Elizabeth and Darcy were in complete agreement that their final year at Hogwarts was the least eventful and most pleasing time at school they had experienced.
Elizabeth made her first transformation a mere six weeks into the term, taking the form of a mare. Many people had commented that a mule would have been more fitting initially, but Elizabeth's quick and witty responses to such stopped them soon enough.
In the years to come, tenants of Pemberley often asked Mr. Darcy why it was he rode a mare, rather than a stallion or gelding, whenever out on the estate. His response was always to twitch his lip in the suggestion of a smile and say it was a strange matter of import to his wife that he did not particularly mind indulging. If the tenants questioned the wisdom of bowing to such a strange quirk, especially since the mare seemed to throw Mr. Darcy off at least every other month, they never commented as much to him. And if any of them noticed that Mr. Darcy took a different steed out on business whenever Mrs. Darcy was with child or had just given birth, they never mentioned it, for how could the two possibly be connected?
The only person aside from Mr. Darcy himself that was allowed to tend at all to the mysterious mare was Permberly's stablemaster, Josiah Ridgeway. Ridgeway took on the job a few years into the Darcy's marriage. Most of the staff was initially doubtful of his skill - Ridgeway had only one arm and significant burns on that same side – but he laid those doubts to rest quickly enough. On the occasion that anyone was brave enough to ask the stablemaster how he came to be in possession of only three quarters of his limbs, Ridgeway would shrug and say a dragon got him. Pemberley's Muggle staff eventually decided Ridgeway valued his privacy and so had come up with the most ridiculous story possible. Those in possession of wands knew Ridgeway spoke complete truth.
Jane passed on the opportunity to be one of a small number that had ever been head boy or girl for more than one year. Since she was to be living in Hogsmeade with her new husband, rather than in the dormitories, she believed it was in the best interest of the student body for a new head girl to be selected. Josephine did the job admirably, even though she was the subject of a great deal of teasing from her roommates.
Six months into the school year, Caius Malfoy published an announcement that his wife had given birth to a son. The boy was named Ursus, for the Malfoys had always intended to give such a name to a son, if they were ever fortunate enough to have one. Darcy was given discreet notification only a few days later that a prisoner of Azkaban of great interest to Darcy, though said prisoner had been stripped of his identification, had died. Darcy had shown the note to his fiancée, who then showed it to Lydia, who then set the note on fire in the middle of the hallway while cackling, even as she received detention from Professor McGonagall for magic in the corridors. None of them ever spoke of the note's subject again.
Darcy went to Azkaban every twelve months or so to assure the security of another prisoner once called Wickham, now better known by the number on his robes. Darcy always stayed in the shadows, never acknowledging the various vocalizations of Wickham, nor confirming or denying his identity. He simply made sure Wickham had no opportunity for escape, that his most basic needs were being met – for Darcy had concluded after much contemplation that Wickham should be treated as a human, though he behaved as more of a rabid sort of dog – and received assurance that the prisoner had no recourse to securing release before leaving. Elizabeth knew Darcy made such visits, as he kept nothing from her, but she never asked any questions, nor did he offer any information aside from telling her after several years of making the excursions that he no longer had reason to make another.
Elizabeth and Darcy married two days after completing their formal education.
The London wedding was quite the spectacle thanks to the international guest list and the bride's appearance. The emerald in Elizabeth's nose, the dye spreading over her left hand and arm in elaborate patterns, the fascinating way in which her hair was braided and styled, and the bolts of bright and boldly patterned cloth adorning her dress were all topics of conversation for weeks after.
The nose ring was nothing new to those most closely acquainted with Elizabeth, though Mrs. Bennet had nearly fainted at the sight. Darcy had sent for a master of henna to adorn his bride's skin. Elizabeth had been unable and unwilling to stay still for more than one arm, however, and so that was how she walked down the aisle. Darcy did not mind in the slightest. The kente cloth that accented Elizabeth's wedding dress had been sent by Kobina along with his regrets for being unable to attend; he and his wife were soon to welcome their third child to the world.
Elizabeth's hair had been done by Solveig, with whom she shared her special day. Once Solveig had returned to Norway, Fitzwilliam had become quite close with Erik. As time wore on, it was revealed that the major was learning the language from his new friend. When he had an opportunity to travel to Norway on assignment, he had eagerly taken it, stayed two weeks longer than necessary, and returned an engaged man. Solveig had come a month prior to the wedding, her English much improved since the last time she had been in the country, and proceeded to thoroughly entrance her future in-laws with her winning personality and thrilling tales from home. That she had had a major role in bringing Elizabeth back to Darcy did not hurt in the least, either. Her brother Bjorn accompanied her, and ended up leaving with Phoebe, who became his wife only a few months later.
Within a year of marrying, Major Fitzwilliam became Colonel Fitzwilliam. He and his wife hardly ever spent time on English soil. It was heavily suspected that he had become involved in military intelligence, though neither of the Fitzwilliams ever confirmed as much, and especially not whether such theoretical intelligence assignments stemmed from the Muggle or magical governments. When Harland Fitzwilliam died, alone and childless at the age of thirty-two, Colonel Fitzwilliam gave up his career to become the new viscount. His and Solveig's children were positively doted on by Lord and Lady Matlock, and, to no one's surprise, caused an impressive amount of chaos when they went to Hogwarts.
If Mrs. Bennet despaired at how she could possibly tell her neighbors of such a scandalous wedding as her second daughter's, it did not bother the new Mr. and Mrs. Darcy, nor the new Major and Mrs. Fitzwilliam in the very least. In fact, they rather preferred it that way. Mrs. Bennet's complaints had slowed marginally when introduced to Lord and Lady Matlock, for she was in awe of their titles. She had nearly fainted when she met Bavishni and learned that she was in the presence of an actual princess.
Mr. Bennet and Elizabeth, over time, rebuilt their relationship and came to greatly enjoy being in the company of each other again. Elizabeth had cried on and off for weeks when Mr. Bennet died seven years after her marriage. Mrs. Bennet, once she heard that Mr. Darcy of Pemberley was to be her son-in-law, forgot any and all offences she imagined Elizabeth had committed and could not brag enough about the match. Elizabeth was never quite able to fully forgive her mother, however, and so the relationship was forever strained.
The Darcys never ceased in being oddities, not that they cared they were thought of as such. Many of their peers could not get their minds around the facts that Mrs. Darcy had a jewel in the middle of her face, that the couple was forever traveling here and there and bringing foreigners back with them, that the Darcys were so very involved in the affairs of Muggles.
Mr. and Mrs. Darcy became quite well known and well feared by those that lived in the shadows of London, whether of the Muggle or magical variety. Hardly a month went by that they did not see to the closing of some brothel or break up a formation of dueling pits. It could not be proven, but many suspected the pair was also involved in the fact that several of those closed venues later transformed into schools or orphanages. They never claimed credit.
Being a tenant at Pemberley was something that had always been considered desirable, but after Robertson School was opened on the property and the discovery made of the Miller Fund available for advanced studies, securing a plot of land became almost a desperation. Every humble farmer that hoped for a better life for their children tried their very best to get their family onto Pemberley grounds or, if that was not possible, one of the neighboring estates that was close enough for their children to get to the school.
The Darcys had six children, all of whom were fiercely independent and highly intelligent. Their eldest daughter, named Anne for her paternal grandmother, married a Muggle with the surname Granger. Her son, like his mother, married a Muggle, and the fact that his children and eventual grandchildren displayed no magical prowess did not bother him in the slightest, for he loved them simply for the fact that they existed.
Jane and Bingley had four children, the first of which came into the world only three months after the couple completed their education at Hogwarts. Theirs was a happy family that was forever hosting some relative or another. Some were surprised at how well behaved the Bingley children were, seeing as how tolerant and easy to please their parents appeared to be. Each child spent a few years of their lives trying to convince people that their mother could be perfectly terrifying when she so chose, but no one besides their cousins ever believed them, and they soon gave it up and shrugged when asked how they turned out so well.
Upon graduating Hogwarts, Mary took up working in Flourish and Blotts. Most of her time was spent repairing books that were old, expensive, or both, and she enjoyed the peace and quiet the job afforded her. No one could be surprised that she met, fell in love with, and married a coworker that appreciated her skill and steadiness. The pair opened their own bookshop in Hogsmeade and were visited quite frequently by their nieces and nephews, though they never ended up having children of their own.
Kitty became prefect her fifth year and Head Girl in her seventh. Professor Sprout launched a career for the girl by sending her sketches to all those she knew involved in the publishing of Herbology texts and magazines. Kitty travelled regularly with the Darcys for work as much as for pleasure. On a trip to India where the Darcys intended to visit Bavishni and Kitty intended to make detailed drawings of several native plants for what would soon be the chosen text of Pomona Sprout for all Hogwarts Herbology students, Kitty just so happened to catch the eye of one of Bavishni's brothers. Darcy walked her down the aisle a year later. She remained in India until her oldest child was of age to attend Hogwarts, at which time she and her husband came back to England. The couple never flaunted that they were part of a royal family, and the knowledge was forgotten within two generations.
Lydia never married, a fact her mother bemoaned it until the day she died when Lydia was twenty-three. She became a favorite of her gaggle of nieces and nephews, for she was never short on jokes. That she was a Beater for the Holyhead Harpies and played for England in the Quidditch World Cup when she was nineteen did not hurt, either. When the time came for Lydia to retire from professional playing, she easily slid into writing about it for various papers and was frequently sought out as a consultant for teams of varying levels. She never did return to Hertfordshire.
Georgiana became nearly inseparable from Irene Gardiner. As young girls they spent almost all their time at one family's home or the other, and they entered Hogwarts the same year. It was quite a shock to them when they were sorted into different houses: Georgiana to Hufflepuff and Irene to Gryffindor. They did not let it interfere with their relationship, however, and remained the very best of friends. Mrs. Gardiner was proved correct in her prediction that Irene would tire her professors dreadfully. The girl was almost always in trouble for something or other, and the professors wondered at how it was possible that the positively angelic Georgiana Darcy could be so close to one so restless as Irene Gardiner. If both girls were among their favorites, the professors never admitted it.
The Hursts went on to have another two daughters and maintained an easy connection with the Bingleys and the Darcys. When the couple was cruelly struck with dragon pox, they sent their children off to Jane and Charles before the girls could become ill, as well. The pair died within days of each other, but they rightfully never feared for their children. Between the Bingleys and the Darcys, the Hurst ladies never wanted for anything, save the unavoidable desire to know their parents better.
Caroline Bingley, upon graduating Hogwarts with no distinctions of which to brag, left for Italy, declaring she would never return. The happier Jane and Charles, Elizabeth and Darcy had become, the more bitter Caroline had turned. Her brother heard of her marrying a wealthy Italian noble through a chain of connections courtesy of the Darcys. After the death of the Hursts, Bingley declared he had had enough of Caroline's foolishness and brought the whole of his family to Italy where he searched restlessly until locating his sister. Their relationship was never easy, but Caroline did come to know all her nieces and nephews, and Jane and Charles met their new brother-in-law and, when the time came, Caroline's only child, a boy.
"I cannot believe this is finally happening!"
Darcy looked to his wife adoringly. She was radiant with joy. Heavy with their fifth child, she could not manage more than shifting her weight rapidly from foot to foot in a physical manifestation of her emotions. He was able to watch only a few moments before giving in to the pressing desire to take her in his arms. "One would think you were excited, my dear," he said lightly in her ear.
"Only a little," Elizabeth laughed. She turned so her side was to her husband, who set his arm around her waist as they looked around the stadium in utter contentment. "Twelve hours, William! Just twelve hours and all the champions will start arriving! Oh, this is so desperately exciting! Did you ever think we would do it? Manage to get England to host an international competition?"
Darcy gave a throaty chuckle. "I've learned not to doubt anything you set your mind to, Elizabeth."
"Very wise of you, sir," said Elizabeth haughtily. "I am quite a fearsome creature to behold, when provoked."
"And that is so very easy to do presently," said Darcy. He poked his wife's protruding stomach.
"Oh, now you've done it," Elizabeth cried in mock outrage. "That child was sleeping quite peacefully, and now you've woken it!"
"How could this child possibly have been asleep with its mother in such a state as you are?" Darcy objected. He could not help but settle his hand where his wife's robes moved in response to whatever kicks or punches their child was throwing.
"I have it quite well trained, already," said Elizabeth. "As with our other children, it's you that sets them off to mischief."
Darcy threw his head back and laughed at that. He was forever able to top the stories offered by other husbands at dinner parties thanks to his lively wife that, with their children, was always involved in some adventure or another. Every time he thought she must not be able to surprise him anymore, she proved him wrong.
"Mama! Mama! Auntie Lydia has said she will teach me to fly tomorrow!" cried Albert, the third Darcy child. He had been named in honor of the Darcys' great friend that had died in service to his country.
"You're not old enough, Albert!" Anne objected, storming up behind her younger brother. "You aren't allowed on a broom until you're eight! Isn't that so, Mama, Papa?"
Darcy started working at placating his children while Elizabeth shouted for her youngest sister. He soon gave up, however, as the two eldest Bingley children and the eldest Hurst entered the fray, declaring loudly that it was not fair Albert should be allowed to fly, though he was only six. Darcy left the children to their own devices, though kept an eye on them, as he went to join the conference consisting of Elizabeth, Jane, Bingley, and Lydia. Albert would either be convinced that he would not get on a broom by his sister and his cousins now, or he would be convinced quite definitively by his parents on the morrow.
"Oh, hush, Lizzy!" Lydia said. "You are so very overly sensitive to these things! Albert's got long legs and a good sense of balance. He'll be perfectly fine."
"I am not questioning my son's capabilities, Lydia, but your overriding of the rules William and I have set forth yet again!" Elizabeth argued.
As frequently happened, Elizabeth and Lydia worked themselves up quite fantastically and Jane calmly brought them to their senses. Darcy and Bingley exchanged glances throughout the entire ordeal. They were well aware it was in their best interest to let their wives sort out issues between them and their sisters without interference. Before long, peace was brokered and all the sisters went their separate ways without any excess of bitterness.
"She's lucky I love her as much as I do," Elizabeth muttered under her breath as she and Darcy started back toward their still-arguing children.
Darcy pulled his wife to him and kissed her on the head. "She wouldn't be Lydia if she didn't frustrate you."
Elizabeth continued to mumble darkly right up to the point where Anne's face turned to her.
"We're all set, I think," said Josephine Prewett-Smith, Minister of Foreign Affairs, as she approached without taking her eyes off a long scroll. Josephine had advanced quickly through the Ministry and, thanks to her efforts to make the tournament happen that created a great deal of jobs and revenue, just might become the next Minister of Magic. She finally looked up to say, "Get yourselves home, Darcys. And do make sure that Fitzwilliam will be on time tomorrow morning. The representatives from Norway are going to be here very early and it would be highly embarrassing if their guide was not present to welcome them."
Elizabeth assured Josephine that Fitzwilliam would be punctual and the old friends exchanged excited goodbyes.
Darcy picked up Albert and Elizabeth grabbed Anne by the hand, then they all made for the carriage waiting for them at the edge of the stadium while the Bingleys disapparated. Elizabeth did not much like apparating or using the floo network while pregnant, and so the thestrals were called quite often.
"Ah, there they are!" cried Solveig, bouncing three-year-old Ella Darcy on her knee as Elizabeth and Darcy entered the main parlor of Pemberley with their middle children. "Did I not tell you your mama and papa would be back very soon?" She turned to Elizabeth. "Georgiana's gone to stay at the Gardiners', and Kitty's sent a letter."
"…and I thought to myself, 'Whatever am I to do now?' Those French can be a very tricky lot, you see, and had cornered me quite cleanly," Fitzwilliam said as he backed into the room engaged in a mock sword fight with Victor, the eldest of the Darcy children. "But then, I saw that one of the scoundrels had a pegleg, and so – "
"Richard, you can't think Victor still wants to hear this tale after you've told it so many times," Darcy said flatly. He picked up Ella as he spoke, for she had run over to him with all the grace a girl of her age could.
"Must you always ruin my fun, old man?" Fitzwilliam asked. While he was distracted Victor poked him in the belly, making him cry out and double over.
"Go for the neck, Victor," Solveig suggested to her nephew. "You're much more likely to hit something important there."
"I'm glad you think my liver disposable, my dear," Fitzwilliam said to his wife as he stumbled to a chair with exaggerated difficulty.
"So Aunt Solveig has been doing your hair, has she?" Elizabeth asked Ella as she fingered a braid on her daughter's head.
"She kept crying because her hair didn't look like Cousin Sif's," Albert said with a grimace. He was promptly scolded by his father for issuing something that sounded suspiciously like whining.
"Where are our children, Richard?" Solveig asked her husband rather dangerously.
"Prisoners of war," said Victor promptly, sparing his uncle from replying.
Solveig immediately set upon her husband in her native tongue and he defended himself in the same. Before long, they were off, presumably to whatever location housed their children, though Fitzwilliam winked at his oldest nephew before disappearing.
"That man has a death wish, I'm sure," Elizabeth said under her breath as Anne began loudly telling her older brother how much he should regret choosing to stay home, rather than coming to see the site of the tournament.
The Fitzwilliams, both being skillful warriors, often set ambushes for each other with the help of their three children. The viscount's casual response to his wife's rage told the Darcys that he had done so presently in their home. It was a strange sort of flirtation that frequently resulted in things being broken, though usually at least bones were spared.
"He must," Darcy agreed with a low chuckle. "If Solveig doesn't get him, I imagine you will if he breaks one more thing in this house."
"I gave up on keeping anything of value out once you started Victor on swordplay," Elizabeth said archly. She had never kept much decoration out to begin with, but once their eldest had started swinging the foil his father had ordered especially for him at anything that could be construed as a target, she had made sure the hallways were practically barren. Such saved her quite a bit of grief. If the walls of Pemberley were especially scuffed and pitted from Victor's play and that of their other children, the Darcys did not care one bit.
"I may have started Victor on fencing, but at least I never encouraged him and Anne to climb the drapes in the drawing room," Darcy shot back. In the background, Albert told Victor that Aunt Lydia would teach him to fly on the morrow. Victor said, in a very good imitation of his father, that Albert most certainly would not be on a broom, for he would not let his little brother do so before their parents allowed him, no matter what Aunt Lydia might say.
"That was one isolated incident," Elizabeth scoffed.
"Perhaps so," Darcy conceded, "but it did inspire a month-long episode of us having to search up the walls for them."
"Mama!" Ella called, stretching out her little arms in the direction of Elizabeth. She had, apparently, grown bored of being in her father's arms and required a different host.
Elizabeth, though she stifled a yawn, was perfectly ready to take her daughter into her arms, but Darcy knew how very quickly his wife's energy was spent when she was growing another human being. Though Elizabeth would not complain, and indeed enjoyed holding her daughter, the girl's weight would make Elizabeth uncomfortable after a day of wandering about the competition site tending to last minute details.
This pregnancy, in particular, seemed to drain Elizabeth quickly. Darcy had asked Jane multiple times if he ought to be concerned. Though his sister-in-law stated confidently she believed Elizabeth was so exhausted because she was on her fifth child and not getting any younger, Darcy continued to hover over his wife to the point she sometimes resorted to banishing him from whatever room she was in.
"Ella, how very kind of you to be the first to wish your mama a good night," said Darcy to his youngest, skillfully manipulating her actions to suit his aim. Elizabeth had seemed to realize that she was, indeed, quite exhausted when Ella had reached out to her. He began the process of herding his children toward their beds by affording Ella the chance to hug her mother's neck and kiss her sloppily on the cheek from his own arms.
"But, Papa, I'm not tired!" Anne protested as Darcy guided her toward the stairs with a gentle knee to her back. He had Ella resting in the crook of one arm and was pulling Albert forward with his other hand.
"I'm ten now, Papa! Can I not stay up longer?" Victor tried.
Darcy called up the stairs to Mary who, with her husband, had come to stay at Pemberley for the duration of the tournament to help look after the Darcy and Fitzwilliam children.
Victor and Anne ceased complaining immediately and did exactly as their Aunt Mary told them, even taking charge of Albert and Ella. The Darcy children had learned early on that Mary was quite adept at getting her way and that they could never quite outthink or overwhelm her as they were sometimes able to do with their other aunts and uncles.
His children managed, Darcy devoted his attention to helping his wife clamber up the stairs. Once that herculean task was managed, he set about aiding her in changing into her night clothes and stabilizing her as she got into bed. The Darcys rarely called upon their valet at lady's maid, preferring time to themselves to unwind at the end of the day.
"I blame you, you know, for the fact that I'm in such a state at such a time as this," Elizabeth huffed as she shifted herself this way and that, trying to get comfortable.
"If memory serves me right, you were rather a willing participant," Darcy laughed as he relieved his feet of his boots.
"I am of mind to think that you flaunted your paternal skills very powerfully and carefully, thus wearing down my defenses," Elizabeth muttered. "I can still blame you for making yourself irresistible."
"Oh?" Darcy asked lightly. He grinned devilishly at his wife, then flopped down on the bed and propped himself up on his elbow. "My paternal skills are of interest to you, then? Shall I tell you of how I had Anne help me when I brewed that potion for Ella's cold last week? Or of how, when Albert became quite tired of walking earlier today, I carried him upon my shoulders? Perhaps you'd like to know that I intend to have Victor sit with me through a series of duels tomorrow so I can answer his great multitudes of questions."
"Wolf," Elizabeth accused as Darcy leaned over her to kiss her nose.
Darcy howled in response, drawing a laugh from his wife.
"Get ready to sleep," Elizabeth ordered with a smile, pushing on her husband's shoulder.
Once he had changed and cleaned his face and hands, Darcy pulled back the covers and laid beside his wife, taking care to make sure the blankets covered her completely. "Can I hold you, or are you too uncomfortable?"
As a response, Elizabeth grabbed her husband's arm and pulled it across her. "I am very glad to have a husband so considerate as you, William Darcy," she sighed happily. "Even if it is your fault I feel like a whale at present."
Darcy kissed his best friend's cheek. "I have never loved you more, Elizabeth Darcy, than I do in this moment." He said the words quite regularly, and every time spoke the complete and utter truth.
Elizabeth was soon asleep, though her husband stayed up quite a bit longer marveling at her, his hand rested on the child she carried. How she managed to sleep when their child seemed to be practicing the most energetic of dances, he could not understand.
The tournament had been going smoothly for nearly a week, and Darcy was highly pleased. He and Elizabeth switched from day to day who would sit in the stands with their elder children and dissect the duels and who would wander the site with the younger two tending to various issues that arose. He was with Victor and Anne today, but had plans to switch places with his wife at lunch so she could sit and rest, rather than walk all about. With any luck, Albert and Ella would be tired enough they would not object to simply going home early with their mother.
"Victor!" shouted Philip Bingley, the eldest of his siblings, as he slipped into the seat beside his cousin. "Guess what!"
"Grandpapa Matlock is to take us down with him tomorrow to observe the judging!" Regina Hurst burst, squishing her way onto the bench as well. "We're to spend the night with him and Grandmama!" The Matlocks had taken the children – by birth or by adoption – of all the Bennet sisters as their own and thoroughly enjoyed being able to spoil many more grandchildren than they ever thought possible.
"I was going to tell him, Gina!" Philip snapped.
Darcy, sat between his children, stiffened slightly and looked around as Anne joined the brewing chaos. He hardly even noticed as she crawled across him to become fully involved. Very, very rarely were plans involving the children confirmed without first consulting the appropriate parents. A few seconds later, Mary's husband settled himself among his warring nieces and nephews and Bingley planted himself behind Darcy. When Darcy cocked is eyebrow in a silent query, Bingley nodded.
"Victor, Anne, you stay with your uncles," Darcy firmly directed his children as he rose from his seat.
"Where are you going, Papa?" Victor asked, abandoning Philip mid-sentence.
"Something has come up, that is all," said Darcy nonchalantly. "Be good for your grandparents, and I will see you tomorrow. Anne, you know your grandpapa will take you to the judge's table tomorrow, also. Don't let Victor and Philip upset you. And Victor, do not expect sympathy if you incite Anne to accidental magic with your teasing."
Anne sat up taller and raised her nose slightly in the air as Darcy left, satisfied with his assurances while Victor blushed at being called out for his poor behavior. Regina stuck her tongue out at Philip as he whined about Anne's inclusion.
Once out of sight of his eldest children, Darcy began positively clambering over people until finally coming to Fitzwilliam, who was waiting for him just beneath the stands.
"Solveig took Albert and Ella to my mother," Fitzwilliam said without preamble as he and his cousin began striding with great purpose through the crowd toward the designated area for apparition. "She'll be to Pemberley as soon as possible. Assuming I can find and convince Lydia to leave all this fun, I'll send her to help with the younger children."
"Much as I respect your wife, mother, and my sister-in-law, Richard, they are not my chief object of concern," Darcy growled as he barely avoided running over a loose goat. It was soon followed by a small boy, presumably the one who was in charge of it.
"Lizzy was with Jane and Solveig, taking the younger children through the marketplace, when the first pain hit Lizzy," said Fitzwilliam. "Or the first pain anyone observed, anyway. Jane thinks Lizzy must have been hiding them for a few hours, at least."
"What?" Darcy burst. He accidentally rammed his shoulder into some poor merchant's cart and apologized quickly before hurrying on.
"Jane's a smart woman, and knows Lizzy well," said Fitzwilliam, carrying on without acknowledging the blunder. "She brought the Bingley carriage today as a precaution and Solveig used it to bring the younger ones back to Matlock house. Jane went with Lizzy in your carriage and is likely to be touching down any moment. Marvelous foresight on your part, making sure this tournament would be held in Derbyshire."
Darcy ground his teeth instead of answering. He hated that Elizabeth had kept the start of her labor a secret.
"Don't be angry, Darcy," Fitzwilliam chided. "I'm sure Lizzy just didn't want to disappoint Albert and Ella. You know they'd been looking forward to going through the market with her. If she had said something, you would have – "
"Of course I would have!" Darcy snapped. He loved his wife more than he could possibly explain, but Merlin's beard could she frustrate him with her stubbornness!
"I'll go take over for Bingley and he'll join you soon," said Fitzwilliam, stopping on the boarder of the apparition area. "I only wish I wasn't needed by our guests from Norway so I could be with you, old man."
Darcy only nodded once to acknowledge his cousin's statement before disapparating.
"Darcy!" Jane called as her brother-in-law materialized at the opposite end of the Darcy's secret stable that housed their thestrals. "Good, this will raise fewer questions from your staff than Josiah helping me. Grab Lizzy's other side."
Instead of taking one of Elizabeth's arms, Darcy simply picked her up and kicked open the door that led from the thestral stable to the primary stable, shocking a few grooms going about their business. "Why didn't you say anything, Elizabeth?" Darcy asked tightly. Jane ran ahead.
"You worry too much, William," Elizabeth answered, trying to tease.
"Elizabeth," Darcy growled.
"If it's any consolation, I planned on telling you at lunch and going home then," said Elizabeth. She put a great deal of focus into her words. It distracted her from her discomfort. "It's not usually quite so quick. I didn't want you fussing all day."
"It is my pleasure and my privilege to 'fuss' over you, Elizabeth, and I would prefer not being denied such," Darcy replied as he went through Pemberley's main doors.
Elizabeth, rather than make a reply, grit her teeth and set a white-knuckled grip on the lapels of her husband's robes. Darcy picked up his pace.
Things were a blur for Darcy until Sovleig arrived and pushed him out of the room. "You stress Lizzy with your worry. You know this, Darcy! Out with you!" Solveig ordered, then shut the door quite firmly.
Bingley, good friend he was, stood just a few feet away with two glasses of brandy. Darcy downed his in one gulp.
"I still don't like that she won't let me in," Darcy grumbled.
Bingley gave a sympathetic smile. "You did not marry a weak woman, Darcy, in any sense of the word," he said. He slapped Darcy's shoulder and started down the hallway. "Come along, man. Let's find out what sort of ridiculousness I'll resort to this time."
When Elizabeth had been in labor with Victor, Darcy had at first been with her. After a time, however, Elizabeth declared quite forcefully that she did not want to be hovered over and made him leave. Then Darcy had been tended to by Fitzwilliam and Bingley, who tried to keep Darcy sane then and all the subsequent times Elizabeth labored with the support of her sisters. Darcy was not easily distracted, so his cousin and brother-in-law had quite the task. And now poor Bingley would have to manage it alone.
When Victor was a few weeks old, Darcy had finally broached the subject of his eviction with his wife. Elizabeth had, lovingly and patiently, explained the she had not wanted to hurt Darcy, but she could not expend the energy worrying for him in such moments and that she could not help but do so when she was near him and he was in such a state. The couple discussed the issue many, many times. Neither was completely satisfied, as they would both prefer Darcy be present, but they were unable to find some sort of compromise that would please them both, and so the separation continued.
Mary came after a time, as did Mrs. Gardiner, to be of aid.
"Sit back down, Darcy," said Bingley tiredly after a particularly loud exclamation from Elizabeth. His massive amounts of patience were beginning to fatigue. "You'll only make things worse by going over there."
Darcy sat for a whole five seconds before popping out of his seat again and beginning to pace. It was a good thing, he thought, that there were so many people he and Elizabeth could entrust their children to. He did not like himself being in such a state. He could only imagine the amount of distress Victor, Anne, Albert, or Ella would feel upon seeing their normally even-tempered and well-groomed father stomping around his study, his clothes disheveled and his hair a mess.
How much time passed, Darcy did not care to know, before he heard half of what had become his favorite sound: his latest child crying as it first experienced the world and his wife crying with joy. His elation dived quickly when he heard only the child and his wife stayed quiet.
"Darcy," said Bingley cautiously, noting the tension in his friend's shoulders.
The door to the room swung open quickly and Mary stood in the entry. This, like Bingley's company, had become a tradition. Mary would come with a smile to invite Darcy to come greet the newest addition to the family. Now, however, she was not smiling.
"Lizzy wants you," Mary stated.
Darcy lost not a fraction of a second before bolting up to the room he shared with his wife. He first looked to Mrs. Gardiner, who was sitting in a rocking chair in the corner with a bundle of blankets. "Is it…?"
Mrs. Gardiner nodded and smiled before devoting the whole of her attention to the baby she held.
Darcy allowed himself a brief moment of enjoyment for the health of the latest Darcy, then whirled around to Elizabeth. Jane, Solveig, and now Mary were fluttering about her, and she looked beyond exhausted, but the exhaustion was entirely different from the past births. There was no relief, no joy.
Without a care for the variety of messes or what would become of his robes, Darcy sat himself beside his wife and began wiping her brow.
"There's not yet reason to truly panic," Jane said to the room at large as she continued her various tasks. "Just because this is different than the past four times doesn't mean there's reason to panic."
Jane's assurances did not ease Darcy's growing anxiety. Things were not right, and no one seemed quite sure why.
"You're not going to become a hermit, William, are you?" Elizabeth eventually asked weakly.
"A hermit?" Darcy asked.
"If there is reason to panic and I – "
Darcy did not need, nor did he want, Elizabeth to finish her sentence. "I promise I will do my very best to live as you want and to provide everything I can for our children."
Elizabeth seemed content with the answer.
What happened in the next hour, Darcy would never be able to recall with clarity. There was a lot of confusion and shouting from all parties involved. Elizabeth was so tired she, for the first time in any of her birthing experiences, cried that she wanted to stop. Through it all, Darcy encouraged his wife and did whatever he could think to make her just a fraction more comfortable. At the end of the chaos, Darcy was holding one baby, Elizabeth another, and everyone was healthy.
"You never cease to surprise me, my dear," Darcy said to his wife. He knew Jane, Mary, Solveig, and Mrs. Gardiner to all be bustling about the room tending to necessities, but he had eyes only for the other Darcys.
"I don't know if I'll be able to top this one," Elizabeth said drowsily. "I surprised even myself!"
Darcy kissed the top of Elizabeth's head. "What shall we name them?"
"Artemis and Apollo, I think," Elizabeth said. Despite her weariness, mischief sparked in her eyes.
"Fitting for a pair of twins, I grant you," said Darcy, "but it might be best for us to explore other options."
Elizabeth sighed dramatically. "Your turn to suggest something, then."
"We could name our son Thomas, after your father?"
Elizabeth considered a few moments before responding. "No, I think it best we let the names Thomas and Frances die with the last bearers of them. George?"
Darcy grimaced. As much as he had loved his father, he could not bear the idea of one of his children having the same name as the man that had been willing to sell his wife off to a stranger. He thought, not for the first time, how cruel it was that Old Mr. Wickham had named his son for George Darcy.
Darcy and Elizabeth went back and forth many times before settling on calling their son Nicolas and their daughter Alicia. Elizabeth drifted to sleep shortly after. Darcy stared adoringly at his family for several more minutes before he, too, fell asleep.
Mr. and Mrs. Darcy were woken up several times throughout the night by their latest children, but they did not complain.
Elizabeth was soon back on her feet thanks to the care of her family and the plethora of concoctions the finest potions master and owner of the largest apothecary in all of England, Zebulon Thomas, brought for her. Elizabeth was so well, in fact, that she was able to attend the morning sessions of the last three days of the tournament and the entirety of the awards ceremony.
"I think I shall sleep a week complete, now that's all over," Elizabeth declared as she fell into bed. The carriage ride back from the tournament had been a mess. Victor, Anne, and Albert all wanted to hold their youngest siblings and bickered over it. Ella, thankfully, did not join in the chaos as she was content to simply make silly faces for the twins.
"Pleasing as that may sound, I think we both know it to be an absurd fantasy," said Darcy, rubbing his neck as he made his way across the room. He and Elizabeth had just settled all their children to bed and left the twins with their hired wet nurse. They had never hired a wet nurse before, but it had not taken long before one was acquired. Caring for twins was certainly different than caring for a single baby.
"I know," Elizabeth sighed. After a few moments, she continued, "Even if we could sleep for a week, I don't think we should, on further reflection. Nick and Alicia would surely be teenagers! They grow so very fast. How is it that Victor is off to Hogwarts in just a few months? Were we not just tucking him into a crib a short while ago?"
"I, for one, am quite pleased for Victor to be going to Hogwarts," said Darcy as he got into bed. "With any luck, he will find some beautiful, witty, and impertinent girl with which to spend his life."
"If it's your wish for that to happen, I hope you've instructed Victor as to failings that would drive such a girl away from him," Elizabeth said with a smirk.
"No, for then he would miss out on the opportunity for that girl to make him into better person," said Darcy. "The suggestions of a beautiful woman are far more effective than the rebukes of friends and family," he added with an annoying smile.
Elizabeth rolled her eyes. "I'm going to sleep. Goodnight, dear."
Darcy settled, Elizabeth wrapped in his arms, into a deep sleep with hopes that Hogwarts would bring as many opportunities for joy to his children as it had to him.
Here we are, 7 months, 5 days, 457 pages, and 210,000+ words later. I'm going to miss working on this story a heck of a lot. I didn't want to say goodbye to it, which is, in fact, why I only wrote the last half of the epilogue yesterday. Had to just bite the bullet and do it.
I hope things wrapped up to your satisfaction and that you enjoyed all the little Darcys! Thanks for reading along and going on this adventure with me.