This is the third of my series of stories about Severus Snape's life post-war. It isn't necessary, however, to read the first two in order to enjoy this one. The order goes as following: "Master of Potions", "Under a False Name", "The Headmaster's Children", "The Three Houses", "Full Circle". The premise is largely very much canon-compliant, except that Severus does not die at the end of DH, but instead, is saved by Harry at the last moment. In the year following the war, Severus Snape is made Deputy Headmaster and goes on teaching Defence Against the Dark Arts, while the Potions vacancy is filled by the young and charming Celena Costello, who soon finds herself at loggerheads with Snape. This, however, does not prevent their falling in love, marrying, and having three children.

This story is set, but for the prologue, in the year which begins with the last chapter of DH ("Nineteen years later").

Dusk was just setting over a balmy April evening when Severus Snape's steps crunched over the gravel path leading to his front door. Suddenly, he stopped and frowned. The door was open, and it looked as though half the furniture had been taken out. Through the door, he could see a maze of more furniture and cardboard boxes.

The cheerful voices of Fiona and Anna playing hide-and-seek somewhere between the boxes excluded the possibility of something sinister, but even so, he didn't recall they were supposed to be moving house. They did, after all, buy this cozy cottage in Hogsmeade not long ago, after Anna's birth.

He wiped his feet on the doormat, stepped inside and cleared his throat. He could hear bustle in the kitchen. "Tergeo!" said Celena's voice, and then it sounded as though the oven door was banged closed. "Dear?" she called. "Oh, there you are, Severus," she smiled, coming towards him, wearing a large apron, wand in hand.

"What have you been doing?" asked Severus, puzzled.

"Spring cleaning," Celena explained enthusiastically. He should have known. The coincidence of spring with his wife's ninth month of pregnancy had sent her into a flurry of nesting such as he had never witnessed before. During the past week, she has been re-organizing cabinets, hanging new curtains, and cleaning out all nooks and crannies. But he had never yet seen the house turned upside down the way it was now.

"It seems you have been over-exerting yourself," he remarked with concern, observing her flushed face.

"Tergeo does not work on everything," she explained, "I have had to contribute, you know, some manual effort."

"Well, I think you should take a break now," he said firmly. "Tell me what to do and I'll lend you a hand."

"I would be ever so grateful if you give the girls a bath and tuck them in," said Celena, "they have had their dinner already. I'll just clear some space on the dining room table in the meantime, and we can eat as well."

It was never an easy task to get five-year-old Fiona and three-year-old Anna to bathe without causing a flood in the bathroom, nor to make them wriggle into their pajamas at bedtime, and least of all to get them to actually sleep, but luckily for Severus, both girls were thoroughly fagged by the time they were bathed and dressed, and the three of them sat in a row on Fiona's bed in the children's bedroom.

"Tell the story of Babbity Rabbity, Daddy," asked Anna, lifting her blue guileless eyes to him. Fiona's eyes were the same color, but their expression, serious and penetrating, was reminiscent of Severus's, and she had his raven-black hair and stark features. Anna was a child of sweet disposition, and loved playing with the pink and frilly garments she had managed to filch out of her mother's wardrobe; Fiona preferred taking her father's potion-making kits and questioning him explicitly about their contents, displaying most unusually quick perception.

"No, not stupid Babbity Rabbity again, tell us the tale of the three brothers, Dad."

"Babbity Rabbity is not stupid - " protested Anna.

"Enough, or I am leaving this moment," he said firmly. "Listen. Once upon a time, three brothers traveled down a winding road by twilight..."

Soon enough, they were asleep, and he proceeded to the dining room, where the table, amidst all the mess of upturned cabinets and piled cleaning rags, was prettily set for two, with a large dish of pasta and meatballs, a bottle of wine, and a pitcher of orange juice. Celena had taken off her apron, let her hair fall loose, and was looking as lovely as ever, despite the fact that her belly seemed to be, if possible, even larger than it was in the morning. Then again, to him she could never look different. The extra exercise of the day had only added brilliance to her complexion, and she seemed full of energy despite the late hour.

"How is it going for you in the shop?" asked Severus as his wife loaded a steaming pile of pasta and spiced meatball sauce onto his plate.

"Oh, things are running better than ever since cousin Clemence joined in," Celena replied cheerfully, pouring some wine for her husband and orange juice for herself. "She is such a talented manager that all I need to do is pop in for an hour every day. She will be getting a pay rise soon. And Ginny was here today, she brought James with her; he and the girls had a grand time playing together."

"She should be pretty far along too by now, isn't she?"

"Yes, though she's not quite as big as I am yet. She is due in June. I told her she and Harry are invited to Saturday night dinner, provided things don't get moving," she placed a hand on her belly.

"You don't have to put yourself to trouble, Celena. Dinner parties can wait."

"It's not a party, dear. It's only Harry and Ginny; they are never trouble, and we didn't have them over for nearly a month now. Oh, and I got an owl from Witch Weekly, reminding me that I promised them a column about my skin care potions. They are suggesting we make this regular - my own column of beauty tips for witches and such, you know."

"Would you have time for this? You have your hands full with the girls, the shop, the house..."

"I know," sighed Celena, "one shouldn't bite off more than one can chew. But how was your day, dear? Exam time is approaching, isn't it? You must have been busy."

"Didn't imagine I would be able to get away before dinner. I'm glad I made the effort to, though. If I hadn't, most likely you'd still be moving boxes and furniture," he chided her gently.

"You think I took this a tad too far, don't you?" she smiled. "You know I'm always getting carried away when it comes to spring cleaning. It's just so satisfying, you know, to clear away all the accumulated dirt and cobwebs, to open the windows wide after a long winter and let fresh clean air pour in."

"That's what you did for me," said Severus all of a sudden, fixing her with that gaze of earnest tenderness she alone knew. "You cleared away the cobwebs of my soul, and opened the windows so I'd be able to look out and see that life is still beautiful."

He took hold of her hand, and Celena blinked away unexpected tears. "Oh, Sev," she said softly. "Life has been kind to us, hasn't it? The past six years have been the happiest in my life."

Yes, he thought. He and Celena met almost seven years ago; had he thought, back then, that life had better things in store for him than prowling the dungeons of Hogwarts, being the nightmare of every student and lamenting the past that can never be undone? Had he imagined that several years hence, he would be telling bedtime stories to his children?

Later, when they went to bed, Celena took his hand and placed it on her belly. He could feel the life inside, the gentle movements of the child almost ready to enter this world. "It's a boy," his wife said dreamily.

"How do you know?" he asked, surprised.

"Just a feeling," she replied, "you would like a boy, now that we have two girls, wouldn't you?"

"It makes not the least difference to me," he said, more sincerely than most husbands would in his situation.

He hadn't even noticed how he drifted off to sleep, but close to one o'clock in the morning, he woke abruptly and saw, by a flickering light of a single candle, his wife pacing back and forth, from the window to the dressing bureau. He sat bolt upright. "What is the matter?" he asked. "Is it - do you - "

"Don't get all worked up, Severus," Celena said reassuringly. "I'm having a - a little cramping, but I've been having this on and off for the past few weeks, there's no knowing it's the real thing this time."

"Do you want me to send a message to the midwitch?" he asked.

"No, no need to. It's the dead of night, Amelia will be sleeping. I'll wait a little longer and see how things are developing. You go back to sleep."

"I don't think I could," he said, sitting up. "Can I do anything for you? Do you want anything? A snack, a drink?"

"I'll be glad for a glass of orange juice," conceded Celena, and he, glad of something to do, went downstairs and poured the juice for her into a tall glass, adding a few cubes of ice for good measure. He didn't think he lingered for more than five minutes, yet when he came back, his wife looked flushed even by the weak candlelight, and he could see perspiration beading on her face. Calm down, he told himself, you have been through this before.

"I am going to call Amelia," he said. Celena nodded, apparently unable to speak. He was already halfway downstairs on his way to the fireplace when he heard his wife's strained voice behind him. "Severus?"

"Yes?" he turned abruptly. She was holding her belly, doubled up, and for a moment, looked almost unable to speak.

"Could you fill me a warm bath? It made me so much more comfortable last time," she breathed out.

"A bath - yes. Of course." He hurried to their bathroom, opened the tap and wiped the sweat that had sprung up unexpectedly on his brow. After a minute, the bath was filled with warm water, and Celena sank gratefully into it, while he bounded downstairs.

He had just finished a hurried conversation with the midwitch through the Floo network, and made her promise to be dressed and on her way in five minutes, when he heard Celena's voice calling his name again, this time more urgently. He wasted no time; she was on all fours, gripping the edge of the bathtub, and her face was contorted with pain as she turned towards him.

"I just spoke to Amelia, she's on her way," he assured her.

"You were right," Celena panted, "we should have called her earlier - I - oh, Severus, I won't be able to hold on!"

"What do you mean?" there was a trace of panic in his voice now.

"I'm going to have this baby now!" she said shrilly, through gritted teeth.

"What - no. No, dear, she will be here in five minutes, she said, I - "

"You must - help - me," she caught his hand and held it so forcefully her nails left gouge marks. "It's coming, I'm going to push!"

Don't, please don't, he thought or maybe even said, but the ridiculousness of it was lost in the primal cry that escaped the lips of his wife; a scream of the most powerful sensation in the world, more pressure than pain, and something appeared between her thighs - and without thinking, without knowing what he was actually doing, he reached out and caught the first movement of his son's new life.

Precisely at that moment, Amelia's voice could be heard calling from downstairs. She arrived just in time to cut the umbilical cord.

An hour later, Celena was already resting in their bed, propped up on pillows and holding the babe that had fallen asleep at her breast. "You should have called me earlier," reproached Amelia, before heading off to Vanish the bathroom mess. "But I must say, Severus handled this quite admirably," she added with an arch smile.

"You were brilliant, Severus," agreed Celena with a weak smile when they were left alone. He was about to protest, as he had not really done anything, but all words were stuck in his throat as she handed the baby to him. "I told you it would be a boy," she added softly.

The baby boy had his black hair and, as far as could be surmised so soon, a great measure of his features. The experience of two previous births was nothing to prepare him to the eternal miracle of life, precious, gentle life that was deposited in his hands. Overwhelmed with emotion, he felt he could look at his son forever.

"How shall we call him?" asked Celena.

"Oh," he had not thought of that, "anything you choose is fine with me."

"I got to choose the first two times. Now is your turn."

He looked at the babe's face intently, lost in contemplation. "Septimus," he said finally, "I've always been partial to this name."

"Septimus Severus," Celena gave an approving nod, "it sounds well."