Chapter Eleven: Death
Draco lost track of time after that. It was both the most thrilling and the most revolting time of his life. Miracle of childbirth? Bah. The miracle now would be if he, Draco Malfoy, was ever so disrespectful to a woman as to get her pregnant and thus force her to go through this appalling process.
"I know some spells to help with the pain..." he offered once, only to have her scream:
"Absolutely not! No! My baby's had enough spells cast on him for one day! Keep your bloody wand to yourself. Honestly." And in tones of deepest loathing: "Men. Argh... All you can think about is foolishly waving your bloody wands around. Where's my bloody husband, anyway. Arsehole of a man. Him waving his wand around got me into this mess. AND letting some absolute shit-head of a man into the house with HIS wand... All men should be castrated at birth..."
Draco kept his mouth shut and closed his ears to her rant at this point. Women were meant to get a bit strange during pregnancy, weren't they? He'd heard rumours about how they liked eating pickles with custard and newspaper. He only listened for the important things she snarled at him, such as, get my cursed hair out of my face, will you? and, grab my arm before I fall over, and then: can you see his head? Oh god, Draco, can you see the head?
Where the light was coming from, Draco had no idea. It seemed to be seeping out of the trees in a warm mist. With it and his enhanced vision combined he could see more than he really wished he could.
"Yes," he said thinly, hoping he wasn't going to faint and disgrace himself.
"Good. You need to support it."
Omigod. If I touch it I'm gonna faint. Omigod omigod omigod.
The baby's head was hot and sticky with blood and birth fluids. Under his thumb it pulsed a little right at the crown.
"Turn it just a little to the side. And get ready... here come the... oooh... here come the shoulders!"
The baby slid into Draco's hands.
There was a long, dark, throbbing cord connecting it from its naval to its mother. "What do I do?" Draco whispered, transfixed by this tiny black-haired morsel of life that opened its mouth and coughed for its first breath.
"Wait a moment. He needs to get enough blood through the cord. Aaand... there. I know that's enough." The woman took her wand out of her sleeve and used it to cut the cord and bind it with a glowing thread.
A thin wail rose from the baby. It was answered by a nicker from the pony.
"Let me see my baby," the woman said. Her voice sounded so strange: a harsh whisper that held such intense emotion Draco felt his heart tremble. He realised his face was wet when a teardrop tickled his nose, but he couldn't remember crying, or even needing to cry.
Wordlessly, Draco shuffled closer and carefully laid the baby in its mother's arms.
"Oh," she said. "Oh. Oh."
She was crying too. Tears streamed down her face as she touched the baby's face with her fingers and her lips. She held up the tiny little starfish hands that grasped at a fingertip, and counted the toes. Then she ran her wand over him and muttered spells in a language Draco knew wasn't Latin. "He's perfect," she whispered, not taking her eyes off her baby's face for an instant. "Absolutely perfect."
Nodding, Draco stayed silent, unable to contemplate interrupting this moment. Never in his life had he come anywhere near this kind of... he had no words. It was a little like the feelings he had inside himself when he felt the cold winds calling him. The closest word he had for what he was witnessing was love.
The light in her eyes blazed.
Then she blinked and the light flickered.
"What is it?" he asked.
"Complications," she groaned, grimacing. Her face smoothed out again as she studied her baby which seemed to be asleep, its scrunched-up face oddly calm considering all the drama it had caused.
"I saw you take flowers out of your robes," the woman said.
Draco was a little disappointed — he'd thought he'd been so careful in hiding them. The shame of rejection by Grandmother Taniwha rose anew. "Professor Snape floated them out on the pond when he asked Grandmother Taniwha to accept me. But..."
"But she gave them back?"
"Sort of." Draco explained about his midnight visit from the pooka who had taken him to get the wreath.
"Ah. It looks like she knew what she was doing."
"What? She knew who my father was, so she gave back the flowers and said 'no thanks'?"
"No, silly. She needed you to play delivery boy. And close your mouth. You'll catch flies in it if you keep letting it fall open every time you get surprised." She looked down at her baby again, her mouth curving into a beautiful smile. "The flowers are for my son. Help me up."
"Don't you 'but' me. This has to be done."
Draco shook his head stubbornly. "You've just given birth. If you move now you could haemorrhage. Stay still and —"
"Draco, I'm already haemorrhaging. Do you think this much blood is normal for a birth?"
"How the hell should I know? But I do know that a little blood goes a long way, and —"
"Listen to me. Listen to me! Draco, I'm dying. I need my baby to be acknowledged before I go. No! Listen! Oh, Draco, I'm so sorry you had to be dragged into this..."
"Me dragged into this? I'm the one who dragged you into —"
"Hey! Enough. Right now it's not important who did what to who. What is important is my baby. Now either help me up or I'll levitate myself over there and with my current ability in wand-work I'll drop myself and die as soon as I hit the ground."
Accepting defeat, Draco helped her up. He tried to ignore the blood that was running down her legs, and the way that her pale face went grey and she had to clutch at his arm so tightly it bruised him. She was determined to walk. He bobbed to pick up the wreath on their way to the flat rock.
She hesitated. "I'm not steady enough," she said, her breath hissing angrily through her teeth. "You'll have to do it."
"Take him..." She carefully nestled the newborn in Draco's arms. "Go and kneel on the rock. Put the roses in when I tell you to."
In silence Draco obeyed.
As he knelt on the flat slab with the black water lapping against it and the steam swirling in great, thick streamers around him, he heard the woman say:
"Grandmother, hear me. See my son. He is your child, too, through my line. I ask for you to accept him as your descendant. He is Severus Obadiah Snape, son of Sylvia Emily Gibbons. Watch over him as I will be unable to do. Let him grow strong and smart. Let him find happiness. Give him people to love and people who love him. Most of all, let him be a good man. Let him..." There was a pause as Sylvia clutched her abdomen and staggered to her knees. "Let him be a good man worthy of our family. Draco..."
Draco, who had nearly fallen off the slab and into the water in shock at hearing the baby's name, managed to turn his head in the woman's direction.
"Draco, put the wreath in the water."
Draco nodded and did as he was told.
The flowers seemed to hang in the night sky like stars, so dark was the water. They flickered for a moment and then in the blink of an eye they were whisked into the centre of the pond.
They disappeared with a faint slurp.
Draco could feel all the hairs on the back of his neck standing up in terror.
"Now put Severus into the water."
"Are you kidding? Did you see what just happened to those flowers?"
"Do it," the woman snarled, sounding very much like Severus Snape.
The habit of years had Draco dipping the baby into the pool before he could think any further. The water was warm and flowed around his fingers like the finest silk. It —
It slid the baby out of his hands. The baby's head disappeared beneath the surface.
"Sylvia! The baby! The water took him!"
"Did it? Oh, that's fine."
Draco turned to scream at her — dying woman or not — that no, it wasn't bloody well fine when babies drowned, when his clutching hands found something solid. He pulled it up.
"Oh, thank God." It was the baby. Draco started breathing again. But as he took the baby out of the water something followed it. Thick, black material dotted with white flowers or stars, Draco couldn't tell, was wrapped around the baby like a christening shawl. When he lifted the baby up he expected the material to be sopping wet, but it was dry. There was a slightly fuzzy warmth to it and Draco had never touched cloth so soft. "He's okay, Sylvia. Sylvia?"
She had collapsed. Draco clutched the baby to his chest and hurried to check Snape's mother. Her eyes fluttered open when he knelt next to her. "Did you do it?" she asked.
Draco held out the baby for her inspection, careful to support the head.
Severus yawned without waking up.
Sylvia chuckled weakly as she took him into her arms. "All this drama is beneath you, isn't it? Yes it is... whosieliddle dramababby, den? Whoosa dramababby? You are! Yes you are..."
The baby yawned again.
Draco rolled his eyes. Baby talk. All this for baby talk. "Is this Severus Snape? My Severus Snape?"
"I believe so. Whoosa woosie? Whoosa woosie, den?"
"Why didn't you tell me?"
Sylvia looked up at him, her eyes — carbon copies of Snape's — suddenly serious and dark. The light in them, Draco saw, was guttering out.
"How could I trust you?"
"But you did. You let me help you and..."
"I needed help. If I had still thought by the time Severus was born that you meant him harm I would've killed you," she said in her matter-of-fact way.
Draco nodded. He believed her, and didn't take offence. "How did you know that I didn't?"
Sylvia smiled tiredly. "I'm good at spotting liars. I'm hoping my baby will be, too. I'm pleased he's going to be a teacher. And that he's going to research Potions. We're skilled at that in my family... I want him to be a blade cutting the truth out from the rubbish. I want him to find the diamonds in the mountains of rock... But he'll need to be tough — truth isn't easy to find. Severus... Her face softened as she gazed rapturously at her sleeping son. "Severus." She pressed her lips to his forehead and inhaled his scent. "I want him to know the truth.
"Draco..." Her eyes sharp again and focussed, she looked up. "Draco. Thank you for telling me about him. You don't know... I pray to God you can never know how much this means for me, to know that my son will turn out all right. That he'll grow up to be wise. Maybe it'll take him some time and pain to get there — oh yes, I can listen between the lines of a story as well as I can read between the lines, and I heard the parts you left out — but wisdom only comes with time and pain. And from what you've told me he is becoming wise. My son will be a wise and a good man. He must be a good man if someone like you can wish that Severus was his father."
Draco tried to look away but her eyes held his. "Does this make you my grandson?" she said mischievously, wistfully. "Come and help your old granny up and over to Solomon."
Unable to trust his voice, Draco did as he was told.
When they reached Solomon he eased Sylvia down so that her back was braced against the pooka again. "Are you okay?" Draco asked.
She gave him a Look.
"Okay, okay... dumb question... Are you about as okay as you can be at the moment?"
Sylvia gave him a lopsided smile. "Yes, thank you, Draco."
"Can't I Apparate or something with you to a hospital?"
"No. The spell your — that man put on me made it impossible to move except via Solly. And I can't ride any further. Dying here is as good as any other place."
"Draco. Most of the people I love are dead. I've never seen it as an end... or a punishment. The only thing that scares me about death is that I won't be here for my son. If there was any way I could live for him don't you think I'd take it?"
Draco lowered his gaze and bit his lip. There was no reply he knew how to make to that. He knew she wasn't being a defeatist. He had never seen love like he'd seen blazing from the eyes of this woman when she first held her new-born child.
She patted the "bed" next to her with a smile. "Find a clean spot and sit next to me."
Privately, Draco thought it unlikely he would find a seat that wasn't smeared with blood, but there were worse things in life as he, a Malfoy, was highly aware of. Men who would hex pregnant women to get at their unborn babies, for instance... He shivered.
"Thinking." But he didn't object when Sylvia tucked a corner of his robes over him. He leaned up against her and put an arm around her shoulder. She snuggled into him and loosened the buttons of her thick cashmere shirt and held the baby to her breast. Instinct was an amazing thing, Draco reflected, watching the baby Severus nuzzle his mother's breast. Sylvia was humming under her breath, smiling as the baby found the nipple and began to nurse. All the pain and blood and stress of birth. Being ripped away from your mother... and then feeling in need of a quick snack. There was a special smell to the baby, too. Something that stole Draco's thoughts away from him and replaced them with a warm happiness completely inappropriate to the situation. He relaxed as he watched mother and child and was delighted by the entranced smile on Sylvia's face. He didn't even bother wondering if Narcissa had ever looked at him like this. There had been a wet-nurse or something after he'd been born. It was enough that he, Draco, was here now with Sylvia and her new-born son Severus. He felt like he belonged. He mattered. In spite of all the bewildering things that had happened to him in the last few months, Draco knew that he had a purpose here.
A little fluid escaped the baby's mouth.
Distracted despite himself, Draco frowned. "I thought milk was meant to be white?"
Sylvia's smile widened without her looking away from her baby. "Not for the first day or two. His first drink is colostrum. Antibodies to help his immune system. Now that he's away from my body he has to fight his own battles. This is the last defence I'll be able to give him." She winced and started humming again. The same melody, over and over. It was hypnotic.
Draco found himself falling into the sound.
He jerked awake. "Hn?"
"Promise me something."
A Gryffindor would have said: "Of course; anything." Draco was a Slytherin and knew that you can only promise that which is in your power to do. "What is it?"
"Take my baby to a family that lives near here. Solomon knows the way. Protect Severus."
Her eyes met his. Draco couldn't have said what he saw there. It was beyond Gryffindor and Slytherin. Beyond magic. It went beyond words and it gave him a pain in his chest.
"Yes," he answered, not looking away. "I promise. I won't let anyone or anything hurt him. I give you my word."
"Thank you." She bent her head back to her baby.
At some point the song changed. Sylvia's voice stuttered and lost the rhythm. That change brought Draco out of his light doze. "Sylvia?"
He touched her face. Her skin was grey and her midnight eyes were becoming glazed. The light that had burned in them was flickering out.
"I'm glad." She groaned softly as she shifted. "Take Severus. I need to lie down."
Draco took the baby as tenderly as he could. Wrapped up in the taniwha's cloak of night, Severus slept on, tiny face scrunched up. Draco shifted a fold of the cloak to keep the warmth from escaping from around the baby's face.
"Up, Solly," Sylvia commanded weakly.
The pooka snorted and put his ears back mulishly, but obeyed.
"Severus belongs to you, now," Sylvia whispered. Draco wondered if she was talking to him before he realised it was the pooka she was addressing.
Solomon shook his mane and sighed.
"You'll need your robe..." she said to Draco.
Putting his hand on her shoulder, Draco told her to stay where she was. "I don't need it. It's better if you stay warm."
Sylvia's grin was frightening. "I've lost so much blood I feel like I'll never be warm again. Take the robe."
Draco's answer was to tuck it around her. "Part-Veela, remember?"
"And the rest stubborn mule. You're just lucky I'm too tired to argue with you."
"Yes," he agreed, smoothing her hair away from her face.
"Talk to me. Tell me about my son. Tell me again how he's your favourite professor."
Draco spoke softly. He told her things she'd already heard, but she didn't complain. She just listened, her eyelids drifting open and shut.
The sun was rising when Draco realised she was dead.
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