Chapter 72 : Darkest Before Dawn
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He held Sarai close, trying to offer her comfort, but he felt hollow inside and the words he spoke fell upon deaf ears. They were in a large bed, with Victoria in a cradle beside it. The baby slept, Sarai had roused long enough to nurse her daughter. Titania had come in soon after Sarai had delivered, sensing perhaps that all was not right. The queen herself had cried upon seeing the poor lifeless baby, and had hugged Sarai and murmured how sorry she was about their loss.
"I grieve with you, cousins. There is no greater loss. I know that all too well." Titania had said. Then she added, "But you must remember . . . you were given the gift of a daughter today. Cherish her and love her, for she is the fulfillment of all your hopes and dreams. And cherish your sons and Nesmayallindra as well. May the Bright Lady have mercy and may time soothe your heart and mend it."
The grieving parents heard her words, and later would think on and comprehend them, but at the moment they were too lost in sorrow to pay much attention to their living children. The death of their innocent son tore and shredded them and all they knew was that their precious little one was gone. Baby Alexander would never open his eyes and gaze upon the world, never say his first word, or take his first step, or choose his own wand, or play with his siblings. He had died before he could even live, and for Severus and Sarai, it was a terrible tragedy.
Victoria seemed to sense the loss of her twin as well, and cried and whimpered in her sleep.
Normally, Sarai would have risen immediately to hold her child, but her grief bound her in chains far stronger than iron. She was exhausted and hurting, both in body and spirit, and all she wished to do was sleep. But sleep eluded her, as it did her husband. She could not believe her baby was gone, when she had felt him kick and move within her for nearly eight months. She had so looked forward to meeting the restless little imp. But now that would never be.
My poor son! I loved you so much! I wished I could have seen you grow up. There was a great hole in her heart, an aching abyss that threatened to swallow her, and though she tried to fight it, it dragged and sucked at her with the force of a sinkhole. And Sarai, who had once been Captain of the Queen's Blades, First in skill and war, found she had no defenses against the harrowing grief that clutched her. Weeping silently, she buried her head in her husband's shoulder.
But unlike other times, Severus' presence failed to banish her pain. It crept up behind her like a black beast and devoured her.
She did not even argue when Healer Auriane gave her a Dreamless Sleep potion, which she normally would have refused. Instead she gulped the draught, welcoming the bliss of oblivion for a few hours.
The diminutive Healer turned then to Severus. "Would you like one as well, my lord?" she asked softly. She had washed and wrapped Alexander in a blanket, then washed her own face clean of tears. But her eyes were bright with sorrow. "Lord Severus, forgive me for not being able to save him. He was . . . he never took a breath and I wish I had more Art . . ."
"Not your fault," Severus said gruffly. "You did your best, Auriane. There was no more you could do."
"Or you either." Auriane whispered sadly, knowing he felt the scourge of guilt far stronger than she.
"I should believe you, but all I can see is that when my child most needed me, I failed him," the wizard said bitterly.
"No, my lord Snape. Not even you are proof against death. None of us are. This . . . is something that often plagues my people. We have never birthed easily or often. When Lady Sarai became pregnant so swiftly and the pregnancy progressed so well, I had hoped . . . the babies would be born healthy and thrive and so would she. I should have expected this . . . one in ten fae births result in stillbirth, but I had hoped that being mostly mortal might counteract that . . . It is why we celebrate the birth of a child so much . . ." Her voice broke. "What will you tell your older children?"
"The truth," he said bleakly. But right then he couldn't stand to be the bearer of such tidings. He felt as if he was falling to pieces, and in a way he was. "Smidgen," he called hoarsely.
:I'm here, Sev.: came the shimmerling's gentle mindvoice. :My condolences upon the loss of your son. May he walk forever in the lands of the Blessed. Would you like me to tell the children about their new sister and brother?:
"I would . . . be very grateful, Smidgen."
:Consider it done, my friend.: Smidgen said, then she blinked away to where the Snape children were staying, anxiously awaiting news about their stepmother and the twins.
When Smidgen appeared in Nesmay's suite, she was greeted with a multitude of questions from the elder Snape siblings.
"Are the babies born?" asked Draco.
"Is Sarai all right?" from Nesmay, who had spoken to her aunt, Morgana, about childbirth earlier that day. The fae princess had told her the truth, that it was both the best and the worst thing a woman had to endure.
"What did she have?" Harry wanted to know.
The shimmerling settled upon Harry's shoulder, her crippled wing unable to bear her weight for long. :One at a time, please!: she sent. :Yes, the twins have been born. Sarai is well as can be expected. She gave birth to a girl and a boy.:
The siblings cheered, and Harry gave Draco a smug look.
"Told you so, Dragon. Now you owe me ten Sickles."
"When can we see them, Smidgen?" Nesmay asked eagerly.
:Soon. But children, I have some bad news to tell you, so don't celebrate just yet,: warned Smidgen, and her mindvoice was filled with sorrow.
Harry felt the hairs on the back of his neck bristle. "What's wrong, Smidgen? Is it Dad?"
:No, Harry. Your father is well, or as well as can be expected when dealing with the loss of his newborn son.:
Nesmay gasped. "No! Smidgen, you can't mean . . ."
"One of the babies is dead?" Draco whispered, his gray eyes horror-stricken.
"How could that happen?" Harry asked, dumbfounded.
Smidgen tried to explain as best she could. :No one really knows, Harry. Sometimes . . . a baby is born with something wrong . . . something inside . . . that didn't develop properly and so . . . I am sorry.:
"Wasn't there something they could do?" Draco cried.
The fae cat shook her head. :Healer Auriane and your father did all they could. Little Alexander Severus never drew breath. He was smaller than his sister, Victoria Alyssandra, maybe he didn't have the strength to survive the birth. Sometimes things like this just happen and all you can do is accept it.:
"The poor little thing!" Nesmay said, crying.
"Poor Dad," added Harry, his own eyes wet.
"And Mum too," Draco reminded. His eyes were dry, but reflected a deep pain.
:'Tis a day full of sorrow and joy: Smidgen sent sadly.
"Can we see them?" Harry asked abruptly. "The babies, I mean?"
:Of course. Come, I will show you where they are,: Smidgen purred, and directed them to the suite where Severus and Sarai were staying.
Severus barely registered that he had visitors in his suite, he was so lost in sorrow. Normally he would have been alert and aware, but the black despair had hold of him and his normally keen senses were dulled. He looked up when Smidgen spoke into his mind.
:Severus, my friend, your children have come. Won't you acknowledge them?:
Only then did he look up and see Harry, Draco, and Nesmay before him. All looked as if they'd been crying.
"Dad?" Harry said, uncertainly. He had never seen his father in such a state.
Severus looked suddenly old, his face carved with deep lines of distress, his eyes deep pools of suffering and grief. He sat hunched in a chair beside the bed, as if the burdens of the world were on his shoulders. His hair hung listlessly in his eyes.
"Harry. Would you like to see your new sister, Victoria?" He indicated the cradle. "Just don't wake her. She's sleeping."
As Harry tiptoed to the cradle, Nesmay came and embraced her guardian. "Oh, Severus, I'm so sorry about the little boy!" She clung to him, weeping.
"I know," he said, gently patting her back, tears shimmering in his eyes.
The sight of his father's tears scared Draco, who had never seen Severus, the indomitable wizard, cry. Draco just stared, swallowing sharply. He wanted to tell his father he was sorry too, but was afraid to speak for fear that he too would cry, and that wouldn't help poor Severus at all. So he turned and went to view the sleeping baby in the cradle, and looked also at Sarai, who was sleeping peacefully.
Harry looked up as Draco approached, his green eyes bright with sorrow and awe. "Look at her, Dragon," he said in hushed tones. "Isn't she the most beautiful baby there ever was?"
Draco stared down at the sleeping infant, and was moved by the tiny scrap. Baby Victoria was still a little red-faced, and her ears were slightly pointed, a throwback to her fae ancestors. One little fist was lying aside her nose and she had a thick tuft of hair, dark like both her parents. A delicate spidersilk blanket of rose and white was wrapped about her, making Draco think of a rosebud.
He gently reached down and stroked one petal-soft cheek. "Hey, baby sister. You really are the prettiest baby ever."
"And the smartest too," Harry murmured, gently touching the small hand.
"And why wouldn't she be?" Nesmay asked, coming up to look over Harry's shoulder. She was wiping her eyes with Severus' handkerchief. "She's a Snape, after all." She gently blew the baby a kiss. "Sleep well, sweet Victoria." She blotted her eyes again and smiled.
Draco shuffled his feet uncomfortably. He looked over at Severus, who was looking at his wife, a mixture of pain and tenderness upon his face. He opened his mouth reluctantly to ask where the other twin was, and Smidgen sent that baby Alexander was in the sitting room, lying in a tiny rosewood casket.
Draco began to walk slowly towards the entrance to the sitting room. He didn't want to see the dead infant, but knew that if he didn't, the whole horrible thing wouldn't seem real to him.
Harry looked up and wondered where Draco was going.
:He goes to see your brother,: Smidgen sent.
Harry reluctantly left his little sister and followed.
After a few moments, Nesmay did also.
They found Alexander Severus sitting atop the low wooden table, having been washed and dressed in a small blue tunic, and wrapped in a warm indigo spidersilk blanket. Like his twin, he also bore dark hair, but his face held the waxen pallor of death. The funeral aides had Glamoured the child's skin to a normal color and not the blue hue he had been born with.
All three children gathered about the casket and stared at the infant within.
"He almost looks . . . as if he's asleep," Nesmay whispered.
"I know. Like he'll open his eyes any minute." Draco coughed, feeling tears sting his eyes. "I always wanted a little brother to teach stuff to. Like how to ride a broom."
"And catch the Snitch," Harry sniffed, dashing a hand across his eyes.
"And climb trees," added Nesmay. She was silent for a moment, then she burst out with, "It's not fair! Both of them should have lived!" She bit her lip, then buried her face in her hands.
Harry hugged her. "I wish I knew a spell to bring him back. It's just about killing Dad that he's gone."
"I wanted to say something, but . . . what could I say that would help him?" Draco admitted. "This just bloody sucks and there's nothing anyone can do about it." He bowed his head. "I hope you're happy in heaven, little brother."
"I'm sure he is," Harry said, then he kissed his fingers and gently touched them to the baby's forehead. "Rest in peace."
They remained for a few minutes longer, staring at the still form of the newborn.
All at once, Nesmay pulled free of his arms and ran out of the room.
"Nesmay, wait!" Harry called, and started after her, only to be drawn to a halt by Draco.
"Harry, let her be. She needs to have herself a good cry."
Harry nodded in understanding, thinking that so did his brother. And himself too.
Slowly, they made their way to their suite of rooms, which was right next to Nesmay's. Silently, Draco lay down on his bed, not bothering to undress, just kicking off his shoes.
Harry forced himself to get undressed, then huddled beneath his covers, recalling his father's stricken face. His heart twisted in anguish and he turned his face into his pillow and allowed the tears to flow. He didn't know who he felt sorrier for, Severus or Sarai. It was such a terrible burden to bear.
Across the room he heard soft sniffling and he knew that Draco too wept, mourning what could have been.
Victoria woke Severus out of a sound sleep, wailing to be fed and changed. He had been sleeping next to Sarai, dreaming of chasing a little boy with dark hair and green eyes down an endless gray road when his daughter roused him with her banshee shriek.
Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, he sat up, and winced. He felt drained and weary, but forced himself out of bed. A wood sprite hovered above the cradle.
"My lord Snape, do you need assistance? I am Nanny Oakheart."
"I . . . I think she's hungry," Severus yawned, his brain felt stuffed with cotton wool.
"Yes, and wet. Here," the wood sprite was about half the size of a human, with iridescent wings that bore her aloft. She was wearing a simple brown tunic and apron embroidered with acorns. She expertly lifted the screaming baby and held her.
She summoned wet cloths and a fresh nappy with a snap of her fingers. Then she showed Severus how to change the baby. "See? It's simple, once you know how. But she needs her mother's milk."
"Should I wake Sarai?"
"No, let her rest. The babe can nurse without her waking." The sprite said, and showed the new father how to place the baby so she could nurse while her mother slept.
Once Victoria was suckling, held by her father's arm, Nanny Oakheart told him to call if he needed anything, and vanished.
Severus continued holding his baby girl until he began to doze, then he shook himself awake.
The baby was now sleeping, having drunk her fill. He gently picked her up and placed her back in the cradle.
Then he returned to his wife, seeking solace in dreams.
But when Severus awoke several hours later, he found that Sarai burned with an unnatural heat. He rolled over and clasped her by the shoulders as she moaned and stirred. "Sarai, love, are you ill?"
Her eyelids fluttered and she opened them. "Sev?"
"I'm here. How are you feeling?"
"Tired. Weak. Sick."
"Can you nurse Victoria?" he asked, for the baby had woke as well and was bawling.
Sarai lifted her head, it swam with dizziness. She was hardly ever sick, her fae blood gave her a hardy constitution that shrugged off most illnesses. Now, however, she felt sicker than she had ever felt in her life, sick with sorrow and longing, with an unrelenting grief that would not be assuaged. "Bring her to me," she murmured, struggling to sit up.
Her husband rose and picked up the baby. "Hush, sweetling." The baby's shrill wails made his head ache and he was glad to hand her to Sarai.
Sarai cradled her baby close, managing to open her loose tunic and allow the child to drink. The baby sucked greedily, and Sarai winced, for she was tender. Still, she endured, for her child she would endure anything. She found herself dozing off again, unable to keep her eyes open.
"Sarai? You seem like you have a fever," Severus murmured, leaning over her.
"I feel hot and cold all at once. Take Victoria. I don't want her to get sick," she muttered, feeling herself slip back into the gray realm, where the pain of losing her son was muffled. She felt the baby being lifted out of her grasp, and relaxed back onto the pillows. She fought to stay awake, for what she had to say was important. "Sev, I want . . . you to bury Alexander at the manor. He belongs with his ancestors. Promise me." Tears fell onto the sheet drawn about her.
"I promise. You need to rest." He started to turn away, about to call Smidgen to fetch Auriane.
Then he felt Sarai clasp his sleeve. "Wait!"
"Yes?" Severus turned.
"Take our daughter to the manor, Sev. I want her to stay there. There's something . . . not right here. I feel eyes . . . eyes watching."
"I don't understand. What eyes?"
She grimaced. "I can't explain it. But Victoria is safer at the manor, Severus."
"Of course she is. But you talk of her as if you won't be there with her."
"I won't. I can't risk making her sick, don't you see?"
"Auriane will make you well, Sarai." Then he hurried out of the room, sending a mental command to Smidgen to call the Healer. His heart went cold with fear. Not my wife too. Please, not my wife too.
She drifted, only partially aware that he was no longer there. Fever scorched her, draining away her strength bit by bit. A part of her fought, but a greater part of her was content to let the flames lick at her, to submit. Don't give up, you have a daughter to care for, a family to love, whispered a fragile golden voice. But another urged her to surrender to the smothering dark, for the child she had carried beneath her heart was dead, and things would never be the same. She had sipped from the cup of bitter sorrow, and her heart had shattered. Oh, Titania, how did you bear it? I have lost dear comrades before, but they died fighting, their deaths had meaning. What meaning was there in the death of a child? Even worse, there was nothing I could do to save him.
She groaned softly, a tortured moan of pain and loss, and let the fever embrace her.
"This is no natural fever," Auriane said to Severus gravely, after spending exactly five minutes examining her patient. "You know that, don't you?"
Severus stiffened. "What do you mean? Is it the result of a curse?"
"No. Not in the way you mean. No enemy placed it on her. It is of her own making, the scathcalliel, the grief-sickness."
Severus went pale. He knew of but one other who had that particular ailment, and she had died from it. "But she isn't pure fae. It shouldn't affect her this way!"
Auriane's eyes met his. "Grief is grief, Lord Snape, whether mortal or fae. I cannot measure the depth of sorrow, only observe the results. And a mother grieving her lost child is the same, no matter if you're human or fae. I have seen worse though," she added kindly, knowing he would understand of whom she spoke.
Aislinn, Severus' thoughts whispered her name. He shuddered. But Sarai was not the lost princess, seduced and abandoned by her cruel mortal lover. She did not bear the shame and despair that Titania's daughter had, along with her unwanted child. Sarai had a husband and family who loved her, a daughter who needed her. "It's not the same," he said vehemently. "I won't let her go."
"That's good," the Healer said approvingly. "She has a strong spirit. I'd lay odds she'll return to you." She gently spooned a fever-reducing cordial between the warrior's slack lips, stroking her throat to make sure it was swallowed. "But for now . . . she wanders the thorny path." She sighed. "Has your babe fed recently?"
"About an hour past."
"Mmm. That will probably be the last time."
Severus' brow wrinkled. "Why?"
"The fever has begun to burn away her milk. She'll lose it before night falls."
"Can't you do anything?"
"No. It affects both mind and body. You'll have to substitute formula. The nursery sprites make it, I can send for several crates. Don't worry, several generations of the royal house have thrived on it."
Severus relaxed slightly. "I suppose there's no other choice. What else can we do for her?"
"Not much. Dose her with standard fever reducing potions. Give her plenty of liquids when she wakes, wipe her down with a soft cloth and just stay beside her. That's important, because she needs to know she has someone to come back for. She is a very courageous lady, more so by far than I. I have never had courage enough to bear a child, and I have been married for over thirty years."
Severus just nodded. He felt worn to the bone, awash in sorrow, and afraid for Sarai.
:Sev, the queen comes!: came Smidgen's harried thought.
Severus straightened, quickly Transfiguring his sleeping attire into his court robes just before there came a knock at the door and then a Blade opened it, announcing, "Her Majesty, Queen Titania, and Lord and Lady Valinek."
Titania entered, dressed in her queenly iridescent court gown, and was followed by Sarai's parents, Juliana and Gwydion. "Forgive the intrusion, Severus," the Summer Queen said. "But I took the liberty of informing your in-laws about the birth and they insisted upon coming here."
"You have our deepest condolences, Severus," said Gwydion gravely. He looked like the quintessential fae lord—tall, blond, with cat-like green eyes and pointed ears. His sun-gold hair was set off by his black attire, but Severus knew that he was no court popinjay. He was as unconceited as a fae noble could be, having broken all the rules to marry a mortal woman, and remain faithful to her until death parted them.
"If there is anything you need, you have but to ask," Juliana said, her eyes were red from crying. "Her Grace took us to see the little one . . . he reminded me so of my Janus . . ."
At Severus' puzzled look, Gwydion explained, "Our firstborn, who died a few hours after his birth. Sarai never knew him, and we hardly ever speak of him, for it hurts too much."
"But see, Juliana, your granddaughter. She is a beautiful child, and shall bring joy to her family." Titania went and lifted a sleepy Victoria from the cradle and gave her to her grandmother.
Juliana held her granddaughter close, breathing in the scent of milk and honey and innocence and she smiled even as her eyes overflowed. "Ah, such a precious thing. Gwydion, meet your granddaughter."
The fae lord came and looked upon the baby tenderly, murmuring, "She's as beautiful as her mother. May she grow up strong and proud." Then he looked away at his son-in-law and said, "Forgive me for my bluntness, but do you need to make funeral arrangements, Severus?"
"Yes, my lord. I do. But it's going to be a very small ceremony." He glanced back at Sarai. "Would you please stay here? Sarai is ill, otherwise I would consult her, but circumstances being what they are . . ." he trailed off.
"She would understand, dear," Juliana said compassionately.
Healer Auriane bent and whispered something in Gwydion's ear and he nodded.
The Potions Master rose and left the palace, traveling through the Gate to the manor first to unlock the gates of the cemetery, which was located on the lefthand side of the wood, invisible until you knew the incantation to remove the veil that shrouded it. Once he had done so, he prepared a plot of ground for his son, right next to his own piece. Surrounding the grass space were the graves of all the other Princes and their families, in neat rows with white marble tombstones. Then he asked Smidgen to inform Philip and Julie about the sad news, and returned to the Summer Court to gather up his children.
It was a small solemn gathering there under the aspens and live oaks. There were Philip, Julie, Gwydion, Harry, Draco, Nesmay, Smidgen, and Princess Morgana, who was there to represent her mother. Juliana had to stay behind, for she could not enter the mortal realm any longer or else she would die, she had been too long in the Faerie Realm, and she would watch over Sarai. They laid Alexander Severus Snape to rest in a short memorial service led by Philip, who in his time had once been captain of a trading vessel and was also the most religious minded among them.
"And so we commend the soul of Alexander Severus to the arms of Almighty God and His Son Jesus. May he dwell in heaven with the angels and the Lord. He will be sorely missed. From earth we came, to earth we return. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Amen."
Severus gently lowered the casket into the ground, and slowly each of the mourners tossed a handful of dirt into the grave.
Philip gestured and the grave filled itself with earth. Julie spoke a word and the ground was covered in sweet heather and delicate flowers. Gwydion picked up a white rock and muttered over it. It became a large marble slab which he set in the earth. It bore no inscription. "That is for you and Sarai to do," he told the grieving Severus. "May you someday find peace and your heart heal."
As if on cue, the sky suddenly opened up and it began to rain.
Victoria, who had been held by Julie, began to cry. "We should go inside, Sev," she suggested, tugging a fold of a blanket over the baby's head.
"Go, all of you. There are refreshments on the table. Harry, would you mind serving the tea for now? I'll be along in a bit." Severus said woodenly.
"I'll do it," Nesmay said. "Otherwise they might be wearing the tea instead of drinking it," she said, ignoring Harry's glare.
As they hurried inside, Severus knelt in front of the little headstone, his head bowed, unmindful of the rain. My poor son! Your life is over before it has even begun, and not all the magic in the world can bring you back. Or at least, no magic of the Light. He knew that there were dark spells to summon the dead back to life, or a semblance of it, but he would sooner cut off his arm than use them. He did not want an unnatural monster for a son. "Goodbye, sweet Alexander. May you be forever blessed, and may you return to me someday, in spirit if not in body. They say the souls of the innocent are always granted a second chance, may it be so."
He kissed the tips of his fingers and touched the headstone. "Angels watch over you, my beloved child."
He doubled over, his body wracked with sobs, and the rain fell in shimmering silver sheets, as the land mourned along with the Heir to Prince Manor.
A/N: I would like to thank all my readers for their continued support for this story. I know that the past chapter and this one are filled with sadness, but please bear with me, it does get better! I know many of you are upset with my decision regarding the baby, but bad things do happen to good people, and the good guys don't always have an idyllic life and triumph over everything. The Unseelie are dangerous opponents when crossed and a powerful villain like Maeve isn't to be taken lightly at all. There has to be a balance, and sometimes the bad guys win for a time. I didn't do this to make Severus and the family suffer, but because death and grief are a part of life and can and do often happen unexpectedly. I know because I lost three of my relatives last years to various illnesses in the space of eight months.
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