Hello again! Sorry it has taken so long for me to get this chapter up. The holidays were insane and I have been dealing with some personal issues in the past week. But, hey, it's up now and I think you all are going to like it. One thing to note is that I have changed the rating of this story due to some...anatomical conversation in this chapter. I just did it to be safe, really, there's nothing graphic.
To all those who continue to read and review, you are the loves of my life.
To 1066AndAllThat, you get to be that fly on the wall, I suppose. ;-)
The Tribulations and Tranquility of Travel
Chapter 3: Birds and Bees and Dragons
For Severus to say that Zoe had been an absolute angel for the duration of their trip to Ventnor would have been a lie. She hadn't been an uncontrollable terror or ill-behaved, by any means—she knew far better than that—but she had been…troublesome.
The day after her unfortunate foray into deliberate disobedience and, thus, the raging waters of the English Channel, found her sitting quietly in a conjured little desk under an outcropping of dark rock, shaded from the sun, with her bare toes in the sand, and situated as far from the water as Severus could possibly get her.
It had turned out that the traces of moss he had found on the previous day led him to the overhang where he had been surprised to discover enough of the shade-loving flora to brew all the potions he'd been commissioned for and then some.
As he carefully and tediously collected and stored the moss, Zoe worked on the sums he had given her and practiced writing with a calligraphy pen—imitating the letters and numbers he had written out for her. Severus hoped to get her writing with an actual quill soon, but in the meantime, the self-refilling, training pen would do.
However, after nearly three hours of morning schoolwork with no complaint, Severus told Zoe she could put it all away and the two of them sat down on a conjured blanket in the sand to have lunch from the picnic basket he'd packed that morning. Severus leaned his back against a rock while Zoe situated herself onto her belly to eat her sandwich and crisps, her legs bent at the knee as she swung her feet back and forth through the air.
"You make the best roast beef, Papa," Zoe said, happily munching a corner of her sandwich.
Severus inclined his head, rather amused. "Thank you. Though, I shall have to disappoint you, for I merely paid for the roast beef, I did not make it."
Zoe seemed to mull that over for a moment and then shrugged. Severus smirked.
After lunch, he had allowed her to stand by him as he continued to work. He had shown her the moss and explained to her the significance of it in various potions. She had been curious for a minute or two, but Severus knew that she had grown rather bored of it when she started asking a plethora of different questions—none of them having anything to do with the cultivation of moss. He had been patient with her and continued his work while trying to answer them to the best of his ability but, eventually, Zoe grew bored with him altogether and began wandering and exploring the sandy, rocky area under the rock face. She had been very good about staying in the shade of the overhang, as he had instructed, though Severus made sure that he kept one eye on her at all times.
It was nearly two in the afternoon when it occurred to him that the girl had grown silent. Having come to learn that such an occurrence often meant that a young child was up to something, he looked up from where he was magically sealing moss into sterile containers.
Zoe was straight across from him to his left, crouched down and poking at the sand with her fingers. She appeared to be digging quite inquisitively and with a surprising amount of care. Severus watched her as she dug her little hands into the sand and combed her fingers back slowly, allowing the sand to fall back smoothly and naturally. This was odd to Severus for he'd watched her for a time attempt to build a sandcastle the previous day and the girl had hurriedly flung sand every which way then. Now, her movements were gentle. Precise, even.
She paused and reached out, poking at something. She crouched down further to inspect the object then she picked it up and brought it to her face. After a moment, she flung the thing away from her with a somewhat disappointed expression and went back to digging.
Severus was most definitely intrigued by his daughter now. It seemed obvious that something had piqued her interest and that she was searching for something more. The question was, what?
He tried to focus back on his work—he was very nearly finished, after all—but his eyes kept straying to the little girl across from him.
When he had finally sealed the last container several minutes later, he looked up and was surprised to see that Zoe was now sitting in the sand rather than crouching, but was in the exact same place as before. She was also still precisely moving the sand around in her search.
He narrowed his eyes. For a child who could hardly keep still long enough to finish a meal, she had remained incredibly focused for quite some time.
Severus approached her slowly, observing her actions. She didn't seem to notice him until his boots entered her line of vision. Even then, she only looked up at him briefly.
"Hi, Papa," she said indifferently before going back to her digging.
"Hello. What are you doing?"
"Digging in the sand."
Severus rolled his eyes, annoyed with himself for continuing to forget that children this young were very literal.
"Yes, I see," he stated calmly. "I was curious as to why you are digging in the sand."
"I'm looking for dragon eggs," she said, still looking down.
Severus raised his eyebrows and then furrowed them.
"What makes you believe you're going to find a dragon egg in the sand?" he asked.
Zoe looked up at him then. "I already found some," she said.
Zoe nodded, smiling.
"May I enquire as to where you found a dragon egg?"
Severus was suddenly worried. Although he knew inherently that the possibility of Zoe finding a dragon egg in the sand outside Ventnor on the Isle of Wight was slim, he couldn't help but be curious. Just because it was unlikely didn't mean it was a complete impossibility.
"Not a dragon egg, Papa," Zoe corrected, obviously affronted by her father's assumption. "Lots of dragon eggs."
Now Severus was just confused. Dragons didn't typically lay large clutches of eggs—one or two, usually, if he remembered his Care of Magical Creatures lessons correctly. He supposed Zoe's idea of "lots" could be somewhat skewed… She was only six years old, after all, and she did tend to exaggerate, as children are wont to do.
"Could you show me the dragon eggs?"
Zoe had gone back to her digging, but she froze then and looked up at him with sternness in her features—something he rarely saw.
"Can you keep 'em secret?" she asked in a rather scathing, skeptical tone that Severus was certain would land her in quite a bit of trouble if she were to use it in about ten years.
At her current age, he allowed it to go unchecked, however, but gave her a stern eyebrow raise, glaring back at her with a similar intensity to her own.
"Yes," he said. Unless they are truly dragon eggs, for I am legally obligated to report them to the Ministry, he added in his head.
Zoe perked up immediately and grinned, happy to have a partner to share her discovery.
"Okay," she said and waved to him to follow her.
She crawled on her hands and knees through the sand while Severus followed behind on foot. He had barely finished his thought that Zoe was going to return to Spinner's End with the filthiest clothes he'd seen yet, when the girl stopped abruptly. Severus, in fact, very nearly stumbled over her. Biting back a sharp scold, he watched as she moved around an indention in the visible surface of the sand.
He took another step forward and followed her eyes downward into the hole that revealed a clutch of small, perfectly round, white eggs. There had to have been two dozen of them at least, though there were many that were half buried in the sandy pit, so it was very possible that many more were buried beneath the surface.
Zoe reached out a hand and delicately wiped some sand away from one egg. She then looked up at him with a look of wonderment on her face.
"See, Papa. Lots of dragon eggs."
Severus couldn't help but smirk, amused at her grandiose assumption of what animal the eggs belonged to. He crouched down then to get a better look.
"Yes, I see," he indulged the little girl. "There are, indeed, 'lots' of eggs. However, I do not believe they are dragon."
"They're not?" Zoe asked, somewhat crestfallen at the news, but with a different gleam of enthusiasm at the mystery of the discovery.
Severus shook his head. "No, I think these belong to a sea turtle."
Zoe's face lit up even more as she turned away from him to gaze down upon the eggs.
"I never seen a sea turtle," she said.
You've never seen a dragon either, Severus thought logically.
Zoe sat quietly staring down into the pit for several minutes while Severus watched his daughter's amazement eventually fade. She looked up at him then with inquisitiveness.
"There are little baby sea turtles in those eggs, right?" she asked. The way she asked it, however, gave Severus the impression that she was trying to confirm a bit of knowledge that she couldn't quite remember if she had learned.
Severus nodded. "Yes. The young will grow inside the eggs until it is time for them to hatch."
"Until it's time for them to be born."
Severus could see the cogs moving behind Zoe's eyes as she took in the information.
"Where is the baby sea turtles' mummy and papa?"
"They are in the sea," Severus said simply.
Zoe nodded and looked out at the waves several meters away. Severus saw her wrinkle her brow.
"But… don't the mummy and papa want to see the babies when they are born?" she asked, continuing to look out into the Channel.
Severus also turned his gaze toward the water.
"It is not their way," he responded. "When the young turtles hatch, they will find their way to the sea by instinct."
He deliberately left out that predators on the beach would likely eat many of the tiny creatures before they ever reached the water, while some may never make it out of the pit, having never hatched. She already seemed quite troubled by the idea that the adult sea turtles wouldn't be there to see their young; it was probably best not to traumatize the girl by imparting the unpleasant facts of some of the reptiles' bleak futures.
There was an extended moment of silence except for the sound of the waves before Zoe turned and looked down at the eggs once more.
"My mummy went away, too," she said to them almost in a whisper, as if it was a secret. "But don't worry, your Papa will take care of you, just like my Papa takes care of me."
She was so resolved and sincere in her statement and Severus was so thrown off by it, yet touched, that he didn't have the heart to correct her—to tell her that the male sea turtle was even more unlikely to find this beach and care for its young.
Severus focused his attention back on his daughter.
"Do people come out of eggs too?"
Severus's eyes widened briefly before he managed to compose himself.
"Where do people babies come from?"
Severus opened his mouth to respond then closed it as a number of thoughts entered his mind. Was this conversation really heading in that direction? Was Zoe even old enough to wonder about or learn the intricacies of human reproduction?
If she's old enough to be curious, then she's old enough to be told the truth. That voice in his head sounded oddly like Minerva.
What was he supposed to say? The thought of explaining sex and procreation had not once entered into his mind, much less the thought that he'd have to try to make a six-year-old comprehend the process in terms she could understand.
Of course, Severus had given sex talks before. As the Head of Slytherin House, occasions had sometimes arisen where he'd had to sit an adolescent boy down and caution them on promiscuity. It came with the territory. From time to time, he'd even had to explain the physical changes of puberty and adolescence to a younger student—but always to boys. Girls, of course, were referred to Madam Pomfrey immediately at the slightest indication that an uncomfortable conversation was forthcoming.
Severus couldn't send his daughter to the mediwitch, however. Zoe was curious now, here.
She has a godmother for a reason, he thought as he attempted to convince himself that he'd subconsciously made the decision for Zoe to have a godmother for these very instances.
No, she's your child. It is your responsibility to explain. That was Minerva's voice again. Damn the meddling old witch. Even when she wasn't here, she was ever present and always seemed to be right.
He looked back at his daughter who was watching him curiously, waiting for an explanation. He took a deep breath.
"Human children are born… differently," he began explaining, very uncomfortably. "They come from their mothers."
Zoe nodded. "I know that, Papa. They're in the mummy's tummy but, how are they born?"
Severus was a bit relieved that she understood that small aspect of pregnancy at the very least. However, how was a rather broad question in Severus's opinion.
"What do you mean, 'how'?" he asked, convincing himself that it was a legitimate question and not a stall on his part.
"I mean, how does a mummy have a baby?"
Severus sighed heavily. Actually resigning himself to the conversation.
"The child grows inside a mother's womb for many months and when it is time for the child to be born, it is."
Zoe still looked confused.
"'Womb' is another word for the mother's 'tummy', as you say," he amended and the girl nodded her head in understanding.
Zoe bit her lip and wrinkled her brow. Severus watched her cautiously, curious if that was the end of her questions on the subject. Personally, he thought his explanation was rather broad and, knowing his inquisitive daughter, she was unlikely to let it rest at that.
She looked up at him after several moments.
"But how does the baby get out of the mummy's tummy?"
Severus sighed heavily and decided to situate himself into a sitting position as well, leaning his back against a rock jutting up out of the sand. It looked like he was going to be here for a while in order to explain this.
"When it is time for a child to be born," he began slowly, choosing his words carefully, "the mother goes into a state called labor, which makes the muscles in her abdomen start to squeeze and work the infant out of the birth canal." Here he put a hand to his own abdomen so that she would understand the vocabulary.
Zoe was riveted to his explanation. She even crawled around the pit of sea turtle eggs and across the sand to sit a little closer to him, her legs crossed and her eyes bright with curiosity.
"But how does the baby get out? Is it magic?" Zoe's brow was furrowed and Severus could tell that she would be perfectly willing to accept that the baby vacated the mother's body through the use of magic if he were to tell her that. However, that wasn't how it was and he was unwilling to allow her to assume—even for a short time—that it was.
"No. It is not magic, exactly. A magical child is born in the same manner as a Muggle child; it is a much more biological process."
Zoe nodded her head and watched him, waiting for the explanation, but Severus had to pause. He inhaled deeply.
"There is…an opening…er, on the mother's body," he said awkwardly, looking away from his daughter's inquiring eyes. That was eloquent, he thought sardonically. Why was he so bloody embarrassed to explain this to her? She was a child and she was asking a perfectly valid question. There was no reason for him to be so apprehensive. "It's called the… vagina… the opening, that is," he continued. "…and it expands to allow the baby to leave the mother's womb."
He shifted his eyes back to his daughter to gauge her reaction to his explanation. Would she finally relieve him of this uncomfortable conversation or would she be even more curious?
She was staring at him with a contemplative frown on her face.
"Do all mummies have the vagina?" she asked.
Curiosity would reign, apparently.
"Yes, all girls do," Severus said simply and the little girl nodded and looked away.
When Zoe started to play with the sand a bit, Severus released a breath he didn't realize he had been holding. It seemed she was content to move on for the time being.
However, as Severus started to rise out of the sand with the intention of gathering the moss containers and heading back toward the cottage, Zoe looked up at him with that curious look in her eye and he paused, just as Zoe expounded her question.
"Papa, how does the baby get into the mummy's tummy?"
He immediately collapsed back down into the sand and brought a hand up to rub his forehead, his eyes closed. He knew this question would come; he should have steeled himself better for it. Running his hand up over his forehead and through his hair, he opened his eyes and settled his gaze back onto his six-year-old.
The look on her face seemed somewhat concerned and she was obviously confused by his reaction to her question.
Be a man and tell your daughter what she wants to know, Severus, he told himself. It will only get harder to explain the longer you wait and the older she gets.
Suddenly overwhelmed with the desire for Elizabeth to be here to at least assist him in this explanation, Severus took another fortifying inhale of air and addressed his child.
"The male—the father—places the child into the mother, in a sense, by fertilizing her eggs with his sperm… Er, you see, it takes both parents to create a baby, with each one contributing to the genetic code of the child with the sperm and the egg—"
"So people babies do come from eggs?" Zoe interrupted.
Severus tilted his head to the side, considering this.
"Well, yes, technically, but not in the same way that the sea turtles do. Human children are born live from their mothers and do not hatch from the eggs. That is merely the starting point of their gestation… er, of their growth in the womb."
That had gotten a bit easier as he went along, he supposed. It was merely a balance of being scientific and, yet, explaining it all simply. Zoe nodded her head. She seemed to be understanding, yet Severus couldn't decide if that was a good thing or not. He rather relished the innocence of his little girl—it was much less complicated that way.
"How?" Zoe suddenly asked.
How. Severus had never felt so much resentment toward any one word in his life.
"How?" he asked.
"How does the papa put the baby in the mummy?"
You know bloody well what she was asking. Stop delaying.
Once again, Severus found himself opening his mouth to begin an explanation, but then closing it as he realized that he didn't know exactly what to say. On the one hand, he thought that if he just stated exactly what caused pregnancy by incorporating all of the technical terms, perhaps she would be so confused that she would just drop the subject. Then he had to remind himself that she was an inquisitive child—his child—and that she was likely to ask for a definition or more clarification for every single word or situation she didn't understand. That would not only prolong the overall explanation, but would also make him more uncomfortable than he already was.
Oh, bugger it. Just tell her.
"Copulation," he said lowly, averting his eyes from his daughter.
"It is what is required to create a child."
Zoe continued to furrow her brow and Severus suddenly realized that there could be so much more to this explanation than the simple mechanics of it all. There were also the emotional aspects to take into account.
Yes, people most certainly had emotionally detached sex and that sometimes led to pregnancy, but he didn't feel Zoe was old enough for that particular conversation just yet. However, he had no intention of spouting off the "when a mummy and daddy really love one another" scenario either. After all, Zoe had been conceived out of wedlock and he couldn't even be sure that it had been love that had brought him and Elizabeth together. It most certainly hadn't been a fling but, to this day, he was still uncertain as to how to categorize the relationship they had had.
At the time, Elizabeth had ignited something in him; she'd introduced him to the advantages of impulse and shown him what it was like to live, rather than merely exist, in a world where his primary purpose had ceased. She had died much too young, but she had left with him a gift—a new purpose—in the form of a blue-eyed, brown-haired little girl with freckles on her nose.
He had seemed to be just what Elizabeth needed as well. Her prior relationships had been neglectful and caustic, from what little information she had imparted to him during their short acquaintance. Severus had been something stable in her life, he supposed. They had bantered well and they had seemed to heal each other.
Until it all ended, of course.
Elizabeth, eventually frustrated by Severus's secrecy and ultimate inability to trust her with his heart, had thrown a house slipper at his head during that last argument and told him she never wanted to see him again. Severus, in all his snarky glory, had been unwilling to admit to his portion of the fault; he'd grown spiteful and reentered the wizarding world, determined to forget the six-month-long personal experiment that Elizabeth Agnew had represented.
If he hadn't gone, perhaps he would have been there to help the woman. Perhaps he would have been there to see his child come into the world…
"Papa, what is copoolmation?"
Zoe's adamantly asked question rocked Severus out of his musings and brought him back into their conversation with a renewed sense of dread. How was he to explain to his daughter about her mother? He'd never really thought about it before. Surely, Zoe would ask eventually and he was rather curious as to why she hadn't already. What was he to say? He wasn't even entirely sure that Zoe knew about or understood the idea of marriage. Would she be upset if he were to tell her that she was an illegitimate child born from two parents who were never entirely sure where their feelings toward each other were headed? Would she resent that she had been unplanned—an accident, in essence?
A beautiful, happy accident, he thought.
He shook his head. She hasn't asked anything about her own conception or her mother and she has no basis of judgment toward being a bastard or otherwise. Answer her bloody question and you can cross other bridges when you come to them.
He steeled himself as much as he could and started to talk.
"Copulation, or sex, is an act that takes place between two people—"
"A mummy and a papa," Zoe confirmed.
Well, not necessarily…
Severus inclined his head slightly in agreement—perfectly content to let her assume that much at her current maturity level.
"You see," he continued, "Males… men and boys have an— an organ… outside of their body. It is called the penis and, in order to conceive a child, it must be…" He paused, thinking of the right phrasing. Nothing he thought of seemed remotely right or appropriate, however. "…inserted into a female's vagina."
He winced for some reason then shook his head, trying to clear his unease with the conversation.
"You mean the opening where the baby comes out?"
Zoe nodded and thought for a second before she lifted her shirt to expose her belly. She looked down at it for a moment then looked back up at him with a furrowed brow.
"Is this a vagina, Papa?"
Severus's eyes grew wide and he suddenly had to stifle the urge to laugh aloud. Her naiveté was so pronounced at this age and here he was, ruining that. He shook his head.
"Zoe, you know very well that that is your belly button."
"Oh, right," Zoe said, lowering her shirt. She seemed uncertain.
Severus took a deep breath and continued talking.
"Both the vagina and the penis are situated between the legs on the respective person," he said, feeling like he needed to clarify that.
Zoe thought for a moment as understanding dawned on her. She seemed to wrinkle up her face in mild disgust. "But I use that to use the loo," she stated.
"Yes, you do. But it is essentially the same body part that is used to produce a child."
He figured she would learn of the differences in the internal organs later.
Zoe nodded slowly and looked away from him. Severus couldn't tell if she was confused or if she was, in fact, disgusted by what he had told her. He tried to think back on sex talks he'd given before. Those children had been considerably older and there hadn't been any need for the anatomy lesson with them. They had been fully aware of the parts involved and any discomfort or embarrassment had come from the mental image of the act itself and the fact that they were discussing it with their feared professor and Head of House.
This was a different experience for him, however. Zoe seemed to be trying to wrap her brain around it all and Severus could see in her eyes that she was trying to understand. Eventually, she looked up at him again.
"So, the papa has the penis and the mummy has the vagina?" She was trying to clarify everything now, Severus imagined.
Zoe again nodded slowly.
"So… you and mummy did… that… so that I would be born?"
Why did he feel guilty all of a sudden? He had played his part in bringing her into this world and it was a perfectly natural thing, so why was he so uneasy about it now? He imagined it had something to do with how Zoe was looking at him. There was a look of confusion mingled with something that Severus could only describe as utter revulsion. He didn't like that look upon his child's face—not when it was directed at him.
"And you only did copoolmation so that I could be born, right?"
Severus opened his mouth dumbly. Damn. How as he to answer that?
You won't. Not truthfully, anyway. Not yet.
She would understand about the pleasurable aspects of sex with time. Merlin, help him.
And Minerva is bloody well going to take part in that conversation when the time comes, he thought rather scathingly, resolutely.
"Yes, absolutely. Just to have you."
"Okay," Zoe said, relief evident in her tone. That seemed to ease his guilt for telling his child a bald-faced lie.
The two of them sat quietly for several minutes. Severus looked out upon the beach, chancing glances at his daughter from time to time out of the corner of his eye in an effort to gauge her reaction or thoughts on the subject they had just discussed. Zoe absentmindedly pushed around sand with her hands as a cool breeze blew her hair about her face and neck. Eventually, she looked up at him with those inquiring eyes once again and Severus inhaled sharply, readying himself for more discomfort.
"Papa, can we go back to the cottage now?" she asked, shivering and crawling toward him. She made herself comfortable beside him, leaning into his side. Severus looped an arm around her. "I'm cold."
"Certainly," he said, pulling out his wand and heaving a sigh of relief.
He cast a mild warming charm around the little girl before pointing it toward the containers situated several feet away. He levitated them up out of the sand, shrunk them and placed them in the picnic basket they had brought along before levitating that to him. He stood, helping Zoe up as well and instructed her to put her shoes on. As she did that, he went about vanishing Zoe's desk and chair as well as the blanket they had used for lunch. He grabbed the picnic basket when Zoe had joined him and started to walk out from beneath the overhang of rock.
Zoe instantly took hold of his free hand and started skipping along as best as the sand beneath her feet would allow her. When she yawned next to him, Severus couldn't help but smile. So, their conversation had been just as draining on her as it had been on him.
"Do you fancy a walk into Ventnor this evening?" he asked.
Zoe looked up at him with excited eyes. "Oh, yes, Papa!"
He nodded. "After a short nap."
Her features instantly fell.
"I'm not sleepy," she defended, whining.
"Your yawn and tired eyes say otherwise. Just a short nap—for the both of us—then we'll go into Ventnor for dinner and some shopping."
"Okay, I guess so."
Zoe didn't like that she had to take a nap when she wasn't even tired, but since her Papa let her lay curled up on the big bed beside him instead of in the trundle bed she'd used the previous two nights, she thought she would be good and do as he asked without any fuss. She figured she could lie quietly while her Papa slept and then pretend like she had napped when he awoke later.
Therefore, she was thoroughly surprised when the soft sound of her Papa saying her name made her eyes flutter open. He was sitting on the bed looking down on her, his hand moving soothingly between her shoulder blades.
"I fell asleep!" she exclaimed, sitting up quickly and disengaging herself from the afghan her and her Papa had shared.
"Indeed, as I knew you would," he said. "But it is time to get up now or you will not sleep tonight."
Zoe had done just that, vaulting off the bed and making her way to the loo. When she had finished in there, she walked into the sitting room to find her father talking with Madam Adrienne and two other men she hadn't seen before.
Matthew was running about the space with a toy dragon and when he spotted her coming out of the bedroom, he approached her.
"Zoe! Look at the dragon my brother, Morgan, bought for me!" he said, holding it out to show her. Zoe merely nodded her head, relatively uninterested in the boy's toy as she walked to stand in front of her father. She leaned her back against his legs as Madam Adrienne leaned down to address her.
"Good afternoon, Zoe."
"Good afternoon, Madam Adrienne," Zoe said politely and she felt her father place a hand on the top of her head and pat it softly.
"These are my two eldest sons, Mark and Morgan," Madam Adrienne continued, standing upright once more and indicating to the men beside her. "I've just introduced them to your Papa. They've come to clean out a few boxes from the potions shed so the two of you can brew in there tomorrow."
Zoe nodded and turned her head to look up at her Papa. "Can I call them by their given names too, Papa?" she asked.
"I suppose. If they do not mind, of course."
Zoe nodded again and grew quiet as her father continued to chat. Eventually, she grew bored and walked to the sofa, where Matthew was still playing with his dragon. She stood beside it and leaned over the armrest and watched him, though he seemed pretty absorbed in his play. Suddenly, a thought and a question occurred to her and she blurted it out without preamble.
"Matthew, you're a boy, right?"
"Yeah," Matthew said, disinterested.
Zoe nodded in confirmation. "That means that you have a penis and that you have to put a baby in a mummy's tummy."
The adults stopped talking instantly and Matthew looked up at her with a perplexed look upon his face.
"Zoe," her father admonished in a hiss and, for the first time in her life, she saw a bit of pink appear high on his cheeks as he looked uncomfortably between her and their hosts.
"Mum?" Matthew seemed confused by the statement and Zoe didn't understand why it had grown so quiet.
Mark and Morgan Robertson were absolutely rolling with laughter and, as Matthew made his way to his mother, Zoe felt tears start to spring to her eyes. What had she said that was so funny?
"My apologies, Madam Robertson," she heard her father say uneasily. "Zoe found some sea turtle eggs on the beach today and her subsequent questions led to a rather in-depth conversation on human procreation. I imagine it is still fresh on her mind. We shall have to discuss what topics are appropriate for company, however, I think."
Madam Adrienne started to laugh then, too. "There's no need to apologize, Mr. Snape. She's done no harm aside from spawning curious questions from Matthew, no doubt. Questions I'm sure his brothers will be more than eager to assist in answering." She shot a stern look at the still-chuckling men and their laughing ceased instantly. They now looked as uncomfortable as Zoe's Papa did, but they fidgeted much more.
"Well, have a lovely evening in Ventnor, Mr. Snape," Madam Adrienne said, turning toward the back door of the cottage with her sons. "I would recommend The Spyglass for dinner. It's very good."
"Yes, thank you," her Papa said and, once the door had closed, he turned toward Zoe, his features a bit exasperated as he rubbed at his forehead.
Zoe looked up at him through misty eyes before the overwhelming urge to be in her father's arms took hold of her. She sprinted to him, buried her face in the fabric of his shirt and sobbed without really knowing why. He reached down and held her to him with a hand between her shoulder blades, allowing her her cry. Eventually, though, he crouched down to be on a more even level with her.
"Why are you crying?" he asked.
"B-because they was laughing at me. I didn't m-mean to say anything bad, Papa. I promise."
Her father sighed. "Zoe, you didn't say anything bad. It's just that… the conversation we had today about creating children and… parts of the body… is not an appropriate topic to discuss with people you've only known for two days. Poor Matthew doesn't seem to be as educated as you now are on such things. I think you may have frightened him a little."
"I didn't mean it," Zoe said, her tears merely sniffles now.
"I know," her Papa said, conjuring a fresh handkerchief to wipe Zoe's face clean. "Also—and this is very important—making children is something that adults and only adults do. We will, undoubtedly, go much further into this conversation when you are older but, for now, do you understand?"
Zoe nodded. "Only grownups."
Her father gave his own curt nod as he stood.
"Are you ready to walk into the village now?" he asked once he'd vanished the dirty cloth.
Zoe nodded her head vigorously and her father moved to fetch their coats from the bedroom. As they left the house, Zoe took her father's hand for their walk into Ventnor.
The rest of their time in Ventnor seemed to rush by in Severus's opinion. Zoe had been exceptionally well behaved each time they had ventured into town, which pleased Severus immensely. He had taken her to the Botanical Gardens the previous day and watched her closely as she had walked around in the paddling pool beneath The Cascade on the esplanade. He had told her it was likely to be cold, but she hadn't seemed to mind as she pulled off her plimsolls and socks, rolled up her trouser legs and splashed into the water, giggling. He sat down on the bench of a picnic table as she ventured over the Isle of Wight-shaped island in the middle of the pool, pointing out Ventnor to him once she had found it.
Zoe had been quite keen to "help" him in brewing his potions in the shed as well. She was barely able to see over the top of the workbench, however, and Severus had lost much time in his actual brewing each time she had pointed to an ingredient and asked what it was and, subsequently, what it was for.
He did his best to be patient with her, assuring himself that she was genuinely curious and that she merely wanted to be a part of the process, but his patience wore thin when she had started dancing about the already cramped workspace and humming to herself. When she bumped into the back of his legs, he accidently poured a bit too much wall lizard blood into his Coagulating Concoction causing it to turn a sickening green color rather than the forest green it should have been at this stage.
He lost his temper.
"Sit. Down," he had spoken menacingly to her, pointing to a wooden crate across from him. Zoe's eyes had grown wide and she had instantly obeyed and remained quiet as he quickly recalculated ingredient proportions and saved the solution.
Over ten minutes later, the girl hadn't uttered a word and Severus turned to see her watching him, a look of dread on her face. At least she wasn't crying this time. He sighed heavily.
"This potion can be very finicky," he explained softly. "Proportions must be precise and when you jostled me, you caused me to put too much of one particular ingredient into the potion."
"Is it spoiled?" she asked, something akin to terror on her face.
Severus shook his head. "No. I have managed to save it."
Zoe nodded solemnly. "Do I have to go away now?" she asked, looking at her lap.
Severus's heart nearly sank. This transgression had been far milder than the beach incident and she assumed he would send her away for it? She hadn't really done anything wrong.
"No. You are not in trouble. I merely wanted you to understand that I was in need of some concentration for a few minutes. I would not send you away for something so small. Besides, we leave tomorrow."
Zoe had nodded again, but still acted like a chastised child. Severus rubbed his forehead and sighed.
"Come," he said suddenly. "We're going down to the beach."
Her mood change was instantaneous. A huge smile erupted on her face as her entire demeanor shifted from melancholy to gleeful. She vaulted off the crate and preceded him out the shed door, racing down the sandy path toward the sea.
"Wait!" Severus called out to her sternly and the girl froze, looking back at him sheepishly.
Severus quickly locked the door and followed his daughter's footprints in the sand. He allowed her to run ahead of him a bit, but made sure to keep a hawk's eye on her wandering.
A few yards from the wet, compacted sand, Zoe plopped her bottom down into the sand and started to peel off her shoes and socks. She looked up at him, squinting against the brightness of the sun as it temporarily peaked out from behind the grey clouds.
"Are you going to take off your shoes, Papa?" she asked.
Severus hadn't planned on it, but he imagined that, based on Zoe's previous disregard for the temperature of the water, that she would want to put her feet into the surf. He did not intend to let her go down there on her own, no matter how close she was to him; therefore, he supposed he could indulge her on their last day.
He sat down in the sand next to the six-year-old and began undoing the laces of his Muggle trainers. Apparently, he was being too slow for, as soon as he had gotten it untied, Zoe all but tackled his foot, wrestling the shoe off. It was a bit tighter than she had anticipated, however, and it took her several tugs before it came off. She lost her balance and fell back onto her bottom. A shocked expression took over her features for a split second before the girl erupted into peals of giggles. Severus couldn't help but smile at her antics as well.
Once they were both shoeless and the legs of their trousers rolled up, Zoe took Severus's hand and immediately tugged him down the beach toward the wet sand.
"Come on, Papa!" she implored.
He only allowed her to pull him so far before he made her stop and wait for the water to come to her. She giggled when the icy liquid cascaded over their exposed skin. Severus, on the other hand, had to bite back a colorful curse. It was too bloody cold for this.
Eventually, he grew used to the chill of the water and he and Zoe walked along the beach hand in hand. From time to time, Zoe would pick up a seashell or a rock and examine it closely. When she found one she liked, she would hold it down in the water to clean off as much sand as she could before standing up and tucking the shell into his trousers pocket. Why she couldn't put the cold, wet shells into her own pockets instead of weighing down and soaking his was beyond Severus, but he made no comment.
That night, he put a very exhilarated, but exhausted little girl to bed.
Severus now sat in an Adirondack on the observation deck to the side of the house, listening to the ever-moving waves and the stillness of the land. He sipped tea that was quickly growing cold in the cool night air. As a breeze fluttered his hair, he sat back and sighed, feeling thoroughly content with life. As he gazed up into the dark sky, he saw a star streak across the sky, then another. In fact, the longer he sat there, the more shooting stars he saw. He vaguely recalled reading about a comet shower in the almanac portion of the Daily Prophet that morning and, after seeing two more stars trace through the sky, he stood from the chair, resolved, and entered back into the cottage.
He slowly cracked open the door into the bedroom, allowing a small portion of light to spill onto the blankets of Zoe's trundle bed. The girl slept on her back with one arm tucked securely under the blankets and the other curled up beside her head. Her breathing was light and rhythmic as Severus leaned over her and started to lift her from the bed.
Zoe stirred sleepily, but remained almost entirely limp as her father heaved her up into his arms. She instantly turned her head to the side on his shoulder and continued to snooze as Severus reached for the now familiar afghan on the edge of the larger bed and draped it over his daughter, making sure to tuck her feet in. Then quietly, he made his way back out onto the observation platform.
When the cool breeze hit his daughter's face, she wrinkled up her nose and cracked her eyes open slightly.
"What time is it?" she mumbled drowsily.
"Late," Severus whispered. "Look. Shooting stars."
He pointed up into the sky just as a larger star streaked across it. Zoe's eyes burst open fully and she stared into the night sky, mesmerized. She didn't say a word until she had watched several stars fly through the black sky.
"This is a good present, Papa," she said and Severus knew that sleep was taking her once again.
He continued to stand against the rail, however, holding his sleeping child in his arms and vowing to return to this place at least once a year in order to give Zoe something to cherish—to give himself something to cherish.
As troublesome as his daughter had been on this trip, this very moment made up for everything. For her nearly frightening him out of his mind, for their embarrassing talk in the sand under the outcropping of rock and inappropriate question to Matthew Robertson and for her nearly making him botch his first potion in thirty years—he would suffer through all of it again to have this time with her.
He knew Zoe would whine and plead to stay longer once the morning came and, though he'd have to tell her that they must return to Spinner's End, though he'd have to be the rational one, the adult, he knew his heart would be silently offering up the same pleas.
So, the sex talk that Severus has with Zoe and her reactions to it all were inspired by a friend of mine's five-year-old son. She told me about having to explain everything to him and how her son had been so entirely disgusted that he wouldn't even look at her or her husband for the rest of the day.
Also, for those of you that have read my story, A Father's Right, you might recall Severus internalizing that explaining sex and child birth to Zoe when she had been six years old had been a very difficult thing for him. Now you see why. Of course, writing Severus bumbling through an uncomfortable conversation was almost equally tasking and uncomfortable for me. I hope you all enjoyed it, though! Have a nice day!