The Last Battlefield
Chapter 4 - Corrupting The Young
"Very nice, Miss Weasley. What do you call it?"
Ruby lifted her brush from the page and stuck the bristles in her mouth. She made a face and dropped the brush on the floor.
"Ah, I see." He picked it up, daubed it in some more of the harmless (if bitter) paint he'd mixed for her, and once more closed her fist around it for her. A piece of parchment hovered in the air in front of her seat. Beaming, she smacked it with the brush, leaving more streaks and splotches and thoroughly drenching herself in crimson splatters.
Severus watched for a moment with a smirk of amusement and set to his own work again. The heavy watercolour block on the dining room table bore a rather nice little sketch of the infant Monet herself. He dabbled a round brush in the excruciating orange sitting on his glass palette, and attempted to make her hair look like hair rather than an explosion in a pumpkin juice factory. It collided with the brown he'd already laid down, bleeding until the whole mess resembled some sort of mould colony. "Bollocks."
"Professor! Not in front of Ruby."
"I'll say whatever I bloody well please in my own house, Mistress Granger-Weasley!"
"Hermione. Oh, Ruby. You look like an axe murderer." Hermione plucked the brush from Ruby's hand, inciting a squawk, and lifted her from her baby seat. "Honestly. You could at least let her paint in just her nappy." She picked at one of the red stains on Ruby's playsuit while Ruby grabbed a handful of ungodly bushy hair and stuck it in her mouth.
"I'd think you'd be more worried about your own spawn than that." Severus motioned towards the back door with his brush. "It is eight degrees out there and dropping. The moment anyone barged in she'd be chilled to the bone. Anyhow, I don't think she wants to become a naturist, do you, Miss Weasley?" He touched a dab of orange to her nose. Ruby grinned.
Hermione sniffed. "Well. At least make her something besides red next time. People are going to think I've let my daughter wander loose in a slaughterhouse."
Severus harrumphed and went back to his painting. Several moments later he became aware of a bushy head tipping over his shoulder. He flicked an eyebrow. "Do you need something?"
"Only watching what you're doing."
"I didn't request an audience."
"I know." She didn't budge.
"You know, you used to be afraid of me."
"That was before I heard you singing to a newborn."
Severus turned his head and shot her his most alkaline glare. "It would be in your best interest not to mistake a moment of insanity for a kind and temperate nature."
"And you can't be that bad or Harry would have left you at Hogwarts."
"Starting to wish he had," Snape muttered between his teeth.
"Hush. I'm going to take Ruby to have a bath, and I expect her to remain reasonably clean this time." Hermione shot Severus a look as she spoke.
"Then perhaps you ought to learn a few spells for her clothing? I believe there's one called 'Impervius' you might find handy."
"Didn't I tell you to hush?"
"Did I indicate I had any intention of listening to you?"
She rolled her eyes. "I swear, you're worse than Ruby."
The Floo chime sounded. "Oh, He--heck," Hermione muttered. Severus started to get to his feet to answer it, but Hermione barked a firm, "Sit!"
Much to his surprise, he sat.
She smirked. "I'm going to have to remember that. You, stay here. It's probably only Harry, and he'll pitch a fit if he sees you running about. I'll yell if it's important."
"Not around my goddaughter's delicate--"
"Harry's goddaughter's delicate ears, Professor. You, sit. Malinger." She scurried towards the sitting room, still clutching Ruby (who had started babbling something about 'ba ba ba ba brr', whatever those were).
Severus sniffed to himself. As always, he tried to ignore the slow, sinking feeling in his stomach whenever he was reminded of the small fact of Ruby's godparentage. Swishing his brush in the miniature pewter cauldron now relegated to such use, he pushed his chair back and eased himself to his feet.
He heard the damned werewolf before he'd even reached the sitting room. "... I'm sorry, but I can't get hold of Harry, and I don't know what else to do."
"Oh, dear. And Ron and I have to help the twins take inventory this weekend. We can't reschedule, they've been putting it off for two weeks already."
"Think he'd mind coming to Hog--no, the doctor said he needs to stay home." Lupin sighed. "Bollocks."
"You're allowed to call me Remus, you know. Hmm. He hasn't got any family. I don't really want to put him and Sirius in the same room in the state they're in or I'd bring him with to Saint Mungo's. Don't think the doctor would mind that so much."
"Can one of the other professors go with Sirius? Or Madam Pomfrey?"
"I've tried that. Says he doesn't want anyone but me to go with him. I don't even know how he got a mediwizard appointment on a Saturday to begin with."
"Mediwizard or mediwitch?"
Hermione chuckled. "As the twins would say, he's mackin' on the doc."
Lupin sighed again. "I'm so, so sorry for this. I was actually looking forward to staying with him this weekend." Severus snorted to himself. He hung in the foyer, listening.
"Er, are you feeling all right?" Hermione asked.
"Severus isn't that bad. He's mellowed a lot since Harry gave him something to focus on."
Severus gave a short, sharp, "Hah!" A moment later he heard Hermione mutter something, followed by footsteps. She poked her head out into the entryway.
"I thought I told you to stay put."
"You did." He brushed past her into the sitting room. Lupin (whose head seemed to be toasting nicely) was pulling faces at Ruby; she lay, gurgling into her slobbery foot, on the hearthrug. Severus nodded to the blasted werewolf. "Nice to see you showing your age, Lupin."
Lupin popped his jaw back into place and beamed up at him. "Hallo, Severus! Feeling any better?"
"I will begin feeling better when people stop asking me if I'm feeling any better." He sat down in his chair and folded his hands primly in his lap.
"Ignore him," Hermione muttered at Lupin. "He's only trying to get your hackles up."
"Sorry, wrong time of the month for that."
Severus glanced at him, surprised. "You're annoyingly chipper today."
Lupin tried to hide a shy smile. "My seventh years are studying werewolves. They all think it's cool."
"And I suppose you'll be giving them a live demonstration?"
"Ah, no. I'd rather not receive a Howler from every parent in the school. Don't think Minerva would be too pleased, either."
Severus grunted. "I hear that mongrel that keeps following you about is finally being put down this weekend?"
"No, but he's got to go back and have his leg looked at again. Some of the connective tissues aren't healing like they're supposed to, and he needs to see an Animagus specialist. He says he's going to learn to set bones so he can repay the favour, by the way."
"How many is he planning to break?"
Lupin shot him a mock glare. "A fragment of his tibia is about two millimetres off. The doctors say it isn't a problem, but he's been grumping. You two are so similar sometimes it's eerie."
Before Severus could bellow that he was not similar to Sirius Black in any way, shape, or - a large amount of the time - form, Lupin said, "Speaking of doctors, aren't you supposed to be in bed?"
"That's none of your business."
"Harry said it's my business, so it's my business."
Severus growled. "Somebody's sleeping on the couch tonight," he muttered under his breath. Hermione laughed.
"Probably you, when he finds out you've been sitting around painting all day."
Severus glared at her. "Aren't you supposed to be stripping the paint from your daughter?"
She shook her head. "This is more fun."
"Oh, bloody... Lupin, tell me who my punisher for the weekend shall be and kindly get out of my sight."
"Er, I don't know yet. I'd hoped Hermione might have some ideas."
"And does she?"
Hermione shook her head, pulling Ruby into her lap. "I'd ask Ginny, but she's working, and Molly and Arthur are watching Ruby. Even after the twins, I'm not sure they're up to taking care of the both of you. Maybe one of the other professors?"
"Which one? Rolanda's going to Harry's match, been bragging about her ticket for days," Lupin said. "Minerva's got things she needs to do for Merlin-knows-who, Filius is taking his sixth and seventh years on an outing to Berlin so they can see some exhibition on charms development and he's got half of the staff going with him, and I think Neville would wet himself if I suggested it."
"Which leaves whom?" Severus narrowed his eyes.
Lupin bit his lip in thought. "Poppy, but she can't leave the school. There's always Hornsby--"
"No. I didn't appreciate his lectures on the intricacies of Muggle culture when I was teaching, and I'm not about to tolerate them now. I'd die of boredom!"
"Okay, I can see your point there." Lupin made a thoughtful noise. "Corbin's off with Filius, or I'd ask him. The only other person I can think of is Vector, but I don't think Harry--"
"I really don't think she will, Severus. I know she and Harry don't get on."
"They do well enough."
"Would you rather I joined you at Saint Mungo's?"
Lupin sighed. "Okay, I'll talk to her, but I want to get Harry's approval first. I don't even know if she's got plans, either."
"Or I could be treated like a grown man and allowed to--"
"I'll talk to Vector."
Severus smirked. "I thought you'd see it my way."
Lupin's head shuddered. "Brilliant. Going to have to scour my eyeballs in that case."
Hermione squinted back and forth between the two of them. "You've been spending too much time around him," she told Lupin.
"I know. It's contagious, isn't it?"
She nodded. With vigour.
Severus sniffed. "Now that you've named my executioner, will you kindly remove your skull from out my house, Lupin?"
"It's my house, too."
"Not during the school year. I'm thinking of renting out your room."
Lupin rolled his eyes. "Fine, I've got some owls to post before dinner anyway. Have a lie-down, okay?"
Lupin shook his head, grinning a little. "I'll see you later, Hermione. Bye, Ruby, sweetie."
Ruby stuck her tongue out. Hermione said, "See you later, Professor."
"It's Remus!" He shot her an exasperated look, beamed, and vanished from the fireplace with a pop.
Ruby reached out for the hearth, going, "Ba ba ba ba," again. (Apparently, it meant "blasted fuzzy-arsed werewolf.") Hermione shifted her so she was leaning against a shoulder.
"Come on, Little Miss Michelangelo, you need a bath." She rose to her feet with far less effort than anyone ought to require while holding nearly a stone of chatty infant. "You too, Professor, it's time for your nap."
Severus growled. He gripped the arms of his chair. "I think I'll stay here if it's all the same."
"Well, it's not, so you'd better come quietly, or I'll make you come with. I'm perfectly capable of holding a baby and a wand at the same time."
"I'm capable of sleeping in my chair, you know. Not that I've got any intentions of slee--"
"Oh, for fuck's sake," Severus muttered under his breath as he was jerked out of his chair. Fighting the spell enough to reach into his sleeve, he withdrew his wand. "Finite Incantatem."
The tugging sensation at his joints vanished, and his feet hit the floor. He straightened his robe with a jerk, sneered, and brushed past the overly-clever little cow before she could violate his person with any more of her overly-clever little cow ideas.
"To bed," she called behind him. Severus just stifled the urge to respond with a very rude gesture.
If he were honest with himself, which he occasionally was, Severus was, in fact, a bit sleepy. He pondered this a moment as he lingered outside the bedroom door.
"Inside," came the no-nonsense voice he'd learned to loathe even more over the previous three days.
He shot a glare over his shoulder. "I'll go inside when I'm good and ready."
"If you're good and go in right now, I'll bring Ruby in for a nap once she's had her bath."
Severus grunted, but he swept inside anyway. "Damnable woman," he muttered under his breath. He shouted, "I should have failed you when I had the chance!"
"Get a Time-Turner."
The door made a most satisfactory slamming noise when he kicked it. "Maybe I'll do that, Mistress Granger-Weasley."
Muttering about the caliber of person with whom he was forced to associate, he dragged his robe over his head, hung it in the wardrobe, dropped his shirt in the washing hamper, and pulled on his nightshirt. Stifling a yawn with the back of his hand, he crawled under the battered duvet and resolved that he would not fall asleep.
Gentle fingers pushed a lock of hair from his jaw. "Wake up, sleepyhead."
The voice was all wrong. Severus was sure he'd just been in Gran's laboratory, helping her give the control rats their daily placebo. He muttered, "I'm not asleep. I was dosing the control group."
"Uh-huh. Looks more like you dosed yourself. Or are you just worn out from painting all day like you're not supposed to?"
He opened one eye. Harry had stretched across the bed from the foot. His head rested on a pillow a quarter of the way down the duvet. Thick, black waves of hair hung in his face, obscuring his glasses but not the fact that his eyes were hooded and tired. Still, he managed a soft smile, and as ever it sent a subtle rush of warmth through Severus' chest.
"Hi," Harry said. He motioned with his head. "You've got company."
Severus arched an eyebrow. He turned his head enough to make out a small clump of bushy red hair sticking out of a corral of pillows. Ruby smacked her lips and went back to sleep.
"Ah." Severus turned back to Harry. "I assure you, this isn't what it looks like."
Harry snorted. "You're a sick fuck, you know that?" He slid forward and pecked Severus on the lips. Leaning over him, Harry said, "I stopped by the Post Office over lunch."
"Any new catastrophes?"
Harry shook his head. "A couple of minor curses, and a few more letters from our adoring legions." His cheeks flushed pink. "And some witch in Cardiff reckons she could turn me towards women if I went to see her for a night."
Severus snorted. "Doesn't work, believe me."
Harry shifted back onto the bed. "Yeah. Um, is that 'living in sin' offer still good? I mean, between the Cannons fans and the letters I'm ready to change my name and disappear into the Highlands."
Severus sniffed. Its effectiveness was hindered by a sudden yawn. "You ought to have thought of that sooner," he said when he'd regained control of his mouth.
Harry sighed. "Oh, well. Suppose Sirius wouldn't be able to try to send you to your room without dinner if that happened."
"You're right. Give me the bloody watch."
Harry blew him a raspberry. "Hush." He ran a lazy finger along the edge of the duvet over Severus' chest. "Just so you know, I'm knackered. If you want any real cooking done you can do it yourself."
"I'm sure Doctor Westing would be elated to hear that you're testing his handiwork so soon."
"Yeah, reckon if he has to bring you back from the dead again he might be able to make you human this time."
"And what is that supposed to mean?"
Harry shrugged. "Well, we did think you were a vampire for a while in sixth year--"
Severus snapped at Harry's finger. Harry jerked it back and giggled. "Reckon we were right, then. Now I know what you were doing under the covers all that time. Interesting way to suck my blood."
Severus glared. It covered a swallow, and, if he was lucky, the suggestive heat that rose in his face. He reminded himself that Ruby was asleep not a foot away from him; the thought cooled most of the dull burn low in his abdomen. "Are you requesting a bleeding, Potter?" he asked with a haughty tilt of his head.
Something like longing flickered across Harry's eyes. "Not right now," he said quickly. "Think it'd knock me cold for a week."
"Hmm." Severus reached out and stroked Harry's cheek with his thumb. "Has your insufferable friend decided to leave and conveniently forgotten her daughter?"
"Nah, she's cleaning up your mess. I think she was trying to hide the evidence before I got home. That stuff you made Ruby isn't coming off the floor, you know."
"Then she's obviously doing something wrong."
"What's in it?"
"Nothing that ought to bring down your mongrel godfather's wrath."
Severus huffed. "Vegetable pigment, sterilised egg yolk, water, and quinine."
"Er, expecting a malaria breakout?"
"Would you care to taste it?"
Harry shuddered. "Ah."
"Precisely." Severus yawned again. "Get some rest, Potter, you look exhausted."
Harry nodded; he turned his head a few degrees away. "Sounds nice," he said. For a moment, he looked at Ruby, his mouth pursed in thought. "Wonder if she'd wake up if I moved her over."
"If Miss Weasley is determined to sleep, I think she'll sleep."
"Think it'd be worth it before Hermione comes looking for her?"
Severus blinked. At the image of Harry sleeping next to him and Ruby curled up between them, a giddy sort of contentment sluiced through him. He tried to fight a smile but couldn't stop the corners of his mouth from quirking up. Harry snorted and smiled back.
"Greasy bastard," he murmured and kissed Severus once again, longer than before. His lips parted for a bare instant. Severus stifled a whimper. Harry pulled away before Severus' fingers could twine through his hair; he stood, stretched, and shuffled towards his very distant side of the bed.
Ruby squeaked when Harry disassembled the pillow corral. She opened her eyes as he shifted her closer to Severus, but within seconds they'd fallen shut again. Her mouth moved as though she were nursing. One pudgy hand reached out; Severus gave her a finger to hold, which she squeezed with all the vehemence a sleepy infant could muster.
Harry peeled off his glasses and settled on top of the duvet. He wriggled until he'd formed a safe, crescent-shaped barrier, not quite touching Ruby but very close. His toes brushed Severus' leg. He smiled. "Almost like having one of our own, isn't it?"
Severus blinked. A pill of sudden sadness caught in his throat. He nodded.
"Ever thought about what it'd be like to have kids?" Harry asked.
"Not for a very long time."
They were quiet for a few moments. Ruby had pulled Severus' hand closer until the tip of his finger rested against her cheek. He glanced up from her to see Harry watching with the faintest hint of a melancholy smile. His eyes, green as trees in summer, met Severus', and the smile widened. Harry slid an arm across the duvet just below where Ruby had curled up with her bum in the air. Through the heavy covers, Severus felt a small hand come to rest on his hip. He swallowed; it kept an unbearable sense of impermanent happiness from welling up in his sinuses and spilling out in painful waves.
"You know," Harry said so softly Severus could barely hear him over their breathing, "after the way you treated your students, I'd have never guessed you loved babies so much."
"Children are tolerable before they've been taught not to be. Or when they've been raised properly."
"Oh? And who decides if they've been raised properly?"
Harry rolled his eyes. "I can just see a whole generation raised to your standards. Sulky, sarcastic, sullen--"
"Intelligent, well-behaved, with more in their heads than Quidditch."
"Then what about that Falcons logo you've got in back of your journal?"
Severus sniffed. "Haven't the faintest idea what you're talking about."
"Hush. Greasy bastard."
Harry smiled. His eyes darted away, only to peek through a fringe of dark lashes. "We could adopt," he said. "I mean, it happens in the Muggle world all the time."
Severus arched an eyebrow at him. "I very much doubt any reputable agency would allow a child to go to a Quidditch-brained twit who can barely mix a Shrinking Solution and a verified recipient of Unicorn Blood poisoning with a dodgy heart." The words rent a hole in his throat.
"I don't know. I mean, you're getting better, the doctor said that potion's definitely doing something. Did you ever send them the formula?"
"If they say you're getting better, there's no reason we couldn't. Lots of people with heart trouble have kids. We don't even know it's not a short-term thing anyway."
"Which still doesn't fix the matter of the other parent. Not to mention the fact that your damnable godfather was an escaped felon and our other leech is a bloody werewolf."
"So? They're also Hogwarts professors. I mean that's got to count for something."
"Please don't." The words were soft, sad rather than venomous. Severus worked his finger free and draped his arm around Ruby. Won't do you any good to get your hopes up, old boy. You know damned good and well you're meant to deal with other people's children.
"Sorry," Harry whispered. "Only..." He trailed off. His eyes darted away. "Love you."
"I know." Severus brushed a piece of hair back from Harry's forehead where it had fallen. Harry didn't flinch, but he lifted his hand from Severus' hip and twined their fingers. Their hands came to rest on Ruby's small, warm back, rising and falling as she breathed.
"You oughtn't be in any short supply of godchildren," Severus said. "They are Weasleys, after all."
Harry chuckled. "True. Reckon there'll be another one by next Christmas?"
"Very possibly." Severus gave Ruby a pointed look. "I expect you to treat your brothers and sisters with respect, young lady."
"Yes, I rather expect you will."
"She can't understand a word you're saying, you know. She's only a baby."
Severus stroked her back with his thumb. "We understand each other well enough."
Harry said nothing, but he looked resigned enough to the fact.
It was several minutes later, when Harry's eyes had drooped and Severus was fighting to keep his open, that the inevitable soft knock landed on the door.
"Can I come in?" Hermione called.
"You can," Severus grumped, "but I don't know if you may."
"Pedantic enough, Sev?" Harry muttered under his breath.
Severus glared at him through a fog of exhaustion (Harry didn't notice - his eyes were still closed) and squeezed his maritus' hand. Harry made a little purring sound; he didn't budge.
The door swung open, and that godforsaken clump of hair poked in. "Oh, that's so cute."
"Mistress Granger-Weasley, please refrain from using that adjective in my presence."
"Hush. You're adorable."
Severus glared at her, growling low in his throat.
"It's not working." She leaned against the doorjamb, arms folded across her chest. "As much as I hate to, I've got to take a little one home."
"Then I suggest you start looking for one."
Harry cracked an eye. "Sev..."
"What if the little one in question isn't yet ready to go home?"
"Well, ready or not, Ron's almost got dinner on the table, and I'm starving." Hermione gave him a sharp look. "Anyway, she'll be back tomorrow."
Severus narrowed his eyes at her.
She narrowed hers in return.
She tapped her foot.
With a little sigh, he let go of Harry's hand. Stroking Ruby's back, he murmured, "I'm afraid it's time for you to leave, Miss Weasley. Perhaps if you're good you might come back someday."
Ruby squeaked, shifting. She settled a little bit closer to Severus.
Hermione shook her head. "I swear, she's not like that with anyone else. Not even Ron, and she's Daddy's Girl."
"It's the nose, I think," Harry said without opening his eyes. Hermione giggled.
Severus shot him a look. "You can go and finish your nap on the couch."
"Sure it's not the sarcasm?" Hermione asked.
"And you may kindly fuck off."
"Professor! Not in front of Ruby!"
"She hasn't a clue what it means."
"That's what I'm afraid of!" Hermione swept in, shoving Harry until he groaned and sat up, eyes still closed. "I mean, can you picture her first day of school? I can just see the owls from her teachers. 'Shows unusually extensive vocabulary; we would like to discuss this with you as soon as possible.' That's not a good thing."
"You could simply find her a tutor until she enters Hogwarts."
Hermione arched an eyebrow. "And who, exactly, do you suggest?"
"I could recommend someone with nearly twenty years of teaching experience--"
"Ah, no. Remember, I've seen you teach. And there'll be time to discuss it when you're fully conscious and she's older." She motioned towards Ruby. "Go on, I know you want to."
Severus muttered something about an appalling lack of respect for education, and kissed Ruby on top of the head. "Alas, it seems my wicked plans to implant some brains into your head have been thwarted."
Hermione leaned over Harry and picked her up. Ruby whimpered. Hermione cuddled her. "I know, he's just awful, isn't he?" She flashed him an apologetic look anyway.
Harry, eyes bleary and half shut, swung around to the edge of the bed. "Better get you home."
"I can see myself out. You need to rest."
Harry shook his head, yawning, and groped for his glasses. "You've already done all my tidying for me. Not just going to kick you out."
"Hush. I'm surprised you even managed to Apparate in the state you're in."
"Were you up all night or something?"
Harry shrugged. "Nightmares."
Hermione's eyes grew dark. "Oh, right, Ron mentioned something about that." She didn't look in Severus' direction. So one person doesn't know all of my horrible secrets. Something, I suppose.
She shifted Ruby against her chest. "Say goodbye to the professor, Ruby."
Severus grunted. Ruby mewled.
"I'll be back in a minute," Harry said. He looked a little unsteady on his feet.
"I thought I told you to sleep on the couch."
Harry rolled his eyes. "And if I did that you'd be in your chair in two minutes anyway."
Severus sniffed. "I might not."
"So yes, then."
"See you tomorrow, Professor," Hermione said.
"Do you have to?"
"I do if you want to see Ruby."
He glowered. Somehow, he didn't have a retort to that.
The door closed behind them. Severus stretched his arm across the bed, soaking up the fading warmth where Harry and Ruby had lain. It didn't shift a core of ice that had formed in his stomach. Stop it, Severus. Getting your hopes up isn't going to help anyone. You know perfectly well some things aren't meant to be.
Return to Archive | next | previous