Harry didn’t have any other choice, but to grudgingly admit that the supreme magister was truly magnificent in his fury. Even if that fury was directed at Harry, once again. The man was tall and lean, his stride powerful, his posture proud. His pale face, framed by long black hair, was glowing with the silvery white tattoos of his status, his birthright. His eyes were the endless black of the night sky, without any visible white parts, those currently overridden by power. All the others in the infirmary cowered in face of the man’s obvious supremacy, bending on their knees and praying for invisibility.
All but Harry, who didn’t have the time for his husband’s theatrics at the moment. He turned back to his charge and continued chanting. Poor chap lying on the sickbed in front of Harry was in a deplorable state, his whole body covered in angry red pustules, his face sunken and ashen, his skin peeling away in rotten smelling layers, and his life force fading away. He wasn’t conscious, thank the Goddess Almighty for her mercy, because his pain would have been unbearable. The plague clearly wasn’t merciful with him. The doctor heading the infirmary didn’t give him more than until dawn to live, but Harry wanted to try. Needed to try.
He didn’t stop chanting even when Severus stepped next to him, his magic titillating Harry’s skin, sinking into his bones, anchoring the both of them.
“Was it not my explicit order for you to stay out of the infirmary?” Severus asked, seething.
Harry couldn’t answer him, even if he wanted to, as he was just getting to the final, most crucial part of the incantation. He simply shrugged one of his shoulders in clear dismissal. The silence around them was almost palpable, even if there were at least four dozen people in the hall of healing with them.
A white, long fingered hand grabbed Harry’s biceps and pulled him from his crouch next to the sickbed into a standing position, then started to steer him towards the door. Harry hastily finished the spell, before he was bodily removed from the room. With a sigh of relief he turned towards Severus when the infirmary’s entrance shut behind them.
“I am not your slave nor am I your errand boy to be ordered around,” Harry answered the previous question defiantly.
Severus was blazing with his anger, but he still had the control to Apparate the both of them to Harry’s chambers. He more than likely didn’t want to give more gossip material. Their little scene in the infirmary was enough ammunition for the sharp tongues of the castle’s inhabitants.
Severus loosened his hold on Harry’s arm slightly, but didn’t let him completely go. His sharp eyes turned back into their usual form, penetrating obsidian irises boring into Harry’s very soul. Severus’ voice, when he spoke, was icy.
“No, you are my spouse, and more important, the vessel that anchors the magic on which this whole kingdom is built. What do you think will happen when you fall victim to the plague and our bond becomes unstable? What do you think will prevent then our empire from falling prey to all the enemies waiting on our borders, panting for a chance to conquer us? What power other than mine do you think sustains this godforsaken land, with a dead king, a halfwit heir who plays emperor in his stead and a plague deadlier than anything I have ever seen?”
“I am much more than a bloody vessel, or the pretty little trinket you tend to treat me as. I am a wizard too, maybe not the same calibre as you, oh, all powerful supreme magister, but if I can I will try to help these people in their suffering, even if it doesn’t meet with your approval, my liege.” Severus’ title in the end sounded more like a curse than anything else.
“You will do as I say!” Severus yelled angrily.
“I will do as I think is right. You are not my master,” Harry yelled back.
“I may not be your master, but you are still mine,” Severus hissed into Harry’s face, and dragged him very close, chest to chest, and suddenly Harry found it much harder to breathe. They were so close that Harry could feel Severus’ every word caressing his skin. “My responsibility. My husband. My bondmate. My chosen.”
“Your chosen, you dare say!” Harry spat back heatedly. “Everybody in this wretched kingdom knows that it was the late king Wulfric who forced you into this marriage, he was the one who had chosen me! You only wanted me because you were still panting after my mother – I can hear all the whispers throughout the castle, you know, about your love for her, how you were inseparable, how you were heartbroken when she married another. How it devastated you when she had declined your offer for her hand in marriage. I only wish I had the option to do so as well!”
Severus took a step back, finally letting Harry’s arm go. “Your mother has no part in our current affairs.”
“Oh, but she has, now, doesn’t she? Wasn’t it your broken heart that led you into the arms of the previous supreme magister? Wasn’t he your master for more than a decade, the one who taught you all you know nowadays? The one who died mysteriously.” Now Harry was the one stepping closer, taming his voice into a fiery whisper. “I know how you came into power. You betrayed the previous magister. You killed him,” he accused, fists clenched by his sides with his anger.
From one moment to the next Severus became stony and unapproachable. “Marvolo was a monster, we are lucky to be rid of him.”
“That’s rich! You accuse your previous master of being a monster, but what makes you so different from him?” Harry felt that he had gone too far as soon as the words left his lips.
Severus closed off, not an ounce of Harry’s husband remaining in him. He was the supreme magister, ruthless, cunning and unyielding. “I’m sending you away,” he declared, voice detached.
“The hell you are! I’m not going anywhere!” Harry protested vehemently.
Severus went on, ignoring Harry’s outburst. “There is still a secure hidden passage through the northern border. King Arthur of the neighbouring land will be delighted to have you in his court; you are a formidable wizard, after all.”
“I’m not leaving!”
“The country is in flames, the disease is eating up all we once had. Thousands are infected. People are scared and thus they are unpredictable; the desperate throng doesn’t follow any law anymore, they want to survive, whatever the cost. Scavenging, robbing, killing, it’s all on the table from now on. I can no longer protect you here. This disease-ridden, barren land has nothing to offer, our defeat is unavoidable.”
“One more reason for me to stay here. I can help. You don’t have to protect me, I’m no damsel in distress! You married me for a reason: the supreme magister needs a mate with magical powers, that’s how it is. I can help you stay in balance.”
Severus’ face stayed emotionless.
“My word is final. As the morrow comes you are leaving with a small group of guards. Until then stay in your chambers.” Magic seeped into Severus’ words, urging Harry to follow his liege lord’s orders. He fought back with everything he had.
“As you wish, supreme magister,” he spat through clenched teeth, and watched Severus’ leaving back.
Harry thought that the chief physician’s pure panic after catching sight of him in the infirmary once again, only half an hour after Severus had forced him to leave, really wasn’t justified at all.
“My lord,” the anxious man addressed Harry, “you shouldn’t be here. The sup…”
“Hush, my good man, Adelard,” Harry soothed him. “I’m where I’m most useful.”
“But my lord,” the poor man started again, just for Harry to interrupt his concerns.
“Don’t worry, Adelard, I will take care of any issues that may arise with the supreme magister. And now, let’s get back to work.”
They had been working for hours. Harry tried every possible spell in his arsenal to try curing the suffering patients with no success. In the end, he could only cool the inferno burning up its victims from the inside with fever-reducing and pain-relieving spells. The inability to do anything more for these people, his people, was killing him. His head throbbed and his vision was blurry by the time evening descended on them. It didn’t help matters that previously he had had to fight off Severus’ compelling spell as well. Even his magic got wobblier than usual. His palms sweated profoundly under his dragonhide gloves, but they learned early on that the mucus oozing from the pustules as well as any other bodily fluids of the patients were highly contagious.
A commotion from outside caught their attention. Harry tried to strain his hearing to figure out what was going on. Before he could have done that, Adelard was beside him, urging him to move.
“We must go, my lord, they are here!” the doctor said while pulling Harry by his elbow. What was it with all the manhandling today? Harry thought briefly.
“Who is here?” Harry asked bewildered, feeling lost. “What’s going on?”
“The mob, hungry and scared, they are ready to take what they want through whatever means. We must leave, they mustn’t get to you.”
“But what about the patients?” Harry cried out indignantly.
“It’s too late for them,” Adelard said, his voice full of remorse.
“What? You don’t know that, we can’t leave them! What about your oath? You must try to save them!” Harry protested. He realized that he must have been more tired than he previously thought, because Adelard managed to move the both of them a few metres before Harry had time to react.
“The only one with a chance to be saved is you, my lord.”
Just then, with a resounding crash, the infirmary door burst open and a throng of angry people armed mostly with stakes and pitchforks burst into the room. Harry tried to call forth his magic to defend them, but after a nausea-inducing dizzy spell he realized he couldn’t. He was way too exhausted to perform any more magic.
Harry and Adelard almost reached the other entrance of the room when that door too opened up and another group of angry vassals flooded in. They were trapped. Within seconds Harry was surrounded by shouting mouths and violent hands and fists. He lost sight of Adelard almost immediately and, although he tried to fight back as fiercely as he could, in his weakened state he wasn’t a worthy opponent for the enraged mass. He was pushed to the ground within moments. Someone kicked him in the stomach, while somebody else spat into his face. There was shouting, but he couldn’t make out the words, he couldn’t keep count of the blows and kicks, quickly getting lost in the increasing fog. He heard an ear-splitting roar from somewhere far, far away, then he knew nothing else.
At first blink Harry’s world was made of pain and unbearably bright light. He didn’t stay conscious long enough to experience more than that.
The next few blinks of reality brought nothing more than pain and heat. It was enough to drive Harry back to oblivion every time he tried to drag himself out of the dark pit of unconsciousness he had fallen into. His insides felt as if they had been filled to the brim with acid that tried to eat its way out of Harry’s body through his chest, his stomach, his every vein. It was excruciating. He tried to call out to his magic to bring some relief, but there came no answer to his desperate plea. The plague, he realized despairingly. He caught the dreaded disease. Several times, when he felt he must have been boiling from the inside, there was the barest breeze, brushing his forehead, cooling his face then caressing his neck, travelling down to his chest. By the time it reached his stomach, Harry was out with a sigh.
Then came the time when he woke up screaming and flailing. He was sure that his skin had been melted from his flesh, or he simply had been skinned alive. Every tiny patch of his skin screamed in agony so great he wished for the Goddess Almighty to take his life instead. Then a deep voice murmured into his ear and blessed darkness embraced him anew.
Next time it was the smell that woke him up. It was rotten and disgusting, and made Harry gag. It surrounded him from all sides, coming from his pores. He was the source of the horrible stench, he realized. He was the something rotten and disgusting. With his sudden panic came the pain once again, a little less sharp, but still overpowering. Cool glass touched his lips, and the world faded away once again.
When he regained his consciousness some unaccounted for time later, he was oddly pain free. Also, he felt as if he was floating on a cloud. It was way more comfortable than his previous experiences, but still disturbing. He tried to open his eyes, but he couldn’t. Then he attempted to move his hand, his leg, or any part of his body, really, with no success. His heart raced rampantly with his growing panic. He was trapped inside the prison of his own body, it dawned on him, without any means to escape or ask for help. He couldn’t even form a single sound with his lips. He was condemned to lie there and wait, for who knows what. In the end he didn’t have to wait for long. A blessedly cool cloth swept over his forehead, then his cheeks. A voice accompanied it, just as soothing.
“Sleep, Harry. Save your strength. Sleep.”
Finally came the day when he opened his eyes and he could keep them that way. His each and every bone ached, and he was so exhausted that keeping his eyes open seemed overwhelming, but he managed. He was in a room vaguely familiar, and a figure stood beside him.
“Se’rus” he tried to vocalize, with great effort.
“Hush.” A cool hand soothed his forehead. “Welcome back.”
What’s happened? Harry wanted to ask, but what came out was more like “Wha’hanned?”
“You fell sick. You had dangerously high fever for a few days and I was able to reduce it only this morning.”
“Taken care of. Don’t worry about that now.”
“When you get better I will tell you. Until then your priority should be to heal.”
“I am fine, don’t fret.”
“I know. Rest.”
“I won’t. Rest now.”
And Harry, for the first time in days, truly did.
“I hate this!” Harry complained loudly for the hundredth time that day.
“I know you do, but you still have to try!” Severus snapped back, losing his patience at last, after a surprisingly long time.
“Fine,” Harry grumbled and, leaning heavily on Severus, he tried to take another step. The fourth in twice as many minutes. His legs weren’t willing to cooperate for the life of him! When they almost gave up under him Severus was there to catch him and to steer him back to his bed.
“That’s enough for today,” Severus declared with finality.
“But I only managed four, I need to get better, I need to try!”
“What you need to do is give yourself time to heal and regenerate and not overdoing it,” Severus countered, while tucking Harry in.
Bizarrely, Harry got used to all the nurturing acts like this from Severus in the last week or so, and it didn’t register as strange anymore. Severus hadn’t touched him during their whole marriage as many times as he did this morning. Come to think of it, Severus hadn’t touched Harry nearly at all before this illness, and then he only had done so when he was angry. Theirs was a marriage of convenience and power, not a love match.
“Stay here while I bring your meal,” Severus ordered.
Harry rolled his eyes. “Oh, I don’t know, I may try to run away! At least I will see with my own eyes what’s going on, given that you won’t say a word.”
“I will tell you when…”
“… you are fully recovered.” Harry parroted. “I know, I know.”
“Why do you ask if you already know the answer?” Severus asked back, arching an eyebrow.
“Because I’m hoping for a miracle.”
“In vain, it seems.” Severus concluded with a glint in his eyes that Harry had learnt existed only the last few days, before leaving for the kitchens, supposedly.
Harry made a shooing motion with his bandaged hand and hissed when the sudden movement pulled his still healing skin. Almost every part of his body was covered in bandages, smelling heavily of herbs, and the rain-thunder-lightning smell of Severus’ magic. Severus meticulously changed the bandages every day. Harry sneaked a few peeks: his skin was pink and a bit raw-looking but there were no pustules or disfiguring scars anywhere in sight. Harry guessed he had been lucky.
When Severus brought his lunch, their usual routine started. Harry asked questions and Severus deflected or simply ignored them.
“Why are we in your mother’s childhood home?”
“What’s happened in the castle?”
“Where are the others: the servants, knights, the guards, anyone, really?”
“If nobody else accompanied us, have you really done all the cooking and cleaning by yourself?”
“When will my magic finally come back?”
“If I won’t have my magic back, then what happens with our bond? What about your anchor, Severus; what is balancing you, with my magic out of commission?”
And there were the questions Harry didn’t dare vocalize:
“Will my magic ever come back?”
“If not, then will you still need me, will you want to stay married?”
“Why are you doing this, Severus? Why do you take care of me, bathe me, read to me, cook for me?”
Day after day Harry’s questions stayed unanswered or unasked. And still, in spite of all the things he didn’t know, Harry felt oddly at peace. Safe. At home.
Change had come on the third week of Harry’s recovery. He gathered enough strength by then to be able to take a short walk in the rose garden, heavily leaning on Severus still, but it was definitely progress. Harry’s magic continued to be out of his reach, and he started to get anxious about it. They were slowly walking back towards the house when the noise of hooves pounding on the road reached them, coming from the front of the house, getting closer to them. Severus tensed, his whole body becoming rigid, his previous, loosened demeanour accentuated in its lack. Harry felt Severus’ magic gathering around them, surrounding them protectively.
A rider with King Godrik’s colours on his clothes and weapons emerged after passing around the house and, upon seeing them, descended from his horse, leaving it behind, and rushed towards them.
“Supreme magister!” He bowed to Severus after stopping in front of them, then to Harry as well. “I bring an urgent message from his majesty, King Godrik. I was commanded to wait for your immediate reply, good lord,” the courier declared and with a great flourish pulled a folded and waxed-sealed letter out of his inner pocket, offering it to Severus.
Severus opened it with his usual efficiency and started to read. Harry tried to subtly lean closer and read it as well, but Severus turned the letter just so that Harry couldn’t see its content.
After finishing the letter Severus turned back to the courier. “Very well, accompany us to the house and I shall write my answer immediately.”
By the time Severus led them back to the house, positioned Harry in his armchair as comfortably as possible, wrote his reply, and the courier finally left, Harry was vibrating out of his skin with curiosity.
“What did the king want?” he burst out as soon as the rider was out of hearing range.
With a sigh Severus sit down in his own armchair, facing Harry’s similar one in front of the fireplace.
“Are you not cold?” Severus asked instead of answering Harry’s question.
“I am fine, now stop deflecting!”
“King Godrik summoned me to his court.”
Harry wasn’t exactly surprised; Severus was the prime sorcerer in the country, of course the king wanted him by his side in the time of great need. Only just that in their seclusion Harry got oddly detached from the goings-on of the outside world.
“Oh, I see. When do you have to leave?” The very thought of Severus’ departure filled Harry up with apprehension. “Should I accompany you?” he asked hesitantly, knowing full well that in his current state he was a hindrance to Severus.
“I’m not going,” Severus said expressionless.
“What!?” Harry asked, astonished.
“You heard me. And now, excuse me, I have to strengthen the wards around the house.” Severus started to emerge, but Harry stopped him with his hand on Severus’ knee.
“The wards? What’s going on, Severus?”
“The King won’t send any more invitations, he will send a battalion. His farce of courtesy will end with this one.”
“You mean he had summoned you before?”
Severus’ lips thinned into a razor-sharp line, but he didn’t utter a word.
“Oh, for the love of the Goddess Almighty, Severus, that’s high treason!”
“He needs me more than I need him, so he won’t order my death. I can protect you here, don’t worry.”
“Don’t worry!? Are you out of your mind!? Why would you defy the king in this?”
“Why do you think?” Severus spat back, voice full of venom, his gaze challenging Harry to understand, an unprecedented blush covering his cheeks. He seemed vulnerable.
Harry thought back on their last weeks: Severus being always there, taking care of him, nursing him back to health with the utmost care, without sparing a thought to his own health.
“Me… you are defying the king for staying here with me?” Harry was rendered speechless. “I will be fine, you shouldn’t stay here with me, risking everything you’ve built up.”
“Currently my magic is sustaining the both of us. You would be vulnerable out there, and so would I.”
“I am on the mend now. There are others who need you more than I do. You should help the people. I wish I could do so as well. You have the means to help, Severus. After all, you successfully cured me, there must be a remedy for all the people out there too. You must go.”
“I don’t care! Here is where I’m needed the most.”
“I could accompany you if you wish, but Severus, we cannot abandon the people of this land, the king! We can’t be selfish!”
“I WOULD LET THE WORLD BURN DOWN BEFORE I RISKED YOUR LIFE ONCE AGAIN!” Severus roared.
Absolute silence descended on them.
“Help me back to my room, please,” Harry asked after a while, and Severus did without a word.
Harry marvelled at Severus’ admission, because it was an admission, indubitably, even if Harry wasn’t sure of what exactly. He nervously paced the room, his thoughts in disarray, his steps still too hesitant for his liking. Finally, he stopped by the iron banded wooden chest that stood at the foot of the bed. Once it must have belonged to Severus’ mother. He opened it distractedly, looking for a clue or sign or anything that could help him understand what was going on here. Instead of some enlightenment, he found a beautifully crafted silver hand mirror.
He absentmindedly lifted the mirror and looked into it. His own, but somehow still unfamiliar face looked back at him.
During his recovery, he had yet to encounter a reflective surface, so he hadn’t seen his face after his illness yet. He saw the pink, newly healed, once more flawless skin on his torso and limbs after Severus’ rigorous nursing had taken care of the aftermath of the pustules. He had also seen that he lost weight, his bones more pronounced under his skin than before. But he hadn’t seen his face yet. His face, thin and drawn, decorated with purple bags under his eyes.
Eyes, that were no longer emerald green. Were no longer the exact same colour of his mother’s eyes, but a murky, muddy brown.
Later Harry couldn’t recall how he got back to the parlour to find Severus, mirror still in his hand. Severus took one look at him, gaze filled with concern, then another one at the mirror clutched in his hand, before he swept Harry up, and helped him to sit in his armchair, not leaving his side.
“It was the one feature in which I always resembled her.” The words stumbled out of Harry, much like a confession. “I always thought it was my only saving grace, that without it you never would have married me. You would never have wanted me as a spouse, an anchor, as anything, really.”
“You are a fool then,” Severus said fiercely, while his hand gently covered Harry’s own in his lap.
“Yes, I believe I might be.”
They sat there in silence, holding hands, something they had never done before. Severus’ closeness filled Harry up with warmth, security and anticipation. It was a heady feeling, and it made Harry slightly giddy.
After a while a sobering thought came to Harry. “Will I ever get my magic back?”
“I believe so,” Severus said, squeezing Harry’s hand.
Harry’s gaze found Severus’ and he couldn’t look away, lost in his husband. “Good,” Harry said. “I will get better and then we go back and do everything in our power to help.”
Severus didn’t answer. He didn’t have to. Harry knew his husband would follow him anywhere. Just as Harry would follow his husband, his Severus, his liege.