rooms to be just as cold and dark as I had left them earlier.
By now I was starting to grow slightly concerned. There didn’t seem to be cause for full-out worry yet since nothing appeared out of the ordinary, and word of something like another attack in the school would’ve spread through the student rumour mill like wildfire. There was that weird feeling I’d sensed in the room when I’d first woken up, but nothing about it had raised any feelings of instant alarm in me; it had simply been unpleasant and uncomfortable. Forcing Caligula back down with me—in his carrier this time—so I wouldn’t be so lonely, I sat reading in Severus’s sitting room until eleven o’clock. I Conjured down my bedtime things again, got changed, placed a litter pan for Caligula in the bathroom, and lay down in Severus’s bed just before midnight. I left a single candle lit for when he came back. As I drifted off to sleep, I hoped with all of my heart Severus would be next to me when I woke up.
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