"I feel like I'm going to burst," Petunia complained to Lily, one hand going to her lower back, which ached like the devil. She was due any day now, and it was almost July 31st. She had already been to St. Mungos twice for false labor and she was beginning to think the child inside her was never going to be born. "Stubborn thing!" she commented to her sister as she eased herself down into a seat that had been padded with several cushions as well as a Cushioning Charm, courtesy of Art, who happened to be home with the remnants of wizard flu. Normally, he would be recovering up at the Hospital Wing, but there were so many patients Poppy couldn't handle him, and Severus volunteered to take care of him at the cottage. Since both he and Lily had already had this particular strain years ago, they were immune and therefore could care for their ward without worrying about contracting it.
Art was feeling better now, well enough to complain about staying in bed all day, and had come down to get something to eat, which turned out to be crackers and soup and some tea. He had scowled, though three days before he'd been sick enough to vomit all over and couldn't keep anything down. "I want grilled cheese and crisps," he'd muttered rebelliously at Lily, before Petunia had come.
"Art, you know that's too greasy for your stomach to handle," Lily began. "Sev said only light foods until he's examined you again."
Arthur glared at her. "I don't care! I want grilled cheese!" He looked very grumpy.
Lily could sympathize with him, to a point. Being pregnant was a bit like having the flu for months, sometimes. "Look, I know you want to get better right away, but sometimes our bodies take a little longer to respond to the potions. Do you want to risk puking all over again? Or getting the runs and drinking one of Sev's God-awful potions to stop it?"
That stopped the whining. The poor child had been so sick he'd had uncontrolled bowel movements, enough so Severus had to give him potions ever other hour and use a bedside commode. He'd been so weak from it, Severus had to clean him several times.
Arthur shuddered, recalling it, he'd wanted to die, and though Severus was calm and compassionate, the boy had been hideously embarrassed and not a very good patient. He quickly decided to listen to Lily and ate the soup and crackers. Then Petunia came over, brought by James by Floo, and Arthur proved to be surprisingly compassionate for the pregnant woman.
"I was almost nine by the time my mum had my youngest sister, and I remember her always complaining of how much her back hurt. Her back and her feet. My dad used to give her a foot stool for her feet and I used to pile pillows all over her chair. She always said it made her feel better. I dunno, I think a Cushioning charm's better, but I didn't know how to cast one then," said Art, blushing faintly.
Petunia smiled at him. "You're very thoughtful, Art, and I thank you for it. Especially when Zoey said you were so sick a few days ago."
"It was the flu, but I'm better now."
"This feels like the flu, but the only way I'll get better is when he's born," Petunia snickered.
Lily set some cups and a tea pot on the table. "Do you know for sure it's a boy?"
"No. But we're both hoping. The Healer offered but . . . I want it to be a surprise."
"What if it's not?" asked Arthur curiously. "Will James be mad?"
"Oh, no! He just wants an heir, but he'll love a daughter as well as a son," Petunia reassured them.
"And there's no reason why a daughter can't be his heir," Lily said with a snort. "Some of these old fashioned wizarding families are so hidebound! They need to get with the twentieth century!" She was mostly speaking of Voldemort and those like him, but any pureblood with antiquated ideas of primogeniture set her teeth on edge.
"You're right, of course," Petunia said, stirring some milk and sugar into her tea. "Charles and Liana agree. The only one who doesn't is great-aunt Muriel."
"That woman is a born sourpuss," said Severus, coming into the room. He had been taking a shower upstairs, he was off since it was Sunday. "Hello, Tuney. You look good, though I'm surprised James let you come since you're this close to your due date." His hair was slicked back and he wore a casual set of gray trousers and a collared turquoise shirt with casual black loafers.
"It's only because it was here that he let me," Petunia admitted. "He knew you'd be here to get me to the hospital if something happened."
"Well, he's right," Severus said. He turned to Arthur. "How are you feeling?"
"Better. I'm finally hungry," Arthur said. "But Zoey would only let me eat soup and crackers."
"Zoey is right. Anything too rich and you'll end up vomiting again," Severus said. "Now stand still and let me cast a diagnostic."
Arthur sighed but stood quietly as Severus cast the diagnostic spell, which Poppy had taught him. He read the results upon the piece of parchment and said, "All right, you're mostly better. You can stay up for now, but you'll need to rest in the afternoon before tea." It was now twelve-thirty.
Arthur almost whooped, but then recalled his manners. "All right, Severus. Can I invite some friends over? Like . . . Misty, Rhys, and Nate?"
Severus considered. "Yes, so long as you do quiet things. You're not going to turn my house into a free for all, young man."
"I know, I know." Arthur huffed. "If we misbehave, it's no more friends and a beating."
"Excuse me?" Severus demanded, shocked. "Arthur Stephens, I have never beaten you—"
"Just kidding. But you'd ground my . . . err . . . behind for sure."
"Now that I would do," agreed his guardian. "I trust you won't make me?"
"No, sir," the boy said softly. "Can I Floo Grim and the rest of 'em?"
"Go on." Severus waved the boy away, knowing the child was probably dying of boredom after being so sick for so long. He sat down at the table and Lily poured him a cup of tea. "How are things going with James on the force?"
He knew in a general way that things were not going well for the Ministry's finest. Volemort had begun to implement that diabolical plan he had mentioned back in June after the birth of Lucius' son. Now it seemed that every week, or day, someone else disappeared. Most of them were children of Muggleborns and Muggles, those with the Gift, and they vanished without a trace. They were playing in their yards, or school, or even in their own rooms, and poof! They were gone! Only a few, who were warned in advance and Aurors watched or cast ward spells about their homes, escaped the snatchers. Lily, Severus, and Regulus tried their best to warn families in time, but sometimes those chosen to snatch the children were not open about their assignments. And none of them, even Regulus, who was close to Voldemort, knew where these children were kept or why.
Severus knew Reg was trying to find out, but so far, Voldemort wasn't telling. All of them feared the despot was going to use the children in some sort of mass ritual to suck their energy dry, but none of them knew how that could be accomplished. Something like that normally required a circle of wizards, and Voldemort was never one to share his power, magical or otherwise.
"James is trying his best to carry on without Orion," Petunia said. "Things haven't been right since he died, I'm afraid, and James will never admit it, but he needed Orion to keep him grounded. Sirius tries, but you know Sirius. I don't know how many dark wizards they've caught, but it can't be too many, given what the papers say. Those poor children! And their poor parents! I know it bothers James something terrible."
"I imagine it would," Lily stated. "He's supposed to protect people from them and yet they seem to slip in and out like ghosts."
"That's exactly what Sirius said last time I saw him. What about Reg? Has he reported anything?" Petunia whispered.
"No." Severus responded. "This secret is not one meant to be shared, even with one like Regulus. None of us know anything more than you do."
Petunia sighed. "I had hoped for something . . . but I guess there's no guessing the mind of a madman." She sipped her tea, then said to her sister, "You look about ready to pop. Are you having any pains yet?"
"Once in awhile I'll get those sharp contractions, but they go away in about five minutes."
"Braxton-Hicks, Mum calls them," said Petunia knowingly. "They're false labor, but they can seem like the real thing." She rubbed her distended stomach. "I cannot wait for this child to be born! Then I can stop being a balloon and go back to being a woman."
"Me too!" Lily said feelingly. "I feel like a clown, with size 20 feet and a stomach out to here! Like a hippopotamus!"
While the two women commiserated, Severus drank his tea and thought about what in Merlin's name Voldemort could have done with the missing children.
The next day
James sat at his desk, irritably reading through some reports. They were the usual wanted posters of Death Eaters and then came the ones about the missing children—more of them each day, it seemed. As he set them down and tried to determine where he was going to patrol today, Sirius came into his small cubicle. As a junior Auror, James didn't have his own office, only the seniors like Moody and Orion rated those—and the Auror Head, Mr. Crouch.
"James, old chum, guess what?"
James looked up at Sirius, noting the unusual light in his friend's eyes. "What's got you all excited? I haven't seen you look this happy since your dad passed." Immediately James felt like kicking himself. He shouldn't have brought up Orion. He knew that Sirius was still grieving over him.
But the sparkle in Sirius' eyes didn't dim. "I'm going to be a dad!"
Sirius grinned. "I know, it sounds too good to be true. But she went to the Healer, thought she had some flu that's been going around, and her pregnancy test turned out positive. Prongs, I'm going to have a kid! Me, crazy Padfoot. It's unbelievable!"
"You can say that again," James said, smiling. "Congratulations, old man! Have you told anyone else? Your mum? Reg?"
"No. Not yet anyway. I was just so shocked. I mean, I knew eventually it'd happen . . . but not right away. Merlin's bones!" He looked like he wanted to dance a jig about the little space. "My dad would . . . aww hell, he'd be so proud. Another grandchild on the way." Sirius' eyes watered a little and he blinked back tears.
"One that takes after Annie and not you," James teased.
"Shut up, Prongs!"
"Just saying," James laughed. "Now our kids can be friends too, like us."
"I'm hoping that they can be more than that," Sirius said excitedly. "Like if I have a girl and you have a boy they can marry each other."
"Marry each other?" James exclaimed. "Let's not get ahead of ourselves, Padfoot. You might end up having a boy, like me, so—"
"How come you're so sure it's gonna be a boy, James? Did you do a spell to find out?"
"No. Tuney wanted to be surprised. But I swear, Padfoot, she's having a son. The way she carries and stuff . . . my mum says she was like that with me . . ."
Sirius snorted. "My mum says that's a lot of nonsense. The only way you can be sure is with a gender charm. But Annie's too early to tell. Still, if it is a girl—"
"Oooh boy, you're going to be hexing everything in pants, my friend! I can see it now. After all, you know what randy teenage boys are like."
Sirius frowned, he hadn't thought of that. "I'll make sure none of them come sniffing around her."
"How? You going to lock her up in a tower? Send her to a nunnery?"
"No, I'll . . . uh . . . precontract her to your son," Sirius said, snapping his fingers. "It's how my parents were married."
"That was then and this is now," James reminded him.
"What's that supposed to mean? You wouldn't let your son marry her?"
"No, it's not that, but Padfoot, if she's anything like you, she'll resent like hell you telling her what to do. Especially who to marry."
"Oh. I never thought of that," Sirius said, a little glumly, seeing his dream of uniting the two families going up in smoke along with his proverbial child. "Well, I'll worry about that later, after she's born."
"How's Annie taking it?"
"She's so happy she smiles even when she's puking her guts out," Sirius smirked. "Well, okay, I'm exaggerating a little, but she's really glad she caught so quickly. She said her mum had some problems there, but I guess she doesn't, or maybe her dad isn't as . . . potent as I am."
James socked Sirius in the shoulder. "Don't flatter yourself. You're not the first to get a girl pregnant on her honeymoon."
"Maybe I'll have twins."
"Sweet Merlin's arse! You'd better hope not. Then you'll have twice the trouble. Then again, that would be pretty funny, to see you deal with mouthy brats just like you . . ."
"Ha ha. I'll bet you ten Galleons my kids will be angels and yours will be mischief incarnate."
"That'll be the day," James sniggered. "Tuney won't let mine become anything but a model of deportment."
"They'll have my mum for a grandmother, heaven help them." Sirius reminded.
"Who will?" asked Moody as he came out of his office.
"Moody, guess what? I'm gonna be a dad!" Sirius announced, and handed the other wizard a magical cigar that shot sparks out of it.
"Merlin preserve us!" was all Moody managed to say amid the round of congratulations. "Orion, buddy, why'd you have to leave now?"
Later that night
"Let's all raise a toast to Annie and my newest soon-to-be grandchild!" Walburga said, sounding delighted for the first time since Orion's death. Kreacher had poured everyone except Cindy and Annie some fine white wine to celebrate. The two pregnant witches had sparkling apple cider.
"Conrats, Annie!" said Cindy, a knowing grin on her face. "Welcome to the Pregnant Witches Society. Where your magic grows in proportion to your stomach and you learn whole new ways of sitting and lying down."
"Don't forget fitting into clothes," Walburga reminded dryly. "When I was carrying Sirius I felt like I was the fat lady in a circus tent."
Annie looked alarmed. "Is it that bad? Don't they make maternity clothes now?"
"Not when I was expecting, dear. Maternity clothes were shapeless sack dresses that hid your figure and made you look like a ship under full sail," said her mother-in-law.
"That's awful! Things are a bit different now," Cindy exclaimed. "It's not the clothes that are bad now, but shoes. My feet are so swollen I can't wear my favorite boots and I have to wear slippers." She extended her foot, which was covered by a pink slipper. "The feet are the worst, trust me."
"Or the indigestion," added Walburga. "That kept me up all night carrying Regulus."
"Mmm," Cindy nodded. "Nobody understands that like another woman, especially not your husband."
"Hey!" Regulus objected. "I massage you every night, Cin. Especially your feet. And I feel bad that you're such a wreck."
"I never said you didn't, sweetheart," Cindy replied to him. "I know you feel badly for me, but it's not the same as knowing what it's like. Right, Mother?"
Walburga nodded. "Yes, Cynthia. A man can never understand fully what a woman goes through when pregnant. Orion, rest his soul, tried his best, but all of his hovering and worrying only made me irritated, until I had to tell him to go away and stop bothering me. I know he meant well, but . . .sometimes you want to be alone."
"And sometimes you want someone to cuddle with, or hold you," Cindy said, giving Reg a teasing smile.
"Or someone to punch in the ribs when the pain gets too bad," Walburga said wickedly.
"Mum! You're a terrible influence!" Sirius and Regulus cried, at practically the same time.
Walburga rolled her eyes. "Boys, the next time you get pregnant, come and see me. Until then . . . shut your mouths. You have no idea what a pain in the behind getting pregnant is until you've done it. And no man would be able to handle it, trust me."
"I'm not a wimp!" Sirius snapped.
"Sirius, an hour of hard labor would have you on your knees begging for someone to kill you," his mother replied. "I'm not trying to scare you, girls, just give you facts."
"We know that," Annie said. "My mother said as much. But don't you have spells to block the pain?"
"Yes, but you don't get them until your water's broke and you've contracted at least five minutes apart." Walburga said. "Sometimes it goes quicker than that and you deliver without them . . ."
While the witches discussed pregnancy and delivery, Regulus and Sirius talked about ways to hunt down Death Eaters and spells to use to bring them down.
"I've heard that Crouch has authorized the use of Unforgivables. Is that true?" asked Regulus.
"Not quite. He's said we can use one in defense of our life or someone else's. But we weren't to go flinging them about. Suspects were to be taken alive, if possible."
"Dead men tell no tales," Regulus whispered.
"Yes. So we do our best to bring them in alive. But it's not easy. They come prepared to kill or die and that makes it hard."
"Failure's not an option with the Dark Lord."
"Scummy bastard! How do you stand being next to him?"
"It's not easy either. Most times I pretend I'm standing next to Great-Uncle Aquarius, you remember him, Siri."
"The one who stank like smelly socks and pee?" Sirius sniggered.
"Yup. And rotten apples because he kept them in his pockets," Regulus laughed. "I think about him and I don't have to worry about puking all over his robes. Same thing when he touches me. But when I'm speaking to him, I'm careful to act like his servant. He likes people to be subservient, to show him respect."
"Respect! For what? Killing hundreds of people?"
"Himself, the great and powerful Dark Lord," Regulus said sardonically. "He longs for people to bow and scrape before him, as they do before a noble. He started out humble, but he sure as hell didn't stay that way. Once he learned he had noble blood running through his veins . . . he felt it was owed him. He never learned to govern by example, only fear."
"How come he has so many followers then?"
"Fear's a great motivator. He's also a persuasive manipulative piece of crap," Regulus sneered. "He can be charming when he wishes. Make you think he really cares, that he'll help you. Only the help comes with a steep price. Your soul."
Regulus's voice deepened, it was dark and almost hopeless.
"Reg? Are you all right?"
"Fine. It's just . . . talking about him puts me in a bad mood. Let's talk about something else. I hear the Magpies are kicking the Cannons asses this year . . ."
While the two men discussed Quidditch, a very different conversation was being held at Potter Manor.
"I'm so happy for Sirius and Annie," said Liana as picked up her fork to eat the salad the house elves had brought. "After all of the tragedy they've had losing their father, they need some good news."
"I agree. Before you know it, his kid will be running around causing mischief with yours, James," Charles grinned and lifted his glass of red wine in a toast. "Here's to a happy healthy baby for both of you."
"And an easy delivery," added Liana.
Then the talk turned to other things, like Liana's Witches' Aid circle and how they were trying to help those who had lost things in the Hogsmeade fire, and how lucky it had been that young Rhys Morgan had Seen it before more lives were lost and homes burned.
"It's lucky that Severus knew the kid was serious and listened to him," said Petunia. "Some people would have just dismissed it all as a nightmare and ignored it."
"But he would know about the Sight, seeing as Lily has it," James pointed out.
"Even so, sometimes it's difficult for a beginner to tell truth from a nightmare. I know, because the first time Lily had a vision, she was six, and she woke up screaming from her nap that our grandpa was dying. She didn't know about heart attacks, but she described one so well that my mum had to call and see. When she got no answer, she went over there and found him in time for the paramedics to help. She almost was going to tell Lily that it was all a bad dream, that Grandpa was fine. Thank heavens she didn't. But it was close. Lily always said that's the problem with being a Seer, sometimes you're not believed, and then when something bad happens, they blame you."
Charles nodded. "We know that from history. Look at Cassandra of Troy."
"Wasn't that all just a story, Dad?" James asked, eating his roast beef.
"No, son. Troy was real, there have been excavations of the city, and there really was a war between Greece and Troy, but not over Helen. It was over trade rights and magic. The Trojans controlled the straits on the sea where the Greeks had to pay an exorbitant tariff to get their ships through to trade with them and the Trojans had a law against performing magic without leave in their city. They were magic phobic, I think they call it now. Or at least their priests were. The Greeks had no such law, they had Sea Mages on every ship, and back then those with the Art were revered. They refused to keep their Mages out of the city and they hid the fact that Cassandra had magic, calling her crazy."
"That's horrible!" exclaimed Liana.
"Yes, and it wasn't just her, but all those with magic's gift. When our mages discovered this, they demanded the Gifted be trained and allowed to practice their craft freely. But King Priam refused. They were keeping the witches and wizards in bondage, refusing to acknowledge their magic, and so in part the war was fought to free those practitioners. You'll note that Achilles had magical armor and a sword, as well as his horses. They weren't some gift from the gods, like Homer tells it, but enchanted by him, he was a sorcerer of some skill, he inherited the gift from his mother, Thetis, who was of the fae kindred. Back then you could be both a warrior and a wizard."
"Was any of the rest of it true?" Petunia wanted to know. The Iliad was one of her favorites.
"Oh, there was some truth mixed in with the fiction, but you'd have to read up on the history of the Trojan War to get the facts straight," Charles told her. "Homer was a bard, after all, and they earn their bread and butter by telling entertaining stories. I'm sure the real account was somewhat dry and boring, more facts and less drama."
Petunia was sure it was too, but she did want to know the true story, and asked Charles where she might read up on the history.
"Why, right here in my library, dear," he said. "Just ask Bilbo to bring you the books."
So after supper, Petunia paged through a thick history on their bed while James gently massaged her feet. "Find anything interesting yet?" he asked as he kneaded. "Those dusty old tomes used to put me to sleep as a boy."
"It is rather dry at times," she admitted. "But still, I like to have the facts, and the truth is very interesting."
"Whatever floats your boat, love," her husband said. "I'd rather read about some war that happened hundreds of years ago than the one we're in now."
"What is going on, James? Has there been any concentrated effort to find those children?" asked Petunia sharply. "It seems like the Department's dragging their heels."
"No, it's just that we can't find any leads," her husband disagreed. "Believe me, everyone's doing what they can. But the bloody Death Eaters are too damn clever, much as I hate to say it. Even our spies can't find them."
"Maybe if you—"
"Please, Tuney, let's not talk about it. I agonize enough over it at work, I don't need it at home too," James half-growled.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to criticize . . ."
"Never mind. I'm just sick of the subject. Why don't you read a bit to me, maybe it won't seem so boring now that I'm older?" he suggested.
So Petunia began reading about the Trojan War, and silently praying that someday all the missing children would be found. She placed her hand protectively over her middle, where their baby rested, safe and sound, and thanked God for little miracles.
Lily was cooking breakfast for her family when Petunia and James emerged from the fireplace. Today she was making waffles and bacon, with a side of fresh berries to put over them. Severus tended to prefer fresh fruit on his and hardly any syrup, while Art liked drowning his in syrup. The boy would be going back to school today and was arguing with Severus about it.
"You have no trace of the flu and you can eat enough sugar to choke a horse," Severus said flatly, indicating the boy's waffle with loads of syrup poured over it, as well as whipped cream. "That means you're fine, and you're going back to class, young man."
"Aww, but Severus! I don't really feel up to it," the boy protested.
"Oh? Then if you're too sick to go to class, you're too sick to have friends over."
Arthur froze with a forkful of waffle halfway to his mouth. "That's not fair!"
Severus raised an eyebrow. "If you're sick you need sleep, not conversation," he declared firmly. "Well?"
Faced with the threat of being housebound without hope of seeing his friends, Arthur gave in. "Okay, I'll go to class!"
"Mind the tone," Severus rebuked and got a quick apology out of the sulky youngster.
Lily turned when she heard the Floo, nearly burning herself on the hot waffle iron. "Good morning, Tuney, James. Care for some waffles?"
"No, I've got to get to work," James said regretfully. "They smell divine though. I'll pick you up afterwards, all right, hun?" He turned to look at his wife, concerned. "Your back still bothering you?"
Petunia nodded, rubbing it. "All night and now all morning."
Severus frowned. "Is it just an ache or does it come and go?"
Petunia thought about it. "At first it was just like an ache but now it sort of—oh!" She gasped, putting both hands to the small of her back.
"What is it?" James demanded, looking totally flummoxed.
"I think—I think it was a contraction!"
Lily turned off the waffle iron and came to put an arm about her sister. "You positive, Tuney?"
Petunia hesitated. "Umm . . . I think so."
James helped her to a chair. "Here, sit down."
"She could have been in labor all night and not have known it," Severus said.
"My mum was like that," Arthur piped up helpfully.
Severus checked his watch. "You'd better Floo up to the castle now, Art. You have about ten minutes before your first class."
"All right. But you gotta tell me what the baby is," he called as he grabbed his bag off the floor.
"We will, don't worry," Lily called. "Now hurry, before you're late." She knew the boy had a tendency to dawdle and being late on his first day back to class would aggravate her husband to no end.
Severus himself did not have class until the late afternoon, so he was free until four.
As Arthur disappeared into the green flames, Petunia felt another contraction seize her. "James, I think this is the real thing!" she cried, holding herself.
"Tuney, maybe we'd better wait a little," her husband said. "Remember last time you thought that and they stopped after we'd gotten to the hospital?"
But the contractions didn't stop. Lily, who'd been timing them with her wristwatch, said, "James, these aren't false ones. We need to—"
Before she could say anything else, Petunia cried out, "Oh no! My water just broke . . . all over your kitchen floor, Lily!" There was a puddle of liquid right between her feet and all over the chair.
"It's all right, Tuney. Don't worry about our floor." Severus said. "Come on, let's get you up and over to St. Mungos. Keep breathing and counting. James!" he barked at her husband, who seemed in a sort of stupor. "Help me with your wife before we deliver this baby right in my kitchen! Come on, Potter, snap out of it!"
James blinked, then said softly, "Uh . . . right. Sorry. Come on, Tuney." He, along with Severus, helped her to stand and together they Flooed to the hospital, where they quickly took charge and wheeled Petunia away on a floating gurney.
Lily quickly Flooed Polly to come and then she followed Petunia up to maternity, figuring it might be a few hours before the baby was delivered. Soon Polly arrived, looking rather frazzled, and James took her upstairs.
Severus figured he had a few hours to wait and went to the family waiting room and sat down with a potions journal. Before long James came in, looking rather angry. "What are you doing back down here, Potter? Don't you want to see your child being born?"
"Of course I do!" he objected. "But the bloody Healers threw me out! They said I should just wait down in the waiting room like every other husband."
Severus scowled. "That's ridiculous! What do they think we're living in—the Dark Ages? Anybody tells me that when Lily's in labor and I'll hex the bloody door right down and to hell with what those Healers want. They can kiss my ass!"
James stared at the irate Potions Master. "I just don't want to make a scene. I don't want to get Tuney upset, you know?"
"Mmm. Lily would be more upset if I wasn't there," Severus remarked. And would probably give the Healers a piece of her mind. But Petunia was a different sort. "Do you want me to talk to them?"
"No, that's all right. I guess they know what they're doing and she does have her mum and sister with her, so that's something." James cleared his throat. "Besides, I . . . err . . . don't really like seeing her in pain like that. I feel like somebody's squeezing my heart, know what I mean? I just want to make it stop and I can't and it really bothers me. I guess you think I'm some kind of coward, huh? I'm an Auror who can't stand to see my wife suffer."
"You're no coward, Potter," Severus snorted. "A pain-in-the-ass, but just because you don't like to see people suffer doesn't make you a coward. It makes you a human being. I'd be the same if it were Lily," Severus added, though he didn't say that nothing short of death would have kept him from Lily's side. "Why don't you sit down and drink some water? I don't have alcohol here, but I have a bottle of mineral water. I carry some in my robes because all the lecturing makes my throat dry." He held out the bottle to the anxious new father.
James took it and gulped half of it down. Too fast, because he began to choke.
Severus stood up and gave him a quick whack on the back. "Put your head up. Merlin, Potter, can't you even drink a glass of water without mucking it up?"
"So I'm a little nervous!" James shot back as soon as he could talk. He wiped his eyes. "Wait till your turn comes, Snape. Then we'll see."
Severus didn't bother to answer, simply resumed his seat on the sofa.
James paced for awhile, muttering about how in hell long it took a baby to get born. "Why don't they just use magic and—bam! Here it is!"
Severus put down his magazine and said, "For God's sake, James, you can't be serious? Having a baby's not like Transfiguring a teapot or Apparating. Even magic has rules and laws, and you can't just go messing with the human body like that. It's best to just leave it to Mother Nature and wait. Rather than risk something going wrong and causing permanent complications or worse. Now sit down and relax. The baby won't get born any faster by you pacing yourself through the floor."
"Quit being such a dictatorial know-it-all, Snape!"
"Then you quit acting like a brainless teenager and sit down," ordered his brother-in-law. "Merlin, but I should have brought along a Calming Draft. You're worse than Arthur."
"I am not!"
"Oh, yes you are," insisted the Potions Master. "Now sit!" He pointed to an armchair. "Tuney's going to be really upset if she finds you've had a heart attack because you're too damn uptight."
"Fine!" he threw himself into the chair, reminding Severus even more of a sulky teenager. "I'm sitting down. Happy now?"
"Breathe. And calm down," were Severus' next instructions.
James gritted his teeth, but he couldn't really find fault with the other's instructions and followed them. Before he knew it he was dozing a little. He woke when he recalled he hadn't called into work yet, and sent an owl to the Auror department. Then he rose, went to the loo, and then asked the mediwitch about his wife.
She checked and said his wife was doing well, the baby should be born soon.
"Well, I don't really know. With a first baby like this . . ." the mediwitch began.
"But surely you must know something!"
The mediwitch looked annoyed, but Severus came up before she could snap at James and said, "Excuse him, it's his first time and he's a little nervous." He pulled James away by his sleeve. "Sit down and relax, James."
"Snape, you're a son-of-a-bitch," James swore.
But he allowed Severus to push him into the recliner. He wanted to bite his nails. Or howl. But he wouldn't embarrass himself in front of the calm, smug, potions professor. He couldn't wait till Lily was in labor. Then he'd see Snape climb the walls all right.
About two hours later, a smiling mediwitch came into the waiting room. "Mr. Potter?"
James leaped to his feet as if he'd been bitten in the bum by a wyvern. "Is Tuney all right? Is the baby born?"
"Yes to both questions. Why don't you both come up and see?"
They followed her to the maternity floor.
Petunia was sitting up in bed, looking very tired but happy. Her hair was pulled back and she cradled a small bundle in her arms, crooning softly to it. Her mum and Lily sat off to one side, beaming. "James, come and see your new son."
James made his way to his wife's side and peered down at the tiny red-faced little infant. "Oh! He's got my hair! It's all dark . . . and fuzzy."
"He gave me indigestion," chuckled his mother. "He's sleeping now but when his eyes are open they're a greenish blue. I think he'll have green eyes . . . like his aunt Lily."
"He's just . . . perfect," James said, awe-struck.
"Would you like to hold him?"
"Uh . . . yeah." He awkwardly cradled the baby in his arm, still gaping at the miracle he had created. Polly helped him settle the sleeping infant against his chest. James was amazed that such a tiny being had come from him and Petunia. "You're really here," he whispered. "My son." He looked over at Petunia. "Well, Tuney? What should we name him?"
"Harry, after my dad. And James, after you."
"Not the other way around?" asked Polly. "Usually the father's name is first."
"No. I don't want another James or Jamie in the house. Harry sounds better," James disagreed.
"Harry James Potter," Severus said quietly. "A name that's easy to remember." He came and peered at the baby as well. "You have a fine little boy there, Potter. My nephew. I can only hope he's a better potion maker than his father."
James flushed. "Hell, Severus. A Muggle's better than me, and you know it. With my luck the kid will have his head buried in a cauldron by the time he's two."
"He has magic then? He's not like me?" Petunia exclaimed. Her arms felt empty without the baby. But she knew James deserved some time with him also.
"Oh, yes," Lily said. "I could feel his magic when I held him. So can any witch or wizard. It's very strong."
Petunia smiled. "I'm so glad. I always wanted a child of mine to have the Gift." She had always wanted magic, and envied her sister as a child. But now she no longer did. She was proud, though, of having a magical child.
James leaned over and kissed her. "I love you just the way you are, Petunia." He gently gave Harry back to his mother, who cuddled him against her. "But now he'll go to Hogwarts and someday he'll be turning the school upside down."
"Like his father," Severus said dryly.
"Not if you have anything to say about it, Sev," Lily chuckled.
"Which I do, as both his uncle and his professor."
"And me, as his mum," Petunia added.
"The poor kid!" James lamented. "He'll never have any fun with you two on his arse."
"Nonsense! He'll have fun—the right kind, not trouble," Petunia said. "We need to tell Dad about his grandson. Both of them."
"And Liana," said Polly.
"And Sirius and Annie," added James. "They need to get acquainted with their new godson." He chucked Harry under the chin, and the baby smiled in his sleep. "The Potter legacy continues."
"Merlin help us all," muttered Severus, but he was smiling at the baby as well. But then he sober a bit, recalling Voldemort's ultimatum. Somehow they must stop the evil wizard before he got a real foothold in the government, and Severus vowed he would protect his new nephew and unborn child, as well as any other children, whatever the cost.
A/N: So Harry has been born! Yay! What do you think Sirius and Annie should have? Or Sev and Lily? Thanks for all your wonderful reviews and please keep reading. I have been ill this past month but finally managed to update this story. How did you like this chapter?
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