(Highlight to View) Warning(s): Pregnancy Loss (in the past).
(Highlight to View) Prompt: Severus invites Hermione to a secluded picnic spot, where she realises she is not so much a guest as bait for a spot of ingredients collection (SS/HG or SS & HG).
Summary: Severus hopes a potion will provide a little reassurance for Hermione—and himself.
"Severus, this is not like you at all."
Hermione nodded at the blanket spread out on the soft grass, and smiled.
Severus smiled softly back at her as he cast a warming charm around them. "Well, since we were already at Hogwarts, I thought you might enjoy a more private moment before we Floo'd home."
"I had fun today. I didn't expect to, but I did. I still find it hard to believe that Minerva is retiring." She settled herself on the wool. "I always thought she would be teaching here forever—and that she has taught here forever."
"She does seem as old as the school itself."
"That was not very nice," Hermione said, pursing her lips in amusement.
"Actually, I'm sure she would agree."
Hermione laughed. "I'm sure."
Severus had picked a spot in a natural clearing, just inside the boundary of the Forbidden Forest. It was surrounded by ancient trees; moonlight trickled through the leaves and glittered on the gentle carpet of grass.
Hermione dove into the picnic basket. "So what have you packed for us? Let's see…oh, elf-made wine…"
He reached for his wand and nodded at it. "May I…?"
She handed him the wine. "Just water for me," she said levelly.
He looked at her with narrowed eyes as he opened the bottle. "Is there something you want to tell me, Hermione?" he asked without malice.
"Eh…yes and no, to be honest," she murmured.
"I know you shouldn't have any wine," he looked at her significantly, and set the bottle down on the blanket next to him. "When were you going to tell me?"
She swallowed, and focused on the wool between them. "When the time was right. It was never…quite right," she managed. "I know we've talked about it trying again, but we never came to a decision."
He stayed silent and let her speak.
"I didn't plan it. I wouldn't have, without you fully on board," Hermione said, glancing at him. "You know that, right?"
"I know," Severus said quietly.
"I don't want you to feel that I was hiding it from you. I wasn't. I was just waiting for the right time to tell you." She twisted her wedding ring. "After last time…" Her voice cracked, and she found she could not continue.
Severus reached up and brushed her hair back behind her shoulder. "I'm not angry." He pulled a glass container out of the basket, unscrewed it, and poured the liquid out into a second glass. "This is for your stomach. It's a tonic of raspberry leaf, peppermint, ginger, and slippery elm bark. And there are crackers still in the basket."
"Thank you." She smiled tightly and looked around. "Whomever decided to call it Morning Sickness is barking. They should have called it All Day Sickness."
Severus huffed a laugh and took her hand. "Everything will be all right," he whispered.
"I know," she answered quietly. She gestured around them. "But this isn't much like you. Surely it wasn't just to ask me about…this," she said, indicating her still-flat belly.
"You haven't been sleeping," he said flatly.
"I know." She sighed. "I've been thinking about last time. What it did to you…to both of us…" Tears threatened. "The truth is, I'm terrified, Sev. I can't help it. I've done every diagnostic spell that can be done, and everything looks fine, it's just..."
"It looked fine last time." He met her eye. "I—"
He broke his stare and looked out over the clearing, his elbows on bent knees.
"I'm not a fortunate man, Hermione. I have never been a fortunate man. The only thing that has ever gone right for me is us. And as with everything in my life, I cannot shake the feeling that something will go wrong. Again…"
He stopped speaking for a minute. She waited.
"After last time, I need…something."
Hermione considered him in the moonlight: this private man that shared his life with her, this man that had borne so much pain, so much loss. "So, I'm not the only one who hasn't been sleeping," she said finally.
"So, exactly why are we here?"
"To collect something for me—or perhaps both of us."
"To collect something?"
"Some believe that you can predict the outcome of the delivery of a child with an ancient potion—"
"Arithmancy can do that," Hermione said, cutting across him.
"True," he conceded. "But, as you know, there are a large number of variables when it comes to pregnancy and delivery. The additional variables create a difficult equation to resolve to conclusion." He took her hand. "And while I do not have your talent for Arithmancy, I do have a talent for potions."
Severus took a swallow of wine. "See what else is in the basket."
Hermione reached in and found a large chunk of raw meat wrapped in cellophane. She pulled it out. "Severus…?"
He took the bundle from her, unwrapping it before handing it back to her. "Stand up for me."
She looked at him quizzically as she rose. "What—"
"I created a potion using eyebright, lotus flower, mugwort, poppy, and Solomon's leaf. I need one more ingredient before the last stage of brewing. Stay still. And silent."
He put his finger to his lips. "Shhh."
A rustle in the trees set her heart racing, a flicker of fear warming her face. There were so many creatures in the Forbidden Forest: acromantulas…centaurs…wolves...
A large, obsidian horse-like creature appeared at the far edge of the clearing, nostrils flaring wildly in the fractured light.
She knew what it was of course; truthfully, since the war, she didn't know anyone who didn't know what they were. Or couldn't see them.
The Thestral approached shyly, its head bobbing up and down as it walked, its white eyes glistening and fixed on the blood dripping from the flesh in her hand. Its shiny skin glistened in the flickering light; its coat was stretched over muscleless bones until it looked thin enough to tear.
She did her best to root her feet to the ground.
Severus stood and approached the creature's side, as the Thestral pulled great bites of meat into its mouth with its fangs. Severus raked his hand through the creature's mane, dragging out a single hair, and holding it carefully between thumb and forefinger.
He caught her eye. Apparently, Severus had what he wanted.
Finished, the Thestral sauntered away.
Severus looked extremely pleased. He bent to place his prize in a vial, securing the top.
"Is that the final ingredient?"
Hermione sat down and busied herself with a Scourgify.
"What does the potion to?"
He sat down next to her on the blanket and put his head in his hands. "It will predict if the—rather, if our child will live through birth," he murmured.
"Oh," she managed.
Neither said anything for a moment.
"Can we go home now?" she asked.
And he gathered their belongings, took her hand, and twisted them away.
Severus didn't have to clarify exactly what was ready; Hermione knew he'd gone down to his brewing room first thing that morning, expecting to find the potion ready to accept the final two ingredients. Apparently, it was.
Hermione looked up from the Prophet. "Okay," she said, putting it down. "I am, too."
She followed him down the flight of stairs to the cool, bright basement room. Severus removed the Thestral hair from a glass jar and added it to a copper cauldron. It disappeared into the muddy-coloured brew immediately.
He produced a sewing needle and presented it to her. "Here."
"You do it," Hermione said. "Please…" She offered her hand. He took it gently in his own and pricked her index finger, positioning it over the cauldron so it would catch a single drop of her blood.
"As you know, the colour of the potion changes to indicate a predicted positive or negative outcome." He stirred the potion nine times anti-clockwise. "It will change from this deep brown to light brown for a positive outcome, or dark grey to black for a negative one."
The potion stared back at them, unmoving. Unchanging.
"It's the same. What does that mean?" Hermione asked.
"It means there are still too many variables to predict the outcome." Severus pursed his lips in annoyance. "There was a one in ten chance that the colour would not change upon the addition of the Thestral hair and your blood."
Disappointment flooded her. "So we won't know."
"Not necessarily. If the variables change, the potion will reflect the new outcome. It could change colour at any time."
They both stared at the cauldron for a moment.
"After all that, we still have to wait," she said, letting out the breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding.
"We still have to wait," he echoed, pulling her into his arms, and kissing the top of her head.
Severus decanted some of the liquid into a small vial, and put it in his pocket. He didn't need to tell her that if it turned black, it would herald something more than a simple negative outcome—it would mean that they would experience the loss of another child.
Severus sat in a cramped waiting room in St Mungo's, down the hall from the room where his wife lay. He itched with the need to be by her side, but the corridor that stretched between them felt impossibly long, and he felt immeasurably weak and unable to navigate it, should he be asked to do so.
He retrieved a tiny vial of potion—one that he had kept with him for months—from a pocket inside his robes. He frowned. The mixture that had mingled his wife's blood with Thestral hair was the same stubborn brown it had always been.
From everything the attending healer had told him, Hermione would give birth within the next few hours. Why hadn't the potion changed colour by now? By all measures, it should have. How could the variables still be so uncertain?
Severus sighed, the beige walls of the tiny waiting room weighing on him. If they had gone to Muggle hospital, he would be at Hermione's bedside as she labored. Instead, she had insisted that they come to St Mungo's, and he was confined to this shabby chair, surrounded by ancient wallpaper and threadbare carpet, too far away to even hear her.
Although he would never say it aloud to his wife, he felt her demands to return to the same place of their shared tragedy were the ravings of someone far into her cups—of hormones.
Not that he would ever judge her—or her stubborn resolve.
Severus rose from the dingy chair and started to pace.
Perhaps moving would make him feel as though he was doing something productive—something besides staring at the little glass vial every minute or so to see if it had finally spoken good news.
Hermione took a deep breath. The last contraction faded, leaving her both weak and frustrated.
She glanced around, surveying the nearly empty space. She was alone, as was custom here. Unlike the delivery rooms in Muggle hospitals, St Mungo's policy aligned with her wishes—she would be on her own until the very end of labor, until she called for a healer to assist with the actual birth. The Wizarding World considered it too dangerous to allow anyone to stay in a room with a witch in that much pain, potentially wielding uncontrolled magic—windows could break, furniture could be thrown, and people could get hurt—even the father. Especially the father.
Truthfully, she didn't want Severus in the room if something were to go wrong. As much as her husband had witnessed in his life, she wished to spare him, if it could be done. And if he believed that she was mad for wanting to have this baby at St Mungo's, it was fine with her. She'd take the blame.
She reached for a cup of ice, and sighed.
This second baby, this tumbling, restless child in her belly, would greet the world here, and the devastation of the last time would be forgotten. St Mungo's would become synonymous with joy.
Ravings of a mad pregnant woman, certainly.
But it would happen, here, flawlessly. She demanded it of fate.
Hermione glanced at the clock, fixed to the wall with a Permanent Sticking Charm—as most things in the room were. If her body was responding as it did last time she was confined to the hospital, her next contraction should start in five minutes.
As the pain consumed her five minutes later, a flicker of fear whispered that this was unfolding exactly like it had before.
Severus continued stalking the waiting area until he felt the threadbare carpet could take no more of his wanderings. If he didn't leave the room, not only would he wear the wool through, they might as well escort him to the fourth floor and confine him to a room with Lockhart.
He stepped out the doorway. Fortunately, the resident bulldog—rather, the receptionist, he thought snidely—was away from her post. Perhaps on a dinner break?
He would stretch his legs by walking up and down the hall a few times. Yes, that would be welcome. And with the official-looking witch absent from her desk, no one would be the wiser. He pulled out the vial and absently turned it in his fingers, striding in the direction of his wife's room.
It was time. The contractions were only about a minute apart. Hermione reached for the button spelled with the Protean Charm to call for the healer. As she reached for it, pain rippled through her abdomen, and her unsteady hand knocked the button off the side table and onto the floor.
It rolled away.
Gasping, Hermione pulled herself up and stood; she took one step and a vicious spasm wracked her belly. She felt her ankle give way and within a breath, she was on the floor, wand out of reach.
She cried out, but the Muffliato that padded her room with kept anyone from hearing her.
She was alone, sprawled on the cold linoleum, the button out of reach.
And the darkness took her.
His black frock coat billowing around him, Severus strode down the hall for the fourth time, unconsciously turning the vial in his hand. As he approached Hermione's room, he happened to glance down at glass between his fingers.
He'd carried the vial every day since he'd added the Thestral hair and the drop of his wife's blood; he could identify its colour precisely without question; he could picture it when he closed his eyes.
As he looked at it now, it seemed…lighter somehow.
Elated, he swiveled to return to the lobby area, his heart soaring.
Smiling softly, he settled himself back down on a decrepit couch in the stuffy room, placing the vial next to him on a wooden table. He closed his eyes and laid his head back against the cushions.
She was going to be okay. The baby was going to be okay. Everything was going to be okay.
Opening his eyes, he glanced at the liquid. It was growing darker again. Curious.
Had it been a trick of the light? He wandered out into the hall. No, it certainly grew lighter as he approached her room. Or had it?
He stepped back toward the waiting area; as he approached it, the muddy brown dipped to dark grey, and then darkened almost to black.
He turned and ran down the hall.
Severus burst into the room, the door swinging wildly in his wake. "I'm here," he managed before he saw her sprawled on the floor, unconscious and surrounded by blood.
He glanced around for the Protean-charmed button, and, not locating it quickly, he rushed to the hall and bellowed for help.
Two mediwitches and a healer appeared from around the corner at the end of the hallway, running toward the room as they spelled themselves with protection charms.
"You may go, Master Snape," the healer barked—without bothering to look in his direction—as she knelt next to his wife.
"Not on your life," he growled. "I'm supposed to be here."
"What made you come in?" Hermione asked an hour later, when they were alone, her voice still small and weak.
"I was pacing up and down the hall, and I happened to notice the potion change colour. When I walked toward your room, it became lighter, and when I started to walk away, it grew darker, almost black."
"You happened to notice at the potion at that exact moment, when you were pacing up and down the corridor?" She smiled softly. "Do you still believe that you are an unfortunate man?"
Severus gazed down at the tiny sleeping bundle in his arms. "I suppose not," he said, and huffed a small laugh.