A/N: Chilly days are here again. Zzzzzzzz (hibernating)
Beta Love: The Dragon and the Rose, Dutchgirl01 and Flyby Commander Shepard
Breath of the Nundu
Time Marches On
When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name…
From The Naming of Cats by T.S. Eliot
InexplicableMadness Strikes Family in Little Whinging
Over the last several years, a family inside Little Whinging had called local police on multiple occasions to report that they were being stalked by a gathering of freaks and ghosts come to get them from the Great Beyond.
"It's my dead sister and her freak husband!" Petunia Dursley shrieking hysterically while theatrically wringing her hands. "They've come back to torture our innocent family for having moved on without them!"
They're building some monstrous bloody estate up on the hill just to taunt us!" Vernon Dursley bellowed loudly, repeatedly trying to shove his way through a police line armed with a burning torch. "And I won't have it! I'll burn the ruddy thing down! Down to the sodding foundation! And I'll salt the earth too!"
The Dursleys, who were subsequently arrested on charges of trespass and a long list of crimes related to the vandalism of a private property in Surrey, leave behind one school-aged son, Dudley, who has been referred to social services and is currently in the custody of a child protection team pending an evaluation and placement as per the Children and Young People Act. Currently, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children is also looking into young Dudley's home life, which could result in possible additional charges being made against his parents. The search for any possible relatives in this case has already begun.
Upon a search of the family home, some alarming evidence suggesting the presence of another child turned up in a small cupboard under the stairs— a child that has seemingly vanished, save for a few grammar school records sharing the same address and the vague recollections of a few of the Dursley family's long-time neighbours.
On learning of the arrest of his parents, young Dudley Dursley was understandably shocked and devastated. Local officials have since moved him to a safe facility until the particulars of his parents' arrest can be sorted.
"You have got to be kidding me," Lily moaned, rubbing her swollen belly. "What do you mean she's already given birth? It's only been maybe four months— and I was pregnant well before she was!"
"It's all about Nundu biology, love," James explained as he brought down an enormous jar of pickles from the shelf.
Lily greedily broke into it and was on her fifth pickle before she said anything again. "I want that kind of fucking biology."
James' eyes widened at his wife's use of profanity. Despite his wife's condition, it seemed that her language had devolved into the rude and even crude the second time around. Either that, or she had somehow picked up Sirius' potty mouth within the last few months. Ironically, Sirius' own language had become far more civil now that he was spending more time around Severus, Remus, and Harry. The same, however, could not be said of his own pregnant wife.
Then again, she'd eaten two jars of pickles, a large tub of cottage cheese, and three handfuls of candied ginger in the last hour, so strange eating habits could perhaps be partially to blame for it.
"I don't think you do, love," James said carefully. "From what Sirius told me, twin Nundu-Smilodon cubs are way more high maintenance than a human baby. Human babies don't try to climb trees and pounce on you from the rafter, much less as newborns."
Lily moaned. "I'd rather have that than the full nine months of THIS," she groaned painfully. "Even if it meant having a set of freakish cubs instead of babies like a bloody normal person."
James frowned, knowing his wife didn't mean it anywhere near as badly as she had phrased it. Nevertheless, he was secretly glad that Severus, Remus and Hermione, or even Minerva or Rabbie weren't there to hear his wife's casual, unthinking remark. Lily hadn't taken the news very well that she was to be forced to care for her sister's young son after both Petunia and her husband had supposedly suffered nervous breakdowns shortly after being taken into police custody. Especially after the pair had threatened the lives of the entire Potter family: Lily, James, and Harry. Thankfully, Lily hadn't asked for extensive details of the incident, knowing that her blood pressure was high enough with her second pregnancy as it was.
James, however, knew the full, unvarnished truth. Good old Petunia had taken the entirety of the funds set they had aside in a Muggle bank account in case something were to happen to them— which had contained more than enough cash money to care for Harry until he was old enough to go to Hogwarts and gain access to the family Gringott's account. She had, instead of using if for Harry's benefit, splurged it all on her son, including pre-paying the tuition fees to give Dudley a very exclusive, very expensive boarding school education all the way through graduation. Mind you, it had not been JUST Petunia misusing the funds; Vernon had had his own fat hands in the pot too.
Now, irony of ironies, Dudley was living with the very "freaks" his parents had taught him to hate with a passion— at least during the summer months and during holidays when he wasn't away at his boarding school. Even more ironically, their own son remained living with Severus and Hermione instead of them— and that arrangement showed no sign of changing anytime soon. It had been strangely easier for them to accept Dudley over Harry. They had never known Dudley— there had been no preconceived images of him and how he related to themselves. There had never been a parental bond broken against their will—
And, while in their hearts, they knew they cared for Harry—in fact, loved him greatly— it was almost as if that love was for an entirely different person.
A person they had never had the chance to witness growing up.
For all intents and purposes, Harry James Potter was a complete stranger to them.
There was a deep chasm between them that they struggled to cross, yet somehow they could never quite get there. They did have family dinners every week with the Snapes, and they had at least managed to form a somewhat less awkward relationship. It was, unfortunately, not as close as they wanted— much less felt they should have had. It was that feeling of believing that they were deserving of such closeness and the resentment of not having it that had sabotaged their relationship almost before it had even begun.
It was far easier to love Harry as the child of Hermione and Severus Snape than as their own flesh and blood.
James was happy that at least he had the opportunity to get to know his son. He just wished his own heart and mind would cooperate with what he wanted.
There was a knock on the doorframe, and James looked up swiftly.
Molly poked her head in with a smile. "Dinner's ready, my dears."
"I'm starving, Molly," Lily cried with clear relief.
"Oh, I know the feeling, Lily," Molly chuckled. "Seven times over."
Lily frowned. "I can't even imagine going through this five more times."
"I have seven wonderful children. They all have their quirks and individual issues, but when it comes right down to it, we always shared a table." Molly smiled.
"I wish I could feel safe," Lily said with real longing. "I keep thinking—"
Molly took her hand. "Lily, dear. I've been there. I am here. I know what it feels like, but we're here for you. James is here for you. Your friends are there for you too."
"But I don't even know them anymore!"
Molly frowned at that. "Now look here, Lily. I've lived through the last decade with a spell over me, forcing us to forget who our friends and family were. We treated Severus and Lucius like pond scum because Dumbledore made us believe they were evil. He had me and Arthur under some spell that kept us so busy with children that we couldn't see our own hands in front of us. We didn't even remember who our own friends were. You at least remember your friends and they remember you. Right here, right now. Maybe their faces have changed a bit. Maybe they grew up a little more than you expected, but they are still here. They are still alive, and take it from someone who obsesses constantly over her children being hurt and killed— fretting over what could be distracts you from people who are there for you in the now. I worried so much that I neglected my husband. I tried to raise my children in a protective bubble thinking it would keep them safe and help them to become better people. Take it from someone who knows, Lily. Cherish the friends that you have in this life instead of making up reasons to convince yourself that you've somehow lost them."
Molly held Lily's hand. "We're here for you, Lily. Truly we are. Now let's go eat, okay, love?"
"Okay," Lily agreed, pulling herself up, and a sploosh of liquid rushed out from between her legs and trailed down to the floor in a pinkish yellow puddle.
"Oh my god. Oh my god," Lily gasped. "My water just broke."
"What?" James yelped, standing up. He rushed toward her. "We're going to Mungo's right now!" He lunged, grabbed the back of the chair… and vanished with a loud crack.
Lily and Molly stood together staring at one spot with wide eyes just as Arthur came rushing into the room.
"What's going on?"
James had Disapparated to St Mungo's with the kitchen chair instead of his pregnant wife.
James paced a hole in the floor until a pale, white hand slammed into his forehead and forced him to sit his arse in a nearby chair.
"Sit, Potter," Severus growled. "You are making my cubs dizzy."
The two fluffy cubs had been staring at James the entire time, their heads going back and forth in attempt to follow his movements. A few plush spiders teetered on their heads and fell off, holding on only by hastily-spun strands of silk.
"Stop moving, ah!"
"See? You're even traumatising the spiders," Severus said with a sniff.
"Lily, don't push! You're not even dilated yet!" Hermione's voice rang from behind the curtain.
"I don't care, I want it out!" Lily cried out. Sounds of some desperate effort could be made out shortly after.
"Mrs Potter!" the healer chided. "If you do not stop pushing before you are ready to deliver, you are going to hurt yourself and get the baby stuck inside yourself!"
"I am ready! My water broke!" Lily yelled.
"She apparently forgot all about how it went when she gave birth to Harry," Severus said with a shake of his head. "She was in labour for just over a day before she finally gave birth."
"I'm pretty sure she forgot that on purpose," James shuddered.
"Mind you, her water hadn't broken until well into that," Severus recalled.
Then came a splash of what sounded like water hitting the floor. "Mrs Potter, please, you need to relax. "You're only in the first phase of labour, and your baby is not properly engaged yet. If you keep pushing, you risk expelling the umbilical first and pinching off your baby's blood supply and oxygen."
"Whaa?" Lily panted.
"Just relax now, Mrs Potter," the healer chided again. "I'm going to let your husband in to sit with you, and I'll keep checking in on you every half hour or so until it's time."
At that, James went hustling in.
"Slow down, love," James crooned. "No hurries here."
"Says the man who Disapparated with a CHAIR instead of his own wife!" Lily yelled angrily.
"Mrowl?" the darker cub commented, shaking his head, seeming to still suffer from a certain amount of lingering dizziness.
"Mrrrrrl," the gold and mahogany spotted cub answered, purring softly.
"Lily could really learn something from your mother, and she was a first time mum too," Severus said with a sigh.
Brim yawned toothily from the large sofa she had taken up with her entire bulk, and the cubs immediately bounced over to nurse, claiming their spaces with eager wriggles and happy purrs.
Severus massaged his wife's velvety ears, pressing his face into her warm fur, and Brim purred even louder. "This is Lily's second child, but you would never know it by the way she's carrying on."
Brim snickered, her whiskers twitching, but she didn't deign to offer further commentary.
Harry and Draco flopped lazily across her back and stared down at the little cubs, and the cubs stopped nursing long enough to bat at their faces and try to wrestle them into a neck-hold. Both boys cuddled the two cubs and ruffled them, grinning widely.
The gold and mahogany cub suckled at Harry's fingers and pawed at his face.
"Hey there, Athena, watch those teeth!"
The pitch black cub with inverted gold spots pounced his twin sister, and they went tumbling around the room, chasing each other around their father's legs.
Severus plucked up the dark cub by the scruff, elevating him to eye level. "Salazar."
Severus gave him the eye.
The black cub hung his head, suitably chastened, and allowed his father to tuck him comfortably by his mum. Athena, not about to be left behind, scrambled up on the sofa and resumed her own meal with her mummy, making happy little noises of contentment. After their bellies were round and full of milk, they settled down between their mum's legs and were cutely purr-snoring within seconds.
"I think Lily really wishes her child comes out as easily as yours did, love," Remus said as he walked in and gave her and the two cubs their obligatory scritches and ear rubs.
Brim purred happily.
"How is the labour coming along?" Remus asked. "Not quite as anticlimactic as your wife's ten minute deal?"
Severus smiled rather slyly. "She wishes, I'm sure."
"What do you MEAN I'm only in the first bloody phase of labour?!"
A bedpan went zinging over the privacy curtain and smashed into the far wall. The healers, apparently well-used to such maternity ward theatrics, simply dodged and carried on.
Remus' eyes widened. "Oh dear."
"Was that—" Sirius started, tripping over the cast aside bedpan and sliding as he entered the room.
Severus swung out his arm to catch Sirius, and one of the nurses deftly caught the runaway bedpan.
"Thank you," the nurse said, hitting it with a strong Scourgify.
"How far along is she?" Sirius asked as he practically submerged himself in the scrub sink nearby.
The spiders scrambled around, cocking their bodies and heads to better listen in on the goings-on.
"She could be here for quite a while," Severus said.
"This is all your fault, James Charlus Potter!"
"But Lily, don't you remember… "
Then there was the unmistakable sound of flesh hitting flesh.
"Ow!" James cried out. "Bloody hell, woman!"
"Get out! Get out! I never want you and your sodding impregnating parts anywhere near me again!"
"So much for active phase."
"Actively throwing things!"
"Well, that could count."
Spiders were lined up along the privacy curtain, cautiously peeking in.
Suddenly, a water pitcher went zinging at the curtain, sending a number of plush spiders tumbling in all directions.
"For King and Country!"
"I can't feel my legs!"
"Well, at least she didn't actually SEE the spiders staring down at her," Remus commented idly. "That would've been far, far worse."
The train of spiders crawled their way up and quickly disappeared into the safety of Brim's collar.
"Much safer with Brim."
"Always safer with Brim."
Tiny plush spiders crawled out from the small emerald collars around each cubs' neck. They peered around cautiously and then darted back into hiding.
"So, how long do you think this will go on?" Remus asked.
"Was it really like this when I was born?" Harry asked.
"Or me?" Draco added.
"Your birth spoiled her, I believe," Severus said, looking at Harry. "You sort of fell out with a snitch in your mouth."
Harry and Draco exchanged glances.
"As for you, Draco," Severus aid with a sigh. "You came out as any Malfoy. Pale as milk and demanding for your voice to be heard."
Harry laughed, nudging Draco as his friend made a highly-affronted expression.
Lily was making a bunch of groaning sounds, and Brim pulled herself up and shook herself off, her sleepy cubs looking about blearily. Brim purred, rubbing herself up against Severus and then padded in past the privacy curtain to Lily's bedside. The cubs attempted to follow their mum, but Remus and Severus quickly pulled the pair back by the scruff.
"Oh no," Remus scolded them. "That is definitely not a good place for fuzzy baby Snapes."
The cubs wriggled and mrowled sadly.
"When you're older and far less punchable," Sirius said, holding Athena to him. "Then you might be trusted around pregnant Lily. Maybe."
"Doubtful," Severus said. "James might tolerate being punched in the face, but I do not think I would particularly appreciate my cubs being sucker-punched for any reason, labour pain be damned."
Sirius flinched. "Point."
Salazar meowed sadly, but he batted playfully at Remus' hair and used his raspy feline tongue to lick his ear.
"There is no need for you all to stay here in the waiting area," one of the healers told them kindly. "We have a family waiting quarters with refreshments set up for the family and friends of the mothers. It keeps her stress levels down and allows her time to rest until she is ready to start pushing. We will send word the moment it begins."
Severus nodded as a shell-shocked James staggered out from behind the curtain, nursing what was shaping up to be quite an impressive black eye.
"Oh dear," the healer said, waving her wand over his face to fade the bruising. "Take heart, my dear. Last week we even had a labouring mum sock her own poor grandmum. I think aggression must run in the family because baby punched mom on the nose soon after the birth."
"Take a bit of time to unwind, have some tea and biscuits, and get some rest, my friends," the healer continued. "We'll take excellent care of Lily until it's time for her cheering section to begin their duties."
"Thank you, Healer Dunkirk," James sighed gratefully.
The healer smiled at them both. "I will get you a chilled compress for your eye to help with the swelling, and send an elf with some refreshments as well."
"Bless your heavenly heart," James sputtered as Remus used his fingers to pointedly nudge him in the direction the healer was pointing.
"So, Chairs," Sirius rumbled. "This isn't your first baby. Care to tell the rest of the class why you felt you had to side-along with the Weasley's kitchen chair instead of your pregnant wife?"
"Oh, shut it," James moaned.
"Stress-induced amnesia?" Remus asked, cocking a curious brow.
James slammed a pillow over his face and tried in vain to smother himself.
"Might as well rest up some, Potter," Severus advised. "If the first birthing is any indicator of the current situation, you won't be getting much rest after she starts truly giving birth."
"Not to mention once you go home with the newborn baby Potter," Remus added helpfully.
James grunted and rolled over to face the back of the couch, attempting to ignore his friends and get some rest.
"Oi," Severus called out. "Spawn of mine. Your prongy uncle requires warmth."
The two cubs perked and scrambled up the couch and lay on top of James, purring and radiating a gratuitous amount of soothing body heat.
"I just hope Brim is faring well with Lily," Remus said softly as to not rouse James.
"If anyone can manage Lily in her current state, it is Brim," Severus said. "As long as Lily does not get truly… hateful."
Remus paled. "Lily is not hateful, not usually. You know that. She's just— highly opinionated and doesn't always think before she speaks."
Severus shrugged. "Sadly, she always has to be watched around the cubs. They pick up on all emotions, and unlike Brim— they take her literally."
Remus nodded, placing a hand on Severus' shoulder. "We've all been doing our part to make sure she and James aren't ever left alone with the cubs. For their safety as much as James' and Lily's. I still have hope that they will find that safe place within themselves again. No thanks to Dumbledore."
"You trust us with the cubs," Harry commented. Draco nodded.
"You weren't locked in a cave and trapped in statue form for over ten years," Severus reminded them. "You've proven that you're very emotionally stable despite everything that has happened in your lives."
"And that's really saying something coming from Severus," Remus said.
Severus rolled his eyes and glared at Remus.
Remus just grinned back at him unrepentantly.
"I can't believe that my cousin Dudley is going to be… living with my mum and dad during the holidays," Harry boggled.
"That must be pretty surreal, mate," Draco observed. "From what you told me about him and your aunt and uncle."
Harry frowned but shrugged. "Maybe it will help him see things a little better. I'm going to be perfectly honest here, I'm really glad I'm living with the Snapes right now."
"You're just happy Brim isn't completely nutters," Draco mused slyly.
Harry chuckled, pretended great offence, and got into a half-hearted shoving match with Draco.
There was a soft pop as two of the St Mungo's house-elves arrived, one with a chilled compress for James and the other bearing a generous tray of tea, biscuits, and assorted sandwiches. The tray was settled on a table near them all, then one bowed slightly before quietly popping back out again.
The second elf tried to give the compress to James, but Athena and Salazar growled lowly, baring their teeth at him, causing the house-elf to tremble in fright.
Severus plucked the compress out of the house-elf's arms, pressed it to James' eye, and thanked the frightened elf on James' behalf. He ruffled his cub's fur and soothed them down. "There now," he rumbled. "Chairs doesn't need the Nundu-smilodon guard team duo."
The cubs purred happily, obviously not caring.
"They probably think he does, considering how he got his new nickname, Coal," Remus mused.
Severus shrugged, lifting his hands up like he was holding an invisible tray. He distributed the sandwiches and other refreshments before leaning back in the chair to rest as well.
"Coal, how is it you make parenting look like you're the second time father?" Sirius asked.
Severus opened one weary eye. "Years of experience in keeping you lot from somehow killing each other."
"I've spent over a decade herding other people's children, Black," Severus said after a while. "I've made enough mistakes there and remembering how my father was to know what didn't work. Besides, we all had Rabbie to give us a better example of how to be— I'm just glad we can remember him again and he's still alive to be appreciated and appreciate the fact that we do."
"He's married to a Nundu," Remus pointed out. "That puts emotional control and awareness at a whole new level."
Sirius lifted his brows. "True."
"Coal, did Brim go in to help Lily calm down, or is Lily too scared to be anything but calm because Brim's a Nundu?" Sirius asked.
"Yes," Severus replied with a smirk.
"There she goes, saving Lily from herself and us from her," Remus chuckled.
"I think Brim is gloating about how easy her pregnancy was in comparison," Sirius mused.
"She gave birth in the Whomping Willow," Remus protested. "How is that easy?"
"Easy for her! Not so much us getting a look at them until she was ready to show them off," Sirius said with a snort.
"At least the willow finally accepted Severus," Remus admitted. "I can only imagine having to stun a tree every time you wanted to see your own cubs. Would make for a pretty cranky tree."
"And a cranky Severus," Severus added.
"That too," Sirius said with a grin. "Maybe you just have to be mated to a Nundu to be accepted by a Whomping Willow."
Severus glared at Sirius. "Find your own Nundu outside of my family."
Sirius waved his hands. "Not even thinking that, Coal, I swear!"
Severus muttered something that sounded like a sincere threat on his life.
They all settled into the comfy chairs, letting the boys take the sleeping cots. Within a few minutes they were all blissfully asleep.
"Okay, my dear, push, push, push! You can do it!" the Medi-witch guided the labouring witch.
Lily gasped, stopping after a few seconds.
"Deep breath and push," the healer said. "You can do it."
James was holding Lily's hand, and she was squeezing it like a vice. His face turned slightly purple as his wife attempted to grind his bones into dust.
"Okay, rest a little, Lily," the healer said. "This contraction has ended."
"Ended? The baby isn't even out!"
"Maybe on the next contraction, dear," the Medi-witch soothed her. "You have to give the baby time to rest too. Otherwise, you cut off her oxygen too."
Lily paled a little and lay her head back on the pillow, keeping her grip on James' hand.
James was trying to put on a brave face, but his hand was swelling and turning purple. "Lily, let go."
"What do you mean let go? You're supposed to be supporting me!"
"You have two!"
Brim's mouth went over Lily's wrist, and Lily gasped, loosening her death grip. James pulled his hand back with a groan, and the healers swarmed on him. "Oh dear, Mr Potter, let us treat that before you lose your hand."
"Okay, time to push!" the Mediwitch said again. "Chin to your chest, and keep up your breathing. Push! And hold it. Push, push, push!"
Lily stopped. "I can't. So tired!"
"You can do it. Deep breath in! Now push!"
Lily held on for a few seconds, but stopped, gasping. "I can't do this," she moaned.
"You can. You will. Come on, Lily," the Medi-witch encouraged. Deep breath in, chin to your chest. PUSH!"
"EEEGUUUURHGRRRRRAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!" Lily wailed, bearing down with all her might.
"Keep going, keep going, keep going!" the other witch chanted.
"Go, go, go!"
"You can do it!"
"We believe in you!"
"She's almost out!"
"You can do it, Lily!"
The spiders cheered from beside the bed, braving Lily's wrath to provide some much-needed support.
Without James' hand, Lily reached out for the first thing she could grab, and she snatched a purple plush spider with rainbow gems for eyes. She squeezed the spider tightly, causing it to squeak, its eyes bulging. His legs wriggled in distress.
"Halp!" it cried, wriggling.
"Push, push, push!" the witches chanted. "You can do it! She's almost here, love, keep pushing!"
"Push more, squeeze the poor spider less!" the purple spider gasped.
There was a wet schlucking sound as the baby pulled free of the pelvic girdle in a gush of mucous and blood, and the medi-witches caught the baby, quickly clearing out her nostrils and mouth with spells. The baby cried loudly as the witches rubbed her down vigorously, praising the baby for crying even louder.
"That's a good girl!"
"Fine set of lungs!"
The baby's head was purple and blue, but with each cry it was returning to a more healthy shade of pink. She scrunched up her little face with each cry and balled up her tiny fists. They placed the baby skin-to-skin against Lily's chest, pausing only long enough to place a miniature diaper on the newborn's miniscule rump.
As Lily looked down at her new baby girl, she smiled tiredly. "There's my little Bambi Rose," Lily crooned.
Little Bambi socked her mum in the chin with her fist.
"What? Don't I get a say in this?" James asked.
"No!" Lily hissed. "You didn't have to push her out!" She tried to gesture at him, but ended up sending the purple spider she had been squeezing the life out of careening into James' face. "I've loved the name Bambi since I was kid and discovered my great, great-aunt had a daughter named Bambi, and I swore if I ever had a daughter, that would be her name too!"
"Hi," the spider squeaked sadly as it smacked up against James' face. "Pardon me," it said apologetically, sliding down James' face with an odd squeegee-like sound.
Brim deftly caught the plush spider in her mouth and transferred the exhausted arachnid to her back. The other spiders clustered around him to offer moral support. Brim snuffled him, nudged him with her nose, and slurped him onto his back and chewed on him a little, causing him to squeak. The spider seemed to recover, refluffing himself back into proper spider shape, and crawled back into her collar habitat.
"Well, that's one spider that won't be coming out to play for a while," Remus chuckled.
James sighed and invited one of the more curious spiders into his hand. He scratched it between the legs and smiled. "I will confess that they do eventually grow on you if you let them."
The little spider in his hand cooed softly and emitted a calming purr.
"We really need to get Moody some of these guys," James commented.
"Moody's already been assimilated," Severus said with a snort. "He has one for each shoulder, and they help him at the office and out in the field."
"Seriously?" Remus asked.
"Every Auror has an assigned pair to help them with reconnaissance," Severus said, "and keep them company while writing out their reports. Apparently, they make mean cuppas that are to die for, according to Savage."
A strange blissful silence descended on the maternity room as Brim dashed in front of the men-folk and propped her body against the bed to prevent the infant Bambi from falling off the side— her mother having fallen asleep after her exhausting ordeal.
The little baby with a surprising amount of copper-coloured curls took a fist full of Brim's whiskers and yanked on them, hard. Brim grimaced, baring her teeth, and Bambi's eyes widened and she went perfectly still. Brim turned her head and yawned. James shuffled over and cradled the baby, attempting to swaddle her and ending up with one tiny foot and one arm sticking out, both of which she used to kick him in the face and punch his chin.
Severus slammed a silencing spell on James.
Bambi cooed and wriggled.
"Well, Chairs, your daughter is not a shy violet," Remus said.
"Shy violent perhaps," Severus quipped.
James glared at Severus.
"Don't look at me, Chairs, you daughter just ninja kicked you to the jaw and tried to dislocate your nose," Severus said, deadpan.
"I don't even know what a ninja is," James grunted.
"They dress in all black and kick your arse before you even know what happened," Remus said.
James narrowed his eyes. "So, like Severus?"
"Are you actually confessing that I managed to kick your arse?" Severus asked.
James muttered something that ended up coming out, "I love cherry pie."
Remus stared at Severus.
Severus shrugged. "He has a baby. The censorship is for his own good."
"Funny chips with funny fish. Eat the cantaloupe not the dish!"
"Do I even want to know what he really wanted to say?" Remus asked.
"Fahrvergnügen!" James hissed.
The spiders scurried around, throwing up their legs in a cheer.
"Severus, how do these plush spiders know more about the world than most people?"
"Don't look at me, Black," Severus said with an arched eyebrow. Filius and I simply fixed one to give Brim comfort and protect itself. Mind you, the Weasley Twins added charms to make them replicate randomly when vanished or attacked with curses or hexes, and Rowena did the rest."
"The twins? Really?" Black asked, rubbing his chin.
"They take great pleasure in encouraging Brim to torture their little brother," Severus said.
"And you don't disapprove, do you, Coal?" Sirius muttered.
"The more they torment their little brother, the more paranoid he gets in my class and forgets to cause trouble. It's a winning situation."
Remus clapped Severus on the back. "You were never one to not take advantage of some weakness."
Severus puckered his lips and pointed them to the side. "Perhaps."
Brim yawned as she settled back down on the couch, sprawling on her side as her cubs eagerly joined her for a snack. They purred and wriggled, happily kneading and making happy sounds.
"Hey, where is my daughter?" James asked, his eyes growing wide. The space where baby Bambi had been swaddled was distinctively missing the baby in the swaddle.
As James began to frantically search, Remus nudged Severus in the ribs and they both looked down at Brim's side, where Bambi was doing her best Nundu-Smilodon cub imitation and helping herself to breakfast.
"No loyalty with babies," Remus chuckled.
Brim, peering down at her milk-seeking interloper, seemed to shrug. She groomed all of her "cubs" and lay back, closing her eyes drowsily.
"I hope drinking Nundu milk isn't going to make Bambi a feral child," Remus mused.
Severus rolled his eyes. "She's not going to be doing it all the time, I would imagine, unless Lily can't figure out how to breastfeed the second time around."
"From what I heard, she was still feeding Harry when she was 'killed' the first time around," Remus said.
Severus slid his eyes to the side. "This conversation isn't awkward at all, Remus."
Remus grinned at Severus. "This coming from a man who is letting some random human child nurse on his wife."
Severus crossed his arms across his chest, pulling his robes in. "Brim is the decision maker about who she lets nurse from her breasts, Remus."
Remus sputtered awkwardly as James finally figured out where his daughter had gone.
"Why can't I have a bloody normal child?" James moaned.
"Feel free to breastfeed your own child, Chairs," Severus quipped.
James dropped his jaw and stared as Remus bust out laughing.
Molly and Arthur shuffled in from the main doors, bringing in blankets and an assortment of nutritious but bland foods for Lily. "I know it doesn't look like much, but I remember being pretty sick to my stomach after a few of my kids being born. I didn't want to bring something in and have her bringing it back up."
Arthur clapped James on the back. "Took us a while to get the basket filled. How's the father?"
James gave Arthur a desperate look.
"Already?" Arthur chuckled.
Molly unfurled a homemade quilt and cast it over Lily as she slept. "Where's the baby dear?"
James pointed to the dozing Nundu, her two hungry cubs, and her human milk-seeking interloper.
Molly and Arthur's jaws practically hit the floor.
"Argh!" Sirius yelled, falling back off the chair and onto the floor.
Two extremely fluffy, leopard-spotted, sabre-toothed kittens pounced on him, pinning him down onto the elegant area rug before the hearth. They bat, bat, batted at his shirt, sinking their sharp baby claws into his clothes and some of his skin, having not yet learned that human skin wasn't pretty much nigh-impenetrable like their mum's and dad's. Each cub had a profusion of tiny spots all over its tawny-coloured body and a seat of miniature sabre-teeth to match.
Sirius quickly made the shift into his canine form and dashed away, escaping, but the cubs chased after him in hot pursuit, their tails fluffed out with excitement.
Sirius finally stood up and grabbed both cubs by the scruff of their necks, causing them to go limp in instinctive response to being transported elsewhere. Sirius sighed in pure relief, carrying the obnoxiously curious pair back where they had started: their bedroom.
"Naptime for you two mischief- makers," Sirius grunted, hoisting the two cubs into their specially reinforced cub-cribs.
The two cubs meowed unhappily, batting through the bars at him and giving him sad puppy eyes.
"I mean it!"
Purr. Purr. Purr.
"To bed now!
Two pairs of wide, adorable eyes peered pleadingly up at him through the crib bars.
"Oh no, you won't get me with those looks, you two!" Sirius stormed out of the bedroom after forcibly turning his head away so as to not be swayed by the big eyes of feline persuasion.
Sad mewling begged him to come back, and Sirius covered his ears and stormed to a seat and sat down, singing loudly about drunken tavern wenches and his love of smelly cheese.
Minerva walked in through the floo and yawned, casting an odd glance at Sirius before walking into the children's room. She rustled around a bit and soon came back out with both cubs, lay down on the settee, and proceeded to have the cubs knead against her and curl up on her chest and belly, closed their eyes, and fall asleep immediately.
"That is so not fair, Minerva," Sirius pouted.
The elder witch gave him a small, tired smile as a clutter of miniature plush spiders rushed over to cover her in the warmest, softest blanket imaginable.
Sirius sighed. "Hopefully James and Remus are getting on well enough with building the new estate. I'd hate to think I was here being used as a chew toy for nothing.
"Bellyacher," Minerva muttered, closing her eyes and snuggling the cubs, who happily obliged her by purring madly and snuggling her back.
"How does Severus manage to get two fuzzy balls of cuteness that are exceptionally well-behaved for everyone but me?" Sirius groaned.
"Perhaps you should be asking what it is about yourself that seems to encourage malcontent behaviour."
"Minerva, you make me sound like an anarchist," Sirius groaned.
The cubs hissed at Sirius and resumed rubbing up against Minerva.
Sirius slumped. "Will I ever finish paying for my adolescence?"
Brim appeared with a FWOOSH of ley-magic, chattering her teeth and chirp-rowling. She was laden with a strange building workbench and pouches with oddball wands with different coloured bands marking them. She shook off the harness with a whuff and then shook herself from nose to tail tip. She padded over to check on her sleepy cubs, slurped Minerva, and then climbed up into the cat-tree. She positioned herself in the highest spot covered by foliage and "vanished."
"I am so telling Lily that you just hoisted your babies off on Minerva!" Sirius moaned.
Severus knocked Sirius over the head with his fist, hard. "You don't know enough about Nundus, idiot," Severus admonished. "Nundu cubs are left in a Whomping Willow tree for days until mum drags back a nice juicy hippo with a side of crocodile. The tree protects the cubs until the mother returns."
"She's nursing them!"
"They are carnivores," Severus reminded him. "They will nurse and yet gnaw on your leg quite happily."
"Om, nom, nom!"
The plush spiders scurried around and dashed up the cat tree.
Sirius cried out as two ornery and very much awake cubs simultaneously pounced his kidneys and one went for the throat in an attempt to go for a death grip with their baby teeth and tiny jaws. Their army of tiny plush spiders remained with Minerva to keep her warm save for a few that dutifully hogtied Sirius in plush spider silk to reduce his struggling, much to the cubs' clear appreciation.
Severus sat down at the nearby desk and calmly began to grade student essays.
"Some help her—MFFFF!"
Severus flicked his eyes over and saw that the plush spiders had dragged a rawhide bone into Sirius' mouth and wrapped it firmly in place with plush spider silk. "What was that, Black?"
Severus just shrugged and went back to grading. "Must be hearing things."
Remus ripped the silk-attached rawhide off of Sirius' face and sat down next to him. "Pads, what the hell?"
"Panberry Cancakes!" Sirius hissed.
Remus arched a brow. "Children present, Pads," he said, his eyes flicking over to where Rabbie was giving the cubs their daily inspection as Brim watched curiously.
Rabbie measured, weighed, and checked their eyes, ears, and mouth. "You're bundles of health, little lad and lassie," he crooned. The cubs wriggled, purred, and proceeded to thump him down on the floor and lick him to death.
"Ach!" Rabbie said, squirming. He hugged them tight and rolled, transformed into a Scottish terrier, and tore off across the room, having the cubs chase and stalk him.
Meanwhile, the drowsy silver tabby on the nearby table yawned and radiated contentment. Brim turned her head and gave Minerva a few slurps, making the tabby look a little disheveled. Minerva batted at the Nundu clawlessly and licked the Nundu on the nose.
"Those aren't children, Remus," Sirius grunted, still wrapped in silk. "They are instigators of my demise!"
"You're complaining that you have tricksters for a niece and nephew?" Remus chuckled. "Oh how the mighty have fallen."
"I did not come out causing trouble from the womb!" Sirius huffed.
"You got your shoulders stuck in mum's pelvic cavity," Regulus said from the kitchen as he flipped eggs and pancakes with Severus. "You technically were trouble before you were even born."
Sirius glared at his brother.
"Pretty sure that's why mum was so hard on you all the time," Regulus said.
"A little help here, Moony, so I can go beat the cotton candy out of my brother," Sirius hissed.
Remus raised a brow. "I think you might be safer as you are considering you're still being censored."
"Grapes, dates, and furr balls!" Sirius yelled.
Remus looked toward Severus who shrugged as if to say "no cursing around my cubs."
Remus attempted to unwrap Sirius. "This stuff is crazy."
"Unraveller is over there, Remus," Severus said, pointing with his cooking spatula. "We save the silk for the fund-raiser weaving projects.
"Wait, are you saying you let Sirius get bundled up like a caterpillar to collect the silk?"
"No, I'm saying why waste good silk by cutting it off," Severus replied.
Remus looked suspicious.
"Aubergine!" Sirius yelled.
Remus sighed and fetched the unraveller potion. "You better behave, Pads, or I'm going to hit you with a stunner to the face.
"Aardbeien, peren en sinaasappels!" Strawberries, pears and oranges
Regulus eyed Severus. "My brother doesn't know Dutch."
"I do," Severus replied, flipping a pancake.
The two cubs screeched to a halt by dad's legs and stared up hopefully.
Severus pointed a spatula at them. "Milk and meat until you figure out how to change into human form."
The cubs mrowled sadly, slinking away.
"Ugh, Severus, that almost killed me, seeing them slink away like that," Regulus groaned.
"Willpower, Regulus," Severus said with a roll of his eyes. "Besides, they've been working with Brim every day to think on their human shapes. Can't start too early with Nundus."
"What age are they going to be when they do?" Remus boggled. "I can't imagine them like Bambi after all they've done already as cubs."
"Salazar guesses they will be human toddlers when they do. Nundus and smilodons grow up fast, but they'll just be starting on a human scale. Once they shift, they'll age like humans. Hermione thinks the only reason they haven't shifted already is because they think being a cub is way too much fun."
Remus poured the potion on Sirius and helped him get out of the plush spider silk cocoon.
"They're going to be worse than the Weasley twins," Sirius mumbled.
"Far better," Severus noted. "They've been watching to see what not to do."
Sirius shuddered at the thought.
"Lily is going to be annoyed that your cubs have the advance track."
Severus shrugged. "First she's sad that she didn't have enough time with Harry, and now she's sad that she has too much time with Bambi. Serves her right for insisting she do everything herself. She's pushed all of us away when we ask to help. She even keeps Chairs from holding her unless she's there to watch."
"Paranoia, friend," Regulus said. "She's… compensating."
"For what? A preemptive kidnapping?"
"She doesn't let me get near her," Harry said with a yawn as he came out of his room.
"Long night, Mini-Prongs?" Remus asked.
"Project is done," Harry said proudly. "Draco and I are going to win the Potions and Herbology Fair projects show."
The two cubs ran full tilt into Harry and pounced him, knocking him down. Harry laughed and hugged, and snuggled the cubs, ruffling them. "Hey little sis and baby bro," he laughed.
The two cubs complained that they were not allowed pancakes in sad meows.
Harry tapped them on the nose. "You know the rule. No human food until you have a human stomach to go with it."
The cubs meowed sadly and lay their heads on his chest.
"You can do it," Harry said. "I know you can."
The cubs meowed again, tails flipping back and forth.
"Draco is passed out in bed," Harry suggested. "Why don't you go tell him to get his lazy arse up?"
The cubs perked, gained rather crooked halos, and bounded out of the room into the next. There was the sound double pouncing and the landing followed by a yelp from Draco.
"Harry," Remus chuckled.
Harry gave Remus an unsuccessful innocent expression.
Remus gave him a customary "I don't believe you" expression in return.
"How is the project for Lily and James coming along?" Harry asked.
"Almost done," Remus said. "Hard to get Chairs away from Lily to get the plans, but once he gave us the blueprints, we could take care of the rest."
"I can't believe they are moving out into the middle of nowhere."
Remus gave a sad smile. "Lily needs a place to feel safe, Harry. But the good thing is, we built a place for Molly and Arthur too. It's a huge plot of land, and it will give them privacy but the ability to be close. I think Molly needs that comfort too. Lily does, for sure. The Weasleys are the only ones she's learned she can trust again."
"Just not her own son," Harry said sadly. "Week after week we visit and try to connect, and either they treat me like a baby or they treat me like someone else's kid."
Remus clasped Harry on the shoulder. "I know it's been hard on you, Harry. I wish I could say it was temporary."
Both cubs crawled into Harry's lap and purred, causing him to automatically rubs their bellies and ears. Harry smiled down at them. "I'm okay with it now. I have the best little bro and sis ever."
Both cubs purred even louder, clasping his hand with their paws and mock-mauling it.
"Bambi is a bit strange," Harry said. "She always kicks James in the face, and she punches Lily on the nose."
Severus snorted. "Karma. Lily used to say that since you were such a perfect pregnancy and child that all her children would be the same."
Draco shuffled out, plopped down by Harry, and mumbled something into his ear.
Harry brightened and stood up suddenly, pulling Draco to his feet.
"Dad, can we have breakfast on the lawn?"
Severus froze, his spatula hung in mid air as the pancake he was flipping seemed to suspend in mid fall. Brim took his wrist in his mouth and stared up at him. He swallowed hard. "I don't see why not."
"We'll get the hamper!"
A virtual horde of plush spiders scurried over and back with a large picnic hamper.
Severus stiffened as Harry and Draco glomped his waist, snuggling into him. The two cubs, watching, emulated by tackling their dad's lower legs. Then, awkward emotional moment over, the boys grabbed up the hamper and began to fill it with everything they thought was breakfast worthy.
Regulus ribbed Severus, pointing to his pancake so it wouldn't burn.
Severus tugged his collar and resumed pancake flipping duty, but his free hand didn't stop petting Brim for his own emotional comfort.
Brim purred in approval— but as to what she was actually approving of, the pets or the fact Harry had finally called Severus dad in front of others, remained to be seen.
"Salazar, stop looking so smug," Godric bemoaned, waving his hand just so.
The Founders stood around the Whomping Willow, watching the cubs climb the branches and get to know the local tree. The willow, all too happy to pet and cradle the cubs, tolerated the spectres of the Founders far better than the living counterparts.
The cubs were exploring the big willow and the little saplings, taking time to chew on the leafing buds to help the saplings along, rub up and down against them, and play around the base and up in the nooks and crannies of the larger willow.
"I do believe the willow is happier now that it has Nundu babies to take care of," Helga said proudly. "Such a beautiful thing to see."
"Well, Salazar is definitely much happier now with grand-cubs," Godric said, rolling his eyes and narrowly ducking in time to miss the bright green hex zooming towards his face. "I'll be happy when they have a human shape. I'll be able to teach them proper swordsmanship and flying."
Salazar crossed his arms across his himself and glared balefully at his friend. "They aren't even a year old. Do try to be a bit more realistic."
Godric gasped in mock offence. "I'll have you know, my mum put me to bed with my first wooden sword and shield."
"Only because there wasn't room to store it elsewhere," Rowena quipped.
"Rowena!" Godric gasped again. He put his hand to his heart. "Not all of us were put to bed cradled between the stacks of the scrivener's scrolls."
"Pity, perhaps more sense would have leaked over into your sword and shield-bashed dreams."
Godric's lip quivered but his eyes glittered with mischief. "You wound me, my dear."
"I heard you assisted on teaching potions with the older students, Salazar," Rowena commented. "How ever did that go?"
"Nothing exploded," Salazar quipped.
"Always a good start," Rowena agreed.
"My daughter is usually there to bite trouble on the rump before it happens, but I think the students realised just how good they really have it after learning what I had to do back in the day."
"Your old master had you grinding ingredients in a different mortar for each one for each purpose, yes?" Helga asked.
"Yes, and they were all different types of stone depending on the task," Salazar said with a heavy sigh. "Later, when I was my own master, I made one mortar of the finest marble and developed a spell to clean and sanitise it. I only needed one after that."
Helga smiled. "You forget the part where you purposely spread the spell to the community to 'help clean dirty pots and pans' and put a kink in your old master's nose at the same time."
"Me, Helga?" Salazar asked innocently. "Why ever would I be so vindictive?"
Helga huffed. "I think we all know that you take such affronts to efficiency very personally."
Salazar's response was interrupted by a plaintive meow at his feet.
"Yes, little lady Athena?" Salazar asked.
The cub put her paws on his robes and meowed again.
Salazar huffed and picked her up, cradling her on her back and rubbing her belly.
Athena purred, purred, and purred some more, oblivious to the fact that she and her brother were able to interact with the spectres on a physical level.
"You are doomed, brother," Godric said, smiling.
"We're all doomed," Salazar said with a grin, tickling the cub's feet and causing her to fling out her legs, "and loving every minute of it."
"Your namesake is jealous, Salazar," Rowena said with a smile.
Salazar huffed and scooped up the second cub, snuggling them both.
Rowena smiled down at the cubs and tickled their fuzzy bellies. "A few hundred years in the making. I think we are finally exactly where we wanted to be— and exactly where Hogwarts wishes us to be."
Helga nodded and then affectionately rubbed noses with little Salazar. "At long last, all is finally as it should be."
The four Founders stared over to where the extended family and gathering of friends were having their picnic breakfast on the green. Brim looked up at them even as she watched over the human children just before her mate used his large paw to wrestle her attention back to sunning like a proper feline.
The two boys, who had started not so long ago as bitter enemies, chased each other across the Black Lake on their brooms, having finished cramming as many pancakes as they could fit in their hungry stomachs.
Plush spiders clung to the ends of the brooms, not wanting to be left behind.
"Harry is going to win!"
Meanwhile Pinky, Eek, Snowfall, and Whee wriggled and squeaked as Brim dutifully chewed on them all, grooming them with her teeth and raspy tongue before flopping against her mate with a content and happy purr.
Whatever the future might hold, they would face it together— as a family.
A/N: Phew. Happily ever after, YAY!
Eek: Double yay!
Pinky: We heart happily ever after!
(Fizban the Fabulous floats in on a cloud of magic and creates a rainbow across the Black Lake and disappears in a puff of smoke)
(Spiders lift their legs up and cheer)
"Thanks for reading!"
"Don't mind us!"
(Rood, Somber, Tally-ho, Squish, Charlotte, and Koekie scurry up to peer at the audience, throwing up their legs in a cheer)
"Happy endings are the best!"
"Better endings end with spiders!"
"As long as they are plush spiders."
"Psh, well, yeah!"
"Thanks for reading!"
And they all lived plushily ever after.