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Return to Prince Manor by Snapegirl
Chapter 77 : Family Ties
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 9


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77

Family Ties

AN: An extra long chapter for all my readers! Please forgive any grammatical / spelling mistakes, I've been under a lot of stress lately, both with work and my mom went into the hospital a few days ago.

"Severus, it's amazing how much she's grown in just a few weeks," Dumbledore exclaimed as he caught sight of Victoria, now sitting up in a high chair at the staff table for breakfast. This was their first day back at school after New Year's Day.

Severus looked every inch the proud father. "Yes, she's starting to eat solid food and she babbles constantly."

A small plate of warm barley cereal mixed with pureed peaches and formula popped up in front of his daughter, along with a rubber spoon. She eagerly opened her mouth as Severus put in the first spoonful.

"She certainly seems to like that," Dumbledore observed, as Victoria devoured her cereal and fruit. "What is it? Rice cereal and mangos?"

"No, it's barley cereal with peaches. Rice is harder for her to digest, it can constipate her, so Sarai and I prefer the barley mixture," answered the Potions Master. "We're trying out a new food every four days and seeing how she tolerates it. So far she seems to enjoy everything."

"That's good. It's hard to deal with a fussy eater. My brother Abe was so picky, he drove my mother crazy. Me, I'd eat almost everything, especially sweet things," the Headmaster remarked. He gazed at Victoria fondly. "Severus, why don't you eat while I feed her?"

The Potions Master looked a bit startled, for this was the first time Albus had volunteered to do more than hold or play with the baby. "All right." He handed the Headmaster the spoon and bowl. For once he could eat his breakfast while it was still hot and didn't have to use a charm to re-heat it. "Thank you, Albus."

"Not at all, my boy." Albus took the spoon and began coaxing the baby to eat, saying, "Now here comes the magic broomstick—whoosh! Open up, Toria, dear!" He flew the spoon into her mouth. "That's my girl! Mmmm! I like peaches too, my favorite dessert is peach cobbler . . ."

While Albus was minding Victoria, Severus took his time eating, and listening to the conversations of his colleagues around him.

Sirius was talking to McGonagall about two Gryffindors who had earned themselves detention with him again for charming several of their classmates' books to pop out a rather risqué picture of a pretty witch with slit robes exposing her legs that danced the can can and sang "There's a place in France where naked Beauxbatons girls dance with a hole in the wall so the boys can see it all . . ."

"Now while I might have thought they were rather clever and it was rather amusing, it totally disrupted my class. They had the nerve to tell me that they thought it would be okay if we studied Recreational History of Magic! Even after I removed the charm, no student could open their books without cracking up laughing, and it was impossible for them to pay attention after that . . ." Sirius was saying.

McGonagall was frowning, with a pinched look on her face that made her look as if she had swallowed an Extra Sour Sucker. "I shall speak to Misters Herringbone and Radcliffe again about their inappropriate behavior. They are almost as bad as the Weasley twins, I fear." She sighed gustily. The student she had mentioned were third-years, best friends, and proud disciples of Fred and George.

Severus had to bite his lip to keep from smirking. It was so deliciously ironic to have Sirius Black, Marauder, now being forced to endure pranksters in his class, and discovering firsthand how it felt to be on the receiving end of petty and annoying jokes. Not only that, but for once it was Gryffindors on the receiving end of McGonagall's censor and not Slytherins. Poetic justice indeed!

Remus was discussing the habits and abilities of several dark fae creatures with Sarai, for he was going to teach a unit on recognizing and protecting yourself from dark creatures of other Realms. He was scribbling rapidly upon a piece of parchment as Sarai detailed the numerous dark creatures that haunted the fae realm, such as lurks, darkhounds, orcs, night hags, nightmare steeds, cloakers, sirens, ice drakes, and Unseelie.

"I think the fifth and sixth years will benefit greatly from learning about the fae realm, and it's not as if we haven't seen some of those unsavory beast here from time to time."

"Exiles thrown through a Gate," Sarai nodded. "It's not something that happens often, but on occasion the Queen of Air and Darkness will get in a pet and she shall banish a few of her minions who have failed her in some task or another. So it's always best to be prepared."

"Right." Remus agreed. He enjoyed working with the half-fae warrior, finding her a refreshing blend of seriousness and wry humor. "How's Toria doing?"

"She's learning something new everyday. Severus thinks she's the most brilliant baby ever born," chuckled Sarai.

"Of course he would, she's his little girl." Remus grinned. "And you, my lady Blade?"

"I adore my daughter, she was what gave me a reason for living after I lost my son." A shadow darkened her expressive eyes for a moment. "But though I love her dearly, I'm not blind to her faults. She has her father's quick temper, and my stubbornness. But she also has inherited my curiosity and Sev's thirst for learning. You might think I'm being ridiculous, but I can almost see her absorbing things, her little mind is like a sponge. I have only to show her something once and she remembers."

"I'm not surprised. Your husband is a genius and you're the most brilliant Defense instructor I've ever met. I'd wager my right arm that you had the best education your kingdom could offer. So it should follow that any child of yours would learn things without half trying. I've read that during the first two years a human mind is capable of learning at an astonishing rate, that the capacity to retain information and learn motor skills is at its highest peak then. I don't know if the same's true of a fae child, but it would seem likely."

"Most fae children learn to walk before a year has passed, and many can speak as well." Sarai said. "Whether or not Toria will be like that remains to be seen. One can hope."

She glanced over at her child, who had finished her bowl of cereal and was now gnawing upon a hard heel of bread. Seeing that Toria was content, she turned back to her own breakfast.

Page~*~*~*~*~Break

January 9th started out an ordinary day for Harry. It was Monday, so he had three of his favorite classes—History of Magic in the morning, Potions just before lunch, and Defense in the afternoon. All were double periods, lasting about an hour and a half. Once History of Magic and potions had been torture for him to be in for that time, but all of that had changed the summer of third year and this one. Now he enjoyed his father's class, because he could brew competently and he enjoyed History of Magic as well because Sirius never managed to put him to sleep like Binns had.

In History of Magic they were studying the Founding of Gringotts and its policies, and Sirius had set them to work in groups of three, with each of them playing either a goblin or a wizard, and trying to come up with financial policies that would suit everyone involved. It was an interesting scenario to work with, and even if the policies the group came up with were flawed, they still were given full marks for trying. Sirius had said he would reveal the true policy at the end of next period, after all of them had demonstrated their policies to the class. Harry and Ron had to admit that Sirius methods were a lot better than Binns' lecturing.

"Today's my dad's birthday," Harry whispered to Ron once they were in their groups. His group consisted of Ron, Blaise, and himself. Draco was with Hermione and Goyle. "And we're giving him something worth its weight in Galleons."

Ron's eyes widened. "What is it?"

"A surprise," Harry grinned.

"Phoenix Tears," Blaise guessed.

"Nope. But that's a good guess."

They spent half the period pretending to work on their assignment, but most of their discussion focused on Ron and Blaise trying to guess what Harry had gotten Professor Snape for his birthday. They managed to finish their policy rules and regulations just before the period ended.

That day in potions, they were brewing a Draught of Peace. Because it was such a complicated potion, Severus had paired his best students with those who were mediocre for the lesson, to ensure more completed potions. So Draco was paired with Goyle, Blaise with Crabbe, Harry with Neville, and Hermione with Ron. Draco grumbled a bit under his breath, for he really enjoyed working with Hermione, but he quickly stopped his muttering when Severus asked if he had something he would like to share with the rest of them.

A Draught of Peace, that's a good one, Dad, Harry thought as he measured out the ingredients, letting Neville start the fire and begin adding the water. And we're going to make sure you have a very peaceful evening tonight. He smirked to himself thinking of the nice surprise he, Draco, Nesmay, and Sarai had planned for the Potions Master. It was something Severus often longed for but never really received.

Once they had added all the ingredients, Harry told Neville to stir the cauldron the required amount of time while he penned a note to Draco and made it into a paper airplane, which he then tossed across the aisle to where Draco was working.

Draco swiftly caught it and read it, then fed it to his fire. He gave his cauldron two more stirs and told Goyle to clean up, then scribbled a reply on a parchment scrap, folded it and sent it over to Harry.

Harry caught the note, but unfortunately Severus was nearby, critiquing another pair's potion, and he saw the note in his son's hand before Harry could either read or hide it.

"Passing notes during class, Mr. Snape?" Severus queried shortly, his tone dripping with disapproval.

Harry squirmed guiltily. "Uh . . . it was just . . . a reminder . . ." He winced when he met his father's gaze.

Severus held out his hand wordlessly.

Harry cursed roundly in his head as he handed the professor the note. He doubted whether Severus would be able to figure out anything from it, Draco hadn't signed it, but still . . .

Severus unfolded the parchment and read it. Everything's set for 5:30. Don't forget to bring it with you.

"What does this refer to, Mr. Snape?"

Harry gulped. He had been afraid his father would ask that. "I . . . can't tell you, sir."

The Potion Master's eyes narrowed. He leaned over and hissed in his son's ear, "Is this some kind of illegal substance?"

"Drugs?" Harry gasped. "No! Hell, Dad, how could you think that?"

"Then why won't you tell me what this is about?"

"Because it's private," Harry answered, going scarlet.

Severus straightened. "I don't allow the passing of private notes in my class, Mr. Snape. Five points from Gryffindor. See me after class."

"Yes, sir." Harry groaned. Merlin, Dad!

Severus glanced down at their cauldron. "Keep stirring, you haven't reached the proper shade yet. Otherwise, a well done solution." Then he spun about and glided to the back of the room to inspect another cauldron.

"Sounds like you're in trouble, Harry," Neville whispered. "Think he'll give you detention?"

"I don't know. If he was going to, he'd have done it by now." Harry sighed. "I think he's going to take strips off me privately. I don't know which is worse."

"Why were you and Malfoy passing notes?"

"It's . . . a surprise. Or at least it's supposed to be." Harry bit his lip and took over stirring the cauldron.

Finally the period ended and everyone brought their finished potion up to Snape's desk.

Severus dismissed them, all save for Harry. Draco caught his brother's eye and gave him a commiserating glance before leaving him to their father's tender mercy. Harry stood in front of the desk, the toe of one sneaker scraping the flagstones.

Severus crossed his arms over his chest and gave his son a medium Snape glare. "Whatever gave you the idea that you could conduct private . . . correspondence during my lesson, young man? I would have thought you learned by now that when you are brewing, your entire focus should be on the task at hand, not chatting with your friends!"

Harry hung his head. "I know, sir. But I had some time while the potion was steeping to . . . ask a question . . . I'm sorry, I should have waited until after class."

"You should have, especially considering who your partner was. One moment of inattention when Longbottom was adding something could have ruined your potion and resulted in a zero for today's lesson." Severus scolded.

"Yes, sir." Harry mumbled. Great, just great! Now I've ticked him off. He took a deep breath and squared his shoulders. "How many cauldrons am I scrubbing?" He hoped that suggesting his own punishment would cause Severus to consider it and not something else, like scrubbing the floor or chopping up stinkweed.

Severus stared down at him, his lips compressed into a thin line. "I would have you scrubbing out several tonight, but Sarai has requested we all eat dinner together in my quarters as a family, I think she wishes to celebrate my birthday. Therefore, I shall let this go."

"You will?" Harry gaped at him.

"This time only, Harry Albus Snape. If it happens again, you will regret it. Clear?"

"Yes, sir. Thanks!"

Severus snorted. "Thank your mother, Harry. Go and eat lunch, I can hear your stomach growling from here." He made a shooing motion with his hand.

Harry waved and was out the door at the speed of a Snitch flying. He had never been more grateful that it was Severus' birthday.

Severus' last class finished at four thirty, and Sarai had told him to be on time for dinner at five thirty, so he had time to grade a few quizzes and homework as well as answer a few questions some of his Slytherins had in his office before heading down to his apartments.

He found the usual assortment of cards, notes, and sweets upon his desk and in his mailbox. There were also a few tastefully wrapped packages as well, from colleagues who dared to send him a gift. Most of his Slytherins knew he enjoyed dark chocolate and hot cocoa, and honey drops, which soothed a sore throat. Talking all day and breathing in certain potion fumes tended to make him hoarse, one reason why he spoke quietly during class.

He cast several detection charms before opening the cards and packages, some of his students thought it amusing to send him hexed or cursed mail from time to time, and even on his birthday he trusted no one save his family.

From McGonagall there was an elegant silver peregrine quill with glittering emerald ink, Pomona had given him several cuttings of a rare snowpod snapdragon plant, and Poppy a tin of Relaxing tea, her own blend. Severus's mouth twitched into a smile at the sight of it. He had never appreciated that tea until he had to sleep through the night with a fussy baby. From Filius there was a charmed vial sponge, that would wash his most delicate beakers and vials and leave them gleaming. Albus had sent him a mug filled with marshmallow snakes. On the mug were the words Most Potente Potions Master Ever. He rolled his eyes. God save you, Albus! I'm sure some of my students would agree with you.

He glanced at his watch, noting that it was almost five thirty. He quickly swept the cards and sweets and gifts into an empty leather satchel beneath his desk and slung it over his shoulder. He left the office, muttering the word to activate his Anti-Theft wards as he did so. Ever since that incident in Harry's second year, when several rare ingredients had gone missing from his private stores, he had activated those wards. Anyone attempting to steal from him would literally be caught red-handed, as an alarm would sound and the thief be painted with crimson dye all over their hands, a dye that was only removable by Snape himself.

He arrived home to discover the most delicious smells pervading the air of his quarters. He sniffed deeply of the odor of cinnamon and nutmeg, mouthwatering steak and apples. He hung up his robes and frock coat upon their hooks beside the door and used a Switching spell to swap his boots for his comfortable leather slippers lined with sheepskin.

Cafall rose to greet him with his tail wagging. Severus stroked the hound's head before continuing on into the apartment, which had been expanded to include a kitchenette as well as two extra bedrooms plus several more closets. His family, including Sirius, was seated around the table.

"Happy birthday!" they all chorused and rose.

The table had been set with Slytherin patterned china and on each plate was a steak, a broiled lobster tail, a baked potato, and mixed greens with pears and gorgonzola cheese with raspberry balsamic. There were even small glasses of champagne and icy tall glasses of water and butterbeer for the children, all except for Toria.

Severus halted, feeling a bit overwhelmed, for he had never celebrated his birthday in so grand a fashion.

Toria squealed when she saw him and held out her hands. She made an odd purring type noise, which was something she did only when she saw her father.

Severus came over to hug her and kiss her small forehead. "Hello, Toria." He winced as the baby tugged his hair, and gently removed her tenacious fingers from his head. "No pulling Daddy's hair," he told her, and gave her the goblin face rattle instead.

"Come sit down, Sev. Before it gets cold." Sarai invited.

He seated himself at the head of the table. "Thank you for this. You didn't have to go through so much trouble."

"Nonsense! It's your birthday, and you deserve a special dinner," Sarai admonished.

"And dessert," Nesmay added, smiling at him.

"But first, we'll have a toast," Draco said, picking up his glass. "As the eldest son—"

"Only by a month," Harry put in.

Draco glared at him. "As the eldest son, I get to make a toast." He cleared his throat. "Here's to you, Dad. May you have everything you wish for and then some. Happy birthday and many more!"

"Here, here!"

Then they all clinked glasses and drank the champagne.

"Thank you, Draco." Severus said. "Now, let us eat this fine meal."

They all dug in. Severus discovered it was one of the finest meals he had ever eaten. The steak melted in his mouth, the lobster was succulent and tender, dipped in drawn butter. The potato was cooked perfectly, and the salad was sweet and piquant, the perfect compliment to the meal.

Everyone ate until they were stuffed. Sirius pushed his plate away and sighed, he'd had seconds of the steak and lobster. "Merlin, Severus! This was incredible. Tuney can cook, but not like this. Mind if I steal Sarai from you for a week?"

Sarai started laughing. "Sirius, I didn't cook this meal. My children did."

"We had help from the house elves." Harry told them.

"It was an excellent dinner," Severus informed them.

Sarai clapped her hands and the place settings vanished, to be replaced with cups, saucers, and dessert plates and silverware. On each plate was a lovely cinnamon apple crumble with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. In the cups was Severus' favorite rich dark cocoa.

"Now this I made," Sarai said. "Harry showed me how."

Severus, though he was quite full, found he still had room for a few spoonfuls of the divine apple dessert, which was one of his favorites and he drank his cocoa leisurely.

The children and Sirius, in contrast, scarfed down their portions and had seconds.

When all were finished, Nesmay announced that it was time to open the gifts. She Summoned them into the den, where Severus sat in his recliner, and floated them over to him. There were three of them.

The first was from Victoria, it was a shirt that said I Love My Daddy and had her face imprinted on it.

"Aww! You should wear that to class tomorrow, Severus," Nesmay giggled.

"It wouldn't be appropriate, Nesmay. Though I shall wear it when I'm at home."

"Yeah, come on, Snape. That's not the real reason. You wouldn't wear it in school 'cause it would ruin your rep as the big bad professor," Sirius laughed. "Nobody would ever take you seriously if you came in wearing your baby on a shirt."

"I am the same person I always was, Sirius, with or without my daughter," Severus answered. He set the shirt aside and opened the next package.

That one was from Sirius, Petunia, and Dudley, and was a small travel apothecary chest, with all kinds of drawers and cubbyholes and glass vials for herbs and elixirs. Severus' eyebrows rose, for this was an extremely thoughtful and expensive gift.

"Thank you."

Sirius looked embarrassed. "Aw, I figured you could use one. Tuney wanted me to fill it, but I said that was best left to you, since you'd know what you want in it better than I would."

"It's a most thoughtful gift."

Then he opened the last present, which was a blue glass bottle of a fae cordial called shadow plum wine. A note was attached to the neck of the bottle. It read: To celebrate with tonight! Love always, Sarai.

Sirius' eyes almost fell out of his head. "Merlin's pants, Snape! Is that what I think it is?"

"Shadow plum wine."

"I've heard stories about that stuff. Is it true that it makes you—"

"Black, there are children present!" Severus cut him off abruptly.

"Oh. Right." Sirius was blushing.

"What? What does it do?" Harry wanted to know.

"It makes one intoxicated, like all wines," replied his father smoothly.

"Among other things," Sirius snickered.

"Are we going to get to try some?" Draco asked.

"No. This is not for children, only adults." Sarai replied.

"But Dad, you hardly ever drink," Harry began.

"This once, I will indulge myself," Severus answered.

"That's good. You and Sarai can enjoy yourselves all evening," Nesmay put in. "Hope you like the peace and quiet."

"Peace and quiet? Not with Victoria around!" Sirius chuckled.

"But that's our gift to you, Dad." Harry told him. "Draco, Nesmay, and I decided to give you the gift you want most and never get—a whole night of peace and quiet with your wife. We're going to take Victoria and Professor McGonagall volunteered to have her sleep in her quarters for tonight."

"And I'm going to sleep in the Ravenclaw dorm with Luna," announced Nesmay. "So you can have the apartment all to yourselves, and get all mushy and romantic and stuff."

Severus was speechless. Finally he said, "I couldn't ask for a better present. Was this what that note was all about, Harry?"

"Yes. I asked Draco if dinner was still on at five thirty, and he reminded me to not forget the shadow plum wine, I had to pick it up from Sarai's office, she had hidden it in the desk drawer." Harry said. "When you confiscated that note and asked me about it . . . you almost ruined the surprise."

"My apologies, Harry. I should have known better. This has been a most memorable birthday."

"Well, you only turn thirty-six once, Sev." His wife said, then she kissed him.

The boys turned red and Draco said, "Uh, I think we should leave now." He went and picked up Victoria and Harry quickly grabbed Toria's overnight bag while Nesmay fetched her pillow and pajamas.

"Have a good time, you two!" Sirius called, and then all of them exited the apartment.

Severus and Sarai hardly noticed, for they had other things on their mind, and all night to celebrate the birth of a very special potions professor.

Page~*~*~*~*~Break

The end of January brought with it a freezing cold snap, but despite the bitterly chill weather, Sarai and some of the Hogwarts staff managed to send Petunia plenty of gifts for the new baby, they arrived by owl post as well as Muggle mail. Petunia was in her last trimester, and almost into her eight month. She was huge, as big as a barn, and Sirius said she suffered from swollen feet and ankles.

"So did I," remarked Sarai feelingly. "None of my shoes fit one morning and I was so depressed and unhappy, I threw a pair against the wall and picked a fight with Severus over something totally stupid. But he was kind enough to forgive me and make me special boots that did fit me. Tell Tuney to soak her feet in hot water with an infusion of lime, pomegranate, and chocolate."

"Say what?" Sirius just looked at her. He had stopped by the Defense classroom to give both teachers a heads up on Tuney's condition. "Sounds more like a dessert than something to soak in."

"Nevertheless, it works. Severus made it up for me." Sarai told him. "In fact, I may actually still have some left. Let me look in my trunk when I get home. If I do, I'll send it to her."

"Thanks, Sarai. That'll be good. I worry about her a lot, now that she's getting close. She seems more tired and irritable than usual, though I guess that's to be expected."

"I know I'd be irritable if I had to carry all that weight around," Remus said. "You remember how Lily was when she was carrying Harry, don't you, Padfoot? James teased her once about becoming fat and lazy and she smacked him in the arse with her broomstick."

"Right. And I remember laughing like crazy over it. But now . . . now I'm worried. Tuney's not so young anymore, what if something goes wrong?"

"You can't think like that, Sirius. You have to think positive." Remus stressed.

"Well, I'm concerned because she wants to have a Muggle doctor deliver her, but I don't trust Muggles to know what they're doing. I want her to go to St. Mungos and let a real Healer see to her care."

"What does Petunia say?" asked Sarai.

"She says she doesn't care if she's seen by a witch doctor as long as the baby is born healthy." Sirius answered. "Me, I want our Healers to handle it. I want the best possible care for her."

Both Sarai and Remus said they understood perfectly. "And I'm very glad I'm not a woman," Remus added with a grin.

"Yes, you have enough problems with the full moon without going through a woman's cycle," Sarai quipped impishly.

"Merlin forbid!" Remus shuddered dramatically.

"Wimp!" Sirius teased, socking his friend in the shoulder playfully.

"Speak for yourself, Padfoot," Remus grunted. "I don't see you barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen."

"A pregnant man? Bright Lady have mercy! By the second contraction, you'd be begging for a sword so you could be put out of your misery. Either that or a Draught of Endless Sleep. No, it's much better for everyone if women have the babies, we have the strength and fortitude to endure labor, and the capacity to endlessly forgive the men who made us go through such hell. If we had to rely on men, the human and fae races would have died out long ago."

"You're exaggerating," Sirius argued.

"Wrong. Just ask Severus, he was there when I delivered the twins."

"Did he pass out?" asked Sirius, snickering.

"No. But he probably longed to, so he didn't have to see our stillborn son," Sarai murmured sadly.

"Oh. Right." Sirius looked suddenly uncomfortable. "I'll see you around. I have more homework to grade. Homework sucks!" he grumbled.

"Sirius, you sound like one of your students," Remus said.

"Can I help it if they're right? I hated homework when I was in school and I hate it even more now that I have to grade it." The Animagus sighed and walked away towards his office, where piles of parchment awaited him.

In addition to the cold weather, which caused a sudden rash of colds and coughs, the winter also brought an unwelcome and unlooked for guest to Hogwarts. But the first Severus knew of it was when the Headmaster knocked on the door of his quarters one night.

Severus quickly opened the door, not wishing to wake his sleeping wife and children. When he saw Albus on the threshold he scowled. "Albus, what do you want from me at this time of the night? I've been up all night with Victoria, she's cutting a tooth, and refused to sleep until recently. Can't it wait till morning?"

"Forgive me, Severus." Albus said sincerely. He eyed his Potions Master, who looked as if he was related to a zombie, he was pale and there were deep circles beneath his eyes and his cheeks looked sunken. "But I simply had to warn you about a . . . certain visitor from the Ministry. Could you come to my office? We can talk more comfortably there."

Severus harrumphed, wanting to tell the old man they could talk comfortably after he got a good night's sleep better. "Very well." He quietly shut the door and followed Albus back up the stairs. Upon reaching the office, he sat down in one of the chairs and said, rather grumpily, "Now what harbinger of doom is coming to call that has you so upset you couldn't wait until morning to tell me about it?"

Albus heaved a great sigh, before responding, "Her name is Dolores Umbridge, and she is the UnderSecretary to the Minister of Magic. She has been campaigning for months to try and pass an Anti-Werewolf Bill and has now extended that campaign to include those of mixed human and magical being origins also. In other words, she wishes me to get rid of Remus and Sarai."

Severus' jaw clenched. "On what grounds? Being born? Or existing?"

"Both, I'm afraid. She is quite militant in her beliefs and she wishes to examine their class and others here, to make sure we are . . . ah, how did she put it?" Albus scratched his beard. "Ah . . . compliant with Ministry policies."

"Just what is that supposed to mean?"

"Well, the Ministry and I have never seen eye to eye on the issue of werewolf rights, and now that I've hired both a werewolf and a half-fae warrior to teach Defense . . . Dolores believes they can't be teaching the children anything good, because werewolves are no better than beasts and half-breeds are barbarians."

"What an imbecile!" Severus sneered. "I would like to get her alone for four minutes and I'd show her who was a barbarian. I sincerely hope that bill is voted down."

"As do I. But you see now why I wished to speak with you as soon as possible. She'll be arriving tomorrow to examine you and Sarai and Remus. I wanted you to be prepared."

"We will be, Albus." Severus said tightly. He rose. "If that is all, I shall be returning to the dungeons and my bed. I will tell Sarai tomorrow, and she can inform Remus. Unless you've already spoken to him?"

"No. I came to you first."

"Good night, Albus," Severus said, then he stalked from the office, his black robe billowing behind him like a pair of thestral wings.

Page~*~*~*~*~Break

Sarai and Remus appreciated the warning Severus gave them, but both agreed they wouldn't be intimidated by the witch.

"Our unit on identifying and defending against dark fae creatures and the Unseelie is perfectly acceptable," Remus said. "I see no reason to change it."

"Nor do I." Sarai said. "I say we should teach the lesson the same as always, and if this Umbridge takes offense . . . so be it. This is Defense Against the Dark Arts and some of those creatures are among the darkest in the universe."

"And our students need to be kept informed so they can defend themselves if need be," Remus stated firmly.

Severus also opted to keep his potions lesson unchanged, for he was not one to knuckle under to bureaucracy either, especially not with Voldemort gone and having been nominated for the Order of Merlin First Class, along with the others who had participated in the final battle in the graveyard.

Needless to say, Umbridge was not very happy with the way Severus conducted his class. She walked about with her pink kitten clipboard and cotton candy colored quill, hemming and hawing and eyeing the black caped teacher with disfavor. Her presence distracted the students brewing, which in turn irritated the hell out of Snape. There was nothing he detested more than a ruined solution due to an unforeseen distraction.

He whirled abruptly upon Umbridge and said stiffly, "Madam, will you not have a seat in the back of the classroom?"

"Ahem! Ahem! Professor Snape, how long have you been teaching?" she asked, ignoring his suggestion.

"Fourteen years," the professor answered through gritted teeth. He then spun about on his heel, his cloak almost smacking the petite pink-garbed potentate in the face. Pretending oblivion, he addressed his class. "Pay no attention to the visitor in the pink peignoir in back of me. Continue brewing your Draughts of Living Death as usual."

"Yes, Professor Snape," the students chorused, then some of them started giggling behind their hands at his sarcastic turn of phrase.

Umbridge gasped, turning a very unattractive shade of scarlet. "You . . . why . . . how dare you tell them to—to ignore me!"

"Would you rather observe or disrupt my lesson, madam?" he drawled, not at all intimidated by her hissy fit. "I was under the impression that an observer was supposed to invisible and unnoticeable, the better to assess classroom priorities and discipline. Have standards changed?"

"No—not at all, but . . .I will be treated with respect, professor!"

"Indeed, madam. I respect the office you hold," Severus said smoothly, his obsidian eyes hardening. "In turn I would ask you respect my students and not create a disturbance following me about. They are easily distracted and cannot brew properly with such a shocking hue before their eyes. Now, do sit down!"

Umbridge sputtered and coughed. "Well, I never! I am the Minister's UnderSecretary!"

"I am well aware of that. However, in my classroom, as a guest, I insist you follow my rules, which include no disrupting my students while brewing. It is no more than you would require of a visitor to the Ministry." He fixed her with one of his glacier stares.

Umbridge found herself swallowing hard and then backing away. She stumbled over her own heel and plopped down on the stool Snape had conjured for her near the potions cabinet.

"Much better. Now, let's see how many of you remembered to stir the mixture five times counterclockwise and three and a half times clockwise . . ." he resumed his walk about the room, inspecting cauldrons while Umbridge fumed in the corner like a misbehaving schoolgirl.

After her rather embarrassing time in potions, Umbridge was not minded to be fair or lenient when it came to the Defense classroom. She swept into Remus' room in high dudgeon, determined to find at least ten things wrong with the werewolf professor. She immediately had issues with his subject matter, stating that it was not Ministry approved and why would one need to learn about creatures which didn't exist in the mortal realm?

She also asked him pointed questions about his werewolf curse, asking him whether or not he considered himself safe at the turning of the full moon. When he replied that he always had a supply of Wolfsbane potion on hand thanks to Professor Snape, she looked as if she had swallowed a bitter draught of wormwood. She questioned the necessity of having two Defense teachers, asking him if he doubted his own ability to teach.

Remus told her calmly that he was better at lecturing and teaching certain spells, like the Patronus Charm, while Sarai provided a more practical experience to the students in hand-to-hand combat and battle magic.

"I have never heard of anything like having two professors for one class. Highly irregular. I shall have a word with the Minister about it." She sniffed.

"It may be irregular, but it's effective."

"Humph! I shall be inspecting your partner's class next." Umbridge declared, then she stomped next door.

Since the Defense class had not let out yet, Umbridge found Sarai setting up the room with Nesmay's help. Victoria was in her pram next to Sarai's desk in the corner. Umbridge came into the room, her beady eyes staring about. They lighted upon the baby carriage.

"Ahem! What have we here?" she walked over and peered down at Victoria.

The baby stared up at her, green eyes wide.

Umbridge gave a sickly smile. "A baby! Koochie-Koochie-Koo!" she bent to tickle Victoria under the chin.

Victoria began to scream hysterically. She had taken an instinctive dislike to the pink robed witch, and made no secret of her feelings for the stranger.

Both women whirled upon hearing the howls coming from the previously contented baby, and Nesmay sprinted over, her wand out. "Hey, lady! What are you doing to my baby sister?"

Umbridge looked up to see a purple haired girl coming towards her, and she glared at Nesmay, whom she saw had the pointed ears and amber eyes of one of the barbarian fae race. "I did nothing but look at her, and the ill-mannered brat started screeching fit to choke!"

Nesmay came to stand protectively beside Victoria's pram and eyed Umbridge up and down, not at all intimidated. "Can't say that I blame her. If a pinched-faced dried up old hag looked at me like you're doing, I'd be screaming bloody murder too." Her wand was leveled at Umbridge.

"How dare you address me in such a fashion, young lady? Do you know who I am? I am the Minister of Magic's UnderSecretary, you little barbarian! It's plain you never learned any manners. A good beating would cure you of that insolent tongue, I'd wager!"

"Ha! Better than you have tried, witch," Nesmay said haughtily, giving Umbridge one of her best lady-of-the-manor glares.

"Who do you think you are?" Umbridge demanded, looking as if she were about to explode.

"She is Lady Nesmayallindra Highstar, granddaughter of Titania, Summer Queen, and monarch of the Seelie court," Sarai informed her crisply, joining them. She quickly reached down and lifted her squalling daughter from the pram and hugged her. "Shhh. 'Tis all right, sweetling. Mama's here." She turned back to Umbridge. "Nesmay is also my ward."

Umbridge's jaw dropped. "You mean to tell me that—that creature is royalty? I never would have guessed. Her manners are appalling!"

"So are yours, scaring a baby," Nesmay put in impudently. "You're lucky I didn't curse you." The air suddenly crackled with tension, and stray wisps of magic drifted up from Nesmay's hair, exploding in sparks above her head.

Umbridge stiffened, feeling the surge of magic coming from the girl. "Watch yourself, brat, or I'll have you hauled off to Azkaban, where a Dementor will mend your manners! Royalty indeed!"

"For shame, madam, threatening a child that way," Sarai reproved, her green eyes hard with disapproval. "Is this the kind of tolerance we can expect from your Ministry?"

"She is an impertinent little snip who deserves—"

"—the courtesy and respect of her rank," Sarai cut in coldly. "She is not some creature to be beaten and thrown in a cage. While her remarks were disrespectful, so were yours, coming here unannounced and frightening my child, and then having the audacity to say she is an ill-mannered brat. It is normal for a baby to cry upon seeing a stranger. You cannot hold her to blame, unless you are a fool."

Umbridge gave her a scathing glance. "And who are you, to speak to me thus?"

Sarai drew herself up. "I am Lady Sarai Kinsalari Valinek Snape, former Captain of the Queen's Blades. I guarded the lives of the royal family, who are my kin. Since marrying Severus, I have accepted a teaching post here and teach Defense along with Remus Lupin. I presume you are Dolores Umbridge, who is doing evaluations for the Ministry?"

"You presume correctly," Umbridge said haughtily. "I have already seen the werewolf, your partner, and his class. I came here to observe yours and was rudely assaulted by your . . . ward." She sneered the last word and cast Nesmay a derogatory look.

"Assaulted you?" Sarai looked puzzled. "I saw her cast no spell on you."

"She had her wand pointed at me, the insolent piece of baggage," Umbridge growled. "Clearly you have been remiss in your duties, Professor Valinek, or the child would know how to treat a Ministry official with respect!"

Sarai's eyes narrowed and she looked as if she wanted to use her sword on Umbridge. "Nesmay, you owe Madam Umbridge an apology for overreacting to her presence. Please take Victoria and see if you can settle her down. The other students should be here any moment."

Nesmay took the baby and said with a sickly sweet smile, "Forgive me, madam. I am newly come from the Summer Country and sometimes 'tis hard for me to distinguish one mortal from another, there are so many of you. I but sought to protect my sister from one who might do her harm. Next time I shall remember your face and so avoid confusion."

"My face?"

"Why, yes, madam! Your chin juts out much like a shelf of fungi," Nesmay said, and gave Umbridge an ingenuous smile before turning away with Victoria, who had started to wail again upon seeing Umbridge. "Shhh, Toria. Don't worry, sweet kit, I'll protect you from any nasty hags," she crooned to the baby, speaking just loud enough to be overheard. "I can blow her away with or without a wand."

Umbridge looked as though she were about to asphyxiate. "That—that—"

Sarai bit her lip to keep from laughing uncontrollably. Nesmay had a wit to match Robin Goodfellow. "Children are so refreshingly honest, don't you think?" the arms tutor remarked, her green eyes glinting with amusement.

"Children should be silent unless spoken to!" Umbridge snapped curtly.

There came the sound of running feet outside the door.

"Madam Umbridge, if you wish to observe my lesson, might I suggest seating yourself behind my desk? Sometimes the sparring sessions can get a little . . .out of hand and it is good to be safely out of the way."

Umbridge took a seat behind the desk with a disgruntled snort.

Nesmay came and put Victoria, who was now quiet, back in her pram and told Sarai she was going to take the baby for a short walk down to the greenhouse to visit Professor Sprout.

"As you will, only make sure she is bundled up warmly."

"Yes, professor," Nesmay said obediently, only calling her by her title because they were in public. She made sure that Victoria had on her winter coat, hat, mittens, and scarf. Nesmay left just as some students entered, waving at Luna as she went by.

Several of the Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs stopped to say hello to them, and Victoria smiled and burbled happily.

"Wretched children!" Umbridge muttered, casting a death glare at the two Snape girls. "I hate children!"

Several of the students looked at her curiously, but most were too eager to begin their lesson to waste time paying attention to the squat pink-clad toad behind the desk.

Sarai paired them up according to each one's skill level, giving them wooden practice weapons to use. They ran through some warm up exercises, and then sparred individually.

Umbridge watched the proceedings with icy disdain, though no student was injured and they appeared to be enjoying their lesson very much.

" . . . and then this horrible hag marches into the room and scares poor Toria so bad she starts screaming bloody murder," Nesmay related the incident with Umbridge to Draco, Hermione, Harry, and Ron whom she had met coming from the greenhouse after their Herbology lesson.

"Too bad Mum didn't give the ugly bitch what for with the flat of her sword," Draco said. "I remember Lucius complaining about her once. Said she was a meddling harridan who hated half-bloods or anyone non-human."

"Huh? Why would that bother him?" Ron asked.

"Because she was forever trying to extort money for her Anti-Vampire, Werewolf, and whatever other creature campaign from the Ministry, which meant the money wasn't going to line his pockets for his secret agenda to help Moldy Heart."

"She sounds like an awful person," Hermione remarked.

Harry nodded. "I hope she doesn't try and get Lupin, Dad, or Sarai sacked."

"Could she do that?" cried Nesmay, dismayed.

"Possibly," Draco conceded. "If she has as much influence with the Minister as she claims."

"Speak of the devil!" Harry whispered, and pointed.

Umbridge was coming down the path, her pink high heels stamping out a death march.

The children quickly pulled the pram behind a hedge alongside the path, then crouched down beside it.

Umbridge went by, oblivious, muttering loudly, "They'll regret the day they ever set foot in this school! No one humiliates Dolores Umbridge and gets away with it! I'll see to it they're all sacked and never can get work again anywhere!" She growled vengefully. "Just wait till the Minister reads my reports!" She patted a small pink leather satchel slung over her shoulder.

"No!" Nesmay gasped. "Now they're in trouble! What have I done? She mustn't be allowed to hand those reports over to the Minister!"

They all looked at each other. Then Hermione pointed her wand and intoned a Switching Spell, swapping the reports in the satchel for some blank parchment she had in her own bag. "There! She can't submit blank parchment."

Umbridge continued walking past them, not even realizing what had happened.

"But she could write another report," Harry reminded her.

"True. Unless . . . she forgets about it." Draco said, his eyes turning icy cold. Then he slipped out from behind the hedge and stalked the witch.

The others watched as he crept up behind her, pointed his wand at the back of her head, and whispered something. A blue flash of light struck Umbridge in the head.

The witch halted, rubbed her forehead and muttered, "Now what on earth am I doing here? I must get back to the office."

She hurried on down to the iron gates at the school entrance.

Draco slipped his wand back up his sleeve and went back to where the others waited.

"Draco, what did you do to her?" Hermione demanded.

"Something permanent?" Harry asked.

"Very. I cast a Memory Charm on her. She won't remember anything about her visit except that it was satisfactory." Draco grinned.

"Draco, Memory Charms are illegal!" whispered Hermione.

"So's trying to sack teachers because they're werewolves and half-bloods. I'm not letting her sack my parents. Nobody hurts my family."

Ron whistled admiringly. "I have to hand it to you, Malfoy. You might be sneaky and sly, but you've got style."

Draco chuckled. "I'm a Slytherin."

"I think we should have found a bog and pushed her into it, but I guess stealing her memory worked just as well," Nesmay said.

Then they headed inside the castle for lunch, the threat of Umbridge averted forever by Draco's quick initiative and willingness to do anything to protect the family he loved.

Page~*~*~*~*~Break

February brought snow and hail, the weather was terrible. Everyone remained indoors, it was so dreadful out that even Quidditch was cancelled until the weather improved. Because of the enforced confinement, students were short tempered and the prefects were kept busy mediating disputes and breaking up duels in the corridors. Points were lost and won back by those students who liked to study and complete extra credit projects.

Normally, Severus would have been unaffected by the foul weather, as he tended to spend more time brewing in the winter. But Toria was going through a very frustrating stage, teething, and she cried and drooled endlessly. Nothing Severus tried worked, and she kept everyone up all night with her sobbing. Nesmay was so sick and tired of trying to sleep with a wailing baby that she threatened to move into Luna's room permanently.

Severus was at his wits end and even Sarai's patience was starting to crack as she found that her soldier's ability to sleep through almost anything was tested to its limit. The Slytherins had cast Silencing Charms about the portrait hole and common room, so they could blot out the noise. Because of sleep deprivation and worry over his daughter, Severus was snarkier than usual, and tended to take points for the slightest disturbance caused in his class.

Katie and Harry spent extra time in the dungeons during their free period, trying to figure out a potion that would calm a teething baby, but were so far unsuccessful.

Flitwick suggested a charmed teething ring, made to freeze when a baby sucked it. That worked for a few hours, but eventually Toria tired of it and kept throwing it on the floor.

Severus was developing a migraine from all the screaming, and finally he told his wife, "I'm going for a walk outside. I just need a few minutes to clear my head and get some air. I'll be back soon, it's too cold to linger out there."

Sarai nodded wearily, rocking the fretful Victoria, who chewed on her hand and whimpered loudly. "After you come back, it's my turn." She joggled the baby and sighed. "Toria, please take the teething ring." But Toria refused, grabbing the blue and purple ring and throwing it down.

Severus hurried away, muffled in his green and silver scarf and gloves, his all-weather cloak wrapped about his tall frame. He headed down the path to Hagrid's hut, figuring to stop by and visit with the gamekeeper, at least he would be out of the bitter cold and damp.

On the way there he bumped into Pomona, who had been checking on some of her hothouse plants. "Forgive me, Poppy. I'm not functioning at my best," he apologized for almost knocking her over. He put a hand over his mouth to stifle a yawn.

"Severus, you poor thing! You look as if you're about ready for your shroud. Haven't you been getting any sleep?"

He shook his head wearily. "Not with a teething baby. I haven't had a decent night's sleep since . . . I can't remember when."

"Gracious Merlin! How many teeth is she cutting?"

"It seems like two or three all at once." Severus told her what he had tried so far.

"You know, I'm a mother and grandmother many times over, and I've found that Ogden's Oral Paste works wonders. I never would have gotten through my son's teething days without it."

"Where can I find some?"

"Why, I have some in my quarters. I always keep some on hand because you never know when you'll develop a toothache. Matter of fact, I dosed Albus just last week for one, though Merlin knows if he stopped eating so many sweets he'd not need so much of it . . ." Sprout prattled. "Wait right here, Severus. I'll be back soon." She ordered as they entered the castle, going down to her quarters.

A few minutes later she returned with the jar and insisted upon accompanying Severus down to his quarters. "Your poor wife must be exhausted too, and I can watch the little imp if you'd like."

"Pomona, that really won't be necessary . . ."

"Nonsense, Severus! I can see you're about done in, now don't be foolish! You can trust me, I've raised five children and fifteen grandchildren."

Severus was too tired to argue, and simply led the way to the dungeons.

Pomona deftly applied the paste to Toria's swollen red gums, where three teeth were poking through. "There now, lamb! All better, yes?"

Toria sucked in a breath. Her anxious parents waited for the familiar scream to emerge.

Silence.

Toria sucked on her fist, looking as relieved as Severus and Sarai felt.

"That's amazing!" exclaimed Severus. "What's in it?"

"Oh, a bit of this and that. Though the main ingredient is Ogden's Finest Firewhiskey." Sprout answered.

"Firewhiskey?" Severus cried. "You gave my baby alcohol!"

"Well, it is a known remedy for sore teeth. My grandmother swore by it."

"I cannot believe that you would—" began an outraged Snape.

"Severus, shut up!" Sarai ordered. "It worked, didn't it? I'm sure the amount of alcohol in there is hardly enough to make Toria drunk. Look, she's sleeping." She indicated her daughter, who had put her head on Sprout's shoulder and was sleeping soundly. "Thank you, Pomona. Ignore my husband, he's so tired he's not making any sense."

"Would you like me to take her back to my quarters for an hour or two? It's no trouble, that way you can get a good nap in." Pomona offered.

"Pomona, you're a lifesaver!" exclaimed the exhausted mother. She smiled gratefully at the herbologist. "Severus, I'm going to bed. You can join me there if you've a mind to." She then walked into their bedroom and shut the door.

Pomona bid Severus a good morning, then took Toria and her baby satchel with her and departed for her quarters. Severus rubbed his eyes, then he followed his wife into the bedroom. Sleep was beckoning irresistibly and he was not fool enough to ignore its call.

Page~*~*~*~*~Break

"Look, Mum and Dad! Toria's crawling!" Draco announced one evening in late February. He had been playing ball with her on the rug, sitting across from her and rolling a soft plastic ball of different colors back and forth to her. On the tenth time, she had pushed the ball back and then started to reach for it as it rolled away.

She ended up on her belly, rocking back and forth, when suddenly she began to crawl after it.

Her astonished elder brother had carefully pulled the ball towards him, watching as the baby crawled eagerly across the rug.

Sarai got down on the rug and called Victoria to come to her, while Severus Summoned a camera and took a picture. "Dear sweet Merlin, she's mobile." He said. He felt ridiculously proud and dreadfully nervous at the same time.

"Uh oh. There goes the school," Harry snickered, picturing the havoc a crawling Toria could make. But he too watched his little sister with pride.

One week later:

"Kee! Kee!" Victoria Snape yelled as she scuttled across the plaid tartan after the spectacled tabby.

It was Minerva's turn to babysit the energetic infant, allowing her parents to have a night off and dinner at Hogsmeade. The Transfiguration teacher soon discovered that Toria was much easier to occupy and keep up with in her Animagus form, and so she had spent half the night as a cat.

As a cat, she had more energy than as an eighty-four-year-old witch, and was able to provide the little girl with a fun moving object to chase. The mackerel tabby would trot ahead of the baby, waving her tail, and Toria would squeal and pursue as fast as her chubby legs and arms could carry her.

"Kee!" Victoria shrilled, trying to say "kitty". She reached for the cat's tail.

Minerva swished it away in the nick of time, purring in amusement.

Victoria clapped her hands and laughed, sitting down and eyeing the smug cat thoughtfully.

The tabby returned and rubbed herself along the baby's face, her tail tip brushing Toria's nose teasingly.

"Kee!" Toria giggled. "Mau!" she cried, sounding remarkably like a cat meowing.

McGonagall meowed back at her. Then she prepared to leap away, twitching her tail as she crouched.

Just then the Floo flared and Albus stepped through. "Minerva, I need to borrow—" he began, glancing around. He spotted Victoria right off, and then his eyes saw the spectacled tabby, frozen in mid-spring. "Why, Min, are you having fun playing with Victoria?"

Minerva transformed just as Victoria grasped her tail. "Albus! I-I wasna expecting company!" she gasped, flushing at being caught playing in her other form. Embarrassment was written all over her.

"You looked like you were having a grand old time," chuckled the Headmaster. "I'm sorry to barge in, but I've run out of tea and was wondering if you happened to have some?"

"I believe so. Let me look." McGonagall hurried over to her small pantry to find the tea tin.

"Hello, Toria!" Dumbledore greeted. He knelt and Toria rapidly crawled over to him and tried to pull herself up on his knee. "My, look at how big you've gotten!" He picked her up and put her on his knee. Then he winced as she tugged on his beard. "Ouch! Here, let Grandpa Al give you something better to eat." He dug into his pocket and handed her a large sugar cube. "Try that. And don't tell your daddy! It'll be our secret."

Toria crammed half the sugar cube in her mouth. "Mmm!"

"Albus, Severus would make all your sweets disappear if he ever saw what you just did," Minerva scolded, standing behind him with the tea tin in her hand.

"But Min, she loves it! Look at her. There's no harm in a little sugar cube. Besides, what Severus doesn't know won't hurt him." Albus said, his eyes twinkling like a naughty schoolboy's.

Minerva tisked. "You are such a troublemaker, old man! You had better hope Severus never catches you." Then she handed him the tea tin.

"I'm her Grandpa, Minerva. And all grandfathers spoil their grandchildren," Albus told her. "Next time I'll bring you a cupcake," he whispered to Victoria. "Or maybe some Ice Mice."

"Scat, you old reprobate!" Minerva ordered, laughing. She took the baby from him and said, "Say bye to Grandpa, Toria. Bye bye!"

"Bye!" Toria waved as Albus Flooed away, still sucking on the sugar cube.

Of course, after Albus' visit, and the sweets, Victoria was not inclined to take a nap. In fact, she was more energetic than ever, making poor Minerva run her paws off to tire her out. By the time the little imp fell asleep, Minerva was ready to Transfigure Albus' lemon drop stash into dried prunes and stuff them down his throat.

Page~*~*~*~*~Break

March 5th, 1996:

"So, Sirius, are you getting cold feet yet?" inquired Remus playfully at breakfast one morning. "Petunia's getting close to her due date, isn't she, old dog?"

Sirius nodded. "Yup. Supposedly that Muggle Healer of hers told her she could go any time around March twentieth. But what do they know? I don't trust them. I told Tuney that I'd rather her deliver at St. Mungos, with potions and spells, rather than some crazy Muggle that uses cameras or something to look inside her. Matter of fact, I'd deliver my baby myself, instead of let her Healer do it."

Severus slanted him a wry look. "Black, please. Do you have any idea what it's like watching your wife deliver a baby? It takes hours and she's in excruciating pain for most of it, until they give her the painblocking spell. It's not all neat and tidy like they make it look in the textbooks or in a show. It's messy, there's blood everywhere, including on the baby."

"Blood?" Sirius looked alarmed. "How come?"

"There just is," Severus answered. "If you don't have a strong stomach, do yourself a favor and stay away from Petunia."

"Are you saying I'm a pansy? That I faint at the sight of blood?" Sirius said indignantly.

"I wouldn't know. Do you?"

Sirius bristled. "Like hell! I can see buckets of blood and not even get queasy. Why, did you faint when Victoria was born?"

"No. I had no time to indulge myself, I was trying to save my son," Severus said, his voice harsh.

Sirius sobered. "Oh. Well, you needn't worry about me fainting. I'm going to be beside Tuney all the way through, holding her hand."

"Let me know afterwards if you have any feeling in it," Snape quipped.

"Are you still hoping for a boy?" asked Flitwick.

"Yes. And I'm going to name him Orion Regulus, after my father and brother."

"I pray you have a child just like you, Sirius," Severus said slyly.

Remus burst out laughing. "Oh, Merlin! What irony that would be. Oh! God help us all!"

"Go on and laugh, Remus. You're going to be babysitting your godson a lot." Sirius threatened. "This afternoon I have to go to a class, a Lamaze class, so I can coach Petunia through her labor." Sirius said.

Severus shook his head when the eager father rose and left the staff table. Sirius was woefully unprepared on how to take care of a baby. But he'd learn soon enough.

"Severus, you look positively gleeful," remarked Remus. "What's got you in such a good mood? Is it something to do with your daughter?"

"Not this time. While my daughter amazes me everyday, in this case I cannot wait to see how our History of Magic teacher handles watching a baby get born. I'd wager five Galleons he faints dead away."

"I'll take that bet, and say he won't faint until his baby is born." Remus countered.

Severus clasped the werewolf's hand, thinking that Lupin was going to be mighty surprised when his godchild was born.

Page~*~*~*~*~Break

" . . . and then Godric Gryffindor challenged the newcomer to a duel. He yelled, 'Have at you, varlet!' and cast a Whirlwind hex—" Sirius told his class of sixth years. They were studying the Founding of Hogwarts, and discussing the various problems the Founders had with getting other wizards to accept the idea of a school for young wizards. The duel Sirius was telling about had been a rather famous one between Godric and a wizard known as Bloodsong, a haughty pureblood who enjoyed hurting his apprentices.

"What's a varlet?" asked Angelina, raising her hand.

"Ah . . . that's an old fashioned word for a rascal, somebody who was a dirtbag." Sirius explained. He was seated on the edge of his desk, gesturing at the illusionary illustration of the duel on his chalkboard. "It's an insult. You see, Bloodsong was a total git—"

Sirius' lecture was interrupted by the tapping of an owl outside the door. He looked up, frowning. "What in Merlin's name?"

Katie rose and opened the door, letting the owl into the classroom.

It flew straight to Sirius and delivered a small envelope. Sirius looked at it and immediately tore it open. It was a short note from Petunia. Sirius turned the color of old cottage cheese. "Bloody hell!"

"Professor Black, is something the matter?" asked Katie, concerned.

"I need to speak to the Headmaster right away. My wife is in labor. At least she thinks so." Sirius said. "Uh . . . read over chapter twelve and do the questions on page 295. Class dismissed! Excuse me!" He bolted out of the classroom, shifting into his dog form once he was in the hallway.

He raced swiftly down the stairs and shifted back at the gargoyle statue. "Pumpkin pasties!" he yelled at the statue. "Open up, it's an emergency, you dumb lump of stone!"

The gargoyle slid aside and Sirius darted up the stairs.

Dumbledore looked up from his afternoon tea as Sirius burst into the room. "Sirius? Is something wrong?"

"No! Yes! Tuney's in labor . . . sent me a note . . . I have to go home . . . bring her to the hospital!"

"Calm down, my boy." Dumbledore soothed. "Are you connected to the Floo Network?"

"Yes!" Sirius skidded to a halt in front of the fireplace. "Mind if I use this?"

"Not at all."

Sirius tossed down the Floo Powder and cried, "Black residence, Sylvan Lane."

That was the address of the new home he had purchased after selling Grimmauld Place, since he refused to live in the ancestral home where he had been so miserable.

He vanished through the flames.

A moment later, his head reappeared in the fire. "Albus, can I ask you a favor? Petunia said she's not entirely sure she's in labor yet, but I don't want her to be home by herself. Dudley's over at a friend's house. Can you remove the Muggle Repelling wards so I can bring Petunia here?"

"Of course, my boy. Give me a minute." Albus made a few passes with his wand and muttered a phrase in Latin. "They're down, come on through."

Sirius withdrew.

Then the fire flared green again and this time Sirius and a very pregnant Petunia came through. Petunia was leaning heavily on her husband's arm. She glanced curiously about the office, panting.

"Oh, do forgive me, Headmaster!" she said, grimacing. "It's just . . . I didn't want to be alone when . . . oh, dear!" She put a hand to the small of her back. "I think I need to sit down."

"Here." Sirius helped her into an upholstered chair.

"Hello, Petunia. I'm Albus Dumbledore," he greeted her, shaking her hand.

"Very pleased to meet you." She took his hand, gripping it tightly as another contraction commenced.

Albus winced. "My pleasure." He pulled hard, trying to free his hand from her grip. "Would you mind . . .?"

"Oh! I apologize!" Petunia blushed and released his hand. "Sirius, get over here and let me grab your hand."

Sirius obeyed. "Are the contractions coming faster?"

"I . . . I think so. Ahh! That was a big one!" Petunia said, her face screwed up in pain.

"I think we should get you to St. Mungos," Sirius said worriedly.

"I . . . ahh . . . don't think we . . . have time!" Petunia panted, grimacing. She doubled over as the pains suddenly attacked her.

"Don't have time?" Sirius yelped. "What do you mean?"

"What . . . I . . . said! Are you deaf!" shrieked his wife.

"Sirius, we should get her to Madam Pomfrey," Albus suggested.

"Has she ever delivered a baby?"

"Yes, I believe so." Albus said.

"Fine, we'll Floo to the Hospital Wing."

Albus put a hand on his arm and said, "You can't, Sirius. Not when she's contracting so much. It could harm the baby."

"Oh, Godric's fingernails! Tuney, can you walk?"

Before Petunia could reply, there came a knock on the door.

"Severus!" Albus called as the door opened. "You're just in time to join the party."

Severus entered to see Albus, Sirius, and Petunia all in front of the Headmaster's desk.

"My having a baby is not a party!" Petunia groaned.

"She's in labor?" queried Severus.

"Obviously, Snape!" snapped Petunia.

"We need to get her to the Hospital Wing," Sirius cried, looking as if he were about to panic. "Help us!"

Severus quickly offered his arm to Petunia, who took it and clung like a creeper vine. "Easy. How far apart are the contractions?"

"I . . . think about . . . seven minutes . . ." Petunia answered. "Why . . . do you want to know?"

"Because then I can determine if you can walk down or need a stretcher," answered Severus smoothly. "Seven minutes . . . you can walk. It'll be better for you. Healer Auriane made Sarai walk before she delivered."

"Whatever, Snape! Just get me there!"

Together, the two professors supported Petunia as they walked down the stairs from the Headmaster's office. Then they walked up three flights of stairs to the Hospital Wing on the third floor. Petunia was red-faced and gritting her teeth when they finally arrived at Poppy's domain.

"Severus, you sadist!" she cried. "My legs feel like Jello!"

Severus ignored her complaints, just helped her to the nearest bed.

Sirius bellowed for Poppy, who emerged from her office as if she'd been set afire.

"Hurry! Tuney's having a baby!"

"Asclepius' staff!" gasped the mediwitch. "Has her water broken?"

"Uh . . ." Sirius looked at Petunia.

Suddenly there was a gush of fluid that soaked the sheets. "It has now," groaned the mother-to-be.

Sirius looked panicked. "What's happening?"

"Your child is being born," Poppy said crisply. "Move back so I can examine her."

She began waving her wand over Petunia, chanting several spells.

Severus eyed Sirius, who was pale as new snow. "Black, this is only the beginning."

"Severus! Please . . . get Sarai!" Petunia cried, as another contraction gripped her fast. She nearly crushed Sirius' fingers. "Where's this magical pain reliever you promised me?"

"I don't know, Tuney! Oww!"

"You can only have that when you're fully dilated." Poppy told her. "You're almost there, though."

Severus Flooed back to his quarters; he found Sarai giving Victoria a bath. After explaining that Petunia was in labor here at Hogwarts and her request, Sarai quickly departed. Severus was left to finish bathing and giving Victoria her afternoon snack before putting her down for a nap.

"In a few more hours you're going to have a new cousin," he told his daughter, who fussed briefly before settling against his shoulder. She clutched her favorite toy, Lady Snapdragon, the rag doll Severus had made for her, which she always slept with.

Toria yawned and then her eyes closed. Severus kissed her forehead before putting her in the nursery. He had just closed the door after setting a Monitoring Charm when Harry, Nesmay, and Draco entered the suite.

"Dad, Katie told me that Sirius cancelled his class because Aunt Petunia was in labor." Harry called.

"Hush! Your sister's asleep," Severus scolded softly. "Yes, that's true. Your aunt is here, and she's going to deliver the baby at Hogwarts."

"Here? Not at St. Mungos?"

"Yes. Pay attention, Harry."

"So when will the baby be born?" asked Nesmay.

"I honestly don't know. Every baby is different. We shall simply have to wait and see. Your mother is with her, I'm sure Sarai will tell us when the baby is born."

"Where's Dudley?" Harry wondered.

"I don't know that either, save that he isn't here." Severus shrugged. "Perhaps he's in school."

Harry wondered if he knew that Petunia was having the baby. He decided to write his cousin a note and deliver it via the Floo Network, just in case Sirius hadn't told Dudley. He pulled out a piece of parchment, quill, and ink and began to write rapidly.

"What are you doing, Harry?" asked Draco after watching Harry send the note.

"Sending a note to Dudley, in case Sirius forgot to tell him about his mum." Harry answered.

"A good idea, Harry," said his father approvingly. "You're thinking more clearly than your godfather."

"Well, it's not my wife having a baby," Harry replied. "I'm going to go and study in the library with Katie."

"Me too, with Hermione," added Draco. "Nesmay, come find us when the baby comes."

The half-fae girl scowled. "Do I look like your personal messenger?"

"You'll know before we will," Draco argued. "So do us a favor, all right?"

"Fine!" she sounded very annoyed. Then she pulled out her charms text and flopped over on the sofa.

 

I know an evil cliffy! Unfortunately I had to break up this chapter in two of them because it was too long to post on here. So you will be getting an extra chapter as well as the epilogue!

I also have a favor to ask. In the epilogue, Harry will be having difficulty choosing a career, so please help him, and me, by giving suggestions on what he ought to be. Thank you and have a happy holiday!
 


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