Around about the second month of the Snapes' second summer holiday, Sarai bloomed like a desert flower, developing a very noticeable bulge and resorting to dressing in loose flowing outfits, because the heat was beginning to get to her, and she was too big to fit into her favorite tunic and leggings. By then she was around six months and the babies were beginning to move about and kick her all over. She also lost some of her even temper, and became suddenly snappy and irritable.
But before that, when she was not the size of a hippopotamus on steroids, she had started teaching Harry some standard sword techniques. Though he had learned some maneuvers with Philip while at school, Sarai said those had been emergency sessions, taught so he could defeat the lamia, and he needed to learn the proper way . . . from the beginning.
"While I know Philip's reputation as a swordsman is excellent, he did not have the time to teach you thoroughly, a few weeks of learning how to thrust and parry does not mean you are an expert, the art of the sword takes years to master, and there are no shortcuts if you seek true mastery, only hours of hours of practice and dedication." The warrior lectured the first time she had taken Harry into the salle for a session. "So then, we shall begin at the beginning, then I can assess your strengths and weaknesses, and see what needs improving."
Sarai was an exacting teacher, and though she did not hesitate to scold Harry when he made foolish mistakes, or on rare occasions, administer a swat to his backside with the flat of her practice blade if he had done something unbelievably stupid—like turning around in the middle of a match to tell Nesmay he'd be right up for lunch—she was always fair.
Her scathing lecture, however, left a more lasting impression on him than the smack. "And do you think, young Snape, that your opponent will gladly wait till you've eaten lunch before he continues to attack you? Or would he slip a sword between your ribs as soon as you glance away, leaving your lifeblood leaking onto the ground for your stupidity? When you are fighting, whether practice or for real, never ever take your eyes, or your concentration, off your adversary! If you do, you're dead."
He had winced and stammered an apology.
She snorted and said, "No apology will fix a severed head. Now, let's do this again, and remember, focus and concentration are the keys to defeating a stronger opponent."
"Yes, Amarsi," Harry had said contritely, resolving to never make that mistake again.
He also learned, not only how to wield a sword, but the ethics of the art of war. Sarai had taught him them first, before she would let him spar with his birthday gift against even a practice dummy. "This is the first thing I tell all of my students, and the most important thing a warrior needs to learn—when not to fight. That may sound very odd, considering a warrior is trained for combat, but bear with me. The best fight you're ever in is one where you never have to raise a sword, the second best is the fight you can walk away from with a minimum amount of blood on the ground. An honorable warrior seeks a peaceful solution before war, and only when it becomes unavoidable, raises a blade. Then he or she fights as hard as necessary. An honorable warrior seeks to preserve life, the lives of his or her sworn comrades or family or monarch, and lastly their own. War is a necessity, not a celebration, and should be treated as a duty, not some kind of game. The taking of a life, even an enemy's, should be something done as a last resort, and not out of jealousy or petty revenge or uncontrolled rage. Those who look upon war otherwise will most likely not last long enough to discover the error of their ways."
Harry had listened carefully, and thought that Sarai's doctrine made more sense than any other warrior code he had ever read about. He resolved to follow it, especially since he didn't like taking lives and hoped he never would need to.
It was what made him so hesitant when Sarai declared it was time for him to spar with a living opponent instead of the dummy after two and a half weeks.
"Come at me," she had ordered one afternoon, standing calmly in front of him, sword in hand.
"But . . . I've a real sword now, not a practice blade!" he'd protested. "I could hurt you!"
Sarai had merely chuckled. "Ah, Harry! You and your father are more alike than you know. He too said much the same to me when we began using steel against each other. And I shall tell you the same thing I told him then: Don't worry about me, worry about yourself."
"But. . . Dad told me that even a beginner could get in a lucky blow on a master."
"True . . . if his master grew arrogant and careless. I am neither of those things. I am alert and ready for you. Now, come at me, boy! Pretend I am Jarillion, and you want to teach me a lesson in manners. Don't hesitate. If I cannot dodge a swing by an apprentice I have no right to the title of swordmistress." She urged.
Harry managed a half-hearted swing at her, which she batted aside. "Again, and put some muscle in it! This is combat, not a mummer's play!"
He swung with more force, and his blade clashed with hers.
Over and over he lunged, trying to catch her off-guard, but she anticipated all his moves and countered them, sometimes with her sword, but mostly by darting away, being too quick for him to land a blow. He was amazed that she was still so fast, clearly pregnancy hadn't slowed her down much. Or at all.
Then again, she wasn't showing all that much.
Occasionally, Severus and Draco would join them for their own session. Draco was slightly better than Harry when wielding a blade, since he had had more practice. Lucius had allowed Draco to study with a fencing master when at Malfoy Manor, because fencing was considered a "noble" sport and therefore suitable for his heir, like riding. But the blond boy couldn't match Severus, and often he, like Harry, ended up on the ground in front of Severus' boots.
Out of all three, it was Nesmay who was most skilled with the sword, the benefit of private arms tutors since she was around two. Nesmay could, sometimes, fence Severus to a draw, but only if he didn't catch her off-guard first. She was lithe and small and devastatingly quick. She used that to her advantage, but sometimes it wasn't quite enough, for Severus was just as quick and had a longer reach and more experience.
Sarai had told all three that if they kept up with their lessons over the summer, by summer's end they would be passable fencers. Or passable in her lexicon, which would have been incredibly good by an ordinary human's standards.
In addition to the sword lessons, the whole family practiced kin-sa-dor every two days, in the evenings. Those lessons were preceded by meditation, allowing them to relax their minds and focus before they stepped on the mats with each other. Whether the boys sparred with each other, Severus, Sarai, Nesmay, or a practice dummy, they came away with a new skill learned each time.
The discipline learned by practicing martial arts also enabled the three children to learn control over their magic. Nesmay's outbursts of accidental magic grew fewer and fewer, as she wrestled control over her volatile temper and sought to master both sides of her magic, the fae and the mortal. She had sessions with Severus every day, learning basic Charms, potions, and Herbology.
Often Draco or Harry accompanied her, learning more advanced magic, or practicing spells they had difficulty mastering. It was an opportunity to learn that Severus was determined his children not waste. He also assigned them reading from the Prince library, so they could learn magical history without being bored to death. Harry also read the Prince heritage book, discovering much about his ancestors that was both interesting and surprising.
It was after one of those sessions that Nesmay sought out Sarai, finding the half-fae warrior relaxing down by the pond, dipping her somewhat swollen feet in the cool water. She was conversing with Smidgen, who brought her all the amusing gossip from the Seelie Court, and informed her on how her replacement was getting on with the family.
" . . . I am sure Lady Berengaria was quite dismayed to be scolded so publically by Princess Morgana," Sarai was saying, chuckling a little. "Then again, I've always said she needed taking down a notch or two."
:I would certainly agree, Sarai. Princess Morgana does not suffer fools lightly, any more than does her mother.: Smidgen purred, she was stretched out upon a low lying branch, her iridescent wings twinkling in the noonday sun.
Nesmay slid to a stop just beside them and said, "Smidgen, who are you talking about? You've just come from court, haven't you?"
:I have indeed, little hedgehog.:
"Well? Who were you talking about?"
"Best tell her, Smidgen. She'll haunt you till you do."
The shimmerling licked her paw, then sent, :As you will, Lady Snape. Listen, young one, and learn of the comeuppance of Lady Berengaria . . .:
Smidgen told the tale of the arrogant fae lady's dressing down with wit and style, making Nesmay snicker.
"Oh, Smidgen! I wish I could have seen it. Berengaria was one of Uncle Oberon's set, and she was a spiteful harpy, always looking down her nose at me and making remarks about my gowns and my hair. I used to want to push her into the fountain sometimes, or turn her hair into a nest of shrieking bats. I'm glad Aunt Morgana put her in her place. It's about time." Nesmay said with a satisfied sniff.
Sarai looked at her young ward thoughtfully and said, "Do you miss being at court, Nesmay? Would you like to return for a visit after my children are born?"
"Umm . . . I don't know. I sort of do, I'd like to see Gran again, but . . . at the same time I don't really mind being here. At least here nobody sneers at me for being the royal half-blood bastard."
Sarai put her arm gently about the girl. "Ah, child. It's not been easy for you these past years. I'm glad you're enjoying your stay here. You know this is your home now, don't you? That you're our daughter as much as Draco and Harry are our sons?"
Nesmay nodded. "Yes. I love it here. Sarai, if my mother had lived, do you think she would have . . . married?"
"Aislinn might have, once she got over the shame and shock of being used and abandoned by your father. She was very sweet and most fae lords adored her. I think she might have done, if she found someone she loved."
"Then I might have had a brother or a sister."
"Yes. Would you have minded?"
"No . . . I think I would have liked it." Nesmay said sincerely. She eyed Sarai's steadily burgeoning middle, then looked down at her hands, which were twisting her green tunic into knots. "Sarai . . . does it hurt very much to have a baby? Are you scared?"
The warrior was quiet for several moments before she answered. "From what others have told me, yes, there is pain, but it's something that you soon forget once you hold your child in your arms. Your grandmother told me that there are spells to block the worst of it, and that the pain had a purpose, so it is easier to endure than you would think. Am I scared? A little, but not of that. I'm more concerned over the twins, and I fear for them more than myself. I pray to the Bright One every day that they grow strong and healthy and I have no difficulty with the delivery."
"Will you have them here, at the manor?"
"Severus suggested it, but I believe it will be better to have them at the palace, where the Healers have the springs to help with the delivery."
"My babies, like the queen's, shall be born into water. When they are ready to be born, I shall go into one of the springs, not the Pool of Restoration, and deliver them. I have been told such is easier than having them out of the water. Titania has said the water helps, it cradles and lifts and is a natural thing, more so than having a child upon a bed. The fae have been birthing in that fashion for time out of mind."
"But won't the babies drown in the water?" Nesmay asked.
"No, child. For in the womb a baby is surrounded by water, and breathes it as easily as a fish. It is only when placed in air that they take their first breath. It is perfectly safe, Nesmay."
"Oh. Sarai, was I born like that?"
"Yes. All those born in the palace are delivered thus. You were no different."
"Were you there?"
"I was guarding the door while your grandmother was with her daughter. I did not see your actual birth, but I saw you soon after, in your mother's arms. I heard her bless you and acknowledge you as her own."
"Did she say she . . . wanted me? Even after . . ."
"Nesmay, she loved you. You were her daughter, and no matter who sired you, she loved you as her child. Never doubt that."
The girl's amber eyes met her green ones and she whispered, "I . . . believe you."
Sarai gently kissed her on the forehead. "I wish you could have known her," the warrior said quietly. "You remind me quite a bit of her. Aislinn was feisty, and full of life. She feared nothing and no one. She would have defended you to the death, against even her own blood. She would have slaughtered Oberon and Malchiar for what they did to you."
"Like Severus would have." Nesmay said, leaning her head against Sarai's shoulder.
"Yes. And me." Sarai murmured, stroking her short spiky hair. "We will never allow harm to come to you. Or your brothers. That I promise."
Nesmay sighed. "Someday, I hope I find someone the way you did Severus."
"You will, child. Of that, I have no doubt," laughed Sarai. "I just hope he's ready for you, little hedgehog princess."
"Hey, Draco. You missed your sword lesson," Harry called, tapping at his brother's door. "Are you sick?"
"No. Come in."
Harry entered his brother's room, leaning on the doorjamb. He saw Draco sitting at his desk, using a sharp flat knife to carve small shavings from a block of wood. "What are you doing?"
"Carving a practice wand out of oak," his brother replied. He had half the wand done, and was slowly beginning the next part. He set down the half finished wand and his carving knife. "I didn't realize I'd been carving for so long. I completely lost track of time. Is Dad mad at me?"
"No, not really. He just sent me to find you, make sure you weren't bleeding to death or something."
Draco grinned. "Tell him I'm fine. And I'll make it up tomorrow." He picked up the unfinished wand and began to carve again.
Harry watched him for a while, slightly envious. "You're really good at that, Dragon."
"That's because I practice a lot. And I like it."
"So you're really going to be a wandmaker when you finish school?"
"Nothing, just . . . I wish I knew what I wanted to do when I finish school."
"Then you've changed your mind about being an Auror?"
"Sort of. I used to think it was all glory and excitement, but now I know better."
"Don't worry so much, little brother. You've got time to figure out what you want to be. Besides the heir to Prince Manor, that is. How about becoming a professor, like Dad? Or a Healer or a researcher or something?"
Harry bit his lip. "I guess. I'll have to think about it."
"That's a good idea. When's supper?"
"In about an hour. Dad's cooking tonight."
"Good. Now hush, I'm trying to concentrate," ordered the young wandmaker, and returned to his carving.
Harry flopped down on his brother's bed and thought about careers, until Severus called them to dinner.
Severus and the children had grown so used to seeing Sarai with a medium-sized stomach, slightly rounded, that it shocked them when one morning at the beginning of July she seemed to grow two sizes overnight. Severus had been told that would happen, as fae women showed later in their pregnancy than human women, but it still surprised him to see his petite wife with an abdomen the size of a watermelon. A large watermelon.
He made the mistake of commenting on it, and was told to get out of his bedroom if he didn't like it. He went, figuring she was touchy because she was losing her trim figure. He resolved to apologize after breakfast. Only his wife never came in for breakfast.
"Where's Mum?" asked Draco.
"She's getting dressed," answered his father. "Go ahead and eat."
When she still hadn't shown, Severus went back into the bedroom. "Sarai? Are you all right?" he called before entering.
He found her sitting on the bed, still in her nightie, struggling with her favorite pair of boots, which were now too small for her tender swollen feet. She was attempting to tug one on, and swearing a blue streak.
He raised an eyebrow at her colorful language, which was a mixture of English and fae. "Do you know what all those words mean?" he teased gently.
She jerked up, her green eyes blazing. "Of course I do. I am a soldier, after all." She grimaced and yanked the offending boot off her foot and snarled, "Bloody blasted boot!"
The boot hit the wall with a thud.
Sarai glared at her puffy foot and muttered a few more words. Then she picked up the mate to the first boot and glared at Severus. "What are you looking at?"
Severus eyed the boot and wondered if he should duck. Then he crossed his arms and frowned. "My wife, who seems to have become a virago."
"How would you like it if you woke up one morning to find that nothing fit you, not even your favorite pair of boots?" she growled. The other boot struck the wall and landed next to its mate.
"Would you like some breakfast?"
"How about a massage? Do your feet hurt?"
"No. Leave me alone, Severus."
"I only want to help."
She gritted her teeth. "You can help by leaving right now."
He pulled out his wand. "First let me cast a diagnostic."
"No! Go away, dammit!" she snapped. "Just . . . go!"
"Fine. I'm going, if that's the way you want it," he shot back, not understanding what was wrong with her. He turned and stalked out of the bedroom.
She stared after him, feeling guilty, then she looked at her misshapen feet and curled up on the bed, her arms wrapped about her huge belly and wept. She felt like a two ton baby dragon, and even though she had been warned about it, the reality was worse than she had imagined. She felt clumsy and awkward and achy, and she knew she was being ridiculous, but she felt she had turned into a gorgon over night, ugly as an Unseelie, and it made her angry. She couldn't practice kin-sa-dor or the sword on such swollen feet, nor with this huge belly. She felt depressed and guilty for yelling at her husband. But at the same time she wanted him to suffer a little. It was so unfair, that the woman had the burden of bearing the child while the man just watched.
Angrily, she pounded the pillow, then suddenly ended up crying into it.
After awhile, she sat up, berating herself soundly for acting like a child. She couldn't understand it. One minute she was furious, the next she was bawling like a baby. What in hell was the matter with her? Mood swings. Auriane said this would happen. Pity she never told me I was going to feel like crap, and that I'd cry at the drop of a hat and lose my temper over nothing. She groaned and stretched. Perhaps a shower would make her feel better.
She tottered into the bathroom and thanked the Bright One that there was a hot tub in the master bathroom. Clearly whoever had designed this house had done so with a woman in mind. She turned on the tap and ran the water, mixing in a fragrant citrus and honey bubblebath as she did so. Then she soaked in it for fifteen minutes.
When she finally emerged, she felt better. She hunted through her closet for something to wear, finally exasperated, she managed to enlarge one of her old tunics with a charm Severus had taught her. She then put on a pair of socks and opened the door.
And found her husband on the other side.
"How are you feeling?"
"I . . . like an idiot. I shouldn't have shouted at you. I don't know what's wrong with me."
"I do. You're pregnant."
"Now that's observant of you," she snorted.
He smirked. "Let me run a diagnostic on you. Then you can throw all the shoes in your closet at the wall." He urged, pushing her back into the bedroom.
She flushed and grumbled, "Don't treat me like a child."
"Don't act like one. Lie down." He ordered firmly, then waited until she had done so before drawing his wand.
He cast the standard diagnostic spell on her, listening to the twins' heartbeats. He ran his wand up and down her abdomen, then over her. "Do you feel any pressure down there? Any cramping?"
She shook her head. "No. Sev—"
"Shhh!" he gently palpitated her stomach, muttered another charm, then tucked his wand away. He straightened, his hand still splayed over her stomach. "All's well. Nothing to worry about."
"Thank heavens. Sev, I'm sorry."
"Forgiven. If my favorite boots didn't fit me, I'd be swearing a blue streak too," he said wryly. Then he drew her up and hugged her.
"It's not just that. I feel . . . so huge and ugly . . . I sound like a pathetic court lady . . . I could just kick myself . . ."
"No, you look like a woman bearing a child." His hand slid down to cup her belly. "My children. And that makes you beautiful."
She started to tear up again. "Severus, I . . . dammit all!"
He kissed her then. It was the best remedy he knew to get his wife to stop crying, besides a handkerchief.
"Have breakfast with me?" he invited.
"You didn't eat yet?"
"No. But I fed the children."
"You could have eaten. You didn't need to wait for me."
"I wanted to."
"Severus, you crazy fool."
They ate poached eggs with bacon on toast, Sarai drank a Nutrient potion and had some tea, Severus had coffee with his meal.
"I'm going to work out with Harry," he said, rising to his feet. "Why don't you put your feet up and rest in the den?"
She scowled. "I'm not a bloody invalid!"
"I never said you were, you stubborn warhorse. But your feet will keep swelling if you keep walking on them. You need to rest."
Her eyes narrowed. "I'll rest when I'm good and ready."
"Suit yourself, but don't come crying to me when your feet are so swollen you can hardly walk." He frowned down at her.
"Pain in the ass!"
"Look who's talking."
He tried another tack. "I seem to remember a certain person telling me when I was sick that I could either rest like a sensible person or be Stuck to my bed. What'll it be?"
"You wouldn't dare!"
Their gazes locked, hers indignant, his determined.
She glanced away. "Fine."
"I knew you'd see sense," he said, then he picked her up and carried her into the den, over her protests. She longed to punch the smug look off of his face.
Her mood didn't improve during the night. She found it almost impossible to get comfortable, and spent the night tossing and turning or getting up to go to the bathroom. She felt like she was roasting in the bed, but when she opened the window to get some relief, her husband woke up and complained he was cold.
"If you don't like it, sleep on the couch," she growled.
"I think I will!" he snapped, then took his pillow and did just that.
She finally fell asleep around two in the morning.
The next day, she woke and found a pair of very soft oversized boots beside her bed. They fit perfectly. She took back everything unkind she ever thought or said to him. When he came in to wake her for breakfast the next morning, she kissed him until he was quite breathless and apologized.
But as her pregnancy advanced, Sarai found herself confined more and more to the house, as it became difficult to walk comfortably. For an active woman, used to riding or martial arts, sitting or lying on a couch day after day was maddening. Now the twins were moving about, and while she still considered it a miracle each time she felt one of them move, and so did her husband and the boys and Nesmay, the novelty had worn off. Especially after being kicked one too many times in the ribs one night, and the bladder the next night. She wondered if it were possible to get internal bruises. Or if the babies were staging a war inside of her.
In the beginning of the month, she could still walk about for short distances outside and enjoy the fresh air and sunshine. But lately it had grown harder to walk down to the orchard, and then Severus insisted she rest because now her ankles were swelling as well.
"I think you're retaining water." Her husband had said.
Sarai had laughed. "Tell my bladder that. Every five minutes I'm running to the bathroom."
"You need to rest more."
"Sun, Moon, and Stars! Severus, I already sit around doing nothing all afternoon! How much more rest do you want?"
She knew he meant well, but she had never liked being confined even if it was for her own good. So she became irritable and snippy, and lost her temper.
Things that never would have roused her ire before suddenly made her explode. Such as Harry and Draco arguing too loudly over Quidditch teams and what player was better. One afternoon they came bursting into the den, where she had been resting, her feet on an ottoman, reading her fifth book that day and longing to talk a walk through the orchard.
"Everyone knows Andrew Montheath's a better Seeker than ratty old Cosgrove," Draco sneered.
"Montheath's a cheating scheming bastard!" Harry protested.
"What? He is not!"
"You're just saying that 'cause the Magpies whipped the Cannons' arses last game."
"Because they cheated!"
"Harry, for Merlin's sake, why don't you—"
"Shut up, the pair of you!" Sarai yelled, her head was pounding, she was bored out of her mind, and the last thing she needed was this.
The boys turned and gaped at her.
She glared at them.
But Draco scowled and said cheekily, "Merlin, we were just talking about Quidditch. Take a Calming Draft, Mum."
Sarai's eyes narrowed. "Get out! I don't want to see your faces before supper. Speak like that to me again, Draco Michael, and you'll be polishing fifty swords for me!"
The boys turned and fled, though Draco grumbled under his breath about touchy pregnant women until Harry elbowed him in the ribs.
Nesmay had been coming in from the garden to get a drink and heard the whole thing. She quickly followed them outside, not wanting to see the cranky warrior and risk getting the sharp edge of her tongue. "Draco, that was stupid."
He spun on her. "Mind your own business, Nesmay! Merlin's pants, but what the hell's wrong with her? She's a worse grouch than Dad!"
"Well, how would you like it if you were stuck in the house all the time, no flying, no sword practice, and you were big as a house, your feet were swollen and your bladder became the size of a peanut? I'd bet we'd hear you bitching and moaning at Hogwarts," Nesmay defended.
"Shut up, Nesmay!" Draco grumbled. "She doesn't have to bite my head off."
"Dragon, you were cheeky with that last comment," Harry said. Then he added, "It must suck being pregnant."
"She knew what she was getting into. It's not my fault she's snappy as Hungarian Horntail. She ought to yell at Dad."
"Draco!" Harry reproved.
"What? It's true."
"She's in pain and sick most of the time. You ought to try and understand," Nesmay put in.
"You do that, Nesmay. After all, you're going to go through it someday."
Nesmay shook her head. "Like hell. After seeing this, I'm never getting pregnant. I'll adopt first."
For some reason, that made her brothers laugh.
"It's not funny! Boys!" she scowled, then stalked off.
"Girls!" they called after her.
"What are you boys arguing about now?" demanded their father, stepping out on the porch. "I could hear you all the way in my study."
"We were just talking about Quidditch and Mum went all crazy," Draco informed him. "She needs to take a Calming Draft."
"Draco, that's enough!" ordered Severus. He ran his hands through his hair. "You need to understand that your mother's at a difficult stage in her pregnancy and she's short-tempered because of it. She's frustrated and in pain and you need to be patient with her. She doesn't mean to blow up at you, son, but she's like you and me when we're sick, hell on wheels. Understand?"
Harry nodded immediately.
Draco mumbled something.
"Excuse me?" Severus demanded, his eyes hard. "Would you like to repeat that?"
"I thought not. Go, go and fly or something." He waved them off. Then he went back inside.
"I sure hope Hermione's not like this when she's pregnant," Draco muttered. "Or I'm moving out until the baby's born."
Harry snickered. "Do that, and you might find yourself sleeping in the shed, Draco. A husband's supposed to help his wife when she's expecting, not abandon her."
"I'll hire a nurse," the other said smugly, before heading down to the pond.
"Poor Hermione!" Harry whispered before following him. He would never do that to Katie.
When Severus went back inside, he found Sari groaning and rubbing her temples while sitting on the lounge chair. "What's wrong? Headache again?"
She looked up at him, her eyes glazed with pain. "I feel like my head is being . . . beaten with hammers."
He quickly fetched a Headache Remedy from the potion's cabinet and asked softly, "Can you get this down?"
She eyed it dubiously. "I'll try."
He Summoned a teaspoon and poured a measure, then attempted to feed it to her.
The first time she coughed and it came back up. Severus held a towel to her lips. After a moment, he said, "Try again."
This time the spoonful stayed down. He continued feeding her spoonfuls at intervals until the vial was empty.
She sighed as the terrible pounding dulled to something bearable. "Thank you. Much better. Where are Draco and Harry?"
"Tell them I'm sorry I snapped at them."
"They'll live. They were loud and obnoxious, I could hear them all the way in my study. Lie back and close your eyes." He sat on the arm of the lounge and began to gently massage her temples, moving his hands down her neck and then back up again, rubbing all the tension away. "How's that, better?"
She relaxed, enjoying the feel of his hands, which soothed her immensely. Just then she felt movement. "Severus, one of them is turning."
He stopped massaging and moved so he could put a hand over her abdomen. "Where?"
"Here," she guided his hand to where she had felt one of the babies kick.
There was a flutter, then a sharp kick.
Severus grinned. "I felt him that time!"
"Yes, or her. Must be getting restless in there." He placed his hand on the other side and was rewarded with a hand poking out. His dark eyes were wide with awe and delight. "I think they're wishing they could come out and meet their father."
"I'm wishing that too, Sev." His wife said, smiling. "You'll see him soon," she told the babies, patting her stomach. "I cannot wait for them to get born. Then I can get back to normal and stop being an annoying bitch."
Severus laughed quietly. "You're not as bad as some. I'd be worse if I had to deal with it. How are your feet today?" he asked, examining them.
"They're not quite as bad as yesterday. What's really driving me insane is not being able to go outside. I miss the sky and the sun."
"Why didn't you say so? I would have brought you out on the porch."
"You were busy, I didn't want to be a pain in the ass."
"You're being a pain in the ass now, because you didn't tell me. Sarai, I'm trying my best to make you comfortable, but how can I do that if you won't tell me what you want or need? I hate seeing you in pain and depressed, so for the love of Merlin, ask me when you need something!" he said shortly.
"I'm not used to asking anyone for anything."
"I know. You and your warrior pride."
"What I want most of all is to bloody walk out on the porch myself."
"Right now you can't, but I can accompany you." He helped her sit up, she put her arm about his waist and stood. He would have preferred to carry her, but he didn't want to insult her pride. So he compromised. "Come on, take your time."
Sarai leaned heavily on him, even though she tried not to. But her feet were swollen and felt like blocks of ice, she swayed like a ship under full sail, and if not for Snape's arm about her, would have probably tumbled over.
It took them ten minutes to reach the porch, and Severus helped her sit down in one of the porch rockers and put her feet up on a bench. The sun streamed down, caressing her face, bringing out the auburn highlights in Sarai's dark hair.
Sarai drew in a great lungful of sweet air and sighed. "Ah . . . I needed this."
Severus sat beside her. He basked in the sun, letting the warmth and light play across his pale face and hands. He gazed lovingly at his wife and said, "You know, I'm the most fortunate man in the world."
"And I am the most fortunate woman. But we sacrificed much to get where we are."
"More than I thought possible. But it was worth it." He pulled her foot into his lap and began to massage it. "I'm sorry this pregnancy isn't agreeing with you, but I can't help feeling fascinated with how they're growing inside you, love. I missed all of this the first time around, with Lily. This is like a second chance for me, and I plan on being there for all of it."
"You say that now. What about two months later, when you're woken up every five hours by a screaming baby?"
"That won't matter. It's something all new parents go through. And for once I'm going to be a father from day one, instead of skipping all those years. I can finally see a child of mine take his first steps, say her first word, eat his first bite of solid food, sleep through the night. I never shared that with Harry, Draco, or Nesmay."
"You also missed out on changing dirty nappies, colic, and cutting teeth," Sarai reminded him, chuckling.
"True. But you take the good with the bad, and this time I can experience all of it, from the moment they're born."
"You're going to be a remarkable father, Sev." She leaned over and kissed him. "Not that you aren't already."
"I love you, Sarai."
"Love you too. Now, don't you think we had better come up with some names for these children?"
"Mmm . . . I suppose. But not right now." He continued massaging her foot until it was limp. She fell asleep before he had finished the other one, but he continued anyhow. Once he was finished, he placed her foot back on the bench, then dozed in his chair, one hand holding his wife's.
When the three children returned to the house, that was the sight that met their eyes.
"Should we wake them?" Nesmay whispered.
"Nah. Let them sleep, Nessie." Draco shook his head.
"We can fix supper ourselves," Harry said decisively. "They look so peaceful there. It's probably the first good sleep they've had in weeks."
The young wizards slipped into the house, Harry to set the table and Nesmay to make a large green salad. Draco went to get his fishing pole, he was in the mood for fried trout tonight, and the fish were biting.
A/N: In the next chapter the twins arrive! If you would like to submit names for them and haven't already, please feel free to do so in your review.
On another note, I won't be updating any of my stories for at least four days, as I am going to visit my sister in the hospital on Friday, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and is having surgery this week, and I want to be there to offer her my love and support. I am praying she will do well and survive this cancer.
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