I do not own Harry Potter or the characters. This is just for cathartic reasons, and apparently to make myself cry.
They both wake in the night sometimes, hearts pounding as they try to remember which is nightmare and which is reality. Sometimes it's him, sometimes it's her, and on rare occasions, it's both of them.
In the darkness, he lies still as he catches his breath before groping for his wife's hand. It's his ritual, to feel the curve of her wedding band, to rotate the metal slowly. It helps the panic to fade if he forces himself to remember everything.
It's stepping stones in his mind; his only visitor who didn't want to come and apologize to or thank him, one of his few friends in the new life he tried to carve for himself, the chaste kiss she'd pressed to the corner of his on a New Years'.
Ten turns of her band, and he's to his proposal, to the wedding. Twenty turns, he's to the first miscarriage – the Cruciatus she'd suffered and hadn't known how to treat in time had damaged her, shortened her life; much as the snake's venom had shortened his.
Forty turns, and he's to seeing their second (and last) child off to Hogwarts. Fifty turns and he's to last night, to their children over for dinner with their spouses, the love he felt every time they gathered, no one mentioned their increasing frailty. Sixty turns, and he's calm. He knows where he is, who he is, and who the woman beside him is. It's easier to remember when it's just him in the night. If she's awake and talking to him, he flounders a bit. He has to remember that she's old now, 93 nearly four months ago, and sometimes it terrifies him to see her before he can remember.
He has no idea how she copes with the nightmares, but his are getting worse, and more frequent. He wonders how much time he'll have before he has to be carted off to St. Mungo's ward, suffering the indignity of being gaped at by dunderheads. He doesn't want that to be him. She doesn't want it, either.
“Severus?” He turns his head to her.
“I'm alright, Hermione.”
“I know you are, you always are.” She pushes herself up onto an arm, to look at him in the dark. “It's happening more often.”
It isn't a question, and he clenches his jaw before answering her. “Yes.”
She's quiet, then, in the stillness of their room, and he waves a shaking hand to light the candles before turning to look at her.
She blinks in the light, but she's still beautiful to him. Her hair has some brown left, but it's mostly silver now, and full of curls. It's her eyes that remain unchanged in color, but the lines of grief are few, the lines of joy deeper. The indents on the sides of her nose make his lips twitch into a rueful half-smile – she was probably reading by wandlight again; it was the only time she'd wear her glasses, stubbon woman.
“Severus....” Hermione hesitates, regarding him carefully. “Are you still alright?”
He rubs the bridge of his own nose. He wonders how she sees him – he's never asked, never taken a look inside her head. He knows she loves him.
If he'd asked, she would have given him that same soft, warm smile that'd snuck into his heart, and told him. Hermione would have told him that she loved him, that he was utterly enthralling to her still. She loved his expressive eyes, even with the frown lines of his brow she could see the crinkles from the last few decades of laughter had left their mark on him. She loved him, right down to the wrinkles on his hands that tried to disguise the freckle by his left thumb, and was glad he hadn't gone white-haired, but remained a stern iron-gray.
He swallowed. “No.”
“Is it time?” Her eyes are filled with tears now, approaching the subject they'd danced around lately but decided years ago.
Severus rolls to see her, throat tight. “Close. So very close. It's much worse, Hermione. I don't want to live that way.”
Tears fall, and he caresses her cheek carefully. “I'm sorry, Hermione...”
“Oh, Severus.” She smiles at him and leans to kiss him. “Don't be sorry. Neither of us wants to end that way. I.... I've felt it, too.”
He rolls to his back once more, taking her with him, and she curls around him like always. “You have?”
He inhales sharply. “So soon?”
She kisses his chest. “We're both ready, aren't we? They're taken care of; I know we've done our best. And it won't be a shock.”
“You told them.” His voice is curiously flat.
“A while ago, yes.” She's calm. “They can feel it, too, how short our time is.”
His throat catches. She's always taken care of things like this for him, managed the difficult when he'd just bury his emotions out of habit.
They kiss gently, and they each remove their wedding band and exchange them. A teary smile, a declaration of love, and they drift off to sleep one last time.
In the morning, the spell Hermione'd set would trigger, letting Rose and Sebastian know gently that it was time and their parents were gone, that they were loved so very much, and always would be. Harry'd known they'd long coated their rings in alternate potions, to touch the other would induce sleep, then death, that neither wished to live in St Mungo's as they grew frailer, or to die alone, without the other near.
For years, they'd determined to go together quietly, in their home, wrapped securely in their love for each other, surrounded by memories and photographs.
And so, bravely, they did.