"'Unprecedented' is one way to put it," Severus replied to Highmaster Spellen Spurlock, as he and the older wizard left the Spellcraftres' Guild's second quarter meeting and walked out onto the grounds to take the warm June air. "Typical Gryffindor idiocy would be another."
"Easy now. My wife's a fine example of that house."
"Grimalda, at least, had the presence of mind to marry above herself."
Spellen snorted. "And a Slytherin? Well, we all make mistakes, but I'd hardly call what Potter has done idiotic. To be frank, I was more surprised by your actions—emergency magical transfusion? Quitting hospital weak as you were? Taking a leave of absence to work on Potter's case? You very well could have died, donating magic under such circumstances."
"Yes, and I'm glad because then I would've been forced to mourn your absence for far longer than the period of your recovery."
"You would have missed my authoritative presence in meetings."
"These past few weeks have been a right pain in my hairy old arse, but I expect they were much the same for you."
"You have a rare gift for understatement," Severus replied, distractedly. If I'd done what Potter wanted, he'd never have been able to put himself in this position. Damned fool!
"How was St. Mungo's?"
"Barely adequate. We should arrange a training program for the medistaffers. I've never seen a more disorganized—"
"Spare me the rant about St. Mungo's medistaffers. I want to know about Potter's condition."
"Potter hasn't regained consciousness since her transformation—she has no idea that her change in sex is permanent."
"Ah, so the Department of Magical Law Enforcement's alteration of Potter's personnel file was more than mere efficiency?"
"What do you mean?"
"Don't you read the papers? Rita Skeeter reported it days ago. Shacklebolt made Potter a woman."
"How did Skeeter discover that?"
"I don't know, but now everyone's falling all over themselves to understand how Potter bewitched herself."
"I thought Skeeter had been arrested," Severus replied, ignoring Spellen's sally for information.
"She was, but her people had her released almost at once after the witch signed an agreement not to 'step foot or feeler' in St. Mungo's."
Severus gave a grudging half-snort. "It's the first I've heard of it. I've been too busy to keep up with such 'news'."
"Somehow, I've found time to follow it. Did you know that the company responsible for the reconstruction of the Weasley home had its license revoked?"
"Longbottom has always been a menace."
"Perhaps so, but his grandmother's Howler campaign got him his license re-issued within a matter of days, so there must not have been any truth to the rumor that the collapse was to do with him."
"I know nothing of construction charms, but I believe that Potter will be inclined to blame herself for the accident."
"She takes things upon herself in that way?"
"It's sport with Potter to do so."
"You know, the papers have been circulating rumors about Potter's unrequited love for Mrs. Granger-Weasley, which would certainly explain the depth of loyalty it must have taken for him to become a her."
"Spellen," Severus replied, with some force, "I taught Harry Potter for almost six years, protected him, fought beside him—he was never interested in Hermione Granger—he's a poof."
"Takes one to know one?"
Severus stopped walking. "I dated your granddaughter."
"Yes, after my grand-nephew grew bored of your—how did he put it? Ah, 'tantrums', that's right."
"If you'll excuse me, Highmaster Spur—"
"I will not. Something's on your mind, and I won't have you banging away in your lab breaking things because you were too tight-arsed to talk about it when I gave you the chance."
It's hard to understand how you and Albus could have been friends, Severus thought, sighing. "If you must know, Albus would kill me if he could see how badly I've failed Potter."
"Ah. The Epithet Syndrome, is it?"
"You appear to be suffering from a bad case of 'Hero—"
"Would you stop—"
"—ism' with a capital aitch. Did Miss Potter catch it from you?"
"I should have Obliviated Potter after he destroyed the Dark Lord when I had the chance." When he begged me to.
"Sex alteration spells weren't unique to that knob-polishing piece of filth."
"But Potter wouldn't have known any had I—"
"Potter was an adult when he cast his spell, and it's no longer your job to protect her. Shite. The pronoun use is a problem, isn't it?"
"I don't find it so," Severus mumbled.
"What was that?"
"Potter was in shock when he 'chose' to do as he did. How do you imagine she'll feel when she discovers that she'll never be a wizard again—and that the child she's carrying may be taken from her?"
"So you do read the papers."
Annoyed by Spellen's teasing, Severus stalked farther down the path and thought, If Molly Weasley doesn't petition for guardianship of the child, Fleur Weasley surely will. Would Harry be able to bear that after losing so much? Could Harry even manage the care of a child on her own if she were permitted to keep—
"Forgive me, Spellen. I'm still tired from—"
"Severus. Look at me."
Severus obeyed Spellen, not because he was his superior, not because he was his friend, but because he had come to view him in light of an irreverent, vulgar father-figure.
Working with a man while dating your way through his family will cause that, I suppose.
In that moment, however, it did not matter to Severus how he had come to trust the rather eccentric wizard; he only knew that he felt desperate for some form of paternal guidance—any form of it.
"I'm placing you on administrative leave again, effective immediately."
"Why? I'm perfectly capable of—"
"You are supremely capable, but that's not the point. You're suffering on behalf of your friend, and she's going to need you with her."
"Harry and I have never been—"
"Shittin'ell, Severus! There is something between you! I saw Potter's testimony at your trial, and I know you've played more than darts with him."
"How clever of you to be so astonishingly well-informed."
"I always have been, which is why Albus made me his friend, and I think the old plonker would've been chuffed to know you'd got your leg over Potter—he always said the two of you were like peas in the same angry pod—but we were talking about your 'game-playing'."
"No, we weren't! And what the hell business is it of yours if Potter despises me, regardless of whatever occasional drunken heedlessness has caused him to—"
"'Has caused him to' how many times?"
Enough to get my hopes up. "It doesn't matter, Spellen. He's not interested in me."
Ah, no wonder my Priscilla and Archie couldn't hold your interest, Spellen thought, clapping a hand on Severus' shoulder. You're already spoken for without ever having spoken. "Your maudlin navel-gazing seems to have blinded you to the obvious."
"What might that be?"
"The field is clear now."
Severus flinched. "You and Albus shared far more than a capacity for gathering information."
"Life is pain. You know that—but it's also a pleasure when seized."
Severus pinched the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger and closed his eyes. "Tell me, is there a point to your convoluted aphoristical philosophizing?"
Oh, I do know my onions—the boy's taking refuge in high diction. "Indeed there is: hoist your standard, Severus. It's past time you declared yourself."
Harry felt as though he were suspended in a thick syrup; his limbs were heavy and difficult to move, and his skin felt too moist, as though something viscous was sliding over his face and neck. He did not like it. Struggling to move, he began to focus on the sounds surrounding him, odd buzzes and chirps which he could barely perceive.
He realized, after some effort, that the noises were voices.
"I'll do it, Fleur," snapped an older female voice. "You're putting on too much."
"Eet eez not too much. Her skin will become dry from zis dreadful air if—"
"Pardon me," a new voice interjected, "but one of you is going to have to leave. Healer Spriggs left orders that only two visitors at a time were permitted Miss Potter."
"We are only three." the French-accented voice complained.
"Even so. The healing wards are rather delicate."
Fleur, thought Harry. Why is she—wait. Did one of them just say 'Miss'?
Suddenly, the cool stickiness that had been spreading over Harry's skin stopped and time seemed to stretch.
"It . . . it worked," Harry whispered.
"I should tell them that she's awake, sir."
"Don't. Spriggs will want to examine her first."
Severus, Harry thought, still unable to open his eyes and thinking it was bizarre to hear anyone refer to him as "her." But I am a "her," aren't I? I might as well try and get used to thinking about myself as one, at least, for now.
"Stop thrutching about, Potter. The healing wards are restraining you."
Harry became aware of a lessening of pressure around herself and was then able to move her body and open her eyes.
"You always loom," she accused Severus, who was frowning down at her. "Where did Mrs. Weasley go?"
Severus' frown deepened. "Molly hasn't been here since this morning."
"She left with Molly. You're disorient—"
"Did it work?" Harry asked, clutching Severus' arm.
"Your change of—"
"No—the baby, Justine—am I carrying Ron's baby?"
"You've . . . already named the child?"
"Ron did," Harry replied, struggling to sit up and finding herself surprised when Severus helped her and then sat down on the edge of her bed. "He told me when . . . . Why can't I get upset? Shouldn't I be upset?"
"Calming draught—and you're welcome."
"So, am I pregnant?"
"You're sixteen days pregnant with an approximately two-month-old foetus."
"Sixteen days? How long did the procedure take, anyway?"
"Fifty minutes, but the strain of your thoughtless transformation required that you be magically transfused to prepare you for surrogacy. That's why you're feeling off."
Harry wanted to feel elated but found it impossible. "I feel like there's cotton in my head."
"I'm sure that's . . . normal."
"You don't sound sure."
"Nothing about this situation is sure. Tell me, why couldn't you have waited?"
"For a virgin to be secured—there was no reason to exchange your bollocks for a womb when . . . when Ginny Weasley was—"
"Surrogates have to be virgins?" Harry asked, shaking her head. Is that my hair? Drawing a hand through her softer locks in fascination, she continued, "I didn't know that," while trailing her hands down her neck toward her breasts. "Oh, that's—"
"Stop it," Severus reprimanded Harry, pulling her hands away from her nipples.
"Ginny has nice ones, too—hers are smaller, though."
Severus groaned. "It's a good thing you're carrying the Weasleys' granddaughter, talking like that."
Harry giggled. "That's weird. I sound like a girl."
"You are a girl."
"Yeah, well, it's good I am one, 'cause Ginny hasn't been a virgin since Nev—"
"Would you keep still?" Severus demanded, seizing Harry's roaming hands.
"Why are you here, Snape?" Harry asked crossly, lying back down. "You've never wanted to stay in my bed this long before."
Severus drew himself up. "Be grateful that you're a pretty witch because your new manner leaves—"
"Miss Potter," a stout wizard with a face like a bulldog interrupted, "I'm glad to find you awake. Let's have a look at you, shall we?"
Harry looked at the wizard, who she assumed was a healer, and asked, "What's wrong with Snape?"
"My. Name. Is. Severus," Severus ground out between clenched teeth, before storming from the room.
"You said never to call you that," Harry sang back. "You know, I do feel 'off'."
"I imagine so, young lady."
"Lady. Young lady. Young pregnant lady. Wow, I really did it—why is my throat sore? Who are you? Is Justine all right? God, I'm fagged."
"You've been through a great deal in a short period of time," the healer replied, smiling slightly as he ran his wand over Harry, "but it looks as though everything's fine." Putting down his wand, the man offered Harry his hand, "I'm Richard Spriggs, Miss Potter, and you're in perfect health—as is the baby you're carrying."
"I'm glad," Harry said. "I hoped it would work. Does Hermione know? Is she angry with me? There wasn't time to ask her and—"
"There are people here to see you," Spriggs interrupted, looking uncomfortable. "Would you like to see them?"
"Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, several Weasley children, spouses of Weasleys, and various other Weasley admirers of yours. It's no wonder, given your thaumaturgical performance. Of course, perhaps it would be best if we kept your visitors away for a while."
Harry yawned and asked, "Is Percy . . . Percy . . . ."
"Weasley?" asked Spriggs.
"Yeah, him. Is he out there?"
"Administrator Weasley hasn't quit the hospital since you were admitted. I'll send for him. Try to get some kip. You need it. What you did could have killed you."
"Yes. Now then, here are a few rules: no Appara—"
"I already know that."
"Good. No using magic, either, at least for a while. There are too many magiceuticals running through your veins to make it safe for you to work magic. Understand?"
Harry wanted to say that she did, but her eyes began to droop.
When she opened them again, Percy was sitting by her bed.
Percy smiled. "I know, and I can't express my gratitude strongly enough."
"You don't have to say that to me. Ron's my best friend. I'd do anything for—oh. Ron was my best . . . ."
The calming draught seemed to have worn off some; Harry felt grief roll through her body up into her throat, making it momentarily impossible to speak of the impossible. Ron's dead. I didn't save him. "Sorry, Percy."
"It wasn't your fault. The inspectors say that the strengthening charms failed because of unforeseen interference."
"What . . . what does that mean?"
"Lycanthropic transformations are magical, too. They leave trace amounts of disruptive magic, which usually disperses, but—"
"Remus used the shack a lot."
"Yes. . . . Apparently, the various enchantments set into the shack to hide that fact concentrated the lycanthropic energy, and that interfered with Neville and Luna's efforts."
"Fuck. They must blame themselves. Have you talked to them?"
"Don't worry about Neville and Luna, Harry. There's something we have to discuss before the others see you."
"Florence and I forged your name to a Scroll of Permission for Procedure so that the hospital's Board of Ethics would permit us to—"
"Don't worry, Percy. I'll say it was me."
"Well," Percy replied, staring across Harry's room and out the window. "Well."
"Percy? The healer wouldn't answer my question about Hermione."
"She died, Harry. She and Ron were buried ten days ago. We wanted to wait, but—I'm sorry."
Harry gulped in a breath. "Thanks for telling me. God, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to sleep so long."
"Don't apologize, not for anything. What you've done is . . . what you've done, none of us will ever forget. You're carrying my niece, for Merlin's sake."
Harry slowly moved her hand over her belly and rested it there, not needing to feel a bump to know that she was pregnant, and the knowledge that what she had done had worked was enough to keep her calm.
Don't lie to yourself. You know it's the calming draught, Harry thought, wondering how she would feel when the healers stopped giving it to her. "So, what happens now?"
"That's the other thing I wanted to talk to you about. Usually, a surrogate surrenders custody of the child she's carrying at the end of her pregnancy, but . . . well, with Ron and Hermione gone—look, perhaps this can wait," Percy interrupted himself, rising. "I should—"
"I'll have to quit."
"I understand, Percy. I know I can't be an Auror and have a baby at the same time. It would be unfair. I didn't even think about it before—I just knew I had to do something to save Justine. At least she'll be too young when I change back to be confused by it."
"When you change back," Percy said flatly. "Oh. Yes, of course. I should get Severus."
"He's gone. He was acting like I'd exploded a cauldron, earlier."
"That was yesterday, I think, but Severus isn't gone. He's part of your mediteam, and he hasn't left the hospital since you were admitted."
That's what Spriggs said about you, Harry thought, feeling oddly reassured to know that Percy, who had worked with Snape during the war—back when everyone thought he was just a git and Severus was nothing but a traitor—was still efficiently managing things with his fellow ex-spy. "Figures. He likes the weird spells, doesn't he? No wonder he was looming."
Percy reached for Harry's hand, but stopped himself before he could touch her.
"I'm just a girl, Percy. I won't break—guess it's strange, though, seeing me like—hey, I haven't seen myself. Am I allowed to get up?"
"I could conjure you a mirror, but you might want to save yourself the shock."
"You're still a git, you know that?" Harry asked, shifting uncomfortably. "Look, I don't really want to admire my tits—I want a slash."
Flushing, Percy replied, "Right. I'll get Florence. You may need help."
"Why can't you—oh. All right."
Percy began to leave the room.
"No, wait—couldn't you just help me to the door?"
"Sorry, no. I'm not going to be a party to any negligence suit you might bring should you fall."
"You know I'd never—oh. You're teasing again. Git. Who's Florence?"
"She's a mediwitch."
"Maybe you should get Severus. I'm not sure I'm ready to uh, to use the loo in front of a witch, even if I'm going to be one for a while."
Some indefinable emotion flickered over Percy's face—Harry thought it might have been confusion—before he mastered it and asked, "But you can 'use the loo' in front of Severus?"
"Don't mock my effort to sound ladylike," Harry retorted. "Besides, taking a piss in front of Severus after everything else I've done with him won't be a problem—unless he's still naffed off, that is."
"We've talked about this before. Severus simply isn't . . . demonstrative, but he has been concerned about you. I can assure you of that," Percy told Harry, as he hurriedly left the room.
I'll just bet you can, Harry thought, feeling jealous; praise for Percy fell easily from Severus' lips when they were not otherwise occupied. Severus is "demonstrative" enough after he gets a few pints in him, even if it is always a one-off with him.