The first few days weren't too bad; he felt vaguely dizzy like the day after a hangover, but nothing more. Lunchtime, three weeks in, the first bout of sickness hit him; he only just made it out of the Hall in time. He knew exactly what it was - he wasn't a fool after all, and groaned. This could go on for three months or more.
"Is there anything I can do to help?" Dumbledore. Trust him to turn up when he wasn't wanted.
"Die in a ditch," said Snape, as another bout overtook him.
"Is there anything you can take?"
"I'll see what I can do to rearrange your timetable," said Dumbledore.
"Please do. After all, what would people think if the Potions master started vomiting over his pupils?" Snape sighed - he wouldn't allow himself a groan. "Though I was fine with the potions, it was food that did it." He stopped. "Merlin's beard, Albus! Leave me to it, I can throw up perfectly well on my own, I don't need your help."
Potter came to see him, of course, later that day. "What happened at lunch?"
"Get Granger to find you a book about babies. Better still, don't ask Granger, find one yourself."
"Potter! Leave me alone."
A couple of days later, he was back. Snape looked up, as Potter closed the door.
"How's the morning sickness?"
Snape stared at him, and said nothing.
"I found a book, just like you said. I didn't ask Hermione, I didn't think you'd want her to ask questions." Potter faltered, then said, "So, how is it?"
"Is there anything I can do?"
They stared at each other. Potter said, "We're...we are married. I want to help."
"In that case, go away and stay away."
Absurdly in Snape's opinion, Potter looked hurt. "He's my baby, too."
"You didn't know?"
Snape stared at him. He concentrated for a moment. Potter was right. This child was...would be...male. Well, good. Snape couldn't imagine his face on a girl - or Potter's, oddly enough. For all that Potter was still quite delicate looking, he was very masculine.
"Sirius asked how you were doing."
That was all he needed, Potter's psychotic godfather asking about his health. "Did he?"
"And Remus, too."
And the werewolf. What joy. "Oh," said Snape.
"I'll send them your regards, shall I?"
The reply that leapt into Snape's mind was 'no', but he didn't say it.
"I will anyway," said Potter.
"Why did you have to tell them?" Now he was being petulant, and he knew it.
"They're family. They're the only family I've got, really. Well, there's you and the baby, now, of course."
Snape was puzzled, "I thought you had Muggle relations," he said, before he could stop himself.
Potter's face darkened, "I try not to think about them."
"I don't like them very much."
Snape took the shuttered expression on Potter's face as a hint and asked no more.
After that, Potter visited him at least once a week, occasionally twice. Snape realised it was difficult for Potter to come up with excuses to visit a teacher he didn't even like. On the other hand, no amount of sarcasm or insults made it less often.
About three months in, just when Snape's trousers were starting to feel a bit tight, Potter turned up for his weekly visit carrying something. Snape looked at it, and froze. "What the...?" he asked.
"This is a vashaheron," said Potter, cheerfully. "One of the snakes of the Medusa."
"I know what a vashaheron is. Why have you brought it here?"
Instead of answering, Potter said something to the snake. It uncoiled and slid down Potter's hand onto the desk. "Put your hand on the desk," said Potter.
"Istlani is going to protect you, at least until the baby is born." Potter sighed, gently. "If you don't put your hand down, she'll go up your trouser leg, and you really don't want that."
"Their bite is fatal."
"In about a minute and a half, yes. But they make very faithful guards."
"How do you know the bloody thing won't bite me?"
"Because she gave her word," Potter said, as if this ought to be obvious. "Vashaheron provide a degree of magical protection."
"Voldemort is also a Parselmouth."
"I know. So does Istlani. But she's bound to me, not to Voldemort." Potter said something to the snake, which slid off the desk and down to the floor.
Snape shivered as the dry cold body crawled up his leg, but he didn't dare move. Slowly she slid up his body, his belly and chest, and down his right sleeve to curl round his wrist. "Not too tight," said Snape. She obligingly loosened just a little.
"She'll leave you alone when you're in your rooms, but you won't be able to go out without her.
Snape looked at the snake, curled round his wrist like a rather tacky basalt bracelet. She slid round to look at him in the eye - hers were green, rather like Potter's, he noticed. He frowned.
"I see Harry came up with a method of protecting you - not one I would have thought of, but efficient I've no doubt," Dumbledore's eyes twinkled.
"Yes," said Snape.
"What do vashaheron eat?"
"Potter hasn't told me, you'll have to ask him."
Snape no longer went to lunch, it simply wasn't worth it when he would have to run out again as soon as he smelled food, so he didn't see Dumbledore most days until dinner. He saw the curious glance Dumbledore gave him as soon as he sat down, but he ignored it. Professor Podmore, the current Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher eyed the snake as he did every day.
"Severus?" Dumbledore rarely spoke loudly, but somehow he could be heard above the bustle of the students leaving the Hall after dinner.
Dumbledore walked with him towards the dungeons, "Harry went to lot of trouble...and risk...to get that for you." He indicated Istlani.
"Did he? I didn't ask him to."
"He didn't mention his plan?"
"He doesn't confide in me."
Dumbledore looked saddened, "I had hoped...never mind."
"It doesn't matter." They walked on a bit further then Dumbledore said, "Harry...he's doing his best, you know? This is all very new to him."
Cast in the role of evil bastard again, thought Snape. Why always bloody me?
Nobody said anything when he moved from trousers to the kind of flowing robes Dumbledore always wore. But then, plenty of wizards preferred them for whatever reason. He never had, but anyone could change. Even Potter was silent on the subject when he wandered along for his weekly duty visit. In any case, Snape let him in and ignored him, so he didn't get a chance to say much.
Snape hadn't worked out how Potter was feeding the snake, but it was still with him.
February turned into March and March into April. Nobody had mentioned that he was looking a bit fat, but at last he was able to start eating lunch again, which was a relief. However, now his back started to hurt, a generalised ache he found deeply annoying. He could see by the faces of his students that his tone had taken on an even more acid bite than usual. Snape just wanted it to be over, for this...thing...to be out of his body. He felt invaded and abused.
Another month, May, and he had piles, which was deeply humiliating. And he had to take every opportunity to go to the lavatory between classes. The baby had taken to sitting - or standing - on his bladder.
Potter still visited him every week, but no longer even attempted to open any kind of conversation. Snape didn't know why, perhaps looking at the results of his handiwork was too much for him. Potter always stayed exactly two hours, though what significance it had for him, Snape had no idea. He also now brought a book to read - but then his NEWTs were drawing closer and a couple of hours reading in a quiet room couldn't harm him.
May crawled to a close; Snape thought this was becoming his longest year of teaching ever. In the last week in May, he rather exhaustedly started taking his seventh year class through the intricacies of invisibility draughts. Always tricky, these, and he watched Longbottom with particular concern - as he did Malfoy, whose marks and therefore his confidence were higher than he deserved.
Halfway through the lesson, Malfoy made the mistake of putting a hand on Snape's arm. Snape didn't feel it immediately through the weight of his robes, it had been a cold May, and he first heard the hiss of Istlani at his wrist. He looked at Malfoy's face, frozen in a rictus of terror, and deliberately removed Malfoy's hand from his arm. Istlani calmed.
Then he saw Potter's face looking not at him but at Malfoy. Snape knew full well that Potter and Malfoy despised each other, but even that didn't account for the look on Potter's face, a rage so powerful that had it been a spell it would have blown a hole in the wall and reduced Malfoy to a smoking heap.
As the class left he heard Granger say, "Harry, we have to talk." One person had been watching, then, but Granger never had missed a trick.
Whatever Potter had said, he'd said it to both Granger and Weasley. Snape could tell that from the looks on both their faces at the start of the next lesson; Granger was better at hiding horrified astonishment than Weasley probably ever would be. Both of them had a way of looking at him, a gaze which would start at his face, then move down his body to come to rest somewhere around his middle and which made him want to throw both of them into detention for the rest of their natural lives.
Potter came along for his weekly visit, bringing the inevitable book. He knocked and came in, as he always did, then sat down in the only other chair in Snape's office. After a glance at Snape, he opened the book - Astronomy, Snape noted. He wondered if Potter was any better at Astronomy than he was at Potions.
Snape sat back and watched him. He'd changed over the last few months, he'd started to shave, Snape noticed, and this morning had cut himself slightly, as if he wasn't yet completely in practice. He wondered what Potter planned to do with his life, since any kind of legal marriage with anyone else was now out of the question. He supposed Potter could live with someone, if he could find any girl willing to overlook the fact that he had a spouse and child already. He hoped the dream girl wasn't Hermione Granger, he couldn't see her settling for second best.
Potter looked up from his book, and said, "Hermione guessed. She'd realised you were having a baby back in March. In Potions she guessed it had something to do with me."
"Why did you tell Weasley?"
"He's my friend."
Oh, well, thought Snape, that explains everything. But...perhaps it does. I have no way of judging. But why did you tell a nobody like Weasley?
"What's wrong?" Potter asked.
"Don't give me that; you look like someone cancelled Christmas. More than usual, even."
"It's nothing." Snape moved around, trying to get comfortable. The baby kicked him in protest. "Why do you keep coming back?" he asked.
Potter thought about it. "We're...married," he said. "It seems the right thing to do. I don't want to leave you to face this alone."
"I won't be. Poppy will be there."
"It's not the same."
"I will be fine." Spoken with a confidence he didn't feel.
From his expression, it didn't convince Potter, but what he said was, "He's my baby, too." Then, in a smaller voice, he added. "I want to be part of it."
"You are. There's nothing anyone can do about that."
"And I'm your...husband, I suppose." Potter's brow creased. "Funny, I never thought I'd be anyone's husband, let alone have one."
Snape was puzzled. "Surely there are lots of pretty girls just throwing themselves at famous Harry Potter."
Potter's jaw tightened as it always did when Snape used that phrase. "There are," he said. "Unfortunately, I'm not interested in girls."
"I had a crush on one in fourth year. But that's all it was. Some boys who turn out to be straight get crushes on boys. I did it in reverse." He sat for a moment in silence, then added, "I've always wondered what would happen when someone got hold of the story and told the Daily Prophet. With wizard numbers being so small I've always had the feeling I'm expected to Set an Example." The capitals in the phrase were clearly audible. "You realise when it all comes out about you, you'll get the blame?"
"Yes." It was one of the things about their situation that haunted him. He could be even more hated than he already was.
"Nobody's going to blame Dumbledore, that man's Teflon-coated-"
"Muggle thing, don't worry about it. And they'll probably say I was Led Astray." Again, the capitals were clear. "That leaves you, marriage or no legal marriage. You're stuck with the consequences of this, forever. Baby, quite possibly the sack if the governors overrule Dumbledore, marriage to a man half your age, forever being pilloried as the man who tricked 'famous Harry Potter' into it. I don't think anyone's going to be interested in the prophecy, even if we could tell them, which we can't."
Snape stared at him. Potter was brighter than he thought.
Potter went on, "Now do you see why I can't leave you to face this alone?"
"No, actually." He fully expected Potter to leave school, and him, and to be left alone with their child. Part of him was looking forward to it.
"If you weren't such a fucking martyr I'd kill you myself," Potter sounded merely resigned.
"Gay is what Muggles call it. Yes. And before you ask, I've never kept it a secret from either Ron or Hermione."
"That wasn't what I was going to ask."
Potter looked enquiring, but Snape didn't go on. He wasn't sure that he did want to know about Potter's sexual experience, and anyway didn't have the words to frame the question. And it occurred to him that as he and Potter were stuck with each other, it was probably better he didn't know.
Potter picked up his book again and went on reading. Snape went on marking essays and occasionally squirming when the baby moved inside him. Silence fell.
Finally, Potter stood and stretched. "I'd better be going."
Snape watched him leave, and then looked down at the snake. She slid round his wrist, scales rubbing together with a noise like crackling parchment.
Dumbledore came to see him; there seemed to be no obvious reason, and Snape wondered if Potter had said something to him. He accepted the tea Snape offered him, then asked, "How are you?"
"Ask Poppy." Snape had no intention of discussing his health with Dumbledore. Or anyone else for that matter.
"She wouldn't tell me even if I did. Nor should she."
"And the baby?"
"As well as can be expected."
"What does that mean?"
Snape sighed; expecting Dumbledore to stop pushing was like expecting the River Hog to flow back up the mountains. "I'm not designed for this, and that has to take its toll on him."
Dumbledore looked serious. "And on you, too?"
"And Harry?" Yes, it would all come back to him. As if Snape could ever forget.
"He is a true Gryffindor. Bloody annoying."
"He doesn't visit?"
"Just the opposite. Apparently it's his duty." The snake moved around Snape's wrist, tightening then releasing. He looked down at it, impatiently.
"He told you that?"
"Not in those words," Snape could feel a frown forming. "You're about to tell me what a suffering, abused flower he is. Spare me that at least."
Dumbledore's eyes twinkled. "You should try talking to him."
Snape had never been someone who slept easily or well, but as the baby grew he became worse. He had to sleep slightly propped up, and even then the baby woke him by kicking or moving - or resting on his bladder, which was worse.
Sat up in bed one night, merely resting his eyes, he heard a noise from his workroom. He sighed and heaved himself out of bed. The nightlight was on so there was a dim light. He walked slowly to the door and pushed it open.
Potter sat on the floor, cross-legged, hissing to the snake. He picked up a knife - clearly very sharp - and cut his finger. Snape watched as the snake slid over to him; Potter continued the soft hissing and Snape wondered what he was saying. "What are you doing?" Snape asked.
Potter jumped, and looked round. "Feeding her."
"With your blood?"
"You'd rather it was yours?" Potter continued to drip blood into the open mouth of the snake.
"It's what she lives on."
"I meant, why are you doing it?"
"I can't be with you, and I need to be sure you're safe."
It was true that nowhere was completely safe, not even Hogwarts. But it still didn't answer the question, or not the one Snape had really asked. But Potter seemed determined to misunderstand. "Isn't there an easier way?" Snape asked.
"Most of them wear off over time - usually just when you need it the most. And Istlani has a degree of intelligence, can react appropriately to a situation."
Snape had no reply to that. It was true the snake never reacted to Poppy Pomfrey's examinations, but she loathed Malfoy. Snape remembered the look of rage on Potter's face. "Is it you who reads her mind, or her who reads yours?"
"Something of both. Shouldn't you be resting?"
"He won't let me."
"Oh." The snake fed, Potter performed a simple healing spell and stood up. For a moment, Snape envied him his easy athleticism. Potter said, "You haven't been to Voldemort since..."
"No. Dumbledore said he'd see through whatever disguise we came up with - especially magic. He wasn't - isn't - prepared to risk the baby."
"Believe what you like."
"I do," said Potter, but he didn't expand on that. "You look tired," he added. "I think you should lie down."
"Don't tell me what to do!" For a moment he regretted his outburst, but he already had Dumbledore and Pomfrey and on at him day and night, wanting what was best.
"Suit yourself. Good night."
Term and the school year ended, to Snape's relief, and Potter left with the other students. Now it had come to it, Snape felt rather more alone than he had expected. Potter's weekly visits had been a burden, but now they had stopped he felt...abandoned. Dumbledore, who came to visit often, was no substitute.
A month after term ended, Pomfrey came to see him in the dungeon. "I thought you could do with not having to manage the stairs," she said.
"Thank you." It was a kind thought - though he wasn't especially pleased to have his rooms invaded.
"I see you've still got your pet," she indicated the snake curled up in its vivarium in a corner of the room.
"Yes." He endured the examination in silence, as usual. He could never think of anything to say; he loathed the trite conversations usual with mediwizards and did not encourage them.
She said, "Have you given any thought to what we discussed last time?"
"I haven't yet decided how I would prefer to risk death. Or when."
"You're already risking death, Severus." Pomfrey sounded severe, but then wizards often did risk their lives, and she was often left to put the pieces back together. "The options are quite simple - nature, magic or physical intervention."
"And all of those risk my life and hurt like hell."
"If you're waiting for a fourth solution that is both safe and painless you're going to be disappointed. If there was one, witches would have come up with it already."
"My...chest...hurts," he changed the subject, before they had chance to fall out. He needed her, and would need her more before he was done.
He unbuttoned his robe and allowed her to examine his chest. Then as she pressed a little too hard, "Ouch!"
She stood back. "You need to make a decision. Soon."
"Your body is getting ready - I have to congratulate You-Know-Who on his thoroughness, it seems all my time teaching you to prepare bottles was wasted. You're going to be able to breastfeed."
"Don't be sarcastic. You'll find that however irritating and inconvenient it is to breastfeed, making up bottles would be worse." She stood back. "Get dressed, I've got to go. I'll be back for your decision tonight."
He heard the noise at his door later that day, and he assumed it was Pomfrey returning. It wasn't. He raised an eyebrow, and said, "You've left."
"Dumbledore let me come back."
Snape heard more behind that remark than Potter was letting on, but he said, "So I see." It had only been a few days, but weirdly Potter had changed. The last few traces of boyishness had been wiped away, and Snape wondered what had happened.
"Oh." Poppy Pomfrey's voice from the open door. In all the time she'd been seeing Snape through his pregnancy she'd never asked who the father was. There was no point in her asking now. "Does Albus know?"
"It was his idea," said Snape, after a moment of wondering how little he could get away with telling her.
"That I do not believe."
"It was!" Potter, of course, sticking his oar in.
"Go," said Snape. "I'll deal with this."
"I am not leaving you." Potter at his most irritatingly determined was about as much as Snape could cope with.
"Piss off, Potter."
Snape cursed, but silently. He couldn't throw Potter out, not as he was, even if it wasn't undignified to fight with a pupil. Though Potter was no longer that, he realised, suddenly.
"At least you're facing up to your responsibilities," Pomfrey turned to Potter. He said nothing.
"He's not responsible," said Snape. "I was."
"You weren't." He and Potter stared each other out in a silent duel.
"I need your decision," Pomfrey said at last, sounding rather cold.
"Nature and magic," Snape said.
"Will you want him there?"
"No," said Snape, clashing with Potter's 'yes'.
"Which is it to be?"
Potter got in first with, "What do you advise?"
She looked him up and down, "I think you should see what he goes through. Maybe it will stop you doing anything like this again."
"I think she's fallen out with me," Potter said, when she was gone. "Istlani says you're afraid."
There was nothing to be gained from sugar coating the truth, so Snape said, "I may die."
Potter turned to look at him, "You won't. The prophecy won't let you."
Snape watched Potter standing in the window. He was holding the baby, singing to him softly. He wasn't very good; no-one who attended Hogwarts ever was - music was one thing the school didn't even attempt to teach - but he was better than Snape would have been.
Snape felt primarily very, very sore. The pain of childbirth hadn't been as bad as the Cruciatus Curse, but he was feeling it, and was sure he would for some days to come.
Potter saw him looking and stopped singing, embarrassed. He said, "You want him back?"
"Seems like a normal baby to me." Everyone seemed to expect Snape to adore his son from the moment he was born; he took a perverse pleasure in confounding their expectations.
"You're not impressed at all?" Potter's tone was teasing.
"I can't imagine why I should be."
"You wouldn't care at all if I dropped him?"
"I might not, but Dumbledore would. I doubt if even you could get away with that." Snape stretched out, feeling every joint and muscle. He knew perfectly well that there was no way that Potter would harm the baby.
Potter came over and put the baby in his crib. "Sirius and Remus want to see him."
"Is there any reason why they shouldn't?" Though thinking about it, Snape could come up with several.
Potter said, "I thought I'd mention it to you before bringing them here.
"Not here. Take the baby to them."
"You don't want to see them?"
"No." Bad enough that he was humiliated in his own eyes. He couldn't face Black, not now.
His next visitor was Dumbledore, who cooed over the baby in a quite revolting way. The baby seemed to take it all in his stride. Snape supposed it was as well that one of them did.
"What are you going to call him?" Dumbledore asked.
"Baby?" suggested Snape. He was being snide and he knew it.
Trust Dumbledore to respond as if it was a serious suggestion. "I wouldn't do that. Imagine when he went to school. There aren't any family names you could use?"
"Not that I would wish on a child of mine."
"No, he hasn't suggested anything." A thought struck him. "Oh, no."
Dumbledore looked enquiring.
"Potter's going to want to call him James."
"If you can't bear the idea-"
"I'll... I'll learn to live with it," said Snape. Dumbledore looked somewhat puzzled, and he went on, "I don't have much choice. That is his name." He'd realised as soon as the name had come to him, though where the knowledge had come from he couldn't have said. It was like the moment of solving a particularly difficult problem in a potions experiment.
"I suppose that has some sort of cosmic irony," Snape smiled, mirthlessly. "Imagine how angry his grandfather would be. That should make me feel better."
"James would have been very proud of his grandson."
"No matter who his...other parent...turned out to be? On the contrary, I think I'd have been dead by now for ever laying a hand on his son, even if it wasn't my choice, or my idea."
"I'm very conscious of what you're doing for us - for me - Severus. You have given your life for the light every bit as much as anyone who has died for it."
Snape had no reply to that.
Not very many days later, the news hit the headlines. Snape didn't lose his job, though it was a close-run thing, not least because Lucius Malfoy had been less than pleased with Draco's exam results. For once, though, Potter had it harder than he did; he was, for all Snape chose to belittle it, a very talented Quidditch player. Before it all came out, several prestigious teams head been lining up to recruit him. Snape knew this through the other teachers - Rolanda Hooch, for one, was very proud of Potter's achievements. Afterwards, they weren't so keen. It was difficult for Snape to see why; fatherhood, however bizarre the identity other parent, could not possibly have affected Potter's ability on the Quidditch field. But they weren't.
Snape coped with his two Howlers that day - his highest score was six, the day after Rita Skeeter's first article - and went to the dungeon to prepare lessons for the coming year. He fed James, and put him in his cot next to the desk where he could keep an eye on him. Snape was so involved in his work that he had to conceal a start of surprise when Potter said, "You don't play with him."
Snape said, "I'm working, he's asleep. I'm not going to wake him up to play." Potter looked, he noted, rather unhappy. It was not surprising; in his circumstances Snape would have been more than 'rather unhappy'.
Potter crossed the room and picked James up. The baby whimpered, but then calmed. "Sirius and Remus are here," Potter offered by way of explanation.
"I'll bring him back if he seems hungry."
"I should imagine you will."
"You won't come with us?"
"I've got things to do. Don't let him get overtired." Potter went out. Snape went back to his lesson.
There was a noise at the door and he looked up to see Lupin carrying James. Perfectly competently, as far as Snape could see. They stared at one another for a moment, and Snape silently indicated the cot - James was asleep.
Lupin said, "Harry's very proud of him."
"He's a beautiful little boy."
Snape looked down at James, who had chosen that moment to screw up his face so that he resembled nothing more than a little monkey. "Sometimes," he said.
"Well, yes." Lupin tickled the baby, gently. "Harry's having a bit of a rough time, you know. You'll have to bear with him for a while."
"Why do I get the feeling you are blaming this on me?"
"I'm not blaming anyone, and definitely not you."
Why did Lupin always have to sound so bloody reasonable? "Then what are you saying?"
"Harry needs someone to talk to. Sirius and I aren't going to be around for a while; Professor Dumbledore's sending us to Uzbekistan."
"Uzbekistan? What on earth for?"
"I can't tell you. Will you?"
Snape stiffened, "Potter must have plenty of people to talk to."
"But you're married to him. It would make sense for it to be you. That is, if you take your marriage seriously."
"And you take marriage so seriously you've never bothered with it."
Lupin looked up, his face still wore that 'reasonable' look which so annoyed Snape. "Sirius and I would marry if we could - you'll be aware of the prohibition against humans marrying werewolves."
Snape had forgotten. His first impulse was to apologise, but that was foreign to his nature.
"Talk to Harry," Lupin said. "I think he may surprise you."
Snape kept a wary eye on the door for the rest of the day; he had half expected Black to turn up and start abusing him. He would have enjoyed the argument, but Black never came.