Chapter 2 : Birth
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The house was - there was no other word for it - a disgrace, even by the paltry standards set by the other dwellings. Half the shingles had been blown off or had fallen due to the horrendous weather, and a harsh wind whistled through the numerous cracks in the walls, toying with the small and pitiful fire in the grate and occasionally extinguishing it completely.
In a small corner of the house's sole first-story room, on a lumpy and ill-suited loveseat, laid a woman heavy with child, breathing heavily. Sweat soaked her face, despite the chill of the evening outside. A stout and homely woman (evidently a midwife) was also present, crouched by the meager fire, willing it back to life so that the water over the flames could be heated once more. But these women were the only people present; there was no sign of the father of the baby that the first woman was carrying.
She now gave a low groan as another gust of wind rattled the windows, and the midwife turned at the sudden noise. She stood, crossed the room, and laid a hand on the taut stomach of her patient, then grinned crookedly, revealing stained teeth.
"You've not long to wait, Miss Eileen, 'til you're to be holdin' your wee one in your arms," she said, in what was evidently supposed to be a comforting and kindly tone. Eileen just groaned again and knotted her hands in the ragged sheet covering her lower half. The midwife patted Eileen's knee and returned back to the fire, which had once again gone out.
"Where's Tobias?" the laboring woman finally managed through gritted teeth as she fought the contraction; more sweat was beading on her brow from the pain of it. The midwife carefully avoided giving a response, pretending to busy herself over the careful laying of more firewood, although the fire was now more ash than embers. Her silence was enough of an answer, and although Eileen knew she shouldn't have expected any answer better than that one, tears of disappointment and shame stung her eyes nevertheless. Tobias had promised he would be there until their son or daughter was born; she couldn't believe she'd fallen for one of his lies yet again.
Her eyes darted around the tiny, oppressive room as she struggled with another contraction. If she had had the option, she would never have chosen to bring her child forth here, in this environment. The musty books on the bookshelves which lined all sides of the room seemed to close in on her from all directions, and the light from the fast-dying fire flickered eerily on the walls.
It was awful here, especially now. She hadn't ventured from this small space once in the last month, except to totter up and down the narrow staircase behind one of the bookshelves to climb in and out of bed - and, of course, the view wasn't any more pleasant up there. And as her pregnancy had progressed, and her ankles had swollen more and more, she hadn't even been able to do that, opting instead to sleep on the sofa she was now lying on.
A particularly painful contraction gripped her body, and she gave a small scream. The midwife turned from the hearth and hurried quickly to her patient's side, again laying a gnarled hand on Eileen's tensed belly.
"He'll be here any moment now," said the woman softly, almost mysteriously, and despite herself Eileen felt a little thrill of fear run up her spine at her midwife's tone of voice. She struggled to sit up slightly, roughly brushing the damp strands of mouse-brown hair off her flushed face.
"Please, not yet," she panted, begging the midwife to be wrong, her eyes wide with fear. "My husband isn't here-"
But at that exact moment, as though her words had conjured him, there was the sound of boots shuffling up the walk from outside the door. Both women listened intently, their faces turned toward the door, and it creaked open, revealing the man standing beyond: tall, thin, and scowling.
"Tobias," Eileen called weakly, trying to force a smile on her face at the sight of him. Tobias entered the room and shut the door firmly behind him, then shrugged off his coat carelessly onto the back of the sagging armchair near the door. He brought a scent of stale whiskey into the house with him.
Without another look in his wife's direction, he entered through the little door in the bookcase; they heard his feet climbing the stairs to the little attic room that served as both bedroom and kitchen, and then the door at the top of the stairs slamming closed. Whatever Eileen had hoped might happen once her husband returned home, it hadn't been that.
She felt tears prick her eyes as her strongest contraction yet gripped her body, and it wasn't just from the pain. How could her husband have done this to her- on this night of all nights, as she was about to give birth to their first child?
She dimly registered the midwife telling her she needed to bear down; as her own humiliation and hurt still burned strong within her, her movements became little more than automatic reactions to her surroundings as she withdrew into herself, thinking, reflecting.
Her parents had seen Tobias's true nature; they had warned her against marrying him. She had been young, she hadn't listened, and this was where it had ended up - a small, broken couch in a corner, suffering alone through the most intense pain she had ever felt. And it was with tears of self-pity and hurt that she brought her tiny son into the world.
She lay almost listlessly on the couch as the midwife scurried around the minuscule room, cleaning up and preparing the baby and mother for their first moment together. Finally the baby boy was handed gently to her, and she took him, looking down at his tiny face in amazement. Although male, he looked uncannily like her, even at a few minutes old. She instinctively cradled him closer, and the midwife, who had been shooting her apprehensive looks ever since Tobias had returned, smiled in relief.
"What will you be calling him, then?" she said, washing her hands now with the last of the water from the fire. Eileen opened her mouth, and was about to utter her husband's name, but a sudden inspiration struck her.
"Severus," she found herself saying, delicately stroking her son's smooth cheek. "His name is Severus." She wasn't sure where the name had come from, but for some reason it seemed right. She leaned her head close to the baby, feeling more alive than she had in months, perhaps years. For in a few short minutes, this boy had captured her world completely.
The midwife left soon after, and finally Eileen was alone in the tiny room. Tobias's echoing snores came from upstairs, but for some reason she didn't mind them as much as she normally might have. Exhausted, she leaned back against the sofa's armrest, Severus curling up on her breast.
As Eileen drifted quickly into sleep, the last thought on her mind was, for once, not her drunk husband, but the tiny boy on her chest, and how she would do anything to help him grow into the strong and powerful man she was sure he would become. Holding him close, she closed her eyes and began to dream of baby Severus.
A/N: Confused yet? Despite the fact that 'Lily' was posted first, THIS is the actual first chapter of 'Life and Times'. I love writing about Snape, where he might have come from and how he might have developed into the man we knew him as in the books - so this challenge was, really, quite perfect for me! I hope you're enjoying reading this as much as I am writing it!
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