AN: We are winding down in this story now, and I think there will only be a handful of chapters left, plus an epilogue. I'm gunning for 50 chapters total, so we're nearly there now. It almost breaks my heart to say it, but there it is. I am so grateful for the reviews on the previous few chapters. I hope that all of you dear readers enjoy this next installment just as much.
*This chapter is dedicated to all the moms out there. First time moms, second time moms, adoptive moms, mom's of still born children who will be remembered for always, Grand moms, teen moms, mom-to-be, all women who wish to be a mom. And most of all, MY mom. I give you my deepest gratitude, my utmost devotion, and all the love in my heart for raising me, loving me, and putting up with me. You will never know how much it meant. "Love you more…."
Now, on with the show.
Chapter 46: Friends and Family
Ginny Potter knocked quietly upon the half open door of the nursery at the Snape's cottage, her knuckles just barely grazing the wood so as not to make too much noise. The serene voice from within bade her welcome and she entered, her eyes tearing up at the maternal scene before her.
"Oh, Hermione," she uttered softly, her voice barely a whisper, "she is so lovely. Congratulations again. I know we offered up our good wishes at the hospital wing, but I well remember how hectic and blurry those first few days can be. Both Harry and I are so happy for you and Severus." She moved in closer and sat on a small cushioned chair placed across from the cherry wood rocker that was currently occupied by Hermione and Felicity. It had been three weeks, and Felicity was already a month old. Ginny couldn't believe how quickly the time had passed. She well remembered how fast it went with her own three children, and she was grateful that she would be getting another chance to hold another baby of her own in her arms in a few months time.
Hermione smiled winsomely at her good friend, feeling blessed all around to have had such good fortune in her life as to have a girl friend with whom she could share her deepest and most heartfelt thoughts. "Thank you, Gin. You know Severus and I are eternally grateful. You've been with us every step of the way for all of our trials, tribulations…"
"And triumphs," Ginny interjected, reaching a hand to delicately fondle Felicity's tiny foot that had escaped the swaddle of her blanket. "Oh, she is so lovely, Hermione, and so like Severus! I don't think she's got any of you in her," Ginny commented, taking in the shock of blue black hair that stuck straight out from Felicity's small head at Hermione's breast.
Hermione laughed softly, switching Felicity to her other breast, cooing placatingly as the little one fussed for the brief moment of loss. "I think Severus himself is feeling just a bit too smug about that. But you are right, she does favor him immensely. She's going to be a heartbreaker, I fear. We'll be batting the boys away with a stick." Hermione grinned at her friend conspiratorially, "but I'm hoping that she's inherited my tenacity. Severus will wish she looked like me when she pesters him to no end with dozens of questions per minute."
"You were a bit of a know-it-all in school," Ginny giggled.
"And proud of it" Hermione exclaimed. "This know-it-all's brains won us a war, remember," the women laughed together, and then grew silent for a few minutes, both of them enjoying the peace and serenity of watching Felicity nurse contentedly for a while. It was Hermione who finally broke the silence.
"Thank you, by the way, for lending me that breast pump. I can't believe of all the things we forgot to purchase that that was one of them." She sighed, tracing a finger down Felicity's plump red cheek and frowned.
"Hermione, is everything all right?"
"Yes, everything is wonderful, really. I suppose," she faltered, "Well, Severus and I discussed this before Felicity was born. We don't actually know what we're doing here. When we got Henry, he was already two days old, drinking from a bottle. I'd not carried him for nine months, nor had I given birth."
Ginny nodded in understanding. "Instant parenthood."
"Exactly," Hermione nodded. "I suppose I'm feeling guilty that there are still things about this whole process that are completely new to me. I feel like a first time mom, even though I already have a child. And, there are so many practical things I feel like I was unprepared for," she sighed. " I knew that breast feeding would be a special and intimate time, and I am enjoying being able to feed my child naturally," she said, "but," she spoke with greater force, "WHY doesn't anyone warn you about sudden let-downs? And sore nipples! And why, Merlin, why does no one warn you that the first time you have a bowel movement after giving birth is probably the scariest thing in the entire world?"
Ginny laughed, and looked sympathetically at her friend. "Hermione, what you are feeling is completely normal. And not just from a first time mom either." She shook her head smiling ruefully. "Harry and I have done this three times. And you know what," she raised her brows, "It's different with each one. Having a baby doesn't come with instructions…not really. All those books are fine and dandy, but babies don't follow books. I was just as scared with my second and third as I was with my first. And I'm sure that if I were to have ten children, I'd still be terrified then! It's the same for all mom's Hermione. And yes, that first poo is rather terrifying." "Good to know I'm not alone," she replied. Then she smirked. "Ten children? Are you and Harry planning to outdo Molly and Arthur?"
"For heaven's sake no! This," she patted her belly resolutely, "is definitely it."
"Mmmm. Yes, that's what you said last time," Hermione grinned, shifting Felicity up to her shoulder. "No, darling, please don't fall asleep quite yet! Let's get a nice burp out of you and then we can put you down for a nap." She looked over at Ginny who was still rolling her eyes at Hermione's previous comment.
"Yes, well," the red head said wryly, "Life is full of little surprises, isn't it." She smiled widely then. "It just bloody well be a girl this time or I think I shall go stark raving mad."
Hermione laughed. "I hope that you get your wish. Ah! There we are, Felicity! That was a nice one." She paused to gently wipe Felicty's mouth with a rag. "Would you like to hold her?" Her arms offered the now sleeping baby, thoroughly exhausted from the difficult and taxing business of eating, her tiny pink mouth slack in a tiny moue, dark, delicate lashes resting against rosy, round cheeks.
Ginny grinned. "Of course!" And she took the babe with expert hands, cradling Felicity to her chest lovingly. "Im going to spoil you rotten, little one! That's what Aunt's are for!" She rocked Felicity gently for a few moments before she remembered something important. "Oh! I almost completely forgot! I have some great news!"
"What is it?" Hermione asked, as she righted her nursing top, making sure all the bits and pieces were back in their proper places.
"I have a message to you from a fellow red head," she smiled. "Ron flood yesterday to send along his congratulations. He said he was awfully sorry to have missed the big event, but would try to come for a visit today if you both are up for it! "
"Oh, that would be wonderful! I can't believe how long that business trip took him. I thought he'd only intended to be gone for two weeks?"
"I've no idea, and neither did Harry when I asked him, though he looked rather smug about something, which makes me think they're in league over some scheme."
"Hmmm, perhaps we shall fish it out of them both tonight. Anyway, Henry loves Ron, no surprise since he always stuffs him full of time did he say he'd be around?"
"I think he said he'd be over by dinner, so maybe six?"
"Lovely. Felicity will be sleeping by then, but he's certainly welcome to come. Henry will be over the moon for the one on one time." Hermione said. "I'm worried he's been feeling a bit neglected since we brought Felicity home, but he seems to be handling it all right. He's so sensitive sometimes, just like his father. Henry' talkative, but not very expressive about his feelings. So like Severus, the devil. I suppose I'll have to stick my fingers in that pot and inform him that we will be having an unexpected guest for supper."
"Oh dear, and I thought they'd mended their relationship so well."
Hermione laughed. "They have, but I think it reinforces Severus' feeling of superiority to pretend distaste," she shook her head tutting. "The pride that man has, I'll tell you."
"Speaking of pride," Ginny said and gestured to the doorway in which stood a sternly frowning Severus, arms crossed imperiously over his chest.
"Good morning ladies. Gossiping as usual I see?" He raised a brow, but Hermione saw through his front immediately, the glint of humor in his dark eyes giving him away easily to his wife.
"Oh, come off it, Severus. We were just saying how lovely a day it is for friends to visit," she coughed, "Ahem, speaking of friends," she slid a glance at Ginny, "Ron's planning on dropping by tonight. Perhaps we can invite Harry and make an evening of it?"
"Yes, I heard the news," he intoned silently, moving to take Felicity into his arms as Ginny offered her to him.
Hermione scoffed. "Just how long were you listening in on our conversation! I swear, we need to put a bell on you. I don't see why you keep the cushioning charm on your boots inside the house. It's not as if you're going to run into a student in need of detention any time soon."
Severus chuckled then, his rich laughter resonating in the small room. "Perhaps I love to keep you on your toes, wife. I'm quite certain I just overheard a pair of Gryffindor witches who sorely deserve to have a few house points taken…" he glared at them menacingly, "for gossiping about a teacher."
"Yes, Severus. Go ahead and take all the points you want. You're not at Hogwarts here, and you can't intimidate like you used to," Ginny said with a smirk. "You've gone soft."
"Have not," he murmured as he nuzzled his nose against Felicity's forehead. The baby had roused a bit, and was now smiling widely at her father, giggling as he lifted her up in the air and blew sloppy kisses against her chubby tummy. The two women looked at each other and burst into fits of giggles, the sight too hilarious and ironic to be believed.
Gasping for breath, Ginny coughed out, "Severus Snape," she chortled, "I suspect that you have been a soft hearted bastard all along. It just took a good woman and a few brats to get it out of you." Hermione just grinned at shook her head, but Severus seemed to pay the two no mind. He appeared to be completely and totally entranced by the little one bundled in his arms. He slowly, ever so gently put her down to rest in her crib, covering her up as she grew drowsy once more, second wind having gone as soon as it had come. And then, only then did he respond:
"Watch your language in front of my daughter, Ginerva, or I'll have your tongue for a potions experiment." And with that, he swept from the room, snide smirk in place, enjoying the peals of laughter echoing in his wake.
At four o'clock Hermione, Severus, and Ginny had told Henry the news of their dinner guest, and he'd immediately launched himself up the stairs to put on his Chudley Cannon's t-shirt, a favorite gift from his Uncle Ron.
At four fifteen, Henry had come downstairs to ask when five o'clock was happening. Upon being told that there was still plenty of time, and that he should probably clean up his room, he ran back upstairs in a flash of orange, leaving the three adults amused in his wake.
At four thirty, Henry came bounding down the stairs yet again, into the kitchen where Hermione and Ginny were working on cooking dinner this time wearing the t-shirt and carrying an orange foam hand that magically moved to show both a thumbs up and a number one sign-another gift from Ron. "Is he here? is it time? D'you think he's brought any chocolate frogs? What are you making? Can I have some now?"
"Goodness, Henry!" Hermione admonished as she stirred the sauce for the pasta. "You remember I told you before, Uncle Ron is coming at five o'clock."
Henry looked at the clock. He couldn't tell time quite yet. "Is that when the little hand is on the five and the big one is on the twelve?"
"Yes, Henry. And that is a full thirty minutes from now. Weren't you supposed to be cleaning up your room before dinner? It was a disaster area this morning. Did your potions kit explode again?"
Henry looked away, fiddling with a dish towel. "Nooo…"
"It only exploded a little bit."
Hermione sighed, reaching for a head of lettuce. "What on earth were you trying to make this time?"
"Nothing. I was just trying to get it to fizz a bit, like you showed me, Mummy."
"And why didn't you come and get me when it didn't fizz 'just a little bit', hmmm?"
Henry grew quiet. "Because you were feeding Felicity." He just looked at her, his face looking slightly downcast. Like most four year olds', Henry was usually extremely emotionally available. But like his father, he tended to keep certain feelings quite private. Hermione had had worried about this at first, but Severus had assured her from experience, that if it was truly something serious, Henry would tell them in his own time. He had been right….and yet, the look on his face suddenly spoke volumes to Hermione, and her previous concerns about Henry's feelings about Felicity came immediately rushing back.
Hermione stopped what she was doing immediately and looked at her son. "Oh Henry…"
"I'm sorry Mummy," he mumbled. "I didn't want to winter-up you when you were busy with Felicity. Daddy said that babies need their mommies a lot. For eating and other stuff."
Hermione sighed, moving to sit and pull Henry up on her lap. Ginny grimaced in Hermione's direction before making herself busy with buttering some bread to put in the oven, giving them a bit of privacy. "That's 'interrupt,' sweetling, and you've nothing to be sorry for," she said softly, trying to keep the catch out of her voice, and mostly failing. She was quiet for a few minutes, hugging her son to her, rubbing his back softly before pulling away and looking into his worried face. "Henry, darling," she began quietly, " Your Dad was right, babies do need a lot of attention, especially when they are very young. Have you been feeling a bit left out since Felicity was born?"
Henry looked away. He had been feeling a bit lost, as it were, but he hadn't been able to explain, exactly why or how he felt that way. It wasn't that his mother and father had been neglecting or ignoring him, but there had been an awful lot of fuss about the new addition to their family. And he had been feeling a bit out of place. He knew he was a big boy. He even used the potty standing up now, just like Daddy! But sometimes he didn't want to be a big boy. Sometimes he still felt like being cuddled and held like Felicity. He shrugged, not knowing what to say.
Hermione sighed and gathered him closer to her. "Henry, I should be the one apologizing to you." Henry's eyes grew wide and he looked at his moth curiously.
"Did you blow up a potion Mummy?" Hermione laughed at that.
"No, sweetling," she grinned. "Mummy has never blown up a potion. Not even when she was at school. I would have gotten in a lot of trouble with your father if I had done that."
"Would he have put you in time out?"
"Something like that," she grinned. "Now, I am saying I'm sorry to you because I'm afraid that I haven't been paying as much attention to you as I did before Felicity was born. Can I tell you a secret, Henry?" He nodded. He liked secrets. Hermione thought for a few minutes about how to phrase what she wanted to say. "Do you remember when your Dad and I told you the story of how we got to be your parents?"
Henry nodded. He'd heard the story many times. Hermione and Severus had been telling the story to him since the day they'd gotten him. They had never wanted Henry to be confused about being adopted. They wanted him to be proud of his parentage, both by birth and by law. "I remember. The mommy who had me in her tummy passed away because of some bad people."
"And you and Daddy wanted a baby. Like me!" Hermione nodded, smiling. "So you and Daddy adopted me. And you are my real mummy and daddy, just like my birth mummy and daddy are my real mummy and daddy too."
"Exactly. And now comes the secret part. Are you ready to hear it?" Henry nodded.
"Mummy and Daddy waited a very long time for you. And when we finally got you, we loved you instantly. Just like we love you now. The secret is, we both love you even more today than we did then. And here's another secret," she smiled, giving him a squeeze. "We love you and Felicity exactly the same."
Henry thought about that. "Even though Felicity came from your tummy and I didn't?"
"Mmm hmm. That's the secret. Mummy's and Daddy's have special love for all of their children, no matter how they got here." She smiled at Henry. "Aunt Ginny and Uncle Harry love all of their children equally as well," she paused. "Now I have something else to say, and it's very important, so I want you to listen closely, okay?"
"If you need me ever, for anything at all, I want you to come to me, or your father. No matter what we are doing. That's the last secret, Henry. We're never to busy for you. Not ever, all right?" Henry nodded. "Are you feeling a bit better about things?"
"Yes Mummy. I'm not feeling sad anymore. Can I ask you a question?"
Hermione smiled widely. "It's may I ask you a question, Henry, and of course you may. You wouldn't be my son if you didn't have a question.
Henry looked thoughtful for a few minutes before asking. "How did Felicity get into your tummy?"
Ginny, who had up to this point been minding her own business as she continued preparing dinner let out a loud snort to which Hermione shot a glare.
"Ah, Henry," she said with a rueful smile. "I think that is a conversation for another time. Look at the clock. Do you see where the big hand is?"
Henry looked. "It's on the twelve!"
"And where is the little hand?"
"It's on the five! It's five o'clock! It's five o'clock! Uncle Ron is coming!" And with a quick peck on his mum's cheek, he jumped off her lap and ran into the living room to the fireplace to wait for their guest.
Hermione slumped back against the chair with a loud sigh.
"You dodged that one rather smoothly," Ginny said from her place at the sink. Hermione rose and began to finish the salad she had started a half an hour before.
"Yes, well…I think I'll just let Severus handle the 'birds and the bees' talk with Henry. And it can wait a few more years. I certainly wasn't expecting that," she frowned. "I hope I handled all of that the right way. It has been rather busy, I'm afraid. We haven't had nearly as much one-on-one time since Felicity was born. Gods, Ginny, how do you do it with all three?"
Ginny sighed, shaking her head. "You make sacrifices. You remind yourself that you aren't perfect. Something's gotta give, and sometimes one or the other of them does feel left out. But that's a life lesson for them in itself. You can't always win, or be first, or be the center of attention. It is a bit easier when they are older. They can entertain themselves a bit more, they don't need you as much. You'll end up longing for the days when it felt like they were attached to you with a sticking charm, " she said, popping a grape into her mouth. "At the end of the day, when you tuck them all into bed, you kiss them, and tell them that you love them. And then you remind yourself that you're doing the best that you can," she said matter of factly. She placed a warm hand on Hermione's shoulder. "You're a great mum, Hermione. To both Felicity and Henry."
"Thank you Ginny."
"UNCLE RON!" Came the shout from the living room, and the two mum's looked at each other.
"I think trouble's just arrived," Hermione said.
"I think you're right," Ginny replied as they heard the same small voice cry:
Dinner went off without a hitch, and despite being hopped up on far too much sugar, Henry was able to go to bed after only three stories from his father, five good night kisses from his mother, and one very sweet blown kiss goodnight to Felicity from the doorway of the nursery.
Downstairs, the adults continued their visit, this time without children, and the conversation was varied and enjoyable. Harry had joined them, bringing the kids with him, the oldest two playing in the den, the youngest asleep on the couch in the living room.
"She's beautiful, Hermione, Severus. Congratulations again, I'm really happy for you," Ron said quietly as he sipped his coffee.
"Thank you," Hermione replied. "We are very lucky," she looked to Severus who's warm arm was wrapped around her shoulder. He smiled gently down at her and pulled her in closer, a rare public gesture that she felt sure had more to do with the three tumblers of fire-whiskey he'd imbibed in rather than a wish for intimacy. But Severus handled his liquor quite well, and his eyes were clear as he widened the smile.
The look must have gone on for quite a while, because after a few moments, Ron cleared his throat and the moment was broken. "Sorry again that I couldn't be there for the birth."
"Yes, speaking of that," Ginny spoke up, "What on earth were you up to?" She shot a glance at Harry, who shrugged, his green eyes looking suspiciously innocent behind the frames of his glasses.
"Yes, Harry told us you were away on business from Kingsley," Hermione said, looking at her friend curiously. His cheeks had taken on a rather pinkish hue, and it was slowly making its way to his ears. Ah, the trials and tribulations of being a redhead. "Ronald, whatever it is you might as well just tell us."
"If you don't, I'll have Hermione dose your tea with veritaserum. She must have a vial of it around here somewhere," Ginny said, teasing her brother mercilessly.
"Leave off him Ginny," Harry said good naturedly, grinning across the coffee table at his friend.
"No, no, it's fine, mate. Really, I was going to tell you all anyway," he said, his blush beginning to fade and the stark contrast of his freckles coming back to his fair skin. He sighed and scrubbed at his nose, "I've been dating someone. And, we went on a little vacation."
"Ron! That's wonderful!" Hermione exclaimed.
"I knew it!" Ginny said, her face triumphantly gleeful. "I knew it had to be some woman!"
"Not just any woman," Harry said, hardly able to keep the secret he'd been harboring for his friend. "Go on, Ron."
"All right, I'm getting to it!" He sighed, and smiled rather a bit shyly, quite unlike himself. "I've been seeing Luna."
There was silence. Severus broke it. "Luna Lovegood? That bizarre wom-owwww, Hermione that was my bad knee!" Severus whinged as he rubbed the sore spot where Hermione had elbowed him.
"Ron, when on earth did you and Luna get together? And never mind my husband. He's an insensitive arse."
"Not to worry, I already knew that about Severus actually," Ron grinned, and Severus rolled his eyes. "And Luna and I started dating soon after the trial."
"At the trial? My trial?" Hermione was incredulous. "But, that was ages ago now! Don't tell me you've been keeping this a secret all this time?"
"No," Ron responded, holding his arms out to defend himself. "It started out quite casual really. She wasn't interested in anything serious because of how much she travels. Luna's pretty….erm…adventurous, you know. And yeah," he shot a glance at Severus, "she can be a bit…well…loony sometimes. But that's what I love about her." He grinned at the shocked look on his friends faces and shrugged. "I've never met anyone who makes me laugh like that. Barmy like. Y'know, when you laugh so hard you spew a pint out of your nose? And what's even crazier is that I make her laugh too. No one's ever found me funny. Silly, yeah. And definitely immature. But no one's ever thought I was funny. Or…" his eyes got dreamy, reminding them all a bit of Luna actually, "entrancing." He grinned. "That's what she told me when we decided to start dating officially. And that only about a year ago."
They were all stunned. "But why the secrecy, Ron? You could have told us!" Ginny felt a bit hurt that her brother wouldn't have wanted to tell her something so important. He was obviously in love. This was big news!
"I wanted to…but…I also have never had a relationship last longer than a few months. I was really nervous I would jinx it, y'know? Luna said that suited her fine. She said it…erm…turned her on a bit to keep it erm…clandestine." He blushed again.
"Well…" Hermione said, attempting to recover her shock. "That's…that's wonderful! I'm so happy for you two." She smiled again. You know, it's actually pretty perfect."
"That's what I thought," Ron replied. "That's why I married her."
"WHAT?!" The room was in mayhem once more, Ginny and Hermione shouting at once, in disbelief of what they had just heard.
"You…married? You're married? You got married and you didn't tell Mum? Oohhhhh, she is going to have a bugbear, Ron! When did you marry her?"
"Oh Merlin, Ron…." Ginny said, looking at Hermione who could only shrug and look as bewildered as she. "You mark my words, brother. That clock hand at the Burrow is probably going to slide straight to 'In Mortal Peril' the second you tell Mum."
Ron grinned. "Yeah…I know. I figured I'd wait till the baby is born to tell Mum. That way her newest grandchild could soften the blow."
"WHAT?!" And the room was in turmoil again. This time Hermione and Ginny were both talking at once, Ron caught in the middle, Severus and Harry just staring over them, placidly.
"Would you like another drink, Ronald?" Severus inquired, smirking a bit. I believe it is customary to offer some form of congratulations for a newly married man and father-to-be. And since I can't abide by cigars, a few fingers of my finest whiskey will have to do."
Ron eagerly accepted, and after a few more minutes of carrying on, the women quietened and turned on Ron, who felt the distinct need to cross his legs and protect the family jewels.
"You sir, have a lot of explaining to do," Ginny said, looking at her brother. "How in the world could you go off without telling us and marry for heaven's sake. And now you tell us you've got her all sprogged up already? How far along is she?"
"Erm…well, she's due in two months."
"RONALD!" Ginny shouted,
"Well, he is a Weasley, love," Harry interjected, but was instantly silenced with a fierce glare from his wife. "Right. Shutting up."
Ron just laughed, but had the decency to look sheepish. "I know, I know. But it's what we both wanted. That's all that matters in the end, right?"
Hermione was the first to respond, moving to give her old friend a huge hug. "Ron…I'm so happy for you both." She pulled away and smiled at him, her eyes watery. "Years ago now, you told me that I deserved to be so happy, and that you supported me wholeheartedly when Severus and I had just gotten together. How could I wish you anything but well after how much you've done for me? I hope that you and the new Mrs. Ronald Weasley and the baby will be the happiest! I just can't believe you kept this all a secret from us!"
"Speaking of secrets," Ginny said, her voice deadly calm. Harry's adam's apple bobbed nervously. "Exactly how much of this were you aware of, mister, oh dear and devoted husband of mine?" Her eyes bore into Harry's green ones and he shrugged, his hand coming up to scratch the back of his neck.
"Errrr, all of it?"
Ginny looked ready to explode. "And why, exactly, did you keep this a secret from your wife?"
Ron interjected at this point; "Gin, you know what they say, bro's before…"
"DON'T finish that sentence, Ronald Bilius Weasley," Ginny bellowed, sounding rather a lot like Molly.
"Right," Ron replied. "Shutting up."
Severus took the moment of silence to make an interjection of his own. "Well, it has been an eventful evening. Speaking of marriages, and babies, and the like, Hermione and I have an infant asleep upstairs who will be waking in just a little over two hours for a late feeding. So…perhaps we should call it a night for now?"
The group pushed aside their qualms and queries as they all said their goodbyes, and the Snapes made their way up to bed, thoroughly exhausted, but happy for their friends. As they were climbing beneath the sheets, Hermione murmured to Severus as she cuddled under his protective embrace, "I'm so happy for him."
"He deserves it," she yawned, her voice getting fainter as she felt the weight of sleep drifting over her. "He does."
"I love you Severus."
"And I you, Hermione.
Thanks for reading! Thanks for stopping by! In case any of you were curious, I'm adopted! My adoptive parents are WONDERFUL! And I had a very lovely childhood. And my parents explained my story of adoption almost exactly the same way that Severus and Hermione explain it to Henry. (Minus the being killed by death eaters part, that part didn't happen for me, obviously.) :p Thanks for reading! REVIEW PRETTY PLEASE!