Chapter 18 : Eighteen
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Ophelia was stitching. She no longer walked so much as she waddled. She resembled more a cosmic joke than a prospective mother. She’d spent the last few weeks mostly in their quarters, preferring that to trying to climb the stairs between the dungeons and the Great Hall. It was hard to believe that her twins weren’t due until the beginning of June.
When Severus had asked her some question or other about the children, she had just looked at him and said—“I just want to get it over with!” Her ankles were swollen like trees, she waddled like a hippopotamus and she couldn’t sleep at night because her back ached and she was getting constantly kicked in the spine.
Being pregnant had officially stopped being tolerable.
Severus stalked into their quarters, a scowl on his face. “I know he has it,” he muttered darkly, pouring himself a drink. “How else would have known that spell?”
Ophelia looked up. “Who has what?”
“Potter,” Severus growled, “He has my old potions textbook.”
Ophelia blinked, then, comprehending—“Is that why he was asking about the—?”
“Half-Blood Prince,” Severus muttered, pacing. “He must have got it from the cupboard of spare books—that explains how he’s been doing so well in Potions this year. Merlin damn the boy!” he shouted, slamming his glass down on the counter.
Ophelia shifted in her seat. “Did something happen?” she asked, growing worried.
“Oh, something happened,” Severus spat, acid dripping from his tone. “Potter cursed Malfoy.”
Alarm ran through Ophelia. “What?”
“He no doubt had no idea what the spell he was using did,” her husband snarled. “Cut Malfoy half to pieces.”
“Is he alright?” Ophelia demanded.
Severus looked at her. “Malfoy will be fine. Potter has detention for the rest of the year.” He drained his glass, and added—“Malfoy was asking after you.”
Ophelia hauled to her feet. “Help me up the stairs. I’m going to see him.”
“Don’t, Severus,” she said sharply, hands on her belly, “Just help me.”
Draco had been more or less put back together by the time Ophelia got to the hospital wing, but Poppy was keeping him overnight just in case. He sat up when he saw her, and Ophelia saw with amusement that Pansy and Blaise were there, too, with a Founders card deck sitting between the three of them. “Waiting for me?” she asked softly.
Draco nodded, handing her the Gryffindor part of the deck. “Let’s see how well you can play your own house.”
Severus helped her into a chair and then lurked at the back of the room.
The talk avoided serious things as they played, and when Draco, bearing the Slytherin deck, won (if just barely) Blaise and Pansy left so they wouldn’t be late back to their dormitories.
Ophelia looked down at Draco, organizing the cards. “Are you alright, Draco?”
“Same as always,” he murmured, rubbing at his eyes. He looked very vulnerable, just then. He put the cards away and looked up at her. “People have gotten used to seeing you in the common room, you know,” he said, “They figure as long as you show up, things haven’t gotten too bad.”
That surprised Ophelia. “Really?”
Draco nodded, running his thumbs over the box that held his cards. “They figure that if you still have time for us, then there’s at least somebody who doesn’t think we’re all fucked.”
Ophelia nodded, knowing the feeling. “Do you think you’re going to be that bad off, Draco?”
“I already am,” Draco answered, “I don’t know what to think anymore.” He sighed, and after a long moment he looked up again. “Mrs. Snape… if I… if I needed to run, from all of this… would it put your family in danger if you helped me?”
Or would I turn you out to protect myself, is what you’re asking, Ophelia thought. “It would,” she said softly, “But I know someone else who might help you.”
It happened four days after Ophelia’s birthday. Her babies were later than expected, and Poppy was getting a little worried. She felt like an elephant on stilts.
And everything happened.
Severus came through the door, and Ophelia could see it on his face that whatever was going to happen, it would happen that night. “You have to go,” he said, clutching her arms. “Go to Antonescu, now.”
His tone frightened her, and she went. She flooed to that little seaside cottage, where Dana was enjoying a late dinner. Dana stood, asking what had happened.
“Nothing, yet,” Ophelia replied in Bulgarian. That was when she gasped and put a hand on her stomach. Warm liquid trickled down her leg.
Her water had broken.
She was about to give birth.
Dana took her to the second bedroom and rushed through the house, gathering everything she needed.
Of what happened, Ophelia would remember little. Only that she screamed and howled, and before too long the screams and howls weren’t her own. She panted and tried to regain her breath, and Dana cleaned her son and daughter with loving care, and placed them in her arms.
They were beautiful, and so impossibly small. Ophelia fawned over them in spite of her exhaustion, her beautiful boy and girl. Tired, Dana sat next to the bed in a chair, smiling. They had dark, dark brown hair, soft as down, and they were so strong and full of life. Ophelia smiled and cradled them, unaware that as her children had been coming into the world, a battle had been raging, and lives had been lost.
“You need rest,” Dana said, going to clean up. “Should I wake you when your husband turns up?”
If he turns up, Ophelia thought. “Yes,” she said, her eyes never leaving her children. “Yes, wake me then.” She sighed and closed her eyes to rest.
It didn’t occur to her that she had answered in English.
The next morning…
Ophelia had just nursed the both of them when he arrived. Severus looked exhausted and worn, but that expression vanished when he saw their children. They whispered over the pair, afraid to wake them, and Dana made herself busy in the kitchen with breakfast. “They’re so beautiful,” Ophelia whispered.
Severus held her tightly and kissed her cheek.
“What are their names?” Dana asked, laying their breakfast on the table.
“Prosper Aaron,” Ophelia murmured, stroking the boy’s hair, and then the girl’s, “And Eileen Gale.” They had spent weeks discussing names for their children. Eventually they had settled on her brother’s name, and Severus’s mother’s name, with middle names drawn from Ophelia’s far flung relatives.
“You need to eat,” Dana told her in English, gesturing the table. “Plenty of time for talking later.”
Maybe, Ophelia thought. But they ate.
After breakfast, Severus grasped her hand. “We need to talk,” he said.
Ophelia took it in with silence. She didn’t utter so much as a sound as Severus explained to her what he had kept secret for an entire year. Everything, everything that had bothered Draco, that had made the students wait in an unnamed sense of anxious anticipation… it all made sense now. It had all started with the two visitors at Spinner’s End the summer before, and for a year she had been ignorant. For a year, Severus had kept her in the dark.
“What happened to Draco?” she asked at last. “That was his task, wasn’t it? And Dumbledore had you do it for him.”
Dumbledore. She had trusted the old man, and now he would have her husband accused of murder. The entire wizarding world would hate him, despise him. They would name him traitor, spy and murderer. Her husband, the father of her children.
She had never hated Dumbledore more.
Severus nodded. “Malfoy vanished, he and his parents both. No one has any idea where they went.”
I do, Ophelia thought, but she didn’t say it. It was better if Severus didn’t know. Just like it had been better that she didn’t know what was coming that year. “And Harry?”
“I don’t know, though hell bent on vengeance without a doubt.” Severus looked over at the cradle, where their children slept. “This will be hell,” he said, “You and the children deserve better.”
Ophelia put her hand on his knee. “We’ll come through this,” she murmured, “We survived one war, surely we can survive another.”
Severus didn’t look as though he shared her confidence. He cupped her face in his hands and kissed her gently. “I love you,” he whispered.
Ophelia wrapped her arms tightly around him. “I love you too,” she said, blinking back tears.
He stroked her hair and looked into her eyes. “I’m sorry that I’ve got to leave you like this, with two children and barely any money.”
“I have my father,” Ophelia answered, “He’ll make sure I’m taken care of. He always has.”
Severus nodded. He kissed her forehead. “Be safe, for me.” he murmured.
“Same goes for you,” Ophelia replied, giving his hands a squeeze.
He stood and went to the crib, lifting first his daughter. He kissed her forehead and murmured something, then returned her and reached for her brother. Severus cradled his son in the crook of his arm for a long moment, a thousand thoughts behind his black eyes. He kissed Prosper’s forehead, and this time Ophelia heard what he whispered.
“I’ll be a better father than mine.”
He placed Prosper in the crib once more and gave Ophelia one last kiss. “I love you,” he murmured again, and he left.
A single morning, he’d seen their children, and now Ophelia was watching the place where he would stood. She realized that it would be the first time since they were married that he would be gone for a significant length of time.
She stood and walked to the crib, looking down at her son and daughter. “It’s just you two, me, and Dana now,” she murmured. She sighed, and went to unpack her things, which had arrived that morning with her husband.
As she did so, Sirius Black’s old letter fell out of her bag. Ophelia frowned, picking it up. She read through it, the words she hadn’t so much as glanced at for a year.
I can only hope you give enough of a damn about Harry (since I know you don’t really care about me) to convince him otherwise.
I believe this is the part where I wish you all the best.
Wish me all the best, Ophelia thought bitterly. A year since you wrote me those words and my husband is now an accused murderer.
Still, what was it she had told him? Ah, yes. Better to be a rook or a bishop than a pawn.
Funny, coming from a woman who was terrible at chess, in any form.
But she didn’t regret it. She didn’t regret anything she herself had done since she got married, except maybe striking Severus. What she regretted was that they couldn’t have met under better circumstances.
Dana came into the room as Ophelia stood over the crib, looking down at her children. “Are you alright?” she asked in Bulgarian.
“No,” Ophelia answered truthfully.
So Draco had run with his family. That was good. They were better protected where she had sent them. But she couldn’t run, oh no.
She would need to tell the Order that her husband had abandoned her and their children. She would need to call in Sirius Black’s life debt to her. She would need to establish herself in their good graces.
She would need to play the game.
Ophelia went to the window, looking out at the sea.
You always used to say that I was as fragile as glass, Mariah, she thought, watching the waves pound the sand. Glass breaks, the way I broke. But sometimes people can become tempered, like steel, and then we are stronger.
Ophelia folded her arms and watched a sea bird fly.
This woman won’t break again, she thought; this time I have something I can do.
Tempered glass doesn’t break so easily.
To be continued…