"I demand to know which room is currently holding hostage one Miss Astoria Greengrass," a haughty voice proclaimed at the central mediwitch station. "Miss Brown, you used to be more complaisant than this."
"I assure you, Professor Snape, that Miss Greengrass is getting the best care we can provide, but I cannot allow you into her room until we have more information as to how you are related to her!" Lavender Brown said insistently. "Her room is already quite full; unless you are the baby's father, I cannot allow you admittance. Moreover, I must ask that you please refer to me as Healer Brown, not 'Miss'!"
Severus Snape sneered down his nose at the diminutive healer. "It boggles the mind that you became a healer after your abysmal potions performance. How you managed to find your way around a cauldron in between your incessant hair flipping and eyelash waving at the Gryffindor males is beyond my comprehension."
"Leave the Healing to those who can 'comprehend' it, sir," Lavender said sweetly. "Now, the waiting room is down the hallway and to your left."
"Healer Brown—" Snape began, when he felt a hand on his arm. He instantly felt calmer, although he couldn't explain why. His eyes followed the hand up to a familiar face. He started, and the face looking up into his blushed prettily.
"Professor, I thought I heard your voice," Hermione said softly. "Please follow me. Tori is doing wonderfully well. She'll be so glad to see you."
Hermione sighed. "Lavender, take my word for it: Professor Snape has every right to be with Astoria right now. And no, he is not the father of her baby, so don't let me find a tale purporting as such on the cover of the Prophet tomorrow morning."
Lavender huffed. "I would never compromise my patient's confidentiality in such a tawdry manner!" But Severus, tugged along by Hermione, had disappeared.
"Miss Granger, may I ask what you're doing here?" Severus queried, forcing Hermione to stop outside of Astoria's door. From where they stood, they could hear Astoria's moans, perfectly in sync with her increasingly closely spaced contractions.
"My parents and I were visiting your home; my mother is from Derbyshire, you see, and she knew Professor McGonagall when she was little, and she wanted to see the house again, and—" she babbled. Severus stopped her prattle with a long finger placed against her lips.
"Save your energy for the delivery room, Miss Granger," he said wearily. "Take me to my sister."
"Okay," she managed, and the pair entered a scene of organized chaos. The female Dr. Granger, accompanied by a steely-eyed mediwitch, was coaching Astoria through her pushes. The male Dr. Granger was standing in a corner and looking decidedly queasy. Severus looked like he'd like nothing more than to join Hermione's father, but the other Dr. Granger spied him and beckoned him forward.
"A pleasure to see you again, Professor Snape," she said, smiling tiredly at Severus. She looked pointedly at Hermione's hand, which was still firmly clutching the professor's arm. Hermione dropped his hand as though it had burned her. Everyone in the room, including the panting Astoria, raised an eyebrow at this.
"Likewise. Thank you for your invaluable assistance thus far," Severus said politely, striding forward to greet his younger sister. "Astoria, you couldn't have waited one more day?"
"It wasn't my decision; it was the little one's, I think," Astoria replied weakly. "You took ever so long to get here, brother!"
"I was finalizing the headmastership at the school and couldn't tear myself away from the school governors," he apologized. "But I'm here now."
"You are always in the right place in the nick of time," Astoria said fondly. Watching this sibling interaction, Hermione felt a pang of jealousy. As an only child, she'd grown up with unadulterated love from her parents but as she'd grown older she'd wished she had someone who understood her as instinctively as the Weasley children all seemed to understand each other. Just as abruptly, she felt a rush of fierce joy for Professor Snape. The wizard who'd been alone all his life finally had someone who was clearly rooting for him.
"I don't know if I can do this much longer," Astoria said after a few more minutes of pushing. She was sweating and squirming, unable to bear the pain in her hips and pelvis. "The pain just worsens with each go."
"You're almost there," Hermione found herself saying encouragingly. The mediwitch nodded at her. "We can see the top of baby's head. What lovely hair!"
"Hair? My baby! Severus, look at my baby's head. What color is the hair?" Astoria asked quaveringly.
"Are you sure you wouldn't rather have Miss Granger tell you?" asked Severus. He was decidedly uneasy at the prospect at seeing parts of his sister that he'd never intended to see.
"It has to be you," she replied, squeezing his fingers hard. He gulped but acquiesced, quickly looking down at the crowning head and averting his gaze back to his sister's shining face.
"It's hard to say at this juncture, since there isn't a lot of hair," he said noncommittally. "If I had to venture a guess, I'd say it is blond."
"What kind of blond?" Astoria asked between a series of pushes. "Sandy?" Push. "Dirty?" Push. "White? Argh!"
"What does it matter? You'll see for yourself in no time at all," Severus said unhelpfully. The women in the room glared at him.
"If you insist on being deliberately useless, you can wait outside," Hermione bit out as she held back one of Astoria's legs.
"Last time I checked, I was the one that my sister wanted with her," Severus rejoined.
"If it weren't for me, your sister wouldn't have made it to St. Mungo's with time to spare!" Hermione snapped back. Severus's eyes were amused, albeit tinged with worry for Astoria.
"Almost there, my dear!" trilled Dr. Granger. "You're doing so well!"
"Get in position, Professor Snape," said the mediwitch. "You can catch the baby if you so wish."
"I'd rather not," he said, looking squeamish. "I might drop it."
"Severus …" Astoria moaned. "Stay here with me."
"Why don't you catch the baby, Miss Granger?" Severus asked suddenly. "I'm sure that would be the next best thing."
"Why me?" Hermione was astonished.
"As you said, my sister wouldn't be safely delivering in the hospital if it weren't for you," he said, his eyes oddly warm. "My niece or nephew would be safest landing in your arms."
"Push, Tori!" Hermione cheered, stroking the knee that she was propping up. "I've never done this before."
"Please, Hermione," Astoria gasped. "I want you to catch the baby." The silent mediwitch nodded passively at her.
"All right," the young researcher agreed nervously. She stood herself in the perfect spot, holding her hands in position as the mediwitch directed her. Within five minutes, it was all over.
"8:40 p.m. is the time of birth," the mediwitch noted as she rubbed the wee babe all over. A Quick-Quotes quill scribbled frantically onto a notepad nearby as the mediwitch spoke. The newborn pinked and wailed lustily. Hastily, the mediwitch drew her wand from its sheath along her forearm and waved it soundlessly. Vital signs appeared, hovering over the baby's heart. "Congratulations, Miss Greengrass, you have a healthy boy."
"Let me see him! Ma petite," she cooed. The mediwitch swaddled and placed the tiny boy on Astoria's chest. The Grangers and Severus crowded around Astoria to marvel at the miraculous child.
"We should inform my parents and sister," Astoria said as she examined all ten little fingers and all ten toes. However, Severus was not paying attention to her.
"Astoria," he said, drawing the syllables out slowly. "There is something that you failed to inform me."
"Is this really the time, brother?" she asked, her gaze transfixed on her infant.
"There is no better time if you want the right actions to be taken," he responded gravely.
"I don't know what you mean."
"I mean, my dear, that there was a reason why you wanted to know what color this child's hair was."
Astoria reluctantly tore her eyes from her child and looked imploringly at her brother. "Please don't be angry with me, Severus."
"We'll see," he said. He placed a hand on Hermione's shoulder as though seeking support. "Astoria, please tell me there is a good explanation for why my nephew looks exactly like Draco Malfoy did as an infant."
"I don't know how to thank you," Severus said formally as the Grangers and he decamped to the waiting room while Astoria learned how to breastfeed. "I think I can speak for Astoria when I say that she and I are most grateful. Your medical assistance was vital."
"That's quite all right," the Drs. Granger said in unison. The male one added, "I think my wife and I will pop down to the canteen for a cuppa." The female said mistily, "I can't wait until my daughter's the one to give birth." Hermione shook her head. Severus's mouth twitched, but he thankfully refrained from commenting. The dentists took their leave and wended their way down the hallway. Severus turned to face Hermione.
Severus sighed. "You and my sister seem to get on very well."
"She's charming, sir."
"A bit too free with her charms, it would seem."
"She can do what she likes," Hermione said reproachfully. "Don't you dare shame her. It takes two to tango, as I recall."
Severus flinched. Too late, Hermione realized she'd used his own words, taken straight from his memories, regarding his mother's indiscretion with Astoria's father.
"I'm so sorry, please ignore me," she gasped, grabbing his shirtsleeve. "Anyway, don't be angry at Astoria. Your nephew is so sweet and adorable. Please give her a pass on this one."
"What kind of man do you think I am?" he said, touching her hand tentatively. "This is a happy occasion. I am thrilled that Draco, not Mark Evans, is the father of my nephew. My worry pertains to what must be done about it."
"Must something be done?"
"Yes, needs must," he sighed. "Draco is my godson. He will eventually visit me at Pemberley. I highly doubt that I can hide the existence of his child, nor am I certain that I should."
"I do think he has the right to know, if Tori wishes it," Hermione said swiftly. "He did love her at one time, judging by your memories. He might love her still. After seeing him with Teddy, I want to believe that he'd do the right thing by Tori and his son."
Severus was quiet for a time. "I will ask Astoria what she thinks. My feeling is that Draco would want to know and support his child, even if he and Astoria never reach an understanding between each other."
She nodded in acquiescence. Smiling, she said, "Professor Snape, I do believe that this is the most civil conversation we've ever had."
"Don't get too used to it," he murmured with a half-smile of his own. "Hermione—"
"Professor Snape!" Lavender Brown poked her head through the doorway of the cramped waiting room. "An owl has arrived for you." She looked curiously at them, and certainly they made an interesting tableau: Hermione's hand still holding fast to Severus's arm, Severus's hand rubbing circles on Hermione's other hand, the two of them standing closer than was absolutely necessary. Severus quickly dropped Hermione's hand and stepped out of her reach.
"Thank you, Healer Brown," he said sincerely. "I'll answer this owl and return shortly." He looked meaningfully at Hermione, and she felt a pleasant shiver run up her spine.
"I look forward to finishing our conversation, Professor," she said softly. He nodded. An awkward silence fell over the room after Severus bowed out into the hallway.
"You're blushing, Hermione Granger," Lavender finally said in an accusing tone. "Did Professor Snape curse you into mooning after him? What's going on in that bushy head of yours?"
"We're back!" said the Drs. Granger as they conveniently strolled into the room at that moment. "Oh, where's Professor Snape?" They looked quite disappointed.
"He was contacted about some business, I think," Hermione said, ignoring Lavender.
"He really grows on a body, doesn't he?" her mother mused. "He has the tall, dark, and handsome angle down pat."
"Handsome?" Lavender was baffled.
"You don't think so?"
To Hermione's surprise, Lavender colored slightly. "I did have the most frightful crush on him in sixth year."
"But you were dating Ron!" Hermione's shock was boundless.
"So? So what if sometimes I liked to pretend that Ron's hair was black and silky when we were snogging in the potions classroom after Quidditch practice?"
"Good grief," Hermione's father said. "I hope you didn't have any professorial fantasies like that, Minnie o'mine."
"Of course not!"
"Not that I can blame you, Healer Brown," Hermione's mother said. "If I were Hermione, I'd go for it. I couldn't ask for a more interesting son-in-law."
"I'm just saying," Hermione's mother said, none too meekly.
Severus unfolded the parchment that a Hogwarts barn owl dropped into his lap when he reached the hospital's post office. He felt annoyed to have been pulled from Hermione's side at a moment that had felt strangely crucial. Now, standing under the frank clinical lights near the hospital atrium, the moment with Hermione felt like it had been an out-of-body experience, something that would be impossible to replicate. There was so much he yearned to say to her, even after all he had said in the Scamanders' garden a dream ago. He was getting older every day, he had felt anew at the sight of his brand-new nephew. There is no more time in this life to waste.
"Severus," the letter read, "You must be wondering how I wrote to you, given my ghosthood. The Bloody Baron was kind enough to find one of the less squeamish students—I hate to admit it, but it was a Gryffindor—who was willing to allow me to dictate to him."
Severus groaned. It was just like Lucius Malfoy to make the most of an opportunity to manipulate his mind. He wondered if it would be possible to take out a restraining order against a ghost.
"Old friend, I am writing because I saw my son walking down towards the Slytherin common room yesterday evening. I suppose he was at Hogwarts on some kind of Ministry business. He works for Games & Sports, I think you said? He was carrying a bag of racing brooms. Perhaps he means to sponsor his old Quidditch team."
Like father, like son, Severus mused. He supposed it was a harmless extracurricular activity.
"I've never seen Draco so distraught and depressed, Severus. Not since the height of the war, when we were all imprisoned in our home with my lovely sister-in-law and her master. Draco was practically as translucent as I am; that's how ill he looked. Severus, as much as I would love to lord your debt to me over you for the rest of your days, there is a way in which you can repay me. Help my son recover the happiness that is his birthright. You will know when you've succeeded.
Severus tore up the parchment and fed it to a nearby decorative Venomous Tentacula. He had a job to do, and for once, he rather thought he might be able to succeed.
"What shall you name him?"
"Scorpius Hermes," Astoria said dreamily. "Draco once told me that Scorpius was what he wanted to name his future son. And Hermes after you, dear Hermione."
"You've known me for exactly a day," Hermione said to her. "I'm flattered, but this is too great an honor for me to accept."
"I suspect I'll know you for the rest of my life, Hermione Granger." Astoria smiled sweetly. "We are to be great friends."
There was a sudden bang, prompting little Scorpius Hermes to burst into a stormy round of tears. Astoria gathered the infant close to her chest, looking terrified as the door to her hospital room was blasted open and a whirlwind of a man appeared in the doorway. His white-blond hair shone under the bright lighting of the labor and delivery wing, but his face was crimson, redder than Hermione had ever seen it.
"Draco!" Astoria uttered, her voice strangled.
"Is it true?" Draco said, his eyes wild. "Is that my child you're holding?"
"Draco, please," Astoria whispered. Draco crossed over to her bed in a matter of moments, his eyes glued to the back of the baby's head. Scorpius's hair was a perfect match to his own.
"Show me," he said hoarsely. Astoria looked at him fearfully but slowly extended her arms, allowing Draco to pick up the infant. With trembling hands, Draco accepted the precious bundle. Little Scorpius's bright blue eyes blinked sleepily at his father, and without further ado, Draco began to cry. Hermione felt like she was intruding on something very intimate, and she turned away slightly. Her parents were distinctly less scrupulous and watched the goings-on avidly.
"How is this possible?" Draco said at last. "We've never …" he trailed off, looking embarrassed.
"It's a long story," Astoria said, her large eyes ashamed. "Forgive me, Draco."
"Long story or not, I need to hear it," he replied firmly. "For Merlin's sake, Astoria, babies don't just appear out of nowhere."
"Maybe the stork brought Scorpius," one of the Drs. Granger said, punctuating the remark with a little snort.
"Stork?" Draco looked mystified. "Scorpius?" He peered once more at the squalling baby in his arms and began to tear up again. Hermione gingerly patted his arm.
"Do you approve of the name?" Astoria asked anxiously. "I remembered it was what you wanted to name your firstborn son, and it suits him, no?"
"It's perfect," Draco murmured, carefully burping the baby. "He's perfect."
"A narcissistic thing to say, considering he's a dead ringer for you as an infant, but I'll let it pass this time," Severus said, billowing into the room and placing a hand on his sister's shoulder. "I'm glad you're being reasonable and not tearing the place apart, Draco."
"I almost ripped apart Mother's heirloom Black tapestry when I heard the news," the Malfoy heir said shortly. "The baby showed up on it, you see. I couldn't fathom how such a thing had come to pass. I had some time to cool off while in the queue for a visitor's pass. But Astoria," he leaned forward slightly, "I must know how my son came into existence." Astoria blushed under the intensity of his attention.
"My parents and I can leave the room if you'd like some privacy," Hermione volunteered.
"No, no!" Astoria exclaimed, catching Hermione's hand. "You will know all eventually, in any case. I'll need some feminine support during the telling of this tale, I think."
"Start from the beginning," Severus advised.
"One doesn't know exactly where to begin," Astoria said slowly, "but I suppose what it comes down to is that I've loved you from the moment I met you, Draco." She looked away from him with a shy smile. "You were so helpful to Severus and so lost after the end of the war. You needed a friend. And I've always liked to be needed."
Draco said nothing but swallowed convulsively. His blue-gray eyes remained fastened on Astoria's sweet face.
"You used to humor me. You must have thought me such a little girl, and I was, I suppose, at the time. Daphne's and Severus's foolish little sister." She gave a short, delicate snort. "All those babysitting walks through Muggle Paris, all those times we chatted with me sipping tea while you went for the adult option, the whisky and the cheap beer."
"I wouldn't have done any of it if I hadn't liked you or found you worthy of my time," Draco said defensively.
"Oh, I know. Merlin forbid that the great Draco Malfoy waste his time on a silly little Squib."
"A Squib?" Hermione interjected without thought, completely taken aback.
"Technically, Hermione, I am not a Squib, though I might as well be—albeit a rather high-functioning one. Severus and my parents saw to my rehabilitation, such as it has been," Astoria said humorlessly. "Give me a cauldron and I'll outbrew even the most talented witch or wizard, but I'm very minimally capable with a wand. Oddly enough, one of the few spells I have mastered is the Patronus charm. My magical disability was part of the reason why my parents left England during Daphne's Hogwarts years. They thought it would be a good excuse to avoid sending me to Hogwarts. They knew I probably would attract attention at school for the wrong reasons, not to mention that my fallen birth mother was hiding in the library under the pseudonym of Madam Pince."
"Narcissa once referred to you as a most accomplished witch once," Hermione said apologetically. "I suppose I just assumed …"
"It wouldn't be the first time you've made the wrong assumption," Severus interceded gently. "All the same, Astoria is a witch, even if her abilities are unconventional. She is certainly accomplished in her own right." Hermione bowed her head in agreement and acknowledgment, looking embarrassed.
Astoria smiled tearfully at her half-brother. "Please don't feel bad on my account, Hermione. I've had a long time to come to terms with my capabilities, and I believe I've learned to make the most of them. In any event, I felt that they were probably an insuperable obstacle in the path to obtaining Draco Malfoy's love." Draco made an indeterminate noise at her words but didn't interrupt.
"When Mark Evans arrived in France about a year after the war ended in England, I'll admit that I projected some of my feelings for Draco onto him," she continued softly. "He was a Muggle who couldn't judge me for my inferior magical ability, he was handsome, he was about my age, he was in Severus's employ so he must have been trustworthy, etcetera, etcetera. I was young and impressionable enough to be swayed into believing him an adequate substitute for what I really longed for."
"You could have told me how you felt," Draco said brokenly.
"What good would that have done?" Astoria replied. "You didn't think of me as anything but a ninny. You used to patronize me so."
"That was how I showed that I cared," Draco shot back.
Hermione's father scoffed. "That's no way to treat a lady, son."
Draco puffed up in preparation to retort, but the baby abruptly coughed up some milk onto his shoulder, which rather diminished the intended effect.
"Anyway," Hermione said hurriedly, "what happened after you took on Mark's position in the company?"
"Oh, yes," Astoria said, equally quickly. "Severus stopped trusting Mark after he tried to extort money from him rather than go to school. So he slowly started giving me more of Mark's duties in the Muggle world because as a near-Squib, I necessarily would have to learn how to live among Muggles. I enjoyed the task at first. It was a lovely respite from the stress of France and Maman and Papa. Oh, and to be able to travel and disseminate Severus's potions to the people for whom we were making them, that was wonderful."
"But?" Draco enquired, reluctantly placing his son back into Astoria's arms. Astoria accepted him thankfully.
"Mark was so suave and charming when he was training me to take over his position," she continued. "He had this way about him, you know?" Draco looked miffed. "It was easy to overlook the way he'd manipulated Severus. He was seemingly so kind to me in my time of heartbreak."
"For Salazar's sake, Astoria!" Draco cut in. "There was no need for all this heartbreak nonsense. You could have spoken to me."
"You could have spoken to me!" she cried, and little Scorpius, sensing his mother's distress, began to bawl. "I was so young—I'm still so young! If you felt something for me, you should have told me. You could have taken the mature route."
"Give me the child," Severus said, looking exasperated. "He needs some reassurance; he thinks his mother is in pain." He trained a stern glare onto Draco, and the young wizard veritably cowered.
"Finish the story, Tori dear," soothed Hermione's mother as she helped Severus coddle the baby. Hermione tried to ignore the primal part of her that enjoyed the sight of her old potions professor with a baby far too much to be allowed. Astoria gathered herself together slowly.
"Yes, well," she murmured, flushing darkly. "I … became desperate. I was stressed and lonely, and the only person who seemed to understand fully was Mark. I couldn't tell Severus; he'd kill Draco for leading me on, even though he hadn't, really. I couldn't tell Daphne because she had her own romantic problems. Maman and Papa would have deemed the Malfoy connection to be a poor one—no offense, Draco."
"None taken," he said softly.
"So one day, nine months ago, more or less, I was brewing Polyjuice Potion; it was one of the requirements to obtain my Potions Mastery. I made the mistake of telling Mark about it and spilling my 'unlucky in love' woes to him; a part of me wonders if he'd somehow dosed me with Veritaserum."
"I wouldn't put anything past the bastard," Severus said forcefully.
"No cursing in front of the baby," Hermione's mother said reproachfully. Severus had enough grace to look abashed, but Astoria smiled at him gratefully.
"In my state of mind, I would have done anything he suggested. And what he suggested was audacious, but also rather brilliant. He offered to take some of the Polyjuice himself, to take on Draco's appearance. To let me say whatever I wanted—no, needed—to say. To pretend for an hour that I was Draco Malfoy's girl."
An uneasy silence settled upon the group. "That's mad," Draco said at last.
"I can't believe you went to such lengths, Astoria," Severus said. "It was illegal. If you'd been found out …"
"Nothing was supposed to happen!" she cried. "I was just going to tell him all my feelings while he was in the guise of Draco. Somehow, I found myself in Brighton and not remembering how I got there. I couldn't tell either of you the truth, I was so afraid. And then, a few weeks later, I found out I was pregnant …"
"Evans took advantage of you, then," Severus spat, his eyes stormy. He handed the baby to Hermione unceremoniously, kneeling down next to his sister's bed so that he and she could look each other in the eyes. "Why didn't you say so?"
"I wasn't sure anyone would believe me, and I still didn't know what had really happened," Astoria whispered. "I was embarrassed and ashamed, brother."
"You weren't … hurt, were you?" Draco asked suddenly, his gaze averted from his son's mother. "Physically, I mean."
"I'm afraid it was just my pride and my heart that were wounded," Astoria replied gently, her limpid eyes watchful. "That's the good thing about not being able to remember, I suppose."
"Evans needs to be brought to justice," Severus said shortly. "I won't let him get away with this crime against you."
Astoria laid a long-fingered hand, so similar to Severus's own, on her half-brother's forearm. "Let it be, Sev," she said. "Somehow, the Polyjuice ensured that Scorpius resembled the better man. No harm, no foul."
"You are too forgiving," Draco muttered. He looked angrier than Hermione had ever seen him. "What Evans did was a violation. He must pay."
"Let's just start over," Astoria pleaded. "Let's enjoy our son. I don't want Scorpius's life to start with his father in Azkaban because he killed someone."
Draco gaped at her for a minute that felt like an eternity to Hermione. "Yes, let's play happy families, shall we?" he finally said, his voice tart. He turned with a flourish and marched out of the room, nose in the air.
"Go after him, will you, Severus?" Astoria said wearily.
"I don't agree with you about how you're choosing to handle Evans, but I will respect your wishes," Severus said to her. He left in Draco's wake, rather less dramatically than the Malfoy heir had done.
"Tell me about this Polyjuice Potion, one scientist to another," Hermione's father said to Tori, attempting to break the tension still lingering poisonously in the stuffy hospital room.
"You know, I think Scorpius is ready for a diaper change," Hermione interjected hurriedly.