It was a normal Saturday morning, three weeks before final examinations at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Harry sat at the Gryffindor table with Ron and Hermione, eating breakfast, and trying to answer the questions Hermione quizzed them on, in preparation for their OWLs. "The two uses of hensbane."
"Temperature regulation," Harry answered, giving the one use he did know. "It cools potions down."
Hermione nodded. "And the second? Ron?" But Ron was staring at the ceiling where the owls were streaming into the Hall with morning mail.
"'Mione," Ron said, sounding like he was making an effort to remain calm, "Tell me that storks don't really deliver babies."
"Of course they don't, Ron, why -" but Hermione's question died as she and Harry followed the red-head's gaze up to the giant white bird slowly circling the Hall, with a bundle hanging from its long narrow beak.
"Look at the Slytherins," Harry said, glancing towards the enemy table as the bird flew lazily over it. Several of the older boys had stood, looking pale and terrified. None of them, standing or sitting, spoke, and most never let their gazes leave the stork for more than a moment, their expressions solemn while regarding the bird.
"What's the stork's symbolism in the Wizarding world?" Hermione asked Ron in a hushed voice.
"Children stories say they deliver babies," Ron told her. "I thought they were made up."
Harry and Hermione exchanged looks. "It's the same in the Muggle world," Hermione confirmed, in case Ron wondered. "The Slytherins seem to know about their reality though. We can probably find out more in the library."
"Not yet. I want to see who it goes to," Harry told her, grabbing her wrist before she could stand. The bird continued to circle the Hall, making a circuit designed to draw every eye in the room, and the bird had succeeded admirably. As it flew over the Ravenclaw table, Harry noticed a few terrified looking seventh year boys had stood there, too. After more than ten minutes, the Gryffindors were becoming impatient. The standing boys had not sat, and sweat was standing out on some of their foreheads. None of the Slytherins had begun eating again. Even the teachers' table had stilled, and were worriedly watching the bird. None made any move to send it away, though, so Harry supposed it wasn't dangerous.
The stork broke its circuit when the side door beside the staff table opened and Professor Snape stepped into the room. His eye was drawn to the bird advancing on him, and he swallowed visibly, even from half a hall away. He went even paler than normal, and held out his arms. The stork dropped the white sheet enclosed bundle into them. The professor immediately turned on his heel and fled the Hall, holding the mysterious bundle against his chest. The standing boys dropped into their seats in relief, and whispers broke out at both the Ravenclaw and Slytherin tables. The stork had completely disappeared the moment it dropped its burden.
"I hope that wasn't a baby," Ron declared. Harry could only nod agreement.
"Library," was Hermione's only answer. Harry and Ron did not hesitate to follow her this time.
By the time they reached Hermione's favorite room in Hogwarts, she had developed a search plan. "Ron, you look through the Magical Beasts section," she directed, pointing at one section of shelves. "Harry, you take Magical and Muggle legends and myths," she pointed to another area. "I'll look in the Magical Society section." She headed off to the shelves that housed those books, without waiting to see what Harry and Ron made of their assignments. They all returned to their normal table with stacks of promising books.
Ron found something first. "Here, listen to this. 'Magical storks are much larger than their Muggle counterparts, often having wingspans up to eight feet. Long believed to be simple beasts, in the seventh century, proof of vast power and intelligence came to light.'" Hermione leaned forward eagerly, as if proximity could help her soak in the new information faster. Ron continued reading, "'A stork is capable of completely changing the appearance, and even gender, of a newborn child.'" Ron stopped to share gaping stares with his friends. He looked back down at book, "Since this only happens with permission of the child's mother, the stork must be able to understand the intentions, if not the speech, of human witches. Only newly mothered witches have ever successfully summoned a magical stork. The only time a wizard can see a magical stork is when it carries a human child to its father. How the stork identifies the father or knows where to find him is unknown. See also owl location theories.'"
The three Gryffindors looked at each other again. After a moment's silence, Hermione summarized, "So a witch can have a stork bring her baby to its father." Harry and Ron nodded, as this was their understanding as well.
Harry brought the theoretical to the personal. "So Snape's a father."
Ron looked ill. Hermione nodded thoughtfully. "He certainly didn't look thrilled about it, either." Harry pictured the professor's face again, as it had been when the teacher saw the bird and realized it was coming for him. Completely pallid skin. A look of dawning horror and terror on his face, much like many of the standing boys had worn. But no reluctance, as if the idea of refusing or denying the bundle had never occurred to him. "Here, Ron," Hermione passed him one of the Society books she found earlier. "I think what we want to know more about will be in one of these," she said waving at her own collection and Harry's. "Those will just go into details about the bird itself." She suddenly looked like a child caught telling a lie, and she quickly qualified, "Not that information about the animal wouldn't be fascinating as well, but we want to know about what's going on with Professor Snape."
Ron nodded, and began flipping to the book's index.
"Here's something," Harry said a few minutes later. "'The stork has long been associated with the delivery of babies. Muggle and Magical folk alike claim that storks bring babies to couples wanting children. This story has its origins in the early tenth century when a muggle Earl without an heir received an infant by stork in the middle of a well attended feast with much of the muggle aristocracy present. This was deemed a miracle, and the child grew to greatly resemble the Earl in every respect. Magic was never suspected, though wizarding scholars believe the Earl must have had an affair with a witch who summoned a stork to return the infant to its father.'"
"Again, it was the father who received the baby," Hermione mused.
Harry nodded, and continued, "'The truth of this myth is less idyllic. For a stork to be summoned, a witch must truly wish never to see either the father or the child again. Once the stork takes the child from her, all memory of the pregnancy and birth is lost to all who knew of it except the mother herself, including the father, in the rare case that he knew of it. The stork acts as a kind of Secret-Keeper of the mother's identity. Fathers report not remembering the name of the girl they had' um" Harry cleared his throat and blushed, "intercourse with, regardless of the length of the relationship. Even spells and potions used to reveal the parents' names or visages will show only the father's. Often children delivered by stork turn into mirror copies of their father. Over ninety-five percent are male.'"
Harry closed the book, and exchanged what-do-you-make-of-that? looks with his friends. "I see why it happened to Snape, now," Ron commented.
Hermione looked aghast. "Ron!"
The red-head shrugged unapologetically, then frowned in alarm. "Harry, did you say 'mirror image of the father?'"
"Poor kid!" Harry exclaimed, and even Hermione couldn't hold back a nod of agreement on that point. Embarrassed, she pushed another society book at Harry, and returned to looking through hers.
After another few minutes of silent reading, Hermione spoke, "Well, this explains why they all looked so frightened." Harry and Ron looked at her in interest. She began to read, "'It is very rare for a witch to summon a stork. Most simply turn unwanted children over to adoption agencies. There are several reasons for this course of action over using a stork. The first and simplest is that most women develop a bond with their unborn child, and most wish to see the offspring in a happy home; either her own or with someone who wants children. In almost all cases, the father would not appreciate the arrival of a burdened stork. Also, by summoning a stork, a witch relinquishes all legal, and sometimes genetic, rights to the child. The second reason is that the witch must be powerful enough to cast a summoning within five hours of birth.
"'Consequently, the use of a stork is often used as a form of revenge. This is particularly common against purebloods by purebloods, since fathers who receive a stork-delivered baby face the same social stigma as unwed mothers. The mother, often unmarried herself, reaps the additional benefit of escaping this stigma herself by using the stork. However, it is not the social implications that most daunt the fathers.
"'At the time a wizard accepts his child from the stork, two unbreakable bonds are woven between them. One of these prevents the father from being in a room other than the one his child is in until after the second year. For the third and fourth years, this bond loosens to require them only to occupy the same building. The other bond is permanent and does not weaken over time. This bond causes the father to suffer any serious injury his child does, up to and including death.'"
Harry had paled somewhat, and Ron looked appalled. "What a burden to place on a child," Harry said quietly. "I would be afraid to do anything."
"What stops a wizard from pretending it's not his and running before the bonds are made?" Ron asked. "I could see a Slytherin doing that."
Hermione skimmed through the rest of the page, and halfway into the next before she turned white. "So that's why they all stood." She continued reading to herself until Harry cleared his throat inquiringly. Hermione looked up at them. "If a wizard sees a burdened stork, and knows he is capable of having fathered a child recently born, he must stand ready to receive the child, if it is his. If he doesn't, once the bird finishes its delivery, it will return to that wizard who will shortly thereafter . . . become a witch. Allowances are given if a wizard doesn't know the protocol. How the bird can tell, though . . ." Hermione trailed off and shook her head.
"And the father? If he refuses the delivery?"
Hermione looked both boys in the eye before answering. "Almost the same thing. Except the stork turns him into a pregnant witch. He'll - er - she'll deliver the baby herself four months later. The same bonds apply."
Harry shuddered. Ron swallowed. "Makes you almost feel sorry for Snape." Both Harry and Hermione stared at Ron for a long moment before nodding agreement. They fell into a silence that seemed to stretch longer than it probably did.
"There's just one thing that I don't get," Harry said eventually, breaking the uneasy silence. Both his friends looked at him curiously. "I mean, I know where babies come from and everything, but can you guys see Snape doing that?"
Hermione blushed scarlet, and Ron fled the library at speed, his hand clamped tightly over his mouth.
I think I'll take that as a 'yes', Harry decided, feeling an odd mixture of bemusement and illness.
Snape closed the door to his rooms using his foot, then leaned back against the solid stone wall that had just admitted him. He closed his eyes and told himself to breathe. The infant in his arms stirred, and another wave of fear washed through him. Storked. I've been storked. He made his way deeper into his chambers, and dropped into his reading chair, the abrupt change in position jarring the baby and eliciting a small sound of protest. "Shh," he told it softly, hoping to forestall a full-blown wail.
The baby stilled, and he brushed aside the white sheet that hid the child. For the first time, he looked upon his child's face. Fine black hair topped the head, and black eyes looked up at him unblinkingly and unnervingly. He reminded himself again that keeping his air supply steady was something to aspire to. A shaking finger moved to run down the velvety pale skin of the infant's nose. "I am sorry about that, child, but I expect you'll survive having the Snape nose."
A knock sounded though the room, followed by Dumbledore's voice, "Severus?"
"Enter," Snape called softly. The door responded to his word and opened for the Headmaster. "I suppose you are wondering how I got him, Albus?" His fingers continued to trace the contours of his son's face, and the child's eyes slowly eased closed.
"If you would satisfy an old man's curiosity?" Dumbledore prodded, but letting it be understood that it was by no means an order.
"I suppose you should know," Snape said, his voice barely audible, and set to a cadence that would not disturb the child. Crying was something he wanted to avoid as long as possible. "It might come back to haunt me. More so than it has already." He looked away from the child to meet Dumbledore's blue eyes. They were not - quite - twinkling, but Snape recognized it as the Headmaster's I'm-solemn-because-you-think-I-should-be-and-I'm-humouring-you look. "Albus, she is very likely waiting to hear who received her stork so that she can denounce him as a Death Eater."
The Headmaster did not react except to rummage through one of the many pockets in his robe. His hand finally emerged holding a yellow candy wrapped in that clear muggle material. "Lemon drop?"
Used to Dumbledore's quirks by now, Snape only shook his head. "No, thank you."
The Headmaster unwrapped it and popped it into his own mouth. After a few long moments of hearing it clatter against the old wizard's teeth, Snape decided to stop beating around the bush. "It was rape, Albus. I thought it preferable to the Unforgivables and other entertainments my collegues enjoy. If I did nothing, they would become suspicious. It also gives me an opportunity to slip them the Draught of the Living Death that saves their lives."
When Dumbledore closed his eyes at the present-tense of the last sentence, Snape knew the Headmaster understood the unspoken admission. This was confirmed when he asked quietly, "Should you expect more storks, Severus?"
"It is not impossible. Pregnancy had not occurred to me, and I failed to take measures. I, honestly, do not know if I can in the future either, since the other Death Eaters may wonder why I am trying not to impregnate a girl who is supposed to be dead in a few hours anyway." Severus's eyes fell down to the warm weight in his arms. "Of course, with the child, now, I may not be going on raids at all for the next two to four years, and, with luck, Potter will have ended it by then."
Neither spoke for some time after that. "Have you thought of what you will call him?"
Snape gave him a low level glare. "I have been a father for twenty minutes and already you wish me to have a name for him?"
"Have you?" Dumbledore pressed, the twinkle returning to his eyes.
The headmaster smiled, looking pleased. Whether it was because of the name or because he had known Snape had already come up with it, Snape couldn't guess.
Snape's fingers hovered over the child's fine hair again, before dropping back to support the sleeping form. "You don't think it's wrong to name him for myself?" he asked quietly, "You don't believe it will jinx him?"
"It is appropriate, Severus. Denuo. It means afresh and anew. The child starts life with a clean slate."
"It also means 'again'." When he lifted his fingers this time, they did stroke the silky black strands. "I don't want him to repeat my mistakes."
"Severus, these are the normal fears of any new parent. I am surprised you are taking this so well."
Black eyes lifted from the tiny form in his arms to blue eyes behind half-moon spectacles. "Albus, my life is bound to his. You know what a stork does when it delivers a child. I felt it happening. I haven't a choice. I accept this completely or I go mad." He gave the old wizard a humourless smile. "So far he has only slept and looked at me. When he starts crying and being the unholy terror I know I was, we will see how well I am taking this."
Dumbledore laughed. "I suppose you are right. When he wakes, I expect he'll be hungry. It would be wise for you to have some milk ready for him. In a bottle."
Severus blinked. A bottle? Yes, of course, the child was but a baby. He needed a bottle. "Headmaster? Where in Hogwarts do I find a . . . bottle?"
The headmaster continued his merry chuckling. "My dear Severus, Hogwarts hasn't seen a baby in four centuries. You should go down to Hogsmeade and pick up everything young Severus Denuo will need for the next few days. Bottles, diapers, changes of clothes, baby shampoo, rattles, blankets, a crib, something to carry him in, a swing, a changing table, a playpen -"
It was too much. Bottles, yes. He could understand bottles. But diapers? A crib? The one was not something he wanted anything to do with, and the other implied a permance and an incomprehensible change to his life and his routine that he wasn't ready for yet. "I can't do this."
Albus stood behind him and rested a hand on his shoulder. "As you said, Severus, you haven't a choice."
Sometimes he hated being right. "Could you transfigure me a bottle to tide him over until I buy some?" Dumbledore came around in front of him again and quirked a eyebrow and a smile. Snape frowned, the man's possible intentions becoming clear to him, "And don't make it bright blue or polkadotted or any such nonsense. I'd do it myself, but my hands are occupied." That, and he hadn't had a close look at a bottle since he last used one himself.
Dumbledore's creation wasn't colourless as Snape had wanted, but at least it was a subdued blue. A call to the house elves and a few moments later, the bottle held warm milk. With some difficulty, he rose from his chair without waking the baby. He slipped the bottle into one of the pockets of his long robes, and led Dumbledore out of his rooms. "Severus," the headmaster said suddenly, as he shifted the child to his other arm. "Look at your wrist."
He glanced at the arm that had until now been buried under the baby and sheet. A glowing blue band encircled the wrist and he closed his eyes briefly. The mark of a Storked man. Nothing was there to physically remove, and no charm would dispell the pale light. There were not a lot of Stork marked wizards out there. The last he had heard of received his baby over twenty years ago. Between the baby and the blue light, he would be easily recognizable even in Death Eater garb.
He and Dumbledore parted ways at the top of the dungeon stairs. The Headmaster went toward his office, while Snape made for the Entrance Hall. He felt the eyes of students on him, though they did have the sense not to approach. He did not want to consider the effect his new constant companion would have on his reputation. He arrived in Hogsmeade with no incidents, and thanked Merlin that this was not a Hogsmeade weekend. He stopped when he reached the center of the village, and wondered where, exactly, one bought baby things here.
It was while he was scanning the store fronts that the double flash of red hair caught his attention. Professor mode taking over, he stalked towards them. "Misters Weasley," he growled in a low voice, standing just behind them as they looked into the display window of the quiddich store. The twins jumped and turned around. Then their eyes fell to the still sleeping infant. Two pairs of green-blue eyes widened. "Leaving the castle without permission. Twenty points each from Gryffindor and detention. With me. Beginning now."
They blinked, and looked around as if expecting to find dirty cauldrons here. "You have two younger siblings, and being Weasleys, I imagine you have some idea of what is neccessary for a . . . " he looked down at the baby in his arms.
Identical grins that Snape did not like at all spread across their faces. "Right-o!" one of them, Snape thought it was Fred, exclaimed.
"One Snape nursery coming right up!" the other added cheerfully.
"This way!" they called out together. Snape would never have found the store they led him to. Its front was only an imposing thick wooden door with a sign reading 'Paul's' over it. The door opened to a staircase and the twins dashed up it two steps at a time. "Paul!"
When he reached the top of the stairs the door, identical to the one at the bottom, at that end was open and a medium tall wizard invited him in. The store, if one can call it that, held the oddest assortment of merchandise Snape had ever seen housed in one room. On one shelf, there were potions ingredients, on the next, leashes, whips, and muzzles. Swords and daggers lined one wall while the one opposite it held paintings. Overall, Snape got the impression of darkness, though nothing was obviously illegal. How Fred and George had found it was only a mildly less interesting question than why they had brought him here now.
"Over here," Fred called from one corner of the room, almost dancing back and forth from one foot to the other in what Snape was afraid to call gleeful anticipation.
As he approached, he saw what the twins had brought him here for. Furniture. Pre-shrunken for the customer's convenience, as well as better space management for the store. A small smirk began to play about his lips as he studied the pieces. He almost laughed as he picked up a positively imposing mass of gothic crib. The twins were doing a poor job of surpressing their own mirth, but, at the moment, he didn't overly mind that they were enjoying their detention.
He found a dresser and changing table that were obviously a matching set with the crib he had picked out. He put the three aside, and continued looking at what else was available. Shortly thereafter, he found the swing. He did smirk outright in amusement as he lifted it for a closer look. "Minerva will be appalled," he declared, aloud, his black eyes glinting in unvoiced laughter. Supported by black poles, the swing itself looked like a giant green snake, and the baby sat in its mouth.
He put the swing aside with the other things and looked down at child in his arms. The boy's face scrunched up, and before he even opened his eyes, Snape was pressing the bottle into in his mouth. "Drink, child." The baby eagerly sucked down the warm milk (held at a constant temperture by insulation charms), and opened his eyes to take in his father, the shop, its owner, and the Weasley twins. When it was gone, George said helpfully, "You need to burp him now."
Snape looked at the seventh year. "Burp him?" he repeated.
The twins nodded. "Put him up against your shoulder," Fred instructed, as George physically helped Snape arrange the baby and the white sheet. "Support his head, babies don't have strong necks when they're first born. Okay, now just pat his back, and if you're lucky, he'll burp. If you're unlucky, he'll throw up." A cleaning charm took care of the further proof of Snape's unluckiness.
The baby fell asleep again after that, and Snape continued to look through Paul's collection of unusual baby things. He found a carriage with the same basic idea as the swing, only the the baby was to lay nestled inside the snake's coils, while the parent held the snake's fangs to push and steer. He put this with his other purchases. "The playpen, walker, and stroller can wait until he's older," Snape decided as his eye passed by those things. As he paid for his things, he turned a curious gaze on the twins, "Do I want to know how you came to find this place?"
Paul laughed. "They've been coming for about two years now. The apothacary was out of something they wanted and wouldn't be getting another shipment for a few weeks, so he sent them my way." He nodded to the shelf of ingredients, which Severus took a moment to look though before leaving. Nothing restricted, though most of it was obscure. He could see why an apothacary would receive shipments only two or three times a year for the majority of them.
"Thanks, Paul," the twins said as the three descended down the stairs. When they returned to the streets of Hogsmeade, Snape put the snake carriage on the ground and enlarged it to normal size. He laid the baby into it, and ignored the looks his strange baby carriage was attracting. He hoped it would draw attention away from the circle of blue that was now visible on his right wrist.
"He'll need clothes next," he told the twins. He was not terribly surprised when they did not lead him to Hogsmeade's robe shop. Where they did bring him was as obscure as Paul's. The small plaque on the door read only Custom Made, Erika and Emily Weaver.
"Erika and Emily are twins," Fred explained as he opened the door. "We met them at the Three Broomsticks, once. We can't afford anything they make, but we still stop by from time to time. Ron got his new dress robe here last summer, though. They gave us a discount."
Erika and Emily were indeed twins, Hufflepuffs, who finished at Hogwarts four or five years ago, if he remembered correctly. "Hello, Professor," they chourused as he entered with the twins and the baby. He left the carriage just outside, assuming nobody would want it but him. The anti-theft charm would guarentee it though.
The girls' eyes were drawn immediately to the child. "Who is that, Professor?"
He shifted the baby so they could see his face. "Severus Denuo Snape." As the girls showed every sign of being about to coo over the child, he added quickly, "He needs a wardrobe." That sent them immediately bustling about the small mirror lined room, gathering bolts of cloth, measuring tapes, pins, thread, needles, sissors, and a number of other things Snape couldn't readily identify. Then they were in front of him again.
"We'll need to take his measurements," one of them told him, almost apologetically. He reluctantly allowed the girl to take his child. Her twin make measurements, jotting them down on a piece of parchment. Then the baby was returned to him and the girls discussed something quietly between themselves. They looked back to him. "We're going to show you a few styles and colours we can whip up for you, and you tell us what you like."
He nodded, and they began. Their selections were surprisingly tasteful and, with only a few exceptions, they were all done in black. No ridiculous looking balloons or ducks or bears in the lot. No bright blue, no pastels. When his final order was placed, they told him to come back in three hours.
Returning to the carriage, he lowered the anti-theft charm, and laid the child down again. "Next, diapers, bottles, and that sort of thing."
The Weasleys consulted with each other and came to decision. "This one's more mainstream," George said apologetically, "but if you look in the right places, you'll find the rare stuff."
"We'll help," Fred added cheerfully, in a way that would have made even Minerva wary. Snape, however, was pleased with their findings so far, and was willing to give this place a try as well. As they entered, (the carriage had been left outside again) Snape saw that it truly was nearly 'mainstream' as the twins called it. The store was on ground level, with bright sunny windows, and the standard baby supplies in the more nauseating color schemes. Fred and George walked right by the shelf of blue and pink bottles without even slowing down.
In the back corner, though, they dropped to their knees and began digging through a cardboard box. Snape watched with a raised brow. A smirk began to grow as Fred cried out in triumph and placed a snake shaped bottle on the floor behind him. Six minutes later, they had collected two snake bottles, one dragon, one green and silver striped one, and two that were solid black.
"Now you need a spit blanket to put over your shoulder when you burp him," Fred told him as the twins stood.
"Since its only purpose is to get thrown up on, we thought you'd like one with the Gryffindor crest."
Snape couldn't completely surpress the startled laugh that rose from that remark. "I think I will take you up on that. However, when Albus asks me why Minerva had kittens, I will lay the blame at your door."
Guileless blue-green eyes looked up the scant inch to meet his inscutable black ones. "But none of our Wheezes make animagi pregnant, sir."
"And you're the one with the history -" George stopped talking as his mind caught up to what his tongue was saying. He turned bright pink, then so pale his freckles stood out in stark relief. "I'll go get you that spit blanket," he said before fleeing. Though he normally would take umbrage to such slanderous cheek, the idea of him and Minerva was so completely ludicrous that he couldn't possibly take it as anything other than the standard mocking insolance the twins were known for. It must have been indicative of his good mood that he felt closer to laughing than dropping House points. Publically, though, Snape only scowled darkly at the remaining twin and snapped, "Diapers!"
"Right!" and Fred, too, fled.
Snape looked down at the baby and said softly, "Merlin help me, child, I think I'm starting to like them."
They returned some minutes later, Fred with a large package of newborn sized diapers, and George with an armload of fabrics. "Three Gryffindor spit blankets," he said peeling the three red layers of cloth off the top and handing them to Fred, who had put the diapers down beside the bottles. Fred showed off the familiar crest, turning the square of fabric so Snape could get a look at it from several different angles.
"Two Slytherin crib blankets," George continued, and passed the larger green layers to his his twin. These were displayed in the same manner as the spit blankets. "A black blanket for the carriage," A solid black one with satin lining around the edges followed the example of the previous two. "And three green and silver striped ones for wrapping Severus in."
Snape started, taken aback by hearing the name he shared with his son fall so easily from George's mouth.
"Baby wipes!" Fred exclaimed suddenly. "Be right back!" The twin darted into one of the aisles. He returned a few minutes later with a box labelled "Wipes" and a jar labeled "Baby Powder".
Snape watched those items join the diapers and the bottles with a small feeling of trepidation. "Is there anything else I missed?"
Both twins frowned at the pile of baby things, then said together, "Baby bag!" Fred ran off again. He returned with two of the large bags. "Do you like the black one or the Slytherin one better?"
He frowned thoughtfully. The Slytherin one would be good to use around Hogwarts, but the silver on it reflected light, and that would be bad if he he needed to do anything suspicious. It would also give away his position to students up after hours, and that could not be tolerated. "I'll take both."
"I think that's everything then."
Fred and George carried the bulky collection to the register, and Snape paid. The items were packed away in the two baby bags and they returned to the carriage. When Snape laid him down, the child woke and began to fuss. He looked at the twins, "Is he hungry again?"
"He might need to be changed," George suggested. Snape frowned in confusion. "His diapers, I mean," George clarified.
Snape's expression turned suddenly unreadable. He looked between the baby and the twins, then had a clever idea. "This is your detention, you change him."
They shrugged at each other and set to it. Snape watched carefully, knowing full well that after this, changing the diaper would be his job. The twins recognized this, and explained what they were doing. Snape couldn't quite hold back an amused smile when the first step was to put one of the Gryffindor spit blankets under the . . . work area. All three wrinkled their noses as the old diaper came off. Most assuredly, this had been the cause of the child's discomfort. When the procedure was completed, and Fred zapped the old one with decontamination and defragrancing charms, George dumped it into a garbage can.
"You're lucky we've got cousins," Fred told him. "We were only about six when Ginny was potty trained."
"Thank you, Misters Weasley, you may return to the castle now if you wish, or you may remain in detention with me."
They barely looked at each other before answering together, "We'll stay." He had meant it as a joke, of sorts, a facetious comment, nothing more. But they were serious. He was sure his surprise must have shown. Fred grinned, "It's our best detention ever -"
"And we've had an awful lot of them to compare it to -"
"So we'll just stick around and -"
"Not cut it short."
"We want to see the clothes Emily and Erika made for Severus."
If they hadn't used the boy's name again, he probably would have sent them packing. But they both smiled at the baby when Fred said it, and the still awake child gurgled happily under the attention. "Very well. Just don't let it get around that you enjoyed it."
George laughed. "Like anybody would believe us."
"And we really wouldn't want to admit to helping you find some of this stuff."
They drew plenty of odd looks when the three of them pushed the eye-catching carriage into the Three Broomsticks. Snape ignored all of the gazes as he approached the bar and put one of the snake bottles down in front of him, using his left hand. Rosmerta raised an eyebrow, and couldn't quite contain a grin. "What can I get for you, Severus?"
"Warm milk. In the bottle."
She laughed. "Coming right up." She swept away with the bottle and came back only a short minute later. "Warm milk in the bottle," she said, plopping it down on the counter as if it were a mug of ale. "Free of charge, if you tell me that the kid is yours."
Snape raised an eyebrow. "Considering the options appear to be myself, Fred, or George, and given the motif of the carriage and the bottle, can you really imagine it is anybody else's? Yes, Rosmerta, the child is mine." He reached for the bottle with his right hand, and many of the eyes in the bar, already on him, were drawn to the blue glow.
"Sweet Merlin," the bar owner breathed. "A stork baby. Thought that was a myth." One of the men sitting near them at the bar shifted away. Snape sneered in his direction, just on principle. Even if he was a stork father, he was still a Hogwarts professor and a potions master, and that put him quite a few steps higher on the social ladder than a man drunk at 1:30 on a Saturday afternoon.
"Not a myth, Rosmerta," Snape told her, once the drunk had flinched satisfyingly. "Unfortunately." He took the bottle and passed it to Fred. "Put that in the Slytherin bag."
The Gryffindor grinned cheekily. "Right-o, sir."
Rosmerta laughed. "And what did the young Weasleys do to become your assistants?"
"This is their detention," Snape told her, "for sneaking into Hogmeade."
"It'll teach us never to do such a dastardly thing again," George proclaimed, and Snape tried not to smirk. The pair would have done well in Slytherin.
Fred nodded solemnly, "Starting next year, you need never worry about us disappearing from Hogwarts ever again."
Well, someone had to say the punchline. "Of course not. You'll have gone by then," Snape pointed out.
They looked crestfallen, "Do you suppose, Professor -"
"That they'll let us stick around another year -"
"If we fail all our NEWTS -"
"Spectacularly - "
"And Mum doesn't kill us?"
"No," Snape said quite firmly. "The teachers have a calendar in the staff room. 'Days until Fred and George Leave'. It's been there since your second year. No one will want to be responsible for raising the number from 19 to 384."
Fred sighed heavily. "Mum would've killed us anyway, I think."
"Gotta hand it to you, Fred," Lee Jordan remarked, "That has got to be the tallest tale ever told."
"I especially liked the bit about him letting you into his personal rooms," Alicia Spinnet added, still giggling when she thought too hard about it. "I can't imagine him letting in Malfoy or Dumbledore, nevermind the pair of you."
Katie Bell shook her head, grinning. "Oh, no, the Gryffindor blankets part was definitely the best."
"I do grant you that if anyone was going to traumatize their kid with the kind of stuff Paul sells, it'd be Snape," Angelina Johnson smirked.
"You should've seen his eyes light up when he saw the snake swing," Fred grinned at her.
"I think it appealled to him more because of the reaction it would get from McGonagall than for its own sake," George added, his expression matching his brother's.
Katie shook her finger at them. "Oh, stop. We're not going to believe you."
"You'll see," Fred told them knowingly.
George nodded, "Come dinner, that snake swing is going to be in the Great Hall while Snape eats."
"We asked him not to show it to McGonagall unless we could see her reaction."
"He did one better, and told us to be early for dinner tonight."
"We knew he was evil, -"
"But that's just wicked." The twins' anticipatory grins were fairly wicked looking, themselves.
The twins were almost the first people in the Hall that evening. In fact, most of Gryffindor was in the Hall early that evening. Rumour around the tower had it that Fred and George had something planned, and the twins had stopped talking once they divulged the story to their four best friends. Ron had only gotten that something was going to happen, and to get as close a seat to the staff table as possible for a good view. That brought Hermione and Harry in early as well, and the nine Gryffindors -Fred, George, Katie, Lee, Angelina, Alicia, Harry, Ron, and Hermione- all sat in the nine nearest seats, with Fred and George taking the front row.
This placement reassured the other seven, who were moderately certain that if there was going to be backlash, either from the prank or the vengeful teachers, the twins would not be so easily accessible. The four seventh years, despite the story the twins had spun, were still convinced that whatever was going to happen, was the twins doing. It wasn't that they thought Fred and George were liars, exactly, it was just that - it was Snape they were talking about as if he were a real human being. If Snape had really found them in Hogsmeade, which the loss of forty points indicated he had, he had probably simply given them a detention with Filch and sent them back to the castle. The twins must have seen him with some of Paul's things, and that was the seed for their imagination.
Dinner began, and the twins barely looked at their food. The teachers, even Dumbledore, were starting to look nervous by the twins' regard on their table, and most of them weren't eating because of it. Others noted that the twin gazes fell more often to Snape's empty chair than anywhere but McGonagall, so they carefully checked their food and cautiously tasted it. McGongall didn't even touch her fork. It was even money whether that was because she thought she was a potential victim or because she wanted to catch the twins at whatever it was they were doing.
The tableau broke when the side door beside the staff table entered, and Professor Snape swept in. Both twins fastened their gazes on him and leaned forward eagerly. Much of the Gryffindor table held their breath, expecting the prank to fall soon upon Snape. They all tensed, ready to point at the twins and say 'they did it!' McGongall frowned severely at them, then turned to warn her collegue of possible poisoning. But Snape, holding something wrapped in black cloth, had squatted, and placed something small on the ground. He straightened, pulled his wand, and pointed it at the object. "Engorgio," the nearest students heard him whisper.
A hideous snake contraption grew to visibility. Snape bent over it, set the snake to gently swing back and forth, and took his seat. In the snake thing's mouth, was what was very obviously an infant child, dressed entirely in black and wrapped in a black blanket. A red forked tongue served as a restraint so the black haired baby would not fall out. McGonagall gaped noticably, turning alternately grey and purple. "Severus, what is that thing," she hissed, just barely loud enough for those straining to hear from the Gryffindor table to make out.
"My son, Minerva, I would appreciate it if you treat him with some respect." The twins chortled into their hands.
"No, that monstrocity that you put your son in."
"Oh, his swing? It is very nice, isn't it. Your Misters Weasley found it for me. I almost gave them points." McGonagall shot a stern glare toward the twins who were doubled over with laughter. Their yearmates were gaping at them, wondering just how much of the story they heard was true. Harry was still staring at the baby. Ron looked back and forth between the two Heads of House, wondering who stole the potions master and took his place. Surely, the real Snape wouldn't even joke about awarding Gryffindors points. Hermione's eyes fastened on the blue band that she might have called a braclet if she hadn't just spent most of the day researching storks, long after Harry and Ron lost interest.
"A swing, Severus, is supposed to lull a child to sleep, not terrify him to death."
"I assure you, Minerva, since I still breathe, he is asleep, not dead."
She blinked, then softened minutely. The twins laughter became more subdued,and they looked up at the head table in concerned confusion. "I didn't mean it like that, Severus. But I don't think you should put a baby in what looks like a snake's mouth. It's traumatizing."
Snape lifted an eyebrow. "I have no intention of traumatizing my son." His eyes darted ever so breifly toward the twins who caught the barest hint of humour in them. "My intention was to traumatize the school." Whatever control the twins had gained by the serious note in the conversation was lost irrevoccably. Lee had to pound on George's back to help him breathe again. Though McGonagall looked far from amused, Dumbledore was twinkling madly and had even released a few heartfelt chortles of his own at the last deadpanned line.
"Oh, I have a new favourite teacher," Fred wheezed, tears leaking from his eyes, eliciting stares of disbelief from all his housemates including George.
"You've gone mental, Fred," Ron told him in dismay. "You were nutters before, but now you've really gone 'round the bend . . ."
"Do you need to see Pomfrey?" Lee asked, helping him sit up.
"No," Fred assured them, still chuckling. "I'm fine. George, we'll need a detention tomorrow."
The others looked like they were quickly approaching Ron's opinion. "Why?" George asked, not quite ready to give up on his twin's sanity.
"You don't honestly want to leave poor Severus in Snape's hands for his first bath, do you?" The seven Gryffindors other than the twins looked between the twins, Snape, and the baby with looks of bemused horror. George slapped his forehead. "We didn't get baby shampoo!" he exclaimed loud enough to carry to the staff table.
"Misters Weasley!" Snape said, pitching his voice to carry to them, but not much farther. "Detention tomorrow for your forgetfulness."
Snape and McGongall both wore expressions of stunned disbelief when the twins gave synchronized shouts of joy.
Ron spoke for almost all who heard the exchange, when he lamented, "Completely crackers."
He was grading third year Hufflepuff essays when the Mark burned that night. Having been expecting a summons for the last week, he grabbed the already prepared black baby bag, the child, wrapped again in his black blanket, and left the room and the castle. He Apperated the moment he passed the barriers, and arrived in a forest clearing. He was, as usual, the last to arrive.
"Ssseverusss, what isss all thisss?"
In answer, he held up his glowing blue wrist, and said only, "I had no choice, my lord, but to bring him." The dark lord approached him, and he sank to his knees and bowed his head.
Dry, papery fingers pried at the child held tightly against Snape's chest. "Let me sssee him."
The child was awake. As Snape shifted the baby so Voldemort could see his face, the child, too, was able to see the dark lord. Snape tried to project feelings of safety and protection at him, praying that he did not begin to cry. Tiny hands reached toward the glowing red eyes, but thankfully the infant did not scream in terror. Snape caught both arms at fragile wrists and held them down.
"Who isss hisss mother?"
"He hasn't one, my lord. He is a stork's delivery. Whoever the girl was, the stork Secret Keeps her name and identity."
"You mussst have sssome idea."
Severus shook his head, "The only women that could possibly bear my child should be all dead, my lord. One of them must have survived, but, which one, I could not tell you."
The dark lord frowned as he circled Snape. "A muggle or a mudblood then. He is unworthy."
"My lord, a muggle would not have been able to summon a stork, and most mudbloods believe them to be myths. My belief was that one of the ministry's pureblood wives or daughters did it. Beyond that, my lord, are you familiar with the muggle theory of cloning?"
Voldemort frowned. "No."
Snape flinched at the venom in the word and decided that bringing up muggle science again would not be in his best interest. "May I explain what happens to a stork delivered baby, my lord?"
"Very well. Report."
"The bird, or possibly the mother, or maybe both, cast a spell that will . . . change the baby, sometimes even so much as switching its gender. The more the mother does not want the child to have any part of her, the more the child will be like the father, often to the point that the child is an exact duplicate of the father. I raped this girl, my lord, I am one of the Death Eaters that killed her family and would have killed her, too, if whatever fluke allowed her to survive hadn't happened. I imagine she wants nothing whatsoever to do with my offspring. I am certain Severus Denuo carries only my blood."
The long white fingers touched the infant's brow, his other hand touched Snape in the same place. He felt magic thrill through him, and by the child's shiver, he imagined the same happened to the boy. He kept his attention firmly fixed on his son and his knowledge of storks, in case whatever it was the Dark Lord was doing could pick up thoughts.
The magic abruptly stopped, and the dark lord stepped away to consider the kneeling Death Eater before him. "The child isss a vulnerability."
"For me, yes. I will be easily identified. However, raids that expect no survivors should be perfectly safe. My greatest risk, really, is the mother, my lord. Tomorrow, when the Daily Prophet, no doubt, breaks the news of a Hogwarts professor being storked, she may come out of hiding to denounce me. However, it is equally likely that she will be too frightened to say anything."
Voldemort frowned for a long moment, then nodded. "Ssso be it. He will be Marked."
"What?" Snape and another Death Eater exclaimed together. "My lord, Draco has not even been Marked yet," the other Death Eater protested.
"Severus Denuo is only a baby, my lord, the pain could kill him," Snape added, pulling the child protectively to his chest instinctively.
"It need not be painful," Voldemort denied, utterly ignoring Lucius. "Give the child here."
No. A cruel smile touched inhuman bloodless lips. "If you are loyal to me, you will give the child here, Ssseverusss."
I'm sorry, child, he thought, guilt, regret, and self-hatred folding in on him as he gave up his firstborn to the dark lord. "Support his neck," Snape instructed quietly. He dared not watch, as Voldemort caught the infant's thin, weak left arm in his hand. His eyes closed, and he felt a stirring and tingling in his own Mark. He fought to remain dry-eyed. Soon, the child was returned to him, shaking more than a little, but amazingly, still not crying.
Snape caught sight of the Mark blemishing his child's innocent skin and nearly broke down into wailing sobs himself. Guilt and self-disgust rose in a wave, nearly drowning him. He only managed to pull himself free of it when the child began to whimper. He reached into the black baby bag and pulled out the black bottle. The sight of a kneeling Death Eater, feeding a Marked baby with a black bottle in front of the Dark Lord himself, in the middle of a Death Eater Meeting, was ridiculous enough to prompt one or two of the circle to break into quiet chuckles.
Voldemort, too, gave a tight smile. Or perhaps he simply pressed his lips together. "You may take you placcce, now, Ssseverusss."
The meeting thereafter took its normal course until the end. "Ssseverusss, Luciusss, and Anton, ssstay. The ressst of you may leave." When the others had disapperated, Voldemort spoke again, "Luciussss, asssertain that Ssseverusss isss ssstill capable of assssissssting a raid. Pick any muggle housssse." Then, he, too, was gone.
"Storked, Severus?" Lucius asked as soon as they were alone, aside from Anton Avery.
"It could as easily have been you," Snape returned sharply.
"None of those girls survived, and you know it, Snape."
"Lucius, I live at Hogwarts, who else do you suppose it could have been? McGonagall? A student? Trelawny?" As a former school governor and the interim Headmaster during that short stint a few years back, Lucius had seen more of the old fruit bat than he would ever want to in several lifetimes. According to her Inner Eye, Lucius was supposed to divorce Narcissa for her.
When Lucius had made a remark involving the phrase 'in your dreams', her response had be 'exactly!' Snape still enjoyed remembering the resultant look on Lucius's face.
"We should get to work," Anton said nervously, watching the tension grow between the other two Death Eaters.
Lucius pulled himself back into Death Eater mode, and rattled off an address. The three apperated immediately. Knowing he was under close observation, Snape did nothing to help the victims, an old couple with no children living with them. Not having anywhere to put the baby, he used only magical tortures. Severus Denuo began crying the moment the woman began screaming. Even under torture, this new sound brought the muggles' attention to him, and the man spat. "Sick bastards."
Lucius' eye was on him, he could literally feel it. Whispering a shushing noise at the baby, he turned his wand on the man. "Imperio!" The woman was under Anton's crucio, which made the rape her husband gave her hurt all the more. She died first, then, after Snape released the Imperius, and the man realized what his body had done, Snape finished him off with the Killing curse. Only then did he turn his full attention to the wailing infant.
When the sobs lessened, he looked to Lucius. "Did I pass?" he asked in apparent unconcern.
Lucius sneered. "Top marks. But the baby failed."
Snape sneered back. "He wasn't the one being tested. Next time, I will make it so he can't be heard before we begin." Or hear. Or see.
"Why didn't you this time?"
"Because, if I had, you would have decided I was paying more attention to the child than the raid."
"Can we go now?" Anton begged. Lucius nodded, and the three were gone, leaving only two corpses on the bed.
Albus Dumbledore looked up from the school budget form that he had been uselessly twittling his quill over for the last three hours. The cause of that nervous inattention entered his office and took a seat in his normal chair. The man's child was held close to his chest, and was wrapped confiningly in the black blanket. An equally black baby bag was dropped to the floor beside the chair.
Severus began without preamble. "Voldemort intends to pick up the frequency of attacks on muggles and muggleborn over the summer. In particular, he's looking to hit current muggleborn students while they are home. Miss Granger's name was specifically mentioned."
Albus nodded sorrowfully. "I will extend an invitation for all muggleborn and half and half families to stay at Hogwarts over the summer."
"Albus, that's an awful lot of people. Almost a quarter of the students are one or the other."
The headmaster nodded, but there was very few other options. "It might be a bit cramped but we'll make do. The other three quarters won't be present, after all."
Severus nodded. "That was the extent of future plans we discussed, aside from the implications of," he nodded at the child, "Severus Denuo. I attended an attack on an elderly muggle couple this evening to prove I was still capable."
"And how," Albus searched for a delicate way to phrase his question, "did Voldemort take the news of your fatherhood?"
Severus grimaced. "Once he was convinced the child was not part muggle, he was quite delighted," a sneer formed on that forbidding face, and the depths of hatred in it were not directed only at Voldemort. Albus's heart went out to the younger man. "I should have let him think the boy was unworthy. He couldn't have been killed without killing me. I feared, though, that they would start taking my failures out on the child. So I told him the boy carries only my blood."
"What happened, Severus?"
The potions master did not speak for a long time. Then Albus gaped like a first year as a single tear dripped down the pale face. "He Marked him, Albus," Severus whispered. The voice twisted in self-hatred, "I swore I wouldn't let him follow my path, but I haven't even had him a day, and it already happened."
"You didn't have a choice," the words sounded inane even to Albus.
"Neither did he!" the potions master snarled with a violent gesture at the baby. Severus Denuo began to cry, either sensing his father's anger, or because of the sudden jarring. Albus blinked in surprise as Severus calmed immediately and began shushing the child. "Quiet, child. Shhh. Daddy's not mad at you."
When they were both visibly calmer, Albus spoke again, his eyes twinkling, "The Weasleys are giving him a bath tommorrow, yes?"
Severus sighed in what looked like resignation or exasperation. Albus had known him long enough to pick up the amusement. "Yes, that's their plan."
"May I see his left arm?"
Severus sat up abuptly in alarm. "Oh, Merlin. He'll never be able to wear short sleeves."
"May I see his left arm?" Albus repeated.
Severus laid the child on his lap and fumbled through several layers of black cloth until he could extract the arm. The mark stood out starkly against the pale skin and the arm's delicate and fragile appearance. It was an aberration to see that curse on a babe. Severus must have read that thought on his face, because he turned his head away in shame. "It's not your fault, Severus."
"He was Marked because he is my son. How is that not my fault?"
Albus sighed, crossing around his deck and taking the tiny, Marked arm in his hand. He made a final effort to pull Severus from his guilt, but had already inwardly conceded the battle, "Even if you did know that was the reason, which you don't, do you blame those muggles that died tonight for being muggles?"
"That's entirely different, Albus."
Severus glared, but at least he was meeting Albus' eyes again. "There is nothing wrong with being a muggle. There is something very wrong with being a Death Eater and a father through rape."
Albus nodded. Severus knew that he couldn't argue that, though he probably would have pointed out that Severus was no longer a true Death Eater, if he thought it would help ease the man's conscience. But he knew it wouldn't, and Albus was still trying to recover from the shock of learning that his potions master was a rapist. He might understand the Slytherin's reasoning behind it, but it was something he could never condone, even for a Death Eater spy.
Instead of continuing the losing argument, he closed his eyes and concentrated on a strong concealment charm. When he opened them again, the small arm was unblemished. "That will hide it from everyone not deliberately looking for a Dark Mark they know beyond doubt is there."
"And if they are?"
"They will see it." Albus looked at the arm, to see the Mark, and internally flinched when he did. He looked away and glanced down again thinking about a joke he wanted to tell the Giant Squid, and the arm was clear.
Eve Larson picked at her breakfast of bacon and eggs. In truth, she had more interest in the soothing tea than the meal. Her hand drifted to her empty abdomen. Empty, not for lack of food but lack of devilspawn. She smiled grimly. She could finally close that chapter of her life, and now, with the stork's help, no one could tie her back to Karen Oakley who died last August in her parents' house. Eve still didn't know why she woke up the next morning.
She should, by all rights, be dead. She'd been crucio'ed. She'd been raped. She'd been poisoned. And just before the poison sent her to unconsciousness, she'd heard the crucio'er tell the rapist to finish her off with the killing curse. That should have been her end. And yet she woke the next day, in agony, yes, but she woke. The very pain was reassurring by its proof that she was alive. She alerted the ministry when she found her parents' bodies, but she was gone before they arrived. She thought it best, for her own safety, that no one know there was a survivor. She couldn't identify any of them after all. The only head she'd seen wasn't at the end of a neck, but a prick.
But that was over now, she told herself, shaking the nightmare memories away. The stork would see that the rapist suffered. Let his wife ask about where the kid came from. Let his employer fire him if he can't keep the spawn quiet in the office. Let him deal with the baby he tried to foist off on her. Well, no. He had tried to kill her. But he had only succeeded in getting her pregnant. And now nobody but her remembered even that indignity. She smiled, in smug triumph. She had won and come out on top.
An owl arrived with the day's Prophet and she thanked it, giving it a slice of her bacon. It hooted and flew off. She opened the newspaper and froze.
Hogwarts Professor Storked!
The picture showed the stork zeroing in on the startled professor, standing beside a door in the school's Great Hall. Opening his arms. And catching the devilspawn that dropped from the stork's beak. The picture was credited to Colin Creevy, a fourth year Gryffindor.
She noted these details in shocked detachment. With a sense of unreality, she read the article. The Professor's name was Severus Snape. He was unmarried. Head of Slytherin House. The school's potions master. His stork delivery had come as a shock to everyone. Colin Creevy, the muggle-raised photographer, was quoted as saying, "He's the potions master, not a living human. He never leaves the dungeons except to eat." If there was some kind of contradiction about a 'not a living human' eating, Creevy didn't seem to notice it. "I can't imagine him having a parent, nevermind being one."
Lee Jordan, a seventh year Gryffindor, also spoke to the reporter. "Well, if anyone had to get a stork to give him an heir, it would be Snape. Well, I guess he could brew one up in his cauldron, too." Jordan apparently didn't know much about storks.
All Slytherins refused comment, as did most of the staff. Snape himself wasn't anywhere to be found. Albus Dumbledore only came on record as saying, "We give Severus our full support." An anonymous student remarked, "What surprises me about Snape getting Storked is that he got someone pregnant to begin with. He doesn't like anybody. Well, except Malfoy, but Draco can't get pregnant."
Eve folded the newspaper, hiding the cover story, and sat back in her chair, practicing breathing exercises as she reviewed the facts.
She was raped by a Death Eater.
She got pregnant.
She had a baby.
She storked the devilspawn off to its devil of a father.
The Potions Professor at Hogwarts gets storked that same day.
Conclusion: The Potions Professor at Hogwarts is a Death Eater.
Dang it all anyway. She wasn't supposed to have found out who the bastard was who did this to her. He was just supposed to quietly carry on with his life with the reminder of his crime always at his side. But the bastard was a teacher. At Hogwarts. With Dumbledore's support. And Harry Potter is a student there.
Karen Oakley, daughter of Benjamin Oakley, the late Head of the Department of Magical Crimes, had one final duty before she could be laid to rest and Eve could carry on. She went to the fireplace and flooed to the Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade, and started the climb to Hogwarts.
She was met at the gate by the groundskeeper, Hagrid. "I need to talk to Headmaster Dumbledore, it's important."
He opened the gate and let her in, though he kept a wary eye on her. "If yeh'll come this way?" He led her into the castle, through several corridors, and eventually to a gargoyle. "Chewy Chompers," he said with a grin and a wink at her. The gargoyle jumped aside, and they stepped onto the moving spiral staircase. The Headmaster looked almost exactly as she remembered him. He smiled brightly, with a twinkle in the blue eyes behind half-moon glasses. She wondered if it was the same pair he had some fifteen years ago.
"Miss Oakley, if I remember correctly?" he asked, sounding fairly certain of her name despite his question.
She nodded, but before she could speak, he looked at Hagrid, "Thank you, Rubeus. You may go."
When the groundskeeper had left, he nodded that she could begin. She took a deep breath, and decided to just spit it out quickly. "Your potions professor is a Death Eater."
She was more than a little suprised when he nodded. "If you are, as I believe, the sender of Severus's stork, I understand why you would believe that."
She frowned. "Why I would believe that?" she repeated in disbelief. She was about to detail - graphically - exactly how she knew it when he raised his hands in a gesture that called for silence.
"Miss Oakley, I know what you suffered under his hand. There is nothing I or he can do or say to make up for that. I do ask, however, that you trust me enough to believe that he is not a Death Eater."
She opened her mouth again, to denounce the bastard until the deluded Headmaster saw facts, but again he made that gesture for quiet.
"Severus is a spy, Miss Oakley. It is because of the Draught of the Living Death he gave you, under the cover of your rape, that you survived. It was a rape, yes, but it was one that saved your life."
"You allow him to do that?"
The Headmaster closed his eyes and massaged the lids for moment. "As a general rule, he does not tell me what he must do to keep his cover. I was not aware he had ever raped anyone until I spoke to him after the stork arrived. His rationalization was sound, and though I do not approve, I have not forbidden it. Truthfully, Miss Oakley, would you rather be dead? If you answer yes, I will forbid it, and he will listen."
She looked away, focussing on the red feathered bird in the corner. A pheonix. Born again periodically from the ashes. Would she have rather not woken up again the next day? The pregnancy was hell, but she still had most of her life before her. She shook her head. "No. I can't forgive his methods, but I would rather be alive."
The Headmaster nodded, then spoke sadly, "If it makes you feel any better, he does not forgive his methods either."
She would hold her own opinion on that one.
"Miss Oakley, what you did with the stork was, perhaps, not the best thing for your son -"
"I birthed a girl, Headmaster. She was, in some literal definition of the word, my daughter, but the boy the stork delivered has nothing of me."
The headmaster closed his eyes in extreme sorrow. "Severus expected as much. Still, the child will be good for him, and I thank you for that gift."
She stared at him. "It was not meant as a gift."
"Nor was he received as one. But, already, Severus has shown signs of, well, 'lightening up' would be far too strong a phrase." Dumbledore smiled in fond reminiscence, "I believe it will be months before Lee Jordan and Colin Creevy recover from his words after reading this morning's newspaper. It is fortunate that Mr. Jordan finishes here in a few weeks, or he would be in detention for the rest of next year as well. I doubt very much that Mr. Creevy will enjoy his next three years worth of potions class. There has been a bounty placed on the identity of the anonymous student by both Mr. Malfoy and Professor Snape. I do not envy his or her position should anyone reveal them. Mr. Malfoy's statement that he was not 'doing' the potions professor was quite loud and very public, and I have never seen Severus turn that colour before."
In spite of herself, she blushed and giggled uncomfortably.
"I fear he will need to leave Hogwarts before they live down the rumour," the Headmaster added, chuckling merrily. "I did warn Severus not to favour him quite so openly. No one will dare repeat in front of either of them, though."
"And the 'lightening up' bit comes in, where?" she asked doubtfully.
"Oh," he smiled cheerfully, "He gave the Weasley twins detention today." She failed to see how that constituted 'lightening up'. The Headmaster tried to exlpain, grinning widely, "They'll be teaching Severus how to give the baby a bath."
She blinked, and was thankful again for the stork's taking that responsibility away from her.
But the image in her mind of the Death Eater and vile Potions Professor did not mesh with the idea of him giving a baby a bath. It did not mesh with the idea of him with a baby at all. For the first time, she saw the thing as a child, not evil devilspawn. "Is the -" she still couldn't call it anything positive or even neutral aloud, though, "- brat going to be all right with him?"
The Headmaster raised white eyebrows, "It is a tad bit late to worry about that, don't you think?"
It wasn't until Hagrid escorted her back through the gates that she realized the old wizard never answered her question.
Late that night a non-descript brown owl arrived in her living room, she took the package it carried, gave it a treat, and sent it on its way. Curiously, she opened the box, finding a note at the top. Before delving into the layers of tissue paper, she unfolded the small parchment. Miss Oakley, it said in a spidery script, The Headmaster told me of your visit. The d. lord is looking to find who survived, so I suggest you leave England. Included are potions for changing your appearance, should you choose to do so. The red one will change the volume and colour of your hair, while the blue will affect your skin tone. Taking four drops will result in a change for a period of two months. Taking the whole bottle will result in a permanent alteration. Facial changes are best not left to potions, else I would have included one for that as well. I will not say I am sorry for what I did. Given the circumstances over, I would do the same. In truth, I have. It was not signed.