It all began with the talented and generous JK Rowling, who created a universe and populated it with people—living and breathing people—and allows us to live there in our dreams. There are not enough ways to thank her for this. And then, there was Deathly Hallows, and the sinking feeling in my heart that it was over. Or not. On August 23, 2007, the first chapter of Care of Magical Creatures posted to ashwinder. Today, March 15, 2009, the last chapter posts here. I have been blessed with gifted and patient betas: Leigh-Anne, Juno_Magic, GinnyW, lifeasanamazon, Chenoah, deemichelle, annie talbot, sshg316, and machshefa. I have been blessed with patient and talented mods here and elsewhere. I have been blessed with wonderful, generous readers and reviewers. And now, it's time. I release it into the wind. Thank you.
And then, there was Deathly Hallows, and the sinking feeling in my heart that it was over.
On August 23, 2007, the first chapter of Care of Magical Creatures posted to ashwinder. Today, March 15, 2009, the last chapter posts here. I have been blessed with gifted and patient betas: Leigh-Anne, Juno_Magic, GinnyW, lifeasanamazon, Chenoah, deemichelle, annie talbot, sshg316, and machshefa. I have been blessed with patient and talented mods here and elsewhere. I have been blessed with wonderful, generous readers and reviewers.
And now, it's time.
I release it into the wind.
67. AS LONG AS WE BOTH SHALL LIVE
He held her that way, gently in his arms, as she dozed between contractions. He wanted to check the clock, wanted to know how long it had been, how far apart they were, how long they lasted—but not at the expense of her comfort, her rest.
Her words shattered the silence and it took him a moment to remember the ice cold orange juice—not pumpkin juice, no, it had to be orange juice—that had been kept under a stasis spell for two weeks now, in preparation for this event. He Summoned it, held it while she sipped, then placed it on the table.
"Professor…" she whispered. "Tell me how you did it."
"Brought me back. Saved me."
"You know how," he said, stifling his embarrassment that he'd resorted to such extremes as Muggle magic, and wishing she'd let it drop.
"I just wish… I just wish I'd been there. You know, that I remembered it."
"As do I," he said bitterly.
She snuggled more closely against him. "Do it again…."
He stroked a tangled strand of hair away from her cheek. "I hardly think this is the time—"
"I don't mean do it," she said. "Tell me. Say it."
Didn't she realize that every time she asked him to relive it, he was reliving terror? Reliving a choice that had almost seemed Dark when he'd made it, a choice that in execution had shamed him, and only in desperation was he able to follow through?
He would never share that part. Never share that pain.
But again, and again, as long as she needed to hear it, he would share the only part of it that felt pure. The only part that had given him hope….
He pulled her closer to him and nuzzled her ear. "I take this woman to be my wedded wife." Immediately, peace flowed from her and into him, blessed peace…. He found his lips shaping the next words, his mouth forming them, his voice speaking them, even as he found himself, yet again frustrated by them. "I will love her…" What a weak, miserable word, not even the beginning of what overwhelmed him when she was in his arms. And yet, her blissful sigh curled through him, and the words poured from him, "…and comfort her, honour and keep her, in sickness and in health." He pressed his lips against her forehead as the most ridiculously easy part of the Muggle magic incantation followed. "And forsaking all others keep only to her, so long as we both shall live."
There was more, of course, and she'd want to hear it, again, as she always did, but now he found himself unable to speak, and instead captured her lips and tasted her, and felt the soul-deep response of her….
And the slowly tightening coil of pressure that wrapped her and then went to pain….
Her body stiffened in his arms, even as he whispered soothing nothings into her ear.
And then, it passed.
But not his fear. His fear of what lay ahead. His fear of an infant—his son—tearing his way from her body. His fear that he'd made a mistake, that rather than saving her, he'd assured her of an even more painful—
Ice water went through him at the word.
"Professor!" Her voice was sharp and clear. "Come back to me. I've had menstrual cramps that were worse. Stop blaming yourself!"
Yes, he remembered her menstrual cramps, all too clearly, as if that absolved him of anything. "If I'd kept trying—if I'd looked harder, farther—I might have found a better way—a safer way that didn't steal everything from you, every choice." He swallowed thickly. "If you never forgive me, it will be no more than I deserve."
She struggled up and cupped his cheeks the way she was wont to do, to hold him imprisoned in her gaze. "Forgive you? Are you mad? You saved me. You gave me magic. You created a life for us together, forever. Forgive you? Should I forgive you for breathing, as well? For being everything I need and want? What else should I forgive you for, pray tell?"
"You should blame me."
"Oh, Professor," she sighed. "I will never, ever blame you, as long as I live. Just hold me. Please… don't let me go."
"Don't touch me!" she shrieked.
She stopped, mid-step, and moaned. The pain arced through her like an electric current and took her voice, stole her very air away as she grabbed and clutched the bedpost and allowed him to support her. And then, when it finally passed, she finished her thought on a mere whimper.
"I expect you wish you had Molly and Poppy now, do you?" he demanded, clearly hurt and clearly trying to hide it beneath his gruff bark.
"Don't be an arse," she moaned. "I want you. I need you." She sank to the bed. "And don't you dare tell me to stand up. I'm not going to walk any more."
"You made me read the books and you know what they said," he snapped. "You need to stay on your feet and walk through as many contractions as you can and let gravity pull the little bugger down."
But he dropped beside her on the bed, and his arm that wrapped around her trembled.
"I'm not walking any more. Gravity can fuck off."
"As you wish."
She leaned against him and inhaled, even tasted his throat and the sharp tang of his eucalyptus and spearmint scent. As if she could ever have wanted insufferable women surrounding her when everything she needed was here.
And then, she got her breath back and lumbered back to her feet to begin pacing again.
And he supported her, murmured encouragingly until she wanted to slap him.
And was everything she needed him to be.
She'd gone mad with the pain.
That was the only explanation for it.
She'd stripped off her clothes and was—not prancing, oh no, that was another Miss Granger, one from some foreign past, who pranced around naked or nearly so, oblivious to him and the effect she had on him. This Miss Granger, equally oblivious, agonizingly paced the floor in woolly socks and nothing else, hair clinging to her face in damp coils, bloody show streaking her thighs. She seemed unaware that he applied gentle cleansing charms as needed when she stopped every three or so minutes to cling to a bedpost or a wall or a door while her stomach bulged and contracted. He rubbed her back with all his strength in the heels of his hands until it finally passed….
And then he'd try to get her to sit, to rest, to let him hold her.
Only to have her shake loose from him and trudge relentlessly on.
Seven hours had passed since the walls of Hogwarts had locked them in.
Seven excruciating hours.
She stopped, leaned into the wall. "My mum…"
He reached for her back, but she batted his hand away and stared at him with large eyes filled with tears.
"She—she wanted a baby so badly…." She closed her eyes and took in a slow, shuddering breath. "She tried so hard—and she did this—this—for me! To have me! She went through all this and—" She flailed wildly with one hand and grabbed his arm. "I love my mother!"
And then burst into hysterical tears.
Oh, fucking, fucking hell.
He eased onto the rose-spangled seat and pulled her awkwardly into his lap where she proceeded to sob until another contraction wracked her with pain.
"You want your mother," he said numbly, when it passed. How was he supposed to get her mother, when he couldn't even communicate with the Hospital Wing?
Her sobs returned as if they'd never been choked off. "I'm so afraid…."
No, she couldn't be afraid, not his warrior, his strength, his goddess. She couldn't be afraid. He clutched her to him, his heart pounding.
"I don't want—I don't want to share you. I don't want to share you with someone else!" She buried her face in his chest, her tears soaking him, until he finally could bear it no more and raised her chin so he could see her, so he could wipe her tears and soothe her. But one look at her eyes—Merlin, how he could drown in those eyes—and her fear shot through him.
"Professor," she gasped. And then, "Severus…" And then, "I'm a terrible person and we are going to be horrid parents! We didn't want this baby, and we—what if we don't love him? There must be a potion—something you can give me to make me love him—"
"Hush," he growled, shutting her up by pressing her face against his body, and now his terror raged. She was speaking his fears, his. Not hers. She couldn't feel that way. Not his Miss Granger. Not his salvation.
And suddenly, Albus thrust his shaggy, disreputable head between them.
His low whine broke the tense silence.
His long red tongue licked desperately, catching them both, full-faced, alternately.
"Oh, Albus," she sighed, with a hiccupping breath. But she petted the beast, stroked his head and scratched his ears. "We didn't mean to upset you."
"And there's your answer," Severus said roughly. "We found room for that wretched animal, didn't we? We'll just… we'll just think of it as a pet."
"Our baby?" she whimpered.
"Yes," he announced, reaching for calm. "You spoil our pets insipidly. I'm sure you'll do the same for the baby. Now, here," he said, raising the orange juice to her lips. "Sip."
"Oh…." She sipped obediently and then collapsed against his chest again. "I can do that."
And then, after another long moment, "How do you always know—"
"I never know," he said, willing his pulse to slow, his fear to abate.
"You always know."
He closed his eyes and came as close to praying as he ever had in his life.
When she thought it could get no worse—
It got worse.
"Oh my god," she said on a gasp. "I—I—oh my god." And saw the expression on his face as he felt what she felt, the warm liquid seeping from between her legs and into his lap, and then she realised, oh god, he thought—he thought it was urine, and she was about to stammer an explanation when—
Oh god, oh god, oh god.
Amniotic fluid came out of her in a rush, and a vice-like grip of pain clamped down from the inside out.
And all she could do was open her mouth in a silent cry—
Because it got harder.
And this time, longer.
Until she thought it wasn't going to end, it was never going to end, she was never going to breathe again or walk again or cry again, her life was going to be nothing but pain, but pain, but pain—
And still, it got worse.
Until she thought she might just ask for death, no, beg for it.
And then, it was lessening, loosening, letting go….
And all she could do was heave in air and she didn't even care anymore that he thought she'd weed on him, didn't care, just felt tears leaking from the corners of her eyes and this wasn't sobbing, this wasn't emotion torn from her heart, but pain ripped from her core, and she didn't think she'd survive another one.
"I think this is transition," he said shakily, and she wanted to scream.
She wanted to scream, "No!" because transition—transition was agony that could last hours, maybe two or three, and she couldn't take this, not for hours, not this, not this—
"Can you stand?" he asked.
No! She flung her head back and forth when she realised he wasn't listening to her, he was standing her up, but her legs were too weak, they were trembling—they were shaking—
"Fucking hell," he gasped, and then dropped her down into a squat and crouched behind her, supporting her, muttering, "Is this at all better?"
She didn't know, she wasn't sure, because oh, god, not now, not another, this was too fast, this was too soon, she couldn't take this—
And then it was on top of her, the wave of pain, and she knew where it was centred, but the totality of it was so overwhelming she felt swept under—
And in the middle of it—
She wanted to snarl, to scream, but could only squeeze her eyes shut in agony as—
He picked her up and put her on the bed and rolled her onto her side—
Their beautiful bed.
Their wonderful bed.
And it embraced her.
It took her in and even as her uterus fought to expel this thing, this thing that had taken over her life, she felt a humming, a comfort of hums, vibrating through her, and it was their bed, their magical bed….
Except as the contraction eased, she realized it wasn't the bed at all.
It was he, her professor, her Severus, her dearly beloved, humming a soft chant in her ear, and her soul rose up inside her to grasp and cling and wrap itself in his offering.
And finally, the pain receded, and he rasped in her ear, "Is this better?"
And she could only sigh, and stare through tears at the red sheets and think, oh, how nice, they wouldn't show the blood….
And she thought she was better, she really did, but the words that sprang from her lips were, "Am I going to die?" and then when he didn't answer quickly enough, she fought to reassure him, "It's all right, I think I want to."
And burst into tears.
And hated herself, and came near to hating him, but no, even now, even in the depths of despair and agony she couldn't hate him.
But the pain was coming again, and this time she didn't think she could bear it at all, and if there'd been someone there to ask, someone with a safe potion—oh god oh oh god, she didn't even care if it was safe, just something, she needed something—
She heard him speaking to her, heard words, felt the bed wrench and sink and her body scream in reaction to the movement as he sprang over her and caught her face in his hands and if she could, she'd use wandless magic to toss him away but the pain had her in its talons and was digging in deep, and she could only stare into his black eyes—
Too fast. Why were they so fast? Why couldn't they let her rest between, why so fast?
And then she was breathing again, and gasping again, and he was angry, he was saying her name, and barking, "Miss Granger!"
Until she blinked up at him and whispered… something. Maybe yes. Maybe what. Maybe… she didn't know, but she tried to say something and he saw it and understood it.
"… his name," he was saying. "His name will be Jehovah."
Except that couldn't be what he was saying. Of course it wasn't. She was delirious.
"After your Muggle god," he was saying.
"Oh fuck," she gasped, suddenly and fully in the moment. "You're not serious. You can't be—you can't do that. It's just not done!"
Another pain ripped through her.
And she rode it out, clenching his hands, unable to think of anything beyond the fact that she had to tell him—she had to survive this pain long enough to tell him—that if something happened to her and she didn't survive this, damn it, he couldn't name their son Jehovah!
A long, low growl came out of her mouth, and the pain started easing, and before it was even halfway gone she was spitting, "No, no, no, you can't do that—"
And he smoothed her hair out of her face and said, all too calmly from where she was sitting, "Yahweh, then. It's not as strong, but it will suffice."
"Are you mad?" she demanded, and if she could have got up from that bed she would have, but barring that, she was ready to grab him by the hair to make him pay attention. "You can't do that. You can't name him Jehovah or Yahweh or—"
"I am going to honour your Muggle god, Miss Granger," he said sternly, sweat beading his forehead as she clutched his hands again, the pain beginning again, before the previous one had even fully receded. "But it will have to be the Hebrew god, because to simply call him God—well, it's ridiculous and generic."
She'd told him to name the baby, his son, because it seemed right, and she was too busy and too distracted and now—oh god oh god oh god—
She did not feel this hard round pressure between her legs. She didn't feel it, because transition lasted longer than this, much longer than this, and this fierce pain and this pressure that made her want to—
She wanted to push.
She needed to push.
She opened her mouth to tell him, to tell him to move, to move where he could catch it, but words wouldn't come, and all she could do was bear down with a growl, and oh god oh god oh god this wasn't working, wasn't going to work, she needed to sit up, or stand, or squat, or something—
"Don't push!" he ordered desperately, watching her skin stretch until the sudden nightmare image of his son tearing from her body seemed about to come true.
From her spot braced against the pile of pillows, she gasped, "I have to—I have to! Oh god, it burns!"
"Hold on, hold on, not now," he crooned. At the crowning a thought had flashed through his head like lightning, as fully formed as if he'd had time to ponder it. The first amazing view of the crown—such a small patch of wet, hairy skull—had left him feeling unexpectedly bereft.
But not fool enough to say so.
But the hair—even beneath the waxy, bloody mess there was no mistaking its colour—black as pitch.
He hadn't realized what he'd expected—even longed for—until he realized there would be no horrid hair springing with a life of its own, but his own dismal, stringy mess.
But now, now all he could think of was cradling the head as it emerged, turning gracefully in the palm of his hand until it stopped, trapped, and he was aware of her gasps, her wild-eyed, frantic gasps as she fought for air—
"You're brilliant," he said numbly, using a tidy piece of magic from one of her books to clear the mouth, the nose. "Fucking brilliant. Now rest a bit, until the next one, and then I think—" He swallowed, staring at the small head in his hands. "I think the rest will come out."
And before he had a chance to catch his breath, to reason—
Her stomach heaved—
She let out a deep groan—
And the slippery body emerged, one shoulder at a time, into his large, trembling hands.
And proceeded to wail to wake the dead.
"He's crying," he said numbly. "Ungrateful little bugger."
"Of course he's crying," she snapped. "He heard you're going to name him Jehovah! Now hold him up where I can see him!"
But all Severus could do was stare at the squalling, wretched little angel in his hands.
"Professor," she gasped. "What's wrong? Is something wrong?"
"Two things are wrong. One, he is a girl!"
"But—he can't be! Poppy said—"
"And two, she's pissing all over my hands."
At which point his Miss Granger—his wild-eyed, over-achieving Miss Granger—crowed with laughter. "Of course she is—because she's—she's brilliant!"
"This is an accomplishment?" he sneered doubtfully.
She snatched her wand from the table beside her, and began an elegant and complex series of wand-movements that belied her state of exhaustion just moments before.
Numbers began shimmering in the air above the infant.
And the smile his Miss Granger turned on him lit him up from the inside out. "She's perfect," she crooned. "A perfect ten on her Neonatalis Quotient, right down to the urination!"
How typically Granger to be snapped back to reality after everything she'd been through by the idea of her child making a perfect score on something.
"For god's sake, Severus, hold her against your skin. Keep her warm!"
And to boss him about, as well. He pulled the messy, wiggling thing to his chest. "Don't you have a blanket ready?"
"I—I hadn't—" She broke off, her teeth chattering and her limbs suddenly trembling, and he Summoned a towel from the bathroom.
And the child—Merlin, a child—quieted against him and suckled blindly at his hairy chest.
It was his turn to jerk back to reality; he remembered the still-pulsing umbilical cord connecting her to her mother, and the placenta still inside, and stood abruptly. "You have to hold her," he said. "She needs to suckle so that you expel the afterbirth."
She drew back. "No, I'll drop her!"
"For Merlin's sake, you can't drop her—you're in bed! But you have to deliver the placenta."
He firmly placed the infant in her trembling arms, watching in amazement as it again began searching for something to latch onto—and with little assistance, found it. "Over-achieving little minx," he muttered, wrapping the both of them in the faded duvet and then stared, suddenly forlorn.
His arms felt… empty.
"I'm not sure—I'm not sure I'm doing it right," she said, her voice quivering.
He sank down beside her before his legs could give out. "Fishing for compliments? You've clearly done—" For a moment, one horrifying moment, he thought he might be choking on tears. "Everything right," he finally finished.
"Are you disappointed that she's not a boy?" she asked softly.
"No, of course not. Just—shocked, that's all. Poppy was so certain," he said, staring at the strange creature with the wildly waving arm, sucking fiercely, its eyes squeezed shut.
"Well," she sniffed. "My mum and I told you that even magic could be wrong."
He wanted to call her insufferable. Impertinent. Many things. Instead, he fought his way through the cloud of tangled, matted, thoroughly horrid hair and filled his arms with Miss Granger.
And then, long before he was ready, he pulled himself away to deal with the umbilical cord while he could still function.
"Severus—" she began, watching suspiciously as he placed a stasis spell over the placenta.
He glared at her. "If you think I'm going to pass up this opportunity—"
"Of course not," she said, and then, softly, so as not to disturb the sleeping baby in her arms—she was afraid to move, even to twitch, for fear of setting the little thing off crying again—she said with a smirk, "I thought you were going to use her for ingredients."
"It's not too late, you know," he threatened, watching from across the room. "If she pisses on me again…"
She looked at him then, truly looked at him, and became aware of how lonely he looked, standing off by himself, smeared with blood and worse, with such longing in his eyes, and that place in her twinged with pain, the place behind her heart.
"Take her." She beckoned him with her free hand. "Come. Now. You need to clean her up."
And it was a mark of how overwhelmed he was, her big brute of a wizard, that he responded with unprecedented obedience, almost as if—
As if he wanted to hold her again.
"Lukewarm water," she called after him as he made he way to the bathroom, dragging the quilt behind him. And then, softly, "She's delicate, you know…."
And if seeing them disappear and leave her behind made the twinge ache more, she refused to think about it.
She had an inexplicable need to set things straight.
And of course, let people know. So many people were probably worried. She should let somebody know that all was well… but...
Not when it was all too new, and the women would show up, and want to bustle, and fuss and take over.
But—she didn't know what to do.
Maybe she needed somebody to take over.
Or maybe she just needed—
The resulting crack was almost instantaneous, and there was the elf, her ears quivering with excitement. "Missy Snape needs Winky!" she said, awed, twisting her dirty apron into a knot. "Out of the whole castle, Missy Snape calls Winky!" She burst into tears and buried her face in her apron. "I is so proud," she said between loud sniffles. Then she blew her nose and sighed happily. "What does Missy need?"
"Hermione," Hermione said. "Just call me Hermione," because obsequious house-elves were more than she could cope with. Then she looked at the soiled tangle of bed linen, her legs, partially exposed and still bearing the evidence of childbirth, at the general disarray, and moaned helplessly, "I don't know where to begin!"
Instantly, Winky was a blur of activity, first fluffing and adjusting pillows, and oh, Hermione hadn't realized how many places she ached until the elf expertly began relieving them. She sank back and sighed, and then marvelled as, with much cracking in and out, Winky somehow managed to clean and soften the linens without even removing them, bathed her from her face to her toes with soothing warmth, emerged from places unknown with clean pads for Hermione's personal needs, and then gently massaged sweet birch oil into her muscles, chattering non-stop about the great honour, the uproar in the castle, and even fussed at Hermione's hair as she brushed the matting and tangles out—
Hermione grabbed her hand and stopped her, unable to wait a moment longer. With a wave of her hand, she Summoned the wrinkled white shirt and slipped it over her head and felt infinitely better, just smelling the scent of eucalyptus and spearmint. "Will you help me walk to the loo?" Hermione asked, knowing that Molly and Poppy would never allow such a thing.
"Of course! Missy Mummy needs to walk," Winky said, suddenly filled with authority, and tugging on Hermione's hand.
"That's what my mum said," Hermione said. "It's in the book she gave me."
She stood at the side of the bed, surprised that her legs supported her with hardly a quiver, though she was grateful for Winky's assistance as they crossed the room.
And then the door was open, and she stepped into the moist, warm air—much warmer than outside, which indicated a heating spell.
And there, in the bath, her professor.
Her beautiful professor.
Cradling a sleeping baby in his arms as he gently bathed her in warm water.
Hermione couldn't move, couldn't breathe, the vision struck her so.
Evidently Winky felt the same way, as her breath escaped in a long, quivering sigh.
Severus stared up at them, agog.
And shifted his legs uncomfortably.
And Hermione giggled, as Winky clasped her hands to her chest and cried, "The baby Snape!"
"It seemed the closest thing to its natural habitat." His pale cheeks flamed with colour. "I don't suppose you managed to purchase any baby things, in the midst of all your obsessive studying?" he asked, as if the only thing keeping him in the water was a lack of "baby things."
"Oh! My mum sent some things, and Molly, too—they're under the bed, if—" She looked down at Winky.
"Yes, Missy Snape," Winky replied, already scurrying back out of the room.
"Hermione," Hermione corrected her yet again. And then, she looked more closely at the baby, her daughter—her daughter!—and said, in amazement, "She looks just like you, Severus. Her hair, her ears—she's even scowling in her sleep." And then her legs felt weak, and for one frantic moment she thought she might collapse—
A loud crack behind her heralded not just Winky, but the chintz seat.
"Sit!" Winky ordered from behind the pile of boxes in her arms.
The boxes floated to the floor and lids flew open, and Winky dashed from one to the next until she emerged with a soft, fluffy towel, baby-sized.
By the time she turned back to the bath, a somewhat larger towel was beneath the water, draped across Severus's nether regions.
Winky spread the towel in Hermione's arms and then expertly levitated the sleeping baby—despite the professor's fierce reaction and Hermione's gasp of fear—into Hermione's waiting arms, where she then assisted in drying and swaddling the baby until she was nothing but a fierce, sleeping scowl in a cocoon of white.
"She is beautiful," Winky breathed softly.
"She is?" Hermione asked, trying not to hope too much. "Her face is rather squashed; it's really hard to tell."
Winky's glare rivalled any that ever graced any Snape visage. "She. Is. Beautiful!"
Hermione met Severus's eyes. He seemed as surprised and as pleased as she was.
Winky busied herself with investigating the contents of boxes, while Hermione stared down at the bundle in her arms.
"Winky," Severus said, "I need to get a message to Sir Alistair and Lady Granger that their grandchild is born."
Hermione looked up at him, startled, and her heart skipped a beat.
"They should be the first to know," he said, "and the first to see her."
Her heart melted.
Winky snapped to attention, her hands filled with small garments and accessories. "Winky will take care of that."
"You can?" Hermione asked hopefully.
"Hogwarts will let people in when you is ready. Winky will make sure they is the right people," she said with fierce determination.
"But why? Why is Hogwarts—why does Hogwarts do this?" Hermione asked, adding a hasty, "Not that I'm complaining."
Winky arched one eyebrow before turning back to her search, causing both Hermione and Severus to blink. "Hogwarts has its reason. Hogwarts always has its reason." And finally emerged from a satin-covered hat box with a satisfied sigh. "She will wear this."
"Oh!" Hermione's heart fluttered. "That's my baptismal gown!" Her eyes filled with ridiculous tears at the very thought of her mother packing it and sending it. "But it's really not appropriate," she said gently, "and it's too large for a newborn—"
Winky's glare at Hermione managed to intensify as she caressed the soft silk. "This is for baby Snape now," she said, any sign of obsequious house-elf vanished. She gave it a shake and it reduced in size. "Does Missy Snape—"
"—know how to put it on her?"
Hermione looked helplessly at Severus, who was vigorously drying himself off, clearly having decided not to care which bits Winky might see. "Of course she'll wear it today," he snapped.
"But it's silk!" Hermione said.
"And your point is?"
Now she was on the receiving end of two fierce glares.
Three, if she counted the sleeping baby.
Had the entire world gone mad?
Was she never to have a modicum of control again?
And she'd thought Molly and Poppy would be bad!
"What is baby Snape's name?" Winky asked softly, as she expertly slipped the nappy on, and then, the gown, complete with lace and frills and white cap.
"She doesn't have one, yet," Severus announced. "I hadn't given thought to female names."
"Augusta," Hermione said.
"I've never heard so horrid a name in my life," he snapped.
"Her name is Augusta," Hermione repeated, and this time, she was the one who glared. "It was my grandmother's."
"Which grandmother?" he demanded suspiciously.
"The grandmother with the tea," she said, watching a tiny hand clutch and unclutch in its sleep. "The grandmother who first wore this gown."
"It's still a horrid name." The professor sounded absolutely petulant.
She'd won, and she knew it.
"Gussie," Winky announced happily. "The baby Snape is named Gussie."
"My child will not have a house-elf name," Snape said.
"Augusta," Hermione corrected firmly.
"Hogwarts has been waiting for you," Winky cooed, then shot a sly look from one to the other as she touched the baby's crown of slick, black hair with one long finger.
Despite the fact that he ached with fatigue, that unlike her body, his didn't have hormones coursing wildly through it to give him a second wind, he carried her from the bathroom.
And froze at the sight that awaited him.
It was nothing more than it had been before. It just seemed that he hadn't noticed before. Their quarters had somehow become an amalgam of his and hers, and he knew it analytically—but he'd simply never noticed before… noticed how splashes of roses—her chintz chair and faded duvet cover, her grandmother's tea service—filled the room and his soul with warmth.
And now, with more lighted sconces and floating candles than they'd ever seen fit to use, it glowed.
When his arms began to tremble under her slight weight and the baby began making unsettling and unhappy noises, he gently lowered her—them—to the bed, and finally, half-sat, half-fell beside them.
Hermione's face was knit with concentration, her body tense with uncertainty as she attempted to give the baby her breast. The baby, foolish thing, seemed more interested in fretting.
Or maybe it was her tension that—that Augusta—sensed, that made her fret. A ridiculous name for such a small thing. He winced and forced the word Gussie into his head with a weary sigh and then leaned forward and placed a long, languorous kiss on the tender spot just below Hermione's ear…
And drank in her reaction as she first caught her breath and then released it in a slow sigh. He watched through tired eyes as the baby finally latched on.
And at last, after a bit of awkward shifting and adjusting, his Miss Granger relaxed in his arms, her weight and warmth a comfort and completion, a joining of two jagged edges now complete.
"I'm not like Molly or even my mum," she said in a small voice. "I don't know what I'm doing, not at all."
He snorted. "I agree, you're totally unfit for this, you who have never encountered a small, defenceless thing you didn't want to clutch to your bosom and protect."
"But what if I do something wrong? What if I hurt her?"
"She's clearly a horrid babe, or she wouldn't have been sent to such perfectly horrid parents. And I'm sure she'll be horrid enough to survive us."
"Well, then," she snorted. "If that's the case."
And finally, her fatigue seemed to catch up with her, because when the baby—Gussie, he thought with another wince—squirmed in her arms, she didn't seem to notice, nor did she seem to notice as he tucked the shirt back over her exposed breast, nor did she seem to notice the arrival of a fat, orange cat at the foot of their bed, staring suspiciously at the new being, then gracefully turning his back to them and curling into a ball.
But when a shaggy, grey head popped over the edge of the bed and started noisily sniffing, she reached for it and gave the miserable beast a half-hearted scratching behind his ears. Then he, too, dropped into a satisfied plop and curled up on the floor.
"Do you remember," she asked dreamily, "what Terry Boot said at the Sorting Feast?"
"I believe I've had other things on my mind."
"The blissful union of Gryffindor courage and Slytherin cunning makes any Ravenclaw worthy of the name quake in our boots," she repeated. "Such a combination could easily control the wizarding world." She smirked up at him proudly. "She's already inciting the house-elves to rebellion."
At his confused expression she continued, "Honestly, Severus, have you ever witnessed a house-elf shouting at a witch or wizard before?"
"Hogwarts has been waiting for her?" he said ominously.
"Surely that's just Winky… extrapolating."
"Surely," he agreed.
"The blissful union," she whispered, offering her finger to be clutched by the tiny hand, and gazing in wonder at the large, blinking eyes that now revealed themselves to be, if not black, the darkest blue he'd ever seen. And again, as if tasting the words on her lips, "The blissful union…"
The plump red lips—so this was what a rosebud mouth looked like, and was he to simply give his life over to roses?—opened and stretched into a quivering oval—
"Professor! She—she yawned!" And her laughter filling the air around them, her pure delight at that simplest of actions, rivalled his as he stared into those eyes and felt like he could see eternity….
And he realized with the sharpness of pain and the bliss of recognition that what he felt, what he fucking felt so deep it came from the depths of his soul and beyond, was a connection to this tiny, newborn witch unlike anything he'd ever felt before.
He was a father.
This was what it felt like.
To be a father.
And he knew in that moment that nobody had ever felt this way about him.
That no man had ever felt this awe, this emotion, about his own wretched existence.
That in truth, he'd never had a father at all.
And relief poured through him, liquid and silver.
He wasn't the sum of what had come before him.
He was the sum of the gifts his darling girl, his insufferable bride, his incredible Miss Granger had bestowed upon him by the armful and heart-full and soul-full ever since she'd exploded into his life, and taken all that was Dark—
And turned it bright.
She was his goddess, and he wasn't choking on tears, he fucking wasn't—
As he felt his soul swell beyond his capacity to hold it all in, and wrapped his arms around her and gazed at her, and the magical creature in her arms.
"Miss Granger…" he breathed. "Look what you've done…."