Lilith awakened slowly. Her body felt heavy and lethargic. Her mind was fuzzy. Her eyes ached from too many tears and her throat was sore from crying. Wiping the crust from her eyes, she blinked them open. The first sight to reach her was the unrumpled bedding next to her.
He'd never come to bed.
Heartsick she wanted only to sleep again, but physical needs pressed on her and she pulled herself from the bed. Memories of the night before assailed her and she pushed them away, concentrating on starting the day.
And finding her husband.
A half hour later, refreshed as best she could be and dressed warmly, she shuffled down the hallway, peering into the parlor and his study before reaching the kitchen. It was cold and she shivered, wrapping her shawl around her more tightly. The back door was open and Severus stood just inside, looking out at the garden. Lilith could see it was a bleak day. Perfect for her mood.
"Severus? It's very cold in here," she said softly, not wanting to startle him.
Without looking at her, he stepped back and methodically closed and locked the door.
As he finally turned to face her, she asked, "Would you like some breakfast?" When he frowned at her, she dropped her eyes.
"Stop it." The harsh tone of his voice brought her head back up and she stared at him, startled. "Stop being so damn meek."
"I...Isn't that what you wanted?" Confusion swiftly turned to anger as she remembered his harsh words and actions of the night before, and she felt her cheeks flame. "Obeying your every word, spreading my legs whenever you want?" At the pallor that hit his already pale cheeks, she felt a cold satisfaction. "The meek and biddable wife of a dark wizard?"
"Stop it," he whispered this time, his eyes going even darker.
"I spent the night crying in my sleep, Severus. All I wanted was your comfort and you refused to give that to me. Instead..." Bitter vindictiveness filled her and she spat out, "If I brought a charge of marital rape before the courts, I'd win."
His stoic facade broke and the pain and horror in his eyes and his expression vanquished her anger but left her with frustration at her own caring. "Yes, and you should," he forced out painfully. "I won't fight it."
Lilith frowned and then winced as the baby kicked for the first time that morning. "And how would He take that? I don't dare."
"I don't care."
"Yes, you do. We have to keep up the charade. No matter what." She felt the bleak pain return and held it hard inside herself, afraid the tears would return as well. "You were very adamant about that last night and, as you know the chances of the war ending in the next two months are non-existent, we have no choice."
The baby kicked again and, distracted, she massaged the spot high on her stomach. When she looked up again, Severus was at her side, frowning, his eyes on her face.
"I can't stand the sight of that bruise," he choked out guiltily, "Get rid of it."
The bruise from his palm. Her cheek ached slightly from it, but, in her hurry to dress and find him, she hadn't even looked in the mirror. Fingers going to it, she hissed softly at the feel of swollen skin, and her answer was simple. "No."
Severus appeared momentarily startled, then nodded, his expression contrite. "Of course. I will heal it for you."
"No." At his confusion, she explained, "You didn't hit me out of true malice or anger--you can convince yourself it was your right, but I'm never going to believe you truly think that way. I was hysterical. I want it left as a reminder."
"You want me to feel guilty," he countered sharply.
Severus didn't respond, only turned away and returned to stare out the back door through the window. "Over too much," he finally answered, his voice full of bitterness. "It's my duty to protect you. I failed."
"Duty? This isn't the middle ages. I can protect myself. Your only duty is to love me, and, yes, I know, you like to pretend you don't, and you'll never say it, but do you think I don't know? If you didn't love me, what the Dark Lord wants from me wouldn't be tearing you up inside and making you act like an ass."
When he spun around in surprise, she snorted and crossed her arms over her chest. "Yeah, you heard me. You don't want me meek and biddable, I'm fine with that, believe me, but let's get one thing straight, Severus Snape, I love you. I'm incredibly pissed off at you, but I love you. And I need you, as my partner, my husband. I need you to help me survive this. Think of someone besides yourself for once. If what the Dark Lord wants is destroying you, then think about what it will do to me." Her passion quickly turned to fear again and fresh tears stung her sore eyes.
"It's not love. You're trapped here and making the best of things and..."
Her fear went to anger in a split second. "Don't you dare try to tell me how I feel!"
"You love Black," Severus yelled back, his temper slipping his iron-tight control. "The whole fucking world knows that."
His swearing shocked her more than his passionate anger and she gaped at him, then frowned. "I love him, yes. I love both of you."
"You're going to leave me for him. You said so last night."
"Because I was angry. I didn't mean it. At least...Dammit, Severus, you know I don't know what I'm going to do. I don't even know if we're going to survive tomorrow. I can't make plans. I have to live for each day, even more so now that the Dark Lord...I can't think about that," she ground out.
"It's all I can think about," was his bleak reply.
An uncomfortable, heavy silence fell over the kitchen, broken finally as Lilith, her back aching and her feet hurting, moved to the table to sit and bury her face in her hands. "I'm just so tired and so scared," she finally said softly, her hands lowering to clasp on the table in front of her. "I need you to be here for me. I need you to look past your own selfishness and be here for me." As she stressed the final word, she glanced over her shoulder and saw him shaking his head.
"You can't rely on me. You have to be strong on your own. You said you can do it, take care of yourself. So, do it." Reaching for his cloak hanging by the door, Severus wrapped it around his shoulders.
"Wait, where are you going?"
"I have to inform the Order that your place is no longer secure and that the Dark Lord knows of our deception."
"Will you come back?" Lilith asked in a small voice.
He gave her a hooded look. "This is my home."
It wasn't much of an answer and before she could protest more, he was out the door, leaving her cold and alone.
Lilith went back to bed, burrowing beneath the covers and trying to get warm. Her heart ached, her body ached, her mind was overflowing with fear and loss and confusion. Finally, sleep dragged her under and, thankfully, it was dreamless.
Molly was in the kitchen at Grimmauld Place and, on Severus' arrival, called the other occupants of the house to join them. Severus was a bit disgruntled to see that Narcissa was now included in that company, but held his tongue and nodded civilly to her.
"Is Lilith okay?" was the first thing out of Sirius' mouth, and Severus frowned at him.
"She is well, but I have news." He took a deep breath and gestured for everyone to sit while he remained standing, hands folded into the sleeves of his coat. "Last night we attended Court and, well, I'm not sure what happened exactly, but the Dark Lord must have said something to her or did something to frighten her because she reacted. He knows she's not on Obfuscare."
Narcissa gasped and reached for Remus' hand. "And he didn't kill her?"
Giving her a dark look, Severus continued, "No. He's not pleased, but I believe I managed to convince him I have her under Imperius. She faked that quite well. We have been banished for the moment, and I expect he will summon me soon to punish me, but Lilith is safe." Into the relief on the others' faces, he dropped the bombshell. "For now. He's demanding she...attend him after the birth."
Confusion filled three faces.
The other went ashen.
"No," Narcissa whimpered. "That will destroy her."
"She's stronger than that," Severus said, his voice going hard and cold.
Narcissa jumped to her feet and rounded the table. "No! Don't let her do this, Severus. Don't make her."
Glaring at her, he snapped back, "The war won't be over in time to prevent it, Narcissa. We don't have a choice. He'll kill her, kill us all, including the child, if she doesn't go to him."
"What's going on?" Remus asked, confused. Molly and Sirius were equally bewildered.
"He...The Dark Lord...he wants her."
Understanding of Narcissa's painfully spoken words came to Sirius first and he turned red. "You bastard, how could you let it go this far?" he yelled at Severus, on his feet and hands clenched into fists as the words burst from his mouth. "It's bad enough she has to sleep with you. She'll go to that monster's bed over my dead body."
"That can be arranged," Severus snarled back.
"Stop it both of you," Remus yelled, grabbing Sirius' arm and jerking him back into his seat, as Molly gasped in horror. As Sirius panted and Narcissa turned paler and paler, Remus took a deep breath and continued, "What exactly were his demands, Severus?"
Letting the cold facade slide over his expression, Severus answered, his clipped voice the only sign of his frustration. "Thirty days after she gives birth, Lilith is to go to his bed."
Remus' hand tightening on Sirius' arm kept him silent. "Just once?"
"It's never just once," Narcissa said dully, rubbing her arms as if to ward off a chill.
Rising to his feet Remus pulled her into his arms, soothing her with silent strokes of his hands. "Severus, pull her out."
Severus' voice was quiet now as well, as everyone's horror sank into depressed fear. "If I pull her out, I have to pull myself out as well. If I do that, the war is lost."
"Your position as his lackey is not that important." But there was no heat to Sirius' words and Severus didn't take exception to them.
"We all know it is," Remus interjected tiredly, resting his chin atop Narcissa's bent head. His eyes met the other man's. "Will Lilith go through with it?"
"Remus, we can't let her," Sirius cried out.
"Will she survive it?"
"He won't kill her."
Remus shook his head and hugged Narcissa tighter. "That's not what I asked."
What came out in a voice raw with pain and horror surprised everyone. "I don't know if I'll survive it."
Pulling free of her lover, Narcissa turned to Severus and gently placed one palm against his cool cheek. "You love my sister." When he didn't deny or confirm her statement, she smiled sadly.
And knew what she had to do.
But, before she could speak, Severus gasped and pulled away from her, clutching his arm. "I have to go."
"You've been summoned?"
He nodded at Remus, a dark look crossing his face. "Undoubtedly for punishment. I'll send word when I'm back at the cottage. If you don't receive an owl by midnight tonight, go get Lilith. If he doesn't let me go by then, he won't let me go at all, and she'll be in danger."
"We can't risk your life, Severus," Remus stressed.
"I don't think it will go that far, but he may keep me captive. Lilith shouldn't be alone."
"If we bring her here, he's going to figure it out."
"In that case, it won't matter. As a prisoner, I'll be of no more use to the Order."
Remus gave him a solemn look. "He will kill you then."
And Severus returned it. "My life was forfeit years ago." With a sweep of his cloak, he left the kitchen and the murmuring protests behind.
Remus found her in their room, sitting in the window seat, looking out at the wintery garden. As he closed the door softly behind him, Narcissa turned and he nearly flinched at the bleakness of her expression. It had been awhile since he'd seen her look so desolate. Crossing the room, he watched her hands fold in her lap, the fingers clasping together and slowly turning white. Remus drew a chair to face her and sat, taking her hands in his own.
They were cold.
"Lilith's strong," he said softly, trying to meet her eyes.
Narcissa looked away, her lips tightening as she shook her head. "It's not just that. She shouldn't have to do this. You all ask too much of her. When I found out the truth about Severus, I still knew it wasn't her choice to be with him. You, him, the Order, my father, have all taken too much from her." Her voice dropped as did her eyes, and color flared on her pale cheeks. "I used to wish my life on her. When father and Lucius drugged her, when Severus took her, I thought...finally, she pays. For what, I never gave much thought. But...now...since you, I know how wrong I was and how good she is and, Remus, this isn't right." As her voice rose again with agitation, she looked up and their eyes finally met.
"I know, luv, but what else can we do? We need Severus at Voldemort's side. Lilith chose to stay with him. She chose to do this, knowing the risks."
"She couldn't have known," Narcissa blazed, yanking her hands free, and, ignoring the surprise on Remus' face, continued passionately, "He's a monster. He always was. This is wrong. She's...good. Don't you understand? She doesn't deserve what he'll do to her."
It hit him then, like a bullet between the eyes, and he felt his chest tighten, his head swim, and he reached for her hands again, not letting her avoid him. "You didn't either, luv." As he laced their fingers together, his free hand cupped her cheek and he felt his fingers dampen with her tears. "Oh, gods, Narcissa..."
"I...I never wanted...Never wanted you to find out. It wasn't my choice, Remus, please believe me," came out in a rush and he drew her into his arms, onto her lap, cradling her like a child, pressing kisses to the top of her head.
"I do," Remus repeated over and over as she softly cried.
Severus writhed on the cold marble floor, trying not to scream, knowing he was whimpering as the agony burned through him from the curse. Every nerve ending was on fire and unbidden tears streamed down his cheeks. As another wave of pain crashed over him, he bit through his lip and tasted his own blood, his body spasming uncontrollably. His forehead banged on the floor and he gave in, finally screaming.
The curse eased but the pain lingered, searing through his body, leaving him limp and helpless. A chuckle reached his stinging ears, turning his stomach at the evil delight in the sound.
"You always hold out longer than any, Severus," Voldemort murmured, and Severus felt the Dark Lord's robes brush over his trembling back, a foot nudge his clenched fist. Forcing his eyes open he saw the wand held in clawed hand lowering towards his cheek, and he flinched away from it. "Do you think you've been punished enough?"
Unable to speak, Severus simply shook his head and waited for the Cruciatus to hit him again. As seconds turned into minutes, perspiration dried on his face and neck, leaving his skin clammy, and the pain finally began to fade. Refusing to give into hope, he remained still, waiting.
Voldemort sighed softly and the tip of the wand retracted from his cheek. "If you had only asked for permission to remove her from the potion, Severus, I would have granted you that boon. Your mastery of Imperius has always been impressive." There was a long pause and then the voice turned cruel again, "But you did not ask." And the curse struck and Severus screamed.
Unable to sleep any longer, Lilith sat in her favorite chair in the parlor, trying to ignore the place on the wall he'd pressed her to the night before and showed her just how easily he could make her want him. It was afternoon but she still wasn't hungry. Worry was beginning to eat away at the edge of her ennui.
Severus had been gone for nearly five hours.
A tap at the front door brought her out of her thoughts with a jerk of fear. No one ever came to visit, not since Draco had gone on the run and Sirius had given up on her voluntarily leaving. The tap came again, and slowly she forced herself up.
Surely a bunch of Death Eaters wouldn't knock.
Taking a deep breath, Lilith opened the door, and found herself in a familiar embrace, hugged against a substantial bosom that smelled of sugar and tea and roses.
"Oh, my dear..."
Closing the door behind her, Molly pulled back and affectionately patted her shoulder, a tight smile on her face. "Let me look at you." Taking Lilith's hands, she stepped back and examined her carefully. The smile turned to a frown when her eyes lit on her face and Molly's lips pursed. "Did Severus do that?"
Lilith felt herself flush and she pulled back from her old friend. "I was hysterical."
Sympathy returned to the round face. "Understandable. Come, get off you feet and I'll make you a cuppa."
"Molly, what are you doing here?" Had Severus sent her? Was he not coming back after all?
Molly's face had always shown her every emotion and now the worry was plain. "I felt...well, someone needed to be here with you."
A cold chill went down Lilith's spine and as her throat began to close from fear, she forced out, "Where is Severus?"
The patting hand returned, this time to her cold one. "He was summoned, dear." As tears filled Lilith's eyes, Molly hugged her again, rocking her slightly. "It'll be all right, Lilith. He's strong."
"He's being hurt, because I failed," Lilith wept, clutching the shorter woman's shoulders as her despair got the better of her.
"Don't you ever think that. None of this is your fault! We've asked too much of you and you've been so brave."
Under Molly's soothing hands, Lilith quickly got herself under control and pulled back, wiping her sore eyes with the handkerchief Molly held out to her.
"Now, where's your kitchen? I doubt you've eaten a bite today, have you."
"I'm not hungry."
"You're less than a month from birthing that baby. It's hungry even if you're not."
"And two months from..." Lilith began faintly, then wrapped her shawl tightly around her slumping shoulders as the shivers returned.
Molly slipped one arm around Lilith's waist and guided her out of the room. "We'll think of something, Lilith."
"I don't think there's anything that can be done. I...He could have just killed me."
"And thank Merlin he didn't," was Molly's strong answer as they entered the kitchen. "You'll survive. You're a fighter." As Lilith slowly nodded, the older woman glanced approvingly at the organized and tidy kitchen. "Now, let's see what I can throw together for you and the wee one."
Lilith sank into a chair and watched Molly bustle around the kitchen. "Molly, is it safe for you to be here?"
"Well...no more dangerous than when Harry and Draco were here, I'm sure." As she spoke, she lit the stove with her wand and put a pot of leftover soup on to heat, then began to make toasted cheese sandwiches. "As I said, I didn't think you should be alone. I was the logical choice. Now, do you like tomatoes on your toasted cheese?"
"Um, no thank you. Molly...how did Sirius take the news?"
Molly paused for a minute, than slapped buttered bread into a skillet. "Not well." Shooting Lilith a look she continued, "How did you expect?"
"Not well," Lilith sighed and rubbed her hands over her cold cheeks, wincing as she touched the bruise. "I'm trying not to think about it, trying to focus on the baby, but it's so hard without Severus here."
The older woman brought dishes to the table and added a steeping teapot before returning to the stove. "Your letters haven't really touched on your relationship with Severus, and I don't mean to pry, but are you really okay with it?"
Lilith almost smiled at the 'don't mean to pry' comment as the older woman pried. "He's a difficult man to get to know, very private, but then, as a spy, he's had to be, but we get along well. It's just..." She thought for minute. "He's very solitary and I'm not. I'm used to having friends. Being able to owl you and the others has helped these last couple of months, but it's not the same. I always had friends around me and was always social. Sometimes I feel like I'm a princess locked in a tower."
"But you understand why that's necessary." Molly brought the soup and sandwiches to the table and joined Lilith.
"Oh, sure, in my head, but it's...lonely. Especially when he's gone. There are only so many poorly knitted baby booties I can make."
"There will come a time, I believe, that Severus being a spy will no longer be of any help to our side and he can be with you all the time."
"I hope so, because the war doesn't look like it's going to be over anytime soon."
Sighing in acknowledgment, Molly poured tea as Lilith ladled out the soup. "I'm afraid you're right about that."
Consciousness returned with agonizing pain and Severus could only scream helplessly. When the curse stopped, he was slow to realize it and even slower to recognize the nasty chuckle. Forcing his eyes open he took in his situation in an instant--hanging in chains in one of the dungeon chambers, shirt gone, blood caked around one eye, pain making him quiver, cold making him shiver.
And Lucius smirking at him, wand held loosely in one hand.
"There you are, old friend."
A few deep breaths and Severus found the strength to regain his feet, relieving the strain on his shoulders. He was hung from chains in the ceiling. Another hour or so and he would have strangled to death. Another deep breath and he was able to speak, his voice hoarse and breaking with the lingering pain. "What do you want, Lucius?"
Lucius smirked deeper, shook his head, tsking. "You're such a fool, Severus. High in our Lord's favor and you nearly blow it for what? That bitch and her whelp?"
"My child. My heir," Severus stressed, eyes narrowing as he watched a flicker of emotion on his brother-in-law's face. "I couldn't risk her life."
"You were given Lilith so the Dark Lord could use her visions, not so you could get heirs on her. Once we've won the war and she's served her purpose, you can have any woman you want to have a whole swarm of brats with." Slowly Lucius' eyes narrowed and then he laughed. "Did you know that when you're in pain, you actually reveal something of your emotions, Severus? You actually care for the bitch." He laughed again. "Is she so deeply under Imperius you've deluded yourself into believing that she returns the feeling?"
Fighting to get his emotions under control, Severus shot him a withering look. "I'm not a fool, Lucius, nor do I care for Lilith. She is the Lord's tool and I protect her and give her the comforts she needs to nurture her ability and that's all. My child is another thing."
"I don't know if I believe you, old friend. No one has ever loved you. When you're in bed with her and she touches you oh so willingly under the power of the curse, do you pretend that's it real?"
"Like I'm certain you always had to pretend with Narcissa?"
Lucius' face reddened in fury and his wand snapped up. "Narcissa is not a part of this conversation, Snape."
"I always thought you had broken her so completely, but she found the strength to run from you." Severus paused in calculation, then sneered softly, "Just as your son."
Tapping on the library door, Molly pushed it open and peered into the poorly lit room. When she saw the bottle of whisky and the full glass on the desk at which Sirius sat, she frowned and stepped into the room.
"How is she?" He didn't look up, just ran his finger around the edge of the glass.
"How much of that have you drunk?"
"None." At her snort of disbelief, he glanced at her, then gestured to the seat across from him. "If we need to rescue her, I need to be sober."
"Then why tempt yourself?" Molly asked as she settled in the chair, frowning at the sprung seat beneath her.
"Because I want this drink so badly and I can't seem to pour it out." Shaking himself slightly, Sirius moved his hand to the desk top. "You didn't answer me. How is she?"
"Scared, but well enough. Worried about the future and about..."
He didn't sneer, didn't snarl, just nodded. "I don't know why I hate him so much and always have. It started long before Lil. We just rub each other completely wrong, and it's easier to say a nasty word about him then to accept the truth."
"We need him at You Know Who's side."
"Yeah, that truth." Sighing, Sirius ran his hands over his face, then reached for the lid to the bottle and capped it. "I hate this war so much. This last year...nothing's gone right, not since she disappeared."
"Almost a year ago exactly," Molly realized.
"She says she's content with him, but...how can she be? For thirteen years all I wanted was to be with her. Every day in Azkaban I ached for her. When we found each other again, it was like no time had passed for either of us, and I knew she never forgot me, never gave up on our love. But, now...I just don't know." Pain filled his voice and he buried his face in his hands. "I never dreamed of touching another woman, of wanting anyone but her. How can it be different for her?"
"I'm sorry, Sirius," Molly finally said compassionately. "All I can say, and it won't help you, is that the Lilith Frost I first met all those years ago during the first war, and the one I spoke to earlier today is a pragmatist. Where you rail against what you can't change, she accepts it. She always has." Rising to her feet, she rounded the desk and placed a gentle hand on his trembling shoulder, then kissed the top of his head. "I know she loves you, though."
Finally Sirius choked out, "But does she love him, too?" and Molly had no answer for that.
Remus stood at the open window in the back parlor, a warming spell keeping out the winter's cold as he waited. When the clock behind him chimed midnight, he briefly closed his eyes in sorrow, then closed the window.
As he turned, the door opened and Tonks followed by Arthur entered the room.
In response to the older man's question, Remus shook his head and sighed heavily. "We need to go."
"I'm going, too." Sirius stepped into the room, a determined look on his face.
"Too many of us could set off an alert."
"It won't matter, will it? Not any longer." Tonks frowned and scratched her nose. "We just need to get her out of there fast."
"Then let's go."
They all followed Arthur out of the room and house to apparate to the lane outside Severus and Lilith's cottage.
From his body's physical needs, Severus knew many hours had passed since Lucius had left him screaming in agony. No new torments had come, only solitude and the growing concern that the Dark Lord wouldn't release him.
Had as much as a day passed? Was it after midnight?
If it was, and the Order had fulfilled his request, he was as good as dead. When the Dark Lord discovered Lilith missing, he'd know something was wrong. Pain and unconsciousness weren't enough to dissolve a strong Imperius curse. Neither was distance. If Lilith was truly under it, she couldn't voluntarily leave the cottage without him or a direct order from him. The Dark Lord would immediately be suspicious because one of his early commands was that Severus never reveal the location of his home to anyone on the other side. If Lilith couldn't leave on her own, that would mean she'd been taken, and only the Order would take her.
But, at least she'd be safe, and she wouldn't have to face what Voldemort wanted from her. He'd die at peace knowing that.
He would have liked to hold his daughter, though.
Unable to sleep, Lilith paced in front of the banked fire in the parlor, occasionally rubbing her sore lower back, and trying not to let fear consume her. The baby kicked strongly and she gasped, nearly bending over in surprise and pain. Pressing her hand to her side, she winced and whispered, "I know, baby. I'm worried about daddy, too."
She was more than worried. She was terrified.
And when a second knock of the day came on the front door she nearly screamed, but a glance at the clock on the mantel showed her that it was five minutes after midnight, and Molly had told her what Severus had asked them to do if they hadn't heard from him by then.
Heart in her throat and acid in her stomach, Lilith went to the door and opened it. Remus stood on the stoop, wand ready, an anxious look on his face. Behind him, facing in opposite directions looking over the garden were Tonks and Arthur. And behind them...
"We need to go, Lilith," Remus said softly, all his innate compassion ringing in those few words.
Lilith had made her decision earlier. "No."
Sirius joined Remus on the stoop, determination on his face. "He wanted us to come get you if he wasn't home by midnight."
"I know, Molly told me, but I'm not leaving and you can't stay more than a few minutes. It's not safe."
"It's not safe for you anymore, either," Sirius yelled in exasperation.
Backing away from her friends, Lilith shook her head again. "I'm not in danger. Not yet. He...He doesn't want to hurt me or kill me. I know what he wants from me. I had a vision."
Sirius paled and Remus stepped into the cottage. "Lilith, he could still come and take you away. If Severus broke, if he betrayed you..."
"You don't know that," Sirius interjected. "We don't even know if he's alive. He wanted you safe with us."
"I can't risk it! If he didn't break, if he's still alive, Voldemort could let him go. If I'm not here, he'll know Severus lied to him and he'll come after him and kill him this time."
"Stop being so damn stubborn!"
"I believe he's coming back to me. I believe it," she stressed, her hands resting on her stomach.
Remus sighed heavily and rubbed his forehead. "One of us stays."
"Remus, no, she has to come."
"I'm not dragging a pregnant woman out of her home. We'll leave a portkey. If someone comes for her, we'll get her out."
Arthur glanced over his shoulder. "Are you sure you want to go this route, Remus?"
"Of all of us, even Harry, Lilith best knows Voldemort's mind and the way he does things. Severus didn't think his life was in jeopardy. His punishment could simply be being drawn out, or perhaps it was delayed or he's been left to think about his actions. We don't know." Turning back to Lilith, Remus gave her a stern look. "Twenty four hours, though, no longer. We can't risk you truly being put under Imperius and captured by Voldemort."
Slowly she nodded, then hugged him awkwardly. "Thank you."
Patting her shoulder gently, he nodded towards Sirius. "Of all of us, you're the one I trust most to protect her and, if the time comes, make her leave."
A few more minutes of discussion and a quick portkey spell on an innocuous item, and Sirius and Lilith were left standing alone in her parlor.
"Uh...maybe you should get some sleep."
Lilith cocked an eyebrow at him and crossed her arms over her chest. "I've slept most of the day and there's no way I can rest anymore until Severus is home."
Sirius shot her a look of supreme discomfort, then sighed and gestured to her favorite chair. "Sit, put your feet up. I'll make some tea."
A few hours later Sirius intently watched Lilith dozing in her chair. He'd gotten some tea in her along with half a sandwich, and then they'd sat in silence, waiting. She'd fallen asleep ten minutes before and he'd spent that time memorizing every inch of her. There were worry lines at the corners of her mouth and dark circles beneath her eyes. Her hair was lank and nearly colorless and her fingernails bitten to the quick. The baby was huge and heavy-looking on her slender form.
She was still the most beautiful woman in the world, but he was worried at how stressed and unwell she looked. Was her appearance due solely to Snape's absence or had she been like this for awhile? It had been nearly two months since he'd seen her and, at that time, she'd looked radiant.
It had hurt him to see her so happy and he had felt like a complete heel for feeling that way, but seeing her now, he'd prefer her glowing any day.
Lilith looked worn out.
She stirred and he turned his attention to the fire, rising silently to add another piece of wood.
"How long was I asleep?"
"About fifteen minutes."
As he turned, she stretched and her shawl slipped from around the mound of her stomach and he saw the tight material of her skirt ripple as the baby moved. Lilith groaned and rubbed the place, then arched her sore back.
"She usually lets me sleep at this time of night."
"She feels your worry." Sirius retook his seat and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees and his chin on his hands as he stared into the renewed fire. "You don't look well, Lil."
"It's been a bad couple of days," she replied mirthlessly, then grimaced and tried to stretch out a cramping leg. "Damn."
He turned quickly to her. "What?"
"Leg's cramping." Not being able to reach her calf, she growled in frustration and smacked her leg down on the footstool.
Trying not to smile at her show of temper, Sirius shifted over to the footstool, lifting her legs into his lap and sliding her skirt up to her knees. As his fingers found the knotted muscle in her right calf, Lilith groaned and closed her eyes.
"Does this happen often?"
"More often in the last couple of weeks. I get these cramps and can't reach them and Sev..."
His fingers didn't stop massaging and his voice was soft and controlled as he asked, "He does this for you?"
"I hope I'm an acceptable substitute."
Opening her eyes, Lilith focused on his bent head and felt a wave of compassion and love wash over her. "Siri..."
"No, I'm not starting anything, Lil. I'm happy to do this for you." He looked up, his eyes full of emotion. "I'd do anything for you."
"I know," she whispered.
And the front door opened.
The door opened and Severus carefully schooled his face to betray no emotion. Voldemort slithered into the room, wand held loosely in one hand, a satisfied look on his face.
"Well, my potions master, are you contrite?"
"Yes, my lord," Severus murmured, eyes down.
"And, if you could do this all over, would you still disobey me?"
He didn't hesitate. "Yes."
Voldemort chuckled and Severus slammed his shields into place. The Dark Lord didn't need eye contact, didn't need to voice the spell or use his wand, but the other man was ready for the invasion of his mind, and the images, thoughts and memories he and Dumbledore had worked years on creating were the only ones Voldemort could access. Over the last few months, in the event his deception about the drug was discovered, Severus had carefully added false memories of Lilith apparently under Imperius, obeying him unwillingly, crying in fear, suffering him in bed. Now he let those be seen as well.
"You care that much for the blood traitor?"
"I..." It was a weakness. He shouldn't.. "Yes, my lord."
"She'll never love you, Severus."
Voldemort snorted and with a wave of his wand freed his captive. "Then that will be your true punishment. Go home to her, keep her well and safe. Remind her of what is coming for her. I want her fear, my ever loyal servant."
Ignoring the pain in his shoulders and wrists, Severus murmured, "You shall have it," and accepted his wand my from his master before stooping to pick up his shirt and coat.
Severus stared at the scene before him--his wife with her feet in the lap of his nemesis, both gaping at him as he entered the house and closed the door behind him, then drawled, "I could have sworn I asked you to remove her nearly three hours ago, Black. Forget how to tell time?"
Swearing under his breath, Sirius stopped the massage and jumped to his feet. "She wouldn't leave. I..."
"Sev," Lilith breathed, her fear vanishing, replaced by such an intense relief she nearly started crying.
Discarding his cloak over the back of the other chair, Severus brushed past Sirius, who stepped aside, and dropped to one knee beside his wife. He took her hand in his and placed a kiss on her wrist. "You should have left with them."
"I couldn't. I knew you'd come back to me." She squeezed his hand, then swung her feet to the floor. "Now, help me up."
Severus chuckled, her matter-of-factness finally releasing his own tension, then rose and helped her up. Crossing his arms over his chest, he watched her go to Sirius who was hovering a few feet away, then rise to her toes and press a kiss to his cheek.
"Thank you," she whispered.
Sirius gave her a startled look. "For what?"
"For not dragging me out of here so I'd be here when he came home." She squeezed his arm in further thanks, her eyes smiling up into his.
Bending his head down, Sirius murmured, "Rest, and stop worrying. We'll get you out of this. You won't have to..." His voice choked off and he brushed his lips over her forehead, then stepped back towards the door. "You take care of her, Snape. She's the most precious thing in the world."
Severus nodded in agreement and something silent and real passed between the two men, then Sirius left the cottage.
"I refused to leave, Severus. Sirius tried to get me to go but I couldn't leave. Remus agreed to one more day and left an emergency portkey and..."
"It's all right, Lilith," he said smoothly, but his face was again austere and his eyes distant.
Lilith flushed and gestured towards the chair she'd been sitting in. "And, um, that, what you saw..."
"Do you think I believe something untoward was happening?"
She dropped her eyes and muttered, "I don't know."
"In your heavily pregnant and exhausted condition."
"It doesn't seem to repel you." When she saw his eyes shutter and his lips tighten, she realized what she'd touched on, and groaned in frustration. "I didn't mean...I just...Dammit, Severus. I stayed for you. Did you come back for me or because it's expected?"
When he didn't reply, she snarled and wrapped her shawl around herself. "Why do I even bother?" she asked herself as she started past him, determined to go to bed and again cry herself to sleep.
His hand on her arm stopped her and she turned towards him, trying not to show any emotion on her face. "Lilith, I'm...sorry."
Severus dropped his eyes, then let her go, finally growling, "Everything. Why on Earth did you stay? I've treated you with complete callousness and disregard and here you remain, waiting for me."
"If I'd left and he hadn't let you go, he'd have known and you'd be..."
"Dead," he finished, watching as she flinched and hugged herself tighter. "But he did let me go and I could have easily fetched you from Grimmauld Place. Your friends, soft-hearted Gryffindors that they are, give into your demands too easily."
She smiled slightly. "Only you could think being soft-hearted is a curse."
He scowled. "This is serious, Lilith. You risked your life by staying here."
"I don't think I did. I would have risked yours if I'd left. Look, it's nearly three in the morning and I'm tired and you have to be as well and..." Suddenly she realized he might be more than just tired and she anxiously asked, "Are you hurt? I didn't even think..."
He had healed the cut above his eye and other minor abrasions. "There are no overt wounds," he replied, letting his tiredness seep into his voice. "I'm fine, Lilith, but, you're right. It's very late and we're both tired." Gently he cupped her bruised cheek and lifted her head. "There's one thing I must do first, though." As his thumb brushed through the concealing powder, he drew his wand from his pocket and murmured a healing spell.
"I simply couldn't stand it another moment." He repocketed his wand and leaned down to kiss her no longer sore cheek. "I want you to swear to me that if I ever raise my hand to you again, for any reason, you'll leave me."
She shook her head. "I can't promise that. He'll kill you."
"And I'll deserve it. Swear, Lilith, on the life of our child."
Their eyes met and she saw the solemnity and the need in his, and slowly she nodded. "I swear."
Severus nodded in acceptance, then kissed her softly yet deeply, his tongue tracing her lips until they parted for him. His hands found her waist then her hips, pulling her as close as he could, and the kiss turned surprisingly passionate. Lilith stirred against him, her hands sliding over his chest to his shoulders, and when he broke the kiss he stared down at her flushed cheeks and murmured, "I should let you sleep but I have this need to erase what I did to you last night."
She blushed deeper but her eyes shone with growing desire and she nodded, then took his hand and led him to their bedroom. As he tossed the shawl to the floor and found the buttons on the back of her dress, she turned her attention to his jacket which joined her shawl, then his shirt tails which she pulled free of his trousers. Severus stopped her by pulling the dress over her head and kissing her again. He quickly had her bare and before she could reciprocate, he urged her to sit on the end of the bed. As he pulled out his wand and cast a silent spell, she felt the air behind her mold into a support for her back, and her eyes widened in surprise, then she yelped as he dropped to his knees and lifted her legs over his shoulders.
"Sev..." she tried to protest, then whimpered as his nose brushed her clit and his tongue slid into her. Flailing in surprise and a sudden intense spike of desire, Lilith dug her fingers into the duvet and arched her back. The invisible support molded with her, taking the pressure off her and letting her concentrate completely on his mouth and tongue and the wonderful things they were doing to her. Severus' hands slipped beneath her hips, lifting her, and she moaned and writhed against his lips. With a sharp cry she climaxed, then whimpered as his tongue laved her aching clit and the pleasure began to build again.
Two orgasms later, Severus slipped her trembling legs to the floor, then rose, popping his stiff neck. He looked down on his wife for a moment, pleased to see her so relaxed, her skin glowing, and a tired smile on her face, then disappeared into the bathroom. Returning with a damp cloth, he knelt again and bathed her, then ended the support spell and scooped her into his arms to place her higher on the bed, beneath the turned down duvet.
Lilith opened her eyes and gave him a puzzled look. He was still dressed. "Sev? Not that I'm complaining, but..."
Severus pulled the duvet over her and sat down facing her. As his fingers brushed the tangled hair from her cheeks, he gave her a small smile. "At the moment I'm incapable of..." As her eyes widened in understanding, he kissed her, then continued, "It's all right, Lilith. In a few days the curse's effects will be gone."
"You said you weren't in any pain."
"And I'm not. I just can't..." He sighed in resignation and shook his head. "It's normal after prolonged exposure to Cruciatus."
Tenderly she stroked her hand down his arm and entwined their fingers. "Well, you didn't need to do that, then. We could have waited."
"Maybe I simply enjoy pleasuring my wife."
The low, sultry tone of his voice sent a shiver through her, and she smiled. "Come to bed and let me hold you at least."
"That I can do."
A sharp cramp awakened Lilith and she pressed the heel of her hand against her side, grunting, "Go back to sleep, baby." Severus shifted behind her, his arm coming around her stomach, and she smiled sleepily and drifted off again.
Only for another cramp to make her curl up and yelp.
Panting at the intense pressure in her stomach, Lilith tried to focus her thoughts, then gasped as something wet gushed from between her legs.
Everything clicked and she turned her head to stare wildly into her husband's sleepy eyes. "The baby's coming!"
Severus came instantly wide-awake, spelled on the lamps, and rose to his knees. Pushing the duvet down over Lilith's stomach, he watched her skin ripple and her face pale, then jumped to his feet and rounded the bed where she was struggling to sit up. "How close are the contractions?"
"Too close and my water broke," she panted, reaching for him. He pulled her to her feet and helped her into her robe. As he tightened the belt, another contraction hit and she doubled over, crying out at the pain.
Summoning his wand, he replaced the bedding, then settled her back onto the mattress, his hands squeezing her shoulders gently. "I have to go summon the midwife. Breathe with the contractions as she showed you. I'll just be gone a minute." As he left the bedroom he reached back for a pair of pants.
"O...kay." Lilith could feel panic swelling in her, but while her mind was all over the place, her body knew what it was doing and she forced herself to take deep, calming breaths.
A few minutes later the very competent midwife bustled into the room telling Severus to brew some tea for her and chip up some ice for his wife. As he went to do that, she smiled down at Lilith who remained sitting on the edge of the bed, hands fisted on her thighs, wincing as her back throbbed in time with her heartbeat.
"Best to give the husband chores at this stage," Mildred said cheerfully as she opened up the bag she carried and took out her wand. "Now, Mrs. Snape, let's see how far along you are."
Four hours later Severus sat at the kitchen table ignoring the cold tea in front of him, wincing at every sound Lilith made. Mildred came out every so often to tell him everything was fine and normal and that he should eat or read or do some trivial task until Severus gave her such black looks she returned to the bedroom.
A part of him wanted to be with his wife, especially each time he heard her cry out--or more often, curse--but it wasn't done, not in traditional wizarding families. He trusted the midwife-- she'd been Molly Weasley's for each of her birthings--but he hated being useless.
Water had been boiled, clean towels stood ready, the nursery was prepared, St. Mungos was on alert in case there were problems.
All he could do was wait.
Lilith yelled his name and Severus was on his feet and running to her without a thought.
"Mr. Snape," Mildred snapped as he burst into the bedroom. "Really, sir."
He hesitated. Lilith sat against the headboard and a pile of pillows, legs raised and parted with a towel draped over them. The gown she wore was soaked with sweat as was her hair. Her face was red and her discomfort was obvious. As he watched, another contraction rolled across her stomach and she arched her back and yelled, one hand digging into the bedding, the other reaching out.
Pushing past Mildred he took that outstretched hand and let her squeeze it until she collapsed, gasping for air as the contraction ended.
"Don't leave me," Lilith panted weakly.
"I won't." He turned his attention to the frowning midwife. "What can I do?"
Mildred debated for a moment, then sighed and brushed her hair from her cheek. "If you insist on staying, her back is weak. Support her and stay out of my way. This is a natural process, Mr. Snape, and neither magic nor threatening me or the gods themselves will help her."
He snarled at her, but gently lifted Lilith and slid behind her, pulling her back against his chest. It wasn't a comfortable position for him--his legs to the side, his arms full of sweaty wife--but she immediately relaxed and gave him a look of gratitude. Her hand remained wrapped in his and she breathed harshly against his neck, but he knew he was helping her.
"Oh shit," Lilith groaned, arching again and digging the back of her head into his shoulder. "Too soon!"
"No, no, just right," Mildred corrected, kneeling between her legs and checking beneath the towel. "You're getting there, dearie."
Severus winced as Lilith's nails dug into his hand, but held tightly onto her. "You're doing wonderfully," he murmured into her ear as she collapsed again, panting for air.
"You won't remember it when you're holding your baby, Mrs. Snape," the midwife crooned as she rose to wash her hands. "Another hour or so, I'm thinking."
Severus' eyes widened. "An hour? She's exhausted already!"
"What did I tell you about interfering?"
Rolling his eyes, he pursed his lips shut, then heard a sound he hadn't expected during a birthing.
Lilith was giggling.
"Big bad snake worried about his little lioness?"
Shocked, he gaped down at Lilith's twinkling eyes, then laughed and pressed a kiss to her forehead. "I think the pain has driven you around the bend, wife."
"Probably," she snorted. "You'll fix it, though. Oh fucking hell!" She convulsed again, her whole body tightening for nearly a minute before she yelled and fell back against him. "There has got to be an easier way to do this!"
"A potion for the pain," he offered hesitantly.
"Too powerful," Mildred interjected with an added scold, "And you should know that, Mr. Snape. Now Muggle drugs might have helped a few hours ago but, really, at this point all women suffer. It's nothing you can't handle, Mrs. Snape."
"Next time...Muggle drugs," Lilith hissed.
"Next...?" His eyes widened in wonder and met hers. "Lilith?"
"Vision. A boy."
"Mine?" he whispered and her eyes shuttered.
"I don't know. I..."
"It doesn't matter." He smiled his reassurance and hugged her gently. "Let's just have this one first, all right?"
"Uh huh." The contraction caught her in mid-agreement and she panted her way through it, nearly breaking his hand as she squeezed so tightly he winced in pain.
Three quarters of an hour passed with the contractions growing closer together and stronger with every minute. Severus fed Lilith ice chips, held her as she convulsed, soothed her as she relaxed. They didn't talk much and Mildred added only comments on the progress, until a contraction hit that was immediately followed by another, making Lilith cry out in surprise.
"Okay, we're ready. The baby's crowning," the midwife said cheerily, climbing back onto the bed and lifting the towel from Lilith's knees. "Now, Mrs. Snape, as the contraction builds, don't fight it. Breathe with it and when it reaches its peak, push. Mr. Snape, hold her up. The more upright she is, the more gravity will take over."
"Oh gods, it's coming," Lilith grunted, panting harshly through her nose.
"You're doing fine. Yes...yes...okay, push!"
Lilith screamed and Severus clutched her tightly, pushing both of them away from the headboard. His eyes fell on her trembling thighs, widening at the blood that began to stain them as something red and slimy began to emerge.
"Again," Mildred encouraged. Lilith pushed again, panting so loudly Severus was sure her lungs would collapse, and then screeched as she lost her breath and fell against him. "Ah, there's one shoulder out. Okay, one more."
"Gods, I'll kill you for this, Sev."
He laughed at her snarling threat. He couldn't help it. And, as he did so, their child slipped free in a gush of fluid and blood and was lifted in the smiling midwife's hands. The baby cried and flailed its tiny fists.
"It's a girl."
And Severus felt something he hadn't felt in years.
Tears wetting his cheeks.
An hour later, Severus saw the midwife off through the floo and locked it down again before returning to the bedroom. The bedding was clean and a small fire burned on the hearth. The subtle scent of roses filled the air from fresh bowls of potpourri and the winter sun peeked in through the partially drawn curtains.
In the middle of the bed against a pile of pillows sat Lilith, dressed in a pretty white gown, holding a pink wrapped bundle against her chest.
Severus had held her while Mildred had cut the cord and watched as Lilith pressed her to her chest as she delivered the afterbirth. As that had happened, the midwife had instructed him to go make more tea--a polite way to get him out of the way so she could clean both mother and child, check them both for complications, and weigh and measure the baby.
He'd sat at the kitchen table staring once again into his undrunk tea, and felt like his heart was going to burst from his chest.
Now, looking at Lilith and the baby, he felt it again--that overwhelming emotion that had him dropping to his knee beside the bed and reaching for his wife's hand as the other so gently brushed across the sleeping infant's cheek.
"Do you want to hold her?"
He looked at her, saw how tired she was, but also how incredibly radiant, and he felt the tears again, prickling in the corners of his eyes, and all he could do was stare, open-mouthed at her.
"Sev?" Lilith's brow wrinkled in concern and she shifted on the bed, trying to sit up higher, and he stopped her, bringing their joined hands to his lips and his cheek. "You're crying."
She was stunned. So was he.
And she started crying, too, and wrapped her arm around his neck, drawing his head down to her shoulder next to their child.
"We're fine. Everything's fine," she sniffled, trying to get her emotions under control.
Slowly Severus lifted his head, his eyes wet and red with tears, and he kissed her cheek, then the baby's, and murmured, "I love you, Lilith."
Shocked, all she could say was, "I love you, too."
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