"I can't believe you took that kind of risk, Severus. How old are you? Seventeen?" Poppy Pomfrey washed her hands, somehow investing the act with irritation.
"I didn't think I was fertile without help," he pointed out. He hoped it sounded reasonable. The last thing he wanted was to get into a fight with her.
"It seems you were wrong."
"When is it due?"
"My best guess is around Christmas. I can't be completely sure, because you don't have anything so convenient as a menstrual cycle."
"Lovely. That means Minerva will have to find a replacement for me for the spring and summer term." Snape ignored her swipe at his body.
"Thoughtless bastard," Poppy said.
Snape stared at her, "Is the personal abuse part of the service?"
"Not you. Potter. I thought being with you the last time would cure him, but..."
"Poppy." Snape waited until he had her attention. "People don't get married to hold hands," he said, conveniently forgetting the months of celibacy he'd made Harry live through.
Minerva McGonagall simply stared at him blankly, and said one word, "How?"
"The usual method," he replied. Then he remembered. Dumbledore had known about him - knew more than Snape was comfortable with him knowing. Minerva didn't. He didn't want to explain, it wasn't even as if she was one of his closest friends. He didn't have friends that close, other than Harry.
"I can't imagine who we'll get to teach in your stead," she said.
"You'll think of someone."
"We'll have to, you can't apparate a baby here every day - it was all very well when we were in the old buildings. You lived in."
She would have to remind him of that, and he suppressed the temptation to grind his teeth. But all he said was, "I'm not looking forward to it much, either."
"There are some nice houses over at Bramhall," said Harry one day, apropos nothing at all.
"Are there? James, eat your toast and don't play with it. Don't you want any more? I did tell you not to drink all your juice before you started to eat." He stopped and looked over at Harry. "Do we have to move?"
"No, we can stay here for a year or two, until James does get tired of sharing."
"I think that would be better."
Harry sighed. "I suppose you're right - and you are very vulnerable when you're pregnant."
"This isn't as bad as the last one." He'd actually had very little sickness, and other than a minor liking for pickles - harder on Harry than it was on him - he thought he wasn't doing too badly.
"I meant vulnerable to attack rather than ill," said Harry.
"Oh, that." Something Severus tried not to think about was what Voldemort had planned for him if he should ever get his hands on him. There were things which frightened him more than death.
As everyone at the school knew what he was by now, he didn't bother trying to hide this pregnancy, just lived his life as normally as he could. He only bothered with a concealing charm when he had to collect James from the nursery. He wondered, in passing, what excuses the Muggles who ran it would come up with when he and Potter produced a second child. That they would grasp onto anything except the truth he had no doubt.
Of course, the news soon got out into the wizarding press - the Mosquitos had wanted him and Harry to give an interview. Harry refused, citing the privacy clause that he'd had written into his contract. They took it reasonably well. He did, however, consent to write a statement to give to journalists - it managed to blend concern for his partner with a sort of dignified joy. Despite himself, Snape was impressed.
The Fidelius Charm worked, well, like a charm. Had it not, he had no doubt that the press would have been hanging round their flat like vultures. As it was, there was no sign of them - and McGonagall forbade them from coming into the school. Occasionally, the students would give him odd glances, but he ignored them.
At home, Harry fussed over him; Snape was torn between irritation and relief - by the end of a full day of teaching, mostly spent on his feet, he was exhausted.
"Papa!" At the end of one particularly gruelling day he sat on the sofa in the flat, and instantly had a lapful of his son.
"What is it, James?" Snape kept his eyes closed.
"I drew a horse!"
"Did you?" Snape opened his eyes unwillingly, and took the proffered paper. The horse looked rather more like an elephant - and he and Harry exchanged amused glances. "Marvellous," he said. He hoped their son didn't plan on making his fortune as an artist.
"And look what I can make it do. Jump, horsie!" This to the picture. The 'horse' obligingly lumbered around the picture, jumping over the strange twisted things which James clearly thought were fences.
"Wonderful!" Then more seriously, "You didn't show the people at nursery, did you?"
"No," said James. He sounded a trifle grumpy. "Daddy said they wouldn't believe it, anyway."
We can only hope not, thought Snape, privately. How did other wizarding parents cope with this kind of thing? He thought back to his own childhood - he hadn't been to school until he was eleven, his mother had taught him until then. It was one of the reasons, he remembered, that he'd had such a rough time at the start. He'd had no idea how to behave among other children. Not that his parents had wanted him to have no friends, there had simply been no other wizarding families living nearby. Difficult as it was to send James to Muggle school, it seemed the better of the two options.
"Good news for Harry!" Rolanda Hooch waved the Daily Prophet at him.
"Is it?" Snape usually read the paper at lunchtime, as Hooch knew perfectly well.
"Try out for England in the tour against Australia. Jolly well deserved, too. His play's really come on this last year."
"When is the tour?" He took the paper from her and looked. Last week in November, first two weeks in December. He'd be uncomfortably pregnant by then - but Harry had waited so long for this, a little thing like Snape's pregnancy couldn't be allowed to stand in his way.
His own copy of the Prophet was waiting for him on his desk when he reached the Potions classroom, but so were second year Slytherins and Ravenclaws, so he had to put off reading it.
"I can't go, of course," Harry said, when he got home that night.
"Why in Merlin's name not? You should be back before I..."
"I can't leave you alone here."
Snape groaned, inwardly. He should have guessed he'd be facing the legendary Potter stubbornness. "Of course you can. I'm not completely helpless, you know."
"I didn't mean that, Severus."
"I'll look after Papa," put in James.
"I know you will," said Harry. Severus glanced at Harry, and smiled. James didn't like them to argue and was already finding strategies to stop them.
"You are not giving up this chance out of a misguided sense of duty towards me," said Snape, when James was safely in bed.
"It's not a duty," snapped Harry. "I love you."
"Oh." Snape hadn't been expecting that and he didn't like being blackmailed. "You're still going."
"No, I'm not."
"Yes, you are."
"This is silly. I'm not going and leaving you here alone and unguarded." He stopped, "I know. Hermione can come and stay with you."
Snape couldn't think of a more horrifying idea. "Absolutely not."
"Either you put up with Hermione or I don't go."
"I don't want her here, and you're going."
Another argument lost. When and how had Harry - Potter of all people - become this person?
Hermione Weasley put the pot of tea on the table and sat down. She said, "Do you think you'll make it to the end of term?" She was carefully not looking at his swollen body.
"I hope so. Madam Pomfrey could only guess when I'm due - should be 'around Christmas'."
Severus could only wonder what Harry had said to her and Ron - unless he wanted to ask, which he didn't. On the other hand, she was one of Harry's closest friends and it could be anything. He doubted anything he could say would drive her away if Harry had told her to stay, but it would cause trouble - and he would probably come off worst.
"It's only a few more days to the end of term anyway," Severus said. Then he added, "I'm giving my classes mock exams."
Hermione winced, "Rather them than me."
"I thought it might help whoever they get to cover for me to know where the little swines have reached - or not."
"I'm sure he'll be very grateful," she said, then stopped.
"You know who it is?" They haven't told me, Snape thought.
"Not officially. So I think it's better if you hear it from Minerva."
He had a terrible sinking feeling about this, "Tell me."
It took a moment to sink in, and then all he could think of to say was, "What?"
"Minerva, I cannot believe you are seriously going to pay Weasley to teach Potions. What are you thinking of?"
She seemed to enjoy watching him rage. "He passed his Potions NEWT," she pointed out.
"By the skin of his teeth and largely thanks to Granger."
"Even so, Severus, you wouldn't have passed someone completely incompetent."
"'Not completely incompetent' does not mean 'competent enough to teach'."
"He'll manage. He's using your outline, and it is only for two terms. You'll be back next September."
"What are you going to do with him at the end of it? Send him back to the Ministry?"
"Professor Flitwick is retiring. Ron is going to teach Charms."
"Merlin's beard, Minerva! What next? Are you going to bring in Harry to teach Defence Against the Dark Arts?"
"Your husband is qualified - one might even say overqualified - but his first love is Quidditch. How are the England team doing, anyway?"
"Played five, won three, lost two."
"Better than the squashing they got last time they went over there, then? I'd imagine that it's Harry making the difference. Well, it was about time someone took some notice."
"What on Earth have you brought James here for?" Severus had just left the school intending to go home.
"You sent me a note." Hermione looked perplexed.
"I didn't. Oh, shit."
"Papa!" said James. "You said a bad word." He struggled to get out of Hermione's arms.
"Quickly. We have to get away from here now."
"Now, Miss Granger." Severus turned and walked as quickly as he could up the road, away from the school. If he was right, and he thought he was, he mustn't put the school in danger.
"Hermione. Or even Mrs Weasley," reminded Hermione, but she kept up with him easily even while trying to control a struggling James. "What is it?"
Severus took the pushchair from her, since she was going to drop James if she tried to manage him and it. "Come on, Mrs Weasley!"
"Hermione!" she sounded annoyed. "What is the...oh." She'd obviously realised. "Give me your hand."
"Give." She took his hand, "Harry said I wasn't to be separated from you." She held on tight, James still on her other arm. They walked on, up the road.
"There's a bad man behind us," said James.
"How do you know he's a bad man?" asked Hermione. She sounded, to Severus, rather scared.
James was silent for a moment, then said, "Just is."
The next thing he heard was Hermione's voice, "Ah. Ow!"
Severus took a deep breath. He'd heard of Transubstere - the spell behind portkeys - being used without a physical link but had never experienced it. Now he understood why such use was considered Dark magic. Obviously Voldemort had been ferreting about in the back of spellbooks again.
He looked around the room.
"Where are we?" Hermione asked. She put James down, but held on to his hand.
"I have no idea." The room was dank and rather dark. He let go of Hermione's hand, and moved to the window. It was dirty, inside and out, but Severus could see an overgrown garden - for some reason it looked to him like a front garden. He could just about see something that might have been a rockery, some years ago.
"Papa?" James pulled Hermione over to where he was standing. "I don't like this place - can we go home?"
Severus picked his son up. "I don't like it here, either. But I'm afraid we can't."
"Can't we papparate like Daddy does?"
"No, we can't," said Hermione. She caught Severus' eye. "I've tried and I think someone's done something to this room. The moment we arrived I felt - something - muffling all magic." She sounded quite calm, and Severus was aware of a sliver of gratitude. James would pick up on it if she appeared frightened, and he didn't want to deal with a hysterical child; he was having enough problems controlling his own fear, without adding James's. "I think you should sit down," she said. "It can't be good for you, all this standing about."
By the time the door opened, the only light in the room was a glow from a distant street lamp - very distant. James was asleep in Severus's arms, and Hermione dozed next to him. He had been wondering idly about Harry's team, and whether anyone had noticed he'd disappeared yet, when the door opened and a voice said, "Lumos!"
Before he could react four robed and masked men came in, led by another who hadn't bothered with a mask.
"Wormtail!" Hermione's voice. Severus didn't say anything - he didn't see the point.
"Disarm them," said Wormtail. Two of the Death Eaters complied. Severus would have liked to resist, but didn't miss - or pretend to misunderstand - Wormtail's glance at James. And there was his own condition to consider; running was out of the question. He saw Hermione allow them to take her wand. She didn't look pleased about it.
"So it was this brat, after all." Wormtail favoured James with a disgusted expression. "I turned over Manchester looking for him to bring to my Master. He looks like you - not that that's any recommendation."
"You're a bad man," said James, before anyone else could respond. Severus saw Hermione suppressing a smile.
"You little..." said Wormtail.
"Far be it from me to make a remark about 'out of the mouth of babes'," said Severus. "But my son seems to have got the measure of you far faster than anyone else ever did."
"My Master is waiting for you," said Wormtail. Even he seemed to realise that losing his temper with a four-year-old would simply make him look absurd. He gestured for them to precede him out of the door.
Severus took the stairs slowly. He wasn't going to fall to please Voldemort.
"Well, Severus." The high, cold voice made Severus feel rather sick. "It's been a long time. Wormtail! A seat for Severus. We can't leave him standing in that condition."
Wormtail gestured to one of the Death Eaters, who fetched a dining chair from another room, and placed it opposite Voldemort.
"Sit, Severus." There was a touch of command in Voldemort's voice, and Severus didn't see the point of trying to resist. "I see you've been busy," Voldemort continued, looking at James. "And you've brought another guest. Introduce us."
"My son, James. And-"
"I am Hermione Weasley."
"I didn't ask you." Voldemort flicked a glance at her. Then, "Weasley. That's an old wizarding name."
"Mrs Hermione Weasley," said Hermione.
"I see," said Voldemort. He turned back to Severus. "My handiwork was more successful even than I had imagined. You and your...what do you call him? ...have made full use of my little alterations."
Severus stared down at the carpet. An Abusson, he noted, idly wondering where Voldemort got his money.
"I shouldn't think marriage to you does a lot for him. Still, he's a good looking young man, and an international Quidditch player. I shouldn't imagine he has too much trouble finding his fun elsewhere. What do you think, Severus? I'm sure he meets a lot of beautiful and friendly witches when he's away with his team." Then a sudden shout, "Answer me!"
"I should think it very likely," replied Severus. "Though I have never had any reason to complain of my husband's attentiveness."
"Husband!" Voldemort started to laugh, and Severus saw Hermione pale. "Is that what you call him."
"Under wizarding law he and I are married - in the strict form. No divorce is possible for either of us. So it wouldn't matter who he met. Or me."
"Next to me he's a living room conjurer. After me I wonder you can stand to be near him."
Severus struggled to control his temper. "He's twice the man you are - even as you were then. Ah!" This as Voldemort cast Cruciatus and Severus felt his body curve in a rictus of pain.
Through it he could just hear James crying, and the words, "Don't hurt my Papa! I hate you! You hurt my Papa! You wait till my Daddy finds you! He'll kill you, he will!"
The pain stopped abruptly as Hermione yelled, "James! Stop!"
Severus opened his eyes, which he'd closed involuntarily, to see James attacking Voldemort with his tiny fists. Voldemort looked astonished, but he was recovering fast and reaching for his wand. Severus' fear was almost as great as his pain had been a moment before. "James! Come to Papa - at once."
"He hurt you." James knew when Papa used that tone of voice he must obey - instantly.
"I know he did. But you can't help me like that." He lifted James onto his lap. Severus had tried hard not to let his fear show in his voice - Voldemort had shown during his last reign of terror that he wouldn't stop at killing children. He would have no compunction at doing away with James, the son of his greatest enemy. Severus swallowed bile. He heard Hermione come over to stand behind him, and felt her hand as she placed it on his shoulder. He was glad she was there.
"What do you want of us?" Severus asked, as soon as he was sure his voice would be quite steady.
"Nothing, Severus. I lost interest in you a long time ago, and my interest in your hideous offspring and your mudblood friend is even less."
"Then why are we here?"
"Severus! You're brighter than that. Think it out for yourself."
He rather thought he could - and it didn't help him in the slightest.
Voldemort called, "Wormtail!" Immediately Wormtail came over to attend his master. "Take them back - separate rooms. I don't think I want them conspiring."
"At once, my Lord."
Severus stood, and James clung to him. "But-" he said.
"Take them. Now!"
He climbed the stairs, slowly. Since he was carrying James he scarcely had strength for anything else. Wormtail took advantage of his distraction at the top of the stairs to snatch James out of his arms. James immediately started to scream at the top of his rather powerful lungs.
"Give him back to me. Please!" said Severus.
"You can't lock him in a room on his own," said Hermione, behind Severus. "He's only four!"
Wormtail hesitated for a moment then said, "Put the child in with the girl."
James continued to howl as he was carried up the corridor. "Go with Aunt Hermione," Snape said. He was suddenly shoved from behind into a room, and the door was slammed behind him, locked, and bolted. He just managed to stop himself from falling over.
It wasn't the room they'd been held in earlier. The bed was in a different place and when he tried the light switch - he wouldn't have known what it was if he hadn't seen Hermione try the one in the first room - the light came on. He instantly wished it hadn't because the bare electric light showed up how dirty the place was. Filth clung to the walls and the window, and the wallpaper hung off the walls here and there exposing bare plaster. There was a mouldering carpet on the floor, deadening his footfalls. The mattress on the narrow bed was foul with old stains, but there was nowhere else to sit.
Vile though the place was, Severus had to wonder once again why any of them were still alive. Of all people by now Voldemort should have realised the risks inherent in an over-elaborate plan. Though that might be paying the man too much of a compliment, he realised. He slid his over-robe off, and folded it into a semblance of a pillow, and lay down. Worrying about James - all he could do - wasn't very helpful, but at least it kept his mind off the stains.
He didn't get much sleep, but was rather surprised to get any. He sat up, aware of a pressing need to piss. He looked round the room, though it hadn't changed from the last time he'd done that. He shuddered, and suppressed the thought that that was the origin of the stains on the mattress.
Severus examined the window, and then tried to open it. It took him a moment to work out how the catch operated, but once he had, it opened. Jerkily and slowly, but it did. He looked out.
He was too far up to attempt an escape that way, though he might have risked it had he not had the baby to think of. Neither could he see anyone, there weren't even any visible houses that he could make out. How in hell had Voldemort managed to find and use as his hideout the one house in Britain that overlooked nobody? Somehow, it didn't seem fair.
This didn't help with his other problem, either. Once he got beyond a certain point in his pregnancy he had to sit down to urinate, and he was well beyond that now. He could make a fuss and see if Wormtail or the other two henchmen would let him out, but he wasn't sure he wanted to draw that kind of attention. Or, indeed, any kind of attention.
He decided he'd have to risk it - he pulled up his robes, reached for his penis under his belly and aimed it in what he hoped was the appropriate direction through the window. When he'd done, he wiped his fingers on his robe - the best he could do in the circumstances - and closed the window without locking it. He sat on the bed and waited, wondering how Hermione was getting on with James. James could be very difficult as far as lavatories were concerned.
The day crawled by. Seveus had known time could hang heavy on the hands, though it rarely did with him, but in an empty, dirty room with nothing to do it passed more slowly than ever. He couldn't even watch the sun move across the sky, the room he was in faced south.
He could just see the sun set if he leaned out of the window and screwed his head round. It had just dipped behind the trees when he felt the first cramping pain low in his belly. He supposed it could be hunger - he'd been given nothing to eat and drink all day - but he didn't think so. He'd felt it once before after all. He went and sat on the bed.
The birth of his first child had taken nine hours. He'd been told this was not bad for a first, though he hadn't wanted it to go on much longer. This second one felt as if he was in more of a hurry. Severus didn't want to tell Voldemort, and telling whoever was guarding them was tantamount to telling Voldemort. He had no idea what Voldemort would do, but it wouldn't be good. He still couldn't help wondering whey they weren't all dead already.
Severus stood up and started to pad slowly from one end of the room to the other. Somehow, it seemed to help the pain - enough that he could cope at any rate.
It grew dark outside. It was December, and late December at that, and Severus estimated the time to be only about four in the afternoon. He stood at the window for a few minutes, looking in the direction of the one visible street lamp. He didn't see anything. Then he resumed his slow pacing. He became aware of a wet feeling between his legs, then of a gush. That was that, then. He was definitely going to have this baby.
Now would be a good time to tell someone, but for some reason not clear even to himself, he still didn't. People did have babies alone. There had been that stupid Hufflepuff girl in his second year of teaching, the one who'd had her baby in the girls' toilets on the fifth floor. He remembered she'd been from a strict family of some kind and hadn't dared tell even Poppy Pomfrey. Strange people, Muggles. He tried the door again, though it hadn't opened the last hundred times he'd tried it. It still didn't.
That was when he heard the scream. It didn't sound like either Hermione or James - at least, he hoped it didn't. Then there was the sound of confused shouts and running feet. He hammered on the door of his room as loudly as he could, wishing there were something he could break up to hit it with. There wasn't, or he'd have already used it.
More shouts and running feet. He could hear more hammering from other rooms, and shouts. Among the confused noises he was sure he could hear James shouting, "Papa!" and shouted back. Whatever was going on it was distracting the attention of their guards, because no-one came to shut them up.
His door opened suddenly, and he there stood Sirius Black, a sight he had never imagined he'd welcome. They stared at each other for a moment, then Severus said, "What the hell are you doing here?"
"Harry's downstairs," said Black, and moved on. "Go on, then! He's worried about you."
Severus climbed down the stairs, slowly. He didn't want to walk into a battle, and he could still hear shouting and running. Some of that was coming from behind him; he looked back hoping to see Hermione carrying James, but the only person he recognised was Black. He continued down the stairs.
Severus found Harry standing over Voldemort. "He's dead?" he asked.
Harry turned. "I think so. Look at your arm."
Severus rolled up his sleeve. The Mark had gone, leaving a silver scar. At that moment a contraction hit him, and he bent with the pain.
"Does the scar hurt?" asked Harry.
"Not the scar," he gasped. "The baby."
"Here? Now?" Harry took Severus into his arms.
Harry shouted, "Sirius! Remus!" Severus winced, Harry's yell was loud. Harry's arms tightened around him.
Black arrived a few moments later, Lupin and Hermione behind him with James in Hermione's arms. "How are you?" Lupin looked at Severus.
"About to give birth," Harry answered him before Severus could. "Hermione, take James to Hogwarts and bring Poppy Pomfrey here. Sirius, can you find a suitable room - one down here."
Hermione went, obviously stifling questions, and Harry rubbed Severus' back comfortingly. "I think I should get you away from..." his eyes slid to the corpse.
"Yes, I suppose so. Was it the killing curse?"
"No, he'd found a means of protecting himself against that, which I didn't think was even possible. I used Opprimare to stifle him and then I stabbed him."
"How did you know I wasn't dead?" Severus leaned against Harry; the pains were coming faster. He knew there had to be more to the story than Harry was telling him, but now didn't seem to be the right time.
"Istlani would have warned me. Even from a magically-dampened room. That was why Voldemort had to keep you alive - I'd imagine Draco Malfoy told him about her."
Black returned and nodded to Harry, who led Severus to the room he'd found. It wasn't much of an improvement but at least it had no dead Voldemort, and something he could sit on - a faded chaise longue upholstered in green. Severus sat and Harry held him.
"Is there anything I can do?" asked Hermione. "Boil water?"
"Some tea would be nice," said Harry.
"I meant for Severus."
"I'd like some tea, too. They didn't give me anything to eat or drink all day."
"If that's how they treat their prisoners they don't deserve to have any," said Harry.
"Wilde said that first. And better. Ah! Oh, Merlin, that hurts," Severus tried to breathe through the pain, but it was rapidly becoming difficult. When he could speak again, he said, "How did you know where I was?"
"We've suspected for some time where Voldemort was. Suspected but not known. This seemed the most likely place, and Istlani confirmed it for me."
Severus raised his wrist; the snake was still there, like a basalt bracelet with jewelled eyes. Her forked tongue licked at Severus' skin.
"She likes you," Harry said, rather awkwardly. "Or she wouldn't stay."
Severus dropped his arm. "I'm used to her."
"Oh! Ow, that hurts."
"Where's Hermione with Poppy?" Harry muttered. "Though you still can't apparate into the grounds of Hogwarts it's not as if there's much by way of grounds."
"I'd gathered that's why Wormtail couldn't just take me. Where is Wormtail, by the way?" Severus was trying to keep his mind off the pain.
"He fled when I killed Voldemort."
"You let him go?"
"Not exactly." Harry looked somewhat nettled. "I was distracted by the fact that Voldemort had actually died and he changed into his rat form and disappeared."
"So he could be anywhere?"
"I'm afraid so. There's no point in looking at me like that, Severus. He got away and I'm sorry. But I couldn't prevent it." Harry sighed.
Severus looked up as Black came in. "What shall I do with Voldemort's body?" Black asked.
Harry said, "I'd suggest take it out and burn it, but that would only provoke more questions. Transfigure it into a stick and burn that in the kitchen range?"
"We'll have no evidence that he was ever alive again."
"Send him to the Minister, tied up with a pink bow and a note saying, 'All my love, Harry Potter'? Sirius, I don't much care what we do with him as long as the Death Eaters don't get him back."
Black turned his attention to Severus. "How is he?"
"Tired of being talked about as if he isn't there. I'm as well as can be expected for someone who's having a baby in a charnel house, thank you, Black." He expected Black to snap back at him, but he didn't. He just smiled, and left the room.
"Sirius means well, you know," said Harry.
"Does he?" Then, "Ah! Ow!" He grabbed Harry's hand as another contraction swept through him.
The next thing Severus noticed was that Poppy had arrived - the pain from a contraction distracted him from almost everything happening around him. She examined him, swiftly. "You're nicely dilated, Severus. Shouldn't be too long now."
"That's easy enough for you to say," he grumbled. "It's not hurting you."
She ignored him, and said, "Next time you get a contraction, push."
Severus sighed, "Oh, I'd never have thought of that."
Poppy ignored that, too. She turned to the people behind her. "Remus? Hermione? Fetch something for Severus to kneel on. I think you found kneeling the most comfortable position last time?"
Severus nodded; he didn't have the strength to speak during a contraction. When Hermione and Remus came back with cushions, he settled himself against Harry's chest and leaned back.
"Don't close your eyes, Severus. You need more sensory input or the pain will be worse. Potter, rub his back. Now, push again, you're nearly there."
Another contraction and Severus breathed through it as best he could. Then there was a pause while he leaned against Harry.
"And again," said Poppy. "You're doing really well."
Sometimes, Severus really hated Poppy Pomfrey.
"Here's his little head," said Poppy. "One more should do it, Severus. One more."
"Scream if you want," said Harry.
"I don't want to. I'm trying not to. Ah!"
Poppy was handling him again, but he couldn't be bothered to stop her. Then she said, "That's it, Severus. Well done. Another lovely baby boy."
Severus slumped against Harry. He wanted nothing more than to sleep for several weeks.
"A few more minutes then you can rest while we decide how to get you and the baby back to Manchester."
"That was the most beautiful thing I've ever seen." Sirius Black's voice, and Severus looked up. From Black's expression he'd seen a miracle - he looked amazed and thrilled. As did Remus Lupin and Ron Weasley. Hermione's expression was torn between that and horror.
Severus summoned up all his strength to yell, "Get out!" But it didn't come out as loudly as he'd hoped. How would he ever live this down?
They hadn't gone. "I want to hold the baby," said Black.
"If anyone's going to hold my damn baby, it's going to be me."
"Don't excite yourself," Harry held on to Severus. "You'll see the baby soon enough. Poppy's not going to let anything happen to him - or you."
"Besides," put in Poppy, tranquilly, "there's the afterbirth yet."
Yeuch. Severus had forgotten about that bit. As soon as he remembered, his contractions started again.
"Oh, Merlin," muttered Hermione. "There has to be a better way."
"When you think of one, let me know," said Severus, when he could breathe.
"You're doing fine," said Harry, softly.
"I think that's for Poppy to say."
It didn't take long, though, and soon Poppy had him lying on the chaise with his new son in his arms and a blanket over him. He was totally exhausted. "How are we going to get home?" he asked.
"Minerva is sending a portkey for you and the baby. It'll take you straight to the flat," Poppy said. "Do you have a name for him yet?"
"Yes," said Severus, looking at Harry. "We thought we'd call him Albus." He slipped into sleep.
Now Black and Lupin were back, Severus didn't seem to be able to get rid of them. Harry had returned to Australia very unwillingly, leaving his godfather and Remus behind.
James, of course, was rather taken with them. He didn't recognise either of them, but Harry's obvious affection for them was enough to endear them in his eyes - that and the fact that Black always had a treat or a story or an idea for a game. But Chestnut Lodge was a very small flat to hold three adult men - four when Ron was around - Hermione, James and baby Albus.
"Haven't you got homes to go to?" he asked one day, feeling like Madam Rosmerta at chucking-out time. He wondered, for a moment, if Hogsmeade was suffering from the lack of the school.
"Yes," said Black.
"Sort of, anyway," put in Lupin.
Severus handed Lupin the baby. As he'd got all these hangers-on, he might as well make use of them. "What does that mean? Either you have somewhere to live, or you don't."
"Despite Voldemort's death, I'm still a wanted criminal. There was no evidence there to suggest that Wormtail is still alive or that he was the one who betrayed Lily and James. Without it, I can't claim my house back. Or buy a new one."
"Where are you living?"
"Remus is renting a cottage on the edge of the Lincolnshire fens, near the Isle of Axholme. We go back there."
"The agreement runs out in four weeks, the owner is returning from Cyprus and wants it back."
"The heart bleeds," said Severus. He turned to Hermione, "What about you?"
"We're living with Arthur and Molly - Ron's parents."
"I see," said Severus. And he did - at least, he saw why they pestered him all day. "You're not all moving in with us, even if we do get a bigger house."
"Wouldn't want to," said Black. "I want to be able to get away from you when I need to. But I don't want to be too far away, either."
"For crying out loud, Black! Are you a wizard or aren't you? If you want to go somewhere, bloody apparate."
"And arrive cross-hoppled? Splinch myself? You've got to be joking."
"You mean you can't apparate?"
"I can if I need to. But I hate it, so I choose not to most of the time."
Severus noticed that rather than leaping to Black's defence, Lupin was concentrating very hard on changing the baby, and decided to let him get on with it.
"He's looking at me," said Lupin.
"He's a baby," Severus replied. "They all do that. James did." James looked up, then went back to his game.
Lupin made a wordless noise which might have been agreement - and then again might not - and went on with changing the nappy.
When they had all gone, and he was alone with his two sons, Severus looked again at Albus. Lupin was right. He did look more as if he knew what was going on around him than James had at his age.
"He's a nice, lively child," Poppy said, when she examined him later that week. "That's all."
"Poppy, it isn't. James is a nice, lively child. Albus is quite different."
"Have you discussed this with Harry?"
"He's still in Australia. He'll be back at the weekend, I hope. Then maybe I will be rid of his friends and well-wishers."
"Severus. They care about you, that's all. They're just interested."
"They care about James and Albus. I could die in a ditch for all they'd bother about me."
"That isn't true." Poppy handed Albus back. "He's in perfect health."
"That's a relief. Imagine what people would say if I didn't look after Potter's brats properly."
Severus dropped into the staff room on his way home - Minerva had said she would be there. Had made a point of it, in fact, and he wanted to ask her something in any case. He wasn't especially pleased to discover that most of the rest of the staff were there, even Professor Trelawney and Mr Filch.
As he obviously had no alternative, he handed the baby over to Pythagora Vector to make a fuss of, and sat down. Minerva smiled at him, "Was it as bad as they said?" They hadn't been able to keep all of it out of the newspapers.
"It was worse," he said. "But I'm still alive, and so are Harry, the baby and James, and that's what matters." He glanced around the room, but everyone looked involved either with their own conversations or with Albus. "Harry wants to know if you'll be Albus' godmother."
"He asked me if I thought it was a good idea, and I agreed."
"I see." Minerva looked thoughtful.
"Harry will be pleased, thank you."
Minerva gave him a curious look, half smile half something else. Severus looked away.
Suddenly there was a noise from across the room, and Vector's voice, "Minerva! Minerva, come quickly."
Severus jumped up and followed her, though he could hear nothing untoward from Albus. Sibyl Trelawney slumped backwards, her eyes rolling up into her head. "Don't touch her," Minerva said, as Professor Vector reached out.
Sybill appeared to be looking at Albus, though it was difficult to tell because they could see only the whites of her eyes. In a voice unlike her own, she said, "The Protector. Merlin's prophesy has come true again. The Protector is come among us. His parents are to be honoured among wizards, his name is blessed. He is here." Then she slumped in her seat.
"Is she all right? Poppy?" Vector looked around as Poppy came forward and took Vector's pulse.
"Really!" said Minerva. "Albus - Professor Dumbledore - told me she had these funny turns, but I've never seen one before. She's obviously quite mad. Merlin's prophesy indeed, as if anyone believes in that load of rubbish. Is she teaching this afternoon? No? Good. When she comes round, someone escort her back to her rooms and make sure she goes to bed."
Severus reached out and took Albus back into his arms. "I think I should be getting home now, Minerva."
"When does Harry get home?"
Severus put the baby into his pram. "There's just one game left so as long as the game doesn't go on too long he'll be home tomorrow night."
"Are you looking forward to it?"
Severus thought about it for a moment. In truth, the flat and his bed seemed empty without Harry. "In a manner of speaking," he said. "Yes."
~~ End ~~