Severus left St. Mungo's through Emergency, walking out into the magically expanded alley behind Purge and Dowse that was the Apparation courtyard. As he did, he took note of two medistaffers wearing garish, lime-green robes standing near the back of it.
They were smoking something that did not smell like tobacco.
"You lot, put those out and give me the rest of it," Severus snapped, drawing himself up as menacingly as the pain in his lower back would allow. "I don't want to catch you smoking this shite on hospital property again."
"Sod you, you—"
"Yes, sir!" one of them said, dropping his fag and reaching into his robes.
"Benny, what are you—"
"That's Severus Snape, you idiot," Benny said, passing Severus a bag and dragging his friend back inside.
Severus smirked, enjoying the fact that some people still feared him and contemplating partaking of his acquisition. He quickly decided against it. Standing most of the day and night had given him the kind of backache that only a proper analgesic potion could cure.
And this wouldn't do anything for my stomach.
Severus had felt vaguely nauseated since leaving the Arbitration Hall, and dealing with the results of Fleur Weasley's dangerous, ungrateful, and foolish behavior had sickened him further.
I told her not to eat any raw cheeses! Severus inwardly groused, furious that Fleur had completely ignored the dietary proscriptions he had set for her. And why didn't she keep her potions in a cool place as I instructed?
For a woman who thought that she would make a better mother than a wizard-turned-witch, Fleur had behaved with abominable stupidity.
Rubbing his lower back with one hand, Severus tossed down the bag of illicit dried fungus with the other and then drew his wand. "Incendio!" he cast, kicking the burning bag with his foot and looking up to see Healer Krum emerge from the building.
"Are you vell?"
Severus grunted a greeting.
Viktor pulled a packet of fags out of his robes and offered one to Severus, saying "I do not like some of these new medistaffers. Their behavior could cause problems."
"They clean," Severus replied, feeling perverse as he accepted one of Krum's cigarettes. "How could smoking a bit of Goblin's Toe possibly cause behavioral problems?" Eventual blindness and green skin are more likely.
"They are not all janitors. Think of the paperwork mistakes they might make vhile intoxicated—and they are disorganized. To smoke such trash," Viktor continued, gesturing at the ashes at Severus' feet, "it is not being a good team member, I think. My old coach vould've had their hides."
"Your old coach," Severus remarked, wincing in pain and wondering why it was that he was making small talk when he could have been at the Leaky Cauldron drinking the dinner he had missed. And the lunch.
"Vas strict, but sometimes, I miss the discipline. Even at Durmstrang under Karkaroff, their vas an order to things."
"I expect your old coach was nothing to Karkaroff. The man liked his Quidditch."
"He vas alvays most angry vhen ve did not perform vell, true. Vas Karkaroff a friend?"
"No," Severus replied, staring at Krum without blinking and thinking, I don't want to talk about Karkaroff.
"Karkaroff vas most fearful of the effects of drugs and potions. He vould have killed any athlete who used them."
Enforced testimony under Veritaserum would make anyone afraid of potions, Severus thought, remembering what Albus had told him about Karkaroff's private interrogation sessions in Azkaban. "I don't think he would have done that."
"No. I think he would have given their names to the Aurors," Severus said, coughing and then spitting with some force. "Getting too old to treat my lungs like shite, I expect."
Viktor looked into Severus' face. "It is not the cigarette only that you have been smoking."
Fuck. So much for small talk with a healer. "It's been weeks since—"
"It takes veeks for the constituents ov Goblin's Toe to leave one's system—bad lingering avects it has."
"I am a Potions master."
"Yes, you should know better."
"Forgive me. I do not like to gossip, but here at St. Mungo's, it finds me. . . . It has been hard for you, I think."
Severus exhaled and tossed away his fag. "I'm out of the business of gossiping. Thanks for the fag."
"I vas only meaning to show concern. I meant no disrespect. I vill go."
"Your concern is unnecessary, but . . . thank you."
"You are velcome. It is difficult, change."
Severus had heard from Percy about Krum's behavior toward the dying Hermione Granger, how Krum had not spoken to anyone since her funeral, and decided, for Percy's sake, to offer the healer what minor comfort he could. "I know that she was fond of you. She used to talk about you incessantly before classes."
Viktor started, but then he smiled grimly. "You vere never like Karkaroff, Snape. You were brave—a spy and a soldier vhile I played a game like a boy until injuries took me. It . . . it shames me to speak to so good a man."
Severus was too surprised by Krum's words to do anything but shake Viktor's emphatically offered hand and then watch him return to the building. But, mulling over the misguided wizard's words, he thought, No, I wasn't like Igor. I was worse. I served.
At the ritual, Amphitrite Merrythought had brought up Severus' time as a Death Eater, asking Harry, "You say that you respect this man, this man who was key to the destruction of your family. How is that possible, Harry James Potter?"
How, indeed? Severus wondered, deciding that he needed to eat before he was ill. How could Harry defend me when she knows better?
Harry knew more than anyone about Severus' past. That was not much, but it was something.
"There is a bond between you," the Arbiter Wizengamot had told them, "that is deeper than most wedded couples can boast—yet it did not develop normally. This is, I believe, the source of the conflict between you, and part of the reason Severus Tobias Snape felt he could act upon your will as he did. There is trust without truth between you."
"'Truth' didn't seem to help much," Severus muttered, Disapparating to the Leaky Cauldron and wondering how riddles were supposed to help matters.
He bought a room and a bottle and took himself to bed, half-regretting the burning of the Goblin's Toe because he did not have any analgesic potions with him.
No more standing for long periods, he promised himself, pulling off his boots and cursing his back before pouring cheap whisky down his throat. "Gah! Awful."
The burn of bad alcohol did nothing for his stomach and worsened Severus' mood, which had been bad before he had arrived at the hospital because Harry had not forgiven him.
The Ritual of Reckoning had not gone as he had expected.
"Would it have killed her to have shown even an iota of gratitude?" Severus asked the ceiling in exasperation, lying back against the pillows in a futile attempt to make himself comfortable.
He briefly thought about seeking Spellen out for that cup of tea the Highmaster had promised him, but decided against it because, at such a late hour, he knew that the alternative kick in the arse might be more readily offered.
Severus felt there was no place where he might go and be welcomed.
Harry had not looked pleased to see him, not even a little bit, and that concerned him. Of greater concern to him, however, was how Harry had become furious when he had admitted to casting the Spell of Acceptance upon her, in part, out of a sense of duty.
The crackle of rising magic around Harry in that moment had been more than a little alarming.
"I don't need your protection. I don't want your protection!" she had exclaimed, while darkness had gathered in her eyes.
And that was terrifying.
"Enough," Merrythought had said, and Harry had calmed herself at once.
Severus remained impressed by the Arbiter's demeanor in the face of so much power.
But I don't understand why Harry should mind my . . . caring for her.
He also had no idea what Merrythought believed her judgment would prove, and he was almost certain that there was no way the Arbiter could effect her sentence.
"Poetic" justice, my arse, Severus thought sulkily, falling into a fitful sleep and dreaming that Harry did not want him to care for her.
It was an old nightmare.
He woke several times—once from a nightmare that involved Karkaroff's dreadful drunken singing, once from the pain in his strained back, and once from the unnerving sensation of feeling as though he had pissed himself.
I'm never taking anything stronger than tobacco or whisky again. Gods!
Sheer exhaustion finally forced Severus to sleep more than a few hours, but when he woke again sometime after noon, it was from agony.
Body parts that he did not have felt as though they were being stretched, and his back and stomach were cramping so badly that, when he attempted to rise from the bed, he doubled over and pitched forward out of it.
Severus instinctively clutched at his abdomen as he fell.
Harry's water broke just after three in the morning. She had known what to expect, but, waking up to a wet bed unsettled her so badly that she began to cry. She managed to calm herself enough to fire-call Molly, who Floo'd to Grimmauld at once to help Harry pack some things and return to the Burrow.
By noon, Harry was in terrible pain, but she bore it out of spite.
Severus should feel all of it, she thought, gritting her teeth and sustaining her state of obdurateness with fury and disappointment. "Bastard! He's . . . a bastard!" she yelled, while Molly and Ginny looked on worriedly.
Molly squeezed Harry's hand. "You should take a potion, dear. It won't hurt Justine, I prom—"
"Harry, there's no reason to allow yourself to suffer. You . . . you know it wasn't your fault, don't you?"
"This isn't . . . about Ron," Harry forced herself to say, becoming frightened as she realized that she had not taken her morning calming draught. Don't think about Ron. Just, just—agh! God, it's . . . it's awful."
"That's why you should take something," Molly replied.
"I don't think you should push her, Mum," Ginny interjected. "Look," she continued, wiping Harry's tear- and sweat-dampened face with a cool cloth, "I think I know what you're doing, and it's all right, but if the pain gets too bad, you really should take something."
Harry yelled her way through another contraction before demanding, "How long?"
"About three minutes that time," Ginny said. "Try to take deep brea—"
"Don't tell me how to breathe!"
"What are you trying to do, Harry?" Molly asked, standing up and walking to the door, shouting out of it, "Daphne!"
"Mum, I told you that we shouldn't press her."
"Well," Molly replied, returning to her chair, "if she's trying to prove she's . . . she's man enough to take the pain—"
"I'm right here. Stop," Harry said, breathing heavily, "talking about me . . . as if . . . I weren't. This is bad enou—fuck! What's happening? Why—"
The door opened, and Daphne Greengrass walked into the room. "Her contractions are how far apart, now?"
"They'renotstopping!" Harry exclaimed, before yelling incoherently again.
"Right. Enough of this shrieking and bearing it shite," Daphne said crisply, drawing her wand. "I don't care how much you want the full-witch experience. If you thrash about, it will only make my job more difficult."
Harry glared at Daphne's wand and demanded, "Well?"
At once, Harry relaxed into the bed. "Th—thanks."
"You're welcome. That charm should last about twenty minutes or so. Let me know when you need it recast," Daphne said, before turning to Molly and asking, "How far apart?"
"About three minutes, but this last one lasted quite a while."
"Probably entering the second stage, then. Harry, you remember that I told you your contractions would last a bit longer at this point?"
Wearily, Harry nodded.
"Well, let's have a look, shall we?" Daphne asked, walking to the end of the bed and drawing up the sheet.
"Wrong end," Harry whispered.
Daphne snorted. "That's probably true, but midwifery pays loads more than mind-healing. . . . Well, you're about to have a baby."
I know that, you stupid bint, Harry thought, wondering how Severus was feeling.
The Ritual of Reckoning had not gone as she had expected.
After a bizarre recitation by Severus of his wrongdoings, which the Arbiter had interrupted several times by saying, "the Reckoner must be explicit," Merrythought had invited Severus to explain his motivations.
Harry had almost lost control of herself when he had.
I knew he was just trying to protect me, she thought, feeling miserable and alone.
"Yes, but why did you feel that it was your duty to do this?" Merrythought had pressed Severus.
"Because he thinks I'm incompetent!"
"Harry James Potter, you will please allow the Reckoner to speak."
Harry had learned a lot of things about Severus during the ritual.
But he never said anything about love, she thought sadly, groaning as her contractions became more intense. "Feel that, you bastard?"
"Who, dear?" Molly asked.
It doesn't matter. All that matters now is Justine. I can't fail Ron and Hermione. I've got to— "Oh! Why—I thought you said it was time!"
"And I thought you were going to ask me for another pain alleviation when you needed one."
"Harry," Ginny whispered, "don't you think he's suffered enough?"
"No. Not yet," she insisted, bearing down.
"Wait," Daphne ordered.
"Why? You said I could push!"
"I don't want your perineum to tear. Give your body some time to adjust."
"But it feels—"
"I didn't . . . ask for that," Harry said, panting.
"Molly, Ginny, would you excuse us, please?"
Ginny leaned down to kiss Harry's forehead and walked out of the room, but Molly protested.
"I don't think Harry wants to be alone."
"Harry?" Daphne asked.
"It's . . . it's all right."
When they were alone, Daphne said, "Who's this 'bastard' you've been screaming about?"
Harry closed her eyes.
"Don't ignore me. I have the impression that you're 'sharing' this experience with someone, and, as he isn't here, I'm going to assume that it isn't by his choice. That is unacceptable, Potter."
"It is . . . it was his choice, sort of."
Daphne wiped Harry's brow, saying, "Make me understand it, Harry, or I'm going to cast a stronger relief spell and report your behavior to Kingsley Shacklebolt after we're done here."
Harry sighed resentfully but did as Daphne asked.
"Snape forced you to accept your female state, so the Arbiter Wizengamot thought that he should experience just what, exactly, being a woman could mean?"
"Yeah," Harry panted.
"How is that going to teach the git not to make your decisions for you?"
"I don't . . . know but . . . but it was . . . his choice," Harry said, in between pushes.
"I understand that, Harry, but there are better ways to express your needs to your partner," Daphne chided. "What you're doing now can only lead to Snape developing some sort of Labor Away potion."
"Don't tell . . . anyone . . . please," Harry said, in between pushes.
"Don't worry. I won't. But I think that you should talk to him."
"Why? He won't . . . oh! Damn, it's—he won't listen."
"From what you've said, you never actually tried to make him listen."
"Could we not . . . I have to—gnrt!"
"Easy, it's all right. Just keep pushing—you're crowning. That's why—"
"I'm on fire! It's burning. Oh, FUCK!"
"Harry?" Molly asked, opening the door. "I'm coming in. It's all right, dear. You're doing so well," she continued, taking Harry's hand.
But Harry could only yell in response. Her response was lengthy.
"Come on, Harry," Daphne urged, sometime later. "Big push! Good, very good. One more, I think. Push!"
The sound of a crying infant burst into the room.
"Oh, Harry!" Molly exclaimed. "You've done it, dear!"
"Want to . . . see her," Harry said, forgetting about everything and everyone else in the face of her desire to see her child.
Harry had read that some witches did not feel as if the children they carried were real during their pregnancies. It was a concept she did not understand and had not shared, but, until Justine's birth, Harry had not truly considered Justine to be hers. As Daphne placed Justine in her arms, however, Harry could not imagine her child belonging to anyone else.
"Justine," she murmured sleepily, pressing her nose lightly to the top of the baby's head and inhaling deeply. "My daughter." Would I have been able to feel this way about you if Severus hadn't—
"She's so beautiful, Harry," Molly said, sniffling a bit. "Would you mind if Arthur came in? He's been hovering by the door for hours."
"No, of course not, but . . . ."
"Molly, it's all right, isn't it?"
"For . . . for me to consider Justine mine?"
"Oh, Harry," Molly said, gently wrapping an arm around Harry's shoulders and hugging her. "You're Justine's mother, and you'll be a wonderful one."
"Even though Fleur—"
"Is it safe?" a male voice asked.
"Arthur, come and see your new granddaughter," Molly said, beginning to cry as she stood up.
"I'll just be a moment, dear."
"Is she all right?" Harry asked.
"Don't you worry about Molly," Arthur said, thickly. "She's always this way when a new one comes. Hello, Justine," he continued, sounding very formal as he sat on the edge of Harry's bed and started counting the baby's fingers. "It's always good when there are ten."
"And how's Mum doing?"
"Sore," Harry said, flushing a bit in embarrassment.
"Very brave, I think."
Suddenly, a wave of sadness washed over Harry. "Would you?" she asked, offering Justine to Arthur, who took her at once, looking delighted. "I wanted things to be . . . different."
"I know, Harry. We all did, but Ron and Hermione would be so proud if they could see you now, so grateful."
"I should have been able to save them," Harry whispered, as a tear ran down her cheek. "What
good is being so powerful
if . . . ."
"Miss Greengrass?" Arthur asked. "Would you get Justine settled and give Harry and I a moment?"
"It would be my pleasure. Come here, you," Daphne said, cooing a bit and leaving the room.
Arthur wiped Harry's tear away and then took her hands. "Molly Weasley is the love of my life, as you may have suspected."
Harry sniffled. "I guess that's good, considering."
Arthur grinned, though his eyes were full of remorse. "She's given me her friendship, her love, and our family, and I've kept her in, at best, what you could call genteel poverty—but she's never complained."
"I don't understand what—"
"Shh," Arthur said mildly. "I'm interfering."
"Molly could have married a much better man, a richer one, a more ambitious one, but she chose me, and I've never had cause to regret anything in my life because of that, because of her support. Not all couples can say that."
"I guess not," Harry answered, still confused.
"The thing is, Harry, that, even though our lives haven't been easy, even though we've had some rough patches, we got through them because we had each other. I'm a lucky man to have found a partner to trust and love in this life. Do you understand?"
"I don't think Molly could have found a better man, Mr.—Arthur."
"I won't gain anything by arguing with you, so I won't. However, I think it's clear—to all of us—that you've got someone like Molly, too."
"I don't want to talk about him," Harry said, turning away her head.
Arthur turned her chin so that she was looking at him again. "Harry, Percy and I've been talking again. I know about the Ritual of Reckoning. I imagine it was . . . difficult, and I think I know why."
"Before I answer that, let me say this: Molly and I have always been proud to consider you our child. I know it wasn't the same. We're not your parents, but we loved you as well as we could."
"I know. I . . . ."
"That's all right. I know how you feel. You don't have to tell me. I know. It's not always an easy thing to say, to tell someone, is it? Some people have to let their actions say 'I love you' for them."
Harry swallowed, hard. "But he . . . he won't listen to me. He just does things."
"And that's a problem, but it's not insurmountable, is it?"
"Harry Potter has always been my concern," Harry remembered Severus saying during the ritual. He can't say it. "Why? Why can't he say it? Why can't he just be normal?"
"When you're rested, why don't you ask him?" Arthur suggested, leaning down to kiss Harry on her forehead. "Now, I couldn't have done that when you were a wizard, could I?"
"No," Harry said, smiling in spite of herself. "It would have been weird."
"I'll let you sleep now, but try and think about what I've said. And Harry?"
"Ye—es?" Harry asked, through a yawn.
"Nothing in your life has been normal, but that doesn't mean you can't start having a normal life, does it?"
"I guess not. I mean, sure."
"And what would be more normal then for you to bring a suitor 'home' to secure the approval of your family?" Arthur asked, a mischievous gleam in his eyes.
Harry laughed and snuggled down more deeply into the bed as Arthur shut the door. If Severus thought feeling my labor was bad . . . .