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Hermione flooed Minerva two days after Severus had disappeared to lick his wounds in private, when Remus was beginning to be a little frantic that Severus had actually believed Remus wanted to, "Break the bond with this selfish, childish, self-centered arse!" as Remus had possibly screamed at the very top of his lungs in their latest argument over the child's name.

Minerva smiled at her. "I was wondering when you'd call."

"I was hoping against hope he'd fight fair and come home, rather than my having to drag him back."

"I'm sure he could find you a potion for that niggling streak of optimism of which you seem unable to rid yourself."

"That streak is sitting directly on my bladder and is about to be named Ronni Siran Snape as soon as he or she feels it appropriate to move the bloody hell along."

"Ah, so that's what he's all in a dither about."

"The fact that there's a mass Gryffindor conspiracy in the naming of my first biological child? Yes." Hermione rolled her eyes. "Far be it from me to point out that naming said child with words that translate to 'joyful' and 'lovely' is just plain good-omen planning, and that Ronald Weasley still has two siblings alive who are practically responsible for my continued survival, and that Remus isn't going to give the child his name for all sorts of practical but nonetheless hurtful reasons and so deserves to have some sort of legacy in the name, and if that be Sirius, so be it. Also, I don't like the name Albus, or Alba, Albion, Albin, Albina, or Alva. I offered Alair, Alain, Alarice, Aleta, Alexis, Alia, Alima, and Aliya, none of which were sufficiently close enough for his taste. Notice Remus and I significantly changing the form of each of the namesake's we've chosen so that Severus will never have to call our child by a name that directly corresponds with a negative memory." Hermione wound down from her diatribe. She gave Minerva a sheepish smile. "Things have been a bit heated. And oftentimes I seem to have hormones that I'm probably borrowing from other women for these last few months, let alone an excess of my own."

Minerva was silent for a second too long and Hermione added, "It doesn't help that he runs off when he knows Remus can't follow and that's a sore spot with him and that I won't follow because I don't like rubbing it in. Also, magical travel is a bit of a terrifying thought these days."

"So you would like me to send him home, then?"

"I'd like him to at least floo. Or, barring that, lift the ward he's got on his floo that's taking me forever to break."

"He warded his floo against you?"

"Well, Remus and me, so I'm not taking it personally."

Minerva smirked. "I'll see what I can do."

"Mention casually that we both love and miss him, yeah?"

"I'll see if I can work that in."

"You're a gem."

"Oh, I'm sure I'll find a way to call in the favor."

Hermione rested a hand on the top of the swell that was her abdomen, but of late just felt like her entire being. "Wait a few weeks, if you would?"

Minerva compressed her lips. "We'll see about that."

*

Severus slunk home three days later, and Hermione knew he'd made them wait out of spite more than anything. She would have felt sorry for him--after all these years, he still knocked on the door when he came back after a fight, as though perhaps they might reconsider and not let him back this time--but Remus had actually been trying to think up ways to leave wereworld regardless of the consequences for himself and others, and Hermione was in no mood to be charitable.

It was Remus who let Severus in the door.

Remus didn't linger, retreating into the bedroom where he wouldn't give into Severus merely because he'd had the kindness (Hermione gave a mental snort at that) to show up at their door. Severus sank onto the nearest edge of the couch and fixed Hermione with a look. "Involving Minerva was unethical."

"So was fleeing, are you really sure this is the path you want to pursue?"

"Whyever not? It's clear that my opinions are worthless around here, so I'm not entirely certain how my presence, or lack thereof, makes any type of difference."

"I'm beginning to wonder how I could have thought that, either."

"You want to name the child after my enemies, and you think I'm being-"

"If I wanted to name this child after your enemies I could name it, Riddle, Tom, Thomas, Thomasin, Thomasine, Lucius, Luciano, Lucia, Lucien! Ron was a child whom you disliked and rather enjoyed tormenting with a family that you owe your life to at least three times over and Sirius was your childhood tormentor who died a pointless death whilst you went on to garner an Order of Merlin and marry his lover! You are being childish!"

Hermione rubbed furiously at eyes that wanted desperately to tear up. "Harry and Dumbledore are everywhere. They’re on broom labels, chocolate frog cards, textbooks, coins, you name it, you can find one with one of them gracing the front or side or back. Remus and I just want a little bit of a legacy for the people who are never going to have that, people we loved. Tell me you can't understand that and I swear to all things magical and practical, Severus Snape, I will kill you with my eyes. Bugger wands."

Severus allowed a minute for the mental echo of Hermione's frustration to die down. "And what if the name is prophetic?"

Hermione shook her head. "And our child is joyful and lovely? Well, worse things have happened."

"And our child looks at me like Ronald Weasley and Sirius Black both did unto their dying day," Severus snapped.

"I knew what you meant."

"Then why can't you just answer me?"

"Because after all these years, I still love tormenting you." Hermione held up a hand as Severus opened his eyes to speak. "I used to look at you the same way Ron did."

"No, it was never-"

"Well, no, Ron was better at irrational passionate loyalty than I was, and Harry truly despised you for the most part. But I wasn't fond. You were quite mean when I was a child, Severus. And as far as Sirius goes, you gave as good as you got, and you well know it."

"Are you suggesting that others reactions to me are largely dependent upon my actions toward them?"

"You're really sexy when you're consciously using the intelligence sewn into your genetic schema."

Severus glared at her. "I'm not calling my child Ron."

"Why? It's not like you ever called Ron that."

"It's the principle of the matter."

"You could call it by a gendered prefix with Snape attached to it."

Severus pinched his lips tightly. Hermione said, "Oh, laugh. You're home, you're going to compromise with me in about ten seconds, then you're going to apologize to Remus for walking out in a matter that you told us you never would because you know he has issues regarding that sort of thing, and he's probably going to take you right then and there in order to physically assure himself that we've gotten you back. It's a good day for everyone involved."

"Don't think the two of you can go around winning all the time."

"Because we're always teaming up on you. Like that time last winter when-"

"I surrender."

"You'd best. Besides, I have what, a one in four ratio against you? It's my turn."

"Do you have Guinevere doing your statistics for you?"

"Fey. She's my partner in crime. Really when you're arguing against myself and someone else-"

"I'm just going to go say sorry to the man who suggested cutting a limb off to be rid of me, shall I?"

"Invite me in when the similar equipment gets boring, yeah?"

Severus did smile at that, turning his head quickly so that she could only catch a small glimpse.

*

Lorraine answered the door to Zev's quarters. Hermione said, "'Afternoon. How are you?"

"Dying for a strong cup of coffee. I was just going to run and get one. He's on the sofa." Lorraine smiled as she slipped past Hermione and headed toward the kitchen.

Hermione let herself in and shut the door behind her. "You're going to marry her, right? Because she really is a ridiculously perfect daughter-in-law."

"Mum," Zev protested. Hermione just smiled and lowered herself into a particularly cushy armchair. He asked, "Can I get you anything?"

"I have what I came for."

Zev pushed aside the scrolls he was reading. "Severus was around at breakfast this morning."

"He came back last night."

"And Remus is. . .?"

Still terrified that next time he won't come back and Remus will have no way to give chase. Worried that this child won't want to be associated with its werewolf parent, will flee wereworld as soon as possible and never look back. "Better. I came to ask about you."

"I know."

Hermione waited for a bit and when it seemed that Zev wasn't going to say anything she offered, "We don't have to talk about it."

"No, I-" Zev shook his head. "A few months back, Lorraine's grandmother showed an interest in meeting me. Lorraine visits the States about twice a year to see her, and her grandmother wanted me to come."

"You didn't say."

"No, well. What was there to say, really?" Zev rolled a hand lazily through the air. "Her grandmother understood, and she didn't complain, so."

"I swear we'll still working on it, baby. I mean, I know I haven't been exactly the caped crusader these past months, but just give me a little bit of time after the baby's born and I'll be back scaring people. It has to happen eventually."

"I'm not mad at you, mum. Not even at Severus." Zev tilted his head. "Well, maybe a bit. He could have at least told me he was leaving."

Hermione nodded. Zev continued. "It's not even that I really want to leave. I don't, I never have. I'm just. . .it's like when I first started thinking about Lorraine and if she wouldn't stay and then what would I do? It's about the fact that she can, and you can, and Severus can, and Nymph and Charlie and Nora and Gin and now Ronni, too."

Hermione couldn't speak for anyone but herself. "I'll always come back."

"I don’t even know that that's the point," Zev said.

"I'm pretty sure it's not," she told him.

"Yeah." He bit his lower lip for a moment and then let it go. "I'm pretty sure of that too."

*

In the middle of the vat of strawberries and cream that Hermione was making her way through and Remus was pitching in to help out with, Remus said, "There's a possibility that while having some particularly attentive fellatio performed on me, I promised we could name our next child Wulfric."

Hermione spat part of a strawberry entirely across the table. She looked at it oddly for a moment, as though not sure how it had gotten there, before cleaning the mess up with a flick of her wand. "Good thing I long ago told Severus that he wasn't allowed to ask you for anything during sex and that if he persisted in doing so all comments, promises and even noises made during said act would be considered null and void."

Remus dipped a strawberry. "Rather good thing you know me so well."

Hermione sat back in her chair watching him carefully transfer the cream drenched berry to his mouth. "When I was a little girl my favorite book was The Enchanted Castle. Prophetic, wouldn't you say? Anyhow, my parents never said anything but they used to get these smiles when I would go pick it off the bookshelf because I'd read it before, about a million times. But the thing was, every time I opened that book, I found something new that I loved about it."

"Min?"

"I know you so well. But there won’t ever be a time when I won't find something new to love about you."

"Ah."

"Also, I don’t think you should be promising any next children when I'm the size of a half-giant with feet to match and my mood borders on volcanic most of the day's length."

Remus grinned at that. "According to Charlie, Molly swore up and down that every single child was the last."

"Perhaps nobody gave her the birds and the bees talk."

"If that's the case, Arthur was far more clever than any of us gave him credit for."

"Sadly for you, I have a book. With diagrams."

"Imagine my shock."

Severus chose this moment to descend upon them, robes fluttering behind him as always, his movement toward the strawberries defined and intent. "We have a magpie."

"Somebody was in your stores again?" Hermione asked. Severus had returned to the school to find at least two of his potions ingredients mildly depleted from where they'd been when he left.

Severus bit at the strawberry thoughtfully. "It's someone who knows what he's doing."

Remus looked interested at that. "There's a pattern?"

"It's all stuff that won't harm the making of the Wolfsbane."

Hermione fought a smile. "But will annoy the bloody hell out of you."

"Whatever do you find so amusing, dearest?" Severus's smile was sharp.

"Zev's mad at you, darling," Hermione said, so sweetly it practically dripped.

Severus scowled at her. She dipped her head and ate the rest of the strawberry as he was bringing it to his mouth.

*

The contractions began during class. Hermione would have laughed if she hadn't been thinking, "Owowow," because her class load was lighter than it had ever been before, with people stepping in to help out so that she could rest and fewer and fewer werewolves being made each year. It figured that despite that her body would find the most inconvenient time to start delivering this baby.

When the first contraction passed, Hermione smiled reassuringly at the thirteen to fifteen year olds all watching her anxiously. "One moment."

She scribbled off a note onto a piece of parchment and held it out. "Sasha, please run this up to Mr. Snape, he should be in his labs. He will likely yell at you for interrupting him, but please ignore his foul temper and give him the note anyway." The Russian boy who had come to the school three years prior upon infection ran as soon as he had the note in hand.

"Seth, would you please find Professor Lupin, he should be either in his classroom or in the library, and tell him that I need him in this classroom right away?"

Seth nodded and set off right behind Sasha.

"The rest of you head to the Hall and work on a thirteen inch essay on the natural habitats of lethifolds and why those habitats make it so difficult to immediately identify them. No skiving, I'll only ask Marissa if she saw you there or not."

"Yes ma'am." Six more students clutched their books to their chests and filed out of the room looking more than just slightly anxious.

Verdana, an Italian girl who had pretty much been raised at wereworld, receiving the bite just after turning five, and being sent less than a year after the school had opened,--at the age of nearly seven--stayed in her seat. Hermione asked, "Verdana?"

"I'll just stay here until your husbands come, Professor."

Hermione smiled at the thoughtfulness and began to say, "I'm fine," when a contraction cut her off mid-"fine." Verdana came to her side. "Is there anything I can do?"

Hermione rode out the contraction with a combination of breathing and willful concentration on the fact that it would end. Hermione looked over at the girl standing next to her, one arm at an odd angle. Her parents had locked her into a cage barely large enough for her human form and when a transformation back in the cramped space had caused severe fracturing to the arm, hadn't bothered to set it right. Hermione took the hand attached to her fully functional arm. "You're doing quite well just to stay with me."

Verdana smiled at her, always receptive to even small amounts of praise. She squeezed Hermione's hand softly. "You can squeeze all you want when it hurts."

Hermione squeezed a little, just to let her know she'd gotten the message. When the pain hit a third time, Hermione held on for dear life. She came out of it to find Remus hovering over her. She gave Verdana's hand one last squeeze. "The cavalry's arrived."

Verdana frowned. "Cavalry?"

Remus laughed nervously. "Don't worry about it. Go join your classmates. Thank you for staying with her."

Verdana collected her things slowly, her eyes on Hermione the whole time. Hermione gave her a reassuring smile and Verdana hurried off. Remus stroked Hermione's hair. "Severus is calling Nora. I'm supposed to get you to the hospital wing."

Hermione shook her head. "Our rooms."

"Min-"

Hermione was in no mood to argue. "Our. Rooms."

"Severus is going to kill me."

"I'll kill him back when I'm feeling more up to it."

Remus picked her up like a child, her legs slung over one arm, her arm holding at his neck. He said, "You're a bit heavier than normal, know why that would be?"

Hermione laughed until the next contraction hit.

*

In human time, Hermione would later learn, the labor had taken thirteen hours and twenty four minutes, give or take. In pregnant woman time, it had taken forever plus thirty years. Again, give or take.

With magic. Which supposedly sped up the process.

It ended with a loud squalling to match Hermione's exhausted sigh, and Nora placing the eight pound four ounce Ronni in Hermione's arms. Hermione wouldn't have thought she could hold anything at that point, but Ronni didn't take up much space and was more fascinating than any book Hermione had ever stumbled across. Her features were too tiny to really resemble anything or anyone, and yet somehow they were compelling, her dark eyes, the bald, vulnerable patch of skin that made up her head, the finger that wriggled around her nose and mouth in random patterns, not seeming to have any intention other than feeling at air that was so very different from the nine month habitat she'd just vacated.

Remus was the first to reach out and put a gentle hand to her head. Hermione could feel his awe without having to turn around, see his face. Even Fey was curled protectively on the headboard, hissing at anyone who tried to get near the three of them, even Nora when she came around to make Hermione take some fluids.

When Nora withdrew and it was just the three of them and one very possessive snake, Severus said, "She's rather. . .small."

"I'm no Olympe Maxime myself, Severus." Offering Ronni up a tad, she asked, "Why don't you try taking her for a bit? I'm quite ready to spend some hours comatose."

"I'm not entirely sure how to cast an Unbreakable Charm on a human being."

Hermione started to laugh before realizing that Severus was seriously contemplating how to go about such a thing. On the brink of giving into her exhaustion, she said, "Remus?"

Remus took Ronni in his arms, reverent but comfortable, and Hermione wondered if he still remembered how it had felt with Harry, who must have been the first baby he would have held like that. Remus moved in so that he was touching Severus, facing him. "You won't break her. Just put your arm-" and Remus maneuvered it so that Ronni was safely ensconced in Severus' arms, making baby noises and drifting off nearly as quickly as Hermione herself.

Remus began to move backward, but Severus said, "Stay," and there was an edge of panic to the order.

Remus put a hand underneath one of Severus' arms. "I'm not the one who's going anywhere."

Severus looked down intently at the bundle in his arms. As Hermione was in her last throws of consciousness, she heard him say, as though testing it out, as though finding out that this might not be the end of the world as he understood it, "Ronni."

*

When Hermione woke up, Severus was sitting next to her on the bed, his back up against the headboard. Remus was settled in between Severus' legs, his back to Severus's chest. Remus was holding Ronni to him, with Severus' left arm draped over Remus so as to let his hand rest on her head. Hermione couldn't help lamenting her lack of a camera.

Remus was the first to notice her waking state. "How are you feeling?"

Hermione looked down at a body that should have been more familiar than it was at that moment. "Odd."

"Zev's been to check on you several times," Remus said.

"He won't take my word that we're watching over you." Severus scowled, but didn't take his eyes off Ronni.

"Perhaps he thinks your concern is focused in other directions." Hermione couldn't exactly blame him. "Here, give her over."

Hermione eased herself up in to a sitting position, thanking quite a few higher powers for the efficacy of magical healing. Her mum had told her positive horror stories about Hermione's own birth. As she took Ronni from a somewhat regretful looking Remus, she asked, "Has anyone called my parents?"

Remus nodded. "We gave that to Zev. He seemed to need something to do. They're planning on coming up a bit later in the day, I think they're hoping to catch you awake."

Despite just having woken, Hermione yawned. "They might have to hurry." She tugged slightly at the nightgown somebody must have changed her into after the birthing and gave over a nipple to Ronni, who seemed to know exactly what to do with it. The sensation wasn't precisely what Hermione had expected, there was more of a pull and things were just a bit more tender than she'd been counting on, but it only took a moment to adjust and then she was able to look down and revel a bit in this person for whom she and a couple of others were responsible. "Hungry little thing."

Severus reached the hand that had been on Ronni's head out, stopping just short of Hermione's breast. Hermione murmured, "It's all right, love."

He swept the long fingers over the expanse of breast that wasn't in Ronni's mouth and then allowed the digits to travel over the side of Ronni's face that was turned upward. The gesture was neither sexual nor comforting, more exploratory. Remus took the hand in his own, turned it so that the palm faced him, and kissed the tips of Severus' fingers. When Remus had finished, Severus said, "I can't quite remember why I thought her name would matter."

Hermione angled her face up for a kiss and Severus obliged her. Remus burrowed deeper into Severus. Ronni, hungry and oblivious to her parent's conciliatory dynamic, kept feeding away.


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Skin by egelantier, photo by microbophile