The Balm of Gilead


Summary:
There are many poultices he can make, but only one ingredient he needs to cure
everything.

A/N:
This work depicts same-sex romance between two characters (HP/SS).
This story is complete.

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1. Part 1

 

 

The Balm of Gilead – Part 1

by Lucius Complex

 

 

 

1

His soul stretched tight across the skies

that fade behind a city block

Or trampled by insistent feet,

at four and five and six o’clock

 

 

The doctors are not the type who linger to chat, nor are they predisposed towards kindliness. More often than not, they didn’t speak to the man, and he would not understand the low guttural tongue of goblins anyway.

For two months or maybe more he lays, in that windowless room, and endures with silence the immoderate repetitions of feeding and wiping and bandage changing. At some point of time he notices the straps on the bed; perhaps they were used – his memory is hazy. He lays there and dreams of open windows and the sun on his bare arms.

He wakes up one day and decides to forget the sound of his own voice, forgets the past, forgets the war. The memories swirl away from him, as if into a sinkhole. They are rags. They look like a dementor’s rags, a potion master’s robes.

As the days grow longer and more lucid, and he is done discarding the unwanted memories like so many expired tins, the man begins to catalogue the remaining ones. He finds that he has half a dozen good memories of folding origami, of all things. He remembers the first time he stepped – well, broke into (muggle crowds are just ridiculous) the Louvre. He relives the memory of his one experience of trick-o’-treating (just take what you want dear, go on) and ending up with a wealth of nougats and liquorices and one inexplicable peach danish. (Here mum. S’got peaches on ‘em and I already had two.) He realises he has been good at lying even at that tender age, but it was only much later that he picked up the art of lying to himself.

Well. There would be no more of that from now on. Besides, how do you lie anymore when you’ve no longer got a tongue?

‘You see you are alive,’ one of the goblins finally rasps at him one day.

He nods and tries not to roll his eyes. Perhaps stating the obvious is a goblin trait he’s never noticed before.

‘As you no doubt have guessed, your trachea and jugular veins will not grow back. We cannot repair any vocal chords severed by such lacerations. The laryngectomy was performed to aid healing; and it shall someday make it easier for you to use an artificial voice.’

The man nodded, to show he understood.

‘We have extracted the venom from your blood, even your heart. There is some impact on both of the atrium, which might weaken your immune system permanently, but– ’ the goblin paused. ‘It was clever of you, nevertheless to seek treatment here. Something your primitive human techniques cannot hope at this juncture to achieve. You realise, Mr Snape, that this puts you in goblin debt?’

He nods again, familiar with the concept of recompense.

‘We have brought your contract. ’

The man shrugs. He has been paying for something or other his entire life; in money or in blood, the point was moot and in any case out of his hands. With a trembling arm, he scratches his initials with the provided quill and drops exhausted back on the bed.

He’d never speak again, but the thought suits him just fine.

In fact some part of him thinks it might just be too good to be true.

*

 

I am moved by fancies that are curled

Around these images, and cling:

The notion of some infinitely gentle

Infinitely suffering thing

 

Severus never imagined taking up baking, of all things.

Every year the part he mentally designates as ‘kitchen’, encroaches a little more into the rest of the house. Somewhere along the line the secretary in the landing stops holding letters and starts to holding cake stands and the muggle mixing machine he never learnt to use. Its a sight that still mystifies him – but not quite enough to do something about it. 

Severus makes his own cream and keeps seven types of sugar on hand (raw, muscovado, castor, inverted, icing, date sugar, and cubes for tea). He cracks his eggs four at a time, scattering sticky, desiccated shells all over the counter. Most days the windows are flung open to cool the trays of confections that march out of his ovens to supply the patisseries and tea houses of neighbouring villages; leftovers (along with new experiments) are petrified and stuck onto the walls; initially to double up as edible advertising, then as a source of amusement, and subsequently to see if he really could (and dared to) cover an entire house with pastries. He’s very, very near to succeeding.

The baking produces a vast number of grimy pans and sticky stirring spoons, so after four o’clock (and tea) there is washing and wiping and sweeping, and rolls of baking paper and foil to ball up and discard. There are sauces and preserves to boil and bottle; and because Severus wouldn’t touch muggle preservatives with the safe side of his dragonhide gloves, there is food colouring to make. From scratch. Boiled on enamel plated basins and left to cool in the garden, his walkway turns into a giant’s watercolour palette.

Of course with so much time and so much silence, Severus also unearths a few surprises about himself. Like the fact that he likes big windows. He likes to wind up his hair (which has taken to growing like a weed) and stab it with the pointy end of a chopstick. He likes the six looming bee towers in the garden that ensure nobody ever comes knocking, no matter how alluring the smell - the honey is just a bonus. He likes mixing cracked pink peppercorns into the cocoa powder. The new minimal-calorie Devonshire cream he invented will make him very rich one day. The tea is now stirred widdershins. There are days where he’d rather wear blue.

He can do all these things, now that he doesn’t have to waste time on thinking with words.

He wonders what took him so long.

*

Of course, he should have known Harry Potter would one day come charging in to overturn his well-tuned domestic tranquillity; when it’s all said and done, he really should have foreseen and prepared for said interference. After all, interference is the reason Potter exist; moulded and ministry-sanctioned and decorated with red and yellow icing and looking absolutely child-safe, like a toy fire truck; and twice as ridiculous.

The way Severus discovers Potter’s encroachment is the same way bad news generally finds him; by turning up on his front door. In today’s particular instance, it was by leaving his sanctuary unattended for the forty-five minutes it takes to procure his marketing supplies and subsequently return to a wide-opened gate, muddy footprints, and somebody trying to eat his house. Or rather, his black and white éclair drainpipes. He’s marginally gratified when Potter jumps almost out of his skin after a tap on the shoulder.

‘Oh god, I’m just so very sorry. I really didn’t mean to e-eat your house,’ Potter babbles in that inane way of his, fingers streaked with stolen chocolate. ‘I just- um, it smelled so good. And I, uh just kinda thought I’d find some nice old lady living here, ah—‘ He trails off abruptly, then looks more panicked than ever.

‘Not that you look like a lady, of course. Even with th- the apron.’

Severus stares in dismay at the messy-haired man stuttering in front of him. Words fail him. Actually, he doesn’t think in words anymore, hadn’t done so in years. He thinks in ingredients now, measures life and the passage of time by sugar and teabags.

‘Erm. So I’d be glad to pay for your… your roof. Would you like to stick this back? I only took a couple of bites. My name is Harry, by the way. H-Harry Evans.’

Severus glances down at the half eaten éclair that Potter has shoved into his hands. Of course. He’s forgotten that the brat would no longer recognise him; nobody can. He gestures at the gate and Potter’s eyes follows, but refuses to take the hint.

‘So do you mind if I come in for a bit, buy a couple of these… round things, and the layered cakes on the window looks pretty good… I hope you don’t mind if I –‘ He suddenly looks stricken. ‘I’m sorry, I keep talking and talking, and you… you don’t speak, do you?’

Instead of nodding, Severus wilfully turns his back on Potter and hurries to his front door. Naturally the brat interprets this as an invitation, stray dog that he is, and slips in behind him. His glare is met by an embarrassed smile, but no intention to leave. Severus is not even surprised.

‘I’m so sorry. I feel really bad about… outside. You house smells amazing. But I really should have asked, and waited or something…‘ Potter comes to a halt in front of his work table, where he happened to have spent the morning frosting summer fruits, and his eyes widen with wonderment. ‘Wow. Just wow. Your life must be amazing.’

He purses his lips and considers his options. Trespassing. Wilful destruction of private property. Stealing, and then having the gal to invite himself for a cup of tea. It was clear some things never change. Severus should boot the troublemaker out; instead he fills the kettle and hunts around for that extra mug he has that’s never seen the light of day. Potter looks so pathetically grateful, it’s hard not to wince.

Over tea, Harry ‘Evans’ makes up abysmal stories and wolfs down enough palmiers to feed a Quiditch team.

 ‘I sell sport supplies, usually down in the town centres but this week I thought I’d take the road less travelled. You know, take in some sights, look for new opportunities...’

Severus almost chokes on his tea. What a terrible liar. The world knows Harry Potter is an Auror, as if the brat ever had any other career options besides ‘future Head Auror’ or ‘future Headmaster’ -at least not as long as he carries that palpable sense of want-to-please and please-love-me everywhere.

‘Merlin, this is absolutely delicious. Better than chocolate frogs.’

Before Severus could be offended by the comparison, the brat looks around and adds wistfully. ‘I wish I stayed in a house like this. This is what I grew up thinking magic is like – and you keep beehives outside too. Cor, I think THIS place is the real Honeydukes you know? Or what its supposed to represent.’

Severus listens and keeps quiet, keeps even his features quiet and says nothing, nothing at all. He’s afraid he might burst into ironic laughter that, once started, will never stop.

Afterwards, when the dishes were cleared and he attempted to shoo his unwanted guest out through the fireplace, Potter suddenly turns around, crushing a giant bag of pastries to his chest and gazing at Severus as if he was Dumbledore. Or Pomfrey.

‘Do you mind if I come back sometime? To… pick up more of these?’

In hindsight, Severus realised he should have kept something bigger than bees. With more teeth.

*

The brat comes back again a week later; and as for his excuses for turning up again in the village (‘I dropped my portkey’); well, Severus has never heard anything more pathetic. Or more patently a lie.

In the following weeks, the excuses get lamer: There’s this potluck and I need cauldron cakes. I’ve got a new broom to show around the area. I think it’s going to storm. Gosh it gets thirsty around here! Until one day Potter falters at the door when Severus shot him a particularly withering look, and finally stops lying.

After that Potter talks less but brings more to the table; copies of the daily prophet, muggle music, red wine, gnocchi that slides into the mouth like pieces of silk, second hand cookbooks. Sometimes Potter brings strawberry beer. It goes surprisingly well with the strucchi.

He hates himself for coming to anticipate these visits.

In a different time, a different life, Severus would be incensed by Potter’s presumptuousness; mortally offended. He would have railed against the heavens for making him part of a world that includes people like Potter, but suddenly remember that there was no such thing as heaven or for that fact fairness, and become even angrier. 

In a different life Severus would have swelled with the righteous knowledge that some things are just known, and Harry Potter would always interfere, never knowing to leave something alone. He is the boy who would chance upon some fledging bird on the ground, valiantly risking life and limb to climb the tree and with gentle fingers put it back, never mind the offensive scents on his skin that would cling like oil on every bark and twig; leaving the compromised adult birds no choice but to abandon its nest of offspring to starve to death, or push the fledglings out to break their necks on the ground below.

Now he can (almost) console himself that the boy could hardly have turned out any other way, growing up on the milk of loss and death and the Dumbledore Theory of Multiple Destructions Being Better Than One, as long as A Good Heart and some Lemon Sorbet was involved.   

And because he’s a fool, he allows ‘Evans’ with the half-starved eyes and the sadness palpable around him into his life,  and Potter looks at him with so much quiet gratitude that he wonders if he’s starting to channel Molly Weasley. Or Pomfrey.

It became a weird world that Severus found himself in. When he was a miserable half-starved child dreaming of Hogwarts and escape, Severus would never thought he’d become a Death Eater. And when he was a Death Eater dreaming of death and escape, he’d never thought he’d become a baker. And now…

And now Potter shows up every week as if he has nowhere else to go, and sinks with a sigh into the kitchen chairs as if there was nowhere else he’d rather be. Potter pops up, like toast; pressing his face on the windows (grubby handprints everywhere) and grinning like he already had too much sugar for breakfast. Severus imagines that if the boy owed a tail, he’d wag it.

He tries to sneer at this, and realises with some shock that he’s forgotten how.

Sometimes when the skyline or foliage is spectacular they levitate the table outdoors, and Harry erects a shield around the bee hives, not bothering to explain how a mere civilian happens to know such a defensive spell.  Severus shrugs and lets the small deceptions pass, the way neither of them mention (not that he can, mind you) that his visitor has also begun to leave hints of his real identity here and there, at an atrocious attempt at being sneaky and not-quite offhand. Severus ignores them all. The brat would figure out by himself soon enough.

What he does not expect is for Potter to stand outside his window one night with the most woebegone face, and a suitcase, and no home.

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