Chapter 21 : This Time is Precious
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"Severus, wake up," said Emma, jostling his shoulder. "SEVERUS!"
Severus bolted up in bed, his hand reaching under his pillow for his wand. "What's happened?" he asked.
"The baby's coming," she said.
"Are you sure? It's only March twenty-third. You're not due for another couple weeks."
"I got up to go to the bathroom and my water broke," she said, sitting on the bed and doubling over as another contraction hit her. "I'm in labor. You have to get me to the Hospital Wing."
"How far apart are the pains?" he asked, getting up and throwing his clothes on.
"About every ten minutes. Grab that bag in the cradle in the baby's room. I have a clean nightgown and some diapers and baby clothes in it for after."
"Why do they always seem to come in the middle of the night?" he asked, heading to the smaller room at the end of the hall.
Soon, with Emma leaning on him for support, they were making their way through the darkened dungeon corridor to the steps that led to the Entrance Hall, Severus helping Emma over the disappearing step. Then, it was on to the Hospital Wing. Madam Pomfrey was in her wrapper, a nightcap on her head. She got Emma settled in the bed furthest from the door.
"Get word to my parents. Send Hagrid to the Three Broomsticks to fetch them. And get my sister down here," said Emma.
Glad to have something concrete to do, Severus ran from the room and made his way outside to Hagrid's hut. Fang began growling and barking as he banged on the door. He heard Hagrid saying, "One minute, I'm coming. Hold your horses." Finally, the door opened. "Oh, Professor, it's you. Is it time?"
Severus had run all the way here and could barely speak. Huffing and puffing, he shook his head frantically, saying, “Yes…time…please…her parents…Three Broomsticks.”
“I'll go tell 'em, Professor,” said Hagrid.
Severus ran back to the castle and made his way to the kitchens. He burst into the kitchen, yelling for Merope the House-Elf.
Merope peeked out of the door of an empty cupboard, where she slept. "Yes, Professor, Sir? What can Merope do for you?"
"I need you to go to Ravenclaw Tower and wake my wife's sister, Natalie Dalton. She's a seventh year. She's to come to the Hospital Wing immediately. Stay with her. She shouldn't be wandering the school alone at night."
"Yes, Professor. Is it Miss Emma?"
"Yes, the baby is coming," he said as he was leaving the kitchen, heading back to the Hospital Wing.
By the time he got back, Madam Pomfrey had changed into her usual uniform and had Emma settled in the bed. They were chatting pleasantly.
About ten minutes later, Natalie entered the Hospital with Merope. Natalie came to the bed and smoothed Emma's hair back. "So, I'm going to be an aunt by morning?" she asked.
"I hope so," said Emma. "I'm not crazy about these labor pains. I'd like to have it over with as soon as possible." She gripped the blankets in her hands as another pain came on.
"Okay," said Madam Pomfrey. "That one was eight minutes. Everything seems to be going all right. I'm going to mix up some Calming Potion."
"Oh," said Emma. "I really don't like how that stuff makes me feel. I don't have to have it, do I?"
"It's not for you, Emma. It's for the Professor."
Emma looked over at Severus and saw that he had doubled over, clutching his mid-section as if he were the one in labor. His face had a definite greenish cast to it. "I see what you mean," she said dryly.
When Madam Pomfrey brought him the cup of Calming Potion, he grabbed it and drank it like a man who'd been stranded at sea for a week. The greenish tint faded and his breathing returned to normal. He stood by Emma's bed, placing his hand in hers.
"Merope," he said. "Please inform Professor Dumbledore that Emma is in labor." When the Elf popped off to do his bidding, he explained, "The Headmaster said that he will handle my classes for me when the baby came."
"Oh, Professor," said Natalie, "I won't be in class tomorrow."
"Well, you'd better make sure to get the homework assignment from one of your classmates, then, Miss Dalton," he said.
"You are joking, right?" she asked sharply. Hell, she thought, every time she got to the verge of actually liking the man, he said or did something to piss her off. It almost seemed that he deliberately courted contempt.
He shot her a friendly smile. "Try me," he said unpleasantly.
About a half hour later, the door opened and Hagrid came in with Michael and Viola. When Emma was in the middle of the next labor pain, Hagrid suddenly turned white and toppled over. Madam Pomfrey revived him and sent him to his hut, muttering about the uselessness of men.
Viola immediately came around to stand at the side of the bed opposite Severus. Michael stood behind her. "How are you doing, Baby?" Viola asked.
Emma smiled. "My water broke and the pains started a bit over forty-five minutes ago. They're coming about every seven to eight minutes now. You'd better take notes, Mommy, because you're going to be doing this in another seven months."
With so many family members present, Madam Pomfrey told Merope to stand guard at the door and make sure nobody came in. She hoped no student would come down with anything tonight.
The hours of the night dragged on. Emma was lying in the bed, trying to relax and not fight the pains. Madam Pomfrey had said that fighting, tensing up, would only prolong the labor. Many times over the past months, Emma had felt so tired and had experienced shortness of breath, the feeling that someone was sitting on her chest, but the spells had passed quickly, before she'd even had a chance to remark on them.
As sunlight began to filter in the windows and the castle began to hum with the voices of the students, Emma felt herself weakening and began to get upset. The pains were coming so fast, every minute, but the baby seemed determined not to come. She looked up at Severus, whose tense face mirrored her own. "Severus, please, I'm so tired. Can't something else be done?"
He looked down at her, helpless. He hated not being in control of a situation. This was unnerving. He looked helplessly at Madam Pomfrey, hoping she could come up with something, anything.
"Once the baby begins its descent, you will be given a potion that will keep you from feeling the pain, but until then, you have to know when to begin pushing," said Madam Pomfrey.
"Oh, this is ridiculous," snapped Viola. "Maybe we should get her to a Muggle hospital. They could do a cesarean."
"There's no way to do that now," said Severus. "And they do more harm than good with their knives and stitches."
"But she is a not a witch," argued Viola. "Maybe we know what's best for our kind."
"Childbirth is the same for all of us," said Severus. "And even if we wanted to go to a Muggle hospital, how would we get her there now? Apparition is too dangerous."
"He's right, Viola," said Michael. "We can't Apparate her anywhere."
"Please, just stop," begged Emma. "I can do this. Maybe if I just had some of the strengthening potion I’d feel stronger."
"Right away, Emma," said Madam Pomfrey. She walked to her storage cabinet and came back with some. Viola took it and held it to Emma's lips so she could drink. The potion helped a little, but Emma was mildly surprised that she did not feel the burst of renewed energy that she had after taking it in the past.
Just before two in the afternoon, Emma felt movement. "I think something's happening," she said, her voice barely over a whisper.
Madam Pomfrey checked and announced that the baby's head could be seen entering the birth canal. Viola and Natalie grasped each other's hands and sent up silent prayers of relief. She directed Severus to sit on the side of the bed and place his arm around Emma, supporting her back and holding her forward so she could begin to push. Then she gave Emma the small vial of glistening blue potion that would keep her from feeling the pain of giving birth during these final minutes. Emma took comfort of having Severus' arms around her as she began to push the baby out of her at long last. She grasped his leg with one hand while her mother stood at the other side of her bed and held onto the other hand.
"Emma," said Madame Pomfrey, "can you push harder? Come on, harder."
Emma fell back against Severus, her face white, clammy. She was pushing as hard as she could. She felt an incredible crushing weight on her chest and was having trouble drawing in a breath. She looked up at him and weakly shook her head no. She couldn't go on. She couldn't try anymore. She couldn't even breathe. Darkness seemed to be gathering before her eyes. "I'm sorry, I can't," she whispered.
"Okay, dear," said Madam Pomfrey, looking at her worriedly. "I'm going to go after the baby and pull her out now. Hold her back, Severus."
Madame Pomfrey inserted her hand into her and slid her fingers under the baby's head and shoulders, pulling her out. Severus watched, both fascinated and terrified, swearing that there would never be another pregnancy. Soon, he saw the baby's head emerge, then, quickly, the shoulders and the rest of the body. He watched as Madam Pomfrey gently turned the baby over onto Emma's stomach, rubbing her back. The baby gave a sudden lurch, as if startled, and let out her first cry.
Severus shut his eyes and exhaled in relief. It was over. His moment of calm, however, was abruptly interrupted by a scream. He opened his eyes and saw Emma's mother shaking Emma, screaming her name. He looked down to see that she had slumped back against him, her head hanging awkwardly to her left. Severus put his hand on her cheek, righting her head. "Emma?" he called. When she did not respond, he repeated her name, louder, fearfully.
Madam Pomfrey finished cutting and tying the cord, wrapped the baby in a blanket and handed her off to Natalie, who was also staring at Emma.
"She's just fallen asleep, right?" Natalie asked.
The Nurse pushed Viola away as she checked Emma. She pulled out her wand and hit her with a spell. Emma's arms and legs momentarily stiffened when it hit her, but then they relaxed once more. They stayed still. Madame Pomfrey looked up at Severus, her face white. "I'm sorry, Severus," she said. "She's gone. Her heart stopped."
"No!" Severus hissed. He began trying to breathe life back into Emma's body. Viola began crying, turning to Michael, who just held her head to his shoulder, staring down at the body of this child, this daughter, realizing that he would never have the chance to really get to know or understand her. Madam Pomfrey came around the bed and began trying to pull Severus off his wife.
"Professor, it's too late," she said. "She is gone."
Severus turned to look at her, his eyes wild. "No," he said. "She's still warm. She's only eighteen. She just had a baby. Nobody dies having babies anymore. She's not dead. She's warm. Feel her. She's only eighteen." He gathered her into his arms, thinking that if he just kept her warm, she would open her eyes soon and be all right.
Madam Pomfrey turned to the House-elf, who was still standing at the door. "Merope, bring the Headmaster," she said.
Professor Dumbledore stormed into the Hospital Wing several minutes later and stood at the side of the bed. He put his hands on the Severus' shoulders. "Severus," he said softly. "Come away now. There's nothing else you can do. Poppy has to get her cleaned up."
At last, Severus realized the truth. Emma was gone. He closed his eyes and held her a few minutes longer, memorizing the softness of her skin, how slight she felt in his arms, her scent. He had to commit it all to memory, now, as that was all he would ever have. As he held her, a line she had written in that letter echoed through his mind. This time is precious. Finally, sure that he had succeeded, he allowed himself to be led away by Professor Dumbledore. The two men returned to Severus' dungeon chamber where he sat in the chair next to the fireplace, just staring into the empty grate, his face inscrutable.
He felt numb. He was afraid to talk. He feared that if he opened his mouth, he would fill the castle with cries of rage and despair and never be able to stop. Professor Dumbledore seemed to understand his need for silence and just sat across from him, watching him, as if he feared that Severus would do some dreadful deed to himself.
After some time, Severus was not sure if it was minutes or an hour, Madam Pomfrey entered the room. "Where are the bottles, Severus?" she asked. "I've prepared some infant formula. I know that Emma had planned on nursing but...where are the bottles?"
Severus got up and entered the little room they had prepared for the child. He found the bottles on the bureau. "Come now, bring the bottles. I have to show you how to take care of her. You have to learn how to do this."
"Should I bring the cradle?" he asked.
"No, I have one," she said.
For an insane moment, Severus wondered why she would have a cradle in the school's Hospital Wing, but then realized he really didn't give a damn.
He followed her back to the Hospital Wing, carrying the bottles. Once there, he saw that Emma's mother was resting on a bed not far from the curtain-shrouded one he knew still held his Emma. Natalie and the Ambassador were at Viola's bedside, mourning the loss of Emma, silent in their grief, Natalie still holding the baby.
Viola sat up as they entered the ward and Madam Pomfrey took the baby from Natalie. "The baby," she said, "let me have her."
"In a minute, Mrs. Dalton," said the Nurse. "I need to check her over first, bathe her, and weigh her."
The baby's thin cry went up as the nurse unwrapped the blanket from around her. She had set up a basin of water and she carefully placed the tiny baby into it, supporting her head with one hand as she grasped a washcloth with the other and began to wash the child. Severus stood, watching.
"Now, watch me Severus," she said. "You have to make sure that you wash in all the folds of the skin, around her neck, that always gets especially dirty with babies, under the arms, at all the joints, between the toes and the fingers. They like to keep their hands balled up so you have to open them or all sorts of lint and dirt gets in the lines and creases. Here, now slip your hand under her head to support it. Always support the head." When Severus took a step backward, panic in his eyes, she said, "You have to learn how to do it."
Severus slipped his hand under her tiny head and held it. It seemed only slightly larger than an apple and nearly as red. The warm water of the bath must have reminded her of the fluid surrounding her in the womb. She stopped crying and turned her head toward him, finding his little finger and beginning to suck.
While he held her in the basin, Madame Pomfrey finished washing her and told Severus to place her on a towel she had spread out on one of the beds. He carried her over to the bed, worried that her wet body might slip from his hands. After putting her down, he wrapped the towel around her. Madame Pomfrey came over and began to dry her.
"When you dry her, do not rub, Severus. You have to gently pat her dry. See how I'm doing it? Now you do it. Again, make sure to get in the creases or she will get a bad rash."
Severus began to feel overwhelmed as he realized the enormity of the task ahead of him. Bathing, drying, diapering, feeding, changing, holding, how would he ever manage it all alone and be a teacher? He wanted to do it and do it right.
Emma, he knew, was counting on him to do the right thing. He needed time to think, to plan, to grieve, to rage at the universe, time to make sense of it all. But everything was coming at him at super-speed, not only the immediate needs of this infant, but the thought of raising a daughter who would have other needs, emotional needs that no matter how hard he tried, he was predestined to fail at. He felt anxiety rise up in his chest and began to concentrate on the baby, counting all ten of her fingers and toes, looking for and not finding any obvious deformity.
While he continued to pat the baby dry, Madame Pomfrey began opening the bottles. She took them to her sink and washed them. Then, Severus noticed that a silver cauldron was sitting to one side of her cabinet, steaming. She dropped the bottles and caps and nipples into it, letting them boil while she began measuring out various substances, mixing them in a flask.
"Now, Severus, I already boiled the water in this pitcher before coming to get you, so it is sterile. This powder I've made up can be mixed in the sterile water to make a formula. Once the bottles have been sterilized, I will show you how to feed the baby."
Madam Pomfrey picked the baby up and took her to the scale that sat on her counter. She laid the baby on the silver surface. "She's two and a half kilograms," she announced.
Michael looked down at Viola. "That's five and a half pounds," he said.
"Emma told me she'd bought these paper diapers that just get thrown away. That will make it easier for you. I'd never heard of them before." Madam Pomfrey held one up, unfolding it and looking at it curiously.
"Oh, here," said Natalie. "I know how." Natalie came over and took the diaper from the nurse, slipping it under the baby's bottom. "You put the side with the tape on it in the back, then bring the front up and just pull the little paper covers off the tape and secure it." She secured one of the sides. "Here," she said, stepping back, "you do the other."
Severus pulled the paper tab off and pressed the tape down onto the front of the diaper.
Madam Pomfrey began handing him the clothing. Severus remembered Emma opening all the packages and washing everything. Had it just been yesterday? He had wondered why brand new things had to be washed and she'd told him that they might have dust or chemicals on them from the manufacturing process or the packaging. First he got one of those unbelievably tiny undershirts on her. It doubled over her chest and snapped together. As small as it was, it dwarfed the tiny baby. Next came a little white knit cap, followed by booties and one of the gowns. The gown had little flaps that covered those spidery little hands. Soon, the baby was all dressed in white. Last, Madam Pomfrey showed him how to wrap her in a blanket.
The baby began to cry again. Severus looked at Madam Pomfrey for further instruction.
"Pick her up, Professor," she said.
Severus picked her up again, holding her against his chest, his hand at the back of her head. He felt her moving her head back and forth, rooting for her mother's breast. Grief began to well up in his throat and he had to submerge it.
"Severus, give her to me," demanded Viola.
He carried her over to the bed where Emma's mother was lying and lowered the baby down to her, afraid to remove his hand from that wobbly head until she looked up and said, "I've got her." She clutched her granddaughter to her and began to cry again.
Madam Pomfrey was back at her counter. "Come here, Professor. I have to show you how to mix the formula and ready a bottle. He watched as she used her wand to make the boiling water in the cauldron disappear. She carefully floated the bottles, caps, and nipples to the counter. "Use levitation," she said, "touching them only contaminates them." She filled the bottles halfway full with water from the pitcher. Then, she measured two spoonfuls of the powder into one of the bottles. She waved her wand at the caps and nipples that still floated over the counter. They all came down on the bottles and sealed them.
"Okay, Severus, you have eight bottles of sterile water. When it's time for her to eat, you simply measure the formula powder into them." She took the bottle of formula over to Viola’s bed. "I'll feed her," Viola said.
"No, he has to learn how to do it," said Madam Pomfrey stubbornly.
"It's okay," said Severus. "I don't mind."
"But I do, Professor. You have to learn how to do this if you're going to raise her yourself. You do not have the luxury of a long solitary bereavement period. You have a baby to care for."
"Do you really think I don’t know that?" he asked angrily. He took the bottle from the nurse and handed it to Emma's mother. "I need to see her," he said. He walked over to the bed where Emma still lay, moved the curtains to one side, and went in.
Madame Pomfrey had gotten her cleaned up and had covered her with a clean white blanket. He pulled it down over her head and stared at the white face; he touched skin that had now grown cold. She was dressed in the long, white nightgown she had packed, her arms at her side under the blanket. Her hair had been brushed back from her face and was splayed onto the pillow. Severus removed his wand and used it to sever a long curl. He tied it into a knot and carefully secreted it in his robes. He felt tears welling in his eyes and fought against them.
"What should I do, Emma?" he asked.
He felt more than heard movement behind him. He turned his head to see Emma's father at the opening to the curtain.
"If she could, she would tell you to do the right thing, Severus. She’d want you to do whatever was the best thing for the baby," he said.
"I am not the right thing, or the best thing," he said. "I know my limitations. I can't do this. How can I teach, make a living, and give that baby the care she needs?"
"You can give up teaching," Michael said. "We will help you. Come to America. You can work for me. We can do it together, as a family."
Severus shook his head and laughed. "I only wish. I can't leave here."
"Can't or won't?" asked Michael.
"Can't. I am under an obligation to Professor Dumbledore. It was my fault that the Dark Lord went after the Potters. I made an Unbreakable Vow to stay here to help Dumbledore protect Harry Potter until the boy grows up. He is only two. That means that I am obligated to remain here for another fifteen years, at least.
"Voldemort is not dead, then?" asked Michael.
"I have no proof, but I know he isn't. I can sometimes feel his presence, his eyes on me. He will come back. Some day...."
“And you will go back to acting as a spy for the Order of the Phoenix.”
"How did you hope to keep Emma and the baby safe if he came back?" asked Michael.
"I was going to leave her, send her and Allison to you for protection." Severus took a deep breath, held it a moment and exhaled. "Do you want her?"
"The baby. I know that you and Emma's mother are having your own baby, but would you be willing to raise my...our baby too?"
"It would be the best thing you could do, Severus," said Michael, relieved that Severus had broached the topic first.
"And the right thing," Severus whispered, looking down at Emma's face. He bent over her and softly kissed her cold lips. He pulled the blanket back up over her head and straightened. "I'll leave it to you to tell your family," he said. Then he turned and began to walk out of the area.
"What about the funeral?" Michael asked.
Severus stopped and closed his eyes, not believing that he was even having to think of the word funeral in relation to Emma. "I'll leave that to you as well," he said. "Whatever arrangements are most convenient for you and her mother, I can live with. All I ask is that you acquire the spot next to her for me to occupy in my time."
"I will. You have my word. I would like to send her home and bury her in my family plot in Massachusetts," said Michael.
Severus turned and looked Michael in the eye. “When the Dark Lord returns, your country is not safe, you know. He will not stop until the Muggle race is exterminated and he has dominated the world.”
“We already know, Severus. You weren’t the only spy among his Death Eaters. The Supreme Coven refuses to entangle ourselves with the affairs of the Ministry. But we did prepare and we remain vigilant.”
Severus nodded and walked over to the bed where Viola lay, holding his daughter. He wished he could see her eyes. He hoped she would have Emma's eyes—Lily’s eyes. He lightly stroked her tiny cheek with the knuckle of his finger, then turned and left the ward, returning to his apartment in the dungeons.
Two days had passed since the baby had taken her first breath, and Emma had drawn her last. Severus stood on the Astronomy Tower, the early morning sun streaming down, warming the earth, banishing the chill of the night. The sky was a pale blue. Some ice still lingered on the lake, bobbing and floating as it melted. The fecund odors of the forest and the greenhouses could be detected even up here as nature began her process of rebirth.
He looked down over the parapets at the two carriages that stood at the front of the castle. Hagrid sat in the driver's seat of the first and Filch in the second. The sun glinted off of the silver coffin that lay in the back of the second carriage. He had stood up here, watching as it had been loaded onto the carriage.
Upon further investigation, Madam Pomfrey determined that Emma had been the victim of an amniotic embolism. It was rare, unforeseeable, and nearly always fatal. Severus heard Fate laughing at him once again. He had known better. Like he’d told Emma that day on the train, everyone he loves dies. He should have stayed away from her. Emma had died bringing his child into the world. Once again, he had killed the person he loved.
Michael, Viola, and Natalie came out of the castle, Viola carrying Allison Elysse. He saw Natalie start as she saw, for the first time, the thestrals that led the carriages. Emma's death had been the first she had ever witnessed.
Viola turned and handed the baby to Natalie as Michael helped her into the carriage. Then, Natalie carefully transferred the baby back to her stepmother's waiting arms. Michael assisted Natalie into the carriage before getting in himself. The carriages would be going to Hogsmeade Station. The Hogwarts Express would be making a special, unscheduled run to transport them to London where they would make the arrangements to transport Emma back to America. Severus would portkey the flying car back to the embassy after dark.
As the two carriages headed up the drive toward the gates, Severus closed his eyes and whispered into the cool spring breeze, "I banish hope from my soul. I make my heart colder, harder, stronger. I will grow older while you stay young and beautiful in my mind. I survive only to fulfill my obligations on this side of the veil, but I long for the day Death beckons me to follow. Until then, Emma, I will be, forevermore, alone."