Title: Berenice's Birth-
Genre: Angst, Romance
Summary: When a freshly widowed Hermione came to teach at Hogwarts, she ended up breaking up Severus' engagement to a beautiful, young witch, and her own heart. After five years, the situation is irreversible, say her children.
Word Count: 10,400
Author's Notes: I took some elements from bulletimescully's other prompts, too, and went to town. Hope you like it.
I squared myself in my armchair and continued my story, repressing the urge to flatten the blonde man's impudent, haughty features on the chimney's mantle.
'Let me talk. Her face... she looked a little bit like you, but very feminine, of course, blonde and doll-like, and not terribly intelligent...just like you." Take that. His smirk showed me he kept a stiff upper lip, but never knew how serious I was with those jibes... Good.
I continued. "Anyway...her face was contorted with hate and anger, and... a kind of uncertainty. Where getting Snape into trouble--'
'You mean into her bed,' he interrupted with that congenital insolence of his.
I couldn't repress a chortle. 'It was how it started, apparently. What I was saying before you interrupted... Where getting Snape into trouble wasn't involved, her strategic mind and planning faculties were apparently not her best trait. Look at her figure in profile, and you'd have been hard-pressed to call any of her personality traits her best advantage, anyway. Not like me, I know..."
I continued in a voluntarily dramatic tone, like the narrator in those old horror movies he loved to despise.
"But right now, her wand was pointed at my mother's belly, as the blonde's pearly whites tinkled behind lush, pink-painted lips, which hissed curses and hexes. Not something the Replacement Transfiguration Professor would especially enjoy, especially as she was eight months pregnant, wandless, and hog-tied to her own bedpost. And she knew her preferred daughter (for the moment at least) was hidden in her cupboard and wandless, too.
My mother's own lips, chapped and pale, were also moving full-speed, enveloping her body in protective charms. I knew she wouldn't dare to use too much wandless magic, especially not aggressive spells, for fear of inducing an early birth.
I heard Mum's firm, competent, sarcastic voice in my head. 'It's not like we don't have enough complications with the situation as it is.' She'd had a lot of occasions to say those words, in the last years.
Still, she moved and wriggled and made as much noise as she could, and I knew it was to protect me. At some point she said, 'Look, Alexandra, why can't we just talk? You have me all tied up here, and my wand is in your pocket, so you don't risk anything... and I can explain why your fears are so unfounded. I can explain everything. It's not like I'm going to flee through a secret trap door in my cupboard, or something.'
I searched, blindly groping in the dark, and of course it was there. My tunnel to safety. I didn't use it, though. When she was fourteen, my mother had already faced Voldy's minions three times, including your own grandfather, uncountable monsters, a Troll, and saved the Wizarding World. With my Dad, of course, and Harry. The least I could do was hang in there, and try to help her if a chance presented itself.
I didn't barge in, though. I didn't even dare to Accio my wand, remembering Mum's small speech just after Dad's burial, when we thought she'd have to take that teaching post in Bulgaria, if we wanted to keep the flat.
'You must take extra care of yourself, Rose,' she'd hammered, 'and in any case remember you're Granny Molly's and Hugo's anchor, now. If something should happen to me -- not that it will, but just in case -- you must be there for them. At any price, take care of yourself.'
Being her daughter, I had heard the unspoken words, too. That was before McGonagall, bless the wrinkled old angel and her sudden need for a year-long sabbatical, swept in with a job proposal as her replacement for the school year at Hogwarts. It granted Mum an immediate, correct salary, and a roof over her head just next door to her kids. And maternity benefits, too, when she finally told about her pregnancy. So we'd been able to rent out the flat and keep up with the mortgage payments, even though Dad's disability payments had stopped and she'd left her job. I'd had to give up my violin lessons, though, which for you might have been a chore, but for me... they were the highlights of my week...
I knew Mum would be livid if I endangered myself. Worse, she'd be disappointed in me. But I still had to try. I imagined my answer to her scolding, 'You were going to be livid anyway,' I planned to tell her after I'd have hexed Alexandra into the woodwork. 'I prefer having you livid-angry than livid-dead. Besides, I'd rather affront the Blonde-Who-Sleeps-Around than raise Hugo on my own any day.'
I remember thinking it was a good thing Mum'd spent so much time with Snape, since she'd come to Hogwarts as McGonagall's replacement, as her macabre sense of humor had vastly improved. She might understand, maybe even laugh... Assuming it worked, of course, and I was in a state to make macabre jokes and she to understand them.
As if on cue, Mum gave another proof of her tongue-in-cheek sense of humor. 'What have I ever done to justify this attack?' she asked. 'If anything, I've been helping out your fiancé with all the schedules and work arrangements at Hogwarts, which should have befallen him as Deputy Headmaster in Minerva's absence, and freed him to spend more time with you. I even took night duty shifts whenever you come to visit from your campus in London...'
She managed to sound baffled and miffed, Mum, but the other wasn't placated, although she stopped hexing long enough to answer, and look for whatever proof she imagined we had hidden of her cheating on Snape. Alexandra began rummaging around in the cupboard, wand at the ready. I flattened and Disillusioned myself under a pile of old sweaters, and waited...
Even as she groped around in the cupboard, Alexandra kept muttering. 'And you've been sniffing after my tail like the bitch you are, to bring him proof I've been cheating on him when I'm away at the Uni, as if a girl shouldn't have some fun during her student years. What good can it do you? You old fat cow,' she spat in anger. 'Look at yourself, trussed here with your fat gut and your swollen ankles and your old-lady's sensible shoes. You even have varicose veins! Pathetic. He won't fall for you anyway. I know that's what you're after... Don't think I'm stupid, because I'm blonde and beautiful. Unlike you, you dried-up dowdy... fat cow.'
She couldn't even do insults properly, I thought, marveling again at the power of blond, nubile and curvy on men such as Snape, who'd been betrothed to the Harlot since she'd became of age, and was patiently waiting for her to finish her vague History of Wizarding studies in London to wed her, as she patronizingly reminded him in public each time she had a chance. With his intellect and his repartee... he'd have been much better paired with Mum, I thought unbidden for the millionth time.
My heart, already pumping almost undiluted adrenaline, did its usual flip-flop, like it did always... since that first time when I'd walked on Mum and him at three a.m., both laughing to tears on her sofa as they recapped the reactions to their joint letter to Potions Quarterly, after a pompous sod at the redaction had risked some critic of a new article they'd published together. He'd missed the point of their research though... but they hadn't missed him.
My mother was talking. 'I am certainly not expecting him to fall for me...'
I attributed the grimness her voice to her position, and her belly pressing on her windpipe.
'Severus and I have been friends since the War, or didn't you know? Even before he adopted you... As to what you're doing in London, you shouldn't have to be ashamed of anything you do away from your fiancé, certainly?'
'I have nothing to be ashamed of! I have the right to get some fun! I'm young! He's old and shriveled and buried here, and he should thank me for marrying him, after what he did to me! And if I make him go out with me to nice places from time to time? I deserve it! He's so ugly he wouldn't be accepted in all the nightclubs he goes in as my escort, if he was alone! He should kiss my feet for having him take me to the Bahamas last winter! As if he'd have gone on his own to a Muggle Club Med resort! He'd have missed out on the fun, like he did all his life, because of killjoys like you! Even there he spent all his time gloomy and... well, no, not all his time', she smirked with a leery grin...' But all his time outside, as if he didn't enjoy the poolside games! And on top of that, you have to go and tell him I shame him, and I am stupid because I'm young and pretty, and because I know he's too old and too dried-up for me, the ugly, dirty old man!'
'I only said you shouldn't say those things to his face, especially not in public,' answered Mum, 'and I never thought being young and beautiful makes one stupid.'
She wasn't lying, by the way... all my childhood she kept telling us that beautiful girls are just as smart as the others, provided they work on their brains as much as on their looks. It still happens... usually when she catches me in front of a mirror. Yes," I said to his smirking countenance, "I sometimes look at myself in a mirror. I don't do it for you, is all.
Anyway, she was rummaging in the cupboard, and cutting my secret exit route. And she was furious. Images assaulted my mind... They say you relive your life when you're about to die, even though I wasn't planning on that just yet. Now it was the picture of Mum pep-talking Snape, one night when I'd snuck out of the dormitory and pretended nightmares to sleep in her bed. What can I say? Since she came to Hogwarts I'd taken to spy shamefully on everything she does and says. After all, she was all I had left, with Hugo. Still is."
The other acknowledged the pique with a formal nod. We smirked at each other, and I continued.
"In the six months Mum had been at Hogwarts, Snape and she had become used to popping into one another's offices at all hours of the night, as befitted two insomniac workaholics with complementary personal libraries. So having her conduct a deep personal psychotherapy session with the Greasy Git at three in the morning, in her professional chamber, was kind of... nice. Harry and Ginny were great, but they're doers, and afflicted with the most vocal seven kids the Wizarding World has ever produced.
Try to understand and wipe that smug simper from your face. They're my cousins and I'll always love them, but when Ginny offered Mum to leave us with her, when Mum had no work to go back to after the burial, except what that guy Krum offered her beyond the Hills of Darkness, Hugo and I, for once, were in surprising agreement. NO. It's not because we didn't have a whole family anymore that we wanted to change what we used to be. And face it, we were quite the quiet, bookish type, the four of us. Had been, I should say... by the time I'm telling you about, it was the three of us. Granny used to say after Dad spent all his oats in the War, he'd turn to be like his own Dad. They died at the same time, more or less...
Also... it's not nice to think of it even, but Hugo and I... we kind of resented Harry and Ginny. They spent a small fortune on Dad's treatment, I know, but then between the care of Granddad Arthur and their last-born, which had also stretched Harry's resources to the max... we could see it was getting hard on them. When Mum quit her job they came over one evening, 'to see how they could help'. I still remember their faces when Mum told them she'd only take our Hogwarts tuition from them.
They 'forced' her to accept help in kind, too, like Apparating or Portkeying Dad to the hospital in the States every month, and one night a week of caring for Dad in London, but I can't forget this mix of shame and relief on their features when Mum rejected their half-hearted attempts to push more money on us....
So, OK, I began spying on Mum before she came to Hogwarts. Sue me.
Anyway, Snape and Mum, for all they have done in their lives -- I don't think I'll ever live up to her standards -- they're, in essence, thinkers. And my mother had spent the last year of her life changing grown-up diapers and other disgusting things Dad's treatment and deteriorated health necessitated, including administering this weird treatment once he got too weak for the monthly visits to the hospital. I'm still wondering how Dad managed to get her pregnant so close to the end, but that's not a subject I like to dwell upon. Neither does she, I think..."
"Would you mind getting back to the subject? We have a decision to make, after all... And I, neither, like to dwell on..."
"Shut up. Anyway... I'd been benevolently eavesdropping on her conversation with Snape about his incoming nuptials to the Harlot-Who-Told-Lies. Mum was trying to make him see.
'Are you serene,' she asked, 'knowing she'll be the one to bring up your kids if something happened to you? On her own?'
'She can't be worse than my own parents. Blonde and beautiful doesn't mean stupid...' He sounded much less dogmatic than in class, where he'd been ignoring me studiously since Mum got here. Grateful for small favors, and all that.
'She's not stupid. You only have to look at the way she makes you do everything she fancies. Only, her intelligence and yours are very different. As for beautiful... I wouldn't know. She's wonderfully pretty, but...'
'You'd know,' he dropped in heavy sarcasm. But his voice was always warmer in Mum's rooms, giving an impression of easy comfort I never heard in it anywhere else.
'Of course,' she quipped lightly. 'Having never been either, I've spent a very long time looking at women who were... and at men's reactions around them. Such as yours...'
'Fishing for compliments, Dr. Granger-Weasley?'
'Gnn.' Mum's negative growl didn't sound hurt, although it should have. I would have been hurt, in her place. 'I never really was in the market for male attention,' she said simply. 'There was only ever Ron, after that short Krum puppy-love thing, and we married at once after the War. Then I was pregnant twice in a row, and then his wound began to act up. He only ever had eyes for me -- as long as his eyes were in working order, and even afterwards -- And... all the other men who looked at me that way were perforce perverted, despicable lechers who tried to take advantage of a young married woman with a disabled husband. According to them I should have been grateful anybody looked at me long enough to help me take care of my frustrations, especially given the way I look. Not,' she uttered emphatically, 'the kind I'd have welcomed any attention from.'
He gave a small chortle. 'Like that lowlife Chortwood Healer, the last time I came to bring you the potion in St. Mungo's... But you're still fishing.'
She laughed, too. 'Didn't you frighten him? I'd swear he was taking better care of Ron, afterwards.'
'Not that it helped, in the end.' His voice was somber again. You know he tried, too, to find something Dad's cursed wound would react to positively. Mum and he spent hours, year after year, huddled together in his lab, putting together, as Harry used to say, the two best potions-inventing minds one could dream of, and Mum's corporate resources, too, as long as she was working... In a sense it was comforting, to know so many people tried to save Dad, although to my terrible shame I didn't understand why.
I can only ever remember Dad as a sick, wan, bald husk anyway. Maybe that's why I had such a hard time understanding Mum's decision to leave her job as Head of Research in the Multinational Pharmaceutical Potions Inc. and take a heavy credit, endangering the flat Hugo and I had grown up in... It was the flat Dad and she bought together when she was a promising Potions researcher and he a Quidditch rising star, in the best street of Wizarding London, a revenge on his impecunious childhood... and on your father, too, somehow... Remember how our windows faced each other?
She'd forsaken it all, the dazzling career, the cushioned life, our easy childhoods... everything... to provide Dad with that last-chance experimental treatment from the States, which looked iffy in the best of cases. Maybe to those who remembered him healthy it made more sense... Uncle Harry sunk a nice sum in that adventure, too... And Snape never stopped looking for a cure. The rumors even said he made a trip to the States to help with balancing some potion's formula...
You know... I still remember those mornings... Snape and Mum drinking coffee in our kitchen before dawn, bleary-eyed and smelling of weird potions and stale sweat... they used to work all night in the lab, then he'd side-along Apparate her home, on the nights Ginny was sitting with Dad...
There was always some stiffness in Ginny when she saw Snape, sometimes uneasy words... on one of those mornings Snape had lost it, almost... 'Look,' he'd said. 'Without your brother and his wife, I'd have died in the Shack, so spare me your hypocritical smiles, will ye? For you I wouldn't do it.'
Then Mum had seen me and sent me to my room, and I had only heard shouting for a long time..."
"Would you please go back to the story? It's beginning to sound like therapy, dear. And I'm not qualified."
He sounded exasperated, and I sighed. But I wanted him to understand me, and above all to agree to what I wanted him to do -- or rather, not to do -- so I complied with as much good grace as I could muster.
"I held hard to the old cloak I'd draped over my head, as Alexandra's fingers touched me through it. Then, with a disgusted sigh and an insult, she stomped out of the closet and went back to Mum.
I tried to think of a plan. Mum has been pale and tired ever since I remember her, and the mourning and the pregnancy hadn't exactly helped at this point of time... but now I saw her magical resources were waning. She was going to faint.
I missed who she used to be so much, even now we were practically living together. I remember hearing this voice in my head... You want her back? Think fast, then. And right.
Both our wands were in Alexandra's pocket. They'd been on Mum's dresser, on the other side of the room. I'd left them there to rummage in her closet in the probably vain hope of locating her old bathing-suit, now that the weather was improving and the Lake more tempting than ever, and cajole Mum into Transfiguring it into something wearable.
It was all your fault, you know. I was so wounded... You have no idea how your jibes vexed me, from that first time we went to the Lake."
His eyebrows shot up, superciliously, and I reminded him, taking a kind of vicious pleasure at wallowing in past humiliations.
"'It must be something with the name Weasley', you said. 'Even with your Mum's job -- or previous job, since she'll never be able to get it again -- and Potter's money behind you, you still end up dirt-poor...' Even more mortifying was the way it hurt me to think about it even in the cupboard, when I should only have been only thinking of saving my mother and her unborn child. But I could still feel your... your obscene eyes on me and my too-small yester-year's bathing suit..."
"If I tell you it was pure, unaffected adulation for your teenaged charms in a bathing suit? And I can still feel Snape's Stinging hex on me, coming from behind the trees. It was you he was looking out for... already acting overprotective over you and your mother... I'm sure he already had a thing for her..."
"Shurrup. Anyway, for the first time in your life, and quite the last, by the way, you were of some utility to me. I thought of you... Thought of Snape. I had a plan. I looked for what I wanted, found it, and very carefully opened the door of the cupboard. Breathed deeply. Thought of the way you'd tried to teach me to Bludge, and of your disreputable Quidditch tactics.
I threw a shoe enveloped in a glittering ceremony shawl to the window, on Alexandra's left. In order to see what it was and differentiate it from its reflect in the pane, she had to look away from Mum and the cupboard door, and lean forwards and to her side. That's when I dived headfirst into her belly, projecting the both of us on the floor, and hearing a very satisfying 'whoof' as my head winded her. Even as we fell my hands groped blindly for her wand, or one of ours. I didn't find any, but I managed to get hold of the very thick gold band around her right wrist, and used it as a handle to smash her arm and hand against the wall, as hard as I could. Again and again. She roared, not so prettily anymore, and tried to fight.
That's when you see the advantages of practicing your Quidditch, instead of your smiles. I had the upper hand, even though she was more than ten years older."
"Of course," he chortled with that unbearable self-sufficiency of his. "I had been coaching you. You were probably rolling on the floor like a pair of Muggle mud wrestlers... you'll have to demonstrate for me, once... with that too-small bikini and real mud."
"Do you want to hear the story, or disgust me with your filthy mind?"
A regal gesture of his pale hand authorized me to continue.
"Mum lost no time... 'Accio wands!' she sounded cool and collected, if a little bit breathless. All three flew to her, but she couldn't free her hands. I kept fighting.
'Come to me, Rose. NOW.' She sounded really winded, and in pain.
I tried to kick, scratch and push the blonde, made-up leech away. At the end I grabbed her hair and yanked. Suddenly a yellow flash enveloped the two of us.
'Stupefy!' Mum, again. 'Sorry, dear,' her voice was clearly strained, now. 'It's only for a few moments.' When you're well I want you to fetch Professor Snape in his rooms. The password is 'Gerrup.''' By pure chance she was in my vision field. Her wand was awkwardly held in our direction by her twisted hand, as her wrists still adhered to the bedpost.
She let her head fall backwards, grimacing with pain. After a minute, or two, she began contorting herself, trying to point her wand at me and not at Alexandra, and failing pitifully.
'Sorry, sweetie,' she said. She renewed the Stupefy on the both of us and called, in a voice that was not so clear any more 'Accio Emergency Kit. Accio Floo powder.' Her wand was drawing awkward forms in the air, near her butt. 'Snape's rooms,' she finally said when the emergency kit was covered in Floo powder, and she threw it inside the fire.
Less than a minute later Snape's head appeared in the chimney. He took it all in, the both of us Stupefied in a heap and Mum, trussed up, her head thrown back in a painful spasm... and a suspicious puddle of wet around her on the floor.
In a blink he was in, and she was freed and comfortably installed on her bed. He laid a calming hand on her forehead. 'Don't worry, Granger, you'll be just fine. We'll App...'
You should have seen the look she gave him... just before her whole body seized up and a strangled keening came out of her. She bit her lips till blood oozed, but couldn't help the small sound escaping them...
When she could talk she said between her torn lips, in a kind of strangled sob, 'Take Rose outta here. And the other, too.'
Only then did he seem to remember we existed. He looked at us and frowned. Remember his cold, downwards look? For the first (and the last) time in my life, I didn't care. I could only think of how he was going to help my mother.
I could follow his reasoning. It was mine, too. And Mum was a step ahead of us.
No Apparition into or out of Hogwarts, especially not for a witch in labor. Bringing help from London, a Healer or midwife, would take at least half an hour, more realistically one hour. More than enough to lose the child, and maybe the mother, too.
The only staff at Hogwarts during the holidays were Snape, my Mum, and Vector, for a few dozens of students.
Any stranger brought in would ask questions, and since he'd adopted her after killing her Death Eater parents, Snape had been, for ten years, systematically covering for all Alexandra's misdeeds. You were away on holidays, of course...
Another contraction began. That, or Mum was enjoying panting and tearing the sheets with her nails in public as she gnawed her teeth.
He took a flask out of his pocket. 'I'm going to give you something for the pain,' he said.
'No way.' She was talking between clenched teeth. 'If I'm to do this alone, I want maximum control. Pain is feedback, and I need it. Just get those two the Hell outta here, and get out, too. Do it!'
He produced two wet towels out of thin air, disposed one on her forehead and one on her belly, moving her clothes while looking at the wall, careful to show her he wasn't peeping.
Then he looked at us, still entwined on the floor. 'I'm sorry, Miss Weasley,' he said formally. But you'll understand my choices are limited... I don't think it'll take too long, anyway. As to you, Alexandra, we'll talk about this later.'
Before I had time to realize anything, the both of us were locked in the dark cupboard, Stupefied, in the characteristic silence of a Muffliato spell.
I couldn't even bite my nails, so I only ate my heart out, as on the other side of the wood panel the Bat of the Dungeons was practicing his midwife skills on my mother. I reflected on how he would apparently be the one to usher my new baby sister, orphan at birth and heavily premature, into this world. What a beginning she'd have...
And that's provided it's only her beginning, and not her end, too, whistled the nasty voice in my head. Women die in unassisted births, it continued... You'll be Granny Molly's and Hugo's anchor, now...
My heart was beating wildly against my rib cage, and tears threatened to choke me. I tried to channel my emotions into hate for the blonde lying near me. It wasn't really hard. We crossed glares like others cross swords.
She looked hard and defiant, but vaguely afraid, too. For the millionth time, I wondered what it was Snape found in her, he who'd evaded a hundred bright, beautiful, smart, perfectly nice witches set on snatching the Spying Hero after the War... and after he'd come out of St. Mungo's, where my parents had Apparated him half-dead from the Shrieking Shack. And it was common knowledge she cheated on him freely, to say nothing of the way she ordered him around and spent fortunes on gaudy clothes which he hated..."
"I've always been curious about that, too," interjected my interlocutor. "As for the appeal of blonde and beautiful on ugly and smart... you only have to look at us. You adore me, Rose..."
I pretended to swoon and thought how I could make the young man in front of me, back from another universe, understand what it had been like, to grow up in post-War wizarding England...
"You mother did keep you in the dark, didn't she, after your Dad left you? Sent you to school in France? Well, mine didn't. From as long as I can remember, I've been breathing Order stories... Instead of enjoying his second tenure in life after the War, Snape went back to Hogwarts, buried himself in teaching and tutoring the many Slytherin orphans left there, most of whom hated him for his part in their parents' demises... The climax was his adoption of Alexandra Dolohov. She was thirteen at the time, according to McGonagall, 'a stick-thin, blond urchin with huge eyes and a temperament as vicious as her mother's'..."
"This I know better than you. My grandmother, Narcissa, was near her father when Snape killed him. She told me the story when I was sent back to Hogwarts. Dolohov's last words were to entreat Snape to take care of Alexandra. Grandmother said Dolohov was dying, he held on to Snape's sleeve, and told him he, Snape, knew what it was to be alone in the world, and that he, Dolohov, would forgive him for killing him and his wife if he swore to take the girl in...Bad melodrama all over."
"Well, Snape did just that... and the poor helpless orphan barely waited for her fourteenth birthday before she began acting out, so wildly than any student not directly under the protection of Snape's blatant favoritism would have been sent down. You were abroad, indeed, at the time... Only, as Snape had represented to the Board, there was nowhere to send her back to, as she was living with him, her adoptive father.
McGonagall vented her frustrations in our living-room quite often, but she hadn't been able to resist when Snape forced her hand and made her grant the girl with the minimum OWLs she needed to be accepted into London's Wizarding University.
Next thing we knew, Alexandra'd taken a room in the London dorms, reversed the adoption process, and announced her betrothal to Snape. I was only eleven, but I still remember the scandal, and Mum's worried eyes and hesitant questions, when Snape had next come for their regular potions research sessions.
He declined to comment, with an air Mum later described to Dad as 'vintage Snape, circa the Dark Lord's second rise in our fourth year... not really suffused with happiness, the old bat...'"
The boy chortled. "I can imagine... you had an interesting life... too bad it took Mother until my sixth-year to bring me back to England..."
I moved uneasily in the chair... there were so many things he'd been sheltered from... I elected to continue with the story, instead. "After some time in the cupboard I felt a slight tingling in my hands and feet... the Stupefy was waning. I had to prove myself a better witch than the b...witch near me, and seize the opportunity. I used all my magic to fight the immobilizing spell, and desperately wished for Veritaserum. Then, suddenly, I could move... and I acted. You must understand, "I said as my hand caressed his wrist, "I was half-crazed with anger, and with worry for my mother, and for the baby... So I used the secret passage Mum had disclosed before, flew to Snape's rooms -- she'd given me the password, too, remember? -- and took a flask of Veritaserum, and a Memories Flask. Then I came back to the cupboard, and forced the Veritaserum through the Harlot's throat. I was completely beside myself, at this point..."
"What did you want to achieve?"
It's so him, to judge somebody's actions by their ends...
I shrugged. "Not really clear... but I knew Mum was on the verge of telling Snape whatever Alexandra was doing in London, and it had ruffled Alexandra's feathers enough to make her attack a pregnant woman to the point of endangering her life. Also, now it was personal. Whatever Alexandra wanted, I wouldn't let her get away with."
"You can say it, Rose. You wanted Snape to end up with your mother..."
I looked into the fire, remembering the feelings of loss, of loneliness, that seemed to close on me from everywhere when I was fourteen... "Not really," I said. "I'd just lost Dad, and the flat with the room I thought was the best room in the world, and my violin lessons and my friends. I was used to being a cute little girl people would nicely smile at, but you and other jerks at school kept ogling me like I was a piece of junk food, both terribly appetizing and completely disgusting, and my mother seemed to be crying every time she thought nobody was looking. I did want her to get better, but I didn't want to lose her to a new man in her life, either. And don't forget she was pregnant, which for a teenager is the absolute antithesis of a sexual or romantic being... and that Snape was... well, Snape. Sarcastic, cold, horrendous as a teacher, you name it. I just wanted to hurt Alexandra, because she had tied my mother to her bedpost and terribly offended her... at this point I may very well have been more incensed by the comments on her shoes and her belly than by the fact she'd been provoked into early labor. My mother herself... she never referred to herself as a woman, in the romantic sense... never thought of herself that way, never thought anybody could find her attractive, and I never questioned that. I had often thought she and Snape would be good for each other, but there was that axiom that nobody would ever look at her that way... I was a teenager, remember?"
"And frivolous by nature..."
"Would I be in the same room with you, otherwise?"
"Touche. What did you do, then, you young criminal?"
"Well, I asked the questions I figured she'd never answer without the serum," I smirked. "And I made pretty damn sure my memories were clear and Pensieve-worthy. Mum had shown us how to do that..." when it became clear our time with Dad was limited... I still have our last chess game bottled somewhere, and the way his big, bony hand caressed mine even he could barely talk...
The images rushed in my head... "All in all," I summed up, "it was desperately common. Cheap, even. She hated Snape for having killed her parents, never bothered her that Dear Mummy and Daddy were planning on annihilating half the wizarding population, and she acted out as a teenager, both because it's in her nature, and because it was a way to punish him. Then at fifteen she found herself pregnant, and got the brilliant idea to get Snape drunk on doctored Firewhisky and lust potion one evening, and bed him, too... "
"Her adoptive father?" His aristocratic features expressed a mix of amusement and scorn not even learnt at the best boarding schools. I know, I've attended one, and my scowl doesn't get close... Old blood.
So I smirked. Smirks are one of my strong points, which I've cultivated from Snape himself... "Indeed. As his adoptive daughter she had free access to his private rooms... in the morning she played the tragic part of the innocent, deflowered virgin, within a week she showed him a positive pregnancy test, and she got the Potions Master to take care of it."
"An Azkaban offence."
"No more than bedding your fifteen-year-old daughter against her will. She had him all right... You will please remember she is the daughter of two Slytherin Death Eaters... it served all her purposes. She took revenge on a man she hated, got rid of her pregnancy, and a hold on him and his guilt complex he'd never be able to shake off...He'd already been sacrificing himself for so long... getting married to a woman he despised was only natural... and she was a lioness in bed. All London knew that."
"She got a great lay, too, from what I know from Snape's dispositions and gifts..."
I scrunched my nose. "You'll easily understand my declining to go into those waters... but the best of it, for her, was she played so bereft and desperate and whatever, and don't forget those vacant baby blues she has... at some point he told her he had a personal fortune, that he would put at her disposition to compensate her... and she had her leverage to make him foot the bill for all her antics..."
"Which he did until she graduated from Hogwarts..."
"Wrong. Which he did until I wedged her in a Muffliatoed cupboard and Veritaserum'd her into 'fessing up."
He shook his head slowly. "And all that time, your mother was giving birth next door..."
"Yup." This was not something I could share, not even with my fiancé. The vision of my Mum, wobbling and green in the face, totally exhausted but radiating with relief and joy, coming to take me out of the cupboard, and kneeling and hugging me...
"She's alive," she said. "The baby. Your sister. And we're both fine. Only I missed you..." She renewed the Stupefy on Alexandra, threw an old cloak on the blonde witch, and we hugged and cried together, Mum and I, for a long time, on the cupboard's floor. After an eternity I took hold of my senses again. I pushed myself up and helped her on her feet, and together we looked into her room. Snape was holding something small, bundled in a silk sheet, and which had red fuzz on its head.
He held the infant high and close to his chest in an almost upright position, and his long nose was buried in the minuscule folds between the baby's head and shoulders... he was whispering into the small body, his back three-quarters to us and his face to the window, holding her reverently as if to show her the magnificence of the world, on the other side of the glass. The baby and the man were bathed in the twilight dusk's reddish-golden puddle of light... I looked at his profile then, mushed and mixed into my baby sister's tiny form, and, for the first time in my life, I saw Snape emoting. It wasn't a pretty sight, because there's nothing to do against this man's inherent ugliness, and his Adam's apple bobbing up and down is repulsive however you look at it. Yet somehow, for me, this scene shall remain the world's purest expression of stark beauty, the one I'll take with me to my grave, before the Flemish paintings of winter trees and old women...
A glance at my mother showed me she'd been hit. I knew, because she'd warned me, that a parturient's hormones are bound to wreak havoc on her emotions, and I squeezed her hand hard. "You did it, Mum. You won."
She looked at me with faraway eyes. "Your father," she said, "your father... that's exactly the way he held you when you were born..." and then we were crying again, sprawled on her bed which somebody had Scourgified.
A mewl was heard from the window, shocking us all back into reality. Mum sat upright on the bed, and Snape gave her the baby. You had to have seen him by the window to notice his imperceptible reluctance at handing her over, the way he looked at my mother with eyes that were almost begging...
Nothing Scorpius would understand.
"Would you stop daydreaming," he asked. You'll be giving birth yourself soon enough, if we can get through this evening..."
I shrugged. "Not a lot left, really... Mum gave birth to Berenice, and they took us out of the cupboard, and I told-showed them what I had gotten out of Alexandra..."
"Why did she want to marry him, though?"
"An estate thing. He's got a huge inheritance, and in order to get her paws on it she needed to be a Snape by birth or marriage, per the will's terms. It wasn't enough to be adopted. So she decided to marry him, but after she celebrated enough, because another of his grandfather's whims was that both spouses take Unbreakable fidelity vows, per the will. So... I showed them her memories of sleeping around with half the population of London's Magical's, and laughing with her lovers as she told them of her old sugardaddy waiting for her in his dungeons, waiting for her to bear his babies..."
"She laughed with strangers about him wanting a child? It's surprising he didn't AK her..."
Another thing Scorpius can't understand, is the deep masochistic streak dominating the life of this proud, proud man who can't bring himself to open up to my mother...
"What I wonder," he said slowly, "is how you got her to give you memories? Veritaserum is one thing, but..."
"Just leave it be," I said. It's not the proudest memory of my life, but I'm not sorry I did it.
An immense advantage of talking about this kind of things to a Malfoy, Scorpius wasn't fazed. Maybe even, somewhere, he esteemed me more.
He gave a small laugh. "And that's how you paved the way for your Mum to get her paws on this estate..."
I slanted him a sidewise glance. "As you saw from our brilliant family and financial situation today... Gnnn... you know us Weasleys. Never mind what deal we have in hand at the beginning, we still end up dirt-poor." Even after all these years... it still hurt.
"This is not something I'll ever understand, eh?" His tone was subdued, for once devoid of the disdainful lacquer he offered to the word to hide the very insecure boy inside. But he was right. How could he understand growing under the sinking feeling of being, always, on the downside slope?
"I still don't understand. Your mother and Snape should mathematically have ended up together, no? That's what the old tabby had in mind all the time anyway..."
"Yes, that was her plan. That's why she faked the urgent need for a sabbatical when she saw Snape did intend to marry the Harlot. She'd surmised, correctly, that only my mother would be able to save the day, but... But it went totally wrong. I mean, it did rid Snape of the Harlot -- he shipped her away to New Zealand within a fortnight --arranged a scholarship for her, and she was not in a position to protest anymore -- but as concerns Mum and him hooking up together... nothing. They spent months ignoring each other after the birth. Mum dove into deep post-partum depression, cringed every time she saw him, and he wouldn't look at her. For months. Or he would talk to her from above, as he used to do with us when we were kids...
At this point," I said. "I still had hope. Minerva too. I heard her talk to Poppy one day... For the two weeks Mum and the baby stayed in the infirmary he'd steal in everyday when she was asleep to visit Berenice. Minerva told Poppy that they were both under shock, under the conjugated effects of Alexandra's story, the birth, and the simple fact he'd seen Mom without knickers..."
"Minerva? I'm shocked!"
"So was I... Anyway, it never got any better, really, then there was the problem of a place to live, with the baby. We still couldn't afford the flat. Parents would have objected to her staying at Hogwarts... then Snape stepped in, and he offered her, in his stilted way of his, a business arrangement. She would continue to take care of a research project they'd begun together during her tenure at Hogwarts, and he'd let her have the cottage in Hogsmeade. And that's the way it's been, until right now. He comes in like twice a week for potions work, they split the profits, and he comes in for Berenice's birthdays. He taught her to read when she was four, he takes her to London once or twice a month..."
"Without your mother?"
"Does my mother look to you as a woman with a happy love life and a dark mysterious lover tucked away," I exploded. "No, right? Without my mother. They still don't exchange two sentences apart from work conversations, barely look each other in the eye. It used to drive Minerva crazy, but even she had to admit defeat at some point. My mother will stay a widow all her life, or she'll move to London and find somebody, and Snape will die an old bachelor. That's it. And they're both unhappy, and nothing can be done. That's it, Scorpius. And that's why you cannot, in any case, no way whatsoever, until Hell freezes over, and any other frightening expression you can dream of, ask Snape to be your best man, or to come with you to the altar, or act in any way as a figurehead when we get married. It's going to be hard enough for Mum to get adjusted to our... to us, I can't have her face Snape as her opposite partner during the wedding. I just can't. He'll understand, Scorpius. Actually, I'm sure he'll be at least as eager to stay in the background..."
Scorpius stayed silent for a long time, his long legs balancing themselves on the stool he'd put his feet upon to hear my story. "I see," he said finally. "You should have talked to me before, Rosie. But I understand. I'll explain the situation to Snape."
"Without giving any of this away, remember? You promised."
"So I did. Don't worry, Rose." He stood up, advanced to my own armchair, and hugged me, and behind the kind of shame I felt at the thought of my mother, lonely in the small cottage in the days, and Berenice's only caretaker at night, slaving off her best years over potions and getting old alone, I couldn't help the exhilaration at knowing this blond wonder could make me feel so good, and would do so for the years to come...