Jerusalem, by busaikko
Written for Snupin Santa 2007 for severity_softly's second prompt, "Post-War AU where Remus wants to have a child; Severus has reservations." Despite there being seven (seven!) uses of the word 'sex' in the prompt, um. There is no porn. Apologies!
Warning: MPreg — no, wait, come back!; an extremely. . . impressionistic use of DH (I really couldn't bear to read it again) which makes it AU to the point of crack, though the story itself is not crack. Tonks and Teddy both made themselves integral to the plot (refer to 'crack', above), again, apologies.
Betas: Angel 1, who made Remus real; Angel 2, who cheerfully pointed out all the rotten bits; and Angel 3, who wielded canon and grammar like lethal weapons. The good is good because of them; the bad is mine alone.
The first time Remus brought it up was after a lazy Sunday morning fuck. We should have a baby, he said, blinking to stave off sleep, his face soft and half-mashed into the pillow, greying hair sweat-darkened and in a tangle. Severus' wand wasn't at hand, so he hadn't been able to snap back something scathing, but he glared in an attempt to convey you must be mad. Remus understood; he shut his eyes, and a minute later he rolled one shoulder up, putting his back to Severus.
This made Severus as angry as he could be with his body still unwound with orgasm. He grabbed Remus' wand — it was nearest — and drew the words on the bedroom wall in smoke letters a foot high and blood red. I can't think of two people more unsuited to be parents, he wrote, prodding Remus to make sure he read the words before he banished them. Mad, Dark, Criminal, Crippled, mostly Muggle — imagine being born into this freak show.
"Well," Remus said after a moment. "I have been imagining it."
Severus cleared the wall and put Why? in the centre.
Remus sighed. "Why? I don't know why. But I can see us with a child. I can see you being good with our child. I'd — " he jerked his shoulder, cutting himself off. Severus poked him with his wand again. Remus twisted away, laughing and covering the very ticklish spot with a hand. "I'd like to give that to you," he said, turning his head so he was looking straight up at Severus. His eyes were the colour of lichen on sun-warmed stone; he held Severus' gaze even as he reached up one wiry arm to pull Severus down into a kiss. The kiss ended with a soft breath and Remus falling asleep.
Severus glowered at him in chagrin, wanting to shake him awake and order him to go and make breakfast. But in the end he just twitched the sheet up from where it had been half-kicked to the floor and threw it over Remus before heading downstairs to do the Prophet's fiendishly difficult Aenigmacrostic.
Remus brought it up again when he returned from one of his monthly sessions at the Healer's, pale from the effects of whatever potions were being tested on him this month but with a strange, resolute excitement. Severus sat him down at the table and made a pot of strengthening tea. Remus did exercises to counteract the waxing of the moon, but his body still, as he put it, anticipated, and he had the habit of simply waving off any concern until he fell over; or he would do so, without Severus to take care of him.
Severus thought he understood more about Remus' difficulties now, after his own near brush with death and its lingering effects. He had not thanked Ron Weasley for the swift thinking that had saved his life. For the first few months he'd rather have choked to death on the bezoar that Weasley had summoned than have had to endure the indignities of survival. The venom from the snakebite had gone right to his head, and when he'd regained consciousness he had been blind, deaf, unable to breathe without assistance charms, and with transient paralysis in his extremities. His recovery had been driven by the overwhelming need to give all the stupid people around him a piece of his mind, so it had been ironic that the only handicap that remained when he walked out of St Mungo's was muteness, caused either by the poison or by the life-saving work of the Healers.
Severus hadn't been home three days — barely enough time to work up to a good snit, much less a reclusive brood — before Remus turned up on his doorstep. Remus had proved his handiness at do-it-yourself projects during the occupation of the house at Grimmauld Place. He scrubbed, washed, weeded, and repainted until Severus' house gave up old oppressions and turned bright and homely. Remus respected clutter, and he left it where it settled naturally, but where a dirty and untidy room was oppressive, a clean but unkempt room was familiar, comforting and comfortable.
It took a few weeks for Severus to realise that Remus had insinuated himself in amongst the clutter, camouflaged as one of those things that had been there so long that it was invisible to the eye. This skill at unobtrusiveness, together with a certain ruthlessness, had been responsible for Remus' survival of the final battle. For that, Severus supposed he appreciated the talent. But he thought that its usefulness had ended on that battlefield; he would rather not spend the rest of his days playing I Spy.
It had been easy to start sleeping with Remus again: they had nearly twenty years of practice, after all, though there had been the inevitable intermittent silences when Severus had been sure Remus was dead or worse; he supposed that Remus must have felt a similar uncertainly of himself, considering the circles he moved in. Sex was like a promise of survival; or it had been. But now, Severus found himself in the peculiarly awkward position of finally having to inventory just what had survived, and of wondering how they would evolve from here, because this time Remus wasn't going away.
"I got a job," Remus said one day, returning home weighted down with bags. "Lidl's had chicken Kiev on sale, and cauliflower, too."
"Here?" Severus asked, watching as Remus piled jars and cans into the left-hand cupboard of the dresser. He didn't know any other wizards nearby; though if Remus were working with wizards, he'd likely just commute by Floo.
"Just over New Mill Bridge," Remus said. "Right at the roundabout, past the chemist's."
"I refuse to be supported by a hairdresser." Severus found it hard to glare when Remus was looking at him with his eyebrows raised, obviously holding back his amusement. But it wasn't as if he'd asked Remus to fix the limp disaster of his hair; Remus had volunteered, and Severus wasn't one to refuse something offered for free. And he couldn't say he missed the grey.
"Then get your own bloody job," Remus said, and rapped the cooker with his wand. It rattled; he kicked it, and it started to glow.
"Don't think I can't," Severus said, shifting his chair to take advantage of the warmth.
He owled Minerva later, asking her to send the box with his research for a history of Slytherin House from the time of the founders, but that wasn't likely to put meals on the table soon. He made Remus build him a conservatory upstairs, extending out from the bedroom over the kitchen roof, and took on a few desperate students — those who needed remedial potions work for career advancement and who lacked the funds for a proper tutor. On a day with a good exchange rate, his contribution to the household occasionally surpassed Remus'. He doubted that he could be a kept man in his own home, anyway.
Remus bought himself a piano and spent his free time repairing it, until it would have been, as Severus pointed out, easier to have simply built the thing from magic from the start. But when Remus was finally satisfied, Severus listened to the music as he wrote — Remus was woefully out of practice, but his heart was in it — and grudgingly allowed that he didn't mind.
Sometimes Remus kissed him before going to work.
Sometimes Remus kissed him for no reason whatsoever.
Sometimes it felt as if they were free.
And sometimes, Remus came up with spectacularly bad ideas, desperate, horrible plans that Severus simply could not countenance. Like this plot he'd cooked up with his Healer, who was reputed to be a lycanthrope specialist and who therefore ought to know better than to suggest that Remus could or should have a child.
"No," Severus wrote on the table. "Probably not fatal is not the all-clear signal for you to go off and get pregnant."
"There are complications in any pregnancy," Remus said, blowing across his tea. "And Omoruyi thinks it could be done. She knows this OB/An — "
"Omoruyi ought to have her Healer's licence taken away for encouraging you," Severus snapped out in whipcord. "You have no idea what complications the monthly changes might cause." Remus tilted his head in a gesture that probably meant I hear you, but yet I am ignoring you, and sipped at his tea.
One of the dreadful things about having been raised in the Muggle world was how provincial he had felt upon leaving it, Severus remembered. Being able to use a television or the Underground, owning flared trousers — none of that mattered to wizards. It was all seen as a quaint form of compensation, pale imitations of real wonders. And then there was the culture shock, which was so shameful that it was unspeakable. To never have played with Wizard children; to not have been protected against common childhood illnesses and come down with dragon pox, hop-fever, and pixie flu all in first year (the Ministry not approving of vaccinations until 1983); to constantly be laughed at for ignorance of Wizarding customs. To have never talked about sex or birth or babies — to have had absolutely no idea that either parent could bear a child, in the Wizarding World.
He'd thought the LeGrange boy had been having him on when he'd asked Severus who'd borne him, his father or his mother. He'd not known who he could trust, and finally asked old Ogg, who'd never said a kind word to anyone and in fact regularly promised to flay the lot of them. Ogg had been blunt and insulting, and Severus had returned to his House with a stomach full of pumpkin brique and cinnamon tea and a mind full of terrifying mental images.
Speaking of which. . . Severus tapped his wand against his palm and looked at the owl, dozing on the coat rack, and the untidy pile of yesterday's post.
"Andromeda asked you to babysit for your wife again, didn't she?"
Remus shrugged. "He's at a difficult age, you know."
"Nymphadora Tonks was difficult at every age the first time around. I had no illusions that she was starting over wiser and more enlightened. She probably enjoys getting to fingerpaint with her food again."
"Teddy. You're supposed to call her — him — Teddy." There'd been no cure for the curse that Tonks had taken in the Department of Mysteries debacle, and St Mungo's had barely been able to keep her alive with vivifying potions. Andromeda had finally — desperately — staved off the curse by de-aging Tonks in the Time Room. Marrying her and holding her funeral a few days after she'd been infanticised had been Remus' idea, something about thwarting her enemies. (No one knew how she'd ended up male; Severus thought she'd done it on purpose, and that they'd all be in trouble when she hit puberty.) "Don't think I don't know who taught him to turn his hair Slytherin green whenever he sees me."
"It's funny," Severus said.
"It gives Dromeda fits," Remus said severely, but his eyes were crinkled with repressed laughter. "I also know you're teaching him how to curse in Wizarding Sign Language."
"It's the least I can do," Severus said, "considering." Considering that Remus' stupid Gryffindor chivalry meant that most people thought him to be a husband, a father, and a widower. Considering that most people thought he stayed with Severus because he was unhinged with grief — Remus was so shattered by the death of his pretty young wife that he could hardly bear to see his own son, that was what they said. "You need to teach her to read again so I can really warp her development."
That earned him a laugh. "You deny it, but you enjoy being his favourite uncle." Remus didn't add anything to that, but Severus could hear, clear as a bell, and you would enjoy being a father.
Severus refilled Remus' tea cup as he chose his words carefully. He spoke in chalk lines on the tabletop, so fine that Remus could wipe them away with a finger. "You're overlooking one thing," Severus said, as softly as he could. "You're not just talking about risking your own life. What if you did get pregnant, what then? What if you lost the baby at the first full moon, or the second, or the ninth? You would blame yourself, we both know that." He frowned and made an addition in thicker lines. "And don't go looking at me — it's not my paternal clock that's ticking."
Remus held himself still as he obediently drank his tea. Severus would have possibly felt guilty, except that he knew Remus would have had the same worries. Remus had bad ideas, but he was passably clever, generally.
After a minute, Remus got up and tidied up, washing the dishes and wiping the table clear. Severus summoned his newspaper and kept one eye on Remus as he sat down at the piano and started stubbornly working through a piece that he could never get right. Severus knew exactly where his fingers would falter, each and every time, and by the fourth attempt his teeth were on edge. He was starting to think that he ought to go and talk to someone.
Ron Weasley wouldn't have been his first choice as confidante, but Severus had placed an order for a new wand at Ollivander's, which had meant dealing with the Weasley, as he was now apprenticing and minding the shop during the slow hours. Ron had asked him to come by for measurements before the rush at the end of the summer holidays, and so Severus made an early-morning wand appointment, and a later one at the bank, so that he could do his bimonthly ingredients restocking all in one go.
He stopped at a Muggle stationers' on the way and purchased a card, one with a yellow sun and rainbows and flowers. He changed the words inside from Hope You're Feeling Sunny Soon! to Thank You for the Bezoar. He handed it to Ron over the counter, and Ron put the card on the dusty mantelpiece, grinning.
"Remus put you up to this?"
"No," Severus wrote on the counter, a monstrosity of oak and clawed iron feet.
"Oh," Ron said, looking a little lost, but he rallied enough to summon tea things and draw up two chairs. "So — how are you?" he asked, when they were both settled with jam biscuits on the counter between them.
"Alive." Ron rolled his eyes at that, and Severus found himself feeling more at home than irritably defensive. He gave Ron a sharp smile, and the boy had the grace to shift uncomfortably. "Up to the seventeenth century in my history. I should start the 1800s by the end of the year."
Ron shifted, pulling his legs up under his robes. "You might have some good news for us then, eh?" At Severus' blank stare, he squirmed a little. "Heard you're trying for a baby," he said, leaning forward with alarming enthusiasm. Severus doubted Remus was spreading the word; that meant he might need to go and threaten Remus' Healer in the near future. "To tell the truth, Hermione and I've been thinking the same thing, talking over which one of us'll do it. My dad did his fair share, you know," Ron added; and yes, Severus had known that, though he'd tried to tamp the knowledge down. "Hermione's parents, though — witchcraft's fine by them, but birth-fathering blows their Muggle minds."
"Imagine," Severus wrote, trying to convey an acid tone with steel-coloured smoke.
Ron blinked. "Oh-ho, I always do forget that you're mixed." He gave Severus a cheeky grin, and Severus bit back a sigh. Just die once and be revived by a student, and see if he was ever given respect again. "And Remus, too." Ron drew his eyebrows together. "Not to mention that you're both really old."
"It's Lupin's idea," Severus said.
"Well, he'd be a great dad. Patient and all. Plus, he deserves a second chance, don't you think? Tonks' mum took over Teddy." Ron ate a biscuit thoughtfully, getting crumbs all down his robes. "He's always looked at my family like a kid without a Knut in Honeydukes. Kind of lonely — though I suppose he's got you, now. At least he doesn't mope about at my mum's anymore. It always made her bawl buckets, him losing Tonks like that."
Severus wished he could make subtle social noises; there really wasn't anything he could say on the subject. He made a few noncommittal waves of a hand to try and indicate his desire not to hear any more about Tonks.
Ron looked lost for a moment, and then grinned. "So, you looking forward to being up the junction?"
"No," Severus wrote, and Ron looked taken aback. "Remus has offered to do it."
"Not to be a wet blanket, but that sounds a little. . . fatal." Ron scratched at an ankle; he was wearing purple socks. "I know how he must feel — having a new life growing in you's got to be fucking amazing. Nasty that he's got a curse and just can't. It won't make him less of a father. You tell him that." He fiddled with his hair, shoving it back in handfuls. "Fleur's finally resigned to the fact that Bill can't birth-father, either. He had to promise all kinds of things — footrubs and house cleaning and nappy-changing and basically treating her like the Queen. Told Hermione that's what I wanted, the whole hand and foot deal. Had to buy her singing roses to get out of that one."
"How is Hermione these days?" Severus asked, and nodded through the rest of the visit; he wasn't really interested in what the Ministry did these days. When he left, he had been measured most thoroughly twice over, and Ron promised that the wand would be delivered right soon. Severus wasn't in a hurry; the wand he used now worked well enough, but he had wanted one that responded better to nonverbal spells. (Apparently, Hermione had said she would try to add more fonts, as thanks for his inspirational teaching. Severus was not sure at all how to take this.)
The last time Remus brought up fatherhood wasn't even a conversation, not really. Remus charmed a parchment to appear on the table after he'd gone off to work. Severus let it sit there all forlorn until he'd finished his third piece of toast and all the horizontals in the Aenigmacrostic. He summoned it, and frowned.
Remus had written out, in neat columns, sixteen reasons that he thought Severus would be a good father.
In answer, he wrote all down the stairwell wall
Three Reasons You Wouldn't:
1. Not human
3. And likely killed in the process
He was in the conservatory when Remus came home. He heard Remus go through to the kitchen, likely putting the shopping away, and then the sound of Remus' boots on the stairs, his steps slowing to a complete halt for a long moment that hung there like a pendulum bob reaching the end of its arc. Then Remus continued up the stairs, and when he poked his head in to say hello and how was the fluxweed doing, it was too easy to fall into his habit of showing Remus just how pathetically wrong his students' attempts at herbology were, and how this was likely to lead to boils if not agonizing death. He followed Remus back into the bedroom, and when Remus stripped off his work clothes it was as easy as ever to take Remus to bed.
Only when he was walking down the stairs after Remus did he notice that Remus was holding himself together with a familiar tell-tale tightness of the shoulders and a stiffness in his walk. Remus had looked like that when he'd first arrived in Spinner's End, when he'd been worried he had no right to be there and might be sent packing at the drop of a pointy hat.
Severus watched him make dinner with diffident ease. When they'd eaten, Remus sat at the kitchen table and set up the complex numerology that he used to run the household accounts.
Oh, dear, Severus thought. He had underestimated Remus; he might have made a mistake. He thought of this relentless silence, growing between the two of them over years, and thought he might have to do something, after all.
Severus put down the drinks he'd bought from the Muggle shop across from the Old Hags Asylum, sliding the mocha latte over to his mother. He always found her sitting in the same seat; sometimes he wondered if she ever moved. He sat down opposite her, and they stared at each other for a moment in lieu of greetings. Eileen was wearing a solid-looking green jumper over her robes. With just a little more sanity, Severus thought, she would almost look maternal.
"Lupin wants to have a baby," he said, putting a cooling charm on his own coffee and swallowing half of it down.
"And you don't." Eileen wrapped her hands around the paper coffee cup and smiled over Severus' shoulder. He knew by now that there wasn't anything there, but he still had to stiffen his shoulders to keep from turning around.
"I thought I didn't," he said, the first time he'd admitted to anyone, even himself, that his mind might be changing.
"Baby," Eileen said, still with that eerie smile. "Baby, baby. You were my baby." Her fingers picked at the top edge of the cup, forcing the stiff roll of paper to uncurl and ripping it where it frayed. "And then the bough broke, and we all fell down." Severus banished her coffee to his own cup seconds before she crushed the cup into a hard, angry ball. The fuss distracted him enough that he was able to push away treacherous thoughts about falling.
"Did you take your potions today, mum?" he asked, trying not to sound angry. It was easier some days than others.
"They're trying to kill me," Eileen said. She sounded calm and matter-of-fact, but the curtains in the visitor's lounge snapped at the windows as if caught in a cyclone. "Lupin came by to cut my hair again."
"Looks like you've been at it yourself again," Severus said dryly. There were streaks of red and violet through the grey, and the ends were ragged. "Oh — Lupin sent you some yarn." He dug the bag out from under his coat and handed it to her.
"Did you know he's a monster?" Eileen asked, her face sly, eyes glittering. She pulled out two strands of hair, which thickened and lengthened between her fingers as she rolled them until she had passable knitting needles. She pulled a ball of yarn from the bag and started casting on with preternatural speed. "A beast with blood in his mouth. Tell him, tell him next time I want curls. And don't touch me, don't — "
"He wouldn't dream of it," Severus said. Remus had accidentally put a hand on Eileen's shoulder once, and she'd pinned him to the wall with her knitting needles. He had an odd scar now on the back and the palm of his hand, two small red indentations, like eyes. "I'm just going to go have a word with your Healer now."
Eileen hunched. "I'd like to be a gran. I think. A baby might have your hair and eyes, but his nose is better, don't you think? Your intelligence. His temper." She smiled. "Small and new and helpless. You wouldn't hurt a baby, would you, Severus?"
"Not this time," Severus said grimly, wondering when his mother's teeth had got so sharp.
"You'll bring me your baby, won't you?" Eileen asked, and Severus thought about fairy tales: evil witches and curses, spindles and mirrors and towers without doors. Poisons and monsters.
"Of course we will," he said, standing and brushing his robes down as if he could sweep off the cling of the asylum. In Eileen's hands, the knitting was an organic thing, a mass of creeping eyes and tentacles and yawning mouths. He tried to imagine it as something a baby could play with. The thought made him smile. The Healers were always trying to get Eileen engaged with what they referred to as positive outlets. He wasn't accustomed to thinking of family in any sort of positive sense, but perhaps. . . Although he suspected Remus would insist that Eileen not do any babysitting, at least until the child was able to curse back.
Sex should feel like sex, Severus thought, but this didn't. It felt like an argument played out on skin, and he and Remus had done that enough when they were younger. He was too old for games, and too soft in his retirement to want to lash out, and too used to having Remus around to push him away. Besides, he wasn't sure that Remus would return if he pushed now; he'd wound up fucking Remus from behind because he was afraid that any accidental kiss might taste like farewell.
When they were done, Remus got right back out of bed and went down to make supper, and after supper he played the piano until Severus thought he'd give himself blisters, trying so hard to make his fingers obey the demands of the music. Severus was writing, and didn't stop until Remus finally covered the keyboard. They went upstairs together, as always, and the next morning Remus left for work, as always, and Severus was feeling restless when he received an owl from Ollivander's. His wand was ready; it would be brought over shortly.
He put a thawing charm on one of Remus' fruitcakes, filled the teapot, and then stared out of the kitchen window at his tiny garden, the coal shed and the netty slumping towards the house as if only propped up by magic, the laundry whipping about in the wind, the brick wall of the mill across the alley.
He'd hated the constant traffic past the garden gate while banished outside to play as a child. The coalman's lorry and the knife-sharpener on his bicycle; the women who travelled in groups across the Barren down to the high street and who always stopped laughing as they passed his house; the big boys running home from school, shouting rude words and throwing stones.
Now it was mainly bicycles going up and down the alley; sometimes skateboards or roller skates. The current neighbourhood children were half wide-eyed immigrants and half budding delinquents in oversized tracksuits. Remus got on with both groups: he was always glad to help with schoolwork, and he'd earned both respect and fear when he'd dyed a local footballer's hair in a perfect novacheck plaid for his wedding. No one threw stones at their house, at any rate. Severus supposed he was grateful.
There was a whoosh and a thump from the fireplace, and Severus grabbed the teapot on his way into the sitting room, expecting to see Ron.
"Hullo," said Harry Potter, brushing soot off his rumpled Auror's robes and smiling awkwardly, as if he'd just lost a bet and was trying to be a good sport. He held out the wand box with a flourish, and Severus rolled his eyes before taking it out and trying a few difficult spells. Harry settled himself on the sofa to watch and offer commentary when it was least wanted.
Severus couldn't very well order him out, but when he was satisfied with the wand, he offered hospitality with such painstaking diligence that he hoped it was bitter to swallow.
"So," Harry said, finishing his second piece of fruitcake and his small-talk at the same time, "I hear you're thinking of having a baby." He barely suppressed the wide-eyed twitch that was common to Muggle-borns. Severus wondered if Harry'd had the nerve yet to ask his friends whether they were father-born.
"No," Severus said, and he saw Harry's eyes catch the argument written on the walls that he ought to have erased last night.
Harry crossed his arms, and Severus felt uncomfortably like a suspect called in for questioning.
"I'm sorry." Harry's gaze settled on his, steady and intent. "I heard that Remus — " Severus' face must have betrayed him, or else his angry words, lingering. "Nine hells. You didn't dump him, did you?"
"No." Severus sighed, then eyed Harry. "You should talk to him. He's deluded himself into thinking I'd be a good father."
"I want lots of kids," Harry said. "At least one in each House — and on the House team, of course. We'd be The Flying Potters," he said, lowering his voice to sound like a rapt announcer. He raised an eyebrow at Severus and the corner of his mouth twitched up. "I don't remember my parents at all." While Severus was temporarily frozen with guilt, Harry filched the last slice of fruitcake. "My aunt and uncle — well, you saw. They hated me. I never had a kind word, or a good memory. I was lucky to have food and a flight of stairs over my head. So I don't know the first thing about how to be a good dad, either. But I think I could figure it out."
"Are we bonding, Potter?" Severus said, and the new wand was excellent at writing the sharp, bitter nuances.
Harry shrugged and banished the crumbs that spilled from his robes to the floor. "Your father might have been a bastard, but Dumbledore made you Head of House. He trusted you and he chose you. Face it, Snape, you've already raised hundreds of kids. Some of them turned out rotten, but they didn't all go over to Voldemort."
"Slytherin ambition is much misunderstood," Severus said. "The House tends to attract the damaged in the Wizarding World. I was surprised that you were not chosen."
"I told the Hat no," Harry said. "You can blame that on Malfoy. What would you have done if Riddle had been in your House while you were Head? Do you think he'd still have killed?"
Severus frowned. "Yes," he wrote slowly. "He was especially damaged. But. . . I'd like to think I would have known. Would not have let him get so out of hand."
"Would you harm a child? Lock it up, call it names, put it in shabby clothes?"
"No," Severus said; he knew that. "You're studying interrogation at Auror school, aren't you?"
"It's kind of like designing a Quidditch play," Harry said, his tone not even slightly apologetic, and zoomed his hands like broomsticks to illustrate. "Question, information, next question, then a pass and a feint, unexpected question, honest answer, seventeen points. What's the most important thing you want to teach your child?"
"No to make the same mistakes I did," Severus said without thinking, and then scowled.
"Well, there you go then," Harry said, and pushed himself up, palms on his knees. "Told Ron I'd be back soon. Don't plan to tell him how good your cake was."
"Remus' cake," Severus said, and Harry grinned.
"How can you not love a man who makes his own fruitcake?"
"A child of ours would never belong," Severus said, finally, breaking the irritating silence of another empty evening. "I've lived my life on the outside of both the Muggle and the Wizarding worlds — so have you. And you'd do that to a child?"
"What did we fight for, then?" Remus asked, and if the words were facetious the raw pain on his face was anything but. "It was never just Voldemort. It was also fighting the whole system of bureaucratic cowardice and institutionalised prejudice that made people like him possible. Abandoned by his family and neglected by the Wizarding World because of his blood, he grew up as a destroyer of families and the worst kind of blood supremacist. Our child would belong. To us. And through us — to this Muggle community, struggling to survive. To a changing Wizarding society which is improving, especially now that our former students are taking over." Remus took a deep breath; Severus hadn't heard as many words from him in a long time. It was a little like watching him bleed. "We would never harm our child, never throw him to the wolves. So to speak. I know that."
Severus felt something in his chest loosen and lighten, like a bird spreading its wings. His face must have betrayed him, because Remus stared at him, his expression starting to slide from passionate to defensive.
"Us," Severus wrote on the door, the last bare space left, unless he started writing over the spines of his books. "We. Our."
Remus' head tilted further to the side, almost wistful. "We belong together," he said, the words as thick and slow as golden syrup. "Don't you think?"
Severus wrote come to bed on the air in smoke, which dissolved in the draught from the window.
Remus looked as if he wanted to keep arguing, but Severus thought it had all been said. He held out a hand, Remus took it, and they were kissing on the third step, half undressed by the time they reached the landing.
Late summer sunlight slanted over the bed, the air alight with shifting patterns of dust, shining gold. Remus' skin had an otherworldly glow as he shoved his trousers off and stretched out over Severus, kissing him at random over his shoulders, face, neck, chest.
Severus put one hand to Remus' cheek and signed awkwardly. He had twenty years of practice in putting his thoughts into writing on a blackboard — it came almost as naturally as speech. Hand-signs, on the other hand (ha!), felt too much like baby-talk. (Which, under the circumstances, he supposed it would have to be: he was having no success getting Tonks to read; her mother insisted it was because she was too young, and not because she was stupid.)
Remus placed a last kiss to Severus' clavicle and raised his head. "What was that?"
Severus sighed and said it again, this time where Remus could see his fingers, and Remus grinned.
"Us? If I'd known years ago about your kink for the first-person plural, believe me, I'd have exploited it."
"Our child had better not be a smartass like you," Severus said. He'd taught Teddy the sign for smartass, and the child had turned right around and used it on her mother. Severus had actually had to apologise.
"That's a product of nurture, not nature, I'm afraid," Remus said. "If it's any comfort, he's equally likely to be scathingly sarcastic."
"Why are you talking? Why aren't you fucking me?" Severus asked, and had to deal with Remus teasingly grumbling all through foreplay. Severus bided his time: as soon as Remus was in him, he knew how to use his body to drive Remus speechless as well, until he came with a shout.
Remus tried to move to the side, but Severus slid a hand back to hold Remus' arse right where it was, keeping them together.
"I'm squashing you," Remus said, his voice rough and low in Severus' ear.
"I like you in me," Severus signed awkwardly against the pillow, where Remus could see.
"One minute, and then I need to go and make supper," Remus said, shifting his knees and his arms so that it was less like slow suffocation and more like an embrace.
Severus thought that that was a perfect example of how a child would change their lives. It would always be a balancing between one thing and another: one more book and then the bath, three more spoonfuls of peas before pudding, deciding whether to go to work or nurse a fever. He'd already gone through the whole compromise problem with Remus. Although he thought that a child would be less work than Remus was: as he understood it, children came tabla rasa, without any built-in bad habits to break.
"Supper," Remus said, almost a sigh, and kissed Severus' shoulder as he rolled up and off the bed. Severus got up as well, even though he'd been half-asleep. Clean and dressed again, following Remus downstairs, he grabbed him by the back of the shirt as they passed Remus' list.
"I'll take that down," Remus said. "We really need to tidy up. It's like living in an echo chamber."
You really ought to be better at reading between the lines by now Severus wrote in minute letters across the top of his reply. Under the third point, he added I don't want you killing yourself or any progeny of ours in a vain, medically-inadvisable attempt to give me a child.
Next, (2): General consensus is that you'd have to be mad to put up with me. Also, I find your eccentricities
amusing tolerable. Hence, item (3).
"You flatterer, you," Remus said. Severus really ought not to find the idea of a child raised on bitter, sarcastic humour intriguing.
(1) You're a good man, Severus wrote, and frowned at the wall. It wasn't saying what he needed it to say. You're good to me. You will be a good father.
"Will I?" Remus asked, and if Severus expected Remus to read between the lines, then Remus certainly expected him to listen between and around and under the words. Remus when he was open was as devastating as staring into the sun; if Severus lied to him now he could break his heart and he would never be forgiven.
"Yes," Severus said, urgency making him forget that he couldn't say it, his mouth moving only in the shape of he word. Yes, he wrote over all of it in broad, two-foot-high letters. Yes, he spelled out as Remus turned on the step. Remus looked at him, searching, and he knew that Remus didn't trust easily, but this was irritating. Then Remus smiled, and Severus could be led so far astray for the promise of that smile. Remus took Severus' hand and kissed his palm, once, and then with a casual flick of his wand cleared the walls of everything but that one word.
"Supper," Severus said, as quietly as he could, and Remus blinked, still not completely back to earth but capable of going down the stairs and puttering about the kitchen. He made something vaguely Chinese out of the odd bits and bobs of veg that accumulated in the course of the week, and hummed to himself as he did so.
Severus supposed they needed to talk, but for tonight he was content to watch Remus, smiling as if he had been given the best secret, and playing the piano as if the music were the only way he could tell his secret to the world.
"It's a bit trickier with two male parents," the Healer said. "They tend to both fall pregnant."
"He can't," Severus said, spinning the words out on the desktop with final-looking heavy black letters, and Remus shifted in his seat.
"We'll just be extra careful with the Obstructor, and you'll be fine," she said, and clasped her hands. "I've helped many young men conceive and deliver. It is a miracle, but a controlled one."
"We have no idea how it works," Remus said, and Severus glared at him. If that was meant to change the subject to something more comfortable, it was a total failure. He didn't want to know how the damn thing worked.
"It's exactly the same as female conception," the Healer said brightly, "except completely different. You can still expect a birthweight between two to three kilograms." The candlepower of her smile increased, and she slid a key across the desk. "Third door down the corridor on the right you'll find a bedroom with all the usual things. Go, make love — any way you like, it doesn't make a difference — and give me a ring when you're done."
Remus was so red that Severus wouldn't have been surprised to feel heat radiating from him. He palmed the key and swept to his feet. He paused a moment in the doorway, waiting for Remus to stumble to his feet. That nerves could make Remus' natural grace give way to clumsiness was. . . strange and annoyingly endearing.
Which was also a good description of how they actually managed to have sex in the room down the hall. It had velvet drapes, and Remus took one look at the bed with its silky sheets and went pale. Even Severus, who had always been scathing about people who talked about sex as if it were a mystical joining of souls, had felt as if they were making some kind of a commitment, here. Remus was all elbows and knees and nearly fell off the bed twice, so Severus thought it was a minor miracle that they'd got over the performance anxiety and actually performed, if not to their usual standard. Remus spent ten minutes kissing him afterwards, kissing and making promises that Severus meant to hold him to, before collecting their clothes and ringing the bell and putting such a strong cleaning charm on the bed that Severus could see the sheets bleach.
"Knock, knock," the Healer said, pushing the door open and rolling the wheeled cart with the Obstructor into the room. The device itself was covered with a pink floral dustcloth edged in white lace, which made Severus flinch. "There now, Mr Snape, you just lie back down on the bed. And Mr Lupin — " she dug in her sleeve and pulled out a fistful of small change — "be an angel and run down to the corner store for a bottle of milk and a tin of biscuits. The chocolate ginger fizzy ones are good, although if there's something else you like. . . ."
Remus opened his mouth to protest; Severus pointed his wand at the wall.
"Yes, far away from the magical impregnation rays," Severus wrote, and Remus' mouth snapped shut.
"Run along, now." The Healer rolled the cart right up alongside the bed and whipped the dustcover off with a floral flourish. Remus looked torn, but he shoved the money in his pocket, gave a half-hearted wave, and shut the door quietly behind him.
"He's a nice young man," the Healer — Pang, what a dreadful name for a woman in her profession — said. "It's too bad he can't carry a child. He's got better hips for it than you." She flipped a switch, and the machine hummed, something like an off-beat tango.
"You could have done this without the sex, couldn't you?" Severus asked, and Pang winked at him.
"Technically? Yes, of course. But both parents need to feel that they've made the child. It's especially important to your partner, I think. He doesn't have much, does he? Budge over a bit — yes, there, take a deep breath." The machine shook, palsied. "This may sting."
"Get on with it," Severus scrawled across the wall in letters orange with impatience.
"I can make you have morning sickness, you know," she said, poking Severus' stomach with what looked like a long-handled tuning fork. She sang a few bars of an unrecognisable lullaby under her breath and pushed the machine back. She turned it off and threw the dustcover back on, haphazardly. "There. You're done."
"That didn't sting." Severus narrowed his eyes at her in suspicion.
"I can make you have false contractions." She clapped his shoulder twice. "Get up, get your shoes on, it's tea time. I'm feeling peckish."
"I'm not," Severus wrote on the sheets. He summoned his boots, tugged them on, and stood, straightening his robes and avoiding his own stomach as much as was humanly possible.
Pang grinned up at him. "Oh, you will be, never fear."
"Hey, Spi!" someone yelled, and both Severus and Remus repressed flinches as Jane turned to wave her broom enthusiastically at one of the Patel boys.
"Give a child a perfectly good name," Severus wrote in crisp black ribbon; Remus continued, "and all her friends call her Spider. I know." He tugged at his jacket self-consciously. So many modern wizards dressed either Muggle-style or in a fusion of both that his outfit wasn't an aberration, but Severus thought it was definitely a statement, aimed at the parents of the new students. He and Remus had taught them and fought alongside them; they didn't need to be reminded of that, they were well out of it now — had been, for nearly twenty years.
Jane pulled on the ribbon in the air until it formed a lopsided heart, and handed Severus her broom with a cheeky grin.
"There are the Potters," Remus said, looking around. Jane flailed her arms and whooped something at James that sounded like Niffle your hols, Red?
Severus noticed that Harry and Ginny repressed their own winces at this.
"Stop teasing your father and get dressed," Remus said. He looked pointedly at Jane's uniform skirt: the waist had been rolled up at least twice, so that the hem fell well above her knees.
"Honestly," Jane said, pulling her robes out of her trunk and managing to wrinkle them instantly, "I've got the most old-fashioned parents of anyone."
"Oh, how you suffer," Severus said. "Brat."
Jane rolled her eyes and fished a mirror out of her sleeve. She gave her hair a critical study: she'd had Remus crop it all off in a boyish cut, but the artful arrangement of the little spikes had taken half an hour that morning to look 'natural'. She had Remus' wide eyes and narrow jaw and a hybrid nose, and she was sun-dark from her month of coaching Quidditch summer camp at Ellis Moor.
Remus had had nerves about her being old enough and pretty enough to attract boys (and girls, Severus had added; Remus had glared), but Jane was a Beater for her House team and the inventor of the web-and-fly defence formation (hence the appalling nickname). She was respected (and feared, by some). She wasn't as ambitious as Severus would have liked, or as academic as Remus would have liked; she was loud, irrepressibly social, and had the fashion sense of a streetwalker. All in all, Severus thought she'd turned out rather well.
He wondered if she ever realised just how much Remus and he envied her for having all the opportunities they had missed, or if she realised how much effort it took not to burden her with their fears that she'd repeat their more dreadful mistakes. He thought she might have some idea: his mother had her over for tea and girl-talk once a week, and Eileen was never one to sugar-coat the unpleasant truths, or to leave any embarrassing stories of Severus' childhood untold.
The whistle blew, and Remus hurried to levitate Jane's trunk into the compartment claimed by the Patel boy, Tory Weasley, and several Zabinis. Jane leaned halfway out the window, giving first Remus and then Severus a hug and a kiss. She hauled her broom in carelessly; a Zabini caught it and flipped it up onto the luggage rack.
"Be good!" she said. "Don't catch cold! Write and send food! And money!" The train began moving, and she waved hard, nearly hitting the Weasley girl in the face.
Severus told her to get her damned head in the window before she was decapitated or defenestrated, and she blew him a kiss that landed wetly on his cheek. He wiped it off with his handkerchief as the last car rumbled away.
"So what now?" Remus said. Severus banished his robes into Remus' backpack and then stuffed his wand in as well. "Go home and have sex first, or go home and post all the things she forgot to take first?"
"She can do without socks for a day or two," Severus signed, as they walked back out into the Muggle side of the station. "It was a good idea of yours, to have a child. Did I ever tell you that?"
Remus smiled. "No. But you didn't need to. I figured it out."
"I figured you out," Severus said, and then added, for emphasis, "ha."