Albus Dumbledore frowned over the letter in his hand. Delivered by a standard Post Office owl, and composed of words carefully snipped out of the newspaper, its writer clearly wished to remain anonymous. He read the text again. The warning it gave was grim, but on the other hand, the very existence of the letter was a glimmer of hope.
Severus awoke with a violent start. Shit. What had he been thinking? His bloody hormones were making him act like a complete dunderhead! It had seemed like the most important thing to do last night, but in the cold morning light, Severus had the unpleasant, niggling feeling that he had just signed his own death warrant.
It was not for Potter's sake, that much he had known for sure, even during the hysterical crying fit of the previous evening. Potter and his retinue deserved to be beaten to death with their own severed limbs, any idiot could see that, and the Dark Lord was no exception. His Lordship was up to something, that much was obvious from the way he had singled out this particular Morons-of-the-Phoenix member when there was so many others who deserved an unpleasant end, and Severus considered the whys and wherefores to be none of his business anyhow. But a very nasty sensation had started twisting his stomach when he learned that the mudblood Evans was also due for the chop.
Evans, the only Griffindor in his year with two braincells to rub together. Evans, the only one who had ever stood up to the Unholy Alliance on his behalf. Evans, who was, by all accounts, just marginally less enormous with child than Severus.
That must be it, he mused, as the knotting sensation in his stomach made another brief appearance before fading away completely. Some kind of as-yet undiscovered pheromone which created solidarity between the knocked-up. No rational human being would have gone behind the evil wizard's back in order to try and protect a muggle-born witch married to his worst enemy without some kind of nefarious chemical influence. He scowled. Obviously, it was all Lucius' fault, making him have this blasted baby.
He was jolted from his musings by the arrival of a large barn owl with a scroll addressed to him. Opening it carefully, he levitated three feet off the bed in terror. Impossible! How could he have known? That IMPOSSIBLE old man! Oh, Merlin, he was dead! Dead as a doornail. Dead as Regulus Black. Which was pretty damn dead. Ugh, mustn't think about what happened to him – no need to start yet another day vomiting. His abdomen lurched again.
Thank you for your letter, which I received in the early hours of this morning.
I am very glad you saw fit to warn us of this development. Rest assured, I have taken the appropriate action. None but myself are aware of the source of the information.
I do hope to hear from you again.
What did he mean by "I do hope to hear from you again?" Was that a threat? Was he expecting tip-offs about all the Death Eaters' activities in exchange for keeping secret Snape's links with the Dark? He surely had enough information there to send him to Azkaban! And how in the name of Merlin, Arthur and Morgana had he figured out who had sent the letter? His stomach clenched unpleasantly once more and Severus finally began to pay attention to his body.
Glancing at the clock, he noticed that he was experiencing a lurch every ten minutes or so, which jogged something in the back of his brain. For the second time that morning he swore expressively in shock and fear. Not that! Not now! Waddling over to the fireplace he flung a handful of powder at the dormant grate and yelled;
The guest suite was a bloodbath. Most of the portraits in the East wing had retreated from the bellowed profanities and explosions of uncontrolled magic, which had set fire to the bed hangings and smashed two of the windows as well as inflicting some excruciatingly painful localised damage upon Lucius. On witnessing her husband clutching his groin in agony, Narcissa had borrowed a helmet from one of the suits of armour and taken refuge behind a stout oak chest, popping up metallically every now and then to cheer Severus on.
At length, the screams subsided from both Snape and Lucius, to be replaced by a smaller, but no less violent collection of wails as the smallest Malfoy put in his appearance.
Lucius staggered clumsily to his feet. Narcissa lifted her visor with a squeak. Severus collapsed, red-faced and exhausted, back onto the only remaining pillow which had not been flung across the room at his lover. Benson took a warmed blanket from an overexcited Dobby and wrapped it around the noisy, wriggling object before proudly presenting it to the three parents. They all looked closely at the squashed bright pink face. No one spoke for a moment.
Finally, Lucius said: "My son!"
Narcissa said: "Aw, he's so small!"
Severus said; "It looks like the pickled dragon embryo on the potions lab windowsill!"
They glared at him, but had to admit the baby was not the prettiest thing they had ever seen.
"Oh, he's not too bad," beamed Benson cheerfully. "You should have seen the bundle of joy I pulled out of Violet Crabbe two months ago!" As one, they shuddered at the thought.
Narcissa removed her helmet and stepped forward, taking the little one in her arms and cuddling him.
"He's so tiny!" she cooed, smiling fondly at the ugly little face. "Hello, sweetiepie, Mummy's here!" The baby made an unpleasant sound halfway between a belch and a snarl. 'Mummy' seemed to think this was the cutest thing she had ever heard, and chuckled prettily, pressing a little kiss on his forehead. She handed him over to Severus, who was still trying to catch his breath after ten hours of exertion. He was mildly surprised by how easy he was to hold – he just fit snugly in the crook of an arm.
"Well done, Severus," whispered Lucius gently, resting a hand on his shoulder. "You did a grand job." He was in ecstasy. Severus had provided the perfect answer to his problem, even if it had taken a lot of persuasion, and gallons of DNA suppressant to make absolutely certain there would be no telltale copies of those black eyes or, Merlin forbid, that nose. Actually, Lucius had something of a soft spot for Severus' nose, but he could not imagine it sitting well alongside the elfin features of the last eight generations of Malfoys.
"Yes, thank you, Severus," smiled Narcissa, any jealousy or resentment for her husband's lover had long since evaporated in light of the amazing gift he had given the couple. Her life had been transformed, her position secured. She could breathe easy at last.
Snape gazed down at the sleeping child and experienced a moment of doubt. Would they be good enough parents to his son? No, never his son. Their son. Looking at Narcissa's besotted face, and Lucius radiating pride from his every pore, he concluded that they were far more suited to the task than he was. Suddenly choked by an inexplicably foreign wave of emotion he handed the boy back to his new mother
"Look after my little dragon," he begged. They both nodded solemnly.
"We will," they said in unison.
Just over eleven years later, Severus was trying to choke down his panic with a gentle calming draught. There had been so many almost-familiar little faces in the clump of unsorted first-years! A Potter, a Crabbe, a Goyle, a Nott, yet another Weasley (how did she do it again and again? Perhaps it was less painful for women,) and of course, the miniature version of the man he had loved. His precious dragon. That squashed red cabbage of a baby had grown into pretty, blond boy, and if he was not mistaken after ten years of watching children develop, he was going to be a stunning young man one day.
After Lucius had kindly but definitively bought him off in the manner of all discarded concubines, he had gained his Bronze Standard at the Institute almost out of spite, and had flung himself unequivocally at Dumbledore's feet. He had met Draco once or twice since the Dark Lord's downfall, but not enough to really know him. But now he thanked fate a hundred times over that his new Lord had chosen to make him a teacher, and more than that, Head of Slytherin house! Born of a Malfoy and a Snape, raised by a Black – where else could Draco end up? Now for ten months of the year for seven years, Severus could enjoy the company of his little boy.
He would never say that he regretted giving him up. His life had been a tempestuous one, precarious even, and he knew that all the time he had been struggling to stay alive, out of prison, and to cope on a teacher's salary, Draco had been enjoying the very best of everything life had to offer. But he was glad they could spend some time together.
Now, before the boy's first potions lesson, Severus was having heart palpitations. The child had seemed polite enough at the first house-meeting the previous night, but what if he was dim? Clumsy? Loud? And he had to share most of his lessons with Potter, blasted Potter, the boy-who-shouldn't-be-an-orphan. Griffindors were so pathetic. How much had he done to protect those parents? Then Black had undone all of his hard work. He shuddered at the thought.
Well, Draco was going to like him, he would make sure of that. Striding into his lab, the customary terrified silence descended, and he began his opening speech, pausing only to smirk at Draco.
Draco smirked right back.
A/N: Thank you all for your wonderful reviews! Yet again you have proven yourselves to be a charming and polite set of readers by leaving me some great thoughts and suggestions. I am honoured that you find my fics entertaining!
Can't believe there's less than a week to go! Eek!